Is ‘A Universe from Nothing’ the most misleading book title ever?
I’ve recently been dipping into Lawrence Krauss’ book, ‘A Universe from Nothing: why there is something rather than nothing’. It’s certainly a very popular book and has propelled Krauss to become one of the best known atheists in the world today. Krauss’ book has received a lot of praise and also a lot of criticism. I met Krauss a couple of years back when he did some dialogues with William Lane Craig. You can see me do the opening address to the Melbourne dialogue: I quite enjoyed meeting Professor Krauss. So I thought I’d actually get around to reading his bestselling book. Unfortunately, without reading a great deal I worked out that the book has one of the most misleading book titles ever given. Krauss admits within the book itself that he doesn’t actually speak to the title nor answer the question raised in it. I give Krauss credit for his honesty on this point, but this then raises the obvious question about the title – is it disingenuous? A Universe from Nothing? The first part of the title is ‘A Universe from Nothing’. Yet on page 152 closing the chapter on ‘Nothing is Something’ Krauss writes,
While inflation demonstrates how empty space endowed with energy can effectively create everything we see, along with an unbelievably large and flat universe, it would be disingenuous to suggest that empty space endowed with energy, is really nothing. In this picture one must assume that space exists and can store energy, and one uses the laws o physics like general relativity to calculate the consequences. So if we stopped here, one might be justified in claiming that modern science is a long way from really addressing how to get something from nothing.
This is an astonishing statement. He’s saying that ‘nothing’ really means ‘something’ and we’re really a long way from working out how we can get a universe from ‘nothing’. Yet the book title, ‘A universe from something’ doesn’t quite have the same appeal. Why is there something rather than nothing? Yet it gets worse as Krauss also contradicts the subtitle: ‘why there is something rather than nothing’. On page 143 he addresses this question,
In science we have to be particularly cautious about “why” questions. When we ask, “Why?” we usually mean “How?” If we can answer the latter, that generally suffices for our purposes. For example, we might ask: ‘Why is the Earth 93 million miles from the Sun?” but what we really probably mean is “How is the Earth 93 million miles from the Sun? That is, we are interested in what physical processes led to the Earth ending up in its present position.”Why” implicitly suggests purpose, and when we try to understand the solar system in scientific terms, we do not generally ascribe purpose to it. So I am going to assume what this question really means to ask is ‘How is there something rather than nothing?’ “How” questions are really the only ones we can provide definitive answers to by studying nature
I found this statement quite astonishing. Not only has he redefined the question, but proposes that the old philosophical chestnut of why is there something rather than nothing is a less interesting question because science can’t actually answer it! Hence a much more accurate title for Lawrence Krauss’ book based on his own argument should be: ‘A Universe from Something: how is there something rather than nothing’. However I doubt that this would have sold nearly as well.