Talks on God and Cosmology

Hey, remember the debate I had with William Lane Craig, on God and Cosmology? (Full video here, my reflections here.) That was on a Friday night, and on Saturday morning the event continued with talks from four other speakers, along with responses by WLC and me. At long last these Saturday talks have appeared on YouTube, so here they are!

First up was Tim Maudlin, who usually focuses on philosophy of physics but took the opportunity to talk about the implications of God’s existence for morality. (Namely, he thinks there aren’t any.)

Then we had Robin Collins, who argued for a new spin on the fine-tuning argument, saying that the universe is constructed to allow for it to be discoverable.

Back to Team Naturalism, Alex Rosenberg explains how the appearance of “design” in nature is well-explained by impersonal laws of physics.

Finally, James Sinclair offered thoughts on the origin of time and the universe.

To wrap everything up, the five of us participated in a post-debate Q&A session.

Enough debating for me for a while! Oh no, wait: on May 7 I’ll be in New York, debating whether there is life after death. (Spoiler alert: no.)

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22 Responses to Talks on God and Cosmology

  1. Pingback: God/Cosmology Debate Videos | Sean Carroll

  2. Ben Goren says:

    Great! I’ve been looking forward to these; I’ll set them playing in just a bit.

    First up was Tim Maudlin, who usually focuses on philosophy of physics but took the opportunity to talk about the implications of God’s existence for morality. (Namely, he thinks there aren’t any.)

    I don’t know if Tim touches on it or not, but I’m surprised that more rationalists don’t approach this with what I think of as the “cookbook problem.” Assume that there actually are gods and they have desires for us and that they’ve clearly communicated those desires. How are we supposed to know, as the Man Who Was Served discovered too late, that it’s not a cookbook?

    That problem is especially compounded for Christianity, with Jesus being described as the “Good Shepherd” and humans his flock. Sure, shepherds protect the sheep from wolves…but then the shepherd goes ahead and milks and fleeces and then kills and eats those same sheep, just as the wolves would.

    The short answer is that we are the only ones, even in principle, capable of deciding what our own best interests are. Maybe there are others who would potentially have some valuable insights or help to offer…but, ultimately, only we can be responsible for or even trust nobody but ourselves.



  3. Ben Goren says:

    Tim made excellent use of the hypothetical possibility that the Universe is a sixth grader’s computer simulation experiment. Tim’s talk is on morality, but there’s just one step further necessary to go to demonstrate the absurdity of the omni gods.

    Specifically, we have no way to eliminate the possibility that we are living in such a simulation…but, at the same time, the programmer(s) of the simulation have no way of eliminating the possibility that they themselves are living in an even bigger simulation — or that they’re part of Alice’s Red King’s dream, and so on.

    And if even the gods themselves have no way of ruling out the possibility that they themselves are but some poorly-digested beef in Scrooge’s Christmas dinner, of what sense does it make to claim that they’re all-knowing or all-powerful or all-anything?



  4. Dave says:

    These discussions are interesting, but I wonder if they are worth the time. And I wonder if they are actually in the best interests of science. The anti-science block in the US seems to be hardened and impervious to rational argument. I believe a good part of this may be a reaction against anti-religion zealots (Sean not included) who argue so aggressively against religious ideas and a belief in god. This battle line has only made positions more entrenched and politicized. Anyway, it seems that cosmologists can take their ideas only so far. There is too much uncertainty and wiggle room for discussions on fine tuning, the beginning of time, and so forth. Going forward, I think biology, especially neurobiology and synthetic biology, will have the biggest impact on our belief systems, morality, and what it means to be human.

  5. danaigh says:

    If there were a discussion without the reference to any ‘deity’ per se but instead bring up the strengths and flaws of the current scientific theories that support a non-designed life forms. Although this may be not of interest to the cosmologist it is of interest to me.

  6. Lord says:

    Shouldn’t that be there is no time, so no life nor death? That tosses causality to the realm of ill defined concepts too.

  7. N. says:

    Jeez Shean. And you still have time to do physics?

  8. Dave Greene says:

    Science is an investigation into the physical realm. So why would it have anything to contribute to a non-physical topic such as many concepts of life after death? Waste of time if you ask me, unless the folks involved in the debate want to lay their science aside to share their non-scientific opinions 🙂

  9. Daniel Shawen says:

    You may call what most of us experience human “consciousness” or “life”, if you wish, but frankly, some of us already find it sorely lacking in cosmic scope. All of our experiences derives from those obtained through our limited senses and/or instruments on this insignificant speck of cosmic real estate. If it all just popped out of existence yesterday or tomorrow, what real difference would it make? Well, not as much as we seem to “think”, and even that term is an exaggeration at this level.

    There isn’t “life after death” because there isn’t really any intelligent or very sentient life on this dust speck to begin with.

  10. allan says:

    Dave said: ” anti-science block in the US seems to be hardened and impervious to rational argument. I believe a good part of this may be a reaction against anti-religion zealots “. That’s a novel argument for the degree of religious fundamentalism in the U.S. It’s them damn atheists that caused it. If only they’d be quiet religious nuttiness would just fade away.

  11. Farhad Keyvan says:

    Dear Sean:

    Your debates with the theists are great and very useful, but as a physicist I would rather read and hear about your new ideas in physics.

  12. Dave says:

    Of course atheism is not the cause of religious fundamentalism, whether Christian, Islamic, or any other. But the word alone denotes that it is a- or anti-theistic. When theism is frontally attacked, there is a push back and hardening of positions, and we have seen this. Naturalism is a much better term because it doesn’t define itself by the opposite side. This approach (which Sean uses) brings respect to the discussion that others do not. It can stand alone as a way of describing the universe, and it can explain without attacking.

  13. michaud says:

    Here you have so much false logic, unstructured words strung together as if meaningful, false dichotomies, conscious mental gymnastics holding extreme contradictions and and just plain woowoo, I can’t see why you waste even seconds of your valuable time, personal & professional trying to ‘debate’, in quotes because there’s only one side willing to entertain a change of mind, with these people. It must be masochism…

  14. Latverian Diplomat says:


    ” The anti-science block in the US seems to be hardened and impervious to rational argument”

    The vocal core of this “block” is surely steadfast, but there are many people on the edges who can still be influenced. The testimony of people raised in fundamentalism supports the notion that for many, stepping away from fundamentalism is a gradual process, and every exposure to challenging ideas, competently expressed, is a step away from the darkness of their upbringing.

  15. Judith Kilgore says:

    Am I the only one who finds Mr. Mauldin’s presentation both tedious and boring? Perhaps listening to Christopher Hitchens and friends has made me less patient and more critical, but I don’t think I can sit through this.

  16. Daniel Shawen says:

    When it becomes available again, I plan to nominate both WLC and Gary Spivey for the growing “Encyclopedia of American Loons”. This is a great resource, that already contains such notable loons as David de Hilster, Newt Gingrich, John Hagey, and the late Fred Phelps.

  17. Ray Gedaly says:

    Re upcoming life-after-death debate: If a pro-l.a.d. debater describes near-death out-of-body anecdotes describing a person’s “soul” floating above and looking back on it’s material body and surroundings, please ask the debater how vision and optics work in the non-material soul.

  18. mb says:

    Thanks for posting this. I wanted to hear Rosenberg’s talk but had given up checking to see if it’d been posted.

    I really appreciated how Rosenberg and you both focused on the 2nd law of thermodynamics. This is something theists have been harping on since the 70’s and, I now know, is such a perversion of the 2nd law. As a young evangelical, the 2nd law was used as, really, prima facie evidence AGAINST evolution in efforts to indoctrinate me against evolution (didn’t work, but it left me confused about the 2nd law.) Which is why Rosenberg’s talk was not off topic or full of “red herrings.”

    Interestingly, Craig’s “red herrings” are being chased by “hounds.” Transitional forms, maybe?

  19. Pingback: Turing computer vs Boltzmann Brains | The Great Vindications

  20. Carl 'SAI' Mitchell says:

    I think the biggest problem with most versions of theism is the assumption that God (or Gods) must be benevolent. I see little reason for such an assumption, and quite a bit of evidence that God is indifferent or malevolent. If God is malevolent then there is no need to question the existence of evil, and the existence of good is called into question instead. But that’s an easy question to answer: Good exists to give hope, and hope exists to allow disappointment.

    Personally I prefer the Pan-Deistic view that the Universe is God, and that it doesn’t care and probably isn’t sentient as a whole, at least not in any form we can recognize. It’s a lot less depressing than a God who hates you.

  21. edward Johnson says:

    Graveyards are for dead people – who do not have life. But when in the embryotic state when does the owners consciousness arrive?

  22. Mark Jones says:

    For anyone interested, WLC has some reflections on his debate with Sean Carroll: