#198

January 31, 2011

Current Cosmology and the Beginning of the Universe

Dear Dr. Craig:

I've recommended tens of people to your material and I work at a used book store. I've also gone through your On Guard book and am now going through Reasonable Faith and have watched several of your debates many times.

At any rate, I have a major concern I wanted to share with you. Below there is an atheist (who's site seems to be one of the top 5 most popular sties coming up when entering: "refuting William Lane Craig" He is known as Atheist Arizona.

Supposedly this atheist has new info from correspondence with and between Mr.Vilenkin and Victor J Stenger that directly refutes your Kalam.

This atheist, as you will see also attacks all of your other arguments and says that even James D. Sinclair has seen this website and has had nothing to say back to it.

Would you please visit this site and respond to it or tell me how to refute them? It seems like the biggest claims are these:

1) Mr.Vilenkin says in a personal note here that his theory doesn't prove that the universe had a beginning.

2) Victor Stenger refutes the first premise to your Kalam showing two things that begin to exist that have no cause:

i-When an atom in an excited energy level drops to a lower level and emits a photon, a particle of light, we find no cause of that event.

ii-Similarly, no cause is evident in the decay of a radioactive nucleus.

Since Vilenkin's work is one of your main points of leverage and without the first Premise being true the Kalam doesn't stand combined with the fact that this is a very popular site; would you please either respond on that site, respond to me as to what I should know or do, or respond on your website to this stuff.

I'm very invested in your material and have been teaching it and referring it to others. I need to know that the foundation of your arguments still stand. Please respond. Here is the site:

http://arizonaatheist.blogspot.com/2010/05/william-lane-craigs-arguments-for-god.html

Blessings in Christ,

Mark

- country not specified

Since you mentioned his name, I passed your note on to my colleague James Sinclair for his interest. To my surprise he took the time to write a response, which I thought could be helpful to our readers. His reply follows.

WmLC


Dear Mark,

James Sinclair here. Dr. Craig forwarded me your concerns, and I'd be glad to answer them.

I was made aware of the Arizona Atheist several months ago by a commenter on the www.reasonablefaith.org forums. I maintain an account there and occasionally comment on the “kalam” thread when the particular subject line interests me. Beyond this, I generally adopt Dr. Craig's policy of not directly engaging online atheists, although there are several I like and appreciate. Part of the reason is just time. I maintain a full time job (and a full time family) quite apart from any activities in arguing for the existence of God. Another reason is the possibility of a misunderstanding (deliberate or otherwise). As you mentioned in your question, even the absence of a comment from me on the subject can be incorrectly read as having significance!

As you know, Dr. Craig and I coauthored an essay on the kalam argument for the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. The price of this volume is steep, and the number of folks who have seen it is limited. Even for those who have, the essay can be somewhat daunting. This may have been the issue for “Arizona Atheist” (mere speculation here). It should be apparent to someone who read the piece that my contribution is an exhaustive discussion of two singularity theorems (Hawking-Penrose and Borde-Vilenkin-Guth) and all the exceptions to the theorems. This latter comment is important; let me repeat it. The piece exhaustively covers all the exceptions to the theorems.

Nowhere (in our essay) do we employ a supposed quote from Alex Vilenkin to the effect that his theorem (by itself) demonstrates a beginning to the universe and merely rely on it as some type of argument-from-authority. That said, there is a particularly famous (or infamous) comment that Vilenkin made in his 2006 book Many Worlds in One to the effect that his theorem DOES prove that the universe has a beginning. Dr Craig sometimes mentions this in his public talks (it doesn’t appear in our essay). But in certain settings where brevity is necessary, or one does not wish to lose the listener, one cannot engage in a million caveats. The full case should and has been made in rigorous works of scholarship.

Even Alex Vilenkin doesn’t mention all the possible exceptions in his brief correspondence with Arizona Atheist. The key is that universes that don't, on average, expand over their past history avoid the theorem. As Vilenkin mentions to Arizona Atheist, this includes contracting universes. There are also cyclic models and “asymptotically static” models, where the average past expansion is zero by construction. With regard to contracting universes, we (in the article) engage another prominent cosmologist (George Ellis) on the topic. His comments agree with the short quote that Vilenkin gave to Arizona Atheist. A contracting universe won't generate the proper “bounce” characteristics as it transitions from a contraction to an expansion. One can avoid this, as the Aguirre-Gratton model does, by reversing the arrow of time at the boundary (as Vilenkin told AA). But if you do this, then the mirror universe on the other side of the BVG boundary in no sense represents a past out of which our current universe evolved. Thus our universe would begin-to-exist, should the A-theory of time be true. The A-theory of time, by the way, is simply a basic statement of the concept of evolution: enduring entities change with respect to time as described by the laws of physics. This is hardly controversial. As an aside, I note that the Aguirre-Gratton model is not even suggested by its authors to be a model of our universe. Rather, they hope that it can serve as a springboard for the birth of our universe through some other physical process (some of which they briefly mention in their academic paper).

For asymptotically static universes, the expansion rate of the universe approaches zero in the limit of past infinite time. One of the problems they have (should one try to take the past infinite timeline seriously) is that at some point the magnitude of quantum fluctuations of the universe's volume would be comparable to the evolutionary rate of change (which is tending toward zero as one looks to the past). At this point, there is no meaningful arrow of time and the model breaks down. A similar problem can occur in cyclic models. Cyclic models usually have thermodynamic problems as well.

If one addresses all the possibilities rigorously, I think one CAN come to a conclusion that our universe has a beginning. Those that seek to refute this conclusion are going to have to grapple with the full rigorous essay and its implications. No shortcuts. For this, I still await a proper response.

With regard to your other concern regarding kalam's first premise, let me give you my take on it. While I think that one could address the simple quantum examples Stenger raises (I'll follow up on that if you want), I think it's best to go straight to the event that matters: creation. Is the “creation” event uncaused? I'm going to step away from kalam for a moment and look at a different cosmological argument. I start with the following quote from section 2.2.2 of Alex Pruss' essay on the Leibnizian cosmological argument from the Blackwell Companion:

This argument is based on ideas of Robert Koons (1997), though I am simplifying it. Start with the observation that once we admit that some contingent states of affairs have no explanations, a completely new sceptical scenario becomes possible: No demon is deceiving you, but your perceptual states are occurring for no reason at all, with no prior causes.

Moreover, objective probabilities are tied to laws of nature or objective tendencies, and so if an objective probability attaches to some contingent fact, then that situation can be given an explanation in terms of laws of nature or objective tendencies. Hence, if the PSR is false of some contingent fact, no objective probability attaches to the fact.

Thus we cannot even say that violations of the PSR are improbable if the PSR is false. Consequently, someone who does not affirm the PSR cannot say that the sceptical scenario is objectively improbable. It may be taken to follow from this that if the PSR were false or maybe even not known a priori, we wouldn't know any empirical truths. But we do know empirical truths. Hence, the PSR is true, and maybe even known a priori.

Here PSR refers to the "Principle of Sufficient Reason." The idea is that facts require explanations. The Leibnizian argument is based on explanations, while the kalam argument is based on causes. Now, causes can be explanations. So at the risk of conflating the two arguments, consider that something comes from nothing WITHOUT EXPLANATION or because SOMETHING made it happen (a cause is implicated, however that occurred). Now it is possible to have an explanation without a cause, but I believe that is going to take you into the philosophy of time, and the relevant critic (at least for now) isn't raising that question. So we're sticking with the backbone notion of evolution: enduring entities change with respect to time as described by laws of physics.

Consider the universe (or multiverse). If it began-to-exist, then it either did so with or without explanation. If the latter (which is what Victor Stenger must ultimately be getting at), then you have to consider the implication raised by Pruss and Koons above. If we're talking about (ultimate) universe creation, then an atheist scenario (respecting my earlier caveats) is going to have to have this reality arise from “nothing,” where “nothing” is conceived of as the “absence of being.” “Nothing,” so defined, has no properties or constraints. If things can pop into being, then anything and everything can, without restriction and with no probability attaching to the fact. Thus you can't say, “It can happen, but only for universes.” You can't say, “It can happen for universes, but we can't see the other ones because they don't interact.” You can't say, “It can happen, but it is rare; hence, I don't expect a universe to appear in my breakfast bowl this morning (or a pink elephant with a bow tie).” The full implications of this would be the maximum skeptical scenario: no thought, no observation, nothing at all could ever be safely attributed to some evolutionary process based on physics, as opposed to just happening without explanation. Now, this is not supposed to be the atheist position. The atheists are the "brights." They reason based on the findings of science, not the rote teachings of some stifling religion. So one would think that the maximum skeptical position would not be an option for them. If folks such as Victor Stenger, Lawrence Krauss, Peter Atkins, and others think so, then they clearly haven't thought it through.

Now someone like Stephen Hawking may say that “gravity” did it. “Gravity” somehow exists as some Platonic entity and is responsible for causing the universe. As Dr. Craig will tell you, and John Lennox, and (I believe) the overwhelming consensus of philosophers past and present: entities of this type do not stand in causal relations. Hawking (and, perhaps Stenger, Krauss, etc.) would be making a category error should they make this particular claim. They would be philosophically incoherent.

If knowledge is possible, then there must be a metaphysical principle “Ex nihilo nihil fit,” meaning “Out of nothing nothing comes.” The first step in being a “bright” is to accept this principle.

Jim Sinclair