Quantum Particles Do Not Prove Universe from Nothing

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In light of the discussion in the comments of the previous post I thought it would be good to examine a key point upon which all of Im Skeptical's arguments, indeed all of Naturalist arguments, are predicated: that QM particles prove something can pop up out of nothing with no cause. Quantum theory seems to confirm the notion that it is possible for the universe to begin with no cause. In terms of the TS argument that would mean that no organizing principle is necessary to explain order.
The second contender for a theory of initial conditions is quantum cosmology, the application of quantum theory to the entire Universe. At first this sounds absurd because typically large systems (such as the Universe) obey classical, not quantum, laws. Einstein's theory of general relativity is a classical theory that accurately describes the evolution of the Universe from the first fraction of a second of its existence to now. However it is known that general relativity is inconsistent with the principles of quantum theory and is therefore not an appropriate description of physical processes that occur at very small length scales or over very short times. To describe such processes one requires a theory of quantum gravity. [1]

This statement is more admission than documentation. It admits that quantum theory might not pertain to the universe as a whole. After all the theory has only been validated under normal conditions of space/time, temperature and the like. We have no idea if it still applies at the big bang expansion where the laws of physics seem to be suspended, temperature and time approach infinity. “What we do know is that massive objects do not exhibit quantum behavior. No one can be sure that a new-born universe would obey quantum theory as we know it..”[2]Moreover the statement admits that the theory requires a theory of quantum gravity in order to apply as a theory of origins. Do we have a theory of quantum gravity that has been validated empirically?

Lawrence Krauss in his book, A Universe from Nothing, [3] argues that quantum theory means that the universe came from nothing based upon the assumption that quantum particles do the same. Krauss argues that the eternal laws of Quantum mechanics produce particles out of nothing when the instability of vacuum states causes quantum fields to shift and produce different kinds of particles. [4] This seems like scientific proof but all it really says is that nothing became unstable and turned into something, no thought as to how that could be. There's a deeper trick, however, in that the terms don't really mean what they seem to mean. David Albert (a Philosopher with Ph.D. in physics) exposed the meaning of terms and exploded the whole project.

Albert first points out that tracing the universe back to some physical property or cause is not an explanation as to why there is something rather than nothing.

What if he were in a position to announce, for instance, that the truth of the quantum-mechanical laws can be traced back to the fact that the world has some other, deeper property X? Wouldn’t we still be in a position to ask why X rather than Y? And is there a last such question? Is there some point at which the possibility of asking any further such questions somehow definitively comes to an end? How would that work? What would that be like?[5]

Secondly, he points out that going back to the enlightenment, science has always assumed that at the “bottom of everything” there is “some basic, elementary, eternally persisting, concrete, physical stuff.” [6] Newton had it that this “stuff” consisted of particles. At the end of the nineteenth century it was particles and electro-magnetic fields. Albert argues that since that time all of physics is basically about “how that elementary stuff is arranged.”[7] The laws don’t tell us where the elementary “stuff” came from, not even laws of quantum mechanics. The laws do not tell us where the fields came from, let alone where the “laws” themselves came from. Moreover, contrary to all previous theories, quantum theory particles are understood as arrangements of fields. Some arrangements correspond to certain numbers and kinds of particles, some correspond to no particles.[8] This latter arrangement, Albert tells us, is what they call “vacuum states.” According to Albert, Krauss is arguing that the laws of relativistic quantum field theories “entail that vacuum states are unstable. And that, in a nutshell, is the account he proposes of why there should be something rather than nothing.”[9]
There is no explanation here. No hint as to how nothing could become something. If nothing comes out of some prior condition we don't know. Krauss is just assuming something from nothing. That's important because prior conditions have to be accounted for. There are problems with this account. First, we have just seen, it assumes laws and fields with no explanation as to where othey came from. Secondly, when physicists say “nothing,” they don’t mean real actual nothing, absence of anything, they really mean vacuum flux; that is the pre existing framework of law and field and the arrangement of these things and the sporadic popping in-and-out of prior existing particles. As Albert says, “Relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states — no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems — are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff..” [10] “Nothing” in terms of no particles does not mean “nothing” in terms of no fields, or no laws. Thus “nothing” doesn’t mean “nothing,” it means something for which we still must account.

The particles doing the popping are “virtual particles,” meaning they are made up of combinations of other particles that come together for a short time then break apart again. “Virtual particles are indeed real particles. Quantum theory predicts that every particle spends some time as a combination of other particles in all possible ways. These predictions are very well understood and tested.”[11]
Quantum mechanics allows, and indeed requires, temporary violations of conservation of energy, so one particle can become a pair of heavier particles (the so-called virtual particles), which quickly rejoin into the original particle as if they had never been there. If that were all that occurred we would still be confident that it was a real effect because it is an intrinsic part of quantum mechanics, which is extremely well tested, and is a complete and tightly woven theory--if any part of it were wrong the whole structure would collapse.
But while the virtual particles are briefly part of our world they can interact with other particles, and that leads to a number of tests of the quantum-mechanical predictions about virtual particles.[12]
Thus it's only said that they are coming from nothing because there's a new combination of particles that only exists for a short time. Yet they are actually coming from other particles. Quantum theory is not the best explanation for the age old question, why are we here where did it all come from? God not only provides an ultimate sources but is also a more elegant solution because one simple idea furnishes both the explanation of origins and also ties up morality and everything else into one neat solution.


1 CTC op. Cit.

2 Edgar Andres, “Review: the Grand Design,” Challies'.com, Tim Challies, on line reouce, URL:

Andres is Emeritus professor University of London. Physicist and an expert on large molecules. Born 1932,

3 Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe from Nothing: Why There is something Rather Than Nothing. New York, NY: Free press, a division of Simon and Schuster, 2012.

4 Ibid 189.

5 David Albert, “On the Origin of Everything ‘a Universe form Nothing’ by Lawrence Krauss,” New York Times Sunday Book Review (March 23, 2012). On line version URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/a-universe-from-nothing-by-lawrence-m-krauss.html visited June 20, 2012. David Albert also has a Ph.D. in theoretical phsyics.

Albert is Frederick E. Woodbridge Professor of Philosophy at Columbia, and runs a MA program in philosophy and physics.

6 ibid.

7 ibid

8 ibid

9 ibid

10 ibid

11 Gordon Kane, “Are Virtual Particles Really Constantly Popping In and Out of existence? Or Are They Merely a Mathematical Bookkeeping Device For Quantum Mechanics?” Scientific American, (Oct. 9, 2006) on line version URL: http://www.scientific american.com/article/are-virtual-particles-rea/ accessed 10/12/15

Kane is director of the Michigan center for theoretical physics at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

12 Ibid.