Physicist Lawrence Krauss made quite a stir with his previous book, A Universe From Nothing. He took a lot of flak for defining “nothing” as a quantum vacuum, which of course could indeed produce a universe through the appearance of particles that pop into and out of existence, yielding the Big Bang. Theologians and philosophers, affronted, quibbled about the definition of “nothing” (see this review by David Albert, which is mean-spirited but makes a point.) But for a refutation of the “something from nothing” issue, see Michael Shermer’s latest column in Scientific American: “Why humans prefer to be the center of the universe,” where, inspired by Krauss’s new book (below) and others, Michael compiles a list of six responses, including this:
Nothing is nonsensical. It is impossible to conceptualize nothing—not only no space, time, matter, energy, light, darkness or conscious beings to perceive the nothingness but not even nothingness. In this sense, the question is literally inconceivable.
and this telling argument:
Nothing would include God’s nonexistence. In Leslie and Kuhn’s taxonomy of “nothings,” they list what categories of things might be included in “something” that would be negated by “nothing”: physical, mental, platonic, spiritual and God. . . .
But to the issue at hand: Krauss has a new book, The Greatest Story Ever Told. . . So Far: Why Are We Here?, coming out on March 21. The title is of course an antitheistic riff on the 1965 movie “The Greatest Story Ever Told”, a biography of Jesus. This book, however, appears to deal mostly with the history of quantum mechanics and the Standard Model, so it may be far less controversial. Given the “why are we here?” bit in the title, though, I suspect Krauss won’t refrain from showing the superfluity of God in physics. Here’s the summary from Amazon:
In the beginning there was light but more than this, there was gravity. After that, all hell broke loose…This is how the story of the greatest intellectual adventure in history should be introduced – how humanity reached its current understanding of the universe, one that is far removed from the realm of everyday experience. Krauss connects the world we know with the invisible world all around us, which is removed from intuition and direct sensation. He explains our current understanding of nature and the struggle to construct the greatest theoretical edifice ever assembled, the Standard Model of Particle Physics — and then to understand its implications for our existence. Writing in the critically acclaimed style of A Universe from Nothing, Krauss celebrates the beauty and wonders of the natural world and details our place within it and how this shapes our understanding of it. Krauss makes this story accessible through profiles of the scientists responsible for these advances, and clear explanations of their discoveries. Krauss takes us on a tour of science and the brilliant personalities who shaped it, often against political and religious indoctrination, enduring persecution and ostracism. Krauss creates a captivating blend of research and narrative to invite us into the lives and minds of these figures, creating a landmark work of scientific history.
The Amazon page includes a lot of short blurbs, including Eric Idle’s endorsement: “I loved the fight scenes and the sex scenes were excellent”. Here’s Shermer’s own blurb:
“In every debate I’ve done with theologians and religious believers their knock-out final argument always comes in the form of two questions: Why is there something rather than nothing? and Why are we here? The presumption is that if science provides no answers then there must be a God. But God or no, we still want answers. In A Universe From Nothing Lawrence Krauss, one of the biggest thinkers of our time, addressed the first question with verve, and in The Greatest Story Ever Told he tackles the second with elegance. Both volumes should be placed in hotel rooms across America, in the drawer next to the Gideon Bible.” — Michael Shermer
I will of course be reading this book (Lawrence: if you’re reading this, send me a free copy!), and, while I’m at it, would like to recommend another good book on quantum mechanics, which is much tougher going but immensely rewarding. It’s this one (click on screenshot to go to Amazon page), which summarizes the history of QM in 40 episodic chapters.