Let’s conclude our examination of William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument (part 1 here). His version of the argument has two premises and a conclusion:
1 Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2 The universe began to exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Premise 1 sounds like common sense until you realize that William Lane Craig (I’ll call him WLC) imagines a loophole for his god. Reinterpret premise 1 with this agenda, and you see he is talking about:
- a supernatural creation (he provides no examples of a supernatural anything),
- out of nothing (he provides no examples of creation out of nothing),
- before time (which didn’t yet exist before the universe came to be)
- with “begins to exist” as a special-pleading caveat to carve out a God-shaped exception
- to the “everything has a cause” rule, which is false.
Seen this way, premise 1 loses all common-sense appeal and the Kalam argument fails, but let’s flog this dead horse and continue.
Second premise: The universe began to exist
WLC defends the second premise this way:
Let’s consider the second law of thermodynamics. It tells us the universe is slowly running out of usable energy… and that’s the point.
If the universe had been here forever, it would have run out of usable energy by now. The second law points us to a universe that has a definite beginning.
6. The second law of thermodynamics is no ally to the apologist.
Unlike his frequent metaphysical handwavings, WLC makes a plausible argument here. If the universe is like a clock that’s running down, it can’t have been running forever.
But does WLC really want to argue that things always run down, so therefore everything must have a beginning? If so, then this must apply to God as well. (Yes, of course I know that WLC will say that God is an exception. But then I will demand evidence that such a god exists.)
It turns out that a clock is a poor analogy to the universe. The zero-energy universe theory says that if you convert everything to energy, matter and light are positive energy but gravity is negative energy. Add it all together, and the sum is zero—the universe has zero net matter and energy. Alexander Vilenkin, a cosmologist who WLC often cites, explains it this way: “The gravitational energy, which is always negative, exactly compensates the positive energy of matter, so the energy of a closed universe is always zero” (source: video @24:00). Though it seems like cheating, it takes no matter or energy to create a universe.
WLC might say that the zero-energy universe theory might be overturned with new evidence. True, but then his argument has become “The second law of thermodynamics might argue for a beginning,” which isn’t much of an argument.
7. The universe began . . . in its present form.
We don’t know what preceded or caused the Big Bang. The universe might’ve come from nothing, or it might be a rearrangement of material from another universe. (This point and point 6 may not coexist as objections.)
8. Response to Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin.
WLC frequently cites the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem (BGV) to argue for a beginning to the universe and, if you want to posit a multiverse, a beginning for that, too.
He’s such a fan that he has the following quote by Vilenkin on several pages at his web site:
It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning. (Alexander Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One , p.176)
That’s powerful evidence for WLC, but if he’s such a fan, I wonder why he ignores this from Vilenkin on the very next page:
Theologians have often welcomed any evidence for the beginning of the universe, regarding it as evidence for the existence of God. . . . So what do we make of a proof that the beginning is unavoidable? Is it a proof of the existence of God? This view would be far too simplistic. Anyone who attempts to understand the origin of the universe should be prepared to address its logical paradoxes. In this regard, the theorem that I proved with my colleagues does not give much of an advantage to the theologian over the scientist.
Oops—it looks like WLC wants to pick and choose his evidence and hope that we don’t notice. (We’ll soon see that the cosmologists he cites aren’t the allies he imagines.)
Cosmologist Vic Stenger saw limitations to BGV:
In Sean Carroll’s debate with WLC (my summary here), he made clear that BGV starts with assumptions. Discard those assumptions, and the rules are different and eternality is possible. Carroll said:
I asked Vilenkin personally if his theorem required a beginning. His e-mail reply: “No. But it proves that the expansion of the universe must have had a beginning. You can evade the theorem by postulating that the universe was contracting prior to some time.” This is exactly what a number of existing models for the uncreated origin of our universe do.
BGV . . . is certainly interesting and important, because it helps us understand where classical General Relativity breaks down, but it doesn’t help us decide what to do when it breaks down. Surely there’s no need to throw up our hands and declare that this puzzle can’t be resolved within a materialist framework. (Quoted in Vic Stenger, The Fallacy of Fine Tuning, p. 130.)
In the debate, Carroll mentioned that there are over a dozen plausible models for the universe, including eternal ones.
WLC says he’s BFFs with B, G, and V, but then these guys go off and say things that WLC can’t possibly agree with. He should rethink who his allies are.
- Vilenkin says that the universe can have no cause.
- Vilenkin argues for the multiverse, which defeats WLC’s fine-tuning argument.
- Alan Guth says, “It looks to me that probably the universe had a beginning, but I would not want to place a large bet on the issue.”
- WLC likes to channel The Sound of Music and declare, “Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever could.” But Guth says, “Conceivably, everything can be created from nothing. And ‘everything’ might include a lot more than what we can see. In the context of inflationary cosmology, it is fair to say that the universe is the ultimate free lunch.”
- And if WLC’s interpretation is compelling, I await the conversion to Christianity of his allies Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin.
Though I’m open to disconfirming evidence, it seems that WLC simply cherry-picks his evidence to cobble together a science-y argument, then stamps it with his two doctorates. He has no interest in honestly following the evidence.
He also enjoys mocking the pathetic plebes from his ivory tower. Take this defense of Kalam’s first premise:
I think the first premise that whatever begins to exist has a cause is virtually undeniable for any sincere seeker after truth. . . . It’s silly then when popularizers say things like, “Nothingness is unstable to quantum fluctuations” or “the universe tunneled into being out of nothing.” (Source: video @22:55)
WLC has no argument here, just derision. He’s not a quantum physicist, and yet he cheerfully trash-talks those who are. Note also that WLC dismisses the “popularizers,” who include the very cosmologists he cites as allies.
9. The Big Bang isn’t a beginning
Yes, the Big Bang happened, but no, that wasn’t a beginning. This is a subtle point, but it’s worth making: the Big Bang takes us back 13.8 billion years in time, but that’s not the same thing as a beginning. The Big Bang is the point before which cosmologists can’t see.
WLC might ask, “But if God didn’t create the universe, then how did it come to be?” Science is the discipline that answers questions, not religion, and science may need to say that it doesn’t know. WLC offers an argument without evidence and imagines that this forces an answer.
WLC has an answer that he’s bursting to offer, but insisting that God did it is no answer at all because it comes without evidence. Science saying that the origin of the universe is one of its unanswered questions isn’t embarrassing when there’s insufficient evidence to make a conclusion.
It’s like the world created by Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” Show us that toves and borogoves exist, and then we can figure out what their properties are. WLC needs to show us first that God exists. Only then can we puzzle over his properties (outside of time, omniscient, supernatural, whatever). Until then, he’s just imagining a Jabberwocky universe without evidence.
10. God has an odd relationship with time
To bypass other problems, Christian apologists tell us that God has existed forever and that he is outside of time. But what does this even mean? The physics of their argument, God as a Time Lord like Doctor Who, is metaphysical bullshit. The ball’s in their court to support their fanciful claims.
I’ll close with an apt summary by blogger Uncredible HallQ:
This is just an example of Craig’s annoying tendency to make unsupported claims and then demand his critics disprove them, and it’s an absurd way to argue. If Craig is going that way, why not just announce God exists, demand atheists prove otherwise, and be done with it?
I am just appalled, honestly,
when I read the stuff that’s out there on the internet,
how inept and sophomoric people are.
— William Lane Craig
— Christopher Hitchens
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 10/28/15.)
Image from NASA, CC license