FLORIDA, January 1, 2013 — At one time or another, most people wonder exactly how our universe came into being.
Various religions and philosophers have offered explanations. It was not until physics began to achieve huge prestige in the 19th century that society began to look for empirically verifiable answers. Today, more progress than ever before is being made in unraveling the secrets of of the universe past, present, and future.
Lawrence Krauss is a theoretical physicist and bestselling author. His most recent book, A Universe from Nothing, is a response from the cutting edge of theoretical physics to that all-important question of how our universe burst into existence.
Here Dr. Krauss explains why so many scientific breakthroughs have occurred over the last several years, whether or not faith is compatible with modern science, how the universe might have been created, whether science supports the idea of an all-powerful creator, and much more.
Joseph F. Cotto: Science is beginning to answer many of the questions that have perplexed humanity throughout the ages. Why have so many breakthroughs taken place over the last several years?
Dr. Lawrence Krauss: Every time we open a new window on the universe we are surprised. Technology has allowed us in the past few decades to reach out to observe things we might never have thought possible, to take photos of the universe when it was less than 300,000 years old, to probe the fundamental structure of matter on scales a thousand times smaller than the size of a proton, to sequence the human genome. The expansion in our ability to probe the universe has been exponential, which is kind of poetic, since the universe itself appears to be expanding exponentially.
Cotto: Many people fear that science is answering too many questions too quickly. They claim that this will diminish the societal influence of religion. What is your opinion about this idea?
Dr. Krauss: It would be fantastic if science diminished the societal influence of religion, since religion encourages people to force the universe to conform to their beliefs. Science forces beliefs to conform to the evidence of reality. That leads to much better policies for society.
Cotto: Across the world, billions rely on faith just to get them through the day. Said faith might be in the divine, another person, or a social construct. In your opinion, is faith compatible with modern science?
Dr. Krauss: Faith is not incompatible with science if it is based on the evidence of reality and does not contradict experiment or observation. The moment it does, it becomes incompatible. Note that science cannot disprove the existence of God anymore than it can disprove the possibility that a china teapot is orbiting Jupiter. But that doesn’t make either likely.
Cotto: The existence of God is an immensely controversial subject. From your standpoint, does modern science support the idea of an all-powerful creator?
Dr. Krauss: Absolutely not. No evidence that anything other than natural laws are required to have produced everything we see and much that we don’t. [There’s] no need for supernatural shenanigans, and no evidence of purpose to the universe. God is irrelevant to everything we measure in the universe, if she exists.
Cotto: In a summary sense, how did the universe come into existence?
Dr. Krauss: WE don’t know the answer of course, but we do know that quantum mechanics, combined with gravity, allows universes to pop into existence from nothing, and those that survive 13 billion years will end up looking a lot like ours.
Cotto: Evolution is a fact of life. Can the importance of its role throughout human history be understated?
Dr. Krauss: Evolution generally occurs on long timescales, far longer than recorded human history as a rule, although not always. Human evolution has occurred over millions of years, and of course the evolution of life in general over billions of years.
Cotto: Whether they should be rooted in theism or politics, various ideologies often attract droves of willing participants searching for a universal truth of some kind. While modern science is answering many difficult questions, does it offer any absolute truths?
Dr. Krauss: No, but there are no absolute truths. There are only absolute falsehoods. The beauty of science is that it does not claim to know the answers before it asks the questions. There is nothing wrong with not knowing. It means there is more to learn, and as I have said before, ignorance bothers me far less than the illusion of knowledge.
Cotto: Mythology often finds a greater degree of popularity than scientific conclusions do. In your view, is there a reason for this?
Dr. Krauss: Yes. People want to believe, we are hard wired to, and we have a long history of myths. In addition, religions have a vested interested in continuing the myths for their own survival.
Cotto: The search for meaning in life is a theme shared by all societies. Does science offer any concrete answers to the question of what life is all about?
Dr. Krauss: That presumes that life is about something. Maybe it isn’t. Science allows for the possibility that there is no absolute purpose or meaning, that we make our own meaning in our lives. In my opinion that is far grander than some meaning imposed by some cosmic dictator in the sky.
Cotto: How did you become such a prominent academic? Tell us a bit about your life and career.
Dr. Krauss: That is a long story. The short version is that I worked hard, and have also been lucky, and I was inspired by many people who came before me, in particular by their writing. That is one of the reasons why I write popular books, to return the favor.
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