Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss discuss Something from Nothing

| April 22, 2012 | Reply

Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss recently sat on the stage at the Australian National University to discuss “something from nothing.” What follows are my notes from that conversation.

(9) Dawkins offers two methods for illustrating the long periods of time that are critical to understanding natural selection.

(13:30) The key idea is that we might be getting something from nothing. Life comes from non-life. Matter appears to come from the lack of matter.

(14:47) We are dealing with the new version of “nothing.”

(16:00) It is plausible that everything started with no matter,and maybe no loss. It might not violate any laws for matter to come from the lack of matter. Especially in physics, scientists have learned to ignore the common sense. The total energy of the universe might be “zero.” It might nonetheless be a bubbling brew of virtual particles, and this offends some people.

(20) Krauss: The universe doesn’t care what we like or what we understand. We need to deal with this.

(21) Dawkins: Natural selection has equipped us to be bad physicists and we have to work to overcome this.

(22) Space is curved, but we cannot visualize this. Our picture of natural/normal reality is myopic.

(24) Dawkins: I am proud of our species. We were not designed to understand physics. We were designed to survive. The understanding of physics has taken a lot of work and it is an emergent quality.

(25) Dawkins: “A scholar is someone who is read more than one book.” [Directed toward theologians who pontificate about science without having the necessary understanding].

(29) Dawkins: some theology has become sophisticated these days. Essentially, it involves fitting many false things together so that they work internally.

(30) Krauss: early humans sought a story in order to explain, to predict, and for solace. This led to both religion and science.

(34) The claim is often made that science cannot replace religion. But religion does provide explanation as well as comfort (science provides comfort by providing medicine rather than life after death). Dawkins indicates “I’m frightened by eternity. I would rather have a general anesthetic.” Religions are supposed to provide morals, but this is not true, especially with regard to the Old Testament, but also with regard to the New Testament and the Koran. Science does have a lot to offer with regard to morality.

(37) Krauss: spiritual experiences provided by science or it look at the stars at night, and remember that many of them no longer exists. Many of them could have had portioning civilizations that are no longer there. We tell our kids fairy tales, but eventually we stopped because we want to empower them. Religion treats adults like children. Cosmology teaches us that we are insignificant, and that things are going to get worse. But we are lucky to be here– science can be liberating.

(40) Dawkins: it’s a privilege to be alive. We can see the inside of a cell. We can understand that everything could have come from nothing. It is sad that this model of the universe will die what our brains die. Krauss: we don’t know all the answers. That makes life exciting. Science never claimed to know all the answers. There are things yet to be discovered. Here’s one thing we don’t understand. Brains are much different than computers. To build a digital version of a human brain will require 10 terrawatts of energy. Somehow, the human brain runs off the equivalent of 10 watts of energy.

(45) We are taught to ask questions except with regard to religion. Religion should not be immune from critical/clarifying questions.

(48) Dawkins: With regard to the transubstantiation, we need to ridicule the belief (though not the person asserting the belief). We need to challenge this belief wherever we hear it. Don’t let believers in the transubstantiation hide from this criticism. It makes no sense that we can utter words and waiver hand and turn a piece of bread into a first century Jew.

(50) Krauss: satire is a tool to eliminate. Ever since Swift, making fun is pointing out. We should be vindictive or mean. The hardest thing is often to talk about the most obvious bits of nonsense.

Dawkins: one of the things that was difficult for me to understand was that hippos are closer to the whales then hippos are two pigs. Molecular biology shows this conclusively. Krauss: one of the most difficult things for me to come to grips with is that the laws of the universe might be happenstance. There may be many universes with different laws for each. This is troubling, but it might be true. What are we supposed to do, throw out the laws of an entire universe “like yesterdays newspaper?”

(1:05) A member of the audience (a Catholic who admits that she doesn’t believe in transubstantiation) characterizes Dawkins and Krauss as holding up science as yet another religion. They disagreed, of course. There are no such thing as scientific “authorities,” although there are scientific experts. In science, the goal is to question everything and to look to the evidence. In fact, “science would be uninteresting except that it works.”

“You are a hypocrite if you insist that the earth is 6000 years old and you drive a car.”

Science can’t prove anything to be absolutely true, though it can prove that an idea is absolutely false. What remains has an element of truth. Science can’t prove anything 100% true, but religion doesn’t prove anything.

Dawkins: Atheism is not a complete denial, it only asserts that God is not likely that there is no evidence for God. Krauss: I am an anti-theist. “I don’t want to live in a universe with [a God].”

(1:15) Dawkins: people believe in belief. Religious people don’t believe much of what they say they believe.

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Category: Anti-science, Evolution, Psychology Cognition, Religion, Science

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Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich and his wife, Anne Jay, live in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where they are raising their two extraordinary daughters.

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