Tag Archives: Village Atheist

A review of Lawrence Krauss’ book “A Universe From Nothing”

Lawrence Krauss is a physicist who affirms that the entire physical universe appeared out of nothing. How well does his theory hold up?

This review of Krauss’ book was written by a non-theist in the liberal New York Times.

Excerpt:

Lawrence M. Krauss, a well-known cosmologist and prolific popular-science writer, apparently means to announce to the world, in this new book, that the laws of quantum mechanics have in them the makings of a thoroughly scientific and adamantly secular explanation of why there is something rather than nothing.

[…]Never mind. Forget where the laws came from. Have a look instead at what they say. It happens that ever since the scientific revolution of the 17th century, what physics has given us in the way of candidates for the fundamental laws of nature have as a general rule simply taken it for granted that there is, at the bottom of everything, some basic, elementary, eternally persisting, concrete, physical stuff. Newton, for example, took that elementary stuff to consist of material particles. And physicists at the end of the 19th century took that elementary stuff to consist of both material particles and electro­magnetic fields. And so on. And what the fundamental laws of nature are about, and allthe fundamental laws of nature are about, and all there is for the fundamental laws of nature to be about, insofar as physics has ever been able to imagine, is how that elementary stuff is arranged. The fundamental laws of nature generally take the form of rules concerning which arrangements of that stuff are physically possible and which aren’t, or rules connecting the arrangements of that elementary stuff at later times to its arrangement at earlier times, or something like that. But the laws have no bearing whatsoever on questions of where the elementary stuff came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular elementary stuff it does, as opposed to something else, or to nothing at all.

The fundamental physical laws that Krauss is talking about in “A Universe From Nothing” — the laws of relativistic quantum field theories — are no exception to this. The particular, eternally persisting, elementary physical stuff of the world, according to the standard presentations of relativistic quantum field theories, consists (unsurprisingly) of relativistic quantum fields. And the fundamental laws of this theory take the form of rules concerning which arrangements of those fields are physically possible and which aren’t, and rules connecting the arrangements of those fields at later times to their arrangements at earlier times, and so on — and they have nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of where those fields came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular kinds of fields it does, or of why it should have consisted of fields at all, or of why there should have been a world in the first place. Period. Case closed. End of story.

What does it mean? It means this. Physical laws are merely a description of how physical entities operate. They do not explain where the physical entities being described came from. Physical laws are like traffic laws – they describe how cars are supposed to drive around on roads – but they don’t create the cars!

In any case, if you would like to find out how well Krauss’ ideas hold up in a debate, you can watch him debate William Lane Craig right here:

Or listen to the debate and read my very very snarky summary here.

The debate itself was a slaughter. Krauss was one of the least rational opponents Craig has ever faced.

Ed Feser explains common misunderstandings of cosmological arguments

A post explaining why popular objections to the cosmological argument are weak, from Ed Feser’s blog. This is a MUST-READ.

Intro:

Most people who comment on the cosmological argument demonstrably do not know what they are talking about.  This includes all the prominent New Atheist writers.  It very definitely includes most of the people who hang out in Jerry Coyne’s comboxes.  It also includes most scientists.  And it even includes many theologians and philosophers, or at least those who have not devoted much study to the issue.

[…]In particular, I think that the vast majority of philosophers who have studied the argument in any depth – and again, that includes atheists as well as theists, though it does not include most philosophers outside the sub-discipline of philosophy of religion – would agree with the points I am about to make, or with most of them anyway.  Of course, I do not mean that they would all agree with me that the argument is at the end of the day a convincing argument.  I just mean that they would agree that most non-specialists who comment on it do not understand it, and that the reasons why people reject it are usually superficial and based on caricatures of the argument.

Here’s the list of his corrections to common atheist misunderstandings of the cosmological argument:

  1. The argument does NOT rest on the premise that “Everything has a cause.”
  2. “What caused God?” is not a serious objection to the argument.
  3. “Why assume that the universe had a beginning?” is not a serious objection to the argument.
  4. “No one has given any reason to think that the First Cause is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, etc.” is not a serious objection to the argument.
  5. “The argument doesn’t prove that Christianity is true” is not a serious objection to the argument.
  6. Science has shown such-and-such” is not a serious objection to (most versions of) the argument.
  7. The argument is not a “God of the gaps” argument.
  8. Hume and Kant did not have the last word on the argument.  Neither has anyone else.
  9. What “most philosophers” think about the argument is irrelevant.

Excerpt: (number 1 in the list)

Lots of people – probably most people who have an opinion on the matter – think that the cosmological argument goes like this: Everything has a cause; so the universe has a cause; so God exists. They then have no trouble at all poking holes in it. If everything has a cause, then what caused God? Why assume in the first place that everything has to have a cause? Why assume the cause is God? Etc.

Here’s the funny thing, though. People who attack this argument never tell you where they got it from. They never quote anyone defending it. There’s a reason for that. The reason is that none of the best-known proponents of the cosmological argument in the history of philosophy and theology ever gave this stupid argument. Not Plato, not Aristotle, not al-Ghazali, not Maimonides, not Aquinas, not Duns Scotus, not Leibniz, not Samuel Clarke, not Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, not Mortimer Adler, not William Lane Craig, not Richard Swinburne. And not anyone else either, as far as I know. (Your Pastor Bob doesn’t count. I mean no one among prominent philosophers.) And yet it is constantly presented, not only by popular writers but even by some professional philosophers, as if it were “the” “basic” version of the cosmological argument, and as if every other version were essentially just a variation on it.

Don’t take my word for it. The atheist Robin Le Poidevin, in his book Arguing for Atheism (which my critic Jason Rosenhouse thinks is pretty hot stuff) begins his critique of the cosmological argument by attacking a variation of the silly argument given above – though he admits that “no-one has defended a cosmological argument of precisely this form”! So what’s the point of attacking it? Why not start instead with what some prominent defender of the cosmological argument has actually said?

Suppose some creationist began his attack on Darwinism by assuring his readers that “the basic” claim of the Darwinian account of human origins is that at some point in the distant past a monkey gave birth to a human baby. Suppose he provided no source for this claim – which, of course, he couldn’t have, because no Darwinian has ever said such a thing – and suppose also that he admitted that no one has ever said it. But suppose further that he claimed that “more sophisticated versions” of Darwinism were really just “modifications” of this claim. Intellectually speaking, this would be utterly contemptible and sleazy. It would give readers the false impression that anything Darwinians have to say about human origins, however superficially sophisticated, is really just a desperate exercise in patching up a manifestly absurd position. Precisely for that reason, though, such a procedure would, rhetorically speaking, be very effective indeed.

Compare that to Le Poidevin’s procedure. Though by his own admission no one has ever actually defended the feeble argument in question, Le Poidevin still calls it “the basic” version of the cosmological argument and characterizes the “more sophisticated versions” he considers later on as “modifications” of it. Daniel Dennett does something similar in his book Breaking the Spell. He assures us that the lame argument in question is “the simplest form” of the cosmological argument and falsely insinuates that other versions – that is to say, the ones that philosophers have actually defended, and which Dennett does not bother to discuss – are merely desperate attempts to repair the obvious problems with the “Everything has a cause” “version.” As with our imaginary creationist, this procedure is intellectually dishonest and sleazy, but it is rhetorically very effective. It gives the unwary reader the false impression that “the basic” claim made by Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al. is manifestly absurd, that everything else they have to say is merely an attempt to patch up this absurd position, and (therefore) that such writers need not be bothered with further.

And that, I submit, is the reason why the stupid “Everything has a cause” argument – a complete fabrication, an urban legend, something no philosopher has ever defended – perpetually haunts the debate over the cosmological argument. It gives atheists an easy target, and a way rhetorically to make even their most sophisticated opponents seem silly and not worth bothering with. It‘s a slimy debating trick, nothing more – a shameless exercise in what I have elsewhere called “meta-sophistry.” (I make no judgment about whether Le Poidevin’s or Dennett’s sleaziness was deliberate. But that they should know better is beyond question.)

What defenders of the cosmological argument do say is that what comes into existence has a cause, or that what is contingent has a cause. These claims are as different from “Everything has a cause” as “Whatever has color is extended” is different from “Everything is extended.” Defenders of the cosmological argument also provide arguments for these claims about causation. You may disagree with the claims – though if you think they are falsified by modern physics, you are sorely mistaken – but you cannot justly accuse the defender of the cosmological argument either of saying something manifestly silly or of contradicting himself when he goes on to say that God is uncaused.

This gives us what I regard as “the basic” test for determining whether an atheist is informed and intellectually honest. If he thinks that the cosmological argument rests on the claim that “everything has a cause,” then he is simply ignorant of the basic facts. If he persists in asserting that it rests on this claim after being informed otherwise, then he is intellectually dishonest. And if he is an academic philosopher like Le Poidevin or Dennett who is professionally obligated to know these things and to eschew cheap debating tricks, then… well, you do the math.

I don’t agree with Ed Feser on everything, but this post is dynamite. It is very forceful. He has 168 comments at the time of writing. It’s long, so you might want to print it out. But it is awesome.

I remember one day when I was having a closed-door conversation with one of my liberal atheist co-workers following the completion of a grueling project. I asked him why he was an atheist. He said he didn’t really know other that he didn’t want to be bothered. So I listed out about 10 arguments against Christian theism and he finally said that in college he had read an argument against God from evil. I asked him “human evil or natural evil”. He said human evil. I said “deductive or inductive”. He didn’t understand, so I explained the difference between the logical and probabilistic problem of evil. It was deductive. I said, “is it from J.L. Mackie?” He shot out of his seat and put his hands on the desk “how did you know that!”. I told him to sit down, and I refuted the argument using Plantinga’s work. Then I told him about William Rowe’s probabilistic version of the problem of evil. “That’s a better version of the argument, but I can defeat that one too”. We went to lunch and I did so. Christians have to know everything, and we have to be able to articulate our opponent’s point more forcefully than they can. It shows intellectual honesty to be able to help the person see the most forceful version of their objections. We need to be able to do that.

Here’s an excellent peer-reviewed paper by William Lane Craig on the science of the cosmological argument. It was published in a peer-reviewed astrophysics journal.

Debating the Kalam cosmological argument

Here’s a basic lecture explaining the kalam cosmological argument that leverages the Big Bang cosmology to argue for God’s existence.

Watch and see!

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

You can also find a more technical version of the lecture here on video. This version is based on a research paper published in an astrophysics journal, and was delivered to an audience of students and faculty, including atheist physicist Victor Stenger and prominent atheist philosopher Michael Tooley, at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Craig has previously debated Stenger and Tooley. And they both asked him questions in the Q&A of this lecture.

You might also be interested in this exchange in which William Lane Craig takes on prominent atheist Daniel Dennett. And you can watch an entire debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens here. The cosmological argument is Craig’s first of five arguments.

Review of the William Lane Craig vs Lawrence Krauss debate

This is from Possible Worlds.

Excerpt:

I have never before seen Krauss debate, but the physicist opened up explaining he did not particularly like them. I was shocked to discover that Krauss’ entire opening statement revolved around criticizing Craig’s well-known arguments as “God-of-the-gaps.” He also mentioned that quantum mechanics demonstrates that physics does not conform to the laws of logic (thus, in my view, demonstrating a fundamental equivocal misunderstanding of the term “logic.” It does not mean, as Krauss here seems to suggest, “common sense” or “what we would expect.” This is the most charitable view as the only other sense he could mean is that it is reasonable to assume reason does not apply to physics, while also giving us a reason, which is self-contradictory.).  He also suggested God cannot be the grounds of objective morality since God can’t will evil things to be good.

[…]In Craig’s second rebuttal he again focused the debate topic. Craig does this to show both what he has argued and to show that the rebuttal was not at all relevant to the topic at hand. I wished he had discussed more cosmology and why inflationary models require an absolute beginning, but he at least mentioned these rebuttals. He completely tore apart the Humean argument against miracles by pointing out that he did not have the probability calculus back in that time. Craig seemed perfectly comfortable by this point and not at all rushed; however he had fewer points to argue against as Krauss was defaulting to “desire” as a motivator over scientific evidence.

By the time of Krauss’ second rebuttal, he was struggling for words. He seemed to have run out of things relevant to say. He did eventually get going, but made such contradictory statements as “there is no purpose in the universe.” As Ryan Hedrich said to me during the debate, “There’s no meaning, no purpose, and yet there he is, arguing away for God only knows what reason (literally).”

And he even reviews the Q&A. This is a really good review.

In this post you can find links to the audio, video, and my snarky summary on Krauss’ speeches.

Audio and video from the debate between William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss

Audio of the William Lane Craig vs. Lawrence Krauss debate at North Carolina State University has now been posted at Apologetics 315.

And I also posted some background information on Craig’s arguments.

William Lane Craig’s case

William Lane Craig made 5 arguments for the existence of God:

  • the contingency argument
  • theargument from the origin of the universe (kalam)
  • the argument from cosmic fine-tuning
  • the moral argument
  • the argument from the miracle of the resurrection

These arguments went unrefuted during the debate.

Lawrence Krauss’s case

Lawrence Krauss made the following arguments in his first speech

  • Dr. Craig is a professional debater
  • Dr. Craig is not a scientist
  • Dr. Craig is a philosopher
  • Disproving God’s is a waste of my valuable time
  • Dr. Craig has the burden of proof to show evidence
  • My job is not to present any evidence
  • I think that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is a nice slogan, but I have no evidence for it
  • I don’t like that God doesn’t appear on Youtube, therefore he doesn’t exist
  • I don’t like that God didn’t appear to humans until recently, therefore he doesn’t exist
  • I don’t like that the stars didn’t come together to spell “I am here”, therefore God doesn’t exist
  • Dr. Craig has to supply extraordinary evidence, because my favorite slogan says he has to
  • Dr. Craig talks about logic, but the universe is not logical
  • Dr. Craig doesn’t have any arguments, just things he doesn’t like
  • Dr. Craig doesn’t like infinity, and that’s why he believes in the Big Bang cosmology
  • Dr. Craig doesn’t like chance, and that’s why he believes in cosmic fine-tuning
  • Dr. Craig doesn’t like rape, and that’s why he believes in the ontological foundations of morality
  • If people believe in logic, then they can’t do science
  • The things that science discovers contradict the laws of logic
  • For example, Dr. Craig doesn’t like infinity, so he believes in the experimental measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation
  • For example, Dr. Craig doesn’t like chance, so he believes in the fine-tuning of the gravitational constant for the formation of stable stars
  • Quantum mechanics shows that the universe is stranger than you think, therefore all of Craig’s arguments are false
  • My t-shirt says 2 + 2 = 5, therefore all of Craig’s arguments are false
  • Atheism may look ridiculous, but it’s true, and if you don’t like it, too bad – because the universe is very strange
  • Accidents happen all the time, so that explains the cosmic fine-tuning
  • We all have to convince ourselves of 10 impossible things before breakfast, and atheism is impossible, so you need to convince yourself of it
  • I don’t know about the Big Bang, so Dr. Craig cannot use the Big Bang to to prove the universe began to exist
  • I don’t know about the cosmic fine-tuning, so Dr. Craig cannot use the fine-tuning of cosmological constants to prove the fine-tuning
  • I don’t know anything about science, so Dr. Craig cannot use science in his arguments
  • Dr. Craig says that the universe is contingent because it began to exist 13.7 billion years ago based on the state-of-the-art scientific evidence for the Big Bang creation out of nothing from 1) red-shift of light from distant galaxies, 2) cosmic microwave background radiation, 3) helium-hydrogen abundances, 4) experimental confirmation of general relativity, 5) the second law of thermodynamics, 6) radioactive element abundances, etc., but how does he know that? I don’t know that
  • It’s fine not to know the answer to scientific questions like whether the universe began to exist, it’s more exciting
  • Thinking that the universe began to exist based on 6 pieces of scientific evidence is the “God-of-the-Gaps” fallacy, it’s intellectual laziness
  • But all kidding aside, the universe actually did begin to exist 13.72 billion years ago, exactly like Craig says in his argument
  • I could argue that God created the universe 4.5 seconds ago with all of us sitting believing that we heard Dr. Craig, and how could you prove me wrong? It’s not falsifiable
  • Universes can spontaneously appear out of nothing, and in fact they have to appear out of nothing
  • Nothing is unstable, and space and time can come into existence out of nothing, so that’s not a problem
  • Our universe could have appeared out of a multiverse, an unobservable, untestable multiverse that I have no way of observing or testing, but which was in fact created by none other than the Flying Spaghetti Monster!
  • The universe is not fine-tuned for life, and no scientist says so, especially Martin Rees, the atheist Astronomer Royal, and every other scientist
  • What if God decided that rape was OK, would it be OK? God can change his moral nature arbitrarily, can’t he?
  • Would you have any preference as to whether I was born an atheist baby or a Muslim baby?

Here are the arguments in Krauss’ second speech:

  • We don’t understand the beginning of the universe
  • We don’t understand whether the universe had a cause
  • Steven Weinberg says that science makes it possible to be an atheist, so therefore the universe didn’t begin and didn’t have a cause
  • It’s just intellectual laziness to say that the universe came into being 13.7 billion years ago, and that things that come into being of nothing have a cause
  • Dr. Craig is an expert on nothing, ha ha ha!
  • There are multiple versions of nothing, there’s nothing, and then there is something, which is also nothing if I want it to be
  • There was no space, there was no time, and then the space create the empty space
  • I’m going to give Dr. Craig a break
  • At least in the nothing there were laws like F=ma, and those laws created the empty space, because descriptions of matter that does not even exist yet can create space out of nothing
  • Alan Guth and Alexander Vilenkin are good friends of mine and I talk to them all the time, unlike Dr. Craig
  • Alan Guth and Alexander Vilenkin don’t mention God in their scientific papers, therefore the universe didn’t begin and didn’t have a cause
  • Maybe there is a multiverse that cannot be observed or tested? And my unscientific speculations are a refutation of Craig’s scientific evidence for the fine-tuning
  • Dr. Craig just doesn’t like my speculations about the unobservable, untestable multiverse, and that’s why he believes in the Big Bang cosmology
  • And if you let me speculate about an unobservable, untestable multiverse, then maybe the inanimate invisible universes reproduce and compete for food and mutate like animals and then there is natural selection so that the finely-tuned universes survive and now we’re in one!
  • My cool animation of blue goo mutating proves that the multiverse is real! Empty space is not empty!
  • Darwinism, which is a theory about the origin of species, explains the cosmic fine-tuning that occurred at the moment of creation
  • The unobservable, untestable multiverse universes all have different laws, I believe
  • We don’t know what the right answer is, but we are willing to look at any possibility, as long as the possibilities we look at are not supernatural possibilities, because I am not giving up my right to recreational sex outside of marriage!
  • The discovery of the origin of the universe could be an accident, I don’t know if the universe began to exist or not, maybe all the six scientific evidences are wrong because if I don’t like the evidence we have, so I’ll just wait for new evidence to overturn the evidence we have which I don’t like
  • Maybe there are other forms of life that are unobservable and untestable that are compatible with a universe that has no stable stars, no planets, no elements heavier than hydrogen, no hydrogen, no carbon, etc.

Here are the arguments in Krauss’ third speech:

  • Dr. Craig is stupid
  • Why should we even care about Dr. Craig’s arguments and evidence, we can just count the number of scientists who are atheists and decide whether God exists that way – I decided everything based on what my teachers told me to believe – I needed good grades to make money so I could move out of my bossy parents’ house and have fun!
  • I actually know general relativity, not like Dr. Craig who co-wrote a book on general relativity published by Oxford University Press
  • What quantum mechanics shows is that virtual particles come into being in a quantum vacuum, and then go out of existence almost immediately – and that is exactly like how a 13.7 billion year old universe came into being in a quantum vacuum, and we’re going to disappear very soon
  • Space and the laws of physics can be created, possibly, if you accept my speculations about an unobservable, untestable multiverse
  • I don’t like the God of the Old Testament, especially his prohibition on drunkenness and fornication, therefore he doesn’t exist
  • Groups of people can decide what they think is good and evil, like the Nazis and slave-owners did, and then that becomes good for them in that time and place, and that’s what I mean by morality
  • Here’s something I studied that wasn’t fine-tuned, therefore there is no fine-tuning of the universe
  • Not knowing things is really exciting! Dr. Craig is not really exciting because he knows things – phooey!

Here are the arguments in Krauss’ fourth speech:

  • If you will just grant me an observable, untestable multiverse, then there must be some universe where intelligent life exists
  • Infinite numbers of things exist everywhere in nature, you can see lots of infinite collections of things, like jelly beans and bumblebees and invisible pink unicorns
  • I don’t like the fine-tuning, but if my speculations about the multiverse are proven true, then I won’t have to learn to live with the fine-tuning
  • Inflation, the rapid expansion of the universe which occurs at some time after the the origin of the universe (t = 0), explains the absolute origin of time, space, matter and energy out of nothing that occurred at t = 0
  • Physical processes that develop subsequent to the creation of the universe at t > 0 can explain the fine-tuning of quantities that are set at t = 0
  • Morality is just a bunch of arbitrary conventions decided by groups of people in different times and places by an accidental process of biological and social evolution, but that practice over there by those people is objectively wrong!
  • 1 Cor 15:3-7, which most scholars, even atheists like James Crossley, admit is dated to within 3 years of the death of Jesus, is actually dated to 50 years after the death of Jesus
  • The historical case for the resurrection made by people like N.T. Wright in their multi-volume academic works is on par with the story of Mohammed ascending to Heaven on a horse

If you liked this, please check out my snarky summary of Christopher Hitchens’ speeches in the Craig-Hitchens debate.

William Lane Craig answers questions from an arrogant atheist

Mary sent me this question and answer from William Lane Craig’s Question of the Week.

Here are the questions:

Hi there, I’m writting in regards to your “Q&A 170: So many athiests, so little time” answer. First of all, your two simple questions have very simple answers, and an athiest who can’t answer them isn’t a true athiest.

1)
Q. What do you mean by (you don’t believe in God)
A. I mean that I have a lack of belief the the existance of a deity, your christian God or any other.

2)
Q. What reasons do you have to think that (there is no God)
A. The Earth shows no proof of creation, every single thing on this Earth has a natural explanation, simply becasue modern science has not yet solved every problem, does not mean it never will. I’d go in to detail, but no need to bore you with the science of it all.
So, I’ve given my proof and will give far more if you ask it of me, and any wel linformed athiest will be able to answer those questions in a flash and have the burden of proof back in your hands.
In regards to scholarly work, may I point out Charles Darwin’s “The Origins of Species”, the works of Gregor Mendel, father of Genetics, William “Strata” Smith, father of Geology, Alfred Wegener “The Origin of Continents and Oceans”, Issac Newton, Galileo, On and on I go, where I stop, nobody knows!
Now, if I may turn to the real point of this e-mail besides to point out that you havent really told anyone how to argue christianity other than asking easy questions and throwing names at them. Your God is Omnicient so you say, operating on this assumption, here is how morality plays out in the bible…
1) God creates heaven and Earth and then he creates Humans.
2) God KNOWS that humans will sin
3) God puts the tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden KNOWING it will drive Adam to sin.
4) God Determines that Adams sin is transmutable down to every single person that will ever exist. (Moral objection 1: The sins of the father are logically not related to the son in any way shape or form)
5) God decides that to punish people for this one sin they had nothing to do with or anything else he deams bad, they shall be sentenced to an eternity of burning hellfire. Infinite punishment for a finite crime? That sounds like Moral objection #2 to me!
6) When God sees that his creations have really gone bad, he drowns the world, killing millions of innocent people.
7) only 1600 years after the mass murder of his creations(following biblical chronology) they’ve already fallen back in to sin. So God, in his infinite wisdom, determines the best course of action, is to sacrafice his Son, who is part of himself, TO HIMSELF, to make up for the sins of the creations he made knowing they would sin!

How in the world do you rectify this!?

Cheers,

Luke

I think that Bill is doing a great thing to come down to the level of village atheist once in a while and reply, and if you read his answer, he’s actually pretty mean. And it’s a good thing, in this case, because the worldview of village atheists is a lot like the worldview of Islamic terrorists. They are so insulated from outside criticism that you really have to thrash them around a little bit in order to get them to see that they have been involved with a cult their whole lives. That’s not going to be the case with some of the better atheists like Austin Dacey and Paul Draper, but it is going to be the case with many rank and file atheists, and we need to know how to answer them, too.