The Kalam – On Time: Relativity, Simplicity and Science

The Kalam – On Time: Relativity, Simplicity and Science June 8, 2018

As many of you will know, I have recently written a new book concerning the Kalam Cosmological Argument (Did God Create the Universe from Nothing? Countering William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument), which has had some cracking reviews. This post is an extract from the book that deals with time and William Lane Craig’s treatment of science in this regard. It is part of the contribution to the book from Counter Apologist and I will post the rest of it in due course.DidGodCreatetheUniverse

The Kalam, as most commonly formulated is:

  • Everything that begins to exist has a cause for its existence
  • The universe began to exist
  • Therefore, the universe has a cause for its existence

In the first article, representing the first part of the section of the book by Counter Apologist, we looked at Craig’s inconsistent approach to science and his problematic application of the Neo-Lorentzian view in the contexxt of time and relativity.

So, over to the book, and Counter Apologist:

Leading to New Advances

This is a very problematic area for the Neo-Lorentzian view. It is widely regarded that the key advance of Einstein’s relativity was stipulating that the laws of nature must be fundamentally Lorentz Invariant. By assuming the laws of nature are Lorentz Invariant, science was able to make tremendous advances in seemingly unrelated areas. First was the advance from Special Relativity to General Relativity, then, by specifying Lorentz Invariance as a precondition, we were able to make huge advances in both quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics.

Contrast this with the Neo-Lorentizan view where the equations are not fundamentally Lorentz Invariant, they are only Lorentz-Invariant in terms of parts of the universe that we can observe. On this view, it would not have given physicists the same kind of clues to specify Lorentz Invariance as a precondition for all other fundamental physical theories which led to the advances mentioned above.

This is a major strike against the Neo-Lorentzian view.

The only objection I can think of here is if Craig were to assert that while the laws of physics were not fundamentally Lorentz Invariant, it would be somehow fundamental that they would always “appear to be”. This would be an ad hoc modification of the Lorentzian view to avoid the problems laid out above, and it would also make the next problem all the more acute for the theory.

 

Simplicity

This is the nail in the coffin for the Neo-Lorentzian interpretation, and it is divided into two parts.

 

  1. Unnecessary Entities

One does not have to be logical positivist or a verificationist to also hold that scientific theories which postulate extra entities which are unnecessary to explain all empirical data are more likely to be false than the simpler alternatives that do the same job.

 

  1. Conceptual Simplicity

Proponents of the theory are quick to point out that, thanks to the work of H.E. Ives, the Neo-Lorentzian interpretation was able to reduce down to the same number of assumptions as Einstein’s interpretation. However, the measure of simplicity isn’t only about the number of assumptions required, although that is part of it. A more important measure is that of conceptual simplicity, which is where Einstein’s interpretation is the clear winner.

Let us consider the assumptions. On Einstein’s view we have a universe where the laws of physics are the same everywhere in the universe, and the speed of light in a vacuum is constant (or more specifically, no information can be transmitted faster than the speed of light).

When we move from theory to empirical investigation of the universe, this is exactly what we find to be the case. We would expect to observe the laws of nature to be Lorentz Invariant if we assumed the laws of physics were the same everywhere.

Contrast this with the Neo-Lorentzian view where fundamentally, the laws of nature are not the same everywhere in the universe, and that there is an absolute state of rest and progression of time. On this view, we would expect to find this in experiments, but we find the opposite. It is only by assuming that there is only one undetectable physical place in the universe where the laws of physics work differently than in every other place in the universe that the Neo-Lorentzian view is able to maintain compatibility with observation.

A great analogy is to “The Dragon in my Garage” as described by Carl Sagan in “The Demon Haunted World”[i]:

A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage” Suppose… I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

“Show me,” you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle—but no dragon.

“Where’s the dragon?” you ask.

“Oh, she’s right here,” I reply, waving vaguely. “I neglected to mention that she’s an invisible dragon.”

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon’s footprints.

“Good idea,” I say, “but this dragon floats in the air.”

Then you’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

“Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless.”

You’ll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

“Good idea, but she’s an incorporeal dragon and the paint won’t stick.” And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won’t work.

Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.

When you look into the garage, you see exactly what you would expect if there were no dragon. So it is with our universe, we see exactly what we’d expect assuming there is no place where the laws of physics worked differently than anywhere else.

Theism makes this problem worse

As a hypothetical, let’s assume that theism is true and that God wants to leave breadcrumbs to lead people to his existence via natural theology. Presumably, if the Kalam was valid, God would be rather happy with apologists and the argument would fit very well with modern scientific investigation into the nature of physical reality.

But that’s not what we see! What we see is that, by all accounts, our Space-Time universe at least appears to be Lorentz-Invariant. This entire debate over the theory of time simply wouldn’t exist if science actually revealed a world as scientists in Newton’s time thought it was—one of absolute space and time. Experiments would simply be Galilean Invariant and we would never observe time dilation or length contraction, or we would simply be able to observe the effects of the ether/preferred reference frame.

Indeed, one must wonder why Craig’s god would create a universe with absolute space and time, but do everything it can in order to make space-time’s true nature appear to be the opposite!

The Scientific Verdict on Relativity

The philosophical criteria we use to determine between two scientific theories clearly favors the Einsteinian approach to relativity over the Neo-Lorentzian approach. I want to stress that this is in the absence of logical positivism or verificationism.

Without the Neo-Lorentzian approach, the A-Theory of time that the Kalam needs is shown to be scientifically untenable.

The final word?

The approach science and philosophy of science give us still allows for a way for the Neo-Lorentzian approach to win out “in principle” over the standard interpretation. All we would need is a set of empirical data that could only be uniquely explained if there were an undetectable privileged frame. There is ample opportunity for this to occur in finding a solution to the quantum gravity problem facing physics today. If doing so entailed a violation of Lorentz Invariance, then everything I’ve said would be overturned.

Dark matter is a great example of something in contemporary science that we would say is currently undetectable that we have good scientific reasons to think exists. When it comes to relativity, science is currently investigating whether or not there are violations of Lorentz Invariance in the laws of physics or in experiments and so far has found none.

This provides no succor to Craig, since science’s provisional nature can just as easily invalidate any supposed evidence he appeals to in order to pretend that science points to the “beginning” of the material universe.

Science makes it worse for the Kalam

In his debate with William Lane Craig, Sean Carroll gives us yet another scientific reason to consider that science undermines the idea that the “universe began to exist”. The piece of evidence is called the “Quantum Eternity Theorem” which states that if the total amount of energy in the universe is greater than zero, the universe must be eternal into the past and the future. It also states that if the total amount of energy in the universe is actually zero, then time itself is not a fundamental part of reality, and so the Kalam argument fails. Either way, the Kalam is in trouble.

Craig never responded to this point in the formal debate, but here is what he had to say on the second day of talks when pressed by Sean Carroll[ii]:

“I would say that time is one of the most evident realities to us, inescapably real. The reality of time is even more evident than the reality of the external world. Because I could be a brain in a vat, with illusions of an external world around me, but the stream of contents of consciousness in succession one after the other is undeniable and inescapable. Even the illusion of temporal passage is temporal passage. So that the reality of time, it seems to me, is one of the most basic, undeniable realities of metaphysics, of ontology, that there could possibly be. And if time does not appear on the fundamental quantum level, then so much the worse for the ontology of that level. Then that simply means that it doesn’t capture reality fully to speak of reality on that sort of a scale.”

Notice the response: Craig doesn’t deny the theorem. He simply says that in the only scenario where quantum mechanics allows for the universe to be finite, then so much the worse for science’s ability to describe reality! He rejects the scientific conclusion that time is ether eternal or not fundamental depending on what the total energy in the universe actually is. Note that this doesn’t entail that time is not necessarily fundamental, it simply means time could not be as Craig needs it.

What is his possible justification for such a dramatic claim? He says that even if he was a brain in a vat, he would still be experiencing his consciousness as a stream of temporal events, and so time must be fundamental.

The problem with this of course is that for that to work, Craig must assume that mind is fundamental. His metaphysics allows for no method for consciousness to even possibly be emergent, and so likewise time could not possibly be emergent.

This blatantly begs the question against naturalism, which would assert that whatever the ultimate nature of reality is, it is material. Contrast this with supernaturalism, which would assert that the fundamental nature of reality is mental.

 

Scientific Conclusion

I believe the arguments above establish conclusively that when it comes to appeals to current science with respect to the Kalam, it tells us that the Kalam is more likely to be false than true. Proponents of the Kalam cannot have it both ways. They cannot point to general relativity and the standard big-bang model to say the universe had a beginning but at the same time ignore what the methods of science tell us about the nature of time in light of relativity theory. What’s more, as has been shown earlier in this book, that even pointing to the standard big-bang model wouldn’t necessarily establish that the universe began to exist, even if we assumed an A-Theory of time.

Perhaps a proponent of the Kalam is willing to admit this much but would then insist that metaphysical arguments can overturn the conclusion we arrive at via purely scientific criteria. I’ve already touched on how this is problematic in one way with the Quantum Eternity Theorem, but there are even bigger metaphysical problems for William Lane Craig.

[i] Sagan (1997: 169)

[ii] William Lane Craig, Responses during James Sinclair’s talk, “God and Cosmology” 2014 Greer-Heard Forum – Time 48:00 – 49:15 in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaV_wcTIhRc&list=UUxeJuETtMwyydm5D4J2Qsrw

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