Ex Nihilo


The term has some history:

Creation out of nothing, or creation ex nihilo, is the belief that God created this world out of nothing, ex nihilo being Latin for “from nothing.” The Bible is clear that God is the creator of this world (Gen 1:1; Job 38:1-42:6 among many others), but the issue of how he created this world is what is in question. Typically there are two main answers: (1) either God created this world from nothing, or (2) he created this world from pre-existing matter. In the second view God would be the organizer or the one who “ordered the chaos” of this world.

It’s a chain of argument frequently employed by creationists. Henry M Morris was a founder of the Institute for Creation Research, an organization promoting young-Earth creationism and now headquartered in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Morris had this to say in 1984 in the ICR publication Acts and Facts:

Evolutionists have frequently criticized creationism as unscientific because of its basic commitment to the doctrine of creation ex nihilo —that is, “creation out of nothing.” The idea that God simply called the universe into existence by His own power, without using any pre-existing materials, is rejected out of hand by evolutionists, since this would involve supernatural action, which is unscientific by definition (that is, by their definition).

Yet now we hear evolutionary cosmogonists maintaining that the universe evolved itself out of nothing! Creationists at least postulate an adequate Cause to produce the universe—that is, an infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, transcendent, self-existing, personal, Creator God. For those who believe in God, creation ex nihilo is plausible and reasonable. But even if people refuse to acknowledge a real Creator, they should realize that a universe evolving out of nothing would contradict the law of cause-and-effect, the principle of conservation of mass/energy, the law of increasing entropy, and the very nature of reason itself. How can they say such things?

The hard fact is, from all appearances the universe really was created out of nothing.

Earlier this year I acquired the Kindle edition of A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence Krauss. I will get into the book shortly, but first it may be helpful to take a quick look back.

Larry Krauss began popping up in the creation/evolution controversy over a decade ago when the Ohio school board was asked to entertain aspects of creationism, or at least doubts about Darwin, in the science curriculum. Krauss was there to weigh in on the matter, and Richard Ostling reported in the Washington Post in the March 14, 2002 edition an item that has been picked up and preserved by creationism sympathizers. The following is cached on the Discovery Institute’s site:

Whatever the board decides, the Ohio discussion has brought new attention to the fledgling ID movement, a small academic faction but one that flexes considerable brainpower.

Proponents say evolution is typically taught to mean life emerged on Earth spontaneously, and that only undirected natural selection produced the varied life forms. But, they contend, the best evidence indicates that scenario is fantastically unlikely.

Intelligent design arguments touch on everything from the fine-tuned structure of the universe described by modern physics to the information encoded in DNA to make their point.

But “intelligent design isn’t science,” the board was told by Lawrence Krauss, physics chairman at Case Western Reserve University.

Krauss has been involved in the issue ever since and has since added his name to the list of prominent scientists standing up for real science against attacks on diverse fronts. Like many in the field of hard science, Krauss makes no reliance on a religious faith and accepts no truck from religious arguments. So what does he, a researcher in cosmogony, have to say about the supposed origin of the universe? He has his say in this most recent book.


Maybe the second thing you notice about this book is its subtitle, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” That’s a nice question, and it’s question that has some history. Nothing I ever did involved the study of origins, cosmogony, but I did get to it in a round about way. There is a chain of reasoning:

  • How did the Earth get here? That was answered by figuring out the Earth and the other planets in the Solar System formed from the accretion of matter near a star, in our case the Sun.
  • Where did all this matter that makes up the Earth and the other planets come from? Scientists figured out that, as well. When a large star forms it’s mostly hydrogen gas, and gravitational attraction pulls the ball of gas ever tighter into a ball. As the gas compresses the effects of gravity become stronger, because the hydrogen atoms are now closer to the center of gravitational attraction. That’s positive feed back. The tighter the ball, the greater the gravity, the tighter the ball, and so on. Eventually this stabilizes, because the hydrogen will fit into only so small a space. The compression of the hydrogen causes hydrogen atoms in the core, where the pressure is greatest, to fuse together. This fusion produces helium and releases energy. The star gets hot. Eventually the hydrogen is all used up, and mostly helium remains, and that fuses to produce heavier elements and so on. the process continues as heavier and heavier elements are produced at an ever increasing rate until finally iron is produced. When iron is fused no extra energy is produced. More energy is required to fuse iron than would be produced by the fusion process. The sequence of element fusion stops, and the remainder of the star collapses catastrophically, within minutes and ultimately within a fraction of a second. The wave of collapsing material rebounds, and the energy of the collapse is expended in the fusion of elements heaver than iron, producing all the elements in the periodic table beyond number 26 (iron). The star blows up, spewing all these heavy elements into space. That stuff eventually goes into making planets and such.
  • How do stars form? If you start with a large cloud of gas, and if the gas is not very evenly distributed throughout all of space, then the distribution is unstable. Any region that is denser will manifest a greater gravity and will attract gas from other regions. It’s positive feed back again. Stars eventually form. Some big, some not so. The very massive stars burn their hydrogen more rapidly and are the first to collapse and explode.
  • Where does all this hydrogen gas come from? That was not the easiest of questions. The answer has not been so obvious. Ultimately it came to be called the Big Bang. A point in space unzipped (my term) and all existing matter, plus much more, expanded from that point. There was a rapid and continuing expansion. Do not for a moment get the idea that all of this expansion was into the surrounding empty space, because there was no space. No matter, no space existed prior to the Big Bang.

And that’s the theme of this book. The principal theme, that is. Why did a point in non-space unzip to form the universe?

In chapter 9 of this book I mention a fact that I now want to introduce first here. Whenever one asks “Why?” in science, one actually means “How?”.“Why?” is not really a sensible question in science because it usually implies purpose and, as anyone who has been the parent of a small child knows, one can keep on asking “Why?” forever , no matter what the answer to the previous question. Ultimately , the only way to end the conversation seems to be to say “Because!”

Krauss, Lawrence (2012-01-10). A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing . Atria Books. Kindle Edition.

This is a critical divergence from creationist thinking. Creationism in all forms eventually falls back onto a “why.” Creationists can be picked out from a crowd as those who need to see a purpose in everything. Creationists, and a few others, can only view the world from a human standpoint. They have not broken out of the mental cage that is human ego. People do things for a purpose. Other things must happen for a purpose. Everything does happen for a purpose. Nothing happens without a purpose.

Creationists are unable to step back and to see that purpose is a human feature. There is more. Other living organisms besides humans possess purpose. Foxes chase rabbits for a purpose. Foxes need to eat rabbits. If foxes do not catch and eat rabbits they will die. There will be no more foxes. The only foxes that still exist today are those that possess the purpose of catching and eating something. Purpose is something that has developed biologically by the process of evolution through natural selection. Outside this realm of things the concept of purpose does not exist.

I’m not going to detail the findings of the book. You can read the book, it’s only $8.06 in the Kindle edition. The book presents what is the most recent and most likely the best reasoning about why there is something rather than nothing. For free you can read most of these ideas on-line. The book makes it all human by way of a person who has lived these recent developments.

I previously did a review of the creationist video Expelled. This documentary, produced by Premise Media, features a number of people supposedly “expelled” for promoting creationism (Intelligent Design) or at least for disparaging Darwinism. One of these was cosmologist Guillermo Gonzalez.

Gonzalez’ main claim to fame is a book he published and a video on the same subject. The book is The Privileged Planet, with the subtitle How Our Place In The Cosmos Was Designed For Discovery. I have the book and the video, and I promise a review in the future. When the video first came out I did a short review for The North Texas Skeptic, which I will repost here:

One thing Krauss does in his book is to put the kibosh on Gonzalez’ appeal for fine tuning:

Our idea was crazy by any standards . In order to result in a value for the cosmological constant consistent with our claim, the estimated value for this quantity described in the last chapter would have to be reduced somehow by 120 orders of magnitude and still not be precisely zero. This would involve the most severe fine-tuning of any physical quantity known in nature, without the slightest idea how to adjust it.

This was one of the reasons that, as I lectured at various universities about the quandary of a flat universe, I evoked mostly smiles and no more. I don’t think many people took our proposal seriously, and I am not even sure Turner and I did. Our point in raising eyebrows with our paper was to illustrate graphically a fact that was beginning to dawn not just on us , but also on several of our theorist colleagues around the world : something looked wrong with the by-then “standard” picture of our universe, in which almost all the energy required by general relativity to produce a flat universe today was assumed to reside in exotic dark matter (with a pinch of baryons— i.e., us Earthlings, stars, visible galaxies— to salt the mix).

Krauss, Lawrence (2012-01-10). A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing (pp. 75 – 76). Atria Books. Kindle Edition.

Larry Krauss has developed into one of those national treasures for which all civilization can be grateful. He thinks, he speaks and he acts. It’s a welcome combination.

Krauss is an atheist activist and self-described antitheist. Krauss has participated in many debates with theologians and apologists, including Hamza Tzortzis and William Lane Craig. The debate with Tzortzis (The Big Debates organised by iERA) resulted in controversy when Krauss complained to the Muslim organisers about the gender segregation of the audience; he only stayed when men and women were allowed to sit together. Later, the audience protested at his comment that it’s “not clear” to him that incest is objectively wrong, saying that he wouldn’t recommend it but may listen to rational arguments concerning the objective morality of such acts.

Krauss also featured in a full-length documentary entitled The Unbelievers, in which he and Richard Dawkins travel across the globe speaking publicly about the importance of science and reason as opposed to religion and superstition. They also interview prominent figures such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Cameron Diaz, Sam Harris, and Stephen Hawking.

In his book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing (2012), Krauss discusses the premise that something cannot come from nothing, which has often been used as an argument for the existence of an uncaused cause, or creator. He has since argued in a debate with John Ellis and Don Cupitt that the laws of physics allow for the universe to be created from nothing. “What would be the characteristics of a universe that was created from nothing, just with the laws of physics and without any supernatural shenanigans? The characteristics of the universe would be precisely those of the ones we live in.” In an interview with The Atlantic, however, he states that he has never claimed that “questions about origins are over.” According to Krauss, “I don’t ever claim to resolve that infinite regress of why-why-why-why-why; as far as I’m concerned it’s turtles all the way down.”

[Some links deleted]

There is one thing not answered in this book, and maybe that is the ultimate why? Krauss discusses how the Universe could have and more so why it should have erupted from a point singularity. That’s a plausible explanation of our existence, given that something (or nothing if you will) existed to begin with. The ultimate question may be how (not why) the postulated conditions, or anything, existed. And the answer to this is definitely not “God.”


3 thoughts on “Ex Nihilo

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