Suppose you ask a college professor, "Where does a baby come from? How does a baby come to form in the womb?"
The professor says that there is a biological law of development that causes an ovum to develop into a baby and that this law requires an ovum to create itself from nothing. You say that this sounds circular as though a baby comes to be because its potential existence makes it somehow necessary. The professor sighs and tells you that you misunderstand him: The internal characteristics of the early embryo is what leads to the embryo existing; the existence of an embryo is inevitable based off of a bunch of different criteria that exist before the embryo really starts to expand into existence.
Surely you would gather that this professor is either engaged in sophistry or has no idea just how logically unsound his reasoning is. What I want to look at here is what happens when a physicist tries to turn cosmology into a universe-creating perpetual motion machine, and then laymen attempt to defend such reasoning.
Stephen Hawking has a knack for taking science and doing a whole lot of questionable philosophy beyond it (see bottom of this post), in spite of his sometimes dismissive attitude toward philosophy. A particularly quotable example was brought to the spotlight in the 2015 Christian film God's Not Dead:
Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself out of nothing.The film is staged around several fictional presentations in which a college student is making a case for the existence of a Creator to an atheist professor's philosophy class. The student Josh interprets Hawking's words thus:
Hawking is basically saying that the universe exists because the universe needed to exist, and because the universe needed to exist, it therefore created itself.Now, the original statement by Hawking is that there exists something (the law of gravity--which is inside or outside the universe?) that explains the necessity for and therefore the existence of the universe. Like the Logos in the Gospel of John, gravity plays for Hawking the role of Firstborn of all Creation, eternal and present "in the beginning."
Amateur Darwinism apologist Deterlucem spends an entire Youtube webisode taking on these fictional arguments in the film, and takes issue with the above as though the character Josh is stating that Hawking means the form of our present universe was foreordained in "some cosmic plan." Instead, Deter impatiently explains Stephen Hawking's assertion that the law of gravity requires the universe to spontaneously create itself from nothing:
It's like I mentioned twice now, the internal characteristics of the early universe is what led to the universe existing--it's meaning [sic] the existence of the present universe was inevitable based off of a bunch of different criteria existing before the universe really started to expand into existence."Expand into existence"? Expanding from non-existence? Now, even if we accept the law of gravity deterministically getting us from a pre-inflation early universe to the present universe with no speculative baggage (a big "if"), that process doesn't explain how we get the pre-inflation early universe "from nothing." It's not clear that Deter has thought about his own words enough to know himself what he means by them. This cosmic "just so" story sounds like a creation myth:
In the beginning was Nothing, and the Nothing expanded four-dimensionally into Something because of the Criteria, and Gravity caused the Criteria to hyperinflate the new Something into an immense universe of mass and energy, which through Cosmic Evolution eventually became the universe we see now.What Deter has presented is something that Daniel Dennet calls a "deepity." In its sensible, obvious interpretation (in this case, that the outcome of a deterministic process is explained by initial conditions), its meaning is trivial and irrelevant. In its non-trivial sense (in this case, that a thing's early state explains how it came to be in that early state), it is absurd. He does this through what Daniel Dennet calls "rathering." Rather than an inevitable universe in the sense of being planned, laws like gravity endow a Nothing with awesome self-starting, universe-becoming powers. Because Science. This is one of those ideas that are so absurd that only intellectuals could believe them. It is the intellectual version of the explanation for electrolytes in Idiocracy (note: Brawndo is something like Gatorade).
Lawrence Krauss is only slightly more nuanced when he explains that "nothing" is an unstable something. If you have a "nothing" all by itself without matter or energy, it starts quivering and explodes into an enormous universe. G.K. Chesterton once compared materialism to schizophrenia: both are characterized by reason without sense. When reason is all by itself without sense, it starts quivering and explodes into a cosmological fantasy. ". . . [T]he materialist's world is quite simple and solid, just as the madman is quite sure he is sane. The materialist is sure that history has been simply and solely a chain of causation, just as the interesting person before mentioned is quite sure that he is simply and solely a chicken. Materialists and madmen never have doubts."*
Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination. . . . The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.