T4P-#1: How do you view the evidence for the creation of the universe coming out of absolutely nothing?

Tim: As a skeptic, how do you view the evidence for the creation of the universe (namely all of the matter and energy along with the space and time dimensions they exist in) coming out of absolutely nothing?

  • Phil: As a feeble-minded non-scientist, I do not have a very good understanding of all the arguments. I am therefore compelled to position my degree of confidence in the theories of cosmologists based on the level to which those cosmologists have had prior predictive successes. Cosmologists have a pretty good track record (much better than astrologers’ or theists’ past attempts at describing the cosmos), so I’m compelled to pay a much higher degree of attention to their speculations about the universe than to the speculations of theologians and other non-scientists who have a rather dismal track record in this respect.

    Some cosmologists suggest causation is self-contained in an eternal universe. Based on the impressive track record of such cosmologists, I cannot dismiss this notion out of hand. I instead measure it against the positions of other cosmologists who also have respectable track records.

    On the other hand, a significant minority of cosmologists are open to the possibility of an entity that defined the laws of the universe and set things into motion, so I also accept this as a possibility.

    In conclusion, my degree of confidence in the various theories proposed by cosmologists is determined by their own levels of confidence (cosmologists are seldom absolute certain about anything) and their track record of predictive successes.

    To be clear, due to the many incoherencies of the god of the bible, this impossible god is ineligible for the position of the “first cause” some cosmologist think likely.

    Cosmologists have proposed other hypotheses, but most cosmologists themselves hold their theories probabilistically, and there is very little faith or dogma among cosmologists. Given their track record, I am content to take the honest position of the majority and say “I don’t yet know” or hold a particular theory with the appropriate degree of doubt. I certainly won’t stoop to plugging the epistemic hole with a faith-based god.

Tim: Essentially all cosmologists recognize that the universe had a beginning and came into being from something outside of the space-time dimensions we exist in. It is true that non-theistic cosmologists can speculate for some eternally existing “universe creating mechanism.” After all, in order for there to be anything at all, there has to be something that exists eternally and without a cause. The only two choices are for an eternally existing personal being (God) or a non-personal “force,” “field” or something that is likewise uncaused and just a brute fact. Choosing either of them is an act of “faith,” but the question then becomes which is consistent with the actual evidence we can detect and measure. I disagree with your statement that “there is very little faith or dogma among cosmologists.” And likewise, I would challenge your perception about the “good track record” of cosmologists and the “faith” you seem to place in the speculations of those with a preconceived materialistic philosophy within which their speculations are required to fit, irrespective of the actual evidence. I use the word “faith” here advisedly because when the scientific enterprise is dominated by materialistic philosophy, it becomes “scientism,” which is a quasi-religion in its own right.
First of all, the “track record” of cosmology: Prior to Einstein, scientists generally believed that the universe was eternal and unchanging. And after the evidence for an absolute beginning of space and time forced Einstein to change his mind, several other well-known cosmologists made various attempts to get around that conclusion with various models (steady state, oscillating, etc.), but they have all been disproved, leaving the standard “hot big bang” model as essentially proven. And as I’m writing this, they’ve just announced the confirmation or the “God particle,” the Higg’s Boson, which confirms the standard model. Now, the speculation to get around the logical conclusion that a transcendent being is responsible for the creating the universe out of nothing is to propose some other force that is non-personal as a kind of universe-creating mechanism. Being outside of the universe, there is no possibility of ever getting direct confirmation of any such postulated mechanism, and so as you said, we can only say, “I don’t yet know.” But I would add that we can’t know in a rigorous way, since such would forever be beyond the power of science to directly observe and test. So, either position is in that sense is accepted on the basis of “faith.”
And as for theists’ past attempts at explaining the cosmos, there were Christians and Jews in ancient times that understood the Bible to be teaching that the universe was created out of nothing, that time had a beginning and that the universe was continually expanding. This was long before any science was available to confirm this, but they had it right. Of course, there were lots of other speculations about the heavens by Christian scholars that weren’t correct, but they were based in Aristotle much more than in the Bible. My point is not that theists have always had it right, for that certainly isn’t true, but the fact is that the Bible clearly did teach the basic features of the “big bang” universe long before scientists discovered it. That relates to your comment about “prophecy,” though in a different sort of way than historical events.

  • Phil: As long as you are saying you place confidence in the speculation of cosmologists only to the degree that they themselves believe their speculations, multiplied by the success of their track records, we are in agreement. As long as you limit your degree of belief in a “first cause” to the same degree the average cosmologist does, we don’t have a problem. According to one study, 7.5% of physicists and astronomers believe in “God”. Many christians go beyond the tentative beliefs of the cosmologists, and hold the idea of a “first cause” with unwarranted certainty. I hope you’re not among them.

    You seem to be claiming that bible-believers, as a direct result of their dependence on the bible, contributed to the advance of science to a substantial degree. Is this what you are claiming?

    You also seem to be claiming that the Genesis account of creation is a good description of the big bang. Is this what you are claiming?

    In Isaiah 40:22 it says that God “stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.” Do you think this is a clear reference to our expanding universe? (I’m just trying to tease out your standard of hermeneutics to see whether it is any different from that of the Islamists who invoke similarly vague passages in the Qur’an as sources of modern scientific knowledge.)

    I did not quite understand what you think scientists are accepting on “faith”. Could you restate that?

Tim: I don’t quite follow your logic about “limiting (my) degree of belief in a ‘first cause’ to the same degree the average cosmologist does.” Likewise, what you consider “unwarranted certainty” about a “first cause” that goes beyond the “tentative beliefs of the cosmologists” is a characterization I wouldn’t agree with. The cosmological argument — which I’m sure you’re familiar with — is an airtight argument. (And for others reading this dialog, I’ll briefly state it: “What begins to exist must have a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe has a cause.”) To deny the first premise is simply illogical. To deny the second goes against all of the observable evidence. Therefore, the only real argument is about the nature of the “first cause.” It has to be either an eternal mind (a personal God) or an impersonal, eternally-existing force of some sort.
As for your statistics on how many scientists believe in God, I don’t find that relevant anyway. If you look at the statistics for all scientists (and not just those who have made it into the academy), it is actually much higher — particularly in astronomy. And if you’re going to cite studies that purport that the more educated and intelligent people are the less likely they are to believe in God, I could quote back to you the General Social Survey data that Charles Murray cites in his book “Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010.” The data strongly suggest that, for this subset of the population, how “smart” you are correlates positively with active religious belief. Quoting Murray: “But Belmont [a fictional community composed of the top 20% in educational attainment and occupation] is not filled with members of the National Academy of Sciences. Of the academics and scientists in the GSS [General Social Survey] sample, only 16 percent said they had no religion. It should not be surprising that lots of people in Belmont still go to church.” Thus, except for the institutional atheism at the very top — a miniscule number of individuals — belief is strong amongst the top fifth of the population. Murray goes on to show that religious belief, especially active religions belief, is less and less prominent in a predicable relationship as you look toward to the bottom 20%. Thus active religious belief is actually positively correlated with intelligence.
As for “bible-believers, as a direct result of their dependence on the bible, contributed to the advance of science to a substantial degree,” I didn’t say anything about that, though if you actually study the history of the development of modern science during the Renaissance, in many ways it was dependent on and developed out of the biblical worldview. All other ancient worldviews basically understood phenomena in the natural world to be controlled by the whims of the gods or the various events imagined to be taking place in the realm of the gods. And with that as your underlying worldview, it would never occur to you that these events were governed by laws that we could comprehend. Your energies would be focused on placating the gods and entreating them to give you good crops etc. through various rituals and incantations. It is no accident that essentially all of the early scientists in Europe were Christian theists who held a biblical worldview that the realm of nature was created by God to operate according to the laws of nature that God had instituted, and therefore they could be understood and elucidated. So, yes, “Bible-believing Christians” did contribute mightily to the advance of science, because it was birthed out of that belief system. Do you dispute these facts of history?
You’re asking many questions about Genesis and the Big Bang, etc. It would take quite awhile to go through all of that, but basically I’m saying that the fundamental features of Big Bang cosmology are consistent with the picture that is portrayed in the Bible — namely an absolute beginning of the universe (time and space had a beginning) and that the continual expansion of the universe under constant laws of physics. There is considerable debate within Christian circles about how to best interpret the Genesis narrative and other statements made about the natural order, and so not everyone agrees that God “stretching out the heavens” is referring to the expansion of the universe. But it clearly is consistent with that. Now, if prior to modern cosmology, no one had understood this phrase (which is used in numerous places and not just the one verse you mention) to mean something like that, then the charge of “reading modern cosmology into the text” (which is a charge others have made and which I presume you are trying to say as well) would be a cogent argument. The fact is, however, that some ancient commentators did understand it to be saying that. Likewise, Augustine in the 4th Century deduced from the Bible that time had a beginning and was not eternal. The doctrine of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing) has always been a fundamental Christian doctrine, and these biblical teachings are now backed up by scientific observation.

  • Phil: Tim, you are misrepresenting the position of cosmologists. You seem to be actually suggesting that they believe in a creation ex nihilo. Do you actually believe this is the majority position of cosmologists? Please be very careful with your words, and state precisely what you think the theory of the big bang demonstrates. It sounds like you are conflating the big bang with creation ex nihilo.

    I’d also like to question you a bit on your “airtight” cosmological argument.
    Do you think the fact that you and I came into being as humans from preexisting matter can be extrapolated to deduce creation ex nihilo as William Lane Craig asserts?

Tim: Phil, I would hope that you agree that the large majority of cosmologists do agree that our universe’s time and space came into being in a singularity that occurred about 13.7 billion years ago. You might find a few mavericks trying to figure out a way to avoid that conclusion, but the space-time theorem proved by Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin establishes conclusively that in all viable inflationary big bang models, the universe is subject to a beginning in finite time. “Creation ex nihilo” also states that the universe had a definite beginning, and so equating the two is not “conflating” them illegitimately. Again, the only real debate is what was the cause of that “creation ex nihilo.” Cosmologists don’t usually use that term, of course, but it amounts to the same thing. Do you disagree with the statement I made that for anything at all to exist, something has to be eternal and thus uncaused? We know it’s not the universe itself that is eternal, and so it has to come out of something that is beyond the universe (not part of this universe). And so we’re back to the only two choices available, which I’ve already elaborated on.
I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about with respect to “humans coming into being from preexisting matter” having anything to do with this. We’re talking about where matter itself came from.

  • Phil: It is nice to see your eagerness to align yourself to science. That is what I also attempt to do. I also believe that it is possible that there could be a “first cause”. The problem is that the bulk of the cosmologist you say hold that time and space “came into being” 13.7 billion years ago disagree with the notion that there was clearly nothing from which space and time could emerge from prior to Planck time. This is even more clear when you assess the degree of religious belief among astrophysicists. If you wish to align yourself with astrophysicists, I think that is a nobel thing. Just do so honestly and take their actual position rather than distorted sound bites. Their conception of “beginning” is likely very different from yours.

    The percentage of astrophysicists who believe in god was 7.5% in 1998.

    If you think you are representing the big bang consistent with the way astrophysicists do, yet you come to a “necessary” conclusion about pre-big bang conditions and entities far removed from the conclusion of the bulk of astrophysicists, you have very likely misunderstood their position.

    So, until you or I become cosmologists, let’s agree to simply accurately reflect what cosmologists have actually concluded, including whether there is a necessity for any forms of god. It is clear that cosmologists are far from thinking the god of the bible is necessary. More research into what they actually believe about the big bang will shed light on why they reject a theistic god as necessary as you claim. They are certainly not making that claim. You say, “big bang, therefore GOD”. They don’t to a degree of 92.5%. Why?

Tim: The statistics you quote from Nature magazine are not representative of the entire astrophysical community, which is much broader than the National Academy of Science membership. Valid social statistics should come from competent sociologists and not magazines, but that is not really the issue anyway. Statistics from opinion polls do not determine truth. I doubt that you would find any cosmologist or astrophysicist who would claim that the scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe leads directly to the conclusion that there is no Creator. The large majority of NAS members who reject God do so for philosophical reasons and not from “following the evidence wherever it leads.”
Your statement that the bulk of cosmologists “disagree with the notion that there was clearly nothing from which space and time could emerge from prior to Planck time” shows that you don’t understand the basic notion of time and space having an absolute beginning. Planck time is thought to simply be the smallest possible division of time that could in theory be detected, but, of course, that is vastly shorter than can actually be measured. At any rate, any speculation about whether you can actually get back to T=0 is irrelevant anyway. As I stated, “the space-time theorem proved by Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin establishes conclusively that in all viable inflationary big bang models, the universe is subject to a beginning in finite time.” That simply means that while T=0 and the conditions that existed when time came into being are far beyond our ability to directly probe, the conclusion that time had a beginning is firmly established. The fact that there are gaps in our knowledge of what happened between T=0 and the Planck Time doesn’t mean that what we do know about the beginning is wrong. There are mysteries in science beyond our ability to fully fathom, just as there are mysteries concerning God.
I did not state “big bang, therefore GOD,” though obviously that is my conclusion. In effect, I stated “big bang, therefore SOMETHING” — which is either a personal being or an impersonal (yet eternal) law, force or “something.” The 92.5% of NAS members (who are heavily weighted towards atheism for PHILOSOPHICAL reasons) are simply choosing to believe the something other than a personal being.
So, I’d like you to answer the following question. Is there a third option other than the two I listed above for the “something” beyond the universe that brought it into being? Or maybe we should first determine whether you would agree with the following statements: 1) The universe had an absolute beginning of space and time. 2) Something outside of our universe caused it to come into being. 3) That “something” has eternally existed and is either a “brute fact” non-personal, blind, unthinking force of some sort or is a personal immaterial being. Do you disagree with any of these, and if so, why?

  • Phil: Tim, above you said the following.

    “I doubt that you would find any cosmologist or astrophysicist who would claim that the scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe leads directly to the conclusion that there is no Creator.”

    This is precisely my point. Cosmologists and astrophysicists seldom make dogmatic claims. If you want to cite and invoke cosmologists and astrophysicists, you’d better align yourself with their non-dogmatic stance rather than misrepresenting what they actually believe. If you arrive at some dogmatic conclusion they do not arrive at, you very likely don’t understand their position and are misrepresenting what they actually believe.

    So, I’m going to align myself with the bulk of the cosmologists who are in a position to know and say “I don’t yet know, but it most probably is not a personal god”. This is the only honest position for non-cosmologists who invoke cosmologists.

    Remember the theists in centuries prior to the advances of biological science who argued that, because there was no other apparent cause, the plagues that hit Europe were most certainly due to the wrath of god? [source]

    Remember the Christian apologists such as Tertullian in centuries prior to our current understanding of electricity who claimed that, because scientists had no coherent explanation of lightening, that lightening strikes were clear signs of the judgment of their presupposed god? [source]

    Let’s align ourselves to the science, rather than foolishly and shamefully allowing our presuppositions to hijack the science.

    On a more speculative note, I really have a difficult time understanding how potential energy (“matter” is merely a human-friendly term for energy fields and waves) can simply disappear as we scrutinize the succession of causation into the remote past, and I certainly find it difficult to believe that a disembodied mind is behind our universe. What does that even mean? I find it improbable that the unknowns about the universe’s origin can be answered by interjecting a designing mind operating without a substrate when all minds we encounter in our experience necessarily operate on a substrate as demonstrated by cognitive science. But there may be evidence that would lead me away from this doubt. An actual personal god would have myriads of ways he could convince me other than the ridiculous method of using humans to transcribe his thoughts into a vague old book that has been imperfectly passed along in competition with other old books to a fraction of the humanity he presumably loves. I’m content to wait for the evidence rather than pretend I know something I don’t.

Tim: Your presupposition of what appears to me to be physicalism (namely, that there is no non-physical mind and that consciousness is merely an “emergent” phenomenon of “molecules in motion”) dictates the outcome whatever the evidence might be. Are you aware of the numerous documented analyses of “near-death experiences?” Of course, some of those may be entirely explainable without the need to invoke a mind that can exist outside of the brain. But many defy any such explanation, as they involve the individual being able to relate back details of things they witnessed from above the operating table or even outside the room that they could not possibly have become aware of without actually witnessing it from outside the “substrate” of the brain. This, of course, is not something that fits in with a materialistic worldview, and so it is just ignored, right along with the clear evidence for the “big bang requiring a big banger.”

  • Phil: The current accumulation of inductive evidence makes it highly unlikely that there is anything beyond the material realm. After millennia of theists suggesting this or that is evidence of a spiritual realm, such claims have dissipated under the microscope of scientific scrutiny. 20120815-204643.jpg Near-death experiences fall into the same category, and are similar to space-alien abduction accounts. Such experiences are presented in a highly anecdotal fashion, most have material explanations(source 1 | source 2 | source 3), and few such experiences suggest the patient brings back information they could not have acquired through material means. In fact, scientists who are actually interested in this phenomenon have set up a test apparatus in emergency rooms to assess these claims. I seriously doubt they’ll find anything requiring a supernatural explanation as claim after claim of the supernaturalists have failed to hold up under scientific scrutiny.

Tim: You’re avoiding the main issue. Please respond to the question I asked above: Do you agree with the following statements: 1) The universe had an absolute beginning of space and time. 2) Something outside of our universe caused it to come into being. 3) That “something” has eternally existed and is either a “brute fact” non-personal, blind, unthinking force of some sort or is a personal immaterial being. Do you disagree with any of these, and if so, why?

Concerning near-death experiences, I should also state that my argument does not rest on whether they are real or involve something beyond the material realm. By definition, the evidence is going to be anecdotal in nature, but as a materialist, you must simply dismiss anything that supports a spiritual, non-material realm, irrespective of how compelling it may seem. But, again, this particular line of at least possible evidence pales in comparison to the most important evidence of all that there must be a Creator (and hence a non-material realm) — namely the scientifically proven fact that the universe had a singular beginning requiring an agent beyond space and time to bring it into existence.
You have stated that you are open to the evidence that there must be a Creator of some sort, but claim that the God of the Bible is ruled out as a candidate due to his supposed incoherence. Irrespective of any issues that you may have with the biblical God, we can still infer from the Big Bang Creation Event itself what sort of characteristics this necessary being who is responsible for our very existence must possess. Obviously, this Agent must be very powerful and intelligent. If you don’t like the terms “omnipotent” and “omniscient,” then you can label them something else. But whatever terms are used, the clear implication is that this Agent must have the essential characteristics that are ascribed to the God of the Bible.
The characterizations various Jewish and Christian scholars have come up with to try to understand this Agent certainly may contain flaws, and since certain understandings of particularly the more peripheral issues are not totally consistent with each other, obviously some “theologies” are at least partially in error. Likewise, the written records we have in the Bible have various issues as well, but whether or not the Bible is “inerrant” is likewise a side issue that doesn’t affect the thrust of the argument for God’s existence. We can discuss elsewhere your claims about “Yahweh” (Jehovah) being incoherent, etc., but how do you handle the evidence for the existence of a “Grand Omni Designer” in the first place?

  • Phil: I just finished reading “A Universe from Nothing”. So here are the answers to your questions.
    1. No, the universe does not need an absolute beginning in time and space.
    2. No, there is not the necessity of something outside our universe causing our universe to exist. In fact, there has never been a case where the constituents of matter have ever been destroyed to anything less than a potentiality. Where you have this potentiality, you don’t need an external creator.
    3. No. You can not simply state it is illogical for the universe not to have a creator by suggesting there is a creator of that universe that needed no creator. Your logic needs to be applied consistently. You can’t invoke magic where logic does not work for you. Plus, there has never been a case where a mind existed without a physical substrate, yet that what your god must have. This is like saying there can be a river without a fluid. Minds are causally dependent on matter.

    You stated…

    …as a materialist, you must simply dismiss anything that supports a spiritual, non-material realm, irrespective of how compelling it may seem.

    I am not committed to materialism. I am committed to evidence. At this point, materialism is what the evidence strongly suggests. I will not be going anywhere without evidence. Bald affirmations don’t move me. Possibilities don’t become likelihoods worthy of belief. Your misunderstanding/misrepresentation that I am irrationally committed to materialism is one of the most troubling statements you’ve made to date. I’d like you to avoid making this mistake in the future.

    I’ve challenged you to a rigorous debate in “T4P-#3” on the illogical notions surrounding biblical redemption that will make all other arguments posited in favor of your god moot.

Tim: Concerning Krauss’ book, have you seen reviews of it? For instance, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/a-universe-from-nothing-by-lawrence-m-krauss.html?_r=3. Krauss’ views are outside the mainstream, and his book has been largely discredited as really resolving anything. For one thing, Krauss equivocates on the meaning of “nothing.” His option, “the laws of relativistic quantum field theories,” is certainly not “nothing.” For “nothing” to be really “nothing,” it has to be the absence of even the potential for existence within itself. The “nothing” in the biblical concept of “creation ex nihilo” is this kind of “nothing,” and thus has to be brought into existence by a necessary being that isn’t contingent upon something else.
I would agree with the statement that “the universe came from ‘nothing’,” in the sense that it came from nothing physical. The evidence clearly indicates that the matter and energy of the universe, together with the space and time dimensions that matter and energy exist in, had an absolute beginning in terms of the space and time dimensions of this universe. Is Krauss really disputing that? My take on him is that along with other atheistic scientists, he is simply in effect claiming that some “brute fact” entity (be that “the laws of relativistic quantum field theories,” “the law of gravity” or whatever other options one can dream up) is the cause behind the universe’s coming into existence. Thus, we’re right back to my statement above about the only options available for “why there is something rather that nothing.” “After all, in order for there to be anything at all, there has to be something that exists eternally and without a cause. The only two choices are for an eternally existing personal being (God) or a non-personal “force,” “field” or something that is likewise uncaused and just a brute fact.” Are you challenging this assessment? And if so, why? (Is there a third choice available?) It seems to me that Krauss is simply choosing the second option, and even that is based on philosophical considerations and is not a matter of “following the scientific evidence wherever it may lead.”
There are numerous cogent arguments for the existence of a non-contingent “first cause” for the universe. Krauss himself said in a debate that he could become a deist, and I gather that such arguments at the fine-tuning argument cause you to accept that as at least a possibility as well. Am I reading you correctly there?
Of the several arguments (cosmological, moral, ontological, fine-tuning, etc.), I personally like the Kalam cosmological argument best, since it is so simple to state and seems intuitively correct. The two premises are: Anything that comes into being requires as a sufficient cause; and the universe came into being. If both of those premises are true, then the conclusion that the universe had a cause from outside the universe logically follows. You seem to be denying the second premise, as you state that Krauss’ book claims that the universe “doesn’t need an absolute beginning in time and space.
” I’m wondering if the article “in” is what you really mean, as there is a big difference between a “beginning in time and space” and the “beginning of time and space.” Big Bang cosmology refers to the latter, as there is no beginning in time and space (as though they were pre-existing).
Not having read Krauss’ book (but only reviews and summaries of it), I can’t be sure that he meant it in that sense, and likewise, I can’t comment on what evidence he marshals, but I know of none that would support the latter view (of no beginning of time and space). (I would agree that the universe doesn’t have a beginning “in space and time,” as space and time (that is, the dimensions of our universe) came into existence along with the matter and energy simultaneously.) As I mentioned above, “the space-time theorem proved by Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin establishes conclusively that in all viable inflationary big bang models, the universe is subject to a beginning in finite time.” Does Krauss actually deny this? I don’t see why he would need to, if he simply posits that the “pre-existing quantum fields” brought it into existence (along with countless other universes as well). But then, that would not be consistent with your statement that “there is not the necessity of something outside our universe causing our universe to exist.” But surely these supposed “quantum fields” are prior to (and therefore “outside of”) our universe, are they not? This line of reasoning seems so confused. So please clarify what you really mean. Likewise, if you are denying the Kalam cosmological argument, which premise are you denying, and what is your rationale?

  • Phil: Let me first put this discussion into context.

    1. You and I are non-physicists discussing theories of physics which we vaguely understand. My non-theistic position falls in line with the opinions of the bulk of cosmologists, while your position is in stark contrast to the very cosmologists you cite as holding positions that you claim make your own flavor of god inexcusably knowable. I’ll say it again: If you find yourself holding a scientific position that runs counter to the bulk of scientists in that field, you most likely do not understand the relevant evidence.

    2. You are actually arguing against a book you have never read. Not only are you not a cosmologist, you are making statements against a cosmological position you admittedly have not actually read.

    3. My position is that there could be a first cause prior to the conditions yielding our universe (though currently deeming this unnecessary and seemingly improbable), but that your own particular god, many assumptions subsequent to a first cause, is impossible due to his biblical definition, a definition you are apparently and absurdly unprepared to debate. Instead, you seem to think your god is more defensible if you go up against the opinions of respected cosmologists in the field of cosmology.

    In light of this context, here are some quite reasonable requests I have in response to your claims.

    A. You claim Krauss has been highly discredited. Elaborate on your definition of “discredited”, then provided relevant evidence.

    B. I’m claiming you are dishonest in your accusation that Krauss equivocates on the word “nothing”. I read his book. Not once did I see him use “nothing” with any other denotation other than with the denotation he gave it. “Equivocation” requires the same person to flip-flop between 2 different denotations of a term. Perhaps you are just quoting other people. That is not an excuse, for then you are dishonest about pretending you are qualified to accurately comment on someone’s position, a position you have not personally researched. Cite where Krauss equivocated on the term “nothing”.

    Now, I want to demonstrate the degree of either your dishonesty, or your complete lack of understanding on what science is all about.

    Above you stated…

    “the space-time theorem proved by Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin establishes conclusively that in all viable inflationary big bang models, the universe is subject to a beginning in finite time.”

    However, in the actual paper,

    …unfinished…

Tim: While it is true that we both are non-physicists, I do at least have a degree in physics. In fact, if I were college-age now following the same academic path, I would quite possibility be studying under Lawrence Krauss right now, as I got my degree at Arizona State University, where he teaches. So, while I’m not a professional physicist, I have kept up with the science and so do have a bit more than just a “vague understanding,” as you state.

I’ve listened to a couple of Krauss’ debates (vs. William Lane Craig and vs. Rodney Holder), and so while I haven’t read his book, I have heard his account. You might be interested in listening to the April 28, 2012 “Unbelievable” program from the U.K. (http://www.premierradio.org.uk/shows/saturday/unbelievable.aspx). My comment on the show (between Krauss and Holder) was included in the following week’s program, which featured Krauss’ colleague at ASU, Paul Davies, and Hugh Ross, an astronomer I have worked closely with. Here is what I said:
Fabulous show! I’m really looking forward to next week’s show as well. Having graduated from Arizona State University in physics long before either Lawrence Krauss or Paul Davies went there, it’s great to see such thoughtful and provocative input coming from my old alma mater. Both Krauss and Holder gave good accounts as to why they believe what they do, but one point that was raised by Holder kind of in passing is something I think should really be emphasized in this debate over why there is something rather than nothing. In order for there to be anything at all, there has to be something that is a “brute fact” — something that is eternal and uncaused. The question, then, is whether that “uncaused first cause” is a non-physical mind or a mindless physical entity of some sort. Likewise, we must ask ourselves which of those two general possibilities has the best explanatory scope and power in explaining the empirical facts we can observe. One’s reading of the continually expanding evidence is often determined more by one’s philosophical worldview than by a pure “follow-the-evidence-wherever-it-may-lead” openness, and the “anti-theistic” worldview of Krauss seems to me to close him off from one of the two possibilities before he really gives that possibility a fair hearing. I have to admit, though, that the “wishful thinking” kind of position many theists seem to take can be viewed similarly. So, is this forever going to be a standoff? Neither view can be proven in an absolute sense, and so in the end, an element of “faith” is required for either position. But which “faith” is really rooted in reality? The Christian worldview is often portrayed as “blind faith,” and for some, it perhaps is. But I see that label as more applicable to the atheist’s “faith.” Keep up the good work!

As for equivocation on the word “nothing,” I didn’t communicate clearly what I meant (which is perhaps a kind of “equivocation” in itself). Whether Krauss literally equivocates by, as you say, “flip-flopping between 2 different denotations of a term,” I’m not prepared to say, and that was not my intent. What I meant was that Krauss was not using the term “nothing” in the same way that people usually think of the concept of “nothing.” It’s rather similar to the terms “evolution” and “human,” which likewise cause a lot of confusion to lay people when dealing with scientific issues. (Evolution in the sense of development over time is vastly different from the Darwinian notion that an unguided process of chance mutations and natural selection can explain the history of life. Likewise, the way the general public understands the word “human” to mean you and me, while scientists routinely include all hominids in the category “human,” likewise causes confusion.)

Anyway, I am only claiming that the meaning of “nothing” in Krauss’ hypothesis is not really “nothing” in an absolute sense — what we normally mean by the term. So, instead of your insinuations of my “dishonesty” and other ad hominem labels, how about actually addressing the issues I raised above?

  • Phil: My last comment was clearly marked “unfinished”. I wish you would have waited until it was complete.

    You said…

    Neither view can be proven in an absolute sense, and so in the end, an element of “faith” is required for either position.

    Here are some critical questions.
    1. What exactly do you perceive my position to be on this issue?
    2. How strongly do I hold this position?
    3. Based on my actual position and the actual strength of my position, do I have faith?
    4. Is faith good or bad? (You seem to be implying my faith, were I to have it, would be bad, yet that your faith is somehow good.)
    5. If your god is logically incoherent, as I will demonstrate in a debate, do you feel your position on cosmology can somehow remove this logical incoherence, and make your god again logically coherent? If so, explain the logical dynamics behind this since this would be new to me.
    6. Does your cosmological position on the necessity of a creating mind represent the position of the bulk of cosmologists? Why or why not?
    7. If your god is logically incoherent, do I need faith in order to reject this incoherent god?
    8. Why are you focused on the argument about a first cause when your god is disqualified as existent due to his other logically incoherent attributes?
    9. Do you intend to ever debate me on something we actually disagree about; the logically incoherent attributes of your god? (We don’t seem to actually be disagreeing on any possibilities in cosmology. There may be a first cause. I don’t care as it is unrelated to the logical coherence of the god of the bible. The god of the bible fails, not because a first cause is impossible, but for other impossibilities inherent to the biblical explanation of redemption. Why must I keep repeating this?)

    I don’t know much about cosmology, so I am merely taking a position that closely reflects the current consensus among cosmologists. You seem to know something they don’t. Do you know this because the bible tells you so, or because you understand physics better than the bulk of the actual physicists?

Tim: Concerning your “unfinished” comment, why are you complaining that I didn’t wait for you to finish your post on the website? Especially since I didn’t even refer to the your insinuation that my reference to Borde, Guth and Vilenkin’s paper was inappropriate. Do you actually have something to say about the actual paper? While it’s true that my physics background is not enough to fully understand everything in the paper, I am in conversation with professional scientists in the field, including 2 astrophysicists, and they vouch for its accuracy (and the conclusion that I stated). I’m not just making this up to make my case look stronger than it really is.
Now, concerning your specific questions, I’ll answer them in order [answers bracketed and in bold].


1. What exactly do you perceive my position to be on this issue?


[That you don’t really want there to be a Creator God to whom you have to give an account, and therefore you take the route of some non-personal force or some other “brute fact” as the explanation of what brought the universe into existence.]


2. How strongly do I hold this position?


[That is for you to define, not me!]


3. Based on my actual position and the actual strength of my position, do I have faith?


[Yes, I think you do have a type of “faith,” though you probably wouldn’t use that term yourself.]


4. Is faith good or bad? (You seem to be implying my faith, were I to have it, would be bad, yet that your faith is somehow good.)


[Faith is good when it is supported by and consistent with the objective facts. Good faith is not “blind faith.” The reason I use the term “faith” is that for either position, observational evidence can only take one so far — namely back to a “singularity” at which cosmic space and time come into existence. While I think that is sufficient to make the theistic position highly likely, it is not absolute, and so either position involves a type of faith. You are obviously invoking “faith” in a few prominent cosmologists who for philosophical reasons (they don’t want to “let a divine foot in the door”) choose to invoke some sort of multiverse hypothesis as their escape route from having to follow the clear theistic implications of Big Bang Cosmology. But even a multiverse needs an uncaused first cause.]


5. If your god is logically incoherent, as I will demonstrate in a debate, do you feel your position on cosmology can somehow remove this logical incoherence, and make your god again logically coherent? If so, explain the logical dynamics behind this since this would be new to me.


[This line of reasoning only gets to generic theism. By itself, it doesn’t lead to any hard conclusions about the nature of God, though many attributes of God are clearly implied. Foremost is that the Creator creates independent of space and time (since these dimensions first come into existence at the Big Bang), something which is found among the various theistic worldviews only in those derived from the Bible. Likewise, attributes such as great power, wisdom, forethought, etc. are also implied in a Creator that could create a universe out of no preexisting material and fine-tune it to the incredible degree we can positively measure, so that intelligent beings like us can come into existence.]


6. Does your cosmological position on the necessity of a creating mind represent the position of the bulk of cosmologists? Why or why not?


[There are far more than you seem to think, but truth isn’t determined by a vote in any case. Either conclusion goes beyond the science itself (which is why I used the term “faith” in the first place), and so when considering people like Krauss and Hawking (who carry a lot of weight in the public because of their popular books), one gets the impression that atheists represent a much higher percentage than they actually do. The percentage of Christians (or at least theists) among professional astronomers, for instance, is quite high, though I don’t have specific figures to give you. I have heard professional astronomers state that it is a significant majority. But again, that doesn’t determine truth.]


7. If your god is logically incoherent, do I need faith in order to reject this incoherent god?


[An incoherent question.]


8. Why are you focused on the argument about a first cause when your god is disqualified as existent due to his other logically incoherent attributes?


[And why are you so focused on insisting that you have proved your case that the biblical God is incoherent and therefore disqualified? It is your only escape route, it would seem. While I may not be able to prove to your satisfaction that God’s ways of dealing with free will, sin and judgment are completely coherent and logical, you certainly haven’t proven your case either.]


9. Do you intend to ever debate me on something we actually disagree about; the logically incoherent attributes of your god? (We don’t seem to actually be disagreeing on any possibilities in cosmology. There may be a first cause. I don’t care, as it is unrelated to the logical coherence of the god of the bible. The god of the bible fails, not because a first cause is impossible, but for other possibilities inherent to the biblical explanation of redemption. Why must I keep repeating this?)

[This thread is dealing with cosmology and not your hang-up with God’s justice. You say that you don’t care about a first cause because it isn’t related to whether the biblical concept of God is correct or not. I disagree. Establishing that there is a first cause that is a personal being who can choose to create for a purpose says a great deal about the attributes of such a Creator — attributes that can be compared and contrasted with what the Bible says concerning God.]


I don’t know much about cosmology, so I am merely taking a position that closely reflects the current consensus among cosmologists. You seem to know something they don’t. Do you know this because the bible tells you so, or because you understand physics better than the bulk of the actual physicists?

[Neither. I’m following the objective evidence wherever it may lead.]


  • Phil: I am truly very interested in this topic, and would like to directly contact your 2 astrophysicist friends. Is this possible?

    Here is a graphic that, as I see it, represents our current positions. Feel free to make any corrections if you feel it does not accurately reflect your position.

    20121010-191932.jpg

Tim: I must say that I’m often surprised by your responses. Concerning your request to be in contact with the 2 astrophysicists I mentioned, I can direct you to the website of the organization they work for: http://www.reasons.org. If you’ve looked at my website (www.konkyo.org), you’ll see that it is affiliated with Reasons To Believe. If you are really interested in contacting Hugh Ross or Jeff Zwerink, their info is on the site. I am also in contact with a large group of mostly scientists, engineers, etc. affiliated with that organization in which we share information on science-religion issues. For instance, just yesterday, one member shared a link to a lecture by Alexander Vilenkin, where he showed that there is no escaping the conclusion that the universe had a definite beginning (and thus had to have a cause outside of the universe). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXCQelhKJ7A&feature=player_embedded#
I want to come back to that fact later, but first some comments on your graph. There are all sorts of problems I see with your characterizations. First of all, “unconscious first cause” by definition cannot be a “deity” — even an “uncomplicated one,” whatever that would mean. An “unconscious first cause,” of course, is one of the two options I see as being available in principle to explain the cause that brought the universe into being. As I’ve stated above, it had to be either a “brute fact” mindless force, field or something of that sort that through either chance or law (or a combination of the two) caused the universe to pop into being, or the cause that brought the universe into being had to be a necessary (non-contingent) being with a mind that could decide to bring it into being for some purpose. Do you agree that these are the only possible options? In fact, I have asked you this several times in this thread, but so far, you have avoided giving me an answer and instead have gone off on one tangent or another from something else I said. So, before you respond similarly on something else, please respond to this direct question. Let me repeat it: Do you disagree with any of the following statements, and if so, why? 1) The universe had an absolute beginning of space and time. 2) Something outside of our universe caused it to come into being. 3) That “something” has eternally existed and is either a “brute fact” non-personal, blind, unthinking force of some sort or is a personal immaterial being.
Now, with regards to the other categories you list. What exactly is a “test-shy God?” If I heard that term in some other context, I would likely guess it is referring to the principle that God is not an entity that we can put into the proverbial “test tube” and analyze like we can a physical object. And maybe it might include the concept that we are not to “put God to the test” by trying to manipulate him to our ends. However, I kind of doubt that is what you have in mind. Likewise, how you decide on your ranking of these various attributes with respect to the “complexity of the proposed deity” is not at all clear to me. What do you even mean by the concept of “complexity” in reference to God?
Since you indicate that you’re leaning towards a belief in an “unconscious first cause” (which, by the way, I would at the “complete rejection” level in your graph on that), what sort of evidence would you marshal in support of that? Likewise, how would you define what the concept even means?

  • Phil: An Einsteinian god seems like a possibility. This is what I mean by an “unconscious first cause”. However, it is unclear whether Einstein would have thought a first cause would be necessary, or whether the universe was eternal. He most certainly did not believe in a personal god. Here is a recent discovery about Einstein’s beliefs.

    What I mean by “complexity” is the depth of nested assumptions. For example, you can’t have a benevolent god without the assumption that god is emotional, and you can’t have an emotional god that is not conscious.

    I would certainly like to have the email addresses of your two physicist friends. I am very open-minded about a possible necessity of a first cause, and would like to ask them questions that help me come to an informed belief. If you are in direct communication with them, and could tell them there is someone honestly wanting to ask a few questions, that would be much appreciated.

    I am going to add some graphics to illustrate where I currently stand.

    20121015-184044.jpg (Click photo for a larger view.)
    This shows the balance of significant arguments on both sides of the issue as I see it. The rejection of any of these arguments seems rather absurd, and this is why I do not lean very dogmatically in either direction. In fact, I think it is irresponsible to do so. It appears we simply do not have enough knowledge or understanding of the early conditions of the universe to know what was going on. Under these circumstances, the only honest thing to do is to say “I don’t know” instead of choosing your favorite side of the issue, and claim your arguments trumps the others. I have a hard time fathoming regularity without a regulator, but the other arguments on the other side are just as significant.

    20121015-184954.jpg (Click photo for a larger view.)
    This second graphic shows the importance of adding to the equation the failures of theists’ claims about reality in the past, and assessing their rate of success. The record is quite dismal as any incursion into the history of religion or history of science will demonstrate.

    20121015-185322.jpg (Click photo for a larger view.)
    Finally, we have the current beliefs of cosmologists to consider. If you, as an amateur, hold a position that does not map to the position of the bulk of the professionals, there is reason for others to suspect your position is in error based on some fundamental misunderstandings of the topic.

    These graphics reflect my current position and the arguments I strongly feel are relevant to an honest assessment of the topic.

    But just as a reminder, your god of the bible is definitely not a candidate for a first cause were a first cause necessary. The biblical god is an absurdity on many levels as I will demonstrate in a structured debate. It is belief in this absurd biblical god that diminishes so many lives by suggesting they are inherently evil, deserve eternal torture, and need to surrender their wills to this imaginary friend, not an innocent belief in an impersonal first cause. This is why I have challenged you to a structured debate on biblical redemption.

    The following graphic demonstrates the absurdity of you both 1) claiming I believe, from the things that are made (Romans 1), god exists, then 2) offering evidence to make me believe god exists.20121017-213618.jpg

Tim: Phil, while your graphics are commendable in their artfulness, their content is spurious. I get the impression that you have copied these from somewhere, as they are simply jpeg files that have been attached. But be that as it may, the descriptions for each of the blue items on the right are mere assertions on your part, and a couple of them I’ve already dealt with. I wonder if you understand what “B” is even saying. It appears to be a restatement of the 1st Law of Thermodynamics, which states that energy can neither be created or destroyed. It can only change form (including into and out of matter, as in E=mc2), and that it does according to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. These laws, however, came into being with the universe at T=0, and so they do not apply to the creation event itself. What on earth does “non-immaterial material potential” means? At the least, it’s redundant, as by definition, something that is “non-immaterial” is automatically “material” isn’t it? “C” is likewise fallacious. An atheist has no way to avoid an infinite causal regress either other than to suppose an uncaused first cause — a brute fact, which must be a mindless entity. There is nothing “ad hoc” about having an uncaused first cause. As I’ve said repeatedly, in order for there to be anything at all, there has to be something that is an uncaused first cause. The other points are equally fallacious, but I’m getting tired of this game.

I’ve tried to be patient with you and assumed from the beginning that you were honestly interested in what arguments there are for the Christian position. That is how you approached me in the first place, saying you were “interested in considering any coherent arguments for the Christian position.” But it is clear to me now that this was a ploy. You simply ignore the arguments I’ve put forth and then escalate your attacks to ever more absurd levels.

Given the nature of your recent posts, I can only conclude that I am wasting my time dealing with you any more, and so I intend to just end my participation in this exchange that you initiated. I get the distinct impression that you are making a hobby out of this, just to see how far you can take it before your opponent gets sick of it and says, “Forget this crap!” That’s where I am now. I have spent many hours on this, putting aside other projects I would have liked to spend time on. In the beginning, I found the exchange rather interesting and useful in organizing my own thoughts and honing arguments. That usefulness has played itself out now, and as I have many other demands on my time, you can consider this my last post. Whether any of this has been useful to anybody else, I have no idea. But as I’ve never seen a single comment posted in the place provided on the website, that would seem to indicate few people are actually finding this site. That’s just one more reason for me to end it here.

  • Phil: The graphics are my own.

    You say…

    These [physical] laws, however, came into being with the universe at T=0, and so they do not apply to the creation event itself.

    I understand this is your position. It does not appear to be the position of the bulk of actual cosmologists. You’ll need to provided evidence to support your affirmation. I’m claiming that there is no need to suppose physical laws did not always exist, and that there is no need to suppose matter did not exist in some form prior to the beginning of its initial inflation. I’m suggesting that the fact that the vast majority of physicists do not believe in even an Einsteinian god speaks to this, and anyone attempting to go from the big bang to Jesus is misrepresenting the actual positions of cosmologists and their degree of belief in those positions.

    There is most certainly nothing less impossible about an “uncaused first cause” than there is of an eternal universe.

    I was, in fact, truly “interested in considering any coherent arguments for the Christian position.” Yet you want to focus on the more generally theistic notion of a first cause rather than debate me on the meat of christianity; the very notion of redemption. Don’t you think it a bit absurd to go on and on about a first cause (a possibility I clearly am willing to accept if there were sufficient evidence), yet can’t go head-to-head with me on the “good news” central to your world view?

    Review the posts. You’ve only continued responding on those that you’ve found promising to your position (at least until that promise evaporated), yet you have ignored my posts. Now you are the one claiming patience. Don’t you find this a bit odd?

    As for your complaint that, hitherto, this site has not had much traffic, let me point out that websites don’t promote themselves. I was hoping to get you to agree to at least one debate before I began promoting this site, but it looks like that is not going to happen. I think I’ll therefore now promote it a bit.

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