“God and Cosmology: The Existence of God in Light of Contemporary Cosmology” William Lane Craig vs. Sean Carroll (Opening Speeches with Transcript and Video)


“God and Cosmology” William Lane Craig and Sean Carroll – 2014 Greer Heard Forum

Published on Mar 3, 2014

For more resources visit: http://www.reasonablefaith.org

On Friday, February 21st, 2014, philosopher and theologian, Dr William Lane Craig, was invited by the Greer Heard Forum to debate Dr Sean Carroll, an atheist theoretical physicist. The topic of debate was, “God and Cosmology: The Existence of God in Light of Contemporary Cosmology.” The rigorous debate was concluded by a lengthy question and answer period with the audience.

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The Humanist Hour #84: Dr. Sean M. Carroll

Published on Jun 27, 2013

In this interview, which took place before Dr. Carroll’s keynote speech at the American Humanist Association 72nd Annual Conference, he talks about issues ranging from his upbringing and education to research having to do with the Big Bang, quantum mechanics, the Higgs Boson, the idea of the multiverse, morality, the Large Hadron Collider, Hollywood movies where he’s been consulted, and more.

More details and show links can be found on the podcast website here: http://podcast.thehumanist.org/2013/0…

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, LA, –

NOTE: Despite repeated requests Dr. Carroll has not yet furnished his PowerPoint slides or proofread his portion of the debate.

Dr. Stewart, Moderator

We are glad to see all of you here this evening, and all of those who are watching online as well. . . . Let me introduce our speakers, as if you don’t know who they are already!

William Lane Craig is a Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California, and a Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University. He earned a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Birmingham, England, before taking a doctorate in theology from the University of Munich, Germany, where he was, for two years, a Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Prior to his appointment at Talbot he spent seven years at the Higher Institute of Philosophy of the Katholike Universiteit Leuven, Belgium. His research interests include the interface of philosophy of religion and philosophy of space and time. He has authored or edited over 30 books including The Kalam Cosmological Argument; Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology; and Time and the Metaphysics of Relativity. He has published over 150 articles in peer reviewed professional journals, such as The Journal of Philosophy, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Philosophia Naturalis, and Astrophysics and Space Science. He has appeared as a guest on television shows such as 20/20, CNN Newsroom, Fox News, and Closer to the Truth.

Sean Carroll is a physicist and Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. He received his PhD in astronomy and astrophysics from Harvard University. His research focus is on theoretical physics and cosmology, especially the origin and constituents of the universe. He has contributed to models of interactions between dark matter, dark energy, and ordinary matter, alternative theories of gravity, and the arrow of time. Carroll is the author of From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time, Spacetime and Geometry: An Introduction to General Relativity, and The Particle at the End of the Universe. He has been awarded fellowships by the Sloan Foundation, Packard Foundation, and the American Physical Society, and won the 2013 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books. He has appeared on TV shows such as the Colbert Report, Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, and Closer to Truth.

Welcome our guests as they come to speak to us!

William Lane Craig – Opening Speech

Good evening! It is an honor to be taking part in a forum featuring such distinguished scientists and philosophers. Thank you very much!

Introductory Remarks

In his recent book, Where the Conflict Really Lies, Alvin Plantinga distinguished three ways in which scientific theories and theism might be related: apparent conflict, genuine conflict, and concord.[1] I take it as obvious that there does not exist even apparent conflict between contemporary cosmogonic theories and theism. Contemporary cosmology would therefore seem to be an area of obvious concord between science and theism.

But tonight I want to defend an even stronger claim, namely, that the evidence of contemporary cosmology actually renders God’s existence considerably more probable than it would have been without it:

Pr (Theism | Contemporary Cosmology & Background Information)
>> Pr (Theism | Background Information)

This is not to make some sort of naïve claim that contemporary cosmology proves the existence of God. There is no God-of-the-gaps reasoning here. Rather I’m saying that contemporary cosmology provides significant evidence in support of premises in philosophical arguments for conclusions having theological significance.

For example, the key premise in the ancient kalam cosmological argument that

2. The universe began to exist.

is a religiously neutral statement which can be found in virtually any contemporary textbook on astronomy and astrophysics. It is obviously susceptible to scientific confirmation or disconfirmation on the basis of the evidence.[2]

So, to repeat, one is not employing the evidence of contemporary cosmology to prove the proposition that God exists but to support theologically neutral premises in philosophical arguments for conclusions that have theistic significance.

In tonight’s discussion I’ll focus on two such arguments: the kalam cosmological argument from the origin of the universe and the teleological argument from the fine-tuning of the universe.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

Consider first the kalam cosmological argument:

1. If the universe began to exist, then there is a transcendent cause which brought the universe into existence.

2. The universe began to exist.

3. Therefore, there is a transcendent cause which brought the universe into existence.

By “the universe,” I mean that reality which is studied by contemporary cosmology, that is to say, all of contiguous physical reality, which currently takes the form of space-time and its contents.

I take it that (1) is obviously true.[3] Rather the truly controversial premiss is (2). Traditional supporters presented philosophical arguments in support of (2),[4] which, for me, constitute its primary warrant. But they’re not the subject of tonight’s debate. Rather what’s emerged during the 20th century is remarkable empirical confirmation of the second premiss from the evidence of astrophysical cosmogony. Two independent but closely interrelated lines of physical evidence support premiss (2): evidence from the expansion of the universe and evidence from the second law of thermodynamics.

In saying that the cosmogonic evidence confirms (2), I am not saying that we are certain that (2) is true. Too many people mistakenly equate knowledge with certainty. When they say that we do not know that the universe began to exist, what they really mean is that we are not certain that the universe began to exist. But, of course, certainty is not the relevant standard here. The question is whether (2) is more plausible in light of the evidence than its contradictory. As Professor Carroll reminds us,

Science isn’t in the business of proving things. Rather, science judges the merits of competing models in terms of their simplicity, clarity, comprehensiveness, and fit to the data. Unsuccessful theories are never disproven, as we can always concoct elaborate schemes to save the phenomena; they just fade away as better theories gain acceptance.[5]

Science cannot force you to accept the beginning of the universe; you can always concoct elaborate schemes to explain away the evidence. But those schemes will not fare well in displaying the aforementioned scientific virtues.

Even many who have expressed scepticism about premiss (2) admit that it is more plausibly true than not. For example, in my recent dialogue with Lawrence Krauss, he volunteered, “I’d bet our universe had a beginning, but I am not certain of it. . . . based on the physics that I know, I’d say it is a more likely possibility.”[6] This is to admit precisely what cosmologists like Alexander Vilenkin have contended all along: that the evidence makes it more likely than not that the universe began to exist.[7]

Evidence from the Expansion of the Universe

Consider, first, the evidence from the expansion of the universe. The standard (Friedman-LeMaître Robertson-Walker) big bang cosmogonic model implies that the universe is not infinite in the past but had an absolute beginning a finite time ago. Although advances in astrophysical cosmology have forced various revisions in the standard model, nothing has called into question its fundamental prediction of the finitude of the past and the beginning of the universe. Indeed, as James Sinclair has shown, the history of 20th century cosmogony has seen a parade of failed theories trying to avert the absolute beginning predicted by the standard model.[8] Meanwhile, a series of remarkable singularity theorems has increasingly tightened the loop around empirically tenable cosmogonic models by showing that under more and more generalized conditions, a beginning is inevitable. In 2003 Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin were able to show that any universe which is, on average, in a state of cosmic expansion throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past but must have a beginning.[9] In 2012 Vilenkin showed that cosmogonic models which do not fall under this condition, including Professor Carroll’s own model, fail on other grounds to avert the beginning of the universe. Vilenkin concluded, “None of these scenarios can actually be past-eternal.”[10] “All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning.”[11]

The Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem proves that classical space-time, under a single, very general condition, cannot be extended to past infinity but must reach a boundary at some time in the finite past. Now either there was something on the other side of that boundary or not. If not, then that boundary is the beginning of the universe. If there was something on the other side, then it will be a non-classical region described by the yet to be discovered theory of quantum gravity. In that case, Vilenkin says, it will be the beginning of the universe.[12]

Think about it. If there is such a non-classical region, then it is not past eternal in the classical sense. But neither can it exist literally timelessly, akin to the way in which philosophers consider abstract objects to be timeless or theologians take God to be timeless. For this region is in a state of constant flux, which, given the Indiscernibility of Identicals, is sufficient for time.[13] So even if time as defined in classical physics does not exist at such an era, some sort of time would.[14]

But if the quantum gravity era is temporal, it cannot be extended infinitely in time, for such a quantum state is not stable and so would either produce the universe from eternity past or not at all. As Anthony Aguirre and John Kehayias argue,

It is very difficult to devise a system – especially a quantum one – that does nothing ‘forever,’ then evolves. A truly stationary or periodic quantum state, which would last forever, would never evolve, whereas one with any instability will not endure for an indefinite time.[15]

Hence, the quantum gravity era would itself have to have had a beginning in order to explain why it transitioned just some 13 billion years ago into classical time and space. Hence, whether at the boundary or at the quantum gravity regime, the universe probably began to exist.

Evidence from Thermodynamics

Consider now the evidence from thermodynamics. According to the second law of thermodynamics entropy in a closed system almost never decreases. Given the naturalistic assumption that the universe is a closed system, the second law implies that, given enough time, the universe will come to a state of thermodynamic heat death, whether cold or hot. Given that the universe will expand forever, it may never reach a state of equilibrium, but it will grow increasingly cold, dark, dilute, and dead. But then the obvious question arises: why, if the universe has existed forever, is it not now in a cold, dark, dilute, and lifeless state? P. C. W. Davies gives the obvious answer: “The universe can’t have existed forever. We know there must have been an absolute beginning a finite time ago.”[16] The universe’s energy, says Davies, was simply “put in” at the creation as an initial condition.[17]

By contrast Professor Carroll’s solution to the problem confronts serious obstacles. He imagines that the overall condition of the universe is a state of thermal equilibrium (a sort of de Sitter space), but that random fluctuations spawn baby universes, which pinch off to become wholly independent space-times. We find ourselves in one such baby universe in a state of disequilibrium.

Let me raise two concerns about this model. First, not only are the production mechanisms of such baby universes admittedly conjectural, but such a scenario violates the so-called unitarity of quantum theory by allowing irretrievable information loss from the mother universe to the babies. Stephen Hawking, apologizing to science-fiction fans everywhere, came to admit, “There is no baby universe branching off, as I once thought. The information remains firmly in our universe.”[18]

Second, Professor Carroll’s solution provides no convincing answer to the Boltzmann Brain problem. Since the mother universe is a de Sitter space in which thermal fluctuations occur and since baby universes grow into de Sitter spaces themselves, there’s no explanation in the model why there exists a genuine low entropy universe around us rather than the mere appearance of such a world, an illusion of isolated brains which have fluctuated into existence out of the quantum vacuum. These and other problems make Professor Carroll’s model less plausible than the standard solution that the universe began to exist with an initial low entropy condition.

Skeptics might hope that quantum cosmology might serve to avert the implications of the second law of thermodynamics. But now a new singularity theorem formulated by Aron Wall seems to close the door on that possibility. Wall shows that, given the validity of the generalized second law of thermodynamics in quantum cosmology, the universe must have begun to exist, unless, as in Professor Carroll’s model, one postulates a reversal of the arrow of time at some point in the past, which, he rightly observes, involves a thermodynamic beginning in time which “would seem to raise the same sorts of philosophical questions that any other sort of beginning in time would.”[19] Wall reports that his results require only certain basic concepts, so that “it is reasonable to believe that the results will hold in a complete theory of quantum gravity.”[20]


Thus, we have good evidence both from the expansion of the universe and from the second law of thermodynamics that the universe is not past eternal but had a temporal beginning. So the second premise of the kalam cosmological argument receives significant confirmation from the evidence of contemporary cosmology. We have, then, a good argument for a transcendent cause of the universe.

The Teleological Argument

Turn now to the teleological argument from the fine-tuning of the universe. Scientists have been stunned by the discovery that the existence of intelligent, interactive life depends upon a complex and delicate balance of fundamental constants and quantities, like the gravitational constant and the amount of entropy in the early universe, which are fine-tuned to a degree that is literally incomprehensible.

Now there are three possibilities debated in the literature for explaining the presence of this remarkable fine-tuning: physical necessity, chance, or design. The question then is: Which of these three alternatives is the most plausible? On the basis of the evidence we may argue:

1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.

2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.

3. Therefore, it is due to design.

Physical Necessity?

Consider the first alternative, physical necessity.

This alternative seems extraordinarily implausible because the constants and quantities are independent of the laws of nature. The laws of nature are consistent with a wide range of values for these constants and quantities. For example, the most promising candidate for a Theory of Everything (T.O.E.) to date, super-string theory or M-Theory, allows a “cosmic landscape” of around 10500 different universes governed by the present laws of nature, so that it does nothing to render the observed values of the constants and quantities physically necessary.


So what about the second alternative, that the fine-tuning is due to chance? The problem with this alternative is that the odds against the universe’s being life-permitting are so incomprehensibly great that they cannot be reasonably faced. In order to rescue the alternative of chance, its proponents have therefore been forced to adopt the hypothesis that there exists a sort of World Ensemble or multiverse of randomly ordered universes of which our universe is but a part. Now comes the key move: since observers can exist only in finely tuned worlds, of course we observe our universe to be fine-tuned!

So this explanation of fine-tuning relies on (i) the existence of a specific type of World Ensemble and (ii) an observer self-selection effect. Now this explanation, wholly apart from objections to (i), faces a very formidable objection to (ii), namely, the Boltzmann Brain problem. In order to be observable the entire universe need not be fine-tuned for our existence. Indeed, it is vastly more probable that a random fluctuation of mass-energy would yield a universe dominated by Boltzmann Brain observers than one dominated by ordinary observers like ourselves. In other words, the observer self-selection effect is explanatorily vacuous. As Robin Collins has noted, what needs to be explained is not just intelligent life, but embodied, interactive, intelligent agents like ourselves.[21] Appeal to an observer self-selection effect accomplishes nothing because there’s no reason whatever to think that most observable worlds or the most probable observable worlds are worlds in which that kind of observer exists. Indeed, the opposite appears to be true: most observable worlds will be Boltzmann Brain worlds.

Since we presumably are not Boltzmann Brains, that fact strongly disconfirms a naturalistic World Ensemble or multiverse hypothesis.


It seems, then, that the fine-tuning is not plausibly due to physical necessity or chance. Therefore, we ought to prefer the hypothesis of design unless the design hypothesis can be shown to be just as implausible as its rivals. I’ll leave it up to Professor Carroll present any such objections.

Summary and Conclusion

In summary, it seems to me that the evidence of contemporary cosmology provides significant support for key premises in two philosophical arguments for conclusions having theological significance.

Thus, the existence of a Creator and Designer of the universe seems to be significantly more probable in light of contemporary cosmology than it would have been without it.[22]

[1] Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. (Oxford University Press, 2011). Plantinga further distinguishes between superficial conflict and deep conflict.

[2] Similarly the key premise in the teleological argument based on the fine-tuning of the universe that
2. The fine-tuning is not due to physical necessity or chance.
is logically equivalent to a conjunction, both of those conjuncts have been argued by scientists on theologically neutral grounds. As stated, (2) is a disjunction, but its logical form is equivalent to (¬p & ¬q).

[3] (1) does not presuppose a particular analysis of the causal relation. It requires simply that the universe did not come into being uncaused. For the universe to come into being without a cause of any sort would be to come into existence from nothing, which is worse than magic. Although some scientists have irresponsibly claimed that physics can explain the origin of the universe from “nothing,” what one inevitably discovers is that they are using the word “nothing” to refer to a physical system which undergoes a change of state. See David Albert, “On the Origin of Everything: ‘A Universe From Nothing,’ by Lawrence M. Krauss,” New York Times Sunday Book Review (March 23, 2012).

[4] For example, there were arguments based upon the impossibility of the existence of an actually infinite number of things. Here one argued that
1. An actually infinite number of things cannot exist.

2. A beginningless regress of temporal events implies the existence of an actually infinite number of things.

3. Therefore, a beginningless regress of temporal events cannot exist.

In support of the first premiss, one typically pointed to the metaphysically absurd situations which could result from an actually infinite number of things. David Hilbert’s famous hotel comes to mind. It is widely thought that premiss 1 has been defeated by Cantorian set theory. But as Hilbert realized, this claim is mistaken. As Kasner and Newman put it, “the infinite certainly does not exist in the same sense that we say, ‘There are fish in the sea.’ . . . ‘Existence’ in the mathematical sense is wholly different from the existence of objects in the physical world” (Edward Kasner and James Newman, Mathematics and the Imagination [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1940], p. 61). The mathematical existence of the actual infinite amounts to nothing more than the logical consistency of the axioms and theorems of set theory, which holds no implications for what is metaphysically possible. There is no example of an actually infinite number of anything in reality, and, as noted by Solomon Feferman, science can dispense with the notion of the actual infinite without impairment: “Infinitary concepts are not essential to the mathematization of science, all appearances to the contrary. And this puts into question the view that higher mathematics is somehow embodied in the world, rather than that it is the conceptual edifice raised by mankind in order to make sense of the world” (In Light of Logic [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998], p. 19; cf. p. 30).

Or again, there were arguments based upon the impossibility of forming an actual infinite by successive addition. Here one argued that

1. An actually infinite collection of things cannot be formed by successive addition.

2. The regress of temporal events is a collection formed by successive addition.

3. Therefore, the regress of temporal events cannot be actually infinite.

This argument is based upon a view of time which entails the objectivity of tense and temporal becoming. Although most physicists, accustomed as they are to a geometric presentation of space-time theories, tend uncritically toward a tenseless theory of time, philosophers of time are about evenly divided as to the objectivity of tense and temporal coming. Given the objectivity of temporal becoming, I think it is extraordinarily difficult to see how an actually infinite series of past events could have been completed successively.

[5] Sean Carroll, “Does the Universe Need God?” in The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity, ed. J. B. Stump and Alan G. Padgett (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), p. 196.

[6] William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss, “Life, the Universe, and Nothing (I): Has Science Buried God?” Brisbane, Australia (August 7, 2013), http://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/craig-vs-krauss-brisbane-australia (accessed February 23, 2014).

[7] In answer to the question “Did the universe have a beginning?” Vilenkin concludes “it seems that the answer to this question is probably yes” (Audrey Mithani and Alexander Vilenkin, “Did the universe have a beginning?” arXiv:1204.4658v1 [hep-th] 20 Apr 2012, p. 5). See http://arxiv.org/abs/1204.4658 (accessed March 19, 2014).

[8] William Lane Craig and James Sinclair, “The Kalam Cosmological Argument,” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, ed. Wm. L. Craig and J. P. Moreland (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), pp. 101-201; idem, “On Non-Singular Spacetimes and the Beginning of the Universe,” in Scientific Approaches to the Philosophy of Religion, ed. Yujin Nagasawa, Palgrave Frontiers in Philosophy of Religion (London: Macmillan, 2012), pp. 95-142.

[9] A. Borde, A. Guth, A. Vilenkin, “Inflationary Spacetimes Are Incomplete in Past Directions,” Physical Review Letters 90 (2003): 151301, http://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0110012 (accessed February 23, 2014).

[10] Mithani and Vilenkin, “Did the universe have a beginning?” p. 1; cf. p. 5. For application to the Carroll-Chen model, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXCQelhKJ7A (accessed February 23, 2014), where Vilenkin concludes, “there are no models at this time that provide a satisfactory model for a universe without a beginning.” See further Alexander Vilenkin, “Arrows of time and the beginning of the universe,” arXiv:1305.3836v2 [hep-th] 29 May 2013.

[11] A.Vilenkin, cited in “Why physicists can’t avoid a creation event,” by Lisa Grossman, New Scientist (January 11, 2012).

[12] “If indeed all past-directed geodesics encounter a quantum spacetime region where the notions of time and causality no longer apply, I would characterize such a region as the beginning of the universe” (A. Vilenkin to William Lane Craig, personal correspondence, December 8, 2013).

[13] Moreover, it is supposed to have existed before the classical era, and the classical era is supposed to have emerged from it, which seems to posit a temporal relation between the quantum gravity era and the classical era. This feature of quantum cosmogony is very problematic, since diachronic emergence of time is obviously incoherent (J. Butterfield and C. J. Isham, “On the Emergence of Time in Quantum Gravity,” in The Arguments of Time, ed. J. Butterfield [Oxford University Press, 1999], pp. 111-68; Vincent Lam and Michael Esfeld, “A dilemma for the emergence of spacetime in canonical quantum gravity,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 44 [2013]: 286–293; Reiner Hedrich, “Hat die Raumzeit Quanteneigenschaften? – Emergenztheoretische Ansätze in der Quantengravitation,” in Philosophie der Physik, ed. M. Esfeld [Berlin: Suhrkamp, forthcoming], pp. 287-305). But how can one make sense of a synchronic emergence of time as a supervenient reality in the context of cosmogony? The authors cited do not tell us. The best sense I can make of it is to say that the Euclidian description is a lower-level description of classical spacetime prior to the Planck time. (One recalls Hawking’s remark that when we go back to the real time in which we live, there still would be singularities.) So the same reality is being described at two levels. That implies that if the classical spacetime has a beginning, then so does the quantum gravity regime. For they are descriptions of the same reality. In the one a singularity is part of the description; in the other it is not. So what is prior to the Planck time is not the quantum gravity era as such; rather what is prior is the classical period of which the quantum gravity description is the more fundamental description. If this is correct, then, given the beginning of the classically described universe, it is impossible for the universe as quantum gravitationally described to be without a beginning. For they just are the same universe at different levels of description.

[14] Christopher Isham observes that although quantum cosmogonies “differ in their details they all agree on the idea that space and time emerge in some way from a purely quantum-mechanical region which can be described in some respects as if it were a classical, imaginary-time four-space” (C. J. Isham, “Quantum Theories of the Creation of the Universe,” in Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature, second ed., ed. Robert J. Russellet al. [Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory, 1996], p. 75). But see the previous note.

[15] Anthony Aguirre and John Kehayias, “Quantum Instability of the Emergent Universe,” arXiv:1306.3232v2 [hep-th] 19 Nov 2013. They are specifically addressing the Ellis-Maarten model, but their point is generalizable.

[16] Paul Davies, “The Big Questions: In the Beginning,” ABC Science Online, interview with Phillip Adams, http://www.abc.net.au/science/bigquestions/s460625.htm (accessed February 23, 2014).

[17] P. C. W. Davies, The Physics of Time Asymmetry (London: Surrey University Press, 1974), p. 104.

[18] S. W. Hawking, “Information Loss in Black Holes,” http://arXiv.org/abs/hep-th/0507171v2 (15 September 2005): 4. N.B. that just as Hawking came to accept information conservation regarding black holes, Carroll himself opts for information conservation in an expanding universe (Sean Carroll, From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time [New York: Penguin, 2010], p. 294). Cf. his blog “The Eternally Existing, Self-Reproducing, Frequently Puzzling Inflationary Universe,” posted on October 21, 2011 (http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2011/10/21/). [links accessed February 23, 2014]

[19] Aron C. Wall, “The Generalized Second Law implies a Quantum Singularity Theorem,” arXiv: 1010.5513v3 [gr-qc] 24 Jan 2013, p. 38. See http://arxiv.org/abs/1010.5513v3 (accessed March 19, 2014).

[20] Ibid., p. 4.

[21] I’ve had the privilege of reading portions of Robin’s forthcoming book The Well-Tempered Universe, which will be the definitive work on fine-tuning for many years to come.

[22] I’m grateful to James Sinclair, Robin Collins, Aron Wall, and Christopher Weaver for comments on the first draft of this speech and discussion of the many points within.

Sean Carroll – Opening Speech

Well thank you very much, it’s a great pleasure to be here. The Greer-Heard Forum has been very wonderful. I thank Dr. Craig for participating. For everyone here I appreciate your attendance, and I need to add a word of appreciation to this beautiful chapel that we’re holding the event in. I just hope that somewhere in the middle of my talking the roof does not fall on my head. But if it does that would be evidence and I would update my beliefs accordingly.

I also want to start with a confession that my goal here is not to win a debate. The discussion we are having tonight does not reflect a debate that is ongoing in the professional cosmology community. If you go to cosmology conferences there’s a lot of talk about the origin and nature of the universe; there is no talk about what role God might have played in bringing the universe about. It is not an idea that is taken seriously. My goal is to explain why we think that. You may or may not agree with me at the end but you should be able to understand why we cosmologists have that view. And it comes down to a conflict between two major fundamental pictures of the world—what philosophers would call ontologies: naturalism and theism. Naturalism says that all that exists is one world, the natural world, obeying laws of nature, which science can help us discover. Theism says that in addition to the natural world there is something else, at the very least, God. Perhaps there are other things as well. I want to argue that naturalism is far and away the winner when it comes to cosmological explanation. And it comes down to three points. First, naturalism works—it accounts for the data we see. Second, the evidence is against theism. Third, theism is not well defined. I’m going to be emphasizing this third point because if you ask a theist about the definition they will give you some very rigorous sounding definition of what they mean by God. The most perfect being, the ground for all existence, and so forth. There are thousands of such definitions, which is an issue, but the real problem is not with the definition, it’s when you connect the notion of God to the world we observe. That’s where apparently an infinite amount of flexibility comes in and I’m going to be inveighing against using that in cosmology.

So, I think I can make these points basically by following Dr. Craig’s organization starting with the kalam cosmological argument, and unlike what he said I should be doing I want to challenge the first of the premises: If the universe began to exist it has a transcendent cause. The problem with this premise is that it is false. There’s almost no explanation or justification given for this premise in Dr. Craig’s presentation. But there’s a bigger problem with it, which is that it is not even false. The real problem is that these are not the right vocabulary words to be using when we discuss fundamental physics and cosmology. This kind of Aristotelian analysis of causation was cutting edge stuff 2,500 years ago. Today we know better. Our metaphysics must follow our physics. That’s what the word metaphysics means. And in modern physics, you open a quantum field theory textbook or a general relativity textbook, you will not find the words “transcendent cause” anywhere. What you find are differential equations. This reflects the fact that the way physics is known to work these days is in terms of patterns, unbreakable rules, laws of nature. Given the world at one point in time we will tell you what happens next. There is no need for any extra metaphysical baggage, like transcendent causes, on top of that. It’s precisely the wrong way to think about how the fundamental reality works. The question you should be asking is, “What is the best model of the universe that science can come up with?” By a model I mean a formal mathematical system that purports to match on to what we observe. So if you want to know whether something is possible in cosmology or physics you ask, “Can I build a model?” Can I build a model where the universe had a beginning but did not have a cause? The answer is yes. It’s been done. Thirty years ago, very famously, Stephen Hawking and Jim Hartle presented the no-boundary quantum cosmology model. The point about this model is not that it’s the right model, I don’t think that we’re anywhere near the right model yet. The point is that it’s completely self-contained. It is an entire history of the universe that does not rely on anything outside. It just is like that. The demand for more than a complete and consistent model that fits the data is a relic of a pre-scientific view of the world. My claim is that if you had a perfect cosmological model that accounted for the data you would go home and declare yourself having been victorious.

You might also ask, “Could the universe be eternal?” (since Dr. Craig talked about this) without having a beginning at all. Again, the answer is: yes, just build a model. This is my favorite model. It’s actually not even a model that I think is right; once again, it’s a model I helped create. But it’s about the search for models, not about saying any one model is the right idea. We hope that some day we get there but we don’t claim that we are there yet. So whether or not the universe can be eternal does not come down to a conversation about abstract principles. It comes down to a conversation about building models and seeing which one provides the best account for what we see the universe to be doing.

So I’d like to talk about the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem since Dr. Craig emphasizes it. The rough translation is that in some universes, not all, the space-time description that we have as a classical space-time breaks down at some point in the past. Where Dr. Craig says that the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem implies the universe had a beginning, that is false. That is not what it says. What it says is that our ability to describe the universe classically, that is to say, not including the effects of quantum mechanics, gives out. That may be because there’s a beginning or it may be because the universe is eternal, either because the assumptions of the theorem were violated or because quantum mechanics becomes important. If you need to invoke a theorem, because that’s what you like to do rather than building models, I would suggest the quantum eternity theorem. If you have a universe that obeys the conventional rules of quantum mechanics, has a non-zero energy, and the individual laws of physics are themselves not changing with time, that universe is necessarily eternal. The time parameter in Schrödinger’s equation, telling you how the universe evolves, goes from minus infinity to infinity. Now this might not be the definitive answer to the real world because you could always violate the assumptions of the theorem but because it takes quantum mechanics seriously it’s a much more likely starting point for analyzing the history of the universe. But again, I will keep reiterating that what matters are the models, not the abstract principles.

Dr. Craig brings up an argument about the Second Law of Thermodynamics and I’ve written a whole book, you can buy it on Amazon right now from your iPhones, about the second law and its relationship to cosmology. It is certainly a true issue that we don’t know why the early universe had a low entropy and entropy has ever been increasing. That’s a good challenge for cosmology. To imagine the cosmologist cannot answer that question without somehow invoking God is a classic god-of-the-gaps move. I know that Dr. Craig says that is not what he’s doing but then he does it. We don’t know why the early universe had a low entropy but that is not an argument that we can’t figure it out. There is more than one possibility. Maybe there is a principle, like Stephen Hawking would say, that puts the early universe in a low entropy state. Or maybe there is no high entropy state. In my model of an eternal universe the reason why our universe is always changing is because the universe always can change. There is no equilibrium for it to fall into. Dr. Craig brings up a quote – he brings up various things that I think really muddle the cosmological picture here. He says that my model is not working very well because it violates unitarity—the conservation of information—and that is straightforwardly false. In my model unitarity is the whole point. There’s a quantum mechanical wave function that describes the evolution of the universe from one piece into multiple pieces and that evolution is perfectly unitarity. He quotes Stephen Hawking backsliding his statement about baby universes but that was in the context of black holes. That had nothing to do with cosmology. That quote was taken completely out of context. Finally, he makes a big deal about Boltzmann Brains. I’m going to talk about that a little bit later. Most importantly, he talks about the fact that if the universe is eternal and you have a Second Law of Thermodynamics then there must have been a moment in the middle when the entropy was lowest, and he calls this a thermodynamic beginning and he quotes another paper. That’s fine except it’s an equivocation on the word beginning. A thermodynamic beginning is not a beginning—it happens in the middle. It’s a moment in the history of the universe from which entropy is higher in one direction of time and the other direction of time. There is no room in such a conception for God to have brought the universe into existence at any one moment.

If you really believe that the beginning of the universe is an important piece of evidence for God, an eternal universe with a low entropy state in the middle is not helping your case. What you should be doing is trying to build models, like I said. So the question is, “Are there realistic models of eternal cosmologies?” Well, I spent half an hour on the Internet and I was able to come up with about seventeen different plausible looking models of eternal cosmologies. I do not claim that any of these are the right answer. We’re nowhere near the right answer yet but you can come up with objections to every one of these models. You cannot say that they are not eternal. There’s a theorem, Borde-Guth-Vilenkin, that has assumptions so if you violate those assumptions you can violate the theorem. Meanwhile, theism, I would argue, is not a serious cosmological model. That’s because cosmology is a mature subject. We care about more things than just creating the universe. We care about specific details. At the cosmology conferences we’re discussing these questions that you see before you. I’m not going to list all of them but a real cosmological model wants to predict. What is the amount of density perturbation in the universe? And so forth. Theism does not even try to do this because ultimately theism is not well defined.

So let’s go to the second argument, the teleological argument from fine-tuning. I’m very happy to admit right off the bat – this is the best argument that the theists have when it comes to cosmology. That’s because it plays by the rules. You have phenomena, you have parameters of particle physics and cosmology, and then you have two different models: theism and naturalism. And you want to compare which model is the best fit for the data. I applaud that general approach. Given that, it is still a terrible argument. It is not at all convincing. I will give you five quick reasons why theism does not offer a solution to the purported fine-tuning problem.

First, I am by no means convinced that there is a fine-tuning problem and, again, Dr. Craig offered no evidence for it. It is certainly true that if you change the parameters of nature our local conditions that we observe around us would change by a lot. I grant that quickly. I do not grant therefore life could not exist. I will start granting that once someone tells me the conditions under which life can exist. What is the definition of life, for example? If it’s just information processing, thinking or something like that, there’s a huge panoply of possibilities. They sound very “science fiction-y” but then again you’re the one who is changing the parameters of the universe. The results are going to sound like they come from a science fiction novel. Sadly, we just don’t know whether life could exist if the conditions of our universe were very different because we only see the universe that we see.

Secondly, God doesn’t need to fine-tune anything. We talk about the parameters of physics and cosmology: the mass of the election, the strength of gravity. And we say if they weren’t the numbers that they were then life itself could not exist. That really underestimates God by a lot, which is surprising from theists, I think. In theism, life is not purely physical. It’s not purely a collection of atoms doing things like it is in naturalism. I would think that no matter what the atoms were doing God could still create life. God doesn’t care what the mass of the electron is. He can do what he wants. The only framework in which you can honestly say that the physical parameters of the universe must take on certain values in order for life to exist is naturalism.

The third point is that the fine-tunings you think are there might go away once you understand the universe better. They might only be apparent. There’s a famous example theists like to give, or even cosmologists who haven’t thought about it enough, that the expansion rate of the early universe is tuned to within 1 part in 1060. That’s the naïve estimate, back of the envelope, pencil and paper you would do. But in this case you can do better. You can go into the equations of general relativity and there is a correct rigorous derivation of the probability. If you ask the same question using the correct equations you find that the probability is 1. All set of measure zeroof early universe cosmologies have the right expansion rate to live for a long time and allow life to exist. I can’t say that all parameters fit into that paradigm but until we know the answer we can’t claim that they’re definitely finely-tuned.

Number four, there’s an obvious and easy naturalistic explanation in the form of the cosmological multiverse. People like to worry about the multiverse. It sounds extravagant. I claim the multiverse is amazingly simple. It is not a theory, it is a prediction of physical theories that are themselves quite elegant, small, and self-contained that create universes after universes. There’s no reason, no right that we have, to expect that the whole entire universe look like the conditions we have right now. But more importantly, if you take the multiverse as your starting point you can make predictions. We live in an ensemble and we should be able to predict the likelihoods that conditions around us take different forms. So in cosmology papers dealing with the multiverse you see graphs like this that try to predict the density of dark matter given other conditions in the multiverse. You do not see graphs like this in the theological papers trying to give God credit for explaining the fine-tuning because theism is not well defined.

Now Dr. Craig makes a lot about the Boltzmann Brain problem. The problem that in the multiverse we could just be random fluctuations rather than growing in the aftermath of a hot big bang. This is a significant misunderstanding of how the multiverse works. The multiverse doesn’t say that everything that can possibly happen happens with equal probability. It says that there’s a definite history of the multiverse and you can make predictions. Different multiverse models will have different ratios of ordinary observers to random observers. That’s a good thing. That helps us distinguish between viable models of the multiverse and non-viable models, and there are plenty of viable models where the Boltzmann Brain, or random fluctuations, do not dominate. Furthermore, just as a little preview of coming attractions, I’m trying to write a paper (when I’m not debating about God and cosmology; I’m a physicist). I’m currently working on a paper that says, actually, Boltzmann Brains (random fluctuations) occur much, much less frequently than we previously believed. It comes down to a better understanding of quantum fluctuations. There’s a caricature of theism that says theism is an excuse to stop thinking. You say, “Oh, there’s a problem, I don’t need to solve it because God will solve it for me.” That’s clearly false because many theists think very carefully and very rigorously about many problems. But sometimes there’s an element of truth to it. This is an example. You’re faced with the Boltzmann Brain problem and you go, “I get out of that by saying that God created a single universe.” That might have stopped you from thinking about the physics in a deeper way and discovering interesting facts like this.

Fifth, and most importantly, theism fails as an explanation. Even if you think the universe is finely-tuned and you don’t think that naturalism can solve it, theism certainly does not solve it. If you thought it did, if you played the game honestly, what you would say is, “Here is the universe that I expect to exist under theism. I will compare it to the data and see if it fits.” What kind of universe would we expect? I’ve claimed that over and over again the universe we would expect matches the predictions of naturalism not theism. So the amount of tuning, if you thought that the physical parameters of our universe were tuned in order to allow life to exist, you would expect enough tuning but not too much. Under naturalism, a physical mechanism could far over-tune by an incredibly large amount that has nothing to do with the existence of life and that is exactly what we observe. For example, the entropy of the early universe is much, much, much, much lower than it needs to be to allow for life. You would expect under theism that the particles and parameters of particle physics would be enough to allow life to exist and have some structure that was designed for some reason whereas under naturalism you’d expect them to be kind of random and a mess. Guess what? They are kind of random and a mess. You would expect, under theism, for life to play a special role in the universe. Under naturalism, you would expect life to be very insignificant. I hope I don’t need to tell you that life is very insignificant as far as the universe is concerned.

Here is a photograph from the Hubble Space Telescope of a few hundred out of the hundreds of billions of galaxies in our observable universe. The theistic explanation for cosmological fine-tuning asks you to look at this picture and say, “I know why it is like that. It’s because I was going to be here or we were going to be here.” But there is nothing in our experience of the universe that justifies the kind of flattering story we like to tell about ourselves. In fact, I would argue that the failure of theism to explain the fine-tuning of the universe is paradigmatic. It helps understand the other ways in which theism fails to be a better theory than naturalism. What you should be doing over and over again is comparing the predictions or expectations under theism to under naturalism and you find that over and over again naturalism wins. I’m going to zoom through these. It’s not the individual arguments that are important, it’s the cumulative effect.

If theism were really true there’s no reason for God to be hard to find. He should be perfectly obvious whereas in naturalism you might expect people to believe in God but the evidence to be thin on the ground. Under theism you’d expect that religious beliefs should be universal. There’s no reason for God to give special messages to this or that primitive tribe thousands of years ago. Why not give it to anyone? Whereas under naturalism you’d expect different religious beliefs inconsistent with each other to grow up under different local conditions. Under theism you’d expect religious doctrines to last a long time in a stable way. Under naturalism you’d expect them to adapt to social conditions. Under theism you’d expect the moral teachings of religion to be transcendent, progressive, sexism is wrong, slavery is wrong. Under naturalism you’d expect they reflect, once again, local mores, sometimes good rules, sometimes not so good. You’d expect the sacred texts, under theism, to give us interesting information. Tell us about the germ theory of disease. Tell us to wash our hands before we have dinner. Under naturalism you’d expect the sacred texts to be a mishmash—some really good parts, some poetic parts, and some boring parts and mythological parts. Under theism you’d expect biological forms to be designed, under naturalism they would derive from the twists and turns of evolutionary history. Under theism, minds should be independent of bodies. Under naturalism, your personality should change if you’re injured, tired, or you haven’t had your cup of coffee yet. Under theism, you’d expect that maybe you can explain the problem of evil – God wants us to have free will. But there shouldn’t be random suffering in the universe. Life should be essentially just. At the end of the day with theism you basically expect the universe to be perfect. Under naturalism, it should be kind of a mess—this is very strong empirical evidence.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “But I can explain all of that.” I know you can explain all of that—so can I. It’s not hard to come up with ex post facto justifications for why God would have done it that way. Why is it not hard? Because theism is not well defined. That’s what computer scientists call a bug, not a feature.

Immanuel Kant famously said, “There will never be an Isaac Newton for a blade of grass.” In other words, sure you can find some physical explanation for the motion of the planets but never for something as exquisitely organized and complex as a biological organism. Except, of course, that Charles Darwin then went and did exactly that. We can paraphrase Dr. Craig’s message as saying there will never be an Isaac Newton for the cosmos but everything we know about the history of science and the current state of physics says we should be much more optimistic than that. Thank you.

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/god-and-cosmology-the-existence-of-god-in-light-of-contemporary-cosmology#ixzz3J32RjUgc

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