Post-Debate Reflections

We’ve returned from the lovely city of New Orleans, where within a short period of time I was able to sample shrimp and grits, bread pudding soufflé, turtle soup, chicken gumbo, soft-shelled crab with crawfish étouffée, and of course beignets. Oh yes, also participated in the Greer-Heard Forum, where I debated William Lane Craig, and then continued the discussion the next day along with Alex Rosenberg, Tim Maudlin, James Sinclair, and Robin Collins. The whole event was recorded, and will be released on the internet soon — hopefully within a couple of days.

[Update: Here is the video.]

In the meantime I thought I’d provide some quick post-debate reflections. Overall I think it went pretty well, although I certainly could have done better. Then again I’m biased, both by being hard on myself in terms of the debate performance, but understandably of the opinion that my actual ideas are correct. I think I mostly reached my primary goal of explaining why many of us think theism is undermined by modern science, and in particular why there is no support to be found for it in modern cosmology. For other perspectives see Rational Skepticism or the Reasonable Faith forums.

Clockwise from top left: William Lane Craig, Alex Rosenberg, Sean Carroll, James Sinclair, Robert Stewart (Greer-Heard organizer), Tim Maudlin, and Robin Collins.

Clockwise from top left: William Lane Craig, Alex Rosenberg, Sean Carroll, James Sinclair, Robert Stewart (Greer-Heard organizer), Tim Maudlin, and Robin Collins. Screenshot by Maryanne Spikes.

Short version: I think it went well, although I can easily think of several ways I could have done better. On the substance, my major points were that the demand for “causes” and “explanations” is completely inappropriate for modern fundamental physics/cosmology, and that theism is not taken seriously in professional cosmological circles because it is hopelessly ill-defined (no matter what happens in the universe, you can argue that God would have wanted it that way). He defended two of his favorite arguments, the “cosmological argument” and the fine-tuning argument; no real surprises there. In terms of style, from my perspective things got a bit frustrating, because the following pattern repeated multiple times: Craig would make an argument, I would reply, and Craig would just repeat the original argument. For example, he said that Boltzmann Brains were a problem for the multiverse; I said that they were a problem for certain multiverse models but not others, which is actually good because they help us to distinguish viable from non-viable models; and his response was the multiverse was not a viable theory because of the Boltzmann Brain problem. Or, he said that if the universe began to exist there must be a transcendent cause; I said that everyday notions of causation don’t apply to the beginning of the universe and explained why they might apply approximately inside the universe but not to it; and his response was that if the universe could just pop into existence, why not bicycles? I was honestly a bit surprised at the lack of real-time interaction, since one of Craig’s supporters’ biggest complaints is that his opponents don’t ever directly respond to his points, and I tried hard to do exactly that. To be fair, I bypassed some of his arguments (see below) because I thought they were irrelevant, and wanted to focus on the important issues; he might feel differently. I’m sure that others will have their own opinions, but soon enough the videos will allow all to judge for themselves. Overall I was moderately satisfied that I made the responses I had hoped to make, clarified some points, and gave folks something to think about.

Longer version (much longer, sorry): the format was 20-minute opening talks by each speaker (Craig going first), followed by 12-minute rebuttals, and then 8-minute closing statements. Among the pre-debate advice I was given was “make it a discussion, not a debate” and “don’t let WLC speak first,” both of which I intentionally ignored. I wanted all along to play by his rules, in front of his crowd, and do the best job I could do without any excuses.

In his opening speech Craig gave two arguments: the Kalam Cosmological Argument (the universe must be caused, and the cause is God), and the teleological/fine-tuning argument (the parameters of the universe appear designed for the existence of life). To his great credit, WLC actually stuck to arguments concerning physical cosmology, where presumably my expertise would be most valuable; he didn’t hide behind primarily metaphysical arguments like the ontological argument or the denial of realized infinities. The two he used were familiar from his repertoire, and they were the two that I was primarily interested in talking about myself, so we were off. (I’ll try to reconstruct the logic rather than doing a point-by-point recap, since I’m mostly working from memory. Naturally, my memory of my own parts will be sharper than my memory of WLC’s, so I’ll happily accept factual corrections.)

The cosmological argument has two premises: (1) If the universe had a beginning, it has a transcendent cause; and (2) The universe had a beginning. He took (1) as perfectly obvious, and put his effort into establishing (2). Partly he used the celebrated (by theologians) Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem, which says that a universe with an average expansion rate greater than zero must be geodesically incomplete in the past. But he also used an argument I hadn’t heard before: from the Second Law of Thermodynamics (entropy in a closed system doesn’t decrease). I think the argument was basically that the Second Law implies that we approach equilibrium, and in an infinitely-old universe we should therefore have reached equilibrium long ago, which we haven’t, so the universe began at some finite time in the past.

My attitude toward the above two premises is that (2) is completely uncertain, while the “obvious” one (1) is flat-out false. Or not even false, as I put it, because the notion of a “cause” isn’t part of an appropriate vocabulary to use for discussing fundamental physics. Rather, modern physical models take the form of unbreakable patterns — laws of Nature — that persist without any external causes. The Aristotelian analysis of causes is outdated when it comes to modern fundamental physics; what matters is whether you can find a formal mathematical model that accounts for the data. The Hartle-Hawking “no-boundary proposal” for the wave function of the universe, for example, is completely self-contained, not requiring any external cause.

Mostly Craig ignored this argument, which to me was the most important part of the debate. In the first rebuttal he said that the Hartle-Hawking model was indeed lacking something — a reason why the universe exists at all. To me this looks like confusing the cosmological argument with the argument from contingency, but since my objection applied to that case as well I didn’t raise that as an rebuttal. Rather, I pointed out that this response sailed right by my actual argument, which was that a self-contained physical model is all you need, and asking for anything more is completely unwarranted. To drive the point home, I elaborated on why things like “causes” and “explanations” make perfect sense for parts of the universe, but not for the universe itself: namely, that we live in a world with unbreakable patterns (laws of physics) and an arrow of time, but the universe itself (or the multiverse) is not one element of a much bigger pattern, it’s all there is. Finally in the closing speech WLC finally offered arguments in favor of the idea that the beginning of the universe implies a transcendental cause: (1) it’s a metaphysical principle; (2) if universe could pop into existence, why not bicycles?; and (3) there’s no reason to treat the universe differently than things inside the universe. To me, (1) isn’t actually an argument, just a restatement; and I had already explained why (2) and (3) were not true, and he didn’t actually respond to my explanation. So by the time my rebuttal came around I didn’t have much more new to say. Craig spent some time mocking the very idea that the universe could just “pop into existence.” I explained that this isn’t the right way to think about these models, which are better understood as “the universe has an earliest moment of time,” which doesn’t misleadingly appeal to our intuitions of temporal sequence; but my explanation seemed to have no effect.

The second premise of the Kalam argument is that the universe began to exist. Which may even be true! But we certainly don’t know, or even have strong reasons to think one way or the other. Craig thinks we do have a strong reason, the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem. So I explained what every physicist who has thought about the issue understands: that the real world is governed by quantum mechanics, and the BGV theorem assumes a classical spacetime, so it says nothing definitive about what actually happens in the universe; it is only a guideline to when our classical description breaks down. Indeed, I quoted a stronger theorem, the “Quantum Eternity Theorem” (QET) — under conventional quantum mechanics, any universe with a non-zero energy and a time-independent Hamiltonian will necessarily last forever toward both the past and the future. For convenience I quoted my own paper as a reference, although I’m surely not the first to figure it out; it’s a fairly trivial result once you think about it. (The Hartle-Hawking model is not eternal to the past, which is fine because they imagine a universe with zero energy. In that situation time is an approximation rather than fundamental in any case — that’s the “problem of time” in quantum gravity.)

Sadly, Craig never responded to my point about the QET. Instead, he emphasized another “theorem” in a paper by Aron Wall. This is a great paper, well worth reading — but it doesn’t say what Craig wants it to say, which I was only able to check after the debate. Wall (like BGV) proves theorems that apply to semiclassical gravity (classical spacetime with propagating quantum fields — see comment from Aron below), and then speculates “the results may hold in full quantum gravity” and “there is a reasonable possibility that the Penrose singularity theorem can be proven even in the context of full quantum gravity.” As good as the paper is, proving a theorem in the semiclassical case and then opining that it is probably extendable to the full quantum gravity case does not actually represent a “theorem” about the quantum case. And in fact I think it’s highly unlikely to be extendable in the sense Craig wants it to be, since the QET says that’s impossible (unless the universe has zero energy or a time-dependent Hamiltonian, in which case it’s easy to avoid eternity). But I had never seen Wall’s paper before, and Craig didn’t give a precise statement of the purported theorem, only the above quote about “reasonable possibility”; as a result I didn’t know the range of applicability of the “theorem” or its assumptions, so chose not to talk about it rather than making guesses. That was probably a strategic mistake on my part.

While I’m lingering over my mistakes, I made a related one, when Craig emphasized a recent paper by Anthony Aguirre and John Kehayias. They examined the “emergent universe” scenario of George Ellis and Roy Maartens, in which the universe is in a quasi-static pre-Big-Bang state infinitely far into the past. Aguirre and Kehayias showed that such behavior is unstable; you can’t last in a quasi-static state for half of eternity and then start evolving. Personally, I didn’t think this was worth talking about; I completely agree that it’s unstable, I never promoted or defended that particular model, and I just didn’t see the relevance. But he kept bringing it up. Only after the debate did it dawn on me that he takes the specific behavior of that model as representative of any model that has a quantum-gravity regime (the easiest way out of the “beginning” supposedly predicted by the BGV theorem). That’s completely false. Most models with a quantum-gravity phase are nothing like the emergent universe; typically the quantum part of the evolution is temporary, and is surrounded on both sides by classical spacetime. But that’s so false that I didn’t even pick up that WLC was presuming it, so I never responded. Bad debater.

The other argument from Craig in favor of the universe having a beginning comes from the fact that entropy is increasing, in accordance with the Second Law. This is another case where it took me a while to understand the point he was trying to get at. To me, it is perfectly obvious and well-understood that the Second Law comes about because of the configuration of matter in our local region of universe, not because of some ironclad fundamental law. (Otherwise Ludwig Boltzmann lived in vain — and I have his tombstone right up there on my blog header.) A theory like my model with Jennifer Chen tries to explain how the Second Law emerges in local regions of the universe, by showing how a universe with no equilibrium state can evolve forever (rather than settling down), and entropy will naturally increase both in the far past and the far future. Craig seems to think that the Second Law should be absolute, so that models like ours are ruled out because entropy doesn’t increase monotonically — i.e. they “violate” the Second Law. (Unless I’m still misunderstanding his point — his presentation was uncharacteristically muddled here.) This is a pretty straightforward misunderstanding of the origin of the Second Law and the point of our model, although to be fair I caught on too late to present a strong counterargument.

It was interesting that Craig spent so much time talking about the Carroll-Chen model, when I wouldn’t have brought it up at all if left to my own devices. I think the model is very useful as an illustration of an interesting fact: you can derive a natural dynamical origin of the Second Law in a universe that creates new entropy without bound by creating regions of space that look like our Big Bang. But I’m the first to admit that it’s speculative, and especially that the process of baby-universe creation is ill-understood, if it’s possible at all. So I probably wouldn’t have dwelt on it, but Craig really went to town on the model. Unfortunately, nearly everything he said about it was just wrong. First, he tried to claim that having a moment of time in the history of the universe when entropy was lowest counts as a “thermodynamic beginning,” even if there is more universe in both direction of time around that moment. That’s quite an innovative definition (to be polite), but more importantly that kind of “beginning” has nothing to do with the kind of “beginning” where God would create the universe. I made this point, but it wasn’t answered. Relatedly, he seemed to think it was a glaring mistake (or perhaps intentionally subterfuge?) that on one picture of our model I had the “time” axis have only one arrow, while on another version of the picture I put arrows pointing in both directions. I apologize for being sloppy, but it’s neither a mistake nor a dastardly plot; either version is acceptable, because you have a time coordinate that runs monotonically from -infinity to +infinity, but the direction of entropy increase (that defines the arrow of time) is not monotonic. Next, he tried to claim that our model violated unitarity (conservation of quantum information), which is flatly wrong. He supplied two pieces of evidence, in the form of quotes from Stephen Hawking and Chris Weaver. But the Hawking quote was completely out of context; he was talking about the fact that he no longer thought that wormholes would lead to violation of unitarity in black-hole evaporation, nothing to do with cosmology. And the Weaver quote that Craig read had nothing to do with unitarity at all; it merely pointed out that the process of baby-universe creation is speculative and not well-understood, which I’m the first to admit. Again — I didn’t actually hold up this model as a solution to anything, but he felt the need to attack it, so I had to defend its honor a little bit.

In contrast, I wanted to talk about a model developed by Anthony Aguirre and Stephen Gratton. They have a very simple and physically transparent model that (unlike my theory with Chen) imposes a low-entropy boundary condition at a mid-universe “bounce.” It’s a straightforward example of a perfectly well-defined theory that is clearly eternal, one that doesn’t have a beginning, and does so without invoking any hand-waving about quantum gravity. I challenged Craig to explain why this wasn’t a sensible example of an eternal universe, one that was in perfect accord with the BGV theorem, but he didn’t respond. It wasn’t until the talks on the following day that Craig’s teammate James Sinclair admitted that it seemed like a perfectly good model to him.

But again — my main point was not to push this or that specific model, but to argue that it’s the models that matter, not some general theorem in a regime we don’t pretend to understand. So I listed a bunch of plausible-looking eternal cosmologies. The point is not that all or some of these models is perfect; it’s that they’re eternal. So we should judge them on their merits, rather than claiming to have general arguments that there are no such things. (It’s as if WLC has a powerful general theorem against heavier-than-air flying machines, while airplanes keep buzzing overhead.) On occasion it would be as if Craig admitted that there were indeed eternal cosmologies, but they were all ruled out for various unspecified other problems. That sounds like a suspiciously far-reaching claim, but one that is hard to directly dispute without any details being presented. More importantly, it’s beside the point. Which, in case it isn’t yet clear, is that it’s the models that matter, not any general theorems. If there are some cosmological models that are eternal but have other problems, there’s no reason to stop looking for other models that are also eternal but don’t have those problems. This is a case where working scientists are quick to admit that we don’t know the answer, so we shouldn’t stop considering all legitimate possibilities.

The fine-tuning argument proceeded in a more straightforward way. Unlike the cosmological argument, where Craig presented a few twists I hadn’t heard before (though he may have used them in other debates, I don’t know), the fine-tuning presentation was pretty standard. I acknowledged that, unlike the cosmological argument that is based on outdated metaphysics, the fine-tuning argument is a respectable scientific claim: two models trying to account for some data. But I gave five reasons why it was nevertheless not a good argument for theism:

  1. We don’t really know that the universe is tuned specifically for life, since we don’t know the conditions under which life is possible.
  2. Fine-tuning for life would only potentially be relevant if we already accepted naturalism; God could create life under arbitrary physical conditions.
  3. Apparent fine-tunings may be explained by dynamical mechanisms or improved notions of probability.
  4. The multiverse is a perfectly viable naturalistic explanation.
  5. If God had finely-tuned the universe for life, it would look very different indeed.

Craig didn’t respond to 2. or 3. here. To counter 1. he simply noted that other physicists disagreed with me, which again really isn’t an argument; he didn’t offer any suggestion that we actually do know the conditions under which life can and cannot form. Against 5. he invoked an argument by Robin Collins that the universe is optimized for “discoverability,” at least when we consider the known physical parameters. To me this argument is completely implausible right on the face of it, since it’s trivially easy to imagine ways to make it easier to discover the universe (just make the Higgs boson lighter!). But I knew Collins was going to give a full discussion of that argument the next day, so I saved my response until then.

In my first speech I used 5. above as a launching pad to make a bigger point: the real reason theism isn’t taken seriously is because it’s completely ill-defined. If we would presume to contemplate theism from an intellectually honest perspective, we would try to decide what kind of universe we would expect to live in if theism were true; then we would do the same for naturalism; and finally we would compare those expectations to the real world. But when we do that we find theistic expectations failing to match reality over and over again. Now, I know perfectly well (from experience as well as from cogitation) that you can never make headway with theists by claiming “If God existed, He would do X, and He doesn’t” (where X is “prevent needless suffering,” “make His existence obvious,” “reveal useful non-trivial information to us,” “spread religious messages uniformly over the world,” etc.) Because they have always thought through these, and can come up with an explanation why God would never have done that. (According to Alvin Plantinga, our world — you know, the one with the Black Death, the Holocaust, AIDS, Hurricane Katrina, and so on — is “so good that no world could be appreciably better.”) But these apologetic moves come at a price: they imply a notion of theism so flexible that it becomes completely ill-defined. That’s the real problem. Craig’s way of putting it is to suggest that God is “like the cosmic artist who wants to splash his canvas with extravagance of design.” That’s precisely why naturalism has pulled so far ahead of theism in the intellectual race to best model our world: because it plays by rules and provides real explanations for why the world is this way rather than that way.

Against the multiverse, Craig’s major argument (surprisingly) was the Boltzmann Brain problem. I say “surprisingly” because it’s such an easy argument to rebut. Sure, Boltzmann Brains are a problem — for those models with a Boltzmann Brain problem. Not all models have them! And a good modern multiverse cosmologist focuses on those models that avoid them. In this sense, the BB problem is a good thing; it helps us distinguish viable models from non-viable ones. As far as I can tell, this straightforward response was completely ignored by Craig. He just kept repeating that Boltzmann Brains were really bad things. He aimed this criticism particularly at the Carroll-Chen model, which I would say is very bad aim; it’s much less likely that BB’s are a problem in our scenario than in most other multiverse theories, since you actually produce baby universes (with potentially billions of observers) more frequently than you produce individual Boltzmann Brains. But I didn’t emphasize that point, since my goal wasn’t to defend that particular model.

As an aside, the Boltzmann Brain discussion illustrated a problem with the debate as a whole: it was too technical (and I think mostly on WLC’s side, although I deserved some of the blame). I had prepared a single slide about the topic of BB’s, but upon reflection I figured that many people wouldn’t be familiar with the term, so I replaced it with “observers as random fluctuations.” But Craig just plowed right into the technicalities, without trying to explain what the Boltzmann Brain problem really was. When my term came I gave a one-sentence definition, but in retrospect that wasn’t really sufficient, so on Saturday (where we both gave five-minute responses to a series of 40-minute talks by the four other speakers) I took a few minutes to give a more careful explanation. It’s probably an inherent flaw of the format; if a speaker takes a minute to do a bit of pedagogy rather than argumentation, the audience benefits but the speaker suffers. So the game theory tells you to be obscure, to the general detriment.

A couple of words about the rebuttal speeches in particular. Each of us pulled one “gotcha” move in the rebuttals; mine worked, his didn’t (in my opinion, of course). His referred to fine-tuning: he found a quote by me saying that the low entropy of the early universe seems finely-tuned. Which is true! But he claimed that I had said we didn’t know whether fine-tuning was real. That part is completely false. I had said we didn’t know that fine-tuning for life was real; indeed, the words “for life” were italicized on my slide. And it’s perfectly obvious that the fine-tuning of our initial entropy isn’t necessary for life; the entropy could have been fantastically larger than it actually was and life still could have arisen. (For example, you could imagine a universe with our Solar System as it essentially is, but otherwise in thermal equilibrium.)

On my part, I knew that WLC liked to glide from the BGV theorem (which says that classical spacetime description fails in the past) to the stronger statement that the universe probably had a beginning, even though the latter is not implied by the former. And his favorite weapon is to use quotes from Alex Vilenkin, one of the authors of the BGV theorem. So I talked to Alan Guth, and he was gracious enough to agree to let me take pictures of him holding up signs with his perspective: namely, that the universe probably didn’t have a beginning, and is very likely eternal. Now, why would an author of the BGV theorem say such a thing? For exactly the reasons I was giving all along: the theorem says nothing definitive about the real universe, it is only a constraint on the classical regime. What matters are models, not theorems, and different scientists will quite naturally have different opinions about which types of models are most likely to prove fruitful once we understand things better. In Vilenkin’s opinion, the best models (in terms of being well-defined and accounting for the data) are ones with a beginning. In Guth’s opinion, the best models are ones that are eternal. And they are welcome to disagree, because we don’t know the answer! Not knowing the answer is perfectly fine. What’s not fine is pretending that we do know the answer, and using that pretend-knowledge to draw premature theological conclusions. (Chatter on Twitter reveals theists scrambling to find previous examples of Guth saying the universe probably had a beginning. As far as I can tell Alan was there talking about inflation beginning, not the universe, which is completely different. But it doesn’t matter; good scientists, it turns out, will actually change their minds in response to thinking about things.)

I very much hope that I hammered these points home enough to help clarify issues in the minds of listeners/readers. But from Craig’s (lack of) reaction, and from the online discussion from his supporters, I doubt it will make any difference. He will continue to quote Vilenkin saying the universe probably had a beginning, which is fine because that’s what Vilenkin actually thinks. He will not start adding in the fact that Guth thinks the universe is probably eternal, nor will he take the even more respectable position of not relying on people’s individual opinions at all and simply admitting that we don’t have good scientific reasons to think one way or the other at the moment. But we’ll see. (And to reiterate: I think the whole discussion is enormously less important than the bigger point that a “cause” is completely unnecessary even if the universe did have a beginning.)

For my closing statement, I couldn’t think of many responses to Craig’s closing statement that wouldn’t have simply be me reiterating points from my first two speeches. So I took the opportunity to pull back a little and look at the bigger picture. Namely: we’re talking about “God and Cosmology,” but nobody really becomes a believer in God because it provides the best cosmology. They become theists for other reasons, and the cosmology comes later. That’s because religion is enormously more than theism. Most people become religious for other (non-epistemic) reasons: it provides meaning and purpose, or a sense of community, or a way to be in contact with something transcendent, or simply because it’s an important part of their culture. The problem is that theism, while not identical to religion, forms its basis, at least in most Western religions. So — maybe, I suggested, tentatively — that could change. I give theists a hard time for not accepting the implications of modern science, but I am also happy to give naturalists a hard time when they don’t appreciate the enormous task we face in answering all of the questions that we used to think were answered by God. We don’t have final answers to the deep questions of meaning and fulfillment and what it means to lead a good life. Religion doesn’t have the final answers, either; but maybe it has learned something interesting over the course of thousands of years of thinking about these issues. Maybe there is some wisdom to be mined from religious traditions, even for naturalists (which everyone should be).

More than once of the course of the weekend I spoke conciliatory-sounding words about how we’re really all in this together, theists and naturalists, trying to understand the deep questions in a confusing world. And I meant all of it, in complete sincerity. I will be absolutely uncompromising about what I think the truth is concerning questions of substance; but I don’t ever want to start thinking of people who disagree with me about those questions as my enemies. Many times in New Orleans, people on “the other side” came up after my presentations (in which I said that their most deeply held beliefs had been definitively refuted by the progress of modern science) and thanked me, saying how much they appreciated my ideas and that I had given them something to think about, even if they remained quite resolute in their beliefs. Not every single person was so gracious, but the vast majority. I admire those folks, and I hope I can be as sincere and open when people who I disagree with are speaking in good faith.

To me, Craig’s best moment of the weekend came at the very end, as part of the summary panel discussion. Earlier in the day, Tim Maudlin (who gave an great pro-naturalism talk, explaining that God’s existence wouldn’t have any moral consequences even if it were true) had grumped a little bit about the format. His point was that formal point-counterpoint debates aren’t really the way philosophy is done, which would be closer to a Socratic discussion where issues can be clarified and extended more efficiently. And I agree with that, as far as it goes. But Craig had a robust response, which I also agree with: yes, a debate like this isn’t how philosophy is done, but there are things worth doing other than philosophy, or even teaching philosophy. He said, candidly, that the advantage of the debate format is that it brings out audiences, who find a bit of give-and-take more exciting than a lecture or series of lectures. It’s hard to teach subtle and tricky concepts in such a format, but that’s always a hard thing to do; the point is that if you get the audience there in the first place, a good debater can at least plant a few new ideas in their heads, and hopefully inspire them to take the initiative and learn more on their own.

I completely agree. Events like this are valuable, not because they are efficient ways to find the truth, nor even because there is any reasonable chance of changing the minds of people who are relatively secure in their beliefs (on either side). It’s because there are a lot of people who are not secure in their beliefs, or at least are curious and willing to listen to a variety of ideas. If we think we have good ideas, we should do everything we can to bring them to as many people as possible. I think science and naturalism include some pretty awesome ideas, and I’m happy to share them with as many different people as I can.

p.s. Sorry I didn’t talk about Saturday’s talks, in which Tim Maudlin discussed the relationship between theism and morality (claiming there isn’t any), Alex Rosenberg drew connections between thermodynamics and natural selection to argue that theism is incompatible with Darwinism, Robin Collins argued that the discoverability of the universe is evidence for theism, and James Sinclair talked about notions of time and the origin of the universe. But I’m kind of all talked out on this topic for right now.

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149 Responses to Post-Debate Reflections

  1. Steve says:

    I’ve always had the following question: Why do textbooks state that the universe began to exist 13.7 billion years ago if it is really true that we don’t know? Anyone able to clarify this for me?

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  2. Sean Carroll says:

    Because textbooks are sloppy. The observable universe emerged from a hot, dense state about 13.7 billion years ago; but we don’t know whether that state was really the beginning.

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  3. Pingback: Sean Carroll on His Debate with WLC

  4. Since you linked to Plantinga’s recent op-ed on the alleged irrationality of atheism, I thought you might find this reply to Plantinga of interest:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2014/02/23/plantinga-on-the-alleged-irrationality-of-atheism/

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  5. aoflex says:

    Well done Sean. I think you should do more of these debates because you have the knowledge and credibility to show that a theist’s retreat to the confines of an argument from authority that they only superficially understand is dishonest, particularly the cosmological and fine-tuning arguments.

    I completely agree that the debate format was lacking a cross-examination portion where each party should have the chance to identify specific points of arguments that are unsupported or not logically sound so as to hold the other party accountable. Not demanding a debate to include un-moderated cross-examination allows each party to gish gallop by steamrolling the audience into the appearance of having presented robust and sound beliefs that are actually unsupported. In your future debates, require that the organizers allot time for cross-examination.

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  6. Curtis Metcalfe says:

    Dr. Carroll,

    I greatly enjoyed the debate, and I’m so grateful that you were a part of it. I am a theist, and my M.A. thesis was a defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument on a B-theory of time. That is, I tried to defend Craig’s version of that argument, but by incorporating beginningless cosmologies on a tenseless theory of time. I say that only to point out my deep interest in this discussion.

    My bigger point is that you have shown yourself to be incredibly capable in these discussions and equally charitable. You are a fine speaker and your sincerity is evident. So many on “your side” of these and related issues are unable to treat their interlocutors charitably or respectfully. Your tone and attitude are refreshing, and your insights and lack of disdain for philosophy and opposing viewpoints are deeply appreciated.

    I hope you will continue to participate in these types of discussions, and I hope some of your peers will follow your lead.

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  7. Brent says:

    In the debate at one point Sean said the universe is fine-tuned, but it’s not fine-tuned for LIFE. I wonder what he meant by that? Was it just the observation that there could be a lot more planets like Earth or we could be evolved to live in space? Or was it denying that things like the neutron/proton mass ratio were ‘fine-tuned’ for our form of life?

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  8. Jim Holt says:

    What a terrific synopsis, Sean. Thanks. Say, if you have a chance, could you clarify the relationship between “self-contained” cosmological models and the topology of time in them? Can there be a self-contained model with linear time and a first moment? Or do self-contained models have to be boundary-less, in something like the Hawking-Hartle sense?

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  9. Lucy Harris says:

    Thank you Sean for representing the naturalist side so effectively. Too many debaters don’t engage Craig’s arguments as directly as you did. You have set the standard for refutations of Kalam and fine tuning and Craig. Sadly, he will go on repeating points you refuted, just as he has done with other points refuted by past debaters. Craig’s goal is not truth, but defense of a preconceived belief by any means for the rhetorical benefit of others with that belief.

    And I want to emphatically offer that these debates are not just useful for the open minded, they do help also change the minds of even the most intransigent. It happens. I’ve seen former theists say so. Of course, very rarely do they admit it while debating or watching a debate, but debates can be the spark for a true change of mind.

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  10. Tom Clark says:

    “That’s precisely why naturalism has pulled so far ahead of theism in the intellectual race to best model our world: because it plays by rules and provides real explanations for why the world is this way rather than that way.”

    As a longtime proponent of naturalism as a comprehensive worldview, I really appreciate the fact that you’ve couched the debate as being between theism and naturalism, not theism and atheism, which can’t function as a positive alternative to supernaturalism in modeling the world. And you’re right, naturalists don’t have it all figured out. Thanks!

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  11. Sean Carroll says:

    Brent– Our form of life is clearly very sensitive to a number of physical parameters, including the neutron/proton mass difference. My argument was simply that we don’t know what other forms of life could arise if things were different.

    Jim– I was merely thinking of a fairly formal definition of “self-contained” — any legitimate question you want to ask about the model has a specific answer, without the need to appeal outside the model. I think this could apply to just about any topology of time etc. But I can clearly imagine cases that strictly fit such a definition, but would seem very artificial to us; e.g. the universe began last Thursday with very specific boundary conditions, and we arbitrarily cut off the laws of physics before then. So in practice, there is a somewhat subjective notion of “naturalness” that comes into thinking of a model as self-contained. But it should be clear that something like the Hartle-Hawking model certainly passes that test.

    Lucy, Tom, thanks.

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  12. Scott Bergquist says:

    Esteemed Dr. Carroll,
    I found your performance to be very satisfying, given the forum, WLC, and the online advertising for a Masters in Apologetics (sigh, sigh, sigh…what a 100% misguided path). Even at the conclusion, the moderator said, “..and, God Bless everyone” which kind of sums up the attitude of the powers that put this on: Sean Carroll came, he talked, he went, we’re still believing what we believe, because…
    I had to turn off the sound of WLC on several occasions. The melding of words that lacked meaning appropriate to the topic was unbearable. Memorably, on several occasions, WLC would say, ” I find it fantastic..” Now, breaking it down, “fantastic” in this context covers a lot of ground. Encoded is “fantasy”, which means, “Your explanation is a fantasy, i.e. untrue” but sounds “polite”. “I am not attacking your idea, I am using the passive structure of words in order to not describe a judgement I have made, but simply place your points into doubtfulness.” “Fantastic”….what does it mean?

    A favorite agency argument is that religion answers “Why”. Were “why” a legitimate concern or valid bit of information about the known universe, you can see that a creator would spend 101% of his time in information generation (e.g. “Why is the weight of that rock more than the weight of this rock…at this time!” etc etc etc u.s.w.) and a very large amount of information would grow exponentially and overwhelm everything else.

    Last comment: When does a religion go extinct? That is, when are there no active believers? In the past, only when -another- religion crushes it. The Aztec religion was snuffed out only because Catholicism replaced it, and demanded it be crushed. Science makes no such demands, because there is nothing religious about it. That is why it has taken Science so long to replace religious beliefs. Science has no need for social engineering to overcome “religious momentum in society”.

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  13. Sagredo says:

    It seems that Albrecht and Sorbo resolved the BB problem. They showed that as long as the universe can not produce a “brain” fluctuation with mass of only a gram, it is more likely to fluctuate into a tunneling event that creates an entire inflationary universe large enough to encompass all that we see.

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  14. Honwai says:

    This post-debate write-up is illuminating. I look forward to listening to the debate when it is posted. I note with interest your multiple references to Craig’s interpretation of some scientific theory or paper as “so false”, “completely false”, “flat out false”. I suspect the science is way over Craig’s expertise – for that matter, for anyone without specialist expertise in cosmology. It is not the first time Craig misrepresents relativity theories and quantum mechanics in order to defend some theological position. When Craig does manage to publish his theological-philosophical musings on relativity or quantum theories, philosophers of science have to correct him and show his attempts completely fail:

    http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/525/1/presentism_and_relativity.pdf
    http://bjps.oxfordjournals.org/content/59/4/675.short

    The problem though is for non-specialists, it is very difficult to know if Craig is talking nonsense about physics. Yet his arguments get regurgitated by other Christian apologists (some Muslim apologists are also very fond of the fine-tuning argument and Craig’s Kalam argument, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Im8l9BAsEQE, where the Muslim Adam Deen just borrowed chunks of Craig’s arguments almost verbatim). I think you should submit an article to the journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers (see “Faith and Philosophy” http://www.faithandphilosophy.com/), correcting the misinterpretation of scientific theories in Craig & Sinclair’s chapter in “The blackwell companion to natural theology” (http://www.thedivineconspiracy.org/Z5223U.pdf)

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  15. The Thinker says:

    Sean, I think you did a great job at the debate and decisively won. I hope you engage in many more debates like this in the future. I thought that you could’ve mentioned the B-theory of time as it is technically a knock-down argument against the kalam cosmological argument.

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  16. John Call says:

    I wasn’t able to see the debate, but it sounds like it was pretty great. I really appreciate your last paragraph, I think to often the citizens of the internet get to caught up in using debates like these to prove that they are right and the opposing view is wrong and that those who adhere to that view are ignorant and stupid. It is important for us to remember that none of us has all the answers, and in the end we are all working toward the same goal. That is what I appreciate most about you and your views Sean (Dr., Proffesor, Mr. Carroll?), you are absolute in your beleifs but you also appreciate others views. You may think they are completely wrong, but you also recognize the value of their ideas.

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  17. Sean,
    It was a brilliant performance from both sides. My favorite part of the debate was when you brought out Guth’s confession. That was quite a good tactic, and totally surprising!

    My three favorite quotes from your debate –

    1. “Philosophers usually don’t agree on anything. I mean, if you’re got three philosophers in a room and ask them, they probably won’t even agree that you’ve got three philosophers in the room”

    2. “One of the biggest inspirations I have in life is from the fact that one day, I will certainly die”

    3. (Responding to Craig) – “Nobody cares… about my views on God’s atemporality” – The timing was just brilliant. I thought you were being very rude, but it ended up being very funny.

    Can’t wait to watch it again.

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  18. Sean, you did fantastic! This was one of those clear debates where I think anyone watching it would definitely have a much more favorable view of your positions than Craig’s, and it’s not often that happens in his debates.

    I would like to ask a question, though related to what Tim Mauldin mentioned too; since you’re mentioning that we shouldn’t think of our universe as a classical space-time (Tim specifically mentioned that most physicists would reject the idea of a 4D Spacetime in light of QM). Could you give a bit of an explanation for this? Is related to a Space-Time being an emergent phenomenon of a more fundamental QM based understanding of reality, or is it just the wrong way to be thinking about time?

    Is this something discussed in your book on the Arrow of Time?

    Thanks,

    CA

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  19. Lyle says:

    I think you did a very respectable job, Sean, in both substance and style. Thanks. A couple minor friendly critical comments:

    1) I think Collins was pretty clear that his claim was *not* that the universe is *optimized* for discoverability, but “only” that it is fine-tuned in the sense that it could have been far less discoverable than it is. I think you didn’t really respond to that clarification in the debate or in this post. (This is not to say that I think his argument is successful. I’m not sure I understood it well enough.)

    2) The BB theme probably needed even more explanation than it received on Saturday. I don’t think most people would have understood how BB’s are a “problem” in the sense that you and Craig implicitly agreed they are — that the Copernican principle is being used to rule out BB-dominated models with high confidence. (FWIW, I have serious doubts about this use of the Copernican principle and am not convinced that BB-dominated models can be ruled out like this, for roughly the reasons laid out by Hartle & Srednick (2007).)

    3) I personally would have liked to hear more about why you apparently have no time for methodological naturalism. I easily get swept up in the excitement of being able to discover empirical evidence for the non-existence of God, but on reflection I’m not really sure that such a thing even makes sense. More generally, even if one does not rule out the possibility of natural evidence for or against the supernatural in principle, I think more was owed (by Craig at least as much as you) about how to even begin to think about that. What are the standards of evidence for claims for or against the supernatural? When do natural explanations become improbable enough (if they do) to warrant taking supernatural explanations seriously? If they never do, then obviously cosmology is beside the point. Relatedly, it’s too bad there wasn’t more time to discuss the excellent question raised by the sole female questioner at the end — about how to think about the (im)probability of the whole universe being such and such a way rather than some other way.

    4) I think it was unfortunate that Maudlin and Rosenberg roamed as freely as they did. Maudlin was right to call his thing a “sermon”, and Rosenberg seemed to think that he’d been invited to give a keynote address on any topic related to theism that interested him. Their comments were mostly fine in themselves, and there was nothing wrong with “stepping back” a bit, but unfortunately their contributions made “team naturalism” look seriously disorganized. Not saying this was your fault.

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  20. Joe says:

    but the universe itself (or the multiverse) is not one element of a much bigger pattern, it’s all there is

    I’m excited to see this debate. In particular I’d like to know your reasoning for believing the universe IS all there is. Was that covered? You just KNOW Craig et al. will drill you on that. Forgive me if you covered that in your post here. I’m at work. I have to skim. Will read in more detail later.

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  21. Nick says:

    Great debate and article Sean, you are an awesome advocate of atheism. I wish more scientists got involved like you and Lawrence Krauss in such debates.

    This being said, I always wonder why cosmological models would have to be eternal in the past. Think of lifeforms on Earth for instance. There’s been millions of générations of animals, but life began at a certain time. Why couldn’t the universe have had zillions of ancestors in a multiverse, but a first ancestor ( a very simple universe I guess) which could have appeard out of who knows what. By what I mean NOT a god.

    Second remark, there is never any discussion in these debates about the possibility that our universe could have been created by an intelligence in another universe. However some scientists have speculated about that. I just listen to a small interview of Brian Greene about that today.

    Even though I am an atheist, I wouldn’t be totally shocked to learn that our universe had been created by an intelligence in another universe. Especially if the theory of inflation is correct because it opens up the possibility of jumpstarting a universe with almost nothing.

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  22. Zwirko says:

    Is Alex Rosenberg as scary in real life?

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  23. kashyap Vasavada says:

    Sean:
    You did well. Congratulations. However, from my point of view, it is dangerous to get into debates with people who exploit controversies in science (such as difference between you and Vilenkin, cyclic universes, questions of entropy etc.) for their own agenda. There are always controversies in science and by and large they are good for science. Only people who are certain are those who have read only one ancient book in their life and have a closed mind. In my opinion, the best thing scientists can do in this country is to fight anti science attitudes like young earth creationism and intelligent design. Such attitudes hurt science education in schools and perhaps in colleges much more than people’s belief in God. We must insist that only scientists should decide how to teach science, not politicians or laymen. Considering that, I think, Bill Nye’s debate with Ham was of great importance for science in this country. Many creationists might buy the CDs on which there is an almost complete set of arguments for billions of years old universe and big bang theory!! Purely high level scientific debates would hardly matter for lay audiences and people like Craig ,who might not even have had high school level physics and math, might easily confuse audience by just quoting (without understanding) difficult writings by different scientists who hold different opinions.

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  24. Allman says:

    Dr. Carroll,

    I think you did a fantastic job showing how models are more important than theorems. It would obviously follow that mots models are in conflict between them. But that’s the idea, we’re on the search.

    On the other side I think Craig took you by surprise with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I just can’t remember if you gave any objection to this.

    At that moment, it seemed to be huge, cause it was a Law (not a theory or a theorem) presented as evidence.

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  25. Mason Colbert says:

    Sean,

    I have yet to see the debate (I was busy on the evening) but from everything I heard on the blogosphere, you presented naturalism very well. (Many, many thanks to PZ Myers for blogging through it so that I at least read a sort of play by play later!!).

    Much like Jeff Lowder, I tend to be critical of (some of) Craig’s opponents (which is annoying because my theistic friends constantly love to remind me of Craig’s debating skills first and foremost). But I REALLY look forward to seeing the video when it comes out!

    Reading your post, I think you made some excellent arguments for naturalism and attacked some good weak points in Craig’s case.

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  26. Lucy Harris says:

    Sean, could you elaborate on the difference between a theorem and a model and their relevance to the issue?

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  27. Ben says:

    Sean,

    I’m not sure I like your response to Craig’s claim that past-eternal models are not viable. You rightly point out that we are free to keep looking for past-eternal models which are viable. But in the mean time, aren’t the best models those which are not past-eternal? If, as you say, it’s the models that matter, and the best models are all past-finite, then doesn’t that suggest the universe/multiverse is also past-finite?

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  28. Thomas Stone says:

    Sean,

    On the subject of fine-tuning, there is a very good book entitled “The Fine Tuning Fallacy” by Victor Stenger. Most arguments on fine tuning look at individual values and ask the question of what would happen if they were to change. In this book, Dr. Stenger looks at the 21 some odd values and forms a multi-dimensional space and then asks the question “What is the range of values that any one can take on if the others can freely change?” His result is that the universe is not finely tuned, that each of the variables has a wide range of possible values as long as all can change at the same time; like defining a solid in a three dimensional space where any point in the solid will support life but in this case it is many more than three dimensions.

    That book is the only place I’ve seen this put forward but it makes a lot of sense. Why does the standard argument fix all but one variable and then ask what would happen if it were different?

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  29. Wikipedia 2064 says:

    Carroll-Craig cosmology is a non-standard cosmology in naturalistic theology, sometimes known as “the best of all possible multiverses”, best-known for the claim that every causal patch has a Savior.

    See also

    Apocatastasis
    Boltzmann Christ
    Farnsworth Parabox
    Nucleation ex nihilo

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  30. Daniel says:

    Sean,

    Would you please address Curtis Metcalfe’s A/B theory point? It seemed you and Craig disagreed on your time theory and then each argued simply from your definition. This point seems to be crucial to both Kalam premises: the “need” for cause and the beginning of the universe.

    This would be equivocation. Would it not?

    Thank you,

    Daniel

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  31. Frank R. Zemo says:

    I learn more about cosmology through forums like this than any other method. That to me is their true value. “Proving the existence of God” is almost an oxymoron and expecting to discover His fingerprints on the universe seems somehow illogical. Fortunately understanding how, or even believing that, God created the cosmos/universe is not a prerequisite for faith. Hubris on the other hand is a bit of a problem. Humility takes care of that in all cases. Keep looking. Keep talking. The science is beautiful and unstoppable. The theology is beautiful and indomitable . I am very grateful to be able to enjoy both sides of essentially the same coin.

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  32. Lots of information so I will just comment on one important issue, causation. I mentioned in a previous blog that causation can be simply defined and applied to physics. You need a new understanding. You need to see all mass as being both causal and effected, and equally so, as repeated neutrons decaying in a void upon Big Bang neutralization of gravitational attraction (Use Weinberg’s Escape Velocity for neutrons in the first three minutes).

    Simply divide the capacities of mass between causing other mass to change – gravitational attraction to it, for example, and being effected by other mass to change – being attracted by other mass in gravitation. These are equal alternatives, in quantity and form, when neutrons separate, decay, and create hydrogen and helium nuclei in the first three minutes. Each neutron can cause attraction and be effected by the attraction of others, and they are equal and opposite forces relative to quantities.

    This is a way of understanding. It will be entirely new to you, as is my view expressed in other blogs about limitation to measurement in Uncertainty – not limitation to mass itself. These are new ideas or ways of creating useful formalisms – based on logical relations. The separation of capacities in this way can be extended to electromagnetism if you read my free book at my site (click name).

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  33. Mason Colbert says:

    Thomas Stone,

    I’ve not read Stenger’s book, but I have read of similar arguments he has made in some of his other writings. Luke Barnes (at Letters to Nature blog) has a critique of Stenger’s argument there.

    As I am not a physicist (biology major) I lack any qualifications to say whether or not Dr. Stenger’s argument, or Dr. Barnes critique are correct. Nonetheless, there are such critiques.

    Then again, I have read similar conclusions from a cosmologist Fred Adams who Dr. Barnes has spoken some positive points about it. As a non-expert, my opinion is that theists are really jumping to conclusions on the fine-tuning data given that there seems to be much work that still needs to be done within the feild.

    Cheers!

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  34. Janet Leslie Blumberg says:

    Sean, I especially appreciated these words of yours:

    “I don’t ever want to start thinking of people who disagree with me about those questions as my enemies. Many times in New Orleans, people on “the other side” . . . thanked me, saying how much they appreciated my ideas and that I had given them something to think about . . . I admire those folks, and I hope I can be as sincere and open when people who I disagree with are speaking in good faith.”

    What is taking place in these words might be more important, perhaps, even than the elegant arguments themselves are.

    Because this which is going on within you (and within those others) — which is also going on BETWEEN you and them at-the-same-time — is an opening of a space that is technically referred to as communion, within a certain elegant and ongoing Christian frame of reference, which, like that of science, is always having to be rescued and reclaimed from being misrepresented by those outside it, and also from its own inherent fallibilisms and all of the various kinds of “sloppiness” that are always attending it, from within itself.

    Having said that, I have a question. Is “naturalism” capable of being defined, for you, without entailing a claim of its singular and ultimate truthfulness? I mean, I know what naturalism is, but how would you define it in terms of its truth-claims?

    And I guess I will dare to add, given that yesterday’s liturgical readings and homily are still fresh in my mind, and also with your words above still in my ears, that “Where love is, God is there also.”

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  35. DEL says:

    Sean, I have a difficulty understanding why the Kalaam argument is considered so powerful that to refute it one must invoke a past-eternal universe. In the standard textbook Inflationary Lambda-CDM model the universe does have a beginning. So what? Should that make us take divine creation more seriously? I think not.

    If I understand it correctly, the big bang creates not only the universe’s matter-energy, but spacetime itself. If some agent is to be the “cause” of that, that agent must have led a nonmaterial existence (in some obscure sense) outside of spacetime, or that it doesn’t require spacetime and matter to exist. This is OK with current Judeo-Christian-Muslim theologies, which view God as a nonphysical, unimaginable entity, the Jesus episode notwithstanding.

    Now, the Kalaam argument says that nothing is known from experience to emerge from nothingness, and therfore, if the universe comes into existence, it must have a creator. And WLC ridicules the possibility that the universe just popped up without a cause—if that were possible, he says, bicycles and whales would pop up in your office. But here’s my point: nothing physical is known from experience to spring from anything nonphysical either. That spacetime and matter-energy and form were caused by an entity outside of spacetime and itself devoid of matter-energy and form is no less absurd than that they popped up out of nothing.

    It’s something akin to the psychophysical problem: philosophers have a hard time contemplating how on earth can a physical brain give rise to the nonphysical phenomenon of consciousness, and how can conscious thoughts drive physiological events. This difficulty seems of the same kind as that of physical creation by an nonphysical creator.

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  36. Augustine1938 says:

    So Dr. Guth has changed his mind as reflected in the following interview and written comments?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVFX5aJSxKg

    http://www.counterbalance.org/cq-guth/didth-frame.html

    It would be helpful if he would explicate the reasons for his change of mind so his evidence and arguments can be compared to Vilenkin’s to see who makes the better case (or if it is really a case of “we just can’t say one way or the other” based on the current science).

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  37. Fred Bremmer says:

    Dr. Carroll,

    Thank you for this writeup. I thought you did very well in the debate.

    When you get a chance, please post the slides you used during the debate. I’d really like to look through them again. Thanks.

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  38. DEL – the issue of causation clouds the problem, quite apart from the possible philosophical equivalence of god creation or creation from nothing. With a current understanding of causation, or original cause, there can be no progress. Physics needs to see each particle and field as interacting by assured cause and effect. Every mass is both causing other mass to change, and being caused, and this is literal causation. They are literally attracting others to their location, or being attracted (or repelled) to another location. With that understanding, as a broad but strict formalism for dual properties, we have equality between cause and effect in exchanges to atoms or solar systems.

    By defining cause and effect in relation to particles and fields, or to momentum of you wish to keep it vague in current science to allow “uncertainty”, you are rooted in reality. Giving each mass those dual capacities enables their interactions to be tracked to conclusions like atom formation and solar systems based on real measureable cause and effect exchanges – to unities or reconciliation in orbitals or orbits.

    This avoids original cause, but depends upon matter not being created or destroyed, but being able to change by exercising their casual and effected capacities – possibly in unison at a Big Bang. So we return to logic ultimately, but to preserve an intact explanation of causation by saying matter can neither be created nor destroyed.

    Saying we can have something from nothing is no an issue for causation – which is already locked into all masses by their properties. However it is an issue for “creation” and gods and so on, if our “cause-and-effect, intact masses” just popped there. My model of causation does not apply to say something can cause itself to come into existence – it exists and causes others to behave differently and is likewise effected, but I will continue to work on it to see if it can stretch to something creating itself by equally opposed positive and negative energy, as currently accepted.

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  39. Sean, I’ve uploaded an image that may be of interest re the history of cosmological arguments in 20th Century Christian apologetics. This is from the 1977 Coverdale edition of “That’s a Good Question” by Roger Forster and Paul Marston, which deals in each chapter with a particular objection to Christianity.

    http://outerhoard.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/tagq14.jpg

    This is a photograph of a two-page chapter dealing with the origin of the universe. It presents the standard argument from thermodynamics, which looks silly now (whoever said ‘material-as-we-know-it’ or ‘spiritual-hence-conscious’ are the only two possibilities), but I wonder how many people could have refuted it effectively in 1977.

    The book has many parts to make an informed skeptic laugh, but many other parts to make them think. Recommended to people who enjoy trying to understand other people’s beliefs. But beware: it’s not an easy book to track down, and the more available editions are abridged ones with all the juicy bits taken out.

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  40. Shecky R says:

    you did a great job Sean (you’re probably beating yourself up too much), but I do wish that when the Craig-ists of the world argue that it is obvious (even beyond argument) that the universe had to have a beginning, a first cause, that they would get pressed on what is the first-cause of their God (where did God come from, how many gods are there, could God have died since creating the Universe… and what is their evidence for any of these things) — their only response seems to be that God is, a priori, transcendent and eternal (but for some reason the Universe can’t be), which is no answer at all.
    Personally, I think its turtles all the way down….

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  41. Sean,
    I think you did a superb job in the debate! Everyone always thinks their side won of course, but I very much thought you gave Craig a much harder run than most of his previous opponents. I wasn’t able to watch all the way to the end, but when I did cut off, instead of the triumphant tone I’ve seen Craig take toward the end of these events, he seemed far less confident.

    I do agree both that the debate got too technical and that it was much more Craig’s doing than yours.

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  42. Pingback: Sean Carroll vs. William Lane Craig – Greer Heard Forum 2014 (Debate Review…sort of) | Uncertainty Blog

  43. Lion IRC says:

    I really appreciate the post-debate reflections.
    Thanks.

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  44. John says:

    Great debate, Dr. Carroll. You were very charitable and fair.

    I have a question though. How exactly did you address Craig’s comment about why bicycles couldn’t just pop into existence, as opposed to Universes? It almost sounded like your objection was merely semantical, when you suggested that we can’t think of the Universe “popping” into existence, but rather, we should think of it having a “first moment” of sorts. But again, that just sounds like semantics. I think Craig has a point, especially if he just changes the language around. All he’d have to say is, “Why can’t a bicycle (or anything else for that matter) have a first moment? Why does it have to be a Universe? Why is there a discrimination?”

    How would you respond to that?

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  45. Josh says:

    This debate review I think was very helpful. Hopefully WLC will post one as well so we can see his take-home ideas also. And please tell us you’ll take on more events like this! I know it takes time out of actually doing science, but hey, socially encouraging scientific progress can be just as effective in the long-run!

    I was hoping your review might cover more on the philosophical issue of causation though. Again, I really think it’s something that deserves some serious time if we lay people are to find it intelligible.

    Aside from how crazy a causeless universe might philosophically seem, I was thinking of another reason we might initially object: Imagine we have a closed system in a vacuum made of constituent parts where, every 5 minutes, some transformation occurs on all of its constituent parts (say a rotation, for instance). If this is true, can’t it still be said that the system itself also undergoes this transformation? If then some property being true for all parts of the system thereby makes it true of the system itself, and all parts of our universe exhibit cause and effect, then isn’t it sensible to extrapolate to the universe as well?

    There are obvious plot-holes to that, but I don’t think the language used in the debate would fully address this. I wonder if it might be useful to stare causation and its consequences full in the face and entertain notions such as the Munchhausen trilemma, why is god a more preferred beginning than a simple physical law, and why any cause would be more axiomatic than another (i.e. that the real questions is not “how from nothing?” but “how this rather than that?”), or to address that certain interpretations of quantum do call into question causality already in our observable world.

    Just saying, a post on this would make me smile. :)
    Anyways, good job, rest, and enjoy reading all the positive comments!

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  46. Arahant says:

    On the bicycle question, Sean made it clear in the main speech that the universe is very different from a bicycle because we have no good reason to expect one thing or the other about the existence of the whole universe; while we don’t expect bicycles to suddenly appear out of thin air because we know enough about what it takes to make a bicycle, we cannot get data about the meta-law that governs the process of universe-creation (universe as the sum total of nature, not a pocket universe within the multiverse). Incidentally, fine-tuning arguments also run into difficulty here: how do we know what values of the parameter are more likely than others, or if they can be variable at all, when we don’t have any larger arena than the whole of nature itself in which to observe and comapre (even in principle) these possible worlds? (if you assume a multiverse + landscape, then environmental reasoning kicks in, and fine-tuning is explained the same way we explain why we are not born in interstellar space)

    Or, to put in in terms of Schopenhauerian philosophy, causes and effects are changes, not substances, and they apply to changes of substance, not to the existence of substance. One change causes another change: e.g. the burning of fire causes the boiling of water, which in turn causes the steaming of vegetables; but of course the burning of fire did not cause boiling water to exist; the molecules were already there, and their arrangement simply changed. This viewpoint may be generalized to quantum field theory without sacrificing the essentials. There is no good reason to suppose that existence itself requires a cause.

    “Why does something exist rather than nothing” may be a question worth striving to answer, even though it is not even well-defined. There is a certain metaphysical itch that will remain unscratched so long as it goes unanswered. However, it is no more valid a question than “why would nothing exist rather than something?” and there is no reason to expect there to be an answer at all. Moreover, even if there is an answer, ‘god’ is not going to be it – theism is an entirely vacuous answer to such a question, for one may ask why the gods chose to create a universe at all, etc. As Nietzsche remarked, “mystical explanations are often considered deep; in fact, they are nor even shallow” – they don’t explain anything at all.

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  47. HJ Hornbeck says:

    You’re much too hard on yourself, Carroll; WLC has been at this three decades, comparing your performance to his is like comparing a tenured physics prof to a high school student.

    I was pleasantly surprised at how well you handled yourself. WLC’s choice to go heavy on the $10 words made him sound like he was hiding something, especially next to your more entry-level approach. I got the impression he was counting on your lack of debate experience to make you nervous and trip-up, hence why he was willing to debate cosmology with an actual cosmologist, but it didn’t happen. Instead, you remained cool, confident, and honest. That’s really all it takes to win a debate, in the public’s eyes, with the occasional “gotcha” sprinkled in for spice.

    The comparisons to Nye/Ham are inevitable, and in that regard you did worse than Nye overall. Nye shocked me by engaging in some dirty debate tactics, and Ham got visibly nervous as he realized he was being out-maneuvered, which combined to create a lopsided victory. You didn’t fight dirty, but your attempts to connect with the audience were also far more successful; the bit in the closing speech about the afterlife first struck me as rhetorical suicide, until I’d realized you’d earned it by being likeable and deftly playing the accomodationist card. Ham is no WLC, though, and despite his misjudgements (“I am ASTONISHED that…”) Craig still put in a convincing performance.

    As an atheist, I’d mark it as a solid win for you. Stepping out of that mindset and pretending to be a person-on-the-street, I’d call it a narrow victory for you. And to achieve that against WLC is damn-near a miracle.

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  48. Triptych says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  49. Arahant says:

    “The causal principle holds to all of reality” is an empty statement. By such equivocation, one might as well argue that it should also “hold to” a god, since if a god does exist, it is obviously “real.”

    The more precise statement is that every change requires a cause, and for any change we may investigate its cause and find another, preceding change as its cause. Causality connecets changes within the universe; it can never lead us out of it.

    Also, note that a property that holds for each of the elements of a set need not hold for the set as a whole. The set of even integers is not itself even. Likewise, the set of all caused changes is not itself caused.

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  50. DEL says:

    A clarification to my Feb.24, 2:27 pm comment: When we say that a nonmaterial and formless entity “exists” outside of spacetime—the only theologically respectable kind of godly existence—what kind of existence is this? In what sense does such a god exist? Surely, it’s not the in same sense that my bicycle exists. It’s more like the existence of my love to my grandchildren, or the existence in my mind of the ideal of world peace, or that of the power over me of Rembrandt’s “The Jewish Bride“. These things surely exist, in some sense of existence, and I, personally, can attest to it. But that existence in not physical in any way, and therfore cannot be expected to cause physical changes in the world, except through me.

    So, if this is the sense in which WLC’s God exists, it couldn’t have created the universe physically, as WLC would argue, whether or not the universe had a beginning. But in contrast to the examples I gave above, of nonphysical entities that might affect the physical world through me, WLC’s God cannot create the universe through WLC, can he? And I bet WLC himself won’t insist he can.

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  51. Tarun says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  52. Brett says:

    If colleagues disagreeing with you on certain topics is grounds for completely dismissing your argument, then where does that leave WLC and theism in general? That’s a whopping double standard that WLC is presenting. It all comes back to a fundamental misunderstanding of science and a perceived threat from scientific facts. In WLC’s mind “Science is against us”, when it is in fact “The facts are against us”.

    Tarun,
    There are quite a few panels in similar formats on similar subjects in which Sean has debated people from various races. I think it’s one of the first videos you find when you do a youtube search. I think it’s probably hard to find a non-white person who will agree to debate southern baptists in the heart of the south. If I were black, then I would probably pass given the history.

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  53. Bob Zannelli says:

    Sean Carroll: “More than once of the course of the weekend I spoke conciliatory-sounding words about how we’re really all in this together, theists and naturalists, trying to understand the deep questions in a confusing world.”

    Really Sean? The last thing WLC wants is to understand anything that puts his bronze age world view in doubt. And why worry about poverty, sickness, war, climate change, none of this matters because Jesus is coming any day now.

    Craig: “The plausibility of Christian eschatology vis à vis the projections of physical eschatology is inherently bound up with one’s ontology. If, as physical cosmology itself intimates, there exists a personal, transcendent agent who created the universe with all its natural laws and boundary conditions, and if, as the historical evidence suggests, that agent has raised from the dead Jesus of Nazareth, who promised his eschatological return, then it is eminently rational to entertain “the blessed hope” of Christian eschatology, while accepting the findings of physical eschatology as more or less accurate projections based on present conditions.”

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  54. “More than once of the course of the weekend I spoke conciliatory-sounding words about how we’re really all in this together, theists and naturalists, trying to understand the deep questions in a confusing world.”

    Really?

    William Lane Craig: “The plausibility of Christian eschatology vis à vis the projections of physical eschatology is inherently bound up with one’s ontology. If, as physical cosmology itself intimates, there exists a personal, transcendent agent who created the universe with all its natural laws and boundary conditions, and if, as the historical evidence suggests, that agent has raised from the dead Jesus of Nazareth, who promised his eschatological return, then it is eminently rational to entertain “the blessed hope” of Christian eschatology, while accepting the findings of physical eschatology as more or less accurate projections based on present conditions.”
    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/rf-gear-and-the-return-of-christ

    The Craig type of theist is defined by the hope that our natural world will be destroyed by God, perhaps even tomorrow, so why bother?

    Craig is also a proponent on his site of sexual-orientation conversion therapy. So much for “trying to understand” and “all in this together”.

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  55. Pingback: Why we’re atheists » Pharyngula

  56. Mason Colbert says:

    Triptych,

    That qualifies as a response? Dr. Carroll was refering to the fact the common sense intuitions and everday descriptions do not apply in fundamental physics (such as quantum mechanics). That is not an “arbitrary” dismissing of the causal principle, it’s based on an informed understanding of contemporary physics.

    So, if you call a claim “metaphysical”, then it must, by definition, apply to all of reality? This strikes me as a cheap way of trying to dismiss all the evidence to the contrary as irrelevant. Perhaps this is just the scientist in me, but if I heard of a metaphysical claim that was applied broadly and knew of some phenomena that doesn’t fit with it (and quantum theory is well supported by thousands of experiments, and confirmed with excellent percision, as Craig himself admits) I would conclude either A) This claim does not apply universally or B) This claim is false.

    “This was to say that if the causal principle really doesn’t apply to all reality, than we should be seeing anything and everything popping into existence. The fact that we don’t see this strongly disconfirms your objections to the first premise.”

    This is a complete straw man. Dr. Carroll did not say the causal principle is entirely false. I would say that talk of efficient and material causes are quite useful with respect to everday macroscopic objects, but fundamental physics is not like that at all. But the idea that “anything and everything would pop into existence…” is also absurd.

    Just because there is no meaningful talk of “causes” at some level of physics, it does not follow that therefore the system therefore lacks ANY limitations as to what could or could not occur. Notice that Dr. Craig is equivocating on the word “cause” here. In his various writings and Q&A submissions, he defines cause as “whatever brings about the existence of some object.” Now he’s oh-so-conveniently tacking on an additional stipulation that these causes are also contrainsts to a system.

    Certainly causes CAN be constraints to the working of some system, but once again he is applying this assumption very broadly when it is not at all clear that “causes” are the only neccessary and sufficient means of constraining a system from certain possibilities. Remember, Carroll’s point is that at fundamental physics we still observe mathematically described patterns.

    Neither of Dr. Craig’s responses deals with the issues Dr. Carroll raised here and only conform to the problems Craig had with respect to just simply repeating his same points but not addressing the substance of his critique.

    Cheers!

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  57. Sean Carroll says:

    Oops, many questions have accumulated and I’ve been stuck with actual work. Some very quick comments:

    – On tensed vs. tenseless theories of time (A-theory vs. B-theory): I thought this would be far too recondite to tackle in any meaningful way in the course of a debate like this. While I strongly hold to the tenseless view, I don’t think the tensed view is manifestly crazy, so it’s not the most compelling angle to take in this situation.

    – Counter Apologist, about the nature of spacetime: In quantum mechanics, we don’t describe the world in terms of spacetime, we describe it in terms of a wave function (or quantum state). In quantum gravity we expect spacetime to be an approximation to the quantum state in certain circumstances, but not always. That’s “the classical regime.”

    – Lyle, on discoverability: Collins didn’t want to defend the claim that the laws of physics are optimized for discoverability (although presumably that’s the claim he should be defending), but he did claim that the parameters of physics were thus optimized. At least, that was one of the theses on his slide.

    – Lucy Harris: A theorem is a logical demonstration of a claim of the form “under these assumptions, this conclusion necessarily follows.” A model is totally different; it’s a hypothetical structure (like a set of equations representing particles or fields) that tries to represent some behavior of the universe.

    – Ben: I don’t agree that the best models are those that are not past-eternal. Nor does Alan Guth, or Leonard Susskind, or Roger Penrose, or any number of other people. But we all admit we don’t know, so studying different models is highly advisable.

    – Janet: I think it’s easy to define naturalism. In practice it amounts to three ideas: 1. There is a single reality, the natural world. 2. The natural world obeys rules. 3. We can learn something about those rules through the practice of science.

    – About causal principles and popping into existence: I never said that the causal principle (whatever that is supposed to be) applied within the universe but not to it. Rather, I said that this notion of causality is not the right way to think about fundamental physics at all; instead, you should think about unbreakable patterns (laws of nature). Then I explained why causation is a useful approximation for macroscopic situations within our universe, but wouldn’t apply to the creation thereof. (The universe is not one element of a larger pattern.)

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  58. Augustine1938 says:

    “I never said that the causal principle (whatever that is supposed to be) applied within the universe but not to it. ”

    I think the problem here is ambiguity in the phrase “the causal principle.” I believe what Craig means by this is the principle “ex nihilo, nihil fit”–out of nothing, nothing comes. If the universe began to exist, then it either came from nothing or had a transcendent cause (if it didn’t begin to exist then the Kalam argument fails on other grounds). If “ex nihilo, nihil fit” is true, then it had a transcendent cause, because being does not comes from non-being. That is not a principle of physics, but metaphysics, and if challenged needs to be done on philosophical grounds. Physics qua physics would not seem be be a basis for challenging it due to the constraints of methodological naturalism.

    Similarly with the Principle of Sufficient Reason. It can’t be challenged based on “how physics is done” or because under methodological naturalism the universe “is all there is” because it is “meta” physical–beyond physics. If it is true, then the universe cannot be a brute fact without need of explanation–it either exists due to an external cause or exists due to the necessity of its own nature. This has to be challenged philosophically, and physics qua physics doesn’t have the resources to do it.

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  59. Lucy Harris says:

    @Augustine1938. Who says there was ever nothing? Who says the universe doesn’t necessarily exist?

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  60. Augustine1938 says:

    Lucy,

    “Who says there was ever nothing?”

    Well, Lawrence Krauss entitled his book “A Universe from Nothing.”

    “Who says the universe doesn’t necessarily exist?”

    My impression is that is what Dr. Carroll was saying–that the universe’s existence is not explained by the necessity of its own nature, but is a brute fact that requires no explanation (and that the whole concept of an “explanation” should not be applied to the universe as a whole). I’m not aware of any major philosopher or physicist who holds that the particular combination of quarks and fields that constitutes our universe exists necessarily. Maybe you have an argument to support the notion that it does?

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  61. Ray says:

    @Augustine1938

    “ex nihilo nihil fit” can mean a lot of different things. In Lucretius, it basically amounts to saying the number of atoms of each type is conserved. To the extent that this principle has any basis in fact, it is an approximation that applies to nonrelativistic, stable particles (e.g. electrons and common types of nuclei at room temperature.) The more generalized version of this is conservation of energy, which actually needs further generalization before it’s actually true — even before getting into the speculative bits of cosmology. As it happens, Hartle-Hawking does not violate any version of conservation of energy which physics has given us a reason to believe.

    But, you say you’re not talking about physics, you mean something else by “ex nihilo nihil fit”. Fine but:

    1) I really don’t think that’s a charitable reading of Lucretius. His notion of “nothing” was the void, which pretty clearly had geometry and spatial extent — and therefore looks a lot more like the physicist’s quantum vacuum than the modern philosopher’s “nothing.”

    2) We have zero experience with the philosopher’s “nothing.” If you insist on describing non-past-eternal cosmologies as having a state of “nothing” at a “time” before *spacetime* existed, who’s to say what can and cannot arise from such a state? (Incidentally, this further undercuts the idea that Lucretius meant the same thing as modern philosophers by “nothing:” Since Lucretius was a pretty thoroughgoing empiricist it seems odd that he would use as the bedrock principle of his physics, a statement about what would arise from a state that had never been observed.)

    So in sum, to the extent we have any reason to believe “ex nihilo nihil fit” or anything like it, it comes from physics. The physically well motivated generalizations of this statement take the form of conservation laws, which are not violated by cosmologies like Hartle-Hawking. You are free to try to save the causal principle after it has been subsumed by more accurate physics, by calling it a “metaphysical principle,” but having done so, we are left with no reason to believe it anymore. To quote a more modern thinker: “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

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  62. Mason Colbert says:

    Augustine1938,

    The problem is not that contemporary physics disputes the validty of philosophical doctrines like ‘ex nihilo nihil fit.” Rather the problem is that contemporary physics says that these notions of ‘efficient cause for the universe” and universes “popping into existence from nothing” are incorrect ways of thinking about the origins of the universe.

    Physics isn’t saying these doctrines are wrong, only that they do not apply. Therefore, any argument beginning with these doctrines and applying them to our universe will be false (or at the very least, strongly misleading).

    P.S. On the principle of sufficient reason, there is one philosopher who argues there is an interpretation of this doctrine which is MORE compatible with naturalism than theism. See here:

    http://exapologist.blogspot.com/2012/05/psr-for-naturalists.html

    Cheers!

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  63. Ray says:

    @Ausgustine1938

    “I’m not aware of any major philosopher or physicist who holds that the particular combination of quarks and fields that constitutes our universe exists necessarily. ”

    Al Ghazali (probably the most important expositor of the Kalam Cosmological argument) considered the distinction you are trying to make between brute fact and necessary being meaningless. Does that count?

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  64. Josh says:

    Sean, perhaps I sound obstinate on the idea of causation at the moment, but I could use a little clarification on this if someone is willing:

    “I never said that the causal principle (whatever that is supposed to be) applied within the universe but not to it. Rather, I said that this notion of causality is not the right way to think about fundamental physics at all; instead, you should think about unbreakable patterns (laws of nature).”

    So is this to argue then that causation may be an emergent principle of our universe as one might hold time? That would seem more conducive with how the debate was stylized, but I might have missed that because it’s such a hard pill to swallow since we depend on it and the principle of sufficient reason so much for our logic. Maybe it’s just because I’m not a physicist, but as logic is such a key tool for our empirical studies, I have an extremely hard time envisioning how we would explore these questions with some of our logical pillars thus shaky.

    Perhaps I could envision it in a mathematical sense, and perhaps without a strained aneurism hah, but again, I think this is going to be difficult for most of us unless we can see how this could be so, or how someone could even begin to think about such matters beyond pure abstraction. And perhaps for someone who’s done the math, this is intuitive and demands little attention, but I think the everyday public and especially everyday theists will stubbornly feel resistance until they can see how so. I still remember the ideas blowing my mind in the college course where they were introduced, and obviously they still do now.

    Thanks for your patience and willingness to continue the conveyance of knowledge.

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  65. Sean Carroll says:

    Josh– That’s right, it’s an emergent approximation, just as classical mechanics is an approximation to quantum mechanics (and yet we go through every day talking as if things actually have positions and velocities).

    I don’t have a perfect reference, but Bertrand Russell makes some of the major points (although I don’t agree entirely):

    http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/22891/

    I think he misses the important step that causality is still important in certain situations as an emergent approximation.

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  66. kashyap Vasavada says:

    Sean:
    I think there is a simple answer to why bicycle did not come out of big bang. I am surprised that you did not answer it like this, unless there is a catch in my argument which I am missing. Universe had to go through the whole process, first make quarks, electrons, Higgs, then atoms such as iron, then molecules such as plastics, rubber etc. This is how it took place according to current physics. Probability of getting all the atoms coming together in the form of a bicycle would be infinitesimally small! Nobody can build a bicycle in his garage from scratch without getting parts from a factory! So the question is ridiculous.

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  67. Augustine1938 says:

    Ray: “We have zero experience with the philosopher’s “nothing.” If you insist on describing non-past-eternal cosmologies as having a state of “nothing” at a “time” before *spacetime* existed, who’s to say what can and cannot arise from such a state?”

    Well, there is no “time” before spacetime existed, so it would be more proper to say that nonbeing was logically (not temporally) prior to the beginning of the universe. But you seem to adopt an epistemology in which our knowledge of metaphysics is dependent on “experience.” I don’t agree with that, since we have reliable knowledge not based upon experience (of abstract objects, mathematical concepts, laws of logic, etc), but that at least amounts to a philosophical objection to ex nihilo nihil fit, which is the type of objection that is necessary. An empirical objection or one based on how physics is done is a category error.

    Ray: “Al Ghazali (probably the most important expositor of the Kalam Cosmological argument) considered the distinction you are trying to make between brute fact and necessary being meaningless. Does that count?”

    I was looking for someone familiar with the concept of quarks and fields :)

    Mason: “Physics isn’t saying these doctrines are wrong, only that they do not apply. ”

    That’s the problem–physics qua physics has doesn’t have the resources to refute ex nihilo nihil fit or the PSR–these are fundamentally “beyond” (meta) physical (though it can be helpful if offering collateral support for or evidence against, say, the second premise of the Kalam–the universe began to exist–or the second premise of the Leibnizian contingency argument–the universe is contingent).

    Mason: “On the principle of sufficient reason, there is one philosopher who argues there is an interpretation of this doctrine which is MORE compatible with naturalism than theism. See here”

    Thanks, I need some time to study that, but that’s the sort of objection that is required to the PSR–philosophical, not scientific.

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  68. Chris says:

    Geez, Sean you made me hungry. How much mass did you gain while in New Orleans?

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  69. Mason Colbert says:

    Augustine1938,
    “That’s the problem–physics qua physics has doesn’t have the resources to refute ex nihilo nihil fit or the PSR–these are fundamentally “beyond” (meta) physical (though it can be helpful if offering collateral support for or evidence against, say, the second premise of the Kalam–the universe began to exist–or the second premise of the Leibnizian contingency argument–the universe is contingent).”

    You missed the rest of my statement, and therefore, the key point of the objection. Sure, physics doesn’t refute this philosophical docrtine- BUT the physics does strongly suggest these doctrines are poor and inaccurate representations of what happens at the origin of the universe and therefore – do not apply.

    You can make a good philosophical case that some doctrine is logically valid or reasonable – but that hardly means that doctrine necessarily applies to the phenomena in question. Which is why the physics IS still relevant to this discussion about origins.

    “Thanks, I need some time to study that, but that’s the sort of objection that is required to the PSR–philosophical, not scientific.”

    Well, yeah. I never said this was a scientific claim, it was a philosophical argument. I just thought that might be of interest to you.

    Cheers!

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  70. BA Brightlight says:

    There is a common objective in all of this—the relentless pursuit of the truth and both sides should be respectful to each other in this endeavor. Dr. Carroll, in your definition of naturalism to Janet, a Christian fully agrees with #2 and #3; we just believe through faith and reason that you left out something very important in statement #1! Though out of scope for this debate, I think the greater mystery for naturalists lies not in cosmology, but how inanimate matter “evolved” into life. This is the strength of the Design argument. Constrained to only using the tool of chance, the mathematical probabilities quickly become absurd. Best wishes to your sir, in your continued search for answers.

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  71. Augustine1938 says:

    Mason: “You missed the rest of my statement, and therefore, the key point of the objection. Sure, physics doesn’t refute this philosophical docrtine- BUT the physics does strongly suggest these doctrines are poor and inaccurate representations of what happens at the origin of the universe and therefore – do not apply.”

    Thanks, I should have made that clearer. In my view physics–limited as it is to methodological naturalism–does not have the resources to state that ex nihilo nihil fit or the PSR “do not apply” to the universe or its origin. Indeed, in that case it would be operating as “meta-meta-physics”– pronouncing on the applicability of metaphysical doctrines. Those doctrines, by their very definition, apply to anything that exists, which would obviously include the universe. Now, those doctrines may be wrong, but they need to be refuted philosophically. Physics in this case is handmaiden to philosophy–it can provide useful evidence for philosophy to work with (e.g., provide support or evidence against a premise in a philosophical argument) but must defer when the ultimate questions are at issue.

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  72. Mason Colbert says:

    BA Brightlight,
    “I think the greater mystery for naturalists lies not in cosmology, but how inanimate matter “evolved” into life.”

    Granted we do not have a complete understanding of the biochemical pathways in which the origin of life occured, but refering to this phenomena as a “mystery” strikes me as obviously false. There is plenty of literature on this topic and I suggest delving into that literature.

    “This is the strength of the Design argument.”

    No, no it’s not. You raised question for which naturalists have an incomplete answer. This is very far from providing strength to any design argument. This is of course to say nothing of the fact that design “theorists” have thus far presented no testable scientific theories of their own, or provided any mechanisms for design. Critiquing naturalistic explanations does not automatically imply that design or theism wins by default.

    “Constrained to only using the tool of chance, the mathematical probabilities quickly become absurd. ”

    I’m not at all sure how to interpret these statements. By “constrained” are you refering to (A) the physical processes for the origin of life, or (B) the methods scientists use to research that phenomena? Either way, it is obviously false. Sure, there are a number of stochastic factors relating to origin of life scenarios, but recent literature has shown that these early macromolecules and proto-cellular replicators follow deterministic chemical pathways and were agents of selective pressure.

    In reference to “mathematical probabilities”, I don’t think you realized the contradtiction you made here. You speak of these probabilities, I presume, to argue that origin of life is highly improbable given the naturalistic worldview- but at the same time you refer to this phenomena as a “mystery.” Which is it?

    If origin of life scearios are “mysertious” then why place any confidence in probability claculations, given such limited data? And even it if were mathematically improbable- how does theism perform any better?

    Additionally, I am curious as to how these probabilities are discussed. Typically these probabilities suggest that “The probability of this type of life existing on this planet is….”. But I agree with Neil Manson that this is a poor way to frame probability questions. A much better question would be “what is the probability of SOME type of life existing at SOME planet.” With the former question, you practically guarantee that your outcome will be extremely low- because your asking for a very narrowly specifice range of outcomes.

    Cheers!

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  73. Mason Colbert says:

    Augustine1938,

    I’m afraid we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this point.

    “In my view physics–limited as it is to methodological naturalism–does not have the resources to state that ex nihilo nihil fit or the PSR “do not apply” to the universe or its origin.”

    Firstly, exactly what kind of non-methodological naturalism “science” would you propose? Secondly, how would it fare any better with this question? Thirdly, I strongly disagree that physics cannot say that these doctrines “do not apply.”

    There is currently no interpretation of any model in cosmology which reads as “a universe popping into existence uncaused out of nothing.” Granted, in popular writings physicists do tend to say such things- but as Carroll has pointed out in listing the various cosmological theories- this is not an accurate representation of what those equations and models describe.

    I think the problem here is that apologists are trying to read certain philosophical doctrines into the physical models provided by scientists. What I interpret Carroll as saying is that these are theological interpretations are not accruately reflecting what the models actually say.

    “Physics in this case is handmaiden to philosophy–it can provide useful evidence for philosophy to work with (e.g., provide support or evidence against a premise in a philosophical argument) but must defer when the ultimate questions are at issue.”

    So physics can only support your theories, but never counteract them? This may be true, but again- this isn’t the point. I interpret Carroll as saying that (A) the physics does NOT support this doctrine “ex nihilo, nihil fit” and (B) the physics does counteract it insofar as our best scientific models do not provide any evidience this doctrine is an accurate description of reality.

    “Those doctrines, by their very definition, apply to anything that exists, which would obviously include the universe. ”

    Which is why I dislike this “by definition” game. Again, I find this is just not a useful way of talking about these issues. Why should we assume this doctrine applies to the creation of the universe when our current physics suggests that such descriptions of the origins is misleading?

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  74. nick says:

    Augustine1938: You claim that discussions of causation are metaphysical and that physics is not equipped to weigh in on what causation means and how, if at all, real it is. I suppose, then, that you assume that, whatever the correct description of causation is, it is an abstract logical principle independent from the laws of physics. But this is misguided.

    By analogy, before quantum mechanics, a philosopher might have felt comfortable with a statement like “if some matter exists, then it must exist somewhere in space”. This seems logically necessary, and it might have seemed like a metaphysical statement that physics had no right to judge. However, physics has since shown us that some matter’s ‘location in space’ is an emergent phenomena, and not fundamentally real. Similarly, you might take it as a fact that causation is a metaphysical issue that physics can’t touch, but that’s only because you haven’t thought hard enough about it. Modern physics HAS reduced causation to an emergent macroscopic phenomena.

    Take a simple example: One particle collides with another particle and sends it off flying. What caused the second particle to fly off? You might say the cause was the first particle colliding into it. But isn’t it also the caused by whatever sent that first particle flying towards it in the first place? Isn’t is also caused by every event in the history of that first particle? Isn’t it also caused by my second grade birthday party? Isn’t it also caused by everything in the past light cone of the event in question? There is no well defined notion of ’cause’ at the atomic level.

    The macroscopic notion of cause is simply a fuzzy probabilistic statement about “well, I think if we removed event A from the timeline, then event B probably wouldn’t have happened, so we’ll call A a cause of B”. But this is not precise or well defined.

    For these reasons and more, we can’t invoke arguments of ‘causation’ in domains where they become even less well defined.

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  75. Humanity Akbar says:

    What a bunch of brains and hearts in that talk; I just finished watching the q & a.

    Gentle, considerate, genial, generous…

    They must’ve been SO TIRED after the whole shebang…

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  76. Peter says:

    “Namely: we’re talking about “God and Cosmology,” but nobody really becomes a believer in God because it provides the best cosmology. They become theists for other reasons, and the cosmology comes later. That’s because religion is enormously more than theism. Most people become religious for other (non-epistemic) reasons: it provides meaning and purpose, or a sense of community, or a way to be in contact with something transcendent, or simply because it’s an important part of their culture.”

    Or maybe simply because we are kind of wired in such a way that favor such beliefs… (Please don’t interpret this the wrong way. I’m not saying that it’s inevitable, nor that it’s the right way to be. I’m just saying that it might be a fact of the human condition…)

    Also, I remember reading in The Self Illusion from Bruce Hood, that people who believe are generally speaking more happy. Just like people that think that a surgery will go fine have a 30% chance to have a better outcome (from the same book). Having “faith” in something may bring some chemical cocktail in one brain and body that makes this person feel happy and more healthy generally speaking…

    Which bring me to the question I”m dying to ask. I’ve seen a movie called The Quantum Activist. I’m not a specialist in the matter, but I though that this interpretation of QM seems to me like a “reasonable” faith… One that doesn’t deny science and might never… But maybe I’m missing something… Anyone with proper background could comment on this?

    (For the record, I only believe in science… I’m just curious about the vision presented in the movie.)

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  77. Ray says:

    @Augustine

    But you seem to adopt an epistemology in which our knowledge of metaphysics is dependent on “experience.”

    Not quite. I am rejecting your claim that physics and metaphysics should be considered independent domains of knowledge. I’m attributing the claim that all knowledge is dependent on “experience” to Lucretius, to gently imply you may be misinterpreting the intent of his dictum “ex nihilo nihil fit,” if you think its motivation is completely independent of empirical considerations.

    As it happens I do consider it legitimate to use one extra-empirical criterion in forming reliable beliefs — Ockham’s razor, or a similar parsimony principle. But then, that consideration is used regularly in science, so it can’t be considered distinctly philosophical.

    I don’t agree with that, since we have reliable knowledge not based upon experience (of abstract objects, mathematical concepts, laws of logic, etc), but that at least amounts to a philosophical objection to ex nihilo nihil fit, which is the type of objection that is necessary.

    On your claims of extra-empirical knowledge: The existence of abstract objects is too controversial among philosophers to be considered reliable knowledge. Mathematical and logical truths are known from experience of the sort “if I assume these axioms I reach these conclusions.” (this type of proof checking exercise can be automated, if you prefer basing your mathematical truths on a physical experiments rather than psychological ones btw.) The axioms in both mathematics and logic are a matter of convention, so they only really count as anthropological knowledge, and whether the conventional system of axioms is consistent can ONLY be known through experience, per Godel. In any event, mathematical and logical truths may be asserted by scientists, qua scientists — as is quite self-evidently common practice in the writing of physics papers — so this does no good in staking out metaphysics as a legitimate and wholly independent domain of inquiry.

    BTW, the rejection of a clear demarcation between physics and metaphysics of the sort you’re supposing isn’t even remotely unusual. Many modern philosophers, like Quine, have explicitly denied such a distinction — and I’ve seen little evidence that ancient or medieval philosophers regarded metaphysics and physics to be any more independent from one another than say, Astronomy and Geology. The only major groups of philosophers I know of that endorse such a strong distinction are those who would seek to deny any possibility of metaphysical knowledge at all, e.g. the logical positivists, and religious apologists, who want to shield their sacred doctrines from the same sort of rational scrutiny that speculation in other disciplines meets.

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  78. John says:

    Great points.

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  79. Augustine1938 says:

    Mason: “Firstly, exactly what kind of non-methodological naturalism “science” would you propose?”

    None. It is perfectly appropriate for science to operate according to methodological naturalism, but that also renders science incapable of pronouncing on fundamentally metaphysical issues (i.e., issues which are “beyond” physics and nature).

    Mason: “There is currently no interpretation of any model in cosmology which reads as “a universe popping into existence uncaused out of nothing.””

    Right, they tend to say either that the universe is past-eternal or not past-eternal–as is appropriate, since speculating on the cause behind those which began to exist would be a metaphysical question outside their wheelhouse.

    Mason: “I think the problem here is that apologists are trying to read certain philosophical doctrines into the physical models provided by scientists.”

    I disagree. Craig, at least, is using the results of science as one way to support one premise in the Kalam (the universe began to exist). (He also uses purely philosophical arguments to support this premise, namely the impossibility of an actual infinite). The physics is subsidiary to the philosophical argument here, not the other way around.

    Mason: “So physics can only support your theories, but never counteract them?”

    Not at all, that’s why I said physics can provide support for or evidence against the second premise of the Kalam (e.g., if the preponderance of the scientific evidence showed that the universe did not begin to exist, that would weaken the second premise).

    Mason: “Why should we assume this doctrine applies to the creation of the universe when our current physics suggests that such descriptions of the origins is misleading?”

    If physics can demonstrate that “being can come from non-being” then I will agree with you. But since that is a metaphysical statement beyond the resources of physics to demonstrate, we should probably continue to agree to disagree, as you said. Thanks for the dialogue!

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  80. BA Brightlight says:

    @Mason: Using the word “mystery” was a little poetic license implying that naturalists have no viable explanation for the transition from inanimate to life. I know this is an old quote, but it is from a respected Nobel laureate, George Wald:
    One has only to contemplate the magnitude of this task to concede that the spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible. Yet here we are — as a result, I believe, of spontaneous generation.

    I admire his “faith”.

    As Dr. Wald observed, when you do the math on the formation of DNA (the language of DNA—who “wrote” that?) and everything necessary to create a living cell, you get a 1 chance in 1 with a whole lot of zeroes after it. I mean a LOT of zeroes.

    You state that the fact that there exists no naturalist solution does not automatically imply God—ok fair point, but what other options are available? Aliens? Where did they come from? Mathematically, there would have to be some sort of weight factor that drastically skews these probabilities toward the formation of life and the continued development/improvement of living organisms. Archeological evidence shows that the 33 or so Phylum classes all dramatically came on the scene in the Cambrian explosion which proves that Darwin was oh so wrong—like not even nuclear bomb level close.
    Thus my choice of the poetic word, “mystery” for the naturalist point of view. The deduction of “God did it” is certainly not an absolute conclusion for all of this, but given Dr. Craig’s arguments, these brief origin of life arguments, the Biblical testimony of the Jewish people, the amazing teaching, healings, death and resurrection of Jesus, and my personal experience have led me to the conclusion that, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

    Have a blessed evening!

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  81. Augustine1938 says:

    Ray: “Not quite. I am rejecting your claim that physics and metaphysics should be considered independent domains of knowledge. I’m attributing the claim that all knowledge is dependent on “experience” to Lucretius, to gently imply you may be misinterpreting the intent of his dictum “ex nihilo nihil fit,” if you think its motivation is completely independent of empirical considerations.

    As it happens I do consider it legitimate to use one extra-empirical criterion in forming reliable beliefs — Ockham’s razor, or a similar parsimony principle. But then, that consideration is used regularly in science, so it can’t be considered distinctly philosophical.”

    Well, I agree that if your epistemology is purely empirical (with the exception of Ockham’s razor), then metaphysics collapses into physics, since physics is based upon the empirical. But then it is a debate in epistemology, which is a philosophical debate–as is appropriate, since it the philosophical field on which these ultimate matters should be discussed.

    However, as with Mason, I doubt we will agree on that–but thanks for the informative discussion!

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  82. Lucy Harris says:

    @Augustine1938

    “Who says there was ever nothing?”

    Well, Lawrence Krauss entitled his book “A Universe from Nothing.”

    You’re equivocating. Krauss’s nothing is not a philosopher’s nothing of absolute nothingness. Krauss’s nothing has natural properties. But if you want “nothing” to mean Krauss’s nothing, then there’s no problem for a naturalistic origin, as he and others have explained.

    But if you do want the philosopher’s nothing then there’s no good reason to think there was ever such a state. And metaphysical intuition (as all metaphysical noodling is) would say that it’s very unlikely there was ever such a state. Even the nothing of the theist has God lurking around there somewhere.

    Kalam fails on this very point alone, that absolute nothingness is unfounded and that a universe naturalistically beginning from a physicist’s nothing is plausible.

    “Who says the universe doesn’t necessarily exist?”

    My impression is that is what Dr. Carroll was saying–that the universe’s existence is not explained by the necessity of its own nature, but is a brute fact that requires no explanation (and that the whole concept of an “explanation” should not be applied to the universe as a whole). I’m not aware of any major philosopher or physicist who holds that the particular combination of quarks and fields that constitutes our universe exists necessarily. Maybe you have an argument to support the notion that it does?

    There is no meaningful distinction between “necessity of own nature” and “brute fact” in effect. And again, there is no good reason to think that the universe or any reality at all couldn’t have just always existed. It’s special pleading to assert that only the theist’s god could be a brute or necessary fact.

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  83. Mason Colbert says:

    Augustine1938,

    “None. It is perfectly appropriate for science to operate according to methodological naturalism, but that also renders science incapable of pronouncing on fundamentally metaphysical issues (i.e., issues which are “beyond” physics and nature).”

    I tend to agree more with Ray above. The lines between strict-philosophy and strict-physics are not always very sharp. Nonetheless, I am glad that you at least recognize that methodological naturalism isn’t some “curse” in science that needs removed.

    “Right, they tend to say either that the universe is past-eternal or not past-eternal–as is appropriate, since speculating on the cause behind those which began to exist would be a metaphysical question outside their wheelhouse.”

    I’m not sure I understand why- even if talk of causality could be understood in the context of a pre-universe scenario, all talk of those causes must necessarily by strictly metaphysical. But I suppose it will probably depend on what is meant by the word “universe.” (I for one dislike the defintion of “universe” as “all of physical reality.”).

    “I disagree. Craig, at least, is using the results of science as one way to support one premise in the Kalam (the universe began to exist). (He also uses purely philosophical arguments to support this premise, namely the impossibility of an actual infinite). The physics is subsidiary to the philosophical argument here, not the other way around.”

    Firstly, I dispute the idea that Dr.Craig is using the results of science to support his premises. I would say that Dr.Craig is using his interpretations of curent results from science to support his premises. As I think comments by physicists like Sean Carroll reveal- his interpretation of say, the BGV theorem, is incrorrect. Secondly, it seems to me the physics, even when it does not directly falsify philosophical doctrines, at the very least clearly suggests these are misleading conceptualizations that do not necessarily apply.

    I think this may be the main difference between us on his point. I would say that our philosophical doctrines should follow from the scientific evidence- and if science does not support or suggest some doctrine is accurate at some level- we ought to reject it or accept limitations on it. Craig, among others, seem to suggest that despite the results from the scientific evidence, these philosophical doctrines should remain accepted and applied universally. I would strongly disagree, but I suppose that is why I idenify more with empiricism.

    “Not at all, that’s why I said physics can provide support for or evidence against the second premise of the Kalam…”

    Well certainly with respect to this premise, I agree. My point was, I was not following you as to why the physics was irrelevant with respect to say- big bang cosmology and “ex nihilo, nihil fit.” The best physical model of BB theory do not suggest the universe popped into existence ex nihilo, so why can we not say here that the physics suggests ex nihilo nihil fit is unappliciable?

    “If physics can demonstrate that “being can come from non-being” then I will agree with you. But since that is a metaphysical statement beyond the resources of physics to demonstrate….”

    Here I think it might be best to clarify some distinctions here. I would argue that, at least in this context- the scientific evidence can be used to do two things:

    1. Provide evidence in support of, or against the truth of some empirical claims.
    2. Provide us with an understanding of how some process, event or mechanism works.

    Now, given (2), I would say that even if physics cannot reject metaphysical claims, physics nonetheless can suggest whether or not those metaphysical claims do or do not fit with our current scientific understanding. I suggest that if doctrine like ex nihilo nihil fit do not fit with our current understanding of fundamental physics- then any talk of creation ex nihilo with respect to say big bang cosmology will be misleading and does not apply.

    Perhaps Kalam can make a compelling philosophical argument for theism given it’s premises- but since it is not clear that creation ex nihilo applies to this universe or any big bang scenario- I would suggest that it’s not an argument that is really supported by empirical science within this universe.

    I hope that clear up the points I am trying to make here. Great discussion though!

    Cheers!

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  84. Lucy Harris says:

    Craig needs to retire BGV after this. If he keeps using it, it would be exceedingly poor form. The authors disagree with him about the implications. Guth says it’s not conclusive for a beginning. And Vilenkin doesn’t think a beginning is a problem for a naturalistic origin. He’s an atheist and has is own solution for a beginning involving quantum tunneling.

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  85. Sean, thanks for the additional comments. I would say it boils down to two issues:

    1. there are no knowledgeable bases for the hypothesis of God, so it can just be rationally ignored until a miracle happens (unless you prefer a folk definition of belief as “anything goes”); and

    2. causation may well exist without original creation.

    But I don’t think you quite grasp how causation applies without original creation – which means matter cannot be created and destroyed, and gravitational and electromagnetic masses are preserved.

    Being causal and effected are dual properties of every state of momentum. Obviously momentum causes others to move, and the mover is likewise effected by the moved. They resolve fundamentally for electromagnetism as orbitals (intact), and gravitation as solar systems (intact from a supernova cloud rotation) .

    Each particle and field can be precisely measured for its capacity both to cause and to be effected, and these alternative are already enshrined in every law of physics for equal and opposite (reciprocal) exchange to reconciliations around pivots. QED

    You don’t have to reinvent to wheel to completely secure physics with cause and effect running entirely through it. They can be, in that form, and intact system of exchange or “equilibrium” not only as atoms and solar systems, but as supernovae and potentially also in compression at a Big Bang.

    These properties are permanent, and balanced, so that something intact need not be created. The relationship between a capacity to shift something else and to be shifted is dynamic. An intact state can “spilt apart” by constituent masses with properties to shift and be shifted. Revise your thinking entirely, as this formalism is strict and fully applicable to all masses.

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  86. Pontificus says:

    This has been bugging me since watching the event, and I haven’t seen it addressed yet. In the closing panel, an audience member asked WLC whether God would be unnecessary if the universe didn’t have a beginning. WLC replied, no, but it would be a different argument for God’s existence (I forget which specific argument). What?! Doesn’t this refute his entire thesis, namely that theism is more likely given the evidence that the universe had a beginning? Unless he doesn’t think the other argument is valid, but then why bring it up at all.

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  87. I should have simplified it for you: all inertia in the universe is cause, and to the extent that inertia affects the inertia of others, there are effects, and they find balance using rotations or in compressions (supernovae & Big Bang).

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  88. BTW very good Ray, mostly correct :)

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  89. Mason Colbert says:

    BA Brightlight,
    “Using the word “mystery” was a little poetic license implying that naturalists have no viable explanation for the transition from inanimate to life. ”

    On the claim that naturalists have “no viable explanation”- this is clearly false. Naturalists (or rather, scientists in general – regardless of their theological views) have partial explanations for some aspects of abiogenesis with plenty of questions remaining.

    “One has only to contemplate the magnitude of this task to concede that the spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible. Yet here we are — as a result, I believe, of spontaneous generation. I admire his “faith”.”

    Nobody in the current literature that I’ve read- regardless if they are evolutionary biologists, molecular biologists, chemists, geologists, etc.- refers to origin of life theories as “spontaenous generation” any more. That is because there are no practicing biologists or chemists I know of you take seriously the idea that the origin of life occurred in a single step by purely chance occurrences.

    “math on the formation of DNA (the language of DNA—who “wrote” that?) and everything necessary to create a living cell, you get a 1 chance in 1 with a whole lot of zeroes after it. I mean a LOT of zeroes.”

    Firstly, again you completely undercut your ability to make reference to this claim but your claim that the origin of life is “mysterious” with “no viable explanations.” The best you could say (if that were true, which it is not) is that given our CURRENT understanding of origin of DNA, it SEEMS mathematically improbable.” That however is again, very different (and indeed a tremendous leap) from saying that it is a fact that the formation of DNA is mathematically improbable.

    Secondly, the current theories behind abiogenesis strongly support an RNA-world, in which RNA was the genetic precursor to DNA. RNA is less complex (it is single-stranded) than DNA molecules and thus all talk about how to assemble DNA randomly is simply not keeping up with the current literature.

    Thirdly, there is no “language” in DNA. See this talkorigins article for a good summary of some basis reasons why this analogy fails:
    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB180.html

    Fourthly, this argument misses the objection I raised with respect to Neil Manson. The argument is asking: what is the probability that some very specific result will occur, given all the space of possibilities? It is not at all surprising that you obtain an answer or low probability. The better question to ask is “what is the probability that something like x will occur?”

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  90. Mason Colbert says:

    BA Brightlight,

    “Archeological evidence shows that the 33 or so Phylum classes all dramatically came on the scene in the Cambrian explosion which proves that Darwin was oh so wrong—like not even nuclear bomb level close.”

    The fact that departments of paleontology dedicated to researching evolutionary biology are not shutting down their graduate programs or their universities have refused to fund (apparently fruitless) research strikes me as strong prima facie evidence that this claim is complete nonsense. And the fact that these arguments have been raised by non-experts strikes me as an additional point of concern.

    Nonetheless, this is a massive claim that requires a lot of discussion that I have not the time to reproduce here. Instead I suggest you research this topic by looking at the scientific literature.

    “Thus my choice of the poetic word, “mystery” for the naturalist point of view.”
    See my analogy above about the futility of poking holes in defense of a worldview.

    Cheers!

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  91. Aron Wall says:

    Hi Sean,

    Thanks very much for your kind words about my paper, “The Generalized Second Law implies a Quantum Singularity Theorem” which Craig cited during the debate. I feel however that I must register a correction. You write:

    Wall (like BGV) proves theorems that apply to classical spacetimes, and then speculates “the results may hold in full quantum gravity” and “there is a reasonable possibility that the Penrose singularity theorem can be proven even in the context of full quantum gravity.”

    But my article does not stay fully in the classical regime (hence the word “quantum” in the title). It is possible to make sense of the Generalized Second Law at least in the semiclassical context, by which I mean something like QFT in curved spacetime, plus a small backreaction to the metric due to the stress-energy tensor of the quantum matter. This is not really a “classical” regime (for example, all local energy conditions are necessarily violated). So I think that in any case I’ve extended the Penrose singularity theorem to a more “quantum” context, quite aside from my speculative remarks that it may also apply in full-blown quantum gravity.

    By the way, Craig found my article before the debate and emailed me asking some questions about it. (He didn’t know until I told him that I am also a Christian.) I tried to give him some guidance about the relevant physics, although I take no responsibility for the final result. It’s tricky to explain some of the nuances to an outsider, although I think Craig probably deserves some credit for having a better understanding of the relevant physics than most philosophers ever get to.

    Craig’s comment about the universe having a “thermodynamic beginning” at the moment of lowest entropy was taken from the discussion section of my paper, by the way, where I said:

    This kind of bounce evades both the singularity and thermodynamic arrow constraints, but still has in some sense a thermodynamic ‘beginning’ in time at the moment of lowest entropy. That is, both the past and the future would be explained in terms of the low entropy state at t_0, while the state at t_0 would itself have no explanation in terms of anything to the future or the past. (Thus the moment t0 would seem to raise the same sorts of philosophical questions that any other sort of beginning in time would.)

    I guess you could regard that parenthetical comment as an open invitation for philosophers to attempt to construct Cosmological Arguments, if they can… although of course, that wasn’t my main motivation in writing the paper!

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  92. Sean Carroll says:

    Aron– Thanks. I take your point, although I think we’re both right. Semiclassical gravity is usually taken to mean “classical spacetime with quantum fields on top.” My adjective “classical” modified “spacetime,” rather than the whole theory, so when I was originally writing the post I thought that was the most accurate description. I’ll expand on that a bit in the post and link down here. Although I still don’t believe there will be an analogous result in quantum gravity, at least not one that would imply that time would “end”; the QET (which is basically just linearity of the Schrödinger equation) would seem to forbid that.

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  93. Allan says:

    The philosophical/scientific debate about the origins of everything will go on. More to the point is the claims of Christians that some divine entity is concerned with whether or not you believe in him. Hitchens performed poorly in his debate with Craig but here was the most telling point:

    HITCHENS: So you believe that Jesus of Nazareth caused devils to leave the body of a madman and go into a flock of pigs that hurled themselves down the Gadarene slopes into the sea?

    CRAIG: Do I believe that’s historical? Yes.

    This kind of nonsense is what Craig, Platinga and the rest really believe. All those philosophical gymnastics are attempts to shore up something deeply silly.

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  94. Jack Spell says:

    Dr. Carroll,

    I want to thank you again for all of the thought-provoking material you produced over the two days of the conference. I say “again” because I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to thank you in person on Saturday after the conference had concluded. You might remember me; I was the really conspicuously good-looking guy who, during the Q & A on Friday and Saturday, asked you about (1) an eternal set of necessary and sufficient mechanical conditions producing a universe containing a first moment of time, and (2) the specifics of Alan Guth’s affirmation of the probable eternality of the universe, respectively. Alright, alright, I may have exaggerated the part about my good-looks a little, but in all seriousness you might possibly remember the questions. Nevertheless, it was a real privilege to shake your hand and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing your take on these interesting issues. Having familiarized myself with some of your published work, I’m well aware that you are skilled writer. But having never seen you lecture or debate, I had no idea that you would prove to be such a wonderful public speaker and formidable debater. I look forward to more of it in the future.

    While I’m sure that you have entirely too much on your plate to respond to every reply on your blog, nevertheless I would owe you a great debt of gratitude if you’re able to somehow find the time to respond to this one; that is, provided it’s substantive enough to warrant a response.

    In light of a recent post, you seemed to have cleared up what led to a persistent confusion for some during the debate: namely, your maintaining that a universe with a “first moment of time” isn’t necessarily one that “begins to exist.” It seems to me that you are able to consistently hold to this view because you ascribe to a tenseless or, B-Theory, of time. That is what I suspected. So if I understand you correctly, are you saying that a universe with a first moment of time doesn’t “begin to exist” because, on the B-Theory, the entire universe exists *timelessly* for all eternity as a static, 4-dimensional block? If so, is it not perfectly legitimate to inquire as to what determines that this particular statically-existing universe obtains, rather than some other one or none at all? Also, would you agree that the A-Theory of time is the much more common sense view?

    Moreover, there appears to be a few points in your post-debate reflections that might be cause for reflection. First, regarding your denial of both the premises in the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA), you said,

    “My attitude toward the above two premises is that (2) is completely uncertain, while the “obvious” one (1) is flat-out false. Or not even false, as I put it, because the notion of a “cause” isn’t part of an appropriate vocabulary to use for discussing fundamental physics.”

    As WLC has repeatedly emphasized, he does not claim anything near “certainty” for the truth of these premises. Rather, he merely defends the notion that they are more plausibly true than their negations; the greater the degree to which they are more plausibly true than not, the stronger the argument becomes. So while I agree that we don’t have certainty with respect to the truth of premise (2), I do believe that we have good reason to believe that it is much more plausibly than not; which is what a good argument entails.

    With respect to the notion of a “cause,” I would have to disagree with your thinking this isn’t the appropriate vocabulary to use here. The univocal meaning employed in KCA is “that which produces the effect.” Thus, if we were to ask, “What is the ’cause’ of virtual particles?”, we would be asking, “What ‘produces’ virtual particles?”, with the answer to which — quantum fluctuations in the vacuum — being completely legitimate. Similarly we could ask, “What is the ’cause’ of the binding of like-charged nucleons in the atomic nucleus?”; and someone would answer “The strong force is what produces that effect.” So it seems to me that a clear definition of terms makes appropriate the use of a “cause.”

    With that being said, when you say that, “The Hartle-Hawking “no-boundary proposal” for the wave function of the universe, for example, is completely self-contained, not requiring any external cause,” in what sense do you mean, “self-contained?” It was pointed out in [http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/9712344] that,

    “The problem with this model is that it ignores the “zero-point-energy”. . . . Thus, when the “zero-point-energy” is considered, we see that the initial state is not a point but a tiny oscillating (0 ≤ a ≤ a1) Big Bang universe, that oscillates between Big Bangs and Big Crunches (though the singularities at the Big Bangs and Big Crunches might be smeared by quantum effects). This is the initial classical state from which the tunneling occurs. It is metastable, so this oscillating universe could not have existed forever: after a finite half-life, it is likely to decay.”

    Therefore it seems to me that on this model the universe has only existed for a finite duration of time. So we could still validly inquire as to what produced it (Or, given the more radical B-Theory of time, what determined that this universe tenselessly exists rather than some other). Moreover, why think that this model shouldn’t be treated as nonrealist in character? How does changing from a Lorentzian metric signature to a Euclidean metric imply an ontological commitment? Given the fact that the Wick rotation performed takes the real time variable “T” and replaces it with the imaginary quantity “I × T”, Hartle and Hawking are said to employ “imaginary time” in their model. So how does one intelligibly give a realistic interpretation to any value of “imaginary time?”

    You later go on to state the following:

    “The second premise of the Kalam argument is that the universe began to exist. Which may even be true! But we certainly don’t know, or even have strong reasons to think one way or the other. Craig thinks we do have a strong reason, the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem. So I explained what every physicist who has thought about the issue understands: that the real world is governed by quantum mechanics, and the BGV theorem assumes a classical spacetime, so it says nothing definitive about what actually happens in the universe; it is only a guideline to when our classical description breaks down.”

    It goes without saying that I would never claim to be any kind of subject matter expert on cosmology, especially more of one than you certainly are. But in my amateur opinion, I think it’s fair to say that last statement downplays the significance of BVG and, as far as I can tell, is false. While I agree that we can’t infer anything “definitive,” I think we can, however, make some significant inferences: given the fact that we have *substantial* evidence that our universe satisfies the only condition of BVG — Hav > 0 — all the way back until 10^-43 seconds, then according to [http://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0110012],

    “Whatever the possibilities for the boundary, it is clear that unless the averaged expansion condition can somehow be avoided for all past-directed geodesics, inflation alone is not sufficient to provide a complete description of the Universe, and some new physics is necessary in order to determine the correct conditions at the boundary [20]. This is the chief result of our paper. The result depends on just one assumption: the Hubble parameter H has a positive value when averaged over the affine parameter of a past-directed null or noncomoving timelike geodesic.

    “The class of cosmologies satisfying this assumption is
    not limited to inflating universes.”

    Vilenkin reiterates:

    “A remarkable thing about this theorem is its sweeping generality. We made no assumptions about the material content of the universe. We did not even assume that gravity is described by Einstein’s equations. So, if Einstein’s gravity requires some modification, our conclusion will still hold. The only assumption that we made was that the expansion rate of the universe never gets below some nonzero value, no matter how small. This assumption should certainly be satisfied in the inflating false vacuum. The conclusion is that past-eternal inflation without a beginning is impossible.” [Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One, p. 175]

    Thus, we have very good reason to think that unless the Planck epoch can avoid Hav > 0, our universe cannot be past-eternal. One possible way for this to happen is via an “emergent universe” scenario. In discussing a model of this type, you mentioned a paper by Anthony Aguirre and John Kehayias; one that WLC cited in the debate:

    “They examined the “emergent universe” scenario of George Ellis and Roy Maartens, in which the universe is in a quasi-static pre-Big-Bang state infinitely far into the past. Aguirre and Kehayias showed that such behavior is unstable; you can’t last in a quasi-static state for half of eternity and then start evolving. Personally, I didn’t think this was worth talking about; I completely agree that it’s unstable, I never promoted or defended that particular model, and I just didn’t see the relevance. But he kept bringing it up. Only after the debate did it dawn on me that he takes the specific behavior of that model as representative of any model that has a quantum-gravity regime (the easiest way out of the “beginning” supposedly predicted by the BGV theorem). That’s completely false. Most models with a quantum-gravity phase are nothing like the emergent universe; typically the quantum part of the evolution is temporary, and is surrounded on both sides by classical spacetime. But that’s so false that I didn’t even pick up that WLC was presuming it, so I never responded. Bad debater.”

    According to that paper [http://arxiv.org/abs/1306.3232],

    “We stress that we have analyzed only one version of the Emergent Universe, with a simplified model. Nonetheless, we believe that the effect that this analysis points to may be rather generic. For example, consider alternative theories of gravity. The Emergent Universe has been studied extensively in theories such as Hoˇrava-Lifshitz, f(R), Loop Quantum Gravity7, and others (see, for in- stance, [8–11], respectively). There have also been several studies of the stability of the Einstein static universe in alternative theories (see [12], for example). However, in our framework we have, in a sense, decoupled gravity – it enters only when assessing the affect of the spreading wave-functional. Even in alternative theories in which the Einstein static universe is more stable than in standard General Relativity, we anticipate that once the wavefunctional has spread enough, the geometry must follow, and the spacetime becomes classically ill-defined as well as containing portions corresponding to singularities. Therefore, this seems like a generic (and perhaps expected, given our construction of the scenario) problem with such an eternal and precisely tuned inflationary scheme. . . .”

    “. . . Models in which the field dynamics and material content are very different would require separate analysis, but may lead to a similar basic conclusion. For example, Graham et al. [14] construct static and oscillating universes with a specific non-perfect-fluid energy component that are stable against small perturbations. However, Mithani & Vilenkin [15] have shown that this model is unstable to decay via tunneling.

    “Although we have analyzed only one version of the Emergent Universe, we would argue that our analysis is pointing to a more general problem: 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.”

    Unless I’m missing something, this paper seems to strongly support WLC’s contention: quantum instability seems to prevent *any* scenario — regardless of if it’s an unstable state (ESS) or a metastable state (LQG) — from being past-eternal. Moreover, this notion appears to be reinforced here [http://arxiv.org/abs/arXiv:1305.3836] as well:

    “A number of authors emphasized that the beginning of inflation does not have to be the beginning of the universe. The ‘emergent universe’ scenario [11–15] assumes that the universe approaches a static or oscillating regime in the asymptotic past. In this case, the average expansion rate is Hav = 0, so the condition (1) is violated. The problem with this scenario is that static or oscillating universes are generally unstable with respect to quantum collapse and therefore could not have survived for an infinite time before the onset of inflation [16–18].”

    I’m just not following you here; what would lead you to say that this belief of WLC is “completely false?”

    With respect to a model that posits a different scenario, you said,

    “In contrast, I wanted to talk about a model developed by Anthony Aguirre and Stephen Gratton. They have a very simple and physically transparent model that (unlike my theory with Chen) imposes a low-entropy boundary condition at a mid-universe “bounce.” It’s a straightforward example of a perfectly well-defined theory that is clearly eternal, one that doesn’t have a beginning, and does so without invoking any hand-waving about quantum gravity. I challenged Craig to explain why this wasn’t a sensible example of an eternal universe, one that was in perfect accord with the BGV theorem, but he didn’t respond. It wasn’t until the talks on the following day that Craig’s teammate James Sinclair admitted that it seemed like a perfectly good model to him.”

    Vilenkin also addressed this model in the last paper I mentioned, and noted:

    “Even though the spacetime has no boundary in the AG model, it does include a hyper-surface on which the low-entropy (vacuum) boundary condition must be enforced by some mechanism. This surface of minimum entropy plays the role of the beginning of the universe in this scenario. . . .”

    “. . .Suppose the vacuum that fills this de Sitter space is a metastable (false) vacuum and that it can decay to one or more lower-energy vacua through bubble nucleation. Suppose further that we impose a boundary condition that the entire universe is in a false vacuum state in the asymptotic past, τ → −∞. Then bubbles nucleating at τ → −∞ will fill the space, the energy in the bubble walls will thermalize, and the universe will contract to a big crunch and will never get to the bounce and to the expanding phase.”

    Even if one ignores the questionable reversal of the AOT, this model, according to Vilenkin, it cannot plausibly be past-eternal.

    Nevertheless, this post is beyond lengthy already so I’ll stop here, despite my remaining questions. As I said, thanks again for such a civil, competitive debate and I appreciate your taking the time to entertain my questions.

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  95. Aron Wall says:

    Sean,
    Thanks for your response, and for your link from the article.

    Regarding the QET, to my mind the most conservative belief about quantum gravity is that it is—like GR—governed by a Hamiltonian constraint rather than an ordinary Hamiltonian (as in standard QM). In this setup, it’s not obvious that the QET applies.

    What’s more, since there is no “absolute time” in GR, there are lots of different, inequivalent ways to evolve space forwards in time. As Wheeler put it, time is many fingered. This concept of time evolution will be much more subtle to quantize, and it’s far from obvious (to me, at any rate) that it’s forbidden for time to begin or end. In any case, this is quantum gravity, so none of us really know what we’re talking about!

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  96. Lucy Harris says:

    @Jack Spell, that was a lot of words to show you miss the point that if the universe definitely had a beginning, it’s not a refutation of naturalism as there are naturalistic models with a beginning, which then defeats Kalam. At best the conclusion could be “maybe there was a divine cause.”

    And of course that conclusion would also be true if it were known that there was no beginning. As Sean explained well, theism is poorly defined and could account for any observation. It has zero explanatory power.

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  97. Sean Carroll says:

    Aron– That’s certainly a respectable point of view. It’s basically choosing the option that the energy is zero, which is definitely a possibility. And if that does turn out to be the case, time can certainly “end,” but in a very funny sense, since “time” was only emergent to begin with.

    But the other option, that the energy is not zero and the ordinary time-dependent Schrödinger equation applies, is at the very least equally reasonable (perhaps more so). Our best-understood example of quantum gravity is the AdS/CFT correspondence, where the theory is most carefully defined in terms of the Hamiltonian of the boundary theory — in which perfectly conventional Schrödinger evolution applies. My suspicion is that quantum gravity will work similarly in other cases as well. But as you say, it’s quantum gravity, so we’re allowed to speculate but not allowed to act like we know the answer.

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  98. Sean & Aron, I will try to buy in to your exchanges as an observer trying to learn something. The adjustments you make to preserve observations shift the structure of reality this way and that with ease. But is it so easy just to adjust G.R. or put a Q.M mechanisms here and there within expanding Spacetime? The way you adjust looks seismic and structural, definitely not inconsequential, and quite frankly the field of physics needs new formalisms. As a lay reader with several other degrees it is so contradictory across different versions of reality as to be “bogged down”. I don’t think these are trifling differences in views between physicists about the fundamentals. It one sense its good to question, but that is a striking level of instability.

    I may not get traction with this point but it is secure and needs to be stated unless refuted. Cause and effect are equal and opposite capacities of every particle and field. It’s as simple as that. You need to use the most fundamental capacities of mass with a strict division between them. I write about the full structure to that formalism in my free book (click my name) and they are easy to understand.

    Gravitation is a state of causal inertial (spatial-temporal) extension. Basic. It is also a state of effected inertial compression when those states of extension attract each other and compress. You divide gravitational mass between extension and compression as alternative directions of motion, and the resolution is automatic – mass extends and compresses as dual, equal, properties. There is “equivalence” between them in interactions between masses with those dual capacities, enshrined within the laws of gravitation itself.

    Unfortunately, at this late stage of physics’ journey, correcting your formalisms is a heavy task. It’s basically a “penny drop” point that you either grasp the value of intellectually, or not. Physics can be easily and sensibly rewritten, but you will need to take the short journey I set out in my free book, as time and patience does not permit anything other than the above sampler about gravitation.

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  99. Lucy Harris says:

    Sean,

    I missed the exchanges on Boltzmann Brains, but I don’t understand how this would help theism anyway since a BB would be a naturalistic phenomenon. How exactly is Craig using it to support theism?

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  100. Sean Carroll says:

    Lucy– He was just claiming that the BB problem rendered the multiverse nonviable, and therefore naturalists have no mechanism for explaining fine-tuning. Not true, for the reasons mentioned above.

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  101. Humanity Akbar says:

    Sean Carroll,

    maybe you could do a post on this?

    http://phys.org/news/2014-02-peeking-physicists-quantum-particles.html

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  102. Avi says:

    @Jack Spell- I want to point out that quote from Vilenkin’s paper (Arrow of Time and the Beginning of the Universe) concerning the Aguirre Gratton Model is taken out of context. In the quote from page 4, Vilenkin was merely listing the necessary conditions for the AG model. Yes in a false vacuum if the bubble nucleating at t->-infinity will contract in a big crunch but only if the other conditions of the model are not taken into consideration. Vilenkin in the next paragraph continues to list these conditions. Like the important boundary condition at t=0 to be in a low entropy state and the thermodynamic arrow pointing away from this “initial” state. In the full AG model, no branch of the universe actually experiences contraction since both branches inflate “after” the initial state, so a big crunch doesn’t happen (as far as I’m aware in this model).

    By the end of the paper, Vilenkin’s comment of the AG model was somewhat promising:
    “The Aguirre-Gratton (AG) scenario assumes a de Sitter-like bounce with the thermodynamic arrow of time pointing in opposite directions away from the bounce. I argued that such a scenario may naturally arise in quantum cosmology with the Hartle-Hawking wave function of the universe. This choice of the wave function favors a de Sitter-like bounce in a vacuum state of the lowest positive energy density. The tunneling wave function, on the other hand, suggests that semiclassical spacetime is present only in one time direction from the bounce and favors the initial vacuum of the highest energy density.

    Even though the spacetime has no boundary in the AG model, it does include a hypersurface on which the low-entropy (vacuum) boundary condition must be enforced by some mechanism. This surface of minimum entropy plays the role of the beginning of the universe in this scenario.”

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  103. Josh says:

    Hey Sean, thanks for taking the time to link me that page on causation. I’m surprised I haven’t ran into it before, so I’ll be sure to gobble it up!

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  104. Jimmy says:

    Dr. Carroll,
    I very much enjoyed the debate and opportunity to learn about the cosmos. If you have already addressed this concern I apologize, but my reflections were the following:
    – You claim that premise one of the Kalam is patently false because models exist which predict a self contained system, and such model would purportedly refute the need for a transcendent cause. Additionally, I recall you using a similar type of reasoning by stating there are many “models” which serve to answer questions where our knowledge is deficient. Although it may be the case that cosmology, and science in general, proceeds in this manner, the central question of the debate concerned the current consensus. In other words, Dr. Craig was predominately using a model that is accepted by a majority of your peers as the best explanation of our cosmic beginning. Considering this is the best model we currently have [most widely accepted], even if it depends on classic space-time, how could you use models that are more problematic by which to justify a refutation of premise 1? Just so my point is clear: I do not understand how you justify a refutation of, “whatever begins to exist has a transcendent cause (i.e., does not cause itself), by postulating that there is a self contained model, when the model you describe is more problematic than the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem? Respectfully, it seems to me that this amounts to special pleading toward what theoretical physics could discover, but has yet to do so. Therefore, in the here and now, justification favors a model [theorem] which does support premise one, that whatever caused the universe’s beginning was something other than the universe.

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  105. John says:

    Arahant, doesn’t that sort of concede Craig’s point? If we have no good reason to expect one thing or another about the whole Universe, then why shouldn’t just anything else have a first moment, why is it just Universes that get to do that? Why assume there is a meta-law to begin with?

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  106. Augustine1938 says:

    Jimmy,

    I think you are misunderstanding the first premise of the Kalam. The first premise does not rely on the BGV theorem. The BGV theorem is used as support for the second premise, “the universe began to exist.” The first premise states that IF the universe began to exist, it had a transcendent cause. I understand Dr. Carroll’s objection to this premise to be that, as long as physics can come up with a self-contained model–even if that model shows the universe began to exist–then inquiring what “caused” the universe to begin to exist is “unwarranted” because it “isn’t part of an appropriate vocabulary to use for discussing fundamental physics.” I agree that under the strictures of methodological naturalism physics is not capable of dealing with issues of ultimate cause or explanation, so maybe it is “unwarranted” for the physicist in that sense. But, in my view, that is where the physicist has taken the baton as far down the field as he can and hands it off to the philosophers and the theologians, since questions of why the universe began to exist (or, in the case of the eternal cosmologies, why this particular contingent universe exists at all) are beyond the purview of physics qua physics. And of course even the physicist in his “off-hours” would be free to consider such metaphysical questions even if they are beyond the resources of physics to answer. I don’t see a good reason why inquiry has to stop because of a methodological constraint of physics.

    In regard to the second premise, I understand Dr. Carroll’s objection to be that there are models that are consistent with the BGV theorem that are past-eternal. Dr. Craig has argued that those models are inferior to the non-past-eternal models in terms of best fit to the available evidence, but Dr. Carroll says he is wrong about that, and that at this point it is inappropriate to say that the preponderance of the evidence favors either the past-eternal or non-past-eternal models, so judgment should be suspended until more evidence is in.

    Anyway, that is my layman’s understanding. I really enjoy these debates, because it provides an opportunity for we laymen to learn about the science in an interesting way.

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  107. Jimmy says:

    Thank you for the response.
    It seemed that BVG would support premise 1 by implication in that the universe could not have caused itself on this model. I didn’t realize that the mere mathematical possibility of a model, or hypothetical model, could serve as a defeater? Surely if there was a theorem which most physicists agreed upon that indeed demonstrated a self contained system, that would weaken the probability of premise 1?
    Anyway, once again, I appreciate the response and agree with your ending statement: in regard to cosmology, I am most definitely a layman :)

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  108. Augustine1938 says:

    Jimmy: “It seemed that BVG would support premise 1 by implication in that the universe could not have caused itself on this model.”

    I think the objection to a claim that “the universe caused itself” is just that the claim is incoherent. If you assume an A-theory of time, I think premise 1 is self-evident. But I believe Dr. Carroll adopts the B-theory of time.

    Jimmy: “I didn’t realize that the mere mathematical possibility of a model, or hypothetical model, could serve as a defeater?”

    With regard to premise 1, I agree. A model with non-past-eternality, like Hartle-Hawking, can’t serve as a defeater to premise 1, assuming an A-theory of time. A model allowing for past eternality that is consistent with the BGV theorem would seem to weaken premise 2, however (though it wouldn’t rule it out, since there are other models that are non-past-eternal, and there is philosophical support for premise 2 in the impossibility of actual infinites).

    Jimmy: “Surely if there was a theorem which most physicists agreed upon that indeed demonstrated a self contained system, that would weaken the probability of premise 1?”

    I think a model with non-past-eternality could only be considered self-contained on a B-theory of time. I believe it is true that on a B-theory of time, the Kalam fails, since it assumes real temporal becoming. But A vs. B theory is a purely philosophical question, the physics is consistent with both. On a B theory, it seems you would still have the question, “why does this particular contingent universe (or multiverse) exist tenselessly as opposed to some other universe (or multiverse)?” i.e., the argument from contingency would still need to be addressed.

    Thanks for the exchange–all of the above is subject to correction by the professionals in the combox! :)

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  111. Mason Colbert says:

    Augustine1938,

    Even if an A theory of time were correct, it does not necessarily follow that the Kalam argument is sound. There are proponents of the A-theory of time who do not think the Kalam is a successful argument. For example, both Quentin Smith and Arnold Guminski- who are both atheists, accept the A-theory of time, but do not feel it necessarily wins the Kalam favors. Indeed, Questin Smith has made a collection of cosmological arguments in defense fo atheism.

    http://www.amazon.com/Language-Time-Quentin-Smith/dp/0195155947
    http://infidels.org/library/modern/quentin_smith/self-caused.html
    http://infidels.org/library/modern/arnold_guminski/

    I myself am not entirely familar with the details of the physics/metaphysics of time to make an informed opinion on the matter. I will however disagree that A-series versus a B-series of time are “purely” philosophical. Contributions by Quentin Smith, Craig Callender, Dean Zimmerman, Bradley Monton, etc. have shown that the physics is highly relevant to the debate – given the empirical results of relativity theory, interpretations of quantum mechanics, contemporary quantum gravity theories are highly relevant to this debate.

    Cheers!

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  112. Augustine1938 says:

    Mason,

    Yes, I am somewhat familiar with Quentin Smith’s work. I read a debate he had with Dr. Craig a while back (see here http://www.reasonablefaith.org/does-god-exist-the-craig-smith-debate-2003), but as I recall his argument that the universe was “self-caused” didn’t get beyond the “circular causation” problem (which is the incoherence I referred to in my earlier comment about “self-causation”). But he does recognize that the concept of “cause” is applicable to a universe that began to exist.

    Regarding the A-vs. B theory, what I was referring to is my understanding that the A theory is consistent with the Lorentzian version of relativity, and that both theories of time are equally consistent with the empirical evidence–i.e., neither could be experimentally falsified. I’m not familiar with all the literature on this, however. Thanks for the response!

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  113. Allan says:

    Augustine1938 “in my view, that is where the physicist has taken the baton as far down the field as he can and hands it off to the philosophers and the theologians, since questions of why the universe began to exist (or, in the case of the eternal cosmologies, why this particular contingent universe exists at all) are beyond the purview of physics qua physics.”. I noticed what you did there. You smuggled in “theologians”. The suggestion that theologians have anything to contribute to our understanding of reality is absurd. Belief in talking donkeys, resurrection, witches, demons, eternal torture chambers etc. does not give any insight into how a universe begins – or not.

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  114. Augustine1938 says:

    Allan,

    Well, I’m glad to see at least you did not discard the contribution of philosophers, as some naturalists have done :)

    (Also, I should say I was thinking of those theologians that operate at the nexus of philosophy, science and theology, like John Polkinghorne (http://discovermagazine.com/2011/mar/14-priest-physicist-would-marry-science-religion#.Uw-2_fldUfU) or Greg Boyd (http://reknew.org/2008/01/in-light-of-einsteins-conclusion-that-time-is-relative-how-can-you-believe-that-god-is-not-above-time/)

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  116. Halophilic says:

    Allan,

    “Belief in talking donkeys, resurrection, witches, demons, eternal torture chambers etc. does not give any insight into how a universe begins – or not.”

    Which incidentally is why I’m skeptical that theists have anything useful to add on the topics of morality or the higher hanging fruit Dr. Carroll mentioned during the debate.

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  117. I wonder what a Senator would make of this thread and its myriad unreconciled concepts? Physics needs better formalisms, but it will take a long while – paradigms are hard to shift but a new one is needed to reconcile these views respectfully to logic. No one likes the ground shifted from under them, which is why these debates are so inspiring to many – they bring up fundamental shifts in their thinking.

    How to reconcile all thinking? I doubt that’s possible, but I think we can do much better at convincing the public and the semi-informed about the value of physics funding if we have something more … reconciling, as a framework for measurement and for understanding it. It’s people’s inertia at the end of the day – staying loyal and so on. I can only have a bewildered interest in the above until better formalisms are in place.

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  118. Jimmy says:

    This was my last concern:

    I found it interesting how Dr. Carroll made the statement that 200+ years ago he may have been a theist, but scientific discovery has since put a stranglehold on any such possibility. This is significant and could not be a more revealing statement in regard to the debate topic. The problem I am having is that this statement requires a significant justification from modern cosmology in order to be meaningful. Think about that statement briefly. If Dr. Carroll could evidence this claim, then any theistic argument from cosmology would be futile. This statement is not a subtle distinction from Dr. Craig’s thesis, it is a 180 degree distinction! The modern cosmological and teleological arguments are using contemporary scientific data by which to increase the probability of their premises being true! For modern cosmology to have completely buried God, so to speak, it seems highly unlikely that any credentialed academic would be making the bold claim that there was data which supported these premises. Lastly, for such a counter claim as Dr. Carroll stated to be true, it seems to me that it should be much more discernible from examining this alleged data that the God hypothesis is unreasonable.
    *Note – I am not claiming either theistic argument uses God as a hypothesis. By using this term, I am simply challenging the idea espoused by Dr. Carroll that contemporary cosmology has basically eliminated such hypothesis. That is a bold statement and was not, in my opinion, any conclusion that could be ascertained from his presentation.

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  119. Good video – good debating technique Sean. You had him all the way without your own model. I would have left it to parsimony to refute Craig’s model on the basis that “if” there was something from nothing it was from equal and opposite energy cancellation as a better speculation tied to fact than adding a”cause”, or just choose from the grab bag and say they are all speculative but they have “some” basis in fact rather than merely offending parsimony by being an abstract additive. Methinks you could not resist a little self promotion.

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  121. DEL says:

    I wouldn’t answer for Sean, but if he were I, the reason for converting 160 years ago from theism to atheism would have been Darwinism, not the then clueless, pre-scientific cosmology.

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  122. Lucy Harris says:

    Jimmy says:

    For modern cosmology to have completely buried God, so to speak, it seems highly unlikely that any credentialed academic would be making the bold claim that there was data which supported these premises.

    Because there will always be fringe views in any field. As Sean likes to say, almost all cosmologists are atheists.

    And I don’t think Sean would say modern cosmology disproves god, just that it makes god unnecessary as an explanation for the data. Craig is arguing god is necessary to explain it (though he tries to hide from that argument at times).

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  124. SimonW says:

    Well done Sean Carroll, you wiped the floor with WLC and your attitude was spot on throughout, not withstanding the touch of accomodationism at the end.

    I thought you won it immediately by saying that no academic cosmologist believes in the theistic origin of the universe(s). Is that factually true – has there been a survey?

    I can’t see any mention in the comments of what I saw as a massive problem for WLC. During the Q&A at the end, he said that God came into existence at the same time as the creation of our universe. From nothing….? Astonishing!

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  125. nick says:

    Sean, I have a math question (by the way, I’ve taken some graduate level differential geometry, but never any GR ):

    As far as I can tell, the BGV theorem says that, assuming the average expansion rate is positive (I don’t know what expansion rate is defined as, but I assume it’s some parameter buried in the metric?), then all geodesics must be past incomplete.

    My question is whether this is equivalent to there being an earliest time. Is is possible that, while all geodesics are incomplete, there is no earliest time? I am picturing (non-rigorously) a kind of ‘infinite pan-flute’ universe, where each pipe of the pan-flute (~geodesic) has a finite length, but the pan-flute extends arbitrarily far down. This is a fuzzy notion, and perhaps this is an annoyingly ill-posed question, but I’m asking it non-the-less.

    Basically, are there geometric/relativistic principles that make ‘past-incompleteness’ of each geodesic equivalent to ‘first moment in time’?

    Thanks!

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  126. @Jack Spell – You ask a lot of questions – I’ll try to reply to a few.

    “If so, is it not perfectly legitimate to inquire as to what determines that this particular statically-existing universe obtains, rather than some other one or none at all?”

    Well, for a given model (Hartle-Hawking for example), you could find that the assumptions of the model uniquely determine the conditions of the early universe. That is, the energy density and initial expansion rate are completely explained by the model. If, in addition, those conditions match what we see in our universe, then we have an explanation for why this particular universe exists.

    More likely, the model predicts a range of possible universes. Then we can see if our universe is in the high-probability region or not.

    “Also, would you agree that the A-Theory of time is the much more common sense view?”

    Not if you know something about relativity. In relativity a B theory is a much more natural interpretation.

    “…given the fact that we have *substantial* evidence that our universe satisfies the only condition of BVG — Hav > 0 …”

    This is NOT the only assumption of the BVG theorem. As Sean pointed out several times in his talk, there is another important assumption: that spacetime is a smooth manifold – what Sean called “classical.” We have good reasons to think that on the large scale, our spacetime is smooth and classical. Now, quantum gravity folks don’t agree about much, but they agree about one thing: when we go to sufficiently high energies (equivalently, short length scales) the smooth structure of spacetime will break down. Hence Sean’s comment that singularity theorems like BVG tell us not about what the universe is like, but about where our assumptions probably break down.

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  127. Alan Cooper says:

    I think you were right to focus on Craig’s #1 of the Kalam argument because in fact I think *he* is right re #2 – in his claim that modern cosmology (ever since the beginning of GR) does provide a window of opportunity for the idea of a “beginning” of spacetime (and, to be fair to him, that is all he was really claiming – even though his comments often made it look as if he wanted to prove that there really has to be one). Too much energy spent on that issue leaves open the possibility of being confounded in future if it ever turns out that a well-defined best fitting model actually has no meaningful extension beyond a certain point in the past.

    With regard to the fine tuning argument I think you were very effective in pointing out both the “finer-than-necessary” aspect and the difficulties with his attempt to define a probability (especially when we don’t yet have even one provably consistent comprehensive model to put in the space of all “possible universes”).

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  128. DanielC says:

    @Jimmy

    What even is the God Hypothesis? There seem to multiple God Hypophesis. Craig’s personal hypothesis seems to be that a disembodied mind exists outside of space and time and this Mind is God. Furthermore God’s “will” is enough to actualise the existence of everything from nothing. This is preposterous, I don’t think it’s even coherent. Even if I grant that a mind can exist without a Brain (which in fact I would highly dispute) to then say this Mind can exist without there being any space to exist in is completely absurd and to then claim that this “transcendent” mind can possess willpower, which I define will as the ability for a mind to actualise it’s desires onto objects which aren’t part of the mind itself (if you’ve got a better definition please share it) and moreover claim that this mind can actualise it’s will without any time existing to pass to allow for thought to turn into desires and desires to be actualised by the will appears to me to be incoherent and utter nonsense.

    I don’t understand how any cosmological evidence could possibly support that hypothesis without first demonstrating that minds can exist without brains. Then furthermore demonstrating that they can exist of time and space which appears prima facie to me to be impossible and is almost certainly beyond anyone’s current capabilities.

    This is an example of where philosophy fails and becomes crackpottery. People start appealing to their intuitions which is pointless since we already know reality can be are counter intuitive and then trying to define things into existence which isn’t just pointless but also obnoxious because much of reality does not submit itself to your, mine or any other person’s definitions.

    One last note: I can’t fathom why so many theists seem to think Craig won because he used to standard cosmology when he clearly relied upon philosophical speculation beyond currently standard cosmology. I’m not sure if this will come as a shock to you but God is not a part of standard cosmology. Neither are “transcendent causes” as Sean has already articulated causes let alone transcendent ones aren’t really a part of modern fundamental physics at all.

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  129. Jimmy says:

    Regarding a God hypothesis, as I mentioned, I am not suggesting God as a premise to an argument. Nor would I pretend to represent Dr. Craig’s understanding of this phrase. What I generally understand this to mean would be more relevant to studies of the Historical Resurrection, which posit God as a falsifiable hypothesis to explain data. In this case, its more appropriate to think of [in my opinion] transcendent causes. In other words, simply an explanation that does not, perhaps could not, require a self cause. Thats why I mentioned that any model which posits a self caused universe would have to have some type of consensus within the cosmological community, one would think. I couldn’t image why someone would argue from a model that has less explanatory power than a rival model.

    I could be mistaken, but it seems that your mention of mind and brain is more about issues regarding philosophy of mind, consciousness, etc., rather than a simpler idea of transcendent causes. I recognize where this can get more technical in that sense, when attributes of the cause are explained. That is not what I meant, however.

    As to your mentioning a “Will.” To my mind, a will would be an original phenomenon, rather than a desire or any vehicle for something more primary. My theology may be off here, but it seems to me that when God’s will is spoken of, this means much more than some act of volition. The “Will” of God would be an aspect of his being and essence.

    To your point concerning human intuitions, I would suggest considering the earlier question about “wills” and “minds.” Once again, I realize that details of this argument can get more specific concerning the transcendent cause, but all one needs is a reasonable probability that the cause was not the entity itself (i.e., a self caused universe), for the argument to be successful, in my opinion. So, in summary of the intuition concern, we need not go into our intuitive ideas about consciousness studies to posit a transcendent cause.

    In general, I would agree with you about reality being counterintuitive. It seems very counter intuitive to me that some people engage in metacognition, then deny consciousness by suggesting man to be a bundle of nerves and reflexes. My intuition was surely challenged when I first learned of self directed neuroplasticity, for example, and how mind can enact causal effects upon the physical brain. I would agree that we can’t always go with our intuitions concerning reality.

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  130. DanielC says:

    Cosmologists don’t just use Occam’s razor or the apparent eloquence of a Model to evaluate it’s validity, they use empirical evidence and empirical evidence about the universe is still being gathered, Modern Cosmology only really began with the discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background in 1964, it doesn’t seem to be case of special pleading to merely note Cosmology is still advancing especially when there are good reasons to believe our current models are at least partially inadequate e.g. lack of a complete theory of quantum gravity .

    You say “all one needs for the argument to be successful is a reasonable probability that the cause was not the entity itself” I don’t know how you would gauge that probability, I think all we can really say is that the evidence is currently indecisive on these issues. Although I can’t see the evidence being in favour of God until the God hypothesis becomes coherent and makes some more precise predictions than the universe exists.

    I brought up the philosophy of the mind because William Lane Craig describes God as a transcendent mind and I’ve always assumed Christians assume (do you? I’m willing to be corrected) that God is concious so obviously conciousness is relevant to God. You say “The will of God would be an aspect of his being and essence” I assume you conclude that from Biblical exegesis in which case I would like reference to the biblical passages you are inducing this conclusion from, if you’re using a different method to conclude God’s will is a part of his essence then I would like you to elaborate on the method please (if you have the time of course). However even this claim seem’s incoherent to me. Like you said we could get into more technical arguments but I have no wish to do this because I’m afraid we could end up wasting time engaging in pointless crackpot philosophy.

    You say the God hypothesis is more relevant to studies of the historical resurrection, I assume you’re referencing the (in my opinion) shoddy work done by people like Garry Habermas, Mike Licona and William Lane Craig? If so there’s a few articles I’d like to discuss with you.

    You also say; “It seems very counter intuitive to me that some people engage in metacognition, then deny consciousness by suggesting man to be a bundle of nerves and reflexes.” Firstly I want to be clear I personally do not deny the existence of conciousness, the fact that I am concious is one of the best supported facts I personally know of. Secondly It irks me when people describe the brain as just “a bundle of nerves”, it’s not just a bundle of nerves, it’s a very complicated and important organ. However I agree with you, my suspicion is we do have some real agency, it’s not all just reflexes. Although whether I would characterise that agency as “Free will” I’m not sure but I think this more a matter of rhetorical word games then substantive differences at this point. You ask “how can the mind enact causal effects upon the physical brain?” I will say, I think it’s a valid and important question to ask but unfortunately I don’t think I can currently give you an adequate answer, it doesn’t appear like an unsolvable mystery to me but I think there’s still a lot of work to be done until we have a satisfying answer.

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  131. Jimmy says:

    Dan,
    First of all, thanks for the interaction. I certainly have much to learn here, but to engage these significant issues is a step in the right direction.
    A. Cosmic models – my concern here is not whether a particular model is theoretically coherent, but rather how much credibility the model is given within the field. I understand this is how we arrive at superior models, by continuing to theorize and push the envelope, so to speak. I thought it was important at this point in time to recognize, however, that there is a model [as I understand the arguments] which supports some of the premises used in theistic argument. This being the case, I cannot fathom how a physicist could justify the claim that current cosmological science has buried God. Lets consider the implications of what we currently know, but [as you mention] continue searching for what we are yet to discover.
    B. Probabilities: This would relate to my point above in the sense that current data at least supports premises within certain arguments that have theistic implication. Also, I would continue to emphasize the probability that the cause was transcendent, rather then self caused. If there is any reason to believe [it seems this must be the case or no one would be debating this topic] that a self contained model is problematic and an external cause is a real consideration, then why not consider such probabilities? Although I do not pretend to understand quantum theory, my concern pertains to the following: for any entity, whether from below [our minds] or above [the cosmos] there still exists the relation of container and content. Whatever quantum theory may explain, it seems that it would be a feature of content, rather than container. There must be all types of random and counterintuitive aspects to how the cosmic content can be understood. I am not at a point where I can conceive of how a greater understanding of the content (i.e., quantum theory) necessitates naturalistic insight into the container [superstructure] within which all phenomena occurs.
    C. Consciousness relevant to God? Certainly, I was simply focusing on the aspect of transcendent causes. When this can be seriously considered, then other implications make more sense.
    D. To your question of God’s will and my response of essence. I am including a quote taken from “new advent” website which addresses the “divine will” of God:
    The divine will

    Description of the Divine Will

    “(a) The highest perfections of creatures are reducible to functions of intellect and will, and, as these perfections are realized analogically in God, we naturally pass from considering Divine knowledge or intelligence to the study of Divine volition. **The object of intellect as such is the true; the object of will as such, the good. In the case of God it is evident that His own infinite goodness is the primary and necessary object of His will, created goodness being but a secondary and contingent object. This is what the inspired writer means when he says: “The Lord hath made all things for himself” (Proverbs 16:4). The Divine will of course, like the Divine intellect, is really identical with the Divine Essence but according to our finite modes of thought we are obliged to speak of them as if they were distinct and, just as the Divine intellect cannot be dependent on created objects for its knowledge of them, neither can the Divine will be so dependent for its volition. Had no creature ever been created, God would have been the same self-sufficient being that He is, the Divine will as an appetitive faculty being satisfied with the infinite goodness of the Divine Essence itself.** This is what the Vatican Council means by speaking of God as “most happy in and by Himself” — not that He does not truly wish and love the goodness of creatures, which is a participation of His own, but that He has no need of creatures and is in no way dependent on them for His bliss.”
    E. Habermas & Resurrection:
    What I think is significant to this work is that he uses data which is agreed upon by critical scholars of the New Testament, many of which are agnostic or atheist. I won’t go into the minimal facts argument, but I don’t think it’s disputable that he is using data (i.e., historical consensus) by which to support his argument.
    F. The last point on Mind and Brain. I liked most of what you said above and I think a continued investigation into this area may be a great place to be. The research that I am familiar with regarding modern neuroscience makes consciousness a more legitimate topic of discussion, rather than providing any fuel for radical materialists. My point on self directed neuroplasticity was given as an example. A great source for this, if you’re interested, would be work by Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, research psychiatrist at UCLA. See, “The Mind & the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the power of Mental Force,” as well as, “You are not your Brain,” by the same author. This work provides original research regarding the mind’s ability to enact causal effects on brain as I mentioned earlier.

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  133. Jack Spell says:

    @Robert Oerter

    I appreciate your taking the time to address some of my questions; and I especially thank you for doing so in such a kind, thoughtful manner. I do have some questions (go figure :) ) regarding your replies.

    “Well, for a given model (Hartle-Hawking for example), you could find that the assumptions of the model uniquely determine the conditions of the early universe. That is, the energy density and initial expansion rate are completely explained by the model.”

    I don’t want this to sound disrespectful to you, but I must ask, is that the way you intended to word this paragraph? I ask this because you said that the assumptions of the model uniquely *determine* the conditions of the early universe. How could that even possibly be so? My immediate inclination would be to argue in support of the objectivity of temporal becoming and point out that the conditions of the early universe — regardless of how, who, or what determined them — were in place long before any human being ever existed, much less crafted a cosmogonic model. Nevertheless I would still have an objection even if I were a B-Theorist instead. That is, what causal connection exists so as to permit a state of affairs where a man-made cosmogonic model *determines* what the conditions were like in the universe 13.7 billion years earlier than it?

    The misunderstanding, it seems to me, is that you seem to think that I’m inquiring as to “What determined the current conditions ***that we observe*** in the universe?” To which your answer would be perfectly legitimate and accurate. But that’s *not* the question. What I’m asking is,

    1) If the A-Theory of time is correct, what were the conditions that led to our universe beginning to exist (as a conceptual analysis of “begins to exist”: x begins to exist iff (i) x exists at some time t, (ii) there is no time t* 0 can be continuously defined along some past-directed timelike or null geodesic. . . . In this section we show that the inequalities of Eqs. (4) and (6) can be established in arbitrary cosmological models, ***making no assumptions*** about homogeneity, isotropy, or energy conditions. . . . We assume that a congruence of timelike geodesics (“comoving test particles”) has been defined along O [18], and we will construct a definition for H that depends *only* on the relative motion of the observer and test particles. . . . Again we see that if Hav > 0 along any null or noncomoving timelike geodesic, then the geodesic is necessarily past-incomplete. . . . Our argument shows that null and timelike geodesics are, in general, past-incomplete in inflationary models, whether or not energy conditions hold, provided *only* that the averaged expansion condition Hav > 0 holds along these past-directed geodesics. . . . This is the chief result of our paper. The result ***depends on just one assumption***: the Hubble parameter H has a positive value when averaged over the affine parameter of a past-directed null or noncomoving timelike geodesic.”

    If that weren’t enough, they elaborate further BVG’s implications for other models in higher dimensions, specifically the Ekpyrotic Cyclic model built by Steinhardt and Turok, which is a quantum gravity model!

    “The class of cosmologies satisfying this assumption is not limited to inflating universes. . . . Our argument can be straightforwardly extended to cosmology in higher dimensions. For example, in the model of Ref. [15] brane worlds are created in collisions of bubbles nucleating in an inflating higher- dimensional bulk spacetime. Our analysis implies that the inflating bulk cannot be past-complete. We finally comment on the cyclic universe model [16] in which a bulk of 4 spatial dimensions is sandwiched between two 3-dimensional branes. The effective (3+1)-dimensional geometry describes a periodically expanding and recollapsing universe, with curvature singularities separating each cycle. The internal brane spacetimes, however, are nonsingular, and this is the basis for the claim [16] that the cyclic scenario does not require any initial conditions. We disagree with this claim. In some versions of the cyclic model the brane spacetimes are everywhere expanding, so our theorem immediately implies the existence of a past boundary at which boundary conditions must be imposed. In other versions, there are brief periods of contraction, but the net result of each cycle is an expansion. For null geodesics each cycle is identical to the others, except for the overall normalization of the affine parameter. Thus, as long as Hav > 0 for a null geodesic when averaged over one cycle, then Hav > 0 for any number of cycles, and our theorem would imply that the geodesic is incomplete.”

    Vilenkin reiterates:

    “A remarkable thing about this theorem is its sweeping generality. We made no assumptions about the material content of the universe. We did not even assume that gravity is described by Einstein’s equations. So, if Einstein’s gravity requires some modification, our conclusion will still hold. The only assumption that we made was that the expansion rate of the universe never gets below some nonzero value, no matter how small. This assumption should certainly be satisfied in the inflating false vacuum. The conclusion is that past-eternal inflation without a beginning is impossible.” [Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One, p. 175]

    There are several other papers I could cite that affirm the same conclusion — BVG makes only a single assumption. But this is long enough already.

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  134. Jack Spell says:

    That didn’t come out right. What I said was:

    @Robert Oerter

    I appreciate your taking the time to address some of my questions; and I especially thank you for doing so in such a kind, thoughtful manner. I do have some questions (go figure :) ) regarding your replies.

    “Well, for a given model (Hartle-Hawking for example), you could find that the assumptions of the model uniquely determine the conditions of the early universe. That is, the energy density and initial expansion rate are completely explained by the model.”

    I don’t want this to sound disrespectful to you, but I must ask, is that the way you intended to word this paragraph? I ask this because you said that the assumptions of the model uniquely *determine* the conditions of the early universe. How could that even possibly be so? My immediate inclination would be to argue in support of the objectivity of temporal becoming and point out that the conditions of the early universe — regardless of how, who, or what determined them — were in place long before any human being ever existed, much less crafted a cosmogonic model. Nevertheless I would still have an objection even if I were a B-Theorist instead. That is, what causal connection exists so as to permit a state of affairs where a man-made cosmogonic model *determines* what the conditions were like in the universe 13.7 billion years earlier than it?

    The misunderstanding, it seems to me, is that you seem to think that I’m inquiring as to “What determined the current conditions ***that we observe*** in the universe?” To which your answer would be perfectly legitimate and accurate. But that’s *not* the question. What I’m asking is,

    1) If the A-Theory of time is correct, what were the conditions that led to our universe beginning to exist (as a conceptual analysis of “begins to exist”: x begins to exist iff (i) x exists at some time t, (ii) there is no time t* 0 can be continuously defined along some past-directed timelike or null geodesic. . . . In this section we show that the inequalities of Eqs. (4) and (6) can be established in arbitrary cosmological models, ***making no assumptions*** about homogeneity, isotropy, or energy conditions. . . . We assume that a congruence of timelike geodesics (“comoving test particles”) has been defined along O [18], and we will construct a definition for H that depends *only* on the relative motion of the observer and test particles. . . . Again we see that if Hav > 0 along any null or noncomoving timelike geodesic, then the geodesic is necessarily past-incomplete. . . . Our argument shows that null and timelike geodesics are, in general, past-incomplete in inflationary models, whether or not energy conditions hold, provided *only* that the averaged expansion condition Hav > 0 holds along these past-directed geodesics. . . . This is the chief result of our paper. The result ***depends on just one assumption***: the Hubble parameter H has a positive value when averaged over the affine parameter of a past-directed null or noncomoving timelike geodesic.”

    If that weren’t enough, they elaborate further BVG’s implications for other models in higher dimensions, specifically the Ekpyrotic Cyclic model built by Steinhardt and Turok, which is a quantum gravity model!

    “The class of cosmologies satisfying this assumption is not limited to inflating universes. . . . Our argument can be straightforwardly extended to cosmology in higher dimensions. For example, in the model of Ref. [15] brane worlds are created in collisions of bubbles nucleating in an inflating higher- dimensional bulk spacetime. Our analysis implies that the inflating bulk cannot be past-complete. We finally comment on the cyclic universe model [16] in which a bulk of 4 spatial dimensions is sandwiched between two 3-dimensional branes. The effective (3+1)-dimensional geometry describes a periodically expanding and recollapsing universe, with curvature singularities separating each cycle. The internal brane spacetimes, however, are nonsingular, and this is the basis for the claim [16] that the cyclic scenario does not require any initial conditions. We disagree with this claim. In some versions of the cyclic model the brane spacetimes are everywhere expanding, so our theorem immediately implies the existence of a past boundary at which boundary conditions must be imposed. In other versions, there are brief periods of contraction, but the net result of each cycle is an expansion. For null geodesics each cycle is identical to the others, except for the overall normalization of the affine parameter. Thus, as long as Hav > 0 for a null geodesic when averaged over one cycle, then Hav > 0 for any number of cycles, and our theorem would imply that the geodesic is incomplete.”

    Vilenkin reiterates:

    “A remarkable thing about this theorem is its sweeping generality. We made no assumptions about the material content of the universe. We did not even assume that gravity is described by Einstein’s equations. So, if Einstein’s gravity requires some modification, our conclusion will still hold. The only assumption that we made was that the expansion rate of the universe never gets below some nonzero value, no matter how small. This assumption should certainly be satisfied in the inflating false vacuum. The conclusion is that past-eternal inflation without a beginning is impossible.” [Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One, p. 175]

    There are several other papers I could cite that affirm the same conclusion — BVG makes only a single assumption. But this is long enough already.

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  135. DEL says:

    Jack Spell:
    Just because Oerter inadvertently wrote “the assumptions of the model uniquely determine the conditions of the early universe” instead of “the assumptions of the model uniquely determine a true statement about the conditions of the early universe” is no reason to pounce on him. I won’t believe you believe he meant what you have insinuated. This attack is either overly pedantic or insufficiently honest.

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  136. I just wanted to tell you that it was deeply satisfying that he finally debated a physicist familiar with the theories he tries to reference as arguments.

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  137. Tom May says:

    Hi Sean, loved your talk. Apart from the obvious thing of Craig completely misunderstanding the science, I found your remarks about theism being ill defined very interesting.

    Have you read David Deutsch’s book “The Beginning if Infinity”? It covers a lot of ground, but that particular issue is part of it and while he basically argues the same point as you did, he gives it a slightly different spin. There’s also a great TED talk from him about the topic which you might find interesting:
    http://www.ted.com/talks/david_deutsch_a_new_way_to_explain_explanation

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  139. Tom says:

    “I think I mostly reached my primary goal of explaining why many of us think theism is undermined by modern science, and in particular why there is no support to be found for it in modern cosmology.”

    Wow. You really believe this is logical? I know you think the last bit is true (no support) but the logic is on a level with Victor Stenger.

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  141. ohi says:

    It is bothersome that people do not accept that time and space are related (space-time) and that there really is 3 dimensions of space and one dimension of time. The universe didn’t “popped” into existence (be/c this implies temporality before the existence of time)- what we really have is the edge of space-time. However, the further advancement of understanding of quantum mechanics will likely make sense of before the big bang theory (i.e. quantum theory of space) and eliminate singularities.

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  142. Glen Marquis says:

    Hi Sean,

    Could you let me have anything more about QET you spoke of in the debate, I cannot find anything on the internet, besides a hit back to your page.

    Perhaps, any other past/future theorems!? Thanks in advance.

    Regards,
    Glen.

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  143. turner_chris1 says:

    So WLC went first – Again – has he ever gone second? ever?

    Is him going first the only known infinite series of events stretching back into time?

    if a man strikes you on the right cheek……. but if he tries to go first in a debate…

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  144. kalam says:

    Hi Sean, thanks for a great debate and for your post debate reflections. It seems to me that, on the one hand (as you admit) we do not have adequate scientific evidence to show that the universe is past eternal or not. On the other hand we have good reasons for thinking that the universe has an ultimate beginning, that the universe could not begin to exist uncaused, and that philosophical reasoning is capable of yielding items of knowledge which we can be even more epistemically certain about than the discoveries of science. Please see the following peer-reviewed materials

    https://www.academia.edu/2154798/Loke_Andrew._2014_._A_MODIFIED_PHILOSOPHICAL_ARGUMENT_FOR_A_BEGINNING_OF_THE_UNIVERSE_._Think_13_pp_71-83._Cambridge_University_Press._doi_10.1017_S147717561300033X

    https://www.academia.edu/1956717/Loke_Andrew._Is_an_uncaused_beginning_of_the_universe_possible_A_response_to_recent_naturalistic_metaphysical_theorizing._Philosophia_Christi_14_2012_373-393

    https://www.academia.edu/6261144/Loke_Andrew_2014_._The_benefits_of_studying_philosophy_for_science_education._Journal_of_the_NUS_Teaching_Academy._National_University_of_Singapore

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  145. DEL says:

    kalam:

    The universe, as this blog’s title alludes, may well be preposterous, but its preposterousness is no match to that of your claim:

    “philosophical reasoning is capable of yielding items of knowledge which we can be even more epistemically certain about than the discoveries of science.”

    There may be a philosophical reasoning behind this claim in the links you’ve provided, but if such reasoning is so infallible, how come philosophers have never agreed between them on much? And where, for instance, is Descartes’ epistemology today?

    Moreover, I reason that if a philosopher is really hardly pressed to prove that a basic prerequisite for his personal salvation and afterlife is right there, in the physics, his “philosophical reasoning is capable of yielding” all that is necessary.

    As to the physics, philosophers, even the most prominent ones using their best philosophical reasoning, have a ve…ry long history of getting it wrong. And your own words, quoted above from your own comment, explain this fact perfectly.

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  146. Simone says:

    Dr. Carroll,

    about your assertion that Craig took Stephen Hawking out of context when he quoted him to support the idea that the Carroll-Chen model violates the principle of unitarity: why is it that Hawking’s quote is not relevant when discussing yours and Chen’s model? Also, can you please specify what you mean when you say such quote has “nothing to do with cosmology”?

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  147. Glen Marquis says:

    1. Lets say we measure caused space-time, we write equations for its behaviour,
    We find experiments that seem to confirm the equations well.

    2. Could Classical or Quantum mechanics describe “a physical cause” for familiar space-time of this pocket-cosmos or Hubble region?

    3. Is it reasonable to expect “space-time” equations to describe its physical causes?
    If that cause is not standard/quantum space-time itself?

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  148. Devin Tarr says:

    Dr. Carroll,

    Thank you so much for your participation in this debate. I found your reflections enormously interesting, and soon after went off to read your book “Particle at the End of the Universe”. Also, the physics there was so interesting I began listening to The Teaching Company’s “Great Courses” on physics. I’ve now finished the course on Einsteinian Relativity and the Quantum Revolution, and have started the one on Particle Physics for Non-Physicists. I’m also now pursuing a teaching credential in science because I’ve found modern physics so interesting.

    I ought to write that I’m a sincere believer in God, and that He has revealed Himself to the world through His Son Jesus Christ, but your graciousness, erudition, and winsomeness (I believe) go a long way towards helping us (humanity) in our pursuit of the truth.

    Thank you Dr. Carroll.

    Sincerely,
    Devin Tarr

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  149. kalam says:

    DEL,
    Your comments show that you haven’t read the peer-reviewed papers that I linked previously. Those papers demonstrate how philosophy is indeed capable of yielding items of knowledge which we can be even more epistemically certain about than the discoveries of science. Here is the link again:
    https://www.academia.edu/6261144/Loke_Andrew_2014_._The_benefits_of_studying_philosophy_for_science_education._Journal_of_the_NUS_Teaching_Academy._National_University_of_Singapore

    ‘Capable’ does not mean that philosophers always use philosophical reasoning properly, and there are indeed cases where philosophers got it wrong. But the fact that there are cases where philosophers got it wrong does not mean that all are wrong. We have to assess case by case and see how sound the argument is for each case. And the peer-reviewed papers that I linked show that the Kalam is indeed sound.
    https://www.academia.edu/2154798/Loke_Andrew._2014_._A_MODIFIED_PHILOSOPHICAL_ARGUMENT_FOR_A_BEGINNING_OF_THE_UNIVERSE_._Think_13_pp_71-83._Cambridge_University_Press._doi_10.1017_S147717561300033X

    https://www.academia.edu/1956717/Loke_Andrew._Is_an_uncaused_beginning_of_the_universe_possible_A_response_to_recent_naturalistic_metaphysical_theorizing._Philosophia_Christi_14_2012_373-393

    On disagreements among philosophers read Anthony Flew’s remarks:
    ‘The attempt to show that there is no philosophical knowledge by simply urging that there is always someone who can be relied on to remain unconvinced is a com¬mon fallacy made even by a distinguished philosopher like Bertrand Russell. I called it the But-there-is-always-some-one-who-will-never-agree Diversion. Then there is the charge that in philosophy it is never possible to prove to someone that you are right and he or she is wrong. But the missing piece in this argument is the distinction between producing a proof and persuading a person. A person can be persuaded by an abominable argument and remain unconvinced by one that ought to be accepted.’ Anthony Flew, There is a God, 40-41

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