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.
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.”
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.
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.
Dr. Graham Oppy, the moderator, is a well-known atheist philosopher. He let Dr. Krauss speak for 21 minutes and 40 seconds, which is why my summary of Krauss is so long.
After careful consideration, I decided not to be snarky at all in this summary. What you read below is what happened. There may be some small mistakes, but I will fix those if people tell me about them. I also included some quotes and timestamps for the more striking things that Dr. Krauss said.
The debate itself starts at 4:50 with Dr. Craig’s opening speech. He does use slides to show the structure of his arguments.
Dr. Craig’s opening speech. (4:50)
The kalam cosmological argument:
God is the best explanation of the origin of the universe
The Borde Guth Vilenkin theorem supports the absolute beginning of the universe
Even if our universe is part of a multiverse, the multiverse itself would have to have an absolute beginning
Speculative cosmologies try to challenge the Big Bang theory, but none of them – even if true – can establish that the past is eternal
Only two types of things could explain the origin of spece, time, matter and energy – either abstract objects or minds
Abstract objects do not cause effects, but minds do cause effects (we do it ourselves)
A mind is the best explanation for the origin of the universe
The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics:
The underlying structure of nature is mathematical – mathematics is applicable to nature
Mathematical objects can either be abstract objects or useful fiction
Either way, there is no reason to expect that nature should be linked to abstract objects or fictions
But a divine mind that wants humans to understand nature is a better explanation for what we see
The cosmic fine-tuning for the existence of intelligent life
There are two kinds of finely-tuned initial conditions: 1) cosmological constants and 2) quantities
These constants and quantities have to be set within a narrow range in order to permit intelligent life
There are three explanations for this observation: law, chance or design
Law is rejected because they are put in at the beginning or matter – they don’t emerge from matter
Chance must be rejected, because they odds are just too long unless you appeal to a world-ensemble
We do not observe what the world ensemble hypothesis predicts that we should observe
Design is the best explanation for finely-tuned constants and quantities
The existence of objective moral values and duties
Our experience of morality (values and duties) is that it is objectively real and incumbent on us
When someone goes into a classroom and shoots at innocent children, that is objectively wrong
On naturalism, moral values and moral duties do not exist – they are conventional and variable by time and place
The best explanation for the existence of objective moral values and duties is that God exists
The historicity of the resurrection of Jesus
There are three widely-accepted facts that are best explained by the resurrection hypothesis
1) the empty tomb, 2) the post-mortem appearances, 3) the early church’s belief in the resurrection
Naturalistic attempts to explain these 3 boilerplate facts fail
The best explanation of the 3 minimal facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead
The immediate experience of God
Belief in God is a “properly basic” belief – rational even without arguments because of experience of God
Seems to be saying that logical arguments can prove false things “it’s nonsense”
Dr. Craig distorted a podcast that some group made on pain receptors
Dr. Craig’s faith is so strong that it causes him to distort what this group said
I will not be summarizing everything that was said, just a few main points.
The segment from 52:18 to 57:12 about the Vilenkin e-mail on the BVG theorem is a must-see. Krauss is standing up and gesticulating while Craig is calmly trying to quote a paper by Vilenkin that shows that Krauss is misrepresenting Vilenkin. Krauss constantly interrupts him. After a while, when Craig exposes him as having misrepresented Vilenkin and gets him to admit that all current eternal models of the universe are probably wrong, he quietens down and can’t even look at Craig in the face.
Craig: The e-mail says any universe that is expanding, on average, requires a beginning
Craig: There are two models – Aguirre & Gratton and Carroll & Chen – where there is a period of contraction before the expansion
Craig: The two models are the ones cited in the e-mail that Dr. Krauss showed
Craig: In the very paper by Vilenkin that I cited, he says that both of those models don’t work
Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) Vilenkin said that they have to make an assumption about entropy that they have no rationale for
(as Craig starts to talk Krauss makes an exaggerated, disrespectful gesture and sits down in a huff)
Craig: Yes, an unwarranted assumption means that they don’t have EVIDENCE for their theories being correct
Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) “All the evidence suggests that the universe had a beginning but WE DON’T KNOW!!!!!!!” (raising his voice)
Craig: I’m not saying that we know that the universe had a beginning with certainty
Craig: I am saying that the beginning of the universe is more probably true than false based on the evidence we have
Craig: And you agree with me about that – you think the universe had a beginning
Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) (Unintelligible)
Moderator: One at a time
Craig: In your Vilenkin e-mail slide, at the end of the paragraph where the two models are mentioned that Vilenkin specifically shows…
(I am guessing that Craig is going to ask why so much of what Vilenkin wrote has been cut out of the e-mail that Krauss showed)
Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) Because it was technical…
Moderator: Lawrence! Hang on a sec!
Craig: He specifically shows that these models are not past eternal, and that they require a beginning just like the others…
Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) We can do the math if you want
Craig: Now wait. I couldn’t help notice that there on your slide there was a series of ellipsis points indicating missing text…
Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) “Yeah, because it was technical!”
Craig: “I wonder what you deleted from the original letter”
Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) “I just told you!”
Craig: “Now wait. Could it have been something like this: (reads a quote from Vilenkin) ‘You can evade the theorem by postulating that the universe was contracting prior to some time. This sounds as if there is nothing wrong with having contraction prior to expansion. But the problem is that a contracting universe is highly unstable. Small perturbations would cause it to develop all sorts of messy singularities, so it would never make it to the expanding phase.’
Craig: “That’s Vilenkin.”
Krauss: “In this paper, that’s absolutely right”
Krauss: But it’s ok for theories to assume things that we know are wrong – they are still good theories – it’s unknown
(Craig turns away and looks through his papers)
Craig: “Isn’t it true that the only viable quantum gravity models on order today involve a beginning – have a finite past?”
Craig: “Well, can you give us one then”
Krauss: (talks about a variety of possible eternal models) “In my experience in science, all of them are probably wrong”
Krauss: “You know most theories are wrong, which is why, you know, it’s hard”
I noticed that a huge number of atheist web sites are taking the Vilenkin quote that Krauss used out of context, like this one and this one. There are probably a lot more of them like that, which I think is interesting. That’s why we have these debates, I guess. To set the record straight about who accuses people of being dishonest, and who is actually dishonest.
Krauss tried to argue that he had explained the fine-tuning with the Higgs particle, but Dr. Craig said that only applied to the cosmological constant, not all the other examples of fine-tuning. Krauss said that it wasn’t impressive that this universe permitted life and that “It would have been much more surprising if we evolved in a universe in which we couldn’t live”. Krauss argued the fine-tuning was only for “Life like us”. But Dr. Craig explained that the fine-tuning is what allows us to have the basics of any kind of life, like slow-burning stars, chemical diversity, etc. – things that are required for basic minimal life functions in any living system. Craig said that he was working with the current physical laws of this universe (F = ma, etc.) and that he was looking at what changed if we changed those even slightly. Krauss tried to say that if he changed things like the mass of particles then the strength of forces would change. (But the forces aren’t laws!) Krauss argued that the cosmological constant would be even better for life if it was zero, and Craig said that the life permitting range did include zero, but that the range of life-permitting values was narrow.
Craig reponded to the mystery religions charge, the charge that the evidence for the minimal facts is too late/too weak, the charge that grief visions explained the evidence better, and Hume’s argument against miracles. Craig brought up the early creed from 1 Cor 15:3-7 and explained to Krauss that it was 5 years after the events, and that Jewish standards of oral transmission were strong enough to ensure that the creed was reliable, and most of the eyewitnesses would still have been alive.
Audience Q and A: (1:21:09)
The first topic is the grounding of morality. Krauss agrees that there is no objective morality and no objective moral oughts. He also said that that standards of behavior are arbitrary, and that they change over time and they are adopted for promoting social order. Dr. Craig pressed the point that science itself would collapse without ethical values. It assumes them, but cannot ground them.
The next topic was free will. Krauss is a determinist. Craig asked him how he could reconcile moral responsibility with determinism.
The next topic was the effectiveness of mathematics. Krauss didn’t have an explanation for it and didn’t think it needed one. Then they got into whether the Genesis has been verified by science and whether it is meant to be taken literally.
The next topic was whether philosophy makes any progress. Craig gave the example of verificationism being rejected as too narrow, and self-refuting. Krauss: “I’m going to come to the defense of philosophy for the first time”. Craig: “That’s amazing!” Krauss said that science provides new knowledge. Craig said there were some things that could be known apart from science.
Note: even if you have heard Dr. Craig’s arguments before, I recommend jumping to the 48 minutes of Q&A time, which starts 72 minutes in.
About Dr. William Lane Craig:
William Lane Craig (born August 23, 1949) is an American analytic philosopher, philosophical theologian, and Christian apologist. He is known for his work on the philosophy of time and the philosophy of religion, specifically the existence of God and the defense of Christian theism. He has authored or edited over 30 books including The Kalam Cosmological Argument (1979), Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology(co-authored with Quentin Smith, 1993), Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time (2001), and Einstein, Relativity and Absolute Simultaneity (co-edited with Quentin Smith, 2007).
Craig received a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications from Wheaton College, Illinois, in 1971 and two summa cum laudemaster’s degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, in 1975, in philosophy of religion and ecclesiastical history. He earned a Ph.D. in philosophy under John Hick at the University of Birmingham, England in 1977 and a Th.D. underWolfhart Pannenberg at the University of Munich, Germany in 1984.
Dr. Craig was in Scotland to lecture at a physics conference, but a local church organized this public lecture at the University of St. Andrews.
Here is the full lecture with Q&A: (2 hours)
Naturalism defined: the physical world (matter, space and time) is all that exists
Dr. Craig will present 7 reasons why naturalism is false
1) the contingency argument
2) the kalam cosmological argument
3) the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life
4) the moral argument
5) the ontological argument
6) the resurrection of Jesus
7) religious experience
Dr. Craig does mention an 8th argument early in the Q&A – the argument from the non-physicality of mental states (substance dualism), which is an argument that I find convincing, because a materialist conception of mind is not compatible with rationality, consciousness and moral agency.
Questions and Answers
He gets a couple of questions on the moral argument early on – one of them tries to put forward an evolutionary explanation for “moral” behaviors. There’s another question the definition of naturalism. There is a bonehead question about the non-existence of Jesus based on a Youtube movie he saw – which Craig responds to with agnostic historian Bart Ehrman’s book on that topic. There’s a question about God as the ground for morality – does morality come from his will or nature.
Then there is a question about the multiverse, which came up at the physics conference Dr. Craig attended the day before. There is a good question about the Big Bang theory and the initial singularity at time t=0. Another good question about transfinite arithmetic, cardinality and set theory. One questioner asks about the resurrection argument. The questioner asks if we can use the origin of the disciples belief as an argument when other religions have people who are willing to die for their claims. One of the questioners asks about whether the laws of nature break down at 10^-43 after the beginning of the universe. There is a question about the religious experience argument, and Craig has the opportunity to give his testimony.
I thought that the questions from the Scottish students and faculty were a lot more thoughtful and respectful than at American colleges and universities. Highly recommended.