Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

William Lane Craig posts full Vilenkin e-mail misrepresented by Krauss in their debate

First, Dr. Craig posted the e-mail from Vilenkin to Krauss, which Krauss used in his debate with Craig, with the parts Krauss omitted in bold:

Hi Lawrence,

Any theorem is only as good as its assumptions. The BGV theorem says that if the universe is on average expanding along a given worldline, this worldline cannot be infinite to the past.

A possible loophole is that there might be an epoch of contraction prior to the expansion. Models of this sort have been discussed by Aguirre & Gratton and by Carroll & Chen. They had to assume though that the minimum of entropy was reached at the bounce and offered no mechanism to enforce this condition. It seems to me that it is essentially equivalent to a beginning.

On the other hand, Jaume Garriga and I are now exploring a picture of the multiverse where the BGV theorem may not apply. In bubbles of negative vacuum energy, expansion is followed by cocntraction, and it is usually assumed that this ends in a big crunch singularity. However, it is conceivable (and many people think likely) that singularities will be resolved in the theory of quantum gravity, so the internal collapse of the bubbles will be followed by an expansion. In this scenario, a typical worldline will go through a succession of expanding and contracting regions, and it is not at all clear that the BGV assumption (expansion on average) will be satisfied.

I suspect that the theorem can be extended to this case, maybe with some additional assumptions. But of course there is no such thing as absolute certainty in science, especially in matters like the creation of the universe. Note for example that the BGV theorem uses a classical picture of spacetime. In the regime where gravity becomes essentially quantum, we may not even know the right questions to ask.

Alex

Now recall that Krauss excuses the selective editing of the e-mail in the debate by saying that it was “too technical” to include. Judge for yourself if the omitted lines are “too technical” or whether they were omitted in order to mislead people about the evidence for the beginning of the universe.

Dr. Craig comments:

Whoa! That puts a very different face on the matter, doesn’t it? Why didn’t Krauss read the sentence, “It seems to me that it is essentially equivalent to a beginning”? Because it was too technical? Is this the transparency, honesty, and forthrightness that Krauss extols? (By the way, Vilenkin’s criticism of these models is the same one that Vilenkin makes in his Cambridge paper: far from showing an eternal past, these models actually feature a universe with a common beginning point for two arrows of time.)

And why did Krauss delete Vilenkin’s caveat that the BGV theorem can, in his estimation, be extended to cover the case of an expanding and contracting model such as Garriga and Vilenkin are exploring? And why delete the remark that such a model is usually assumed to be incorrect? It’s evident that Vilenkin’s email was selectively edited to give it the spin Krauss wanted.

Some people told me that they thought that Dr. Craig needed to be a little less gracious with Krauss in the debate, but that comment takes Krauss on directly. Too bad most of the people who watch the debate will never know unless they see the original e-mail from Vilenkin that Craig posted.

Dr. Craig then wrote to Dr. Vilenkin about this misrepresentation and here is part of the reply:

The Aguirre-Gratton model can avoide singularities by postulating a small “initial” closed universe and then allowing it to evolve in both directions of time. I put “initial” in quotation marks, because Aguirre and Gratton do not think of it that way. But this model requires that a very special condition is enforced at some moment in the history of the universe. At that moment, the universe should be very small and have very low entropy. Aguirre and Gratton do not specify a physical mechanism that could enforce such a condition.

Carroll and Chen claim that the universe did not have to be small at that special moment. But in my recent paper I show that in this case singularities are unavoidable.

[...]I think you represented what I wrote about the BGV theorem in my papers and to you personally very accurately.

Now I don’t want anyone to get the idea that all atheists are like Krauss. I distinctly remember another atheist named Anthony Flew debating Dr. Craig and a questioner from the audience asked him why not prefer speculative cosmologies like the eternally oscillating model. Dr. Flew (unlike Dr. Krauss) was honest – he said that we have to accept the science we have today based on the evidence we have today. Dr. Krauss is not willing to accept the science we have today and the evidence we have today. That’s the difference. This is a failing of Dr. Krauss’ will and intellect. He simply cannot bring himself to accept what science has shown, if it impacts his autonomy in any way. He would rather mislead himself and others with speculations rather than face reality.

Watch the whole debate – see for yourself

I’ll re-state the relevant part of my Craig-Krauss debate summary below. The summary has the full video.

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.

Cosmological argument:

  • 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?”
  • Krauss: “No”
  • 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”
  • Craig: “Right”

Krauss accused Dr. Craig of misrepresenting science many times in his three Australia debates, but now we know the truth about who misrepresented science.

UPDATE: This whole episode made me think of a lecture by famous physicist Richard Feynman.

Excerpt:

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.

I would like to add something that’s not essential to the science, but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the layman when you’re talking as a scientist. I am not trying to tell you what to do about cheating on your wife, or fooling your girlfriend, or something like that, when you’re not trying to be a scientist, but just trying to be an ordinary human being. We’ll leave those problems up to you and your rabbi.  I’m talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you are maybe wrong, that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.

Now given what Krauss did in the debate, it seems to me that he is not in agreement with Feynman.

UPDATE: Dr. Craig reports that Dr. Krauss refused to let the organizers live-stream the three Australia debates, as well as refusing to let the Australian Broadcasting Corporation live-broadcast the three debates.

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William Lane Craig debates Lawrence Krauss in Melbourne, Australia: Does God Exist?

Here is the video from the third debate from Dr. William Lane Craig’s speaking tour in Australia.

Format:

  • William Lane Craig (15 min)
  • Lawrence Krauss (15 min, but was actually 21:40)
  • Moderated discussion
  • Question and answer

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.

The video:

Summary

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)

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. The immediate experience of God
    • Belief in God is a “properly basic” belief – rational even without arguments because of experience of God

Dr. Krauss’ opening speech. (21:12)

Slides: (1234567891011121314)

  1. Religious pluralism I
    • There have been lots of different gods created by people through history
    • We’ve gotten rid of all of them by understanding how the universe works by doing science
    • Religion is just stories, and the stories are inconsistent with how the universe works
  2. Progress of naturalistic science I
    • Newtonian physics refutes the idea that angels push planets around
    • Darwinian evolution refutes design arguments, including the one that Dr. Craig presented (24:10)
    • Biochemistry hasn’t explained how life originated, but we will have the solution soon
    • Physics shows us that matter can be created and destroyed without need a God
    • Physics shows us that universes can be created and destroyed “no problem”
  3. Religious pluralism II
    • Since we have been able to disprove all the gods we’ve invented, why hang on to the last one
    • It’s unlikely that the God that Dr. Craig presented exists, because we disproved all the others he didn’t present
  4. Hiddenness of God
    • There is a complete lack of evidence for the other 999 gods, so how likely is it that the God Dr. Craig presented exists
  5. Religious pluralism III
    • There are inconsistencies between various religions, so therefore there can be no religion that is right
  6. Progress of naturalistic science II
    • Peasants had a very low level of knowledge about the world and they believed in God
    • But our level of knowledge has increased over time, so we shouldn’t believe in God now
    • Peasants thought that the Earth orbited the Sun, but this is now known to be false
    • The Scriptures said that the Earth orbited the Sun, but now we know that’s false from science
  7. Christianity plagiarizes from other religions I
    • There is nothing new or special about Jesus
    • He’s just as unpleasant as all the other gods
    • Everything particular to Jesus occurs in other religions
  8. Catholics are inconsistent about what they believe
    • I’ll bet most Catholics don’t really believe in transubstantiation
    • I’ll bet most Catholics don’t really believe in the virgin birth
  9. The resurrection is copied from many other religions
    • Dionysus, Osiris, etc.
  10. There is no evidence for the resurrection
    • The stories about Jesus were written “decades or hundreds of years after the fact”
    • The stories are inconsistent with each other
    • Dr. Craig tells me that historical Jesus scholars all accept that the resurrection happened
    • That’s like saying that all alien abductions experts agree that alien abductions happened
    • It’s unreasonable to think that the resurrection happened because no one saw it happen
    • I accept that people reported on appearances, but hallucination theory can explain that
  11. The timeline for the creation and incarnation are all wrong
    • The creation, planet formation, hominids, incarnation, etc. all take place in the wrong times
    • If God knew what he was doing, he would done everything at better times to be more efficient
  12. David Hume’s argument against miracles is sound
    • Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence – nothing wrong with this argument
    • Miracles are really just coincidences
    • Catholic apparitions at Lourdes disprove the historical argument that Dr. Craig made for the resurrection
  13. God is petty and jealous
    • God shouldn’t demand that we trust him, esteem him and consider his character when we make decisions
    • The atoning death of Jesus for the sins of the world also makes no sense
  14. Belief is based on geography
    • What you believe is clearly correlated with where you are born
    • There is even an Islamic clone of Dr. Craig who “uses the exact same arguments” that he does to prove Islam
    • Belief in God is decreasing in the Internet-accessible world
  15. Science can develop morals without God
    • Reason is able to guide our actions to be moral
    • Morality evolves over time, so there is no objective morality
    • Catholicism teaches things that are immoral
    • Some things are prohibited by biological revulsion, such as incest
    • But if a brother and sister have sex using condoms “is that morally wrong? I can’t say it is frankly” (37:24)
  16. Dr. Craig is irrational
    • “I came here convinced based on my past interactions and his writing that Dr. Craig was a dishonest Charlatan”
    • “Any argument that validates God is reasonable to him”
    • “And any argument against it is not only unreasonable but wrong and worth distorting”
    • “Because it must be wrong – he’s decided the answer in advance”
  17. Dr. Craig is immoral
    • Dr. Craig thinks it is OK for God to command that Canaanite children are killed
    • “So in fact if they were Canaanite children in that schoolroom that he talked about then it would be OK”
    • It’s not reasonable to justify genocide in that way, but Dr. Craig is willing to go to those lengths
  18. The cause of the origin of the space time universe need not be God
    • Dr. Craig says that if there is an explanation for the origin or space, time, matter and energy it must be God
    • But it could just as easily be turtles or Zeus
  19. Dr. Craig misrepresents the Borde Guth Vilenkin theorem
    • Alexander Vilenkin wrote me an e-mail that says that the theorem doesn’t work in all cases
    • “Dr. Craig is so convinced that these arguments must be true that he won’t listen to the fact that they’re not”
  20. Darwinian evolution explains the fine-tuning
    • “Life was fine tuned – we got rid of it with Darwin”
    • Mutation and natural selection explain the cosmic fine-tuning argument that Dr. Craig presented
  21. Suboptimal design disproves the fine-tuning argument
    • “We get back aches” therefore “This argument that [the universe] is fine-tuned for life is nonsense”
  22. William Lane Craig can be proven to exhibit homosexual behavior using logical arguments
    • Look, you can construct arguments that are clearly wrong
    • Premise 1: “All mammals exhibit homosexual behavior”
    • Premise 2: “William Lane Craig is a mammal”
    • Seems to be saying that logical arguments can prove false things “it’s nonsense”
  23. 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

Discussion: (44:35)

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.

Cosmological argument:

  • 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?”
  • Krauss: “No”
  • 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”
  • Craig: “Right”

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.

Fine-tuning:

  • 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.

Jesus’ existence:

  • 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.

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Michael Strauss lectures on scientific evidence for a Creator at UT Dallas

The lecture: (from 2013)

Note: there is a period of 19 minutes of Q&A at the end of the lecture.

About the speaker:

His full biography is here. (I removed his links from my excerpt text below)

Excerpt:

I had an interest in science and theology, so in 1977 I chose to go to Biola University where I could study both subjects in detail. I thoroughly enjoyed college and participated in intramural sports, was elected to student government, served as a resident assistant, competed in forensics, and studied a lot. As I neared college graduation my dual interest continued so I applied to seminary and to graduate school. After graduating summa cum laude from Biola, I decided to pursue a graduate degree in physics at UCLA.

During my first few years of graduate school, I developed an increased interest in quantum mechanics and subatomic physics and decided to do research in a field that dealt with these subjects. I joined a High Energy Physics experimental group doing research at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to actively participate in research at SLAC. I graduated in 1988 with my Ph.D in High Energy Physics (a.k.a. Elementary Particle Physics). If you would like to know more about High Energy Physics, the Particle Data Group at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory has a very nice interactive adventure that teaches you all about the subject. My research advisor was professor Charles Buchanan and my disertation was titled “A Study of Lambda Polarization and Phi Spin Alignment in Electron-Positron Annihilation at 29 GeV as a Probe of Color Field Behavior.”

After graduation, I accepted a post-doctoral research position with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I continued to do research at SLAC where I joined the SLD experiment. My research interests centered on the SLD silicon pixel vertex detector. I wrote most of the offline software for this device, and did physics analysis which used the vertex detector, including tagging b quark events for flavor specific QCD (Quantum Chromodynamics) analysis. In the seven years I was employed by UMASS, I only spent 3 days on the Amherst campus. The rest of the time was spent in California.

[...]In August 1995, I accepted a job as an Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of Oklahoma (OU) in Norman, Oklahoma. The University of Oklahoma has a vibrant high energy physics research group involved in experiments at the Fermi National Accelerator Center (Fermilab), and CERN. I joined the DØ experiment at Fermilab where I continue to do research in elementary particle physics. As a member of the DØ collaboration I have made contributions to the testing of silicon sensors for the upgraded vertex detector, to the track finding algorithms, to a measurement of the photon production cross section which probes the gluon content of protons, and to other QCD measurements. I am currently studying properties ofB mesons that contain a b-quark, the production cross section of jets coming from quarks and gluons, and other QCD analyses. At CERN, I am a collaborator on the ATLAS detector.

I received tenure in 2001 and was promoted to the rank of Professor in the summer of 2010. Most of the time at OU I have taught introductory physics classes to physics majors, engineers, and life science majors. In these classes I have used a number of interactive techniques to facilitate student participation and learning. I have been privileged to win a few awards for my teaching. In 1999, the Associated Students selected me as the Outstanding Professor in the College of Arts and Science, and in 2000 I was awarded the BP AMOCO Foundation Good Teaching Award. In 2002, I was given the Regents Award for Superior Teaching. I received the Carlisle Mabrey and Lurine Mabrey Presidential Professorship in 2006 which is given to “faculty members who excel in all their professional activities and who relate those activities to the students they teach and mentor.”

He seems to have done a fine job of integrating his faith with a solid career in physics research.

Summary:

  • It used to be true that most of the great scientists were believers in God
  • But now science has advanced and we have better instruments – is it still true?
  • Today, many people believe that science has shows that the universe and Earth are not special
  • We used to believe that the Earth was the center of the universe, and Darwin showed we are not designed
  • The problem with this view is that it is based on old science, not modern science
  • Three topics: origin of the universe, fine-tuning of the universe, the Rare Earth hypothesis

Experimental evidence for the origin of the universe:

  • #1: Hubble discovered that the universe expands because of redshifting of light from distant galaxies
  • #2: Measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation show the universe had a beginnning
  • #3: Measurements of the light element (hydrogen and helium) abundances confirm an origin of the universe
  • The best explanation for an absolute origin of space, time, matter and energy is a supernatural cause

Experimental evidence for the design of the universe:

  • #1: The amount of matter: a bit less = no stars and galaxies, a bit more = universe recollapses
  • #2: The strong force: a bit more = only hydrogen, a bit more = little or no hydrogen
  • #3: Carbon resonance level: a bit higher = no carbon, a bit lower = no carbon

Experimental evidence for galactic, stellar and planetary habitability:

  • #1: Galaxy: produces high number of heavy elements and low radiation
  • #2: Star: long stable lifetime, burns bright, bachelor star, third generation star (10 billion years must elapsed),
  • #3: Planet: mass of planet, stable orbit, liquid water, tectonic activity, tilt, moon

Naturalistic explanations:

  • Humans evolve to the point where they reach back in time and create finely-tuned universe
  • Eternally existing multiverse

Hawking and Mlodinow response to Rare Earth:

  • There are lots of planets so one must support life
  • Odds of a planet that supports life are low even with 10^22 planets

Hawking and Mlodinow proposal of M-theory multiverse:

  • There is no experimental evidence for M-theory being true
  • M-theory is not testable now and is not likely to be testable in the future
  • But science is about making testable predictions, not about blind speculation

Hawking and Mlodinow no-boundary proposal:

  • This theory requires the laws of physics to exist prior to the universe
  • But where do you get laws of physics before there is any physical world?
  • There is no experimental evidence for no-boundary proposal
  • All the evidence we have now (redshift, CMBR, H-He abundances) is for Big Bang

What science has revealed provide abundant evidence for a transcendent Creator and Designer

Related posts

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Video, audio and summary of William Lane Craig vs Peter Millican debate

Since I made you listen to the Bogo the Clown debate yesterday, I thought today we should hear from an intelligent atheist instead.

Video:

Audio:

Description from the Youtube upload:

This debate on “Does God Exist?” took place in front of a capacity audience at the Great Hall, University of Birmingham. It was recorded on Friday 21st October 2011 as part of the UK Reasonable Faith Tour with William Lane Craig.

William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, La Mirada, California and a leading philosopher of religion. Peter Millican is Gilbert Ryle Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, University of Oxford and a noted scholar in studies of Hume.

The debate was hosted by the University of Birmingham Student Philosophy Society, and the debate was moderated by Professor Carl Chinn.

Dr. Millican proved to be an amazing debater, and that allowed Dr. Craig to show the full range of his talents in a way that he has never done before. This was a great debate – right up there with Craig’s two debates against Austin Dacey and Paul Draper. Dr. Millican is excellent at analytical philosophy, had studied cosmology and physics, and he came prepared to answer Craig’s arguments. There is NO SNARK in my debate summary below, out of respect for Dr. Millican. However, I haven’t proof-read it, so please do point out any errors. There is about 30 minutes of Q&A time at the end.

Dr. Craig’s opening speech:

There are good reasons to believe that God exists.

There are no good reasons to believe that God does not exist.

A1) The origin of the universe

  1. The universe began to exist
  2. If the universe began to exist, then the universe has a transcendent cause.
  3. The universe has a transcendent cause.

The origin of the universe is confirmed by philosophical arguments and scientific evidence.

There cannot be an actual infinite number of past events, because mathematical operations like subtraction and division cannot be applied to actual infinities.

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, cannot be eternal into the past.

Even speculative alternative cosmologies do not escape the need for a beginning.

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.

A2) The fine-tuning of the universe

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

The progress of science has revealed that the Big Bang was fine-tuned to allow for the existence of intelligent life.

Type 1: Constants like the gravitational constant are finely-tuned, and are not dependent on the laws of physics.

Type 2: Quantities like the amount of entropy in the universe, are not dependent on the laws of physics.

The range of life-permitting values is incredibly small compared to the possible values of the constants and quantities. (Like having a lottery with a million black balls and one white ball, and you pick the white ball. Even though each individual ball has the same tiny chance of being picked, but the odds are overwhelming that the whichever ball you pick will be black, and not white).

Not only are the numbers not due to laws, but they are not due to chance either. It’s not just that the settings are unlikely, it’s that they are unlikely and they conform to an independent pattern – namely, the ability to support complex life.

A3) The moral argument

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

Objective moral values are values that exist independently of whether any humans believe them or not.

Michael Ruse, an atheist philosopher agrees that if God does not exist, then there is only a “herd morality” that is determined by biological evolution and social evolution. There no objective moral standard, just different customs and conventions that vary by time and place. Anyone who acts against the herd morality is merely being unfashionable and unconventional. On the atheistic view, there is nothing objective and binding about this evolved “herd morality”. However, people do experience objective moral values, and these cannot be grounded on atheism.

Furthermore, God must exist in order to argue that there is evil in the world. In order to be able to make a distinction between good and evil that is objective, there has to be a God to determine a standard of good and evil that is binding regardless of the varying customs and conventions of different people groups. Even when a person argues against God’s existence by pointing to the “evil” in the world, they must assume objective moral values, and a God who grounds those objective moral values.

A4) The resurrection of Jesus.

  1. There are certain minimal facts that are admitted by the majority of historians, across the ideological spectrum: the empty tomb, the appearances and the early belief in the resurrection.
  2. Naturalistic attempts to explain these minimal facts fail.
  3. The best explanation of these facts is that Jesus rose from the dead.

A5) Religious experience

People can know that God exists through experience. In the absence of defeaters for these experiences, these experiences constitute evidence for God’s existence.

Dr. Millican’s opening speech:

Dr. Craig has the burden of proof because he claims that God exists.

The Christian God hypothesis:

  1. An omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God created the universe.
  2. This God cares about humans.
  3. This God has acted in history though the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

This is a factual claim, and we are discussing the evidence for whether these claims are true or false. We are not interested in religious practice, or the consolation of religious belief, nor any other religions.

A1) Religious pluralism and epistemology

Human beings are purpose-finding creatures – we are prone to prefer explanations that involve purpose.

Human beings are pattern-finding animals – we tend to find designs in states of affairs.

Human beings have an interest in maintaining religious hierarchies because of the power it gives them.

Religious beliefs are not determined by rational considerations, but are determined by geographic location.

The same non-scientific method of generating religious beliefs (purpose-finding, pattern-finding, geographic location, parental teaching, charismatic speakers, praise songs and worship, religious education, ancient holy books) is being used in several religions, and it leads to different, contradictory truth claims. So at least some of those conflicting claims are false. And if the method is generating some false claims, then it’s not a good method, and it undermines all the religions that use those methods.

A2) Absence of evidence is evidence of absence

There is no scientific evidence for God.

A3) Mental processes depend on physical systems

There is no scientific evidence for a disembodied intelligence.

Our universal human experience is that intelligence and mental operations require a physical brain.

The quality of our thinking depends on physical conditions, like being tired or on drugs.

But Christian theists believe that mental processes can exist independently of an underlying physical reality, unimpaired by the death of the physical body and the brain.

R.A1) The origin of the universe

1. There is no evidence that whatever begins to exist requires a cause. All the evidence we have of things beginning to exist are when something is created from rearrangements of other things that already existed.

The closest analog we have to something coming into being from nothing is quantum particles coming into being from nothing, and that causation is random.

There is no evidence that thoughts can bring about physical effects, and Bill is arguing for a mental cause to the origin of the universe.

Even if things that begin to exist IN the universe have causes, it doesn’t hold for the universe as a whole. Bill is committing the fallacy of composition.

Time begins with the universe, but our experience of causation is that it is a temporal process. So if there is no time “prior to” the universe’s beginning, then how can there be a cause to the universe?

It’s possible that there could be something outside our universe that is eternal.

It’s also possible that the Big Bang could be wrong, and this universe could oscillate eternally and not require a beginning.

2. There are cosmological theories that avoid the beginning of the universe by positing a prior period of contraction prior to the Big Bang.

The beginning of this universe depends on general relativity, and that theory breaks down at the level of quantum mechanics.

3. There is no evidence that minds can exist without an underlying physical system. So even if there is a cause of the universe, then it is neither an abstract object nor a mind. It would have to be something else, and not something we are familiar with – we are just not in a position to speculate of what it could be.

R.A3) The moral argument

Atheists do believe in a standard of morality that is not based on what groups of humans believe.

Utilitarians think there is a standard of moral values that is objective, because the measure of human happiness (for the greatest number) is objective, even if people are mistaken about what promotes that happiness.

Kantians have a rational process for determining which moral imperatives should be universalized.

Humeans have a system that is rooted in natural human sentiment.

Dr. Craig’s first rebuttal:

I do not have the only burden of proof. The topic is “Does God Exist?”. If Dr. Millican answers “no” then he has a burden of proof, otherwise we are left with agnosticism.

R.A1) Religious pluralism and epistemology

First, there is no single common method of adopting a religion.

Second, MY method this evening is logic and evidence and personal experience – which is the same as his method. So his comments about how people in different religions adopt their religion through parents, church, singing, etc. have no bearing on the arguments I will be making.

R.A2) Absence of evidence is evidence of absence

Absence of evidence is only evidence of absence if we can reasonably expect that there should be some evidence that is not present. He would have to show that there should be more evidence for God’s existence that the 5 arguments that I already presented – something that we should expect to see that we don’t see.

R.A3) Mental processes depend on physical systems

No response by Dr. Craig. (but see below)

A1) The origin of the universe

1. He says that there are speculative cosmologies like the multiverse that escape the need for a beginning, but that’s false, the BGV proof applies to them, and they do need a beginning.

He says that you can escape BGV by positing a contraction prior to the expansion. However Vilenkin says that any contraction phase is unstable and would introduce additional singularities that would hamper any later expansion phase.

He  says that we need a theory of quantum gravity in order to describe the early universe. But Vilenkin says that the BGV proof is independent of gravity as defined by general relativity.

He did not respond to the philosophical arguments for a beginning of the universe.

2. He says that we don’t have experience of things coming into being except from material causes. However, it would be even more difficult to explain the universe coming into being on atheism since you can’t appeal to a material cause nor to an efficient cause. Even Hume recognizes that things can’t pop into being without causes.

He talks about how in quantum physics virtual particles appear out of nothing. But that’s false, because the quantum vacuum in which virtual particles appear is not nothing, it is a sea of subatomic particles and energy. Quantum physics is not an exception to the idea that things that come into being require a cause.

He mentions the fallacy of composition. But I am not saying that everything in the universe has a cause, therefore the universe as a whole has a cause. I am saying that non-being has no capacity to bring something into being. Non-Being doesn’t even have the potential to bring something into being.

3. He says that there are no unembodied minds, so the cause of the universe can’t be an unembodied mind. But the argument concludes that there is a non-material cause, and it can’t be an abstract object, so it would have to be a mind.

In addition, we ourselves are unembodied minds.  This is because physical objects cannot have the properties that minds have, like the property of having feelings.

Material conceptions of mind don’t explain identity over time.

Material conceptions of mind don’t explain free will.

Material conceptions of mind don’t explain intentional states (thinking about something).

Material conceptions of mind don’t explain mental causation.

The best explanation for our own first person experience of the mental realm is a substance dualism. We are non-material minds, and we can cause effects in the physical world. And God does the same thing. He is a mind, and he causes physical effects.

A2) He gave no response.

A3) He says that there are atheistic theories of morality that don’t depend on the opinions of groups. But these theories all depend on the idea that human beings have instrinsic value – that they are the sorts of things to which moral considerations apply. Naturalism cannot ground this moral value – human beings are no more valuable any other animal.

Also, there are no objective moral obligations in naturalist systems of morality, because there is no one in authority to command them. Moral prescriptions require moral prescribers.

A4) He gave no response.

A5) He gave no response.

Dr. Millican’s first rebuttal:

R.A2) The fine-tuning argument

We have to be careful not to judge what counts as finely-tuned through our intuitions.

We have to be careful about reasoning for a sample size of this one observable universe.

We don’t really know about the full range of possibilities for these constants and quantities.

There might be other universes that we can’t observe that aren’t fine-tuned, and we just happen to be in the one that is fine-tuned.

The fine-tuning might be solved by future discoveries, like the inflationary cosmology removed some of the fine-tuning.

There might be a multiverse that we don’t have evidence for right now.

We need to be careful about using science to prove God because science might change in the future.

The universe is very big and mysterious.

This argument doesn’t prove that God is good. He could be evil = anti-God.

God created the universe inefficiently if his goal was to produce life.

God created the universe too big.

God created the universe too old.

God created too many galaxies and stars that are not hospitable to life.

If the universe were fine-tuned for life, then there should be more aliens.

If the universe were fine-tuned for life, then there are probably lots of alien civilizations. But then Jesus would have to appear to all of the aliens too.

R.A1) The origin of the universe

2. It’s not a big deal that you can get multiple solutions to equations involving subtraction of actual infinities. For example, the equation 0 x y = 0 has many solutions for y, but that doesn’t mean that multiplication doesn’t work in the real world.

A2) Absence of evidence is evidence of absence

I would expect that there would be more evidence than there is.

R.A1) The origin of the universe

2. The BVG proof might be overturned by future scientific discoveries. We have no reason to be confident in current physics.

I agree that the quantum vacuum is something and not nothing, but it’s similar to nothing.

We don’t have any reason to believe that things that come into being require causes – except for our universal experience that this is always the case.

3. As to the cause of the universe coming into being, you said that it could only be an abstract object or a mind, and it can’t be an abstract object because they don’t cause effects, so it must be a mind. But there are all sorts of things we’ve never thought of that it could be other than a mind.

I agree that mental properties are not physical properties and that epiphenomenalism is incorrect. Physical objects can have “algorithmic properties” as well as physical properties, it doesn’t mean that computers have minds.

Dr. Craig’s second rebuttal:

R.A2) Absence of evidence is evidence of absence

He expressed his personal opinion that there should be more evidence, but that’s not an argument.

God knows how people will respond to getting more evidence or less evidence and he has to be careful not to take away their free will to disbelieve by piling them up with coercive evidence. God’s goal is not just to convince people that he exists. God’s goal is to have people respond to him and pursue him.

A1) The origin of the universe

2. He said that multiple answers to equations are no problem. But the problem is that you can’t translate multiple answers into a real world context.

The problem is that you are subtracting an identical number from an identical number and getting contradictory results, and that cannot be translated into the real world, where subtraction always gives a definite single result.

He talks about how you can get multiple answers with multiplication by 0. But 0 is not a real quantity, it is just the absence of something, and that cannot translate into the real world, because it has no being.

He says that I am only using evidence from current physics. But that is the point – the evidence of current physics and cosmology supports the beginning of the universe.

3. He said that an umembodied mind can’t be the cause, but we are minds and we cause effects on our physical bodies.

In addition, the design argument supports the idea that the cause of the universe is intelligent.

A2) The fine-tuning of the universe

He says we should be cautious. Of course.

He says the probabilities can’t be assessed. But you can just take the current value and perturb it and see that the resulting universe loses its ability to support life, and you can test an entire range around the current value to see that that vast majority of values in the range don’t permit life.

He says that the current physics is not well-established, but there are so many examples of fine-tuning across so many different areas of science that it is not likely that all of them will be overturned, and the number of finely-tuned constants and quantities has been growing, not shrinking.

He says it doesn’t prove that God is good, and he’s right – that’s what the moral argument is for.

He says that God isn’t efficient enough, but efficiency is only important for those who have limited time and/or limited resources. But God has unlimited time and resources.

He says that the universe is too old, but the large age of the universe is a requirement to support intelligent life – (i.e. – you need third generation stars to provide a stable source of energy to planets, and those stars require that two generations of stars are born and die).

He said what about aliens, and theists are open to that, and God can certainly provide for the salvation of those beings, if they have fallen into sin.

Dr. Millican’s second rebuttal:

R.A1) The origin of the universe

3. Just because epiphenominalism is false, it doesn’t mean that substance dualism is true.

The majority of philosophers of mind do not accept substance dualism.

R.A3) The moral argument

The majority of philosophers are moral realists, but a minority of philosophers are theists. So that means that there must be some way of justifying morality on atheism, which I will not describe right now.

Atheists can express their opinion that humans have intrinsic moral value.

He grants that atheists can perceive moral values. But if atheists can perceive moral values, then why is God needed to enable that?

Atheists can express their opinion that humans are special. We can be rational, and that makes us special.

Atheists can express their opinion that it is good to care about other humans because they are of the same species.

R.A4) The resurrection of Jesus

We don’t have any reasons to believe i the supernatural.

The gospels are written late for the purposes of evangelism.

The gospels are not independent, e.g. Matthew and Luke depend on Q.

John is the latest gospel, and the Christology of John is the highest of all.

The four gospels agree because the early church rejected other (unnamed) gospels that didn’t agree.

Matthew 27 – the earthquake and the raised saints – is not recorded in any other contemporary non-Christian source.

Dr. Craig’s final rebuttal:

A3) The moral argument

He says that human beings are rational, and that gives them value. But atheists like Sam Harris prefer the flourishing of sentient life. He includes non-rational animals as having moral value. So without God, we see that the choice of who or what has moral value is arbitrary. And where would objective moral duties come from if there is no moral lawgiver?

The fact that most atheists accept objective moral values doesn’t mean that they can rationally ground those values on their atheistic worldview. You can’t provide a basis for moral values on atheism by counting the number of atheists who accept objective morality. It’s not surprising that atheists can perceive objective moral values IF they are living in auniverse created by God who grounds these objective moral values and duties that atheists perceive.

A4) The resurrection of Jesus

He cites Geza Vermes and Bart Ehrman as authorities on the historical Jesus, but both of them accept all three of the facts that I presented as minimal facts. Ehrman doesn’t accept the resurrection of Jesus because he presupposes naturalism. He rejects the resurrection on philosophical grounds, not historical grounds.

Dr. Millican’s final rebuttal:

R.A5) Religious experience

Religious experience is an unreliable way to test the claims of a religion, because lots of religions have them and they make contradictory truth claims. In the future, we may discover naturalistic ways of explaining religious experience.

R.A4) The resurrection of Jesus

Even if you can make a case for the resurrection based on these3  minimal facts, there are other stories in the New Testament like Matthew 27 that are quite weird and they undermine the 3 minimal facts that even Geza Vermes and Bart Ehrman accept.

R.A1) The origin of the universe

Bill hasn’t shown that there is any reason for thinking that things don’t come into being, uncaused, out of nothing.

A4) The problem of evil

Theists can’t explain what God’s specific morally sufficient reasons are for permitting the apparently gratuitous evil that we see.

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Robin Collins explains two kinds of cosmic fine-tuning

I am busy working my way through “Debating Christian Theism“, a book published by Oxford University Press in August 2013. It features about 20 different topics from science, to philosophy, to history. For each topic, there is an essay by a world-class scholar in favor, and one opposed. So you get both sides of many interesting issues, at a very advanced level. The section on cosmic fine-tuning features a chapter written by Dr. Robin Collins.

About Robin Collins:

Robin Collins (PhD, University of Notre Dame, 1993), is professor of philosophy at Messiah College, Grantham, PA specializing in the area of science and religion. He has written over twenty-five articles and book chapters on a wide range of topics, such as the fine-tuning of the cosmos as evidence for the existence of God, evolution and original sin, the Doctrine of Atonement, Asian religions and Christianity, and Bohm’s theory of quantum mechanics. Some of his most recent articles/book chapters are “Philosophy of Science and Religion” in The Oxford Handbook of Science and Religion, “Divine Action and Evolution” in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology (2009) “The Multiverse Hypothesis: A Theistic Perspective,” in Universe or Multiverse? (Cambridge University Press), and “God and the Laws of Nature,” in Theism or Naturalism: New Philosophical Perspectives (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). He recently received a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to finish a book that presents the case for design based on physics and cosmology, tentatively entitled The Well-Tempered Universe: God, Cosmic Fine-tuning, and the Laws of Nature.

His specialty is this fine-tuning argument. So let’s see what he says about it.

The fine-tuning argument

Here’s a short article where Collins gives TWO examples of the fine-tuning. He is very modest in his argument, merely asserting that the fine-tuning is more compatible with theism than it is with atheism.

Excerpt:

Science is commonly thought to have undercut belief in God. As Nobel Prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg famously remarked, “the more we find out about the universe, the more meaningless it all seems.” Yet, the discoveries of modern physics and cosmology in the last 50 years have shown that the structure of the universe is set in an extraordinarily precise way for the existence of life; if its structure were slightly different, even by an extraordinarily small degree, life would not be possible. In many people’s minds, the most straightforward explanation of this remarkable fine-tuning is some sort of divine purpose behind our universe.

This fine-tuning falls into three categories: the fine-tuning of the laws of nature, the fine-tuning of the constants of physics, and the fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe. “Fine-tuning of the laws of nature” refers to the fact that if the universe did not have precisely the right combination of laws, complex intelligent life would be impossible. If there were no universal attractive force (law of gravity), for example, matter would be dispersed throughout the universe and the energy sources (such as stars) needed for life would not exist. Without the strong nuclear force that binds protons and neutrons together in the nucleus, there would not be any atoms with an atomic number greater than hydrogen, and hence no complex molecules needed for life. And without the Pauli-exclusion principle, all electrons would fall to the lowest orbital of an atom, undercutting the kind of complex chemistry that life requires.

Some fundamental physical numbers governing the structure of the universe—called the constants of physics—also must fall into an exceedingly narrow range for life to exist. For example, many have estimated that the cosmological constant—a fundamental number that governs the expansion rate of empty space—must be precisely set to one part in 10120 in order for life to occur; if it were too large, the universe would have expanded too rapidly for galaxies and stars to form, and if it were too small, the universe would have collapsed back on itself. As Stephen Hawking wrote in his book A Brief History of Time, “The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers [i.e. the constants of physics] seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.” Finally, the initial distribution of mass energy at the time of the big bang must have an enormously special configuration for life to occur, which Cambridge University mathematical physicist Roger Penrose has calculated to be on the order of one part in 1010123. This is an unimaginably small number.

How widely acknowledged is the fine-tuning of the universe? Here’s an article from the New Scientist that discusses the fine-tuning of the force of gravity. (Link goes to my blog post on the New Scientist article, which is now no longer available)

Excerpt:

The feebleness of gravity is something we should be grateful for. If it were a tiny bit stronger, none of us would be here to scoff at its puny nature.

The moment of the universe‘s birth created both matter and an expanding space-time in which this matter could exist. While gravity pulled the matter together, the expansion of space drew particles of matter apart – and the further apart they drifted, the weaker their mutual attraction became.

It turns out that the struggle between these two was balanced on a knife-edge. If the expansion of space had overwhelmed the pull of gravity in the newborn universe, stars, galaxies and humans would never have been able to form. If, on the other hand, gravity had been much stronger, stars and galaxies might have formed, but they would have quickly collapsed in on themselves and each other. What’s more, the gravitational distortion of space-time would have folded up the universe in a big crunch. Our cosmic history could have been over by now.

Only the middle ground, where the expansion and the gravitational strength balance to within 1 part in 1015 at 1 second after the big bang, allows life to form.

Here’s a very long paper by Collins on the fine-tuning argument, where he answers several objections to the argument, including the multiverse/many-universe hypothesis.

I think if you’re going to bring this argument up with a naturalist/non-theist, you should probably have a couple of examples ready to explain how the fine-tuning works. It’s important, because this is mainstream enough to be admitted by famous atheists like Martin Rees, astronomer royale of the UK and author of the book “Just Six Numbers”, reviewed here in the liberal UK Guardian. Although many naturalists feel obligated to believe the multiverse even though it cannot be seen or studied, they do admit that it is speculative, as in this article by MIT physicist Alan Lightman.

If you’re looking for a good introductory book where this argument is explained, Lee Strobel’s “The Case for a Creator” is a good choice.

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