That old "something from nothing" thing

PZ has a post up where he links to an article by physicist Ethan Siegel that explains how, in the quantum world, something comes from nothing all the time.

I'm a bit mixed on these kinds of things. What they demonstrate is that the Newtonian chain of causality that we observe on what I suppose we could call the "human-intuitive scale" is not applicable on the quantum scale. Quantum things behave by a bizarre set of rules, and since the quantum world is what makes our world, it gives us a greater insight into how the universe actually works – human intuition be damned. William Lane Craig has said that the first premise of the Kalam Cosmological Argument ("Everything that begins to exist has a cause") is based on the "metaphysical intuition that something cannot come from nothing" [1]. Unfortunately for Craig's argument, quantum mechanics demonstrates that what we assume to be intuitively true is not always an accurate picture of reality.

My problem with my fellow atheists and the esteemed physicists making the argument is that this is generally made to apply to the universe itself without making the highly important distinction of pointing out that they're really saying that the observable universe could have come from "nothing", where "nothing" is a quantum vacuum. Because in order for this quantum weirdness to occur, you do have to have "something" – a quantum field. Theists often point out that a quantum field isn't actually "nothing", and I think that's a perfectly reasonable objection.


The question is, then, "where did the quantum field come from" – the answer to which is another question: why ought we assume that it came from anything at all? Because the familiar Newtonian chain of causality only applies at the human-intuitive scale, it's fallacious to assume that something like a quantum field must be subject to it. Further, cause-effect chains require time itself to be functioning as a forward-linear "arrow", but the laws of quantum mechanics work the same forward and backward in time; and most modern theories of cosmology posit that prior to the inflation of the observable universe, time itself could have functioned non-linearly [2], [3]. This would eliminate any distinct point that could be called the "beginning" of the universe – no moment of creation. And if there is no moment of creation, what place is there for a Creator? 

What all this means is that it is just as logical to say, "the universe simply is" as it is to say, "God simply is". Bertrand Russel was commenting to this effect decades ago – only now we have science to back it up:
 If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu's view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, "How about the tortoise?" the Indian said, "Suppose we change the subject." The argument is really no better than that. There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination.[4]

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