Tag Archives: Quantum Mechanics

Henry F. Schaefer assesses Stephen Hawking’s no-boundary proposal

A little bit about Dr. Schaefer:

Henry F. Schaefer III was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He attended public schools in Syracuse (New York), Menlo Park (California), and Grand Rapids (Michigan), graduating from East Grand Rapids High School in 1962. He received his B.S. degree in chemical physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1966) and Ph.D. degree in chemical physics from Stanford University (1969). For 18 years (1969-1987) he served as a professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. During the 1979-1980 academic year he was also Wilfred T. Doherty Professor of Chemistry and inaugural Director of the Institute for Theoretical Chemistry at the University of Texas, Austin. Since 1987 Dr. Schaefer has been Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry at the University of Georgia. In 2004 he became Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, at the University of California at Berkeley. His other academic appointments include Professeur d’Echange at the University of Paris (1977), Gastprofessur at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochshule (ETH), Zürich (1994, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010), and David P. Craig Visiting Professor at the Australian National University (1999). He is the author of more than 1250 scientific publications, the majority appearing in the Journal of Chemical Physics or the Journal of the American Chemical Society. A total of 300 scientists from 35 countries gathered in Gyeongju, Korea for a six-day conference in February, 2004 with the title Theory and Applications of Computational Chemistry: A Celebration of 1000 Papers of Professor Henry F. Schaefer III. In May 2010, the University of California at Berkeley will host a large international conference in Professor Schaefer’s honor, the title of the conference being Molecular Quantum Mechanics: From Methylene to DNA and Beyond.

Witness how the experimental scientist disagrees with the theoretical… speculator.

Let us return to Hawking’s no boundary proposal – the idea that the universe has neither beginning nor end. By treating the universe as a wave function, Hawking hopes to rationalize the universe’s popping into existence 12-15 billion years ago. Critical to Hawking’s research in this regard is the notion of imaginary time. The concept of imaginary time is a powerful mathematical device used on occasion by theoretical chemists and physicists. I remember clearly the day in the autumn of 1965, during my Complex Variables class as a senior at M.I.T., when I learned that the result of contour integration was two pi i times the sum of the residues. For me, it was about as close to a revelation as I had received up to that time in my life. My closest colleague at Berkeley, Professor William H. Miller, in 1969 used imaginary time to understand the dynamics of chemical reactions, and it made him a household word in the world of science. The use of imaginary time is indeed a powerful tool.

Indulge me while I attempt to convey the essence of how imaginary time is exploited in theoretical physics and chemistry. One approaches a well defined problem, with all variables necessarily being real. This means, for example, real positions for all particles, real velocities, and so on. Real problems begin with all quantities real. Then one undertakes a carefully chosen excursion into the complex plane, making one or more variables complex. Subsequently we do some really cool things mathematically. Finally, all the variables revert to real values, and we find that something important has been mathematically derived that would have otherwise been impossible to prove.

Hawking and Hartle’s no boundary proposal begins by adopting a grossly oversimplified model of the universe. Then the authors make time imaginary, and prove in their terribly restricted model that the universe has neither beginning nor end. The flaw in the exercise is that the authors never go back to real time. Thus the notion that the universe has neither beginning nor end is something that exists in mathematical terms only. In real time, to which we as human beings are necessarily attached, rather than in Hawking’s use of imaginary time, there will always be a singularity, that is, a beginning of time.

In an obviously contradictory statement in A Brief History of Time, Hawking actually concedes this point. What we are seeing in this situation is Hawking versus Hawking. I view the following statement as Hawking speaking in his right mind: “When one goes back to the real time in which we live, however, there will still appear to be singularities . . . In real time, the universe has a beginning and an end at singularities that form a boundary to space-time and at which the laws of science break down” (first edition, page 144). Only if we lived in imaginary time (not coming soon to a neighborhood near you!) would we encounter no singularities. In real time the universe was created ex nihilo 12-15 billion years ago.

With some trepidation, I will venture further. A case can be made that the Hartle-Hawking “no boundary proposal” is only of marginal scientific interest. The reasons for this conclusion might include: (a) the theory is a mathematical construct that has no unique empirical support; (b) the theory makes no verifiable scientific predictions that were not achieved earlier with simpler models; (c) the theory generates no significant research agenda. The primary purpose of the theory seems to be an attempt to evade the cosmological argument for the existence of God, via the claim that nature is self-contained and effectively eternal.

I’ll stick with the experimental guy.

Debating the Kalam argument in a YouTube thread

A new reader to the blog read my article on the Kalam cosmological argument, and he decided to try it out on youtube here. He presented the argument PERFECTLY, and then he got some responses. He asked me to comment, so I will below. But I want you guys to comment, too! (UPDATE: Comment in this post – I don’t recommend commenting in YouTube discussions)

Anyway, here’s the page. (I didn’t watch the video)

And here’s his initial presentation of the argument:

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

The cause for the universe (time, space, matter, etc) must be something entirely different (outside the realm of time, space, and matter) since a thing cannot be the cause of itself.

Now I’ll reply to his opponents, but you can reply too in the comments, because he’s reading this post, and we should all try to offer him our thoughts. At the end, I recommend some additional resources, all free online, to help everyone understand the details of this fine argument.

Responses to the Kalam argument

Here’s the first reply:

Just because we don’t know the cause yet doesn’t mean it’s not something scientific. I’m not saying it is, I’m just saying it’s possible.

By “scientific”, I am thinking that this challenger is hoping for a material cause, but the problem is that the origin of the universe is the origin of all space and matter – so no “scientific” cause is possible. So it is not possible that the origin of the universe was caused by something “scientific”, because it’s an absolute origin of all matter, and the physical laws that govern matter, as well. Tell him that there is only one kind of non-material entity capable of causing effects and that is a mind.

Here’s another reply:

What if the universe always existed? We don’t know that it has started to exist, we just know that it exists and that it has existed for very long. So it is possible that it has always existed. So that doesn’t prove anything.

I would ask this person why they hate science so much to deny the good data about the measurements of red-shift in light from distant galaxies, the helium-hydrogen abundance measurements, the cosmic microwave background radiation, the second law of thermodynamics, the star formation cycle, etc. As them what is wrong with science, and why must they push their religion (naturalism) on science?

Here’s another reply:

The same principle can apply to god as well, so this argument doesn’t prove or disprove either it is just pointless.

My response is that the cause of the universe causes the beginning of time as well, and so therefore the cause exists necessarily, outside of time. Things that exist outside of time are eternal, they don’t not exist at time t1 and then begin to exist at time t2. The cause of time’s beginning cannot come into being itself, because there is no t1 and t2 before time is created.

Here’s another reply:

uhm .. no, there is no definition of god like that and even if it is it’s invalid, why ? well mostly because apart from a book “The Bible” there is no real proof he existed, no one has seen him and I’ll wager that no one ever will, henceforth you cannot define something that you really know nothing about, something that might not even exist, it’s like saying that bigfoot is a mammal. you can’t prove that either since you haven’t seen it and don’t even know if it exists

Notice that onlinesid produced an argument for the existence of God, and now this guy is bringing in the Bible (red herring), no proof (red herring), why can’t I see God (red herring), no one knows anything about God (red herring and self-refuting), and bigfoot (red herring). This person is clearly brain-damaged and not one of the things he write is worth a response. Note: I am being mean, but you can’t be mean when you reply to him, you have to tell them to stay focused on your argument and deny premise 1 or premise 2.

And here’s another:

You assume that the universe began to exist.

We currently don’t know if it did or not; the present hypothesis is expansion from a single point that is infinitely small.

You also assume that the cause of the universe doesn’t have a cause. You need to account for the cause of the cause, and the cause of that cause, ad infinitum.

And on “God being outside of” reality, then he shouldn’t be able to affect reality in any observable way. God is untestable.

Again, tell him he is a science-hating flat-earther and ask which of the empirical evidences for the Big Bang he denies. We need to get off of his speculations and evasions and ask him to deny a premise or to deny some scientific data. As soon as he does, ask him for peer-reviewed data that refutes the scientific observations. The cause of the universe doesn’t have a cause because it is outside of time and doesn’t begin to exist. The premise is that only things that begin to exist require a cause. Regarding God not being able to cause effects, you should say that God is a mind and causes effects in time subsequent to creation the same way that humans cause effects using their wills on their bodies.

Here’s another:

It’s called the “Big Bang” hypothesis. Even simple Wikipedia will besufficient for an understanding of it. Or videos on Youtube, if you are that lazy and/or ignorant.

The “evidence” for it is background electromagnetic radiation and the appearance that the universe is expanding. Among other things

The “mind” we perceive is the function of electrochemical impulses between our brain cells. We classify it as a “mind”. And as a physical system of reality, it is affected by physical reality..

Again ask him what is his scientific evidence that the universe is eternal, and ask him what is wrong with your scientific evidence showing that it isn’t eternal. You must make him make a claim and supply evidence for his claim. You need to buy a book called “God and the Astronomers” by agnostic Robert Jastrow and read it. It explains all the discoveries that led to the Big Bang, but get the second edition. Also, if he thinks that mind is biologically determined, then you need to explain that biological determinism makes rationality impossible, since all of our outputs are determined by inputs and DNA programming that has the goal of reproducing, not finding truth.

More challenges:

…The beginning of the universe need not be “God”. Could have been made by a pencil. Or could have always been, like a trigonomic function, repeating and diverging into two dimensions.

I think our boy is beginning to wear him down. He now thinks a pencil caused the entire physical universe to appear out of nothing. But the problem is that a pencil is made of matter and cannot have caused the beginning of all matter. But do go on and make him identify what he thinks the cause is. It can’t be in time, it can’t be matter.


And the theist-point-of-view actually can in no way prove God because there are many OTHER ways it could have happened. A pencil could have been the original cause of the big-bang, or it could repeat like a trig function, eternally epanding, collapsing, expanding in another
dimension, etc.

He’s raising the oscillating model, which is falsified theoretically and observationally. In 1998, the discovery of the year was that the universe would expand forever. The oscillating model also faces theoretical problems with the “bounce” mechanism. Sid, if you still can, try your best in physics class, and take astronomy and physics in university, along with philosophy and logic. It will help you to have more fun in these debates and you’ll know more details.


I did not say that the physical realm is all there is. (Thought there could be two realms, or more.) BUT asuming that an entity exists outside the physical realm and created this universe from that dimension IS illogical.

Ask him for a logical argument that proves that God cannot create matter out of nothing. These assertions need to be backed up with deductive arguments, with premises supported by scientific observations. You can’t just throw around that word “illogical”. It sounds like he is just saying “I don’t like it”. Make sure that you ask him for peer-reviewed papers for anything he says about science, and formal arguments for anything he says is “illogical”.

This time he argues quatum mechanics:

Small particles of matter, at least as I understand it, CAN be “created” from energy. The only real “trouble” is the creation of energy, which “god made it” faces the problem of “what made god?”…

If he wants to argue quantum mechanics, you need to remind him that virtual particles can only appear in a quantum vaccuum, which exists in space. It is not nothing. Also, virtual particles are not as massive as a universe, and those virtual particles only stay in existence for a fraction of a second. So this is not a good analogy for the origin of the entire physical universe.

Further study

You did well, you just need to be meaner in demanding that he bear his share of the burdern of proof. Ask him why you should accept his speculations and assertions, where are his arguments, where is his scientific evidence.

I think that this book would be a good one along with God and the Astronomers, second edition. But read this paper, too, and every William Lane Craig debate you can get your hands on, especially the one with physicist Victor Stenger (video, audio), the follow-up lecture at UC Boulder where Stenger is in the audience, and the second Craig-Dacey debate. When you’re done with that, listen to this lecture and this lecture (I know it’s similar to the first one, but tough!) and this lecture and this lecture. And study more physics if you’re still in school!

God meant for us to enjoy ourselves arguing in his universe. Jesus cured the paralytic to provide evidence for his claims. Similarly, we can use the evidence of nature miracles that science is just now discovering to get the same effect as though we could perform miracles. But we need to understand philosophy and physics down to the details.