Friday, July 05, 2002

Something from Nothing

Many writers, when commenting on God’s creation of the universe, point out that He created it ex nihilo, or “out of nothing”. There was no universe, nothing, nil, (or null or NULL-- depending on your programming language of choice) and then God spoke and the universe was.

No arguments from me. I believe that’s how it happened.

However, they sometimes go on to say things along the lines of “even those Godless, pagan, heathen, apostate, pointy headed physicists wouldn’t claim that the universe was created ex nihilo.

Well, not exactly.

Science does offer an explanation of ex nihilo creation, although it depends a bit on what your definition of nothing is.

If the universe was created out of nothing then there are two implications: First, the universe must still be a form of nothing. Second, there must be a mechanism for creating something out of nothing.

Is the Universe actually Nothing?

The reason the universe would still have to be nothing are the conservation laws of physics. The granddaddy of conservation laws is conservation of energy. In short, if there was a time when there was no universe, then the total energy was zero, and so the total energy (since it’s conserved) would have to be zero for all times.

God doesn’t have this limitation: He can create energy. The laws of physics always conserve energy.

Well, you say, I look around and note massive thermonuclear explosions occurring in the cores of stars -- clearly the universe does not have zero energy, right? Wrong. It might. Energy comes in plus and minus varieties. Things moving about have positive energy. Things that are bound have a net negative energy. For example, a satellite zipping around the earth at 12 km/s would seem to have positive energy, but an accurate accounting of its gravitational energy would show that its total energy is negative.

So the universe is made up of lots of positive energy and lots of negative energy (sounds more New Age than I would like) and it is possible that it all adds up to give a big fat zero.

And physicists would say that if the universe was created ex nihilo then it will add up to zero.

A proper accounting is of course impossible to do. But a rough calculation does not rule out a result of zero.

How do you create Something from Nothing

From your friend, the Quantum Fluctuation. The physicist’s view of the vacuum (sort of nothing) is much different than the everyday view of the vacuum, which is that it is really nothing. The laws of physics as we know them reveals a vacuum in which things are happening. “Fluctuations” create particles and antiparticles, which are quickly annihilated. However, their ephemeral existence is vital in understanding why certain physical quantities have the values they have.

Physicists will say that there is a tiny chance that such a fluctuation created the universe.

There are, of course, serious problems with that theory (besides the obvious fact that it’s wrong). It means that before there was a universe, no space, no time, nothing--the laws of physics existed (and so "nothing" must at least include those laws) and were able to fluctuate nothing into something. It makes the laws of physics into god.

But you cannot say that even physicists don't dare to claim the universe was created from nothing. They dare.

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