Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh
Since the scientific revolution of the 17th century there has been a kind of a battle of wits between science and religion. But science has made incredible advances since a letter from a Russian woman from the Kuibyshev region, was published in Izvestia, the state newspaper, a month later after Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to orbit the Earth in Vostok 1. It read: “And suddenly I hear: man is in space! Oh god! I sat next to the radio receiver, afraid to step away even for a minute. We were always told that God is in the heavens, so how can a man fly there and boy bump into Elijah, the Prophet or one of God’s angels? Now I am convinced God is science, is man.”The letter suited Communist theology. This isn’t as simple as that. There are many questions that science can’t still answer. The biggest question is ‘can something come out of nothing’ defying the ‘First Cause Argument’ (Thomas Aquinas) or the ‘cosmological argument’ that takes the existence of a being namely God that created the universe? Yes, according to Stephen Hawking. The physicist Stephen Hawking who died recently, had a mischievous humour. He has a gift for vivid scientific storytelling. “I don’t have a grudge against God,” he said, sarcastically putting the reader in mind of other high-profile scientists, who do. But he says he hasno use of the God hypothesis. Hawking objects that time itself began with the Big Bang, so beforehand “there is no time for God to make the universe in”. He declares; “I think the universe was ‘spontaneously’ created out of nothing, according to the laws of science.”
“Spontaneously” itself implies the existence of time in which something can suddenly happen, but if there is no time for God to make the universe, there is no time in which the Big Bang can ‘spontaneously’ takes place either. There’s some physics about how all the positive and negative energy and universe add up nearly to zero, he says. Hawking concludes, that “if the universe adds up to nothing adds up to nothing, then you don’t need a God to create it. The universe is the ultimate free lunch”. It appears that this might be the one case where you can really have a cake and eat it. This isn’t just a gut-wrenching thinking about the way how our universe began now that there’s proof that Earth was formed from elements 4.54 billion years ago and life appeared on Earth ‘spontaneously’ 3.5 billion years ago.
Why is there something rather than nothing? Or, why should anything exist at all? These are long-standing philosophical conundrum. Victor Hugo, in his French historical novel (1862), Le miserable, one of the greatest novels of the 19th century, wrote: “Nihilism has no substance. There is no such thing as nothingness, and zero does not exist. Everything is something. Nothing is nothing.” Some theoretical physicists, have also be addressing how to get something from nothing for the past century, and that the empty space is filled with energy – virtual particles that pop in and out so fast that we cannot see them. A virtual particle is not a particle at all.These are quantum fluctuations that imply nothing always produce something if only for an instant.
As Stephen Hawking wrote, there hasn’t to be anything existing before the Big Bang, which was the explosion of an infinitesimally microscopic and densely condensed region of space, smaller than a single atom, 13.8 billion years ago.The Big Bang was an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics.
Our perspectives for thinking aboutthings that exist in this universe, have undergone a dramatic change, even in the miniscule amplitude of time between my school days and this ripe old age.For instance, the idea of a vacuum as we knew in the context of a thermos flask has completely changed. In modern physics, the vacuum is not simply “nothingness”.It’s filled with ‘dark matter’ (that doesn’t emit light), creating‘dark energy’, which is a hypothesized form of energy that permeates all space and its ‘pressure energy’causes acceleration and expansion of the Universe, following the Big bang, as observed with Hubble’s telescope. In physics, a vacuum can never be truly empty with zero energy. A vacuum is one with very little dark matter left in it. Even in outer space, which is considered a vacuum, it contains ‘dark matter’ but only in less quantity. Dark matter is a hypothetical form of matter that scientists cannot observe but know it exists from its effect in the form of gravity, and that, roughly 80% of the mass of the Universe is made up of this material.
It still begs the philosophical question of whether could ‘something come from nothing’. Does the concept of nothing or having nothing as we have always understood, contain nothing at all? Or could ‘something’ has always existed without us knowing? How could everything come from nothing? Why is there something rather than nothing?
I believe our universe did come out of ‘nothing’ that contains ‘something’. We can’t always see everything that exists eg UV light. We know an ‘empty’ cup is filled with air and vapour. Physicists know it’s filledwith gravity and dark matter.There is undeniable evidence that the Universe started from a singularity, which by definition is nothing. That means the Universe started from nothing. Prof Lawrence Krauss, an American theoretical astrophysicist and atheist, explains in his book, ‘A Universe from Nothing: Why there is something rather than nothing’ (2012). He has answered some big unusual questions in physics, but not quite. He seems to be struggling more to counter creationist views, rather than dealing in theoretical physics. It may be because, the book is an expansion from a lecture on the cosmological implications of a flat expanding universe, which he gave to the Richard Dawkins Foundation at the 2009 Atheist Alliance International conference. Krauss writes, “The empty space is endowed with energy, which can effectively create everything we see, along with an unbelievably large and flat universe. All signs suggest a universe that could and plausibly did arise from a deeper singularity, which means ‘nothing’—involving the absence of space itself and, which may one day, return to nothing via processes that may not only be comprehensible but also processes that do not require any external control or direction.” Michael Brooks, consultant English science writer, agrees with him: “Krauss will be preaching only to the converted. That said, we should be happy to be preached to so intelligently. Davit Albert,philosopher of science and physicist, disagrees with Klauss. He writesthat the book failed to live up to its title. He claims Krauss misused the term nothing.
Adding on the debate, physicist Sean M. Carroll, a cosmologist and physics professor specializing in dark energy and general relativity at the California Institute of Technology, asks: “Do advances in modern physics and cosmology help us address these underlying questions of why there is something called the universe at all, and why there are things called ‘the laws of Physics’, and why those laws seem to take the form of quantum mechanics?In a word: no. I don’t see how they could.”
‘Nothing comes from nothing’ (Latin: exnihilo nihil fit) is a concept first adopted by the pre-Socratic Greek cosmologist Parmenides in 5th century BCE. He said: “Nothing’s brought forth by any supernatural power out of naught.”The Parmenideans were opposed by the atomists, who argued that theindivisible things move in empty space. They thought that emptiness contains empirical phenomena such as movement, compression, and absorption. This is known as tract mathematics versus ontological mathematics. The Roman philosopher Lucretius (1st century BCE), also expressed this principle of nothing comes from zero, in his book, De Rerun Natura (on the nature of things). Nothing is represented by ‘0’.The concept of numerical zero has been comparatively recent.According to Peter Gobets, secretary of the Zero Project in Netherlands, the concept was first developed in India between 3-5thcentury CE. It was called shunya in Sanskrit. Meaning empty or blank.There are two kinds of zero: (1)real or ontological maths [basis of reality] and (2) arbitrary or imaginary [abstract] maths. These two differingconcepts have led to the question: why there is something rather than nothing.This questionwas first asked philosophically by Leibniz (1697). It was unanswerable. Now some scientists claim to know the answer.
In modern physics, the universe’s‘positive mass-energy’ is exactly cancelled out by its ‘negative gravitational potential energy’, which thus comes to zero.Zero is infinitesimally small and soit can’t be split. And,zero divided by zero is zero. It thus contains the quality of infinity and within infinity, anything can be created, as long as it all balances out to zero.Quantum mechanics tell us that “nothing” is inherently unstable and so, the initial leap from nothing to something may have been inevitable.
The entire known universe is seen as ‘zero-sum game’, which means a winner’s gain is cancelled by the loser’s loss. If you add up all the things in the universe it sums up to zero. So it’s possible that our Universe came from nothing which is something.
The writer is based in the UK
Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh