Tag Archives: Atheism

Alexander Vilenkin: “All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning”

I’ve decided to explain why physicists believe that there was a creation event in this post. That is to say, I’ve decided to let famous cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin do it.

From Uncommon Descent.

Excerpt:

Did the cosmos have a beginning? The Big Bang theory seems to suggest it did, but in recent decades, cosmologists have concocted elaborate theories – for example, an eternally inflating universe or a cyclic universe – which claim to avoid the need for a beginning of the cosmos. Now it appears that the universe really had a beginning after all, even if it wasn’t necessarily the Big Bang.

At a meeting of scientists – titled “State of the Universe” – convened last week at Cambridge University to honor Stephen Hawking’s 70th birthday, cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin of Tufts University in Boston presented evidence that the universe is not eternal after all, leaving scientists at a loss to explain how the cosmos got started without a supernatural creator. The meeting was reported in New Scientist magazine (Why physicists can’t avoid a creation event, 11 January 2012).

[…]In his presentation, Professor Vilenkin discussed three theories which claim to avoid the need for a beginning of the cosmos.

The three theories are chaotic inflationary model, the oscillating model and quantum gravity model. Regular readers will know that those have all been addressed in William Lane Craig’s peer-reviewed paper that evaluates alternatives to the standard Big Bang cosmology.

But let’s see what Vilenkin said.

More:

One popular theory is eternal inflation. Most readers will be familiar with the theory of inflation, which says that the universe increased in volume by a factor of at least 10^78 in its very early stages (from 10^−36 seconds after the Big Bang to sometime between 10^−33 and 10^−32 seconds), before settling into the slower rate of expansion that we see today. The theory of eternal inflation goes further, and holds that the universe is constantly giving birth to smaller “bubble” universes within an ever-expanding multiverse. Each bubble universe undergoes its own initial period of inflation. In some versions of the theory, the bubbles go both backwards and forwards in time, allowing the possibility of an infinite past. Trouble is, the value of one particular cosmic parameter rules out that possibility:

But in 2003, a team including Vilenkin and Guth considered what eternal inflation would mean for the Hubble constant, which describes mathematically the expansion of the universe. They found that the equations didn’t work (Physical Review Letters, DOI: 10.1103/physrevlett.90.151301). “You can’t construct a space-time with this property,” says Vilenkin. It turns out that the constant has a lower limit that prevents inflation in both time directions. “It can’t possibly be eternal in the past,” says Vilenkin. “There must be some kind of boundary.”

A second option explored by Vilenkin was that of a cyclic universe, where the universe goes through an infinite series of big bangs and crunches, with no specific beginning. It was even claimed that a cyclic universe could explain the low observed value of the cosmological constant. But as Vilenkin found, there’s a problem if you look at the disorder in the universe:

Disorder increases with time. So following each cycle, the universe must get more and more disordered. But if there has already been an infinite number of cycles, the universe we inhabit now should be in a state of maximum disorder. Such a universe would be uniformly lukewarm and featureless, and definitely lacking such complicated beings as stars, planets and physicists – nothing like the one we see around us.

One way around that is to propose that the universe just gets bigger with every cycle. Then the amount of disorder per volume doesn’t increase, so needn’t reach the maximum. But Vilenkin found that this scenario falls prey to the same mathematical argument as eternal inflation: if your universe keeps getting bigger, it must have started somewhere.

However, Vilenkin’s options were not exhausted yet. There was another possibility: that the universe had sprung from an eternal cosmic egg:

Vilenkin’s final strike is an attack on a third, lesser-known proposal that the cosmos existed eternally in a static state called the cosmic egg. This finally “cracked” to create the big bang, leading to the expanding universe we see today. Late last year Vilenkin and graduate student Audrey Mithani showed that the egg could not have existed forever after all, as quantum instabilities would force it to collapse after a finite amount of time (arxiv.org/abs/1110.4096). If it cracked instead, leading to the big bang, then this must have happened before it collapsed – and therefore also after a finite amount of time.

“This is also not a good candidate for a beginningless universe,” Vilenkin concludes.

So at the end of the day, what is Vilenkin’s verdict?

“All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning.”

This is consistent with the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem, which I blogged about before, and which William Lane Craig leveraged to his advantage in his debate with Peter Millican.

The Borde-Guth-Vilenkin (BGV) proof shows that every universe that expands must have a space-time boundary in the past. That means that no expanding universe, no matter what the model, can be eternal into the past. No one denies the expansion of space in our universe, and so we are left with a cosmic beginning. Even speculative alternative cosmologies do not escape the need for a beginning.

Conclusion

If the universe came into being out of nothing, which seems to be the case from science, then the universe has a cause. Things do not pop into being, uncaused, out of nothing. The cause of the universe must be transcendent and supernatural. It must be uncaused, because there cannot be an infinite regress of causes. It must be eternal, because it created time. It must be non-physical, because it created space. There are only two possibilities for such a cause. It could be an abstract object or an agent. Abstract objects cannot cause effects. Therefore, the cause is an agent.

Now, let’s have a discussion about this science in our churches, and see if we can’t train Christians to engage with non-Christians about the evidence so that everyone accepts what science tells us about the origin of the universe.

The importance of having a narrative when confronting the assumption of naturalism

How do you present theism as a rational belief to a person who thinks that the progress of science has removed the need for God?

Canadian science writer Denyse O’Leary writes about the history of cosmology at Evolution News.

Excerpt:

What help has materialism been in understanding the universe’s beginnings?

Many in cosmology have never made any secret of their dislike of the Big Bang, the generally accepted start to our universe first suggested by Belgian priest Georges Lemaître (1894-1966).

On the face of it, that is odd. The theory accounts well enough for the evidence. Nothing ever completely accounts for all the evidence, of course, because evidence is always changing a bit. But the Big Bang has enabled accurate prediction.

In which case, its hostile reception might surprise you. British astronomer Fred Hoyle (1915-2001) gave the theory its name in one of his papers — as a joke. Another noted astronomer, Arthur Eddington (1882-1944), exclaimed in 1933, “I feel almost an indignation that anyone should believe in it — except myself.” Why? Because “The beginning seems to present insuperable difficulties unless we agree to look on it as frankly supernatural.”

One team of astrophysicists (1973) opined that it “involves a certain metaphysical aspect which may be either appealing or revolting.” Robert Jastrow (1925-2008), head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, initially remarked, “On both scientific and philosophical grounds, the concept of an eternal Universe seems more acceptable than the concept of a transient Universe that springs into being suddenly, and then fades slowly into darkness.” And Templeton Prize winner (2011) Martin Rees recalls his mentor Dennis Sciama’s dogged commitment to an eternal universe, no-Big Bang model:

For him, as for its inventors, it had a deep philosophical appeal — the universe existed, from everlasting to everlasting, in a uniquely self-consistent state. When conflicting evidence emerged, Sciama therefore sought a loophole (even an unlikely seeming one) rather as a defense lawyer clutches at any argument to rebut the prosecution case.

Evidence forced theorists to abandon their preferred eternal-universe model. From the mid 1940s, Hoyle attempted to disprove the theory he named. Until 1964, when his preferred theory, the Steady State, lost an evidence test.

Here is a quick summary of some of the experimental evidence that emerged in the last few decades that caused naturalists to abandon the eternal universe that they loved so much when they were younger.

The importance of having a narrative

Now I want to make a very, very important point about Christianity and the progress of science. And that point is that it is very important that Christians present the evidence in exactly the way that Denyse presented it in that article – in its historical context, featuring the conflict between naturalists and the experimental evidence.

All Christians should be familiar with the following basic pieces of evidence which fit the war between science and naturalism narrative:

  1. The origin of the universe
  2. The cosmic fine-tuning
  3. The origin of life (biological information)
  4. The sudden origin of the Cambrian phyla
  5. The habitability/observability correlation

When you talk about these evidences as a Christian theist to non-Christians, you have to have cultivated a genuine interest in reconciling your beliefs with science. You have to accept that there are two books that reveal God’s character and attributes. The book of nature, and the book of Scripture. And you need to be flexible about getting these two books to fit together. The book of nature gives us natural theology (see Romans 1). It tells us that God is Creator and Designer. The book of Scripture tells us that God stepped into history as a man to save us by taking the punishment for our headlong rush away from God, which the Bible calls sin. Science is one way that humans can recover some of basic knowledge about God. Knowledge that is only possible because God created and designed the universe (and us) in such a way that we are capable of making discoveries, and that the universe is capable of being explored and understood.

It’s very important to present these five basic evidences to non-Christians in the historical context. And here is the story you must tell: “In the beginning, there was the naturalism, and the naturalism tried to argue from ignorance that God was not Creator and God was not Designer. And then came the science, and now people have to give up their naturalism in order to account for the science”. That’s the narrative you use when talking to non-Christians about science.

In the beginning was the naturalism:

  1. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that the universe was eternal
  2. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that a life-permitting universe was as likely as a life-prohibiting universe
  3. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that the cell was a simple blob of Jello that could spontaneously emerge in some warm pond
  4. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that the sudden origin of the Cambrian phyla would be explained by subsequent fossil discoveries
  5. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that there was nothing special about our galaxy, solar system, planet or moon

But then science progressed by doing experiments and making observations:

  1. Scientists discovered redshift and the cosmic microwave background radiation (evidence for a cosmic beginning) and more!
  2. Scientists discovered the fine-tuning of gravity and of the cosmological constant and more!
  3. Scientists discovered protein sequencing and exposed the myth of “junk DNA” and more!
  4. Scientists discovered an even shorter Cambrian explosion period and the absence of precursor fossils and more!
  5. Scientists discovered galactic habitable zones and circumstellar habitable zones and more!

And now rational people – people who want to have true beliefs about reality – need to abandon a false religion (naturalism).

Now naturally, science is in a state of flux and things change. But you have to look at the trend of discoveries, and those trends are clearly going against naturalism, and in favor of Christian theism. No one is arguing for a deductive proof here, we are simply looking at the evidence we have today and proportioning our belief to the concrete evidence we have today. People who are guided by reason should not seek to construct a worldview by leveraging speculations about future discoveries and mere possibilities. We should instead believe what is more probable than not. That’s what a rational seeker of truth ought to do. Proportion belief to probabilities based on current, concrete knowledge.

Atheism, as a worldview, is not rooted in an honest assessment about what science tells us about reality. Atheism is rooted in a religion: naturalism. And the troubling thing we learn from looking at the history of science is that this religion of naturalism is insulated from correction from the progress of science. Nothing that science reveals about nature seems to be able to put a dent in the religion of naturalism, at least for most atheists.

It falls to us Christian theists, then, to hold them accountable for their abuse and misrepresentation of science. And that means telling the story of the progress of science accurately, and accurately calling out the religion of naturalism for what it is – a religion rooted in blind faith and ignorance that has been repeatedly and convincingly falsified by the progress of science in the modern era.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Jeff Hester debates William Lane Craig on the topic “Is Belief in God Rational in a Scientific Age?”

This is an accurate protrayal of what went down in this debate
This is an accurate protrayal of what went down in this debate

I was very excited to see a recent debate by Christian philosopher William Lane Craig against atheist astronomer Jeff Hester. When I summarize a debate, I do a fair, objective summary if the atheist is intelligent and informed, as with Peter Millican, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong or Austin Dacey. But the following summary is rated VS for Very Snarky, and you’ll soon see why.

The debate itself starts at 29 minutes:

Thanks to Enrique for the link to a version with better audio.

Dr. Craig’s opening speech

Dr. Craig went first, and he presented 4 arguments, as well as the ontological argument which I won’t summarize or discuss. He later added another argument for theism from the existence of the universe that does not require an origin of the universe.

A1. Counter-examples

Theists who are elite scientists cannot be “irrational”, for example: Allan Sandage, Gustav Tammann, George Ellis, Don Page, Christopher Isham

A2. Kalam cosmological argument

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

A3. Fine-tuning of the universe to permit complex intelligent life

  1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due either to physical necessity, chance or design.
  2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
  3. Therefore it is due to design.

A4. Moral argument

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

Dr. Hester’s opening speech

Dr. Hester went second and presented two arguments which both committed the genetic fallacy, a logical fallacy that makes the arguments have no force.

Hester starts his opening speech by asserting that Albert Einstein was irrational, because he denied quantum mechanics.

Hester explains that he became an atheist at 15. This would have been before the evidence for the origin of the universe became widespread, before we had very many examples of fine-tuning, before the discovery that the origin of life problem is a problem of the origin of complex, specifed information, etc. What kind of reasons can a 15-year-old child have for becoming an atheist? It’s hard to say, but I would suspect that they were psychological. Children often desire autonomy from moral authorities. They want to be free to pursue pleasure. They don’t want to be thought of as superstitious and morally straight by their non-religious peers.

Later on in the debate, Hester volunteers that he hated his father because his father professed to be a Christian, but he was focused on his career and making money. In the absence of any arguments for atheism, it’s reasonable to speculate that Hester became an atheist for psychological reasons. And as we’ll see, just like the typical 15-year-old child, he has no rational basis for atheism. What’s astonishing is how he continues to hold to the atheism of his teens when it has been falsified over and over by scientific discoveries in the years since.

He says that Dr. Craig’s deductive arguments do not have premises that reach a conclusion through the laws of logic. On the contrary, he just asserts that God exists as his conclusion, and then says that this assertion is the best explanation of a gap in our scientific knowledge. Some of the gaps in our scientific knowledge he uses in his arguments are: 1) he doesn’t understand why the Sun moves through the sky, so God exists, 2) he doesn’t understand why the wind blows, so God exists.

What counts as “rational” are things that have not been disproved. The progress of science has shown that the universe did not need a casuse in order to begin to exist, and also there is no cosmic fine-tuning.

A1. The success of evolution in the software industry proves that there is no God

All hardware and software is developed using genetic algorithms that exactly match Darwinian processes. All the major computer companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, etc. are just generating products using mutation and selection to evolve products over long periods of time. If you look over a typical software engineering degree, it’s all about Darwinian evolution, and nothing about design patterns, object-oriented design, etc.

This widespread use of evolution in the software industry undermines all of the arguments for God’s existence. Evolution caused the origin of the universe. Evolution explains why the universe is fine-tuned for life. Evolution, which requires replication already be in place in order to work, explains the origin of the first self-replicating organism.

A2. Theist’s view of the world is just a result of peer pressure from their tribes

All of Dr. Craig’s logical arguments supported by scientific evidence don’t matter, because he got them from a primitive tribe of Christians that existed 2000 years ago. Everyone gets their view of origins, morality, meaning in life, death, etc. from their tribes. Except me, I’m getting my beliefs from reason and evidence because I’m a smart atheist. I don’t have an atheist tribe in the university that would sanction me if I disagreed with nonsense like homosexuality is 100% genetic, transgenderism, man-made catastrophic global warming, fully naturalistic evolution, aliens seeded the Earth with life, infanticide is moral, socialism works, overpopulation will cause mass starvation, nuclear winter, etc. Also, my argument isn’t the genetic fallacy at all, because smart atheists don’t commit elementary logical fallacies that even a first-year philosophy student would know.

A3. Our brains evolved so our rational faculties are unreliable, so God does not exist

The logical reasoning that Dr. Craig uses to argue for theism are all nonsense, because human minds just have an illusion of consciousness, an illusion of rationality, and an illusion of free will. Everything Dr. Craig says is just deluded nonsense caused by chemicals in his brain. He has cognitive biases the undermine all his logical arguments and scientific evidence. He just invented an imaginary friend with super powers. Except me, I’m a smart atheist, so I actually have real consciousness, real reasoning powers, and no cognitive biases. Also, my argument isn’t the genetic fallacy at all, because my arguments would not get an F in a first-year philosophy course.

Discussion

I’m not going to summarize everything in the discussion, or the question and answer time. I’m just going to list out some of the more interesting points.

Dr. Craig asks him how it is that he has managed to escape these biases from tribalism, projection, etc. He talks about how brave and noble atheist rebels are. The moderator asks him the same question. He repeats how brave and noble atheist rebels are.

Dr. Hester is asked whether he affirms a causeless beginning of the universe or an eternal universe. He replies he states that the universe came into being without a cause, because causality doesn’t apply to the beignning of the universe. He also asserts with explanation that Borde, Guth and Vilenkin have undermined the kalam cosmological argument, mentioning a web site.

Dr. Craig replied to this phantom argument after the debate on Facebook:

Speaking of which, although I haven’t had time to consult the website mentioned by Dr. Hester concerning Guth and Vilenkin on the kalam cosmological argument, I know the work of these two gentlemen well enough to predict what one will find there. Since neither one is yet a theist (so much, by the way, for the dreaded confirmation bias!), they have to reject at least one of the premises of the kalam cosmological argument.

Guth wants to deny premiss (2) The universe began to exist–for which Vilenkin has rebuked him. Guth would avoid the implications of their theorem by holding our hope for the Carroll-Chen model, which denies the single condition of the BGV theorem. This gambit is, however, unsuccessful, since the Carroll-Chen model does so only by positing a reversal of the arrow of time at some point in the finite past. This is not only highly non-physical, but fails to avert the universe’s beginning, since that time-reversed, mirror universe is no sense in our past. The model really postulates two different universes with a common beginning.

So Vilenkin is forced to deny premiss (1) Whatever begins to exists has a cause. He says that if the positive energy associated with matter exactly counterbalances the negative energy associated with gravity, then the net sum of the energy is zero, and so the conservation of energy is not violated if the universe pops into being from nothing! But this is like saying that if your assets exactly balance your debts, then your net worth is zero, and so there does not need to be a cause of your financial situation! As Christopher Isham points out, there still needs to be “ontic seeding” in order to create the positive and negative energy in the first place, even if on balance their sum is zero.

Dr. Hester is asked how he explains the evidence for fine-tuning. He literally says that “Life is fine-tuned for the Universe”, i.e. – that evolution will create living beings regardless of the laws of physics, constants, etc. For example, he thinks that in a universe with a weaker stong force, which would have only hyrogen atoms, evolution would still evolve life. And in a universe that recollapses in a hot fireball, and never forms stars or planets, evolution would produce life. Physicist Luke Barnes, who was commenting on the YouTube chat for the video, said this:

“Life is fine-tuned for the Universe” – complete ignorance of the field. Read a book.

Hester tries to cite Jeremy England to try to argue for life appearing regardless of what the laws of physics are. Barnes comments:

Jeremy England’s work supports no such claim.

Hester appealed to the multiverse, which faces numerous theoretical and observational difficulties. For example, the multiverse models have to have some mechanism to spawn different universes, but these mechanisms themselves require fine-tuning, as Robin Collins argues. And the multiverse is falsified observationally by the Boltzmann brains problem. It was so ironic that Hester claimed to be so committed to testing theories. The mutliverse theory cannot be tested experimentally, and must be accepted on faith.

Dr. Hester is asked how he grounds morality on atheism. He says there are no objective moral values and duties. He instead lists off a bunch of Christian beliefs which he thinks are objectively wrong. Even his statements about these moral issues are misinformed. For example, he asserts that homosexuality is causally determined by biology, but this is contradicted by identical twin studies that have a rate of 20-40% where both twins are gay.

Dr. Hester is asked about free will, which is required in order to make moral choices. He denies the existence of free will, which undermines his earlier statements about morality. Morality is only possible if humans can make free choices to act in accordance with a moral standard. So, he claims that Christians are immoral, then he claims that they have no freedom to act other than they do.

Dr. Hester also volunteered that his father believed in the prosperity gospel, and tithed in order to be rewarded with money by God. Dr. Craig immediately says “no wonder you’re in rebellion against Christianity”. Indeed.

Dr. Hester is asked about his view that human beings are unable to unable to perceive the world objectively. How is he able to perceive the world objectively, when all of the rest of us are unable to? His response is that he is just smarter than everyone else because his ideas have never been falsified by testing.

Scoring the debate

Dr. Craig’s 5 arguments went unrefuted. Hester’s argument about genetic algorithms was ludicrous to anyone who understands software engineering. His arguments about tribalism and unreliable mental faculties were self-refuting, and committed the genetic fallcy. At several points, Hester denied mainstream science in favor of untested and untestable speculations. It was the worst defeat of atheism I have ever witnessed. He was uninformed and arrogant. He didn’t know what he was talking about, and he tried to resort to speculative, mystical bullshit to cover up his failure to meet Dr. Craig’s challenge.