Discover magazine September 2013, "Starting point" by Steve Nadis
This article was quite interesting. Unfortunately, it was also extremely irritating. Consider the following quote: Just how did the universe begin? Maybe our fantastic, glorious universe spontaneously arose from nothing at all.
I recently heard this concept articulated in a book review in which Stephen Hawking proclaimed that the universe could have begun from nothing at all. To anyone who has been reading popularizations of quantum physics, the idea is not a new one. Nevertheless, I have experienced a great deal of frustration resulting from the fact that I can't recall anyone making the simple and obvious point which contradicts the statement. This glaring fault is obvious. Of course I did check to see what Dr. Hawking was referring to, and of course, it turned out to be that he was repeating the assertion that the universe could have spontaneously sprung into existence in a creatio ex nihilo, based on the laws of quantum physics. Sadly, that was just what I had expected.
Later, I saw this point repeated by Dr. Dawkins, the brilliant biologist and borderline hysterical fundamentalist evangelical atheist. Hawking, being at least somewhat more cautious, had stated that this did not prove that God did not make the universe, only that this indicated that God was not needed to explain the creation of the universe. The statement is very reminiscent of the purported statement of Laplace who, upon being asked by Napoleon if it was true that his theories made no reference to God's place in creating the universe replied, "I have had no need for that hypothesis."
The error which I'm referring? The definition of nothing. You see, the statement has been made quite clearly. The universe could come from nothing, but then the person making that statement goes on to add, "except the laws of quantum physics."
It should be clear to anyone that the laws of quantum physics are most certainly something. Their existence clearly contra indicates the declaration that there was nothing, then there was the big bang. At the risk of sounding like a Neoplatonist, or perhaps we should say a Neopythagorian, I must ask, is there anything more real than the laws of physics? I certainly should not need to ask that question of any scientist, although a biologist might be excused.
Consider the following: if our planet were to disappear, the laws of physics would still be in place. However, if the laws of physics were to disappear, our planet, indeed the entire universe, would no longer exist. Arguably, the laws of physics are more real than our planet, or our entire universe. They certainly are not nothing.
The reason I'm writing this is because the article was irritating me so much by ignoring this clear and important point. I didn't actually shout at the magazine, but I did keep informing it that it was being pigheaded and foolish (none of which caused any changes in the print).
The good news is that near the end of the article, Mr. Nadis finally added, "Although a universe, in Vilenkin's scheme can come from nothing in the sense of there being no space, time or matter, something is in place before hand-- namely the laws of physics."
Well at last somebody's finally willing to admit it! Took them long enough.
Conclusion: While it is true that the universe may have been spontaneously created in accordance with the laws of quantum physics, this is simply another matter of regression. We do not thus solve the problem of origin, we only move the problem a little bit further back. The question now becomes, who created the laws of physics? Or, if one takes the atheist position, what created the laws of physics?
Some afterthoughts: There has been at least one experiment in which a universe in what is called Misner space was created in a computer simulation, said universe eventually shocked the experimenters when it created a closed time like loop and sent some of itself back to the beginning of time to give birth to itself. And you thought science was all cold heartless theory! What soap opera could beat that scenario? (Yes, know...All You Zombies by Robert A. Heinlein)
We also should not forget the concept that our universe may be nothing more than a computer simulation, or perhaps even a creation of some alien graduate student whose science is so advanced that his...her..its... doctoral thesis was to create a viable universe, ours.