Kalam I: Why the Big Bang isn’t evidence of God

Craig’s second argument in Reasonable Faith, is probably the one he’s most famous for, the Kalam cosmological argument. He begins by arguing:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Obviously, Craig needs further arguments that if the universe has a cause, the cause must be God. He never does more than briefly sketch those arguments, which should be a red flag, since without those arguments the rest doesn’t amount to much. But hold off on that until later.

Craig claims premise (1) is obviously true. Many people don’t think it is, including myself and philosopher of religion Keith Parsons, but I don’t think this is anywhere close to being the worst problem with Craig’s argument, nor do I see much point in arguing over what’s obvious, so I’d be happy to grant Craig (1) for the sake of argument.

I really want to focus on (2). Craig gives two types of arguments for (2), scientific arguments and philosophical arguments. I’ll deal with the scientific arguments first.

One argument Craig uses appeals to the second law of thermodynamics. The second law of thermodynamics says that the entropy in a closed system will steadily increase until it’s at its maximum (or, put another way, that a closed system will tend towards equilibrium). Because the universe’s entropy isn’t at its maximum, isn’t in a state of equilibrium (which is good for us, or else life would be impossible), the universe can’t be infinitely old.

Here’s one problem with using this as an argument for God: what if there’s an undiscovered exception to the laws of thermodynamics? Craig can reply that there’s no evidence that such an exception exists, and that the laws of thermodynamics have always been found to hold throughout countless observations. But Craig’s own view involves postulating a massive exception to the laws of thermodynamics—namely God.

In other words, Craig’s strategy requires first dismissing the possibility of some physical exception to the laws of physics based on lack of evidence, and then arguing to God. But it would make just as much sense to first dismiss the possibility of God based on lack of evidence, and then argue to a physical exception to the laws of thermodynamics.

Once again, we’re in Bill O’Reilly-land here. Craig has no argument for preferring his view to the alternative. And, though this will take a bit more explaining, there’s a very similar problem with the part of Kalam which I suspect appeals to the most people, namely Craig’s attempt to use Big Bang cosmology to prove God.

The Big Bang theory describes how, over the last 13.5 billion years, the universe expanded from something that was originally very small into the unimaginably large universe we have today. It is often assumed this means the universe began 13.5 billion years ago, but to many scientists, the idea that the Big Bang theory is a theory of how the universe began (as opposed to how it developed) is a misconception.

Craig spends a lot of time trying to shoot down theories which, while consistent with what the Big Bang says about the expansion of the universe over billions of years, do not say that the universe began to exist. The problem with this is similar to the problem with trying to use the laws of thermodynamics to prove God.

While it may be hard to say exactly what makes something “science” or “good science,” it’s safe to say that when scientists frame their theories, they’re at least supposed to be constrained by the evidence. When Craig tries to shoot down particular scientific theories about the history of the universe in Reasonable Faith, he’s attacking theories framed under that constraint.

However, if you don’t care about the standards normally applied to scientific theories, it’s ridiculously easy to come up with a story about how the past could be infinite. After all, maybe God decided to make it look finite in spite of being infinite. So Craig needs those normal standards.

His God hypothesis, however, doesn’t meet them. As with the thermodynamics argument, there’s no evidence for it except that (allegedly) we’re forced to it once the alternatives have been ruled out. And in the Kalam argument, Craig keeps his God too vague to test against the evidence.

Craig may protest that “God is a better hypothesis than the alternatives” is not a claim he makes at any step in his argument. True. However, the fact that Craig never explicitly makes this claim is no excuse for rejecting other people’s views using one set of standards, and then refusing to apply those same standards to his own beliefs.

  • http://philosophiadeus.blogspot.com/ Andrés Ruiz

    Chris,

    I’m worried that your blog series on Craig will be tainted by the fact that you’re reading the dumbed down versions of his arguments. Reasonable Faith and On Guard are aimed at lay-people without much philosophical or scientific education. An apologetics group at my University was reading On Guard a couple quarters ago and I was disgusted by how simplistic the book was but I didn’t make that color my opinion of Craig as a scholar since these are aimed at the public.

    If you want to write a series on Craig demonstrating why he’s a bit of a hack why don’t you go through Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview instead? It’s a tougher read, but that’s where the real meat and bones of the arguments are, that book is aimed at grad students and philosophers in general. Writing a series on a Philosopher based on a reading of his popular non-academic works just isn’t fair. You can easily say “he doesn’t give an argument for this here, WHY DOESN’T HE!!!” when in fact he probably does elsewhere in the academic stuff.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

      I plan on addressing a bit of what he says there, but my experience with Craig has mostly been that his “academic” work differs little from his “popular” work, except for being longer-winded. Is there anything specific from Philosophical Foundations you’d like me to address?

      • http://philosophiadeus.blogspot.com/ Andrés Ruiz

        Not specifically. If you’re doing a run-down of his arguments though that’d be a better place to look on treatments of those arguments.

        A dedicated blog to his Kalam Cosmological Argument would probably benefit from your addressing his version in Philosophical Foundations and/or the Blackwell Companion version rather than the versions offered in Reasonable Faith and On Guard.

        I don’t see them as more “long-winded”, he doesn’t repeat the same points on and on and on as page fillers, he goes on to address different models and gets to the nitty gritty details that a lay audience wouldn’t understand or even be that interested in.

        Judging Craig the popularizer is a different task from judging Craig the scholar methinks.

        It’s your blog, and you do what you want, I personally would prefer a treatment of his fleshed out versions rather than the bite-sized ones in the popular works.

        • anteprepro

          I just love the idea that his argument as a “popularizer” is distinctly different from his argument he presents as a “scholar”. Shouldn’t admitting that be damning in itself?

          • http://philosophiadeus.blogspot.com/ Andrés Ruiz

            No. “Different” in the sense that it is toned down, less philosophical jargon, and skipping over some arguments that laypersons don’t really need to know about such as arguments against the possibility of abstract objects causally interacting with the physical world so as to “cause” it.

            It’s no more damning than Phil Plait or Carl Sagan “dumbing down” what we know in Physics for a general audience and skipping the really tedious details (most of the really math-heavy stuff) etc.

            It’s only “damning” if you’re looking for any reason to dislike a person.

          • anteprepro

            Look, here’s the deal: If Phil Plait or Sagan said to a popular audience something that could be readily refuted, then they were either wrong or did a shit job at conveying the facts to that audience. Period. You imply that I have double standards. The reality is simply that I don’t see “I was talking to laypeople!” as an excuse for sloppiness and lies of omission. I don’t think acting as a popularizer gives you free reign to present the facts however you please or to border on inaccurate.

            There are two options:
            -Accept that the form for popular audiences is not sufficiently accurate or complete, essentially admitting that it is misrepresenting the case when talking to the audience that actually takes Scholar X as an authority.
            -Claim that the form of the audience presented to audience isn’t significantly inaccurate or incomplete, and thus fair game to criticize.

            Which is it? Or is Bill Craig some hybrid of the above? In some netherland between “accurate enough to be presented to the masses as accurate” and “inaccurate enough that it is unfair to treat as the real argument”?

        • jacobfromlost

          I love that there is nothing specific in his “scholarly” work that should be addressed beyond that addressed in his “popular” work, and that there are several assertions of “he’s not long-winded” and “he gets to the nitty gritty” without CITING what “nitty-gritty” that would be.

          This sounds very much like the courtier’s reply, and a bad faith argument. If his popular arguments are not what he REALLY means to argue, and there is nothing specific in his “scholarly” articles that should be addressed beyond those arguments he makes popularly (over and over again), what is the point of criticising Chris.

          Andres: such as arguments against the possibility of abstract objects causally interacting with the physical world so as to “cause” it.

          Me: If Craig is making arguments AGAINST the argument that abstractions cause stuff…I don’t know who he is arguing WITH. No one ever said any such thing.

        • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

          I addressed this point in a way on Facebook, but I think much of that detail isn’t really relevant to the criticisms I’m making here. Do you see anything in the Blackwell Companion version of Kalam that addresses the criticisms I’ve made here? If not, there’s no point in getting into all that.

          And the Blackwell Companion treatment of the arguments that the cause of the universe is God are like, three pages, which is only slightly longer than the treatment in Reasonable Faith.

          • http://philosophiadeus.blogspot.com/ Andrés Ruiz

            Jesus H. Christ. This is a friggin blog, I’m not gonna bust out my online copy of the Blackwell and start citing shit for a brief comment on this.

            If the commenters on this blog are fine with dismissing Craig as unsophisticated and not worth paying attention to because of the dumbed down versions of the arguments in his popular works then that’s fine. I myself am interested in seeing what he has to say when the target audience are philosophers and scientists, Blackwell and Philosophical Foundations being those books. I myself am interested. If you folks aren’t then by all means, continue on. I’ll read them.

          • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

            Calm down, Andres.

            I just re-read the section of the Blackwell Companion that presents Craig’s argument against the possibility of an actual infinity, and as far as I can tell, it’s exactly the same as the argument in Reasonable Faith.

            He does quote David Yandell making a similar point to one I plan on making in my next post, and I’ll cite Craig’s response to that in my post. But even with out that, I still think what I’m about to say in my next post would be equally applicable to Craig of Reasonable Faith and Craig of the Blackwell Companion article. He presents the same arguments in both venues. The latter is somewhat more detailed, but that does not automatically render my criticisms of his arguments irrelevant.

            Furthermore, I sincerely believe the criticisms of the scientific side of Kalam I present here are applicable to what Craig says in the Blackwell Companion. Again, as far as I can tell, they’re the same damn arguments. If you disagree, why?

          • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

            In fact, I’ll go further: replace the first sentence of this blog post with some introductory reference to the Blackwell Companion article, and the second reference to Reasonable Faith with “When Craig tries to shoot down particular scientific theories about the history of the universe in his article, he’s attacking theories framed under that constraint,” and I believe everything I say in this post would be perfectly true of the Blackwell Companion article.

          • Rosemary

            Well, Andre, you have to contend with the fact that a very large majority of sophisticated philosophers are athiests and do not find Craig’s arguments, popular or otherwise, to be sensible or compelling.

    • Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

      Isn’t the problem here that WLC makes, in all of his arguements, the statement “universe begins to exist” which is not something that cosmologist & physicists are willing to agree to? All version of Kalam have this as a premise – if they don’t I’ll happily stand corrected.

      His logic can be as complex and/or water-tight as you like, but if the premise has not been demonstrated isn’t the rest of the process moot? Can WLC demonstrate that the universe began to exist when Planck Time is currently a brick wall to knowledge?

      • sans-deity

        Here fucking here!

        • ‘Tis Himself

          That should be: Hear hear.

          </pedant>

    • jimmy60

      “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
      ― Albert Einstein

      • Rosemary

        Just what I was thinking!

        Craig often uses technical terms, that can be translated into simple English by those in the know, to confuse his audience or to make them think that his arguments are more sophisticated than they, in fact, are.

        If Craig contends that arguments for his version of god are persuasive to the common man then he needs to present arguments that can be understood by the common man. If his god can only be understood by the sophisticated and well educated that makes his god into an elitist. I doubt if he would be prepared to argue that.

  • http://physicalism.wordpress.com/ Physicalist

    You’re right that many physicisists/cosmologists no longer consider the big bang an account of the very earliest moments of the universe, but it’s worth pointing out that even if we only deal with classical general relativity and take the big bang to be a spacetime singularity, the Kalam argument fails.

    This is because according to GR, even though the universe is not older than 13.7 byo, there is no beginning. There is no time that the universe didn’t exist (as I point out here).

    The universe does not have a beginning — it’s just not infinitely old.

    A similar point should be made regarding entropy increase. Even if we accept that this shows that the universe only has a finite age ( which is not a very good argument), it doesn’t follow that the universe had a beginning.

    To say that the big bang is a spacetime singularity (and to interpret that claim realistically using GR), is to say that the universe has no beginning. For every instant of time there is an earlier instant at which the universe existed. (Which is not to say that for every year there was an earlier year.)

    • eric

      All of this is IMO, but…yup. It seems to me that philosophers are still struggling with how 1900s physics impacts metaphysical arguments about time, space, and causality.

      I don’t envy them. Its a tough nut to crack, trying to figure out how Einstein and Bohr and Heisenberg impacts statements such as “whatever begins to exist has a cause.” I’ll give kudos to those philosophers trying to address this. But folk like WLC aren’t trying to address it at all, they’re just ignoring it. They’re trundling along with the same arguments for God as if 20th century physics never happened.

      The best evidence we have says that the common sense notions of time, space, and causality on which the Kalam (and similar) arguments rest are probably wrong. An argument for God that includes a Newtonian notion of time in its premises is about as good as one that premises the luminiferous ether.

      • jacobfromlost

        Eric: The best evidence we have says that the common sense notions of time, space, and causality on which the Kalam (and similar) arguments rest are probably wrong.

        Me: There’s no “probably” about it–they are wrong. Relativity is confirmed in virtually every bit of modern tech. GPS’s, for instance, have to correct for relativistic differences in space-time between the ground and satellites. If they did not (and used “common sense notions” a la Newton), our GPS devices would be increasingly wrong day by day. Relativity has been confirmed by mountains and mountains of evidence, which is why we depend on it and why certain predicted observations (such as the famous eclipse experiment, as well as the effects of black holes) have continued to be discovered.

        • Albert Bakker

          Eric is referring to the problem of causality (among other problems of a more philosophical nature) in QM, not to either SR or GR. Most physicists agree that GR can’t tell us much of anything beyond a certain point like either before Planck time in the case of this Universe or at the very centre of a black hole that exist inside this Universe. That is one of the reasons why in order to explain what goes on inside there we need a theory of quantumgravity to arise somewhere out of the many proposed hypotheses or out of something that’s never been thought of yet.
          This is also problematic for apologetic cosmological arguments that rest on a naive and outdated understanding of causality and determinism and an equally naive understanding of the impossibility of physical infinities as seen from (different) space-time coordinates.

          • eric

            Well, actually, I was referring to all three collectively. They all cause problems for (various/different) philosophical arguments that depend on human-standard notions of time, space, and causality to reach some sort of metaphysical conclusion. But sorry if my first post wasn’t clear.

    • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

      Personally, I feel like this is nitpicking. WLC proposes that things that have beginnings have causes. It would be trivial to modify this to the proposition that things that aren’t infinitely old have causes. Mind you, I accept neither of these propositions, but I don’t see why one is so much more of a stretch than the other.

      Of course, WLC takes the ridiculous position that infinite series can’t exist in reality. So yeah…

      • http://physicalism.wordpress.com/ Physicalist

        I disagree. I think much of the appeal of saying that things with beginnings have causes comes from the intuition that there was an earlier time when the thing didn’t exist (so the must be a reason it came into existence). But when we see there was no earlier time, and no instant of beginning, this intuition is (or should be) undercut.

        The winning strategy (I suggest) is to show people that their everyday conceptions give out in the physical situations under discussion.

        • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

          You have a point, that may be part of the appeal for some people. It’s hard for me to judge, because it doesn’t appeal to me.

    • Rosemary

      Craig’s arguments assume that Newtonian physics (for which we have identifiable causes for physical objects)is identical to the laws of sub-atomic particles (which do not have identifiable causes for either their existence or their position in space-time).
      There is no logical reason why the physics at the commencement of the expansion of the universe (which is NOT the same as its creation)are able to be directed by a non-physical entity that also has no cause and which differs from the extreme simplicity of all the other elements in having an extremely complex MIND.

      Our only experience of minds, and personalities that will things, is that they all emanate from a complex physical brain that took eons to develop. Positing a brainless mind is special pleading. Positing a mind that causes uncaused particles to exist is neither necessary nor sensible.

  • anteprepro

    Here’s one problem with using this as an argument for God: what if there’s an undiscovered exception to the laws of thermodynamics?

    Might I suggest a different route here? Don’t rely on the possibility of there being an undiscovered “exception” to the laws of thermodynamics. That sounds pretty weak. Instead, rely on what these laws actually describe. Note how entropy is actually supposed to arise: As a result of chemical reactions and the natural movement of atoms/molecules. Then note what the state of the universe is in the period of time before the Big Bang: A super-mega-dense cluster of atoms. The amount of entropy that can arise in the pre-Big Bang “universe” pales in comparison to the amount of entropy allowable in the post-Big Bang universe, because the pre-Big Bang “universe” is a cluster of particles that is far too dense to allow for chemical reactions or movement that results in entropy. That “universe” might be at the maximum entropy such a state of affairs would allow, but the maximum entropy of that would be far lower than the current or maximum entropy of the universe as we know it.

    See here for a better explanation (written by a fellow FTBer, no less):
    http://machineslikeus.com/news/big-bang-beginners-14-does-big-bang-theory-violate-second-law-thermodynamics

    • http://physicalism.wordpress.com/ Physicalist

      I agree that it might be best to avoid ad hoc musings about exceptions.

      However, note too that atoms show up after big bang period, and (interesting) chemistry even later.

      More helpful would be an indication of how a dynamical spacetime restructures what’s allowed by the second law. Mano gives a good perspective on one aspect of this. (There a many interesting physical and philosophical issues about how gravity fits into thermodynamics.)

      • anteprepro

        Good point about the “atoms”: I half-realized that when I referred to them as “particles” but I forgot I had originally referred to them as “atoms” before that. D’oh.

      • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

        Hmmm… I think I’ll try to update this post to deal with anteprepro and Physicalists’ worries about the point about undiscovered exceptions.

      • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

        Nevermind, updating posts in a way that other people see the updates is awkward.

        The crucial point is this: if I don’t raise the issue of undiscovered exceptions to the laws of thermodynamics, I’m letting Craig get away with the biggest fallacy in the entire argument: namely holding God to one standard and holding all alternatives to God to a different standard. Because Craig’s only “evidence” for God in this argument depends on first dismissing other possibilities for lack of evidence.

        • anteprepro

          Fair enough. My suggestion is just that if you discuss this specific matter (pre-Big Bang entropy) in your book, at least briefly mention the science. You can do it in a far easier than I have, incidentally: Simply mention that the Second Law of Thermodynamics says only that entropy can never decrease, not that it must always be increasing. The possibility of entropy remaining constant is part of the law. That possibility is reflected in the equation for entropy change: dS= dQ/T (If heat doesn’t change, then entropy doesn’t increase). And constant entropy isn’t exclusive to cases when entropy is at its maximum either.

    • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

      I don’t think this offers a complete resolution, and even Mano Singham says it’s not the last word.

      I don’t think that we should commit to any particular resolution to the problem with the Second Law of thermodynamics unless there’s a real consensus to it. We’re doing philosophy here, not physics. In contrast, Mano Singham is doing physics not philosophy, so he can talk about stuff on the edge.

      It is, however, important to note that there are many concrete solutions that have been proposed. To propose one more solution (ie God) doesn’t help, because what we really need is more evidence to select the correct solution.

      • anteprepro

        *sigh*

        Look, anything is better than saying that we need to rely on finding an exception to the law of thermodynamics when we don’t clearly need one. Suggesting that the science is out on this matter is not accurate. This is just one possible explanation, yes, but it is one that meshes both with what we know about the Big Bang and what we know about entropy. What Mano Singham said “is not the last word” was immediately followed by the alternative hypothesis: That instead of the big mass being at its own personal maximum entropy, it was simply not at maximum entropy and the universe has a set maximum entropy. The verdict is the same: It was nowhere near the maximum value of entropy for our current universe. The very idea that such entropy could accumulate in that supermass is ridiculous to anyone familiar with both entropy and the Big Bang.

        We’re doing philosophy here, not physics.

        No, “we” are relying on the established facts of physics in order to do philosophy. The second law of thermodynamics is rife with caveats and is regularly misused by people who don’t quite understand that, or understand what exactly those caveats are, or even what the laws are supposed to be describing. That is physics. If you don’t get that physics, and then the philosophy doesn’t get off the ground. Full stop.

        • Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

          Yup, in these discussions physics is the boss, something that WLC only seems to pay lip-service to.

        • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

          I think you completely misunderstood what I said, because you disagreed with me and then said the same thing I did?

        • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

          Further clarification:
          I completely agree that the second law of thermodynamics is rife with caveats. Therefore, there are many possible resolutions to the problem, and Mano offers one. And then he briefly mentions a second resolution as well. But there are probably more than two possible resolutions!

          I don’t know that there is a scientific consensus on which resolution is correct. If you disagree on this point, I’m interested to hear it.

          If there is no consensus, then I do not have the cosmologicy expertise to judge which of the proposed solutions are correct. (When I said we’re not doing physics, I meant that we are not doing professional physics, this being a blog rather than a scientific journal.) And that’s fine, since all we need to know is that there are many alternatives to God.

      • M Groesbeck

        We’re doing philosophy here, not physics.

        Thermodynamics is a matter of physics — so once you start talking about the 2nd Law, you’re doing physics. Just, in the case of most philosophical uses, doing bad physics. Thermodynamics ends up being rather too messy and weird, when you look at the details, to make the sort of absolute truth claims required by the uses that certain branches of philosophy try to make of things like the 2nd Law. Especially once you get into statistical mechanics and such…”very, very likely” is generally not enough to ground a philosophical claim of necessity.

    • eric

      I’d be wary even applying the concept of entropy to the inflationary or earlier periods. If expansion is faster than interaction, particles can’t redistribute energy and entropy can’t change. Earlier than that, you have a problem figuring out how many microstates are available because a lot of different ways current particles store energy just aren’t stable at such high background energies.

      Its sort of like this: imagine you’re measuring something called ‘cashtropy,’ which is the evenness of distribution of cash among people. If one person has all the cash and a bunch of people have none, cashtropy is low. If the cash is divided equally amongst all the people, cashtropy is high. How do you describe a system consisting of only 1 person? Is that high cashtropy or low cashtropy? The whole concept sort of loses meaning in such a case. Analogously, the very early universe was likely characterized as having very few (or possibly one) available microstatets in which to store energy. In such a system, the whole concept of entropy stops making a sense.

      Entropy is a measure of distribution among states. No available states, no meaningful measure of distribution.

    • Rosemary

      Why should a complex brainless mind by the only thing not effected by entrophy? Could such a being develop cosmic Alzheimer’s?

  • busterggi

    “1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.”

    Why? And what necessitates that cause be a deliberate act of creation rather than just randomphysics?

    “2. The universe began to exist.”

    So WLC says but I don’t believe he can can prove it – just because the universe existed in a different form doesn’t mean it only began to exist when it became recognizable to us.

    “3 .Therefore, the universe has a cause.”

    Excuse me but until #1 & #2 can be shown to be more than guesswork #3 is unwarrented.

  • John

    I’ve been writing up my own set of responses to the Kalam, specifically the scientific evidence that Craig uses to try and back up Premise 2.

    I’m largely done writing up the part on Craig’s use of the Big Bang Singularity Theorem as evidence to back up premise 2, would you mind if I posted it here for feedback?

    • http://physicalism.wordpress.com/ Physicalist

      Feel free to post it chez moi if you like. I can’t promise feedback right away but I do know a thing or two about singularity theorems in GR and in QFT in curved spacetimes.

  • mnb0

    “what if there’s an undiscovered exception to the laws of thermodynamics?”
    Bad question if you are going to use cosmology as an argument for god. What if your car is moving thanks to undiscovered little ghosts?
    So I prefer Victor Stenger’s approach here.

    http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/how.html

    Seminar 1.

    The part on the Big Bang on TalkOrigin is not the best one. The problem with the Big Bang is basically this.
    The universe expands. That’s a fact. Moreover it’s very well described by the General Theory of Relativity. From the GTR Alexander Friedman and Georges Lemaitre deducted that somewhere in the past (we now know 13,7 billion years ago – not 13,5) the size of the Universe was zero (0), ie its density was infinite. Questioning this the way you do means questioning the work of Lemaitre, Friedman and in the end of Einstein. You won’t raise much enthusiasme of physicists here. On this they almost all are on Craig’s side – the Universe had a beginning and it’s called the Big Bang (by someone who defended the steady state his entire life). I strongly advise you to contact Victor Stenger and/or Mano Singham on this issue.
    Physicists know the history of the Universe quite well after say 0,001 s (it might be even less nowadays) after the Big Bang. But it’s in this first time interval that the problem arises. The scale of interactions (basically physical processes) is so small that Quantum Effects play a dominant role. And QM is acausal, while the GTR is a classical, causal theory. QM (and its daughters, like Quantum Electro Dynamics and the theories on superconductivity) and GTR contradict each other. That’s why GUT (Grand Unified Theory) is such a huge price.
    So you rather don’t doubt if the Big Bang happened – it did. We don’t know WHAT exactly happened. If Craig or anyone else prefers a causal model he/she has to solve two problems:
    1) There is no satisfactory causal alternative to QM. There have been attempts, but they suffer from their own problems.
    2) He/she has to show – you are correct about that one; Stenger mentions it too – that the Big Bang can’t be the First Cause.
    This piece is well written, but I’m afraid you’ve some important parts wrong. Once again I strongly advise you to contact Victor Stenger and/or Mano Singham for confirmation.

    • mnb0

      Correction: bad argument if you are going to counter the cosmological argument for god.
      Addition: What if there is an exception on natural selection regarding the evolution theory? Then the creationists are right after all.
      One shouldn’t use such arguments to defend atheism.

    • josh

      Chris isn’t arguing for an exception to the laws of thermodynamics (though the 2nd isn’t quite a law in the same sense that other laws of physics are, it’s a probability statement). He’s saying that IF Craig is going to posit an exception to those laws, we would be free to posit any number of non-God exceptions.

      Anyhow, I think you’ve got modern physics slightly wrong, like most people no thanks to doinks like WLC. Originally, the Big Bang referred to the fact that if you look at the expanding universe, and run it backwards in time under GR you come to a singularity: the universe becomes arbitrarily small in a finite time before the present. It’s like watching a ball lose speed as it rolls up a hill and concluding that, since your hill looks locally like a hyperboloid, the ball must have been moving infinitely fast in the past. But there is an obvious problem with that: we don’t know for a fact that the shape of the hill really follows the same curve out to infinity and we don’t know that nothing other than gravitational slowing affected the ball in the distant past. Infinities are usually a hint that our working assumptions are no longer valid.

      In the case of the universe, we know that the universe hasn’t just been expanding with gravitational deceleration, which is the original Big Bang view. Early on, there was a period of rapidly accelerating expansion called the Inflation Epoch, after which we have expansion with gravitational deceleration (but also with a mild, dark energy component which gives acceleration.) We don’t know the details of what drives dark energy, or what governed Inflation, although there are various reasonable possibilities that have been proposed. Nowadays, the Big Bang kind of vaguely refers to the fact that the universe was once much smaller than it is now. But any beginning is completely uncertain. The ’10^-9 seconds after the beginning’ sort of numbers that people throw around usually refer to, roughly, the singularity point from the older model, which as I’ve said, we don’t really have good reasons to think existed. You can think of the Big Bang as the beginning of the universe as we know it, but before that it’s just not clear what was happening.

      Incidentally, a GUT, in physics parlance is not a theory which attempts to unify gravity with quantum mechanics. It is a QM theory which attempts to unify the three known QM forces. Unifying gravity as well is usually lumped in with a TOE (Theory of Everything).

  • mnb0

    Relativity doesn’t work well on a subatomic scale. And that’s what we are talking about when discussing what happened at the Big Bang.

  • Kevin

    “The second law of thermodynamics says that the entropy in a closed system will steadily increase until it’s at its maximum (or, put another way, that a closed system will tend towards equilibrium).”

    I have to nit-pick here. These two statements are not equivalent. Saying that something tends to do something is a probabilistic statement. Saying something steadily does something is much more concrete. Suppose you are playing black jack in a casino. You could say that the money tends to go from the player to the casino. However, you cannot say that the money steadily moves from the player to the casino. This is because, although unlikely, it is possible for the reverse to happen.

    Going back to physics. It is possible for a completely disordered mess to become completely ordered, it is just very unlikely. When it gets to that completely ordered state, it is much more likely to become less ordered, simply because there are more arrangements of disordered states than ordered ones. Hence, things tend to go towards disordered states.

    • josh

      Thanks for making this point, I was thinking of writing it up myself. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is derived from probability, not from a fundamental law. Basically it says that in a closed system things will tend to move from a rare state (all molecules in a small corner of an open room) to a common state (molecules more or less evenly distrubuted throughout the room). In the thermodynamic limit where you are averaging over an infinite number of molecules, it becomes lawlike that entropy increases on the whole. But locally, in an infinite universe with (perhaps) infinite time, you’re going to find arbitrarily large fluctuations down from maximum entropy. That raises issues of Boltzmann Brains and such, but it’s a true statement as far as I can see.

  • Tyrant al-Kalām

    Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

    This is not at all clear. The notion that things which begin to exist have a cause is derived from our everyday experience living in this universe.

    - Even if it were true, it does not need to apply to the “creation” of universes themselves.

    - As far as we can tell, this isn’t true – the quantum nature of interactions within our universe seems to be truely random. The common counter argument, namely that this observation of quantum phenomena within our universe does not apply to the genesis of the universe itself, is in principle true. However, it does demolish the entire basis of WLCs argument as it is entirely inspired by observations and experience of physics within our universe. This is the sole origin of the notion of cause and effect exploited by the Kalam argument, and it is invalid at its root.

    The universe began to exist.

    This statement is at least problematic – according to the usual time coordinate in FRW spacetime as used in the context of general relativity, there is a point -13.7 billion years ago beyond which the temperature rises above the planck scale and thus the effective quantum theory of relativity loses predictability. It is not at all clear that the FLRW time coordinate used in this context should be the correct one to judge the scope of existence of the universe from an external point of view.
    Also, the FLRW time coordinate loses meaning beyond the point where general relativity is valid, thus leaving the philosopher with little to work with when constructing such simplistic arguments..

    Finally, it is entirely unclear how one would treat the notion of a “beginning of the universe” in this context. Unless there is some kind of unique time variable outside of our FLRW cosmology, in which the latter is embedded, it simply does not make sense to talk about the universe beginning to exist.

    Therefore, the universe has a cause.

    At this point, the argument has long descended to pure nonsense, so at this point the conclusion is purely a proclamation of faith, nothing more.

  • MNb0

    To summarize (apologies if I have forgotten something):
    Cosmological arguments suppose

    - causality;
    - causal linearity;
    - a beginning;
    - that we know what happened at that beginning, which is not the case;
    - that that beginning has a cause, for which modern physics doesn’t provide any clue, rather the contrary given QM;
    - that that cause is some metaphysical mental entity.

    That’s way too many assumptions for my taste.
    Note that these assumptions are necessary for any cosmological argument. In my opinion it doesn’t make sense to spend more than one chapter to the subject.

  • Kevin

    The Big Bang tells us what happened after the universe was the size of a Planck sphere at Planck time.

    The correct answer to the question, “what happened before the Big Bang” is, and has been for nearly a century, “we don’t know and neither do you.”

    However, given the alternatives, the all-natural hypotheses and models (eg, inflation, Big Crunch/recycle) have math on their side.

    The god hypothesis does not.

    If Craig wants to propose a god hypothesis as an alternative to Guth’s inflationary model, he should start with the math. And then come up with methods to test his hypothesis.

    Else it’s just meaningless speculation.

    My meaningless speculation is that giant invisible interdimensional alien monkeys shat the universe into existence from their red monkey butts.

    And it has exactly the same evidence to support it as the god hypothesis.

    None.

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  • anteprepro

    First off, apologies for the gruff tone in my initial reply. It was a disproportionate response, and I suppose I had too little to revise my statements in order to come off as less of an asshole.

    So, I disagree with you still but it really is a quibble against a quibble. I certainly agree with this:

    And that’s fine, since all we need to know is that there are many alternatives to God.

    But protest the following for a few reasons:

    Therefore, there are many possible resolutions to the problem, and Mano offers one. And then he briefly mentions a second resolution as well. But there are probably more than two possible resolutions!…

    I don’t know that there is a scientific consensus on which resolution is correct.

    Point 1: Not all explanations are created equal. We can’t just assume that the possibility of more explanations make those extra explanations anywhere in the ballpark of the two explanations given.
    Point 2: The probable explanations that we already do have do not necessarily need to have a consensus to be considered probable and therefore sufficient to dispute Craig’s premise.
    Point 3: Although Mano’s key explanations are just one or two possible resolutions, they are still most likely among the most probable explanations if they are the ones that Mano, as an expert in the field, used.
    Point 4: The “second resolution” didn’t differ much in content. The only point of disagreement was whether the level of entropy counted as “maximum entropy”.
    Point 5: Ultimately, you are vastly overestimating exactly how much of a “problem” pre-Big Bang entropy actually is.

    I mentioned to Chris above a more logical and simple way to approach Craig’s error on this is to point out that the 2nd law states that entropy simply can’t decrease, not that it must always be increasing. Perhaps that is a better approach, because it relies on plain logic more and doesn’t specifically rely on the muddy little details regarding the Big Bang. Does that detail show to you that his argument on the matter has little merit, moreso than an explanation of what entropy describes or how there could be different levels of maximum entropy for pre and post-Big Bang?

    • anteprepro

      Fuck. That was meant as a response to miller. Also, for a better explanation than I could give about pre-Big Bang entropy not seeming like it would be large or even possible, read eric’s reply to me. Pretty good illustration of a similar idea.

    • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

      Yeah, quibble against quibble sounds right.

      I should say that since I study physics, but not cosmology, I’m motivated to not weigh in on cosmological debates, since my opinion would get taken more seriously then it should. But perhaps I was disobeying my own rule by giving my opinion that Mano’s solution is not complete.

      • anteprepro

        Ah, I understand, with your explanation here and on your blog’s entropy post, why you were reluctant to conclude that there is a clear answer now. And here I thought you were just being a sophist or something. It is a bit more complicated than I thought and I see why you (as a physicist) don’t want to give too much credence to any particular explanation on the matter prior to a consensus.

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  • Rick Taylor

    As described in this video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rSAo6IpiFU , Craig admits that “From start to finish, the Kalaam cosmological argument is predicated on the A-theory of time,” and that the A-theory of time is inconsistent with special relativity, which denies there’s any absolute meaning to simultaneous events. Therefore he argues at length in a book “Time and the Metaphysics of Relativity”, we need to abandon our current interpretation of special relativity for a neo-Lorentzian version consistent with Newton’s view of time. This is about as persuasive as arguing in order to support someone’s proof that God exists, we must endorse a geocentric view of physics, and by itself should be enough to dismiss the argument entirely.

  • http://www.reasonablefaithhonolulu.org Steve

    Do you contest the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem? If so, on what grounds?

    • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

      Vilenkin said, of his own theorem:

      If someone asks me whether or not the theorem I proved with Borde and Guth implies that the universe had a beginning, I would say that the short answer is “yes”. If you are willing to get into subtleties, then the answer is “No, but…” So, there are ways to get around having a beginning, but then you are forced to have something nearly as special as a beginning.

      At which point the question is whether we have any reason to prefer the God hypothesis to any of those other things.

  • Jason Thompson

    I find it odd that a “god of the gaps” style argument would be made by an atheist. In case you missed it it went like this, “what if there’s an undiscovered exception to the laws of thermodynamics?” Is that not a “god of the gaps” argument?