Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Why does the cause of the universe have to be a person / mind?

Must the cause of the universe be a person?

Here’s a post from my friend Fred Woodbridge, who blogs at IFCONFIG blog, where he quotes from Dr. Craig’s book “Reasonable Faith”. The quote contains three arguments for why the cause of the universe must be personal.

Quote:

First, as Richard Swinburne points out [in The Existence of God], there are two types of causal explanation: scientific explanations in terms of laws and initial conditions and personal explanations in terms of agents and their volitions. For example, if I come into the kitchen and find the kettle boiling, and I ask Jan, “Why is the kettle boiling?” she might answer, “The heat of the flame is being conducted via the copper bottom of the kettle to the water, increasing the kinetic energy of the water molecules, such that they vibrate so violently that they break the surface tension of the water and are thrown off in the form of steam.” Or she might say, “I put it on to make a cup of tea. Would you like some?” The first provides a scientific explanation, the second a personal explanation. Each is a perfectly legitimate form of explanation; indeed, in certain contexts it would be wholly inappropriate to give one rather than the other. Now a first state of the universe cannot have a scientific explanation, since there is nothing before it, and therefore it cannot be accounted for in terms of laws operating on initial conditions. It can only be accounted for in terms of an agent and his volitions, a personal explanation.

Second, the personhood of the cause of the universe is implied by its timelessness and immateriality. The only entities we know of which can possess such properties are either minds or abstract objects, like numbers. But abstract objects do not stand in causal relations. Indeed, their acausal nature is definitive for abstract objects; that is why we call them abstract. Numbers, for example, cannot cause anything. Therefore, the transcendent cause of the origin of the universe must be of the order of mind.

Third, this same conclusion is also implied by the fact that we have in this case the origin of a temporal effect from a timeless cause. We’ve concluded that the beginning of the universe was the effect of a first cause. By the nature of the case, that cause cannot have any beginning of its existence or any prior cause. Nor can there have been any changes in this cause, either in its nature or operations, prior
to the beginning of the universe. It just exists changelessly without beginning, and a finite time ago it brought the universe into existence. Now this is exceedingly odd. The cause is in some sense eternal and yet the effect which it produced is not eternal but began to exist a finite time ago. How can this be? If the necessary and sufficient conditions for the production of the effect are eternal, then why isn’t the effect eternal? How can all the causal conditions sufficient for the production of the effect be changelessly existent and yet the effect not also be existent along with the cause? How can the cause exist without the effect?

One might say that the cause came to exist or changed in some way just prior to the first event. But then the cause’s beginning or changing would be the first event, and we must ask all over again for its cause. And this cannot go on forever, for we know that a beginningless series of events cannot exist. There must be an absolutely first event, before which there was no change, no previous event. We know that this first event must have been caused. The question is: How can a first event come to exist if the cause of that event exists changelessly and eternally? Why isn’t the effect co-eternal with its cause?

To illustrate: Let’s say the cause of water’s freezing is subzero temperatures. If the temperature were eternally below zero degrees Centigrade, then any water around would be eternally frozen. If the cause exists eternally, the effect must also exist eternally. But this seems to imply that if the cause of the universe existed eternally, the universe would also have existed eternally. And this we know to be false.

One way to see the difficulty is by reflecting on the different types of causal relations. In event/event causation, one event causes another. For example, the brick’s striking the window pane causes the pane to shatter. This kind of causal relation clearly involves a beginning of the effect in time, since it is a relation between events which occur at specific times. In state/state causation one state of affairs causes another state of affairs to exist. For example, the water’s having a certain surface tension is the cause of the wood’s floating on the water. In this sort of causal relation, the effect need not have a beginning: the wood could theoretically be floating eternally on the water. If the wood begins to float on the water, then this will be a case of event/event causation: the wood’s beginning to float is the result of its being thrown into the water. Now the difficulty that arises in the case of the cause of the beginning of the universe is that we seem to have a peculiar case of state/event causation: the cause is a timeless state but the effect is an event that occurred at a specific moment in the finite past. Such state/event causation doesn’t seem to make sense, since a state sufficient for the existence of its effect should have a state as its effect.

There seems to be only one way out of this dilemma, and that is to say that the cause of the universe’s beginning is a personal agent who freely chooses to create a universe in time. Philosophers call this type of causation “agent causation,” and because the agent is free, he can initiate new effects by freely bringing about conditions which were not previously present. For example, a man sitting changelessly from eternity could freely will to stand up; thus, a temporal effect arises from an eternally existing agent. Similarly, a finite time ago a Creator endowed with free will could have freely brought the world into being at that moment. In this way, the Creator could exist changelessly and eternally but choose to create the world in time. By “choose” one need not mean that the Creator changes his mind about the decision to create, but that he freely and eternally intends to create a world with a beginning. By exercising his causal power, he therefore brings it about that a world with a beginning comes to exist. So the cause is eternal, but the effect is not. In this way, then, it is possible for the temporal universe to have come to exist from an eternal cause: through the free will of a personal Creator.

On the basis of a conceptual analysis of the conclusion implied by the kalām cosmological argument, we may therefore infer that a personal Creator of the universe exists, who is uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and unimaginably powerful. This, as Thomas Aquinas was wont to remark, is what everybody means by “God.”

There are lots of good objections to the kalam cosmological argument. A person could object to the notion of  timeless person is incoherent, or say that the notion of an unembodied mind is incoherent, or that we don’t know that non-physical minds can cause effects in the physical world, or that matter can’t come into being out of nothing, or that even if effects in the physical universe have causes that doesn’t mean the universe as a whole has to have a cause, or that the notion of causation doesn’t make sense unless time has already started. These are objections that Dr. Craig answered in his debate with Peter Millican, so if you hear these objections, I recommend watching that debate.

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Atheist Christopher Hitchens’ case against the existence of God

I thought that I would go over an opening statement from a previous debate featuring Christopher Hitchens to find out what atheists are like in debates. I used his opening speech from his debate with Frank Turek. The audio from that debate is here, at Brian Auten’s Apologetics 315 site.

Now the important thing to remember about a generic debate on whether GOD EXISTS is that there should be no mention of any particular God, such as the Christian God, and no mention of the history of any particular religion. All arguments that assume specific theological or moral doctrines or specific religious history are irrelevant to a debate on generic theism.

The question being debated is: does a God who created and designed the universe, who has all the traditional properties of God, such as omniscience, omnipotence, omni-benevolence, etc. exist? That is the question being debated in a “Does God Exist?” debate.

Frank Turek’s case for theism:

Frank Turek made 4 relevant arguments for theism, each of which alone would support his conclusion, that God exists:

  • the origin of time, space, matter and energy out of nothing
  • the fine-tuning of the physical constants to support the minimum requirements for life of any kind
  • the origin of the biological information in the first self-replicating organism
  • objective, prescriptive moral rules need to be grounded by the designer of the universe

And he also listed 4 features of the universe that are more consistent with theism than atheism (= materialism).

  • non-material minds that allow rationality that would be impossible on materialism/determinism
  • the mathematical structure of the universe and its intelligibility to the scientific method
  • free will, which is required for moral responsibility and moral choices, requires a non-material mind/soul
  • our first person experience of consciousness is best explained by a non-material mind/soul

Hitchens’ case against theism

To counter, Hitchens has to argue against God using arguments in one of two forms:

  1. The concept of God is logically self-contradictory
  2. An objective feature of the world is inconsistent with the attributes of God

The claim that God does not exist is a claim to know something about God, namely, that he does not exist. This claim requires the speaker to bear a burden of proof. In a debate on “Does God Exist?”, Hitchens must deny that God exists. Let me be clear: Hitchens must defeat the arguments for the claim that God exists, and then defend the claim that God does not exist, and support that claim using arguments and evidence.

Hitchens makes 2 basic claims:

  • There are no good reasons to believe that theism is true
  • There are good reasons to believe atheism is true

So far so good. But what are his good reasons for atheism?

  1. I personally don’t like Christianity, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: I personally don’t like Catholicism getting rid of limbo
    – Premise: I personally don’t like Hell
    – Premise: I personally don’t like some episodes in church history
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  2. The plurality of religions means that no religious claims can be correct, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: There are lots of religions
    – Premise: The religions all disagree in their truth claims about the external world
    – Conclusion: No religion’s claims can be correct, therefore God doesn’t exist
  3. I believe in one less God than you, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: You disbelieve in every God I do, except one
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  4. Religious people are stupid and evil, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: Religious people are ignorant
    – Premise: Religious people are fearful
    – Premise: Religious people are servile
    – Premise: Religious people are masochistic
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  5. Evolution explains how life progressed from single cell to today’s bio-diversity, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: Modern theists like Turek believe in Paley’s argument, and argued it in this debate
    – Premise: Paley’s argument was refuted by evolution
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  6. God wouldn’t have made the universe this way, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: If God exists, then he would have made the universe my way
    – Premise: The heat death of the universe wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The extinction of species wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The size of the universe wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The amount of open space wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The large number of stars wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The age of the universe wasn’t done my way
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  7. Religion makes people do things that I don’t like, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: Some religions do suicide bombing
    – Premise: Some religions do child abuse
    – Premise: Some religions do genital mutilation
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  8. If you speak a sentence, I can repeat the same words as you said, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: Anything that you say is good, I can say is good too
    – Premise: Anything that you say is bad, I can say is bad too
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  9. Atheists are morally superior to religious people, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: I act in a way that is consistent with my personal, arbitrary moral preferences
    – Premise: You don’t act in a way that is consistent with my personal, arbitrary moral preferences
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  10. If I believe in God, I would have to submit to an authority
    – Premise: If I believe in God, then I can’t do whatever I want
    – Premise: But I want to do whatever I want
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  11. I don’t like certain Christian doctrines, therefore arguments for God from science fail and therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: I don’t like the atonement
    – Premise: I don’t like the virgin birth
    – Premise: I don’t like the incarnation
    – Premise: I don’t like original sin
    – Premise: I don’t like the resurrection
    – Conclusion: Arguments that are built on recent discoveries from the progress of science like the big bang, fine-tuning, origin of life, etc. are incorrect, and therefore God doesn’t exist

General comments about Hitchens’ case:

  • The form of all of these arguments is logically invalid. The conclusions do not follow from the premises using the laws of logic, such as modus ponens and modus tollens.
  • Hitchens cannot complain about morality because he has no foundation for objective moral facts. What he is really expressing is that he personally does not like such-and-such a state of affairs, based on his own arbitrary personal preferences, and the arbitrary social customs that evolved in the place and time that he finds himself in. On atheism, “morality” is just describing what people do – either individually or as groups living in different times and places. There is no objective right and wrong, and no objective way we ought to be. All statements are subjective. They describe what the speaker personally likes and dislikes. Just like taste in foods or taste in dress – which varies by individually, and is influenced by time and place ARBITRARILY.

Specific comments about each argument:

  • Argument 1 tries to disprove God by arguing from Hitchens’ personal preferences about specific Christian doctrines. Christian doctrines are irrelevant to a debate about generic theism. And there is no reason why God should be bound by the personal, subjective preferences of one man. In fact, the concept of God entails that his unchanging nature is the standard of good and evil. So, this argument doesn’t disprove God, it’s just a statement of personal, subjective preference.
  • Argument 2: Just because there are different truth claims made by different groups, doesn’t mean no one is correct. Mormons believe that matter existed eternally, and Jews believe it was created out of nothing. The big bang theory shows that the Mormons are wrong and the Jews are right.
  • Argument 3: First of all, the debate is a about a generic Creator and Designer, not any particular religious conception of God. So the argument is irrelevant. Moreover, Christians reject Zeus, for example, because Zeus is supposed to exist in time and space, and therefore could not be the cause of the beginning of time and space.
  • Argument 4: This is just the ad hominem fallacy. Hitchens is attacking the character of the theist, but that doesn’t show theism is false.
  • Argument 5: This argument can be granted for the sake of argument, even though it’s debatable. The point is that it is irrelevant, since it doesn’t refute any of Turek’s actual scientific arguments like the big bang, the fine-tuning of the physical constants, the origin of information in the simplest living cell.
  • Argument 6: Again, there is no reason to think that God should be bound by Hitchens’ personal opinion of how God should operate.
  • Argument 7: This is the ad hominem fallacy again. The good behavior of religious believers is not a premise in any of Turek’s FOUR arguments for theism. Therefore, Hitchens’ point is irrelevant to the debate.
  • Argument 8: The fact that the atheist can parrot moral claims is not the issue. Being able to speak English words is not what grounds objective, prescriptive morality. The issue is the ontology of moral rules, the requirement of free will in order to have moral responsibility and moral choices, ultimate significance of moral actions, and the rationality of self-sacrificial moral actions.
  • Argument 9: This is just the ad hominem fallacy again.
  • Argument 10: This is not argument so much as it reveals that the real reason Hitchens is an atheist is emotional. One might even say infantile.
  • Argument 11: Again, these specific Christian doctrines are irrelevant to a debate about generic theism. And Hitchen’s subjective, personal preferences about Christian doctrine certainly do not undermine the objective scientific support for the premises in Turek’s 3 scientific arguments.

So Frank Turek talked about facts in the external world, and Christopher Hitchens mistakenly thought that his opinions and preferences about what he would do if he were God were interesting to us. They might be interesting to his psychiatrist, but they are not interesting to us.

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James White debates Adnan Rashid on trustworthiness of the Bible vs Quran

It’s on Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable radio show, from the UK!

The show starts with introductions by each speaker, then the debate begins.

James White’s opening address:

The Bible:

  • most Christians have a naive view of how holy books come to us from antiquity
  • the Bible and Koran were written and transmitted in two different ways
  • the Koran was written down and spread in a controlled way
  • the Bible was written in an uncontrolled way
  • Christianity was illegal until 313, so early Christians were persecuted
  • the Bible had to be copied and spread illegally by individuals
  • people risked their lives to copy pieces of the text
  • the good part of this is that there are tons of manuscripts
  • the manuscripts are earlier than the Church councils that define the Canon
  • a persecuted minority would not have been able to conspire to change the text
  • there are tons of minor variants from misspellings and typos in the manuscripts

The Koran:

  • the Hadith (writings that post-date the Koran) record how the Koran was written
  • the authorities worried that many fragments and manuscripts would cause disputes
  • the authorities got together and created an approved version to distribute
  • all the other Koranic materials (fragments and manuscripts) were burnt
  • this happened soon after the death of Mohammed
  • there are fewer variants with this centralized, top-down approach

Adnan Rashid’s opening speech:

The Bible:

  • the Bible we have today is not infallible, was not transmitted infallibly
  • none of the 4 gospels are written by eyewitnesses
  • there are around 400,000 variants in the manuscripts (cites Ehrman)
  • the huge number of variants touches on virtually every line of text
  • the manuscripts have differences – which manuscript is the inspired one?
  • editors are needed to adjudicate between all of the variants (cites Metzger)
  • editors have to rely on probabilities in order to choose the text itself

The Koran:

  • the text of the Koran was selected by Mohammed’s immediate successor
  • the purpose of this selection was to unify the Arab tribes on one text
  • rejected fragments and manuscripts were burned
  • no coercion was used to get the bad manuscripts burned

James White’s rebuttal:

  • 99% of the variants are technicalities of the Greek language
  • only 1500-2000 variants change the meaning of the text
  • there are many variants is because there are many manuscripts
  • more manuscripts makes it harder for any authority to change the text
  • the editors don’t hide the variants – that why everyone knows about them
  • the photographs of the fragments and manuscripts are available, not burnt

Adnan Rashid’s rebuttal:

  • we are in the process of photographing our fragments and manuscripts
  • what the photographs show is that the Koran has no shocking variants
  • Metzger is clear that editors are deciding the text based on probabilities

Crosstalk about Metzger:

  • James: editors decide the main reading and the rest goes in footnotes
  • James: Metzger doesn’t think that this makes the Bible unreliable
  • Adnan: prove it

Crosstalk about the Koran:

  • James: The Koran has variants too and manuscript issues
  • James: Mohammed appointed Ibn Masoud as the authority on the Koran
  • Adnan: actually Mohammed pointed out four authorities, not just one
  • Adnan: we don’t have manuscript problems or variant problems as bad as yours

Crosstalk about the crucifixion of Jesus:

  • James: the crucifixion is denied in Surah 4:157
  • James: the Koran is written 600 years after the cruficixion
  • James: the Koran is written hundreds of miles from the crucifixion site
  • James: non-Christians like Ehrman and Crossan do not deny the crucifixion
  • James: for 600 years after, history is unanimous that the crucifixion happened
  • Adnan: the gospel of Thomas doesn’t mention the crucifixion
  • Adnan:  Thomas predates Mark and is contemporaneous with Q
  • James: Thomas contains NO HISTORY – just sayings of Jesus
  • James: Thomas is not written by eyewitnesses to the events
  • James: Thomas is written in Coptic, originated in Syria, in the 2nd century
  • James: Thomas reflects gnostic theology, not Christian theology
  • Adnan: if the Koran says that the crucifixion didn’t happen, then it didn’t
  • James: Adnan believes one person 600 years later instead of the eyewitnesses
  • Adnan: Paul invented the crucifixion out of nothing
  • Adnan: The gospels are just theology, not history, written to confirm Paul
  • Adnan: some scholars say Thomas isn’t gnostic
  • Adnan: some scholars say Thomas is early
  • Adnan: Metzger says Thomas was rejected because it was non-Christian
  • James: I agree that it was rejected for theology because it’s gnostic

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A simple case for the pro-life position by Scott Klusendorf

Are you able to make a basic case for the pro-life view?

Here’s a short 38-lecture by Scott Klusendorf, president of the Life Training Institute.

This is a long treatment that talks about the challenge of moral relativism and the case for the pro-life view. He does show a clip of abortion in the video to the audience.

There’s also a 35-minute audio recording of Scott on the LTI web site. (H/T Apologetics 315) You can put that on your podcast player and listen to it. Listen to it a lot and soon you’ll sound like Scott.

Scott also has an article posted on the LTI web site for those who don’t have time for the video or the audio.

In the article makes three points:

  1. Clarify the issue
  2. Defend your pro-life position with science and philosophy
  3. Challenge your listeners to be intellectually honest

Here’s the second point:

Scientifically, we know that from the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. Leading embryology books confirm this.2 For example, Keith L. Moore & T.V.N. Persaud write, “A zygote is the beginning of a new human being. Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm … unites with a female gamete or oocyte … to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.”3 Prior to his abortion advocacy, former Planned Parenthood President Dr. Alan Guttmacher was perplexed that anyone, much less a medical doctor, would question this. “This all seems so simple and evident that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn’t part of the common knowledge,” he wrote in his book Life in the Making.4

Philosophically, we can say that embryos are less developed than newborns (or, for that matter, toddlers) but this difference is not morally significant in the way abortion advocates need it to be. Consider the claim that the immediate capacity for self-awareness bestows value on human beings. Notice that this is not an argument, but an arbitrary assertion. Why is some development needed? And why is this particular degree of development (i.e., higher brain function) decisive rather than another? These are questions that abortion advocates do not adequately address.

As Stephen Schwarz points out, there is no morally significant difference between the embryo that you once were and the adult that you are today. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not relevant such that we can say that you had no rights as an embryo but you do have rights today. Think of the acronym SLED as a helpful reminder of these non-essential differences:5

Size: True, embryos are smaller than newborns and adults, but why is that relevant? Do we really want to say that large people are more human than small ones? Men are generally larger than women, but that doesn’t mean that they deserve more rights. Size doesn’t equal value.

Level of development: True, embryos and fetuses are less developed than the adults they’ll one day become. But again, why is this relevant? Four year-old girls are less developed than 14 year-old ones. Should older children have more rights than their younger siblings? Some people say that self-awareness makes one human. But if that is true, newborns do not qualify as valuable human beings. Six-week old infants lack the immediate capacity for performing human mental functions, as do the reversibly comatose, the sleeping, and those with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Environment: Where you are has no bearing on who you are. Does your value change when you cross the street or roll over in bed? If not, how can a journey of eight inches down the birth-canal suddenly change the essential nature of the unborn from non-human to human? If the unborn are not already human, merely changing their location can’t make them valuable.

Degree of Dependency: If viability makes us human, then all those who depend on insulin or kidney medication are not valuable and we may kill them. Conjoined twins who share blood type and bodily systems also have no right to life.

In short, it’s far more reasonable to argue that although humans differ immensely with respect to talents, accomplishments, and degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal because they share a common human nature.

That’s the core of the basic pro-life case right there. There’s also a good interview of Mr. Klusendorf that I blogged about.

Advanced Objections

You can learn more by reading basic pro-life apologetics… from Francis Beckwith. You might recognize Frank Beckwith as the author of “Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice“. He wrote that book for Cambridge University Press, a top academic press. But before Cambridge University Press, Beckwith wrote easy-to-understand essays for the Christian Research Journal.

Here are four essays that answer common arguments in favor of legalized abortion.

Here’s an excerpt from Part II:

Excerpt:

A woman who becomes pregnant due to an act of either rape or incest is the victim of a horribly violent and morally reprehensible crime. Although pregnancy as a result of either rape or incest is extremely rare, [1] there is no getting around the fact that pregnancy does occur in some instances.

[…]Despite its forceful appeal to our sympathies, there are several problems with this argument. First, it is not relevant to the case for abortion on demand, the position defended by the popular pro-choice movement. This position states that a woman has a right to have an abortion for any reason she prefers during the entire nine months of pregnancy, whether it be for gender-selection, convenience, or rape. [3] To argue for abortion on demand from the hard cases of rape and incest is like trying to argue for the elimination of traffic laws from the fact that one might have to violate some of them in rare circumstances, such as when one’s spouse or child needs to be rushed to the hospital. Proving an exception does not establish a general rule.

[…]Fourth, this argument begs the question by assuming that the unborn is not fully human. For if the unborn is fully human, then we must weigh the relieving of the woman’s mental suffering against the right-to-life of an innocent human being. And homicide of another is never justified to relieve one of emotional distress. Although such a judgment is indeed anguishing, we must not forget that the same innocent unborn entity that the career-oriented woman will abort in order to avoid interference with a job promotion is biologically and morally indistinguishable from the unborn entity that results from an act of rape or incest. And since abortion for career advancement cannot be justified if the unborn entity is fully human, abortion cannot be justified in the cases of rape and incest. In both cases abortion results in the death of an innocent human life. As Dr. Bernard Nathanson has written, “The unwanted pregnancy flows biologically from the sexual act, but not morally from it.” [5]Hence, this argument, like the ones we have already covered in this series, is successful only if the unborn are not fully human.

Scott Klusendorf wrote the The Case for Life, which is the best book for beginners on the pro-life view. For those looking for advanced resources, Francis Beckwith, a professor at Baylor University, published the book Defending Life, with Cambridge University Press, 2007.

I found a very polished hour-long talk by Scott on Youtube. That talk was delivered to students and faculty at Furman University.

Finally, if you want to see Scott Klusendorf in a debate with a former ACLU executive, you can see it right here.

My friend Papa Georgio sent me a post that features THREE talks by Scott Klusendorf. (H/T Religio-Political Talk)

Learn about the pro-life case

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

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

From Uncommon Descent.

Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

But let’s see what Vilenkin said.

More:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Borde-Guth-Vilenkin (BGV) proof shows that every universe that expands must have a space-time boundary in the past. That means that no expanding universe, no matter what the model, can be eternal into the past. Even speculative alternative cosmologies do not escape the need for a beginning.

Conclusion

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

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