Part of an ongoing exchange with an email correspondent. His remarks are in quotation marks:
“Are you saying that we should not assume the law of conservation is valid beyond the furthest point currently detectable by telescopes or radio telescopes?? (I assume that's what you mean by "observable".)”
We should not assume that the law of conservation is operable in a hypothetical alternative universe—seeing as we don’t have any empirical evidence regarding the existence of such a universe, much less its physical laws.
“Why would the validity of that law depend on the capacity of our instruments?”
Our knowledge of a natural law is limited to our observation of nature. A hypothetical alternative universe would be unobservable or indetectible even in principle.
“Mills is merely applying the law of conservation, stating that the law forbids something, i.e. ex nihilo creation.”
We’ve been over this ground before.
“Such extrapolation of a known law, and a fundamental one at that, seems far more sensible, and in keeping with the known facts about the universe, than the truly incredible leap that theists postulate with the notion of divine ex nihilo creation. I would argue the law of conservation, i.e. that you can't get something from nothing, is more fundamental than other laws.”
i) There’s nothing sensible about extrapolating from the only universe we know and know to exist to the physical conditions of a hypothetical alternative universe which is both unknown and unknowable.
ii) You keep speaking of creation ex nihilo as a “postulate.” There are both philosophical and scientific arguments for creation ex nihilo. For example:
“Unless you axiomatically posit a supernatural intervention whereby the mass-energy necessary to constitute our universe is placed into the "acorn" of the BB, it has to be assumed that the mass-energy for the BB was pre-existent in some way, whether it originated in a previous collapsed universe or a quantum vacuum fluctuation (more about this below) or was just inherent in the BB acorn.”
i) You’re oscillating between mass-energy and the law of conservation. These are not interchangeable concepts.
ii) You also toy with a number of different cosmological models in the course of your reply. So you argument, even if otherwise sound, would only be sound with reference to one (or more) out of several competing cosmological models.
iii) Creation ex nihilo does not entail a BB acorn.
“I think there is far more reason to believe the law of conservation would apply to the acorn (i.e. to mass-energy compressed into an ultra-dense point) than any supernatural explanation.”
“In other words, to show that God created the universe ex nihilo through the BB, you have to axiomatically posit the existence of God to start with.”
No, theistic arguments can work in either direction. You could begin with theistic arguments that independently establish the existence of God, and then redeploy that conclusion as a premise for creation ex nihilo—or you could marshal philosophical and scientific arguments for creation ex nihilo, and redeploy that conclusion as a premise for the existence of God.
“God created the universe because God exists. But you haven't proven the existence of God, you've just posited his existence -- you've just put him into the equation. A conjuring trick indeed!”
This gets to be a bit tedious. God is not merely a postulate. There are a variety of theistic arguments for the existence of God.
“If time as we know it was created with the BB, then the "raw materials" of the BB would have to be considered "timeless" until the t=0 moment when the BB started spewing them out in a rapidly transforming state (with energy being converted into particles of matter) creating a fast-expanding universe. That's what I meant.”
Which assumes that timeless matter/energy—matter/energy without duration, is a coherent concept.
But time is a fundamental property of physical objects as we observe them.
“But in recent years several theories have come out which question the idea that the BB was a singularity from which time began and propose that it was "not a boundary to spacetime but simply a phase through which the universe passes" (Sean Carroll and Jennifer Chen, University of Chicago.) http://pancake.uchicago.edu/~carroll/arrow.pdf”
Does this mean that you now retract your previous appeal to timeless matter/energy?
“This little survey shows that the classical timeless (or pre-time) BB singularity is not cast in stone, and that the possibilities of a universe prior to or encompassing our present universe are being seriously considered.”
There’s a basic difference between possibility and conceivability. To know that a hypothetical alternative universe is, indeed, possible, we would need to have a detailed knowledge of its physical structure. But we’re only scratching the surface of our own universe, much less a hypothetical, alternative universe.
“Gabriele Veneziano (CERN), a string theory pioneer, discusses two of the non-singularity theories in an article called "The Myth of the Beginning of Time", He concludes by saying that "at least two potentially testable theories plausibly hold that the universe--and therefore time--existed well before the big bang. If either scenario is right, the cosmos has always been in existence and, even if it recollapses one day, will never end." This would seem to preclude a singular divine creation event.”
A “potentially testable” theory is two steps removed from actual evidence for such a scenario. It is untested. And it is, at best, potentially testable. So it’s untested, and until it’s tested, it may not even be testable.
“They postulate infinite entropy, with new universes being created out of “empty” high entropy space – through quantum fluctuations – by new big bangs that continue the process of increasing entropy. This would also seem to preclude a Biblical creation event.”
Assuming, for the sake of argument (which I deny), that Christians postulate the existence of God, why is it illicit for Christians to postulate the existence of God due to its explanatory power in accounting for the origin of the universe, but it’s licit for a secular scientist to postulate a secular cosmology to do the same?
“Nevertheless, they show that it is possible to come up with scientifically plausible naturalistic explanations for the origin of our universe that don’t require leaping to the conclusion of a divine creator.”
A “potentially testable” theory doesn’t begin to “show” the actual possibility of a naturalistic explanation.
“This is acceptable, but when you posit a supernatural explanation, you're jumping the gun in a big way. You're short-circuiting science. Even if science doesn't have an explanation for something today, it could in 20, 50, 200 or 500 or 1000 years.”
You are now resorting to secular fideism. Your faith-commitment to the future of science.
“I don't see any justification for shutting the door on a scientific, naturalistic explanation.”
And you are now implicitly defining science in terms of methodological naturalism. But methodological naturalism is subject to formidable criticisms:
“Given that we're probably locked into our universe, and may never be able to go outside it (or peer outside it using various instruments), or into a black hole, we may never finally or conclusively solve the mystery of cosmic origin. In other words, there may be a naturalistic explanation, but we might not be able to discover it given physical limitations. But that still doesn't justify a supernatural explanation.”
Sorry, but this is secular fanaticism. Even if no naturalistic explanation will ever be available, naturalism is always preferable to supernaturalism!
“Positing God as an explanation only obscures things further: From where / out of what / how did God create the energy in the universe??”
Since that is not what creation ex nihilo implies, the question is miscast.
“I think the theories I've mentioned above try to tackle this issue. But while we may be able to explain the Big Bang, i.e. what gave our universe its start, we may have to take as an absolute given the existence of the underlying or preceding energy that permeates (or permeated) the pre-universe or multiverse.”
Take as “an absolute given.” More secular dogma. This is secular fundamentalism.
“Again, this is an extrapolation from something known.”
An extrapolation from something known what? You’re assuming that a hypothetical alternative universe would be analogous to our universe. If you already knew that, then you wouldn’t need to “extrapolate” from one to the other. The fact that you have having to extrapolate from one to the other betrays the fact that you don’t know the situation to be analogous, in which case the extrapolation is wholly unwarranted.
“In positing divine ex nihilo creation, you make a huge leap into the unknown without any solid basis.”
Into the unknown what?
“Any or all of them may turn out to be wrong. That's how science works. Delving into the origin (and future) of the universe is cutting-edge science which requires imagination and original thinking on the part of astrophysicists.”
If you have to appeal to “cutting-edge science,” then there’s no reason to have any confidence in cutting-edge science since today’s cutting-edge science is different from tomorrow’s cutting-edge science or yesterday’s cutting-edge science.
“See directly below for more details. But let me say here that the question of how God pulled off this trick is indeed the key question. If you evade this question, it means you simply want to impose a solution (God as the cause of the universe) without any justification, apart from your religious faith.”
Which disregards the philosophical and scientific arguments for creation ex nihilo.
“The universe and the Big Bang are known phenomena and science tries to explain their origin. In this case, the very feasibility of the action (i.e. creation ex nihilo) by the posited actor (God) determines whether that actor being the cause of the phenomena is a plausible hypothesis. To posit something as the cause, you have to give a plausible explanation of how the cause led to the effect. To say that Cause X caused Effect Y, without explaining how X caused Y makes the case of X being the cause rather flimsy. Wouldn't you agree?”
No, I don’t agree. For there is no agreed upon model of causality in the philosophical literature. Not even close.
We don’t begin with a theory of causation. Rather, we begin with what we take to be contingent events, which we infer to be effects of *some* agency or agent.
The inference does not depend on having an off-the-shelf model of causality to work with.
“Regarding the statement that follows, Christopher Hitchens has said that "What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof".
Which evinces his utterly ignorance of natural theology, philosophical theology, and Christian apologetics.
“As you concede, atheists don't have to disprove the existence of God, but certainly it's a good idea for them to explain how living things and the universe came into being and how they function and develop without God and why the concept of God is fundamentally flawed.”
No, it’s more than a good idea. It’s a burden of proof. The atheist, by virtue of his being an atheist, believes that a world without God is significantly different from a world with God (“God” as defined in Judeo-Christian terms).
Therefore, an atheist maintains that theism and atheism carry very different implications for reality. They are not equivalent descriptions of reality.
Hence, atheism has a burden of proof internal to atheism to exclude the implications of the alternative thesis. To show that the world is not the way it would be if God is real.
“If by "evidential parity" you mean parity in the amount of evidence for their existence, yes I don't think there's any more proof for the Christian God, than for Zeus, or for leprechauns. If you believe in the Christian God, then of course you think there's no parity. True, the Christian God is attributed with far more than are leprechauns. Leprechauns are not claimed to have created the universe or life on Earth or to be responsible for tsunamis or saving lives during tsunamis. So in that sense, it's true, there's no parity. The evidence base for God is far bigger, i.e. the amount of what is presented as evidence. But, for an atheist, all this purported evidence fails to prove the case.”
With all due respect, have you ever attempted to even *look* at some of the evidence? Here’s a bare sampling of some of the online material:
“Yes, there are indetectable phenomena which leave detectable effects, but these are all natural phenomena. God, as a supernatural entity, is not part of science -- far from it.”
Is this another appeal to methodological naturalism?
“I realize that a Christian apologist would use everything in the universe as evidence for God, but the argument from design has been rather thoroughly punctured by philosophers and scientists from David Hume to Dawkins.”
Has it now? Have you actually studied some of the counterarguments?
Even Thomas Nagel, a leading secular philosopher, had to take Dawkins to task for his inept misstatement of the design argument:
Let me first say something about this negative argument. It depends, I believe, on a misunderstanding of the conclusion of the argument from design, in its traditional sense as an argument for the existence of God. If the argument is supposed to show that a supremely adept and intelligent natural being, with a super-body and a super-brain, is responsible for the design and the creation of life on earth, then of course this "explanation" is no advance on the phenomenon to be explained: if the existence of plants, animals, and people requires explanation, then the existence of such a super-being would require explanation for exactly the same reason. But if we consider what that reason is, we will see that it does not apply to the God hypothesis.
The reason that we are led to the hypothesis of a designer by considering both the watch and the eye is that these are complex physical structures that carry out a complex function, and we cannot see how they could have come into existence out of unorganized matter purely on the basis of the purposeless laws of physics. For the elements of which they are composed to have come together in just this finely tuned way purely as a result of physical and chemical laws would have been such an improbable fluke that we can regard it in effect as impossible: the hypothesis of chance can be ruled out. But God, whatever he may be, is not a complex physical inhabitant of the natural world. The explanation of his existence as a chance concatenation of atoms is not a possibility for which we must find an alternative, because that is not what anybody means by God. If the God hypothesis makes sense at all, it offers a different kind of explanation from those of physical science: purpose or intention of a mind without a body, capable nevertheless of creating and forming the entire physical world. The point of the hypothesis is to claim that not all explanation is physical, and that there is a mental, purposive, or intentional explanation more fundamental than the basic laws of physics, because it explains even them.
“No, you do need a good reason to deny the eternal validity of the law of conservation -- beyond your religious belief. Having doubts is one thing and even that requires some justification, but going as far as outright denial is another matter.”
Actually, I don’t need any reason to deny the eternal validity of such a law. Rather, the onus is on those who believe it to offer some reason to believe it in the form of hard evidence.
“I think your prior religious belief is in fact your reason. Your belief system requires divine ex nihilo creation, so naturally, you deny something that would preclude this.”
i) This sort of objection is a two-edged sword, for I could say exactly the same thing about the motives of the atheist.
ii) More to the point, one doesn’t have to be a Christian to be utterly sceptical of MWI. There are many secular critics of MWI in the scientific community.
“You say "the only basis" -- well, our universe is quite a huge basis!”
Yes, but of course, we’re not talking about “our” universe, now are we?—but about a hypothetical alternative universe.
“Of course, positing a God "solves" this problem at one level since you then supply a "source" for the energy coming out of nothing. However, you are then taking a gigantic leap into the unknown and the unknowable -- it's indeed a leap of faith, pure and simple. In positing God, you're also at the same time preventing any explanation of ex nihilo creation. You're only explaining who the agent is (to the extent such a transcendent unknowable agent can be explained or defined!),”
There are standard definitions of the divine attributes in philosophical and systematic theology, viz.
P. van Inwagen, The Problem of Evil (Oxford 2006), Lecture 2.
E. Wierenga, The Nature of God (Cornell 1989)
“While there is still much that science needs to solve and discover, it seems in this case a fairly safe bet to rely on top-notch scientists like Guth and Hawking.”
1.It’s not a safe bet when today’s top-notch scientists contradict each other. If they knew where the truth lay, they wouldn’t propose so many mutually exclusive cosmological theories. So they really don’t know what they’re talking about. Rather, they’re groping in the darkness of a measureless cave with a box of matches.
2.And, speaking of Hawking, he’s a classic antirealist in his philosophy of science. As he said in his debate with Roger Penrose:
“He's a Platonist and I am a positivist. He's worried that Schrödinger's cat is in a quantum state, where it is half dead and half alive. He feels that can't correspond to reality. But that doesn't bother me. I don't demand that a theory correspond to reality because I do not know what it is. Reality is not a quality you can test with litmus paper. All I am concerned with is that the theory should predict the results of measurements.”
“You are here postulating a transcendent realm beyond the reach of science. Again, that's a giant leap. If it is beyond science, then it's beyond our knowledge.”
You are now equating scientific knowledge with all knowledge. This is a hopeless position:
i) Science depends on metascientific assumptions. See the aforementioned materials on methodological naturalism.
ii) There are fields of knowledge, such as history, which are not reducible to science. History accentuates the particular and unrepeatable, science the universal and repeatable.
“Yes, numbers do exist, but not as a physical reality in the universe, but as human constructs to describe reality. In the case of possible worlds, we are talking about real physical entities that may or may not exist, not abstract constructs.”
A real nonexistent physical entity. Care to rephrase that?
“Besides, the fine-tuning argument also employs hypotheticals, i.e. other possible values for the Big Bang constants (the cards in Penrose's royal-flush-yielding deck). How do we know other values are possible? And anyway, as I've written before, our universe is not particularly bio-friendly, a point you haven't responded to. There is a vast amount of cosmic material out there -- galaxies, stars, planets, nebulae, etc -- that is not life-bearing or life-enabling, most which certainly had no effect on the emergence of life on our planet. Why would a cosmic designer need to create a vast mostly lifeless and non-life-permitting universe in order to generate intelligent life on one little planet? Surely he would have found a much more efficient way to do this, if that was his main goal -- unless he wanted to keep a small group of humans employed as astronomers and astrophysicists! Hawking writes in A Brief History of Time (Chpt. 8) that "the strong anthropic principle would claim that this whole vast construction exists simply for our sake. This is very hard to believe." Indeed!!”
i) You’re lifting “biofriendly” from a NYT review I sent you of Dawkins’ new book. I myself did not deploy the fine-tuning argument in the course of our exchange.
ii) However, the point of the argument is not that you need a big universe for life to exist on planet earth, but that you need a big universe for life to exist anywhere at all—whether here or elsewhere in the universe.
“Besides, it took billions of years after the BB for life to start evolving on our planet. Life on Earth adapts to the environment it finds itself in. The universe was not somehow designed to enable life, and particularly life on Earth; rather, life and human life arose slowly in very difficult conditions through evolutionary adaption. As Francois Tremblay writes in his article "The Many Problems of the Fine-Tuning Argument": "We should no more be surprised at how well the universe fits us, than we should be surprised at how well a baked cookie fits its mold".”
Well, I don’t share your operating premise. I don’t subscribe to macroevolution—much less naturalistic evolution. For one thing, evolutionary psychology undermines the foundations of reason, which renders the entire thesis self-refuting.
“The physicist Victor Stenger has done simulations that show that quite a few alternative universes (i.e. those where the four main constants would have different values) would "allow time for stellar evolution and heavy element nucleosynthesis" which are essential for the emergence of life, though of course other values would not yield our form of life.”
Computer simulations are a sorry substitute for empirical evidence.
“Another point, made by physicist Sean Carroll in his article "Why (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists", is that what we consider physical constants could be "merely local phenomena, in the sense that there are other regions of the universe where they take on completely different values." I think by "universe" he means "multiverse" as he goes on to speak of "innumerable distinct expanding unverses" consistent with the theory of "eternal inflation". He writes further that "In a universe comprised of many distinct regions with different values of the coupling constants, it is tautologous that intelligent observers will only measure the values which obtain in those regions which are consistent with the existence of such observers."
Now you’re resorting to an appeal which is diametrically opposed to your prior insistence on the universality and eternality of the law of conversation.
“But even without positing other universes, the point remains that life arose where it was possible to arise given the existing conditions. Earth may or may not be the only planet where such conditions developed. It's far-fetched to assert that the BB was pre-arranged to create those conditions, which would also mean that movements and combinations of matter (from the elementary particle level on up) following the BB were precisely programmed and guided all the way up to the formation of the Earth and beyond, including the correct placing of the Earth in its orbit.”
You apparently interpret the fine-tuning argument to imply that life *had* to originate given certain initial conditions.
Is that the argument? Or is the argument that, given the origin of life, certain initial conditions had to obtain, and these conditions are fine-tuned for the possibility of life, not the inevitability of life. That’s what I’ve read in Christian formulations of the fine-tuning argument:
“The fine-tuning argument falsely assumes that human beings are supposed to exist and then argues that things were therefore set up and steered to bring human beings into existence, and that therefore there was a conscious supernatural agent who did this. This is fallacious thinking that looks at things backwards. It starts from the ending point.”
i) No, this strikes me as a caricature of the fine-tuning argument, which, in turn, piggybacks on a caricature of ID theory:
ii) Let’s also keep in mind that one doesn’t have to be a doctrinaire Christian to be impressed with the fine-tuning argument. Freeman Dyson was the one who famously said it’s as if the universe knew we were coming.
“By the way, how do Christians reconcile the BB, which the great majority of astrophysicists agree took place 13-14 billion years ago, with their Genesis-based view that mankind was created in the same week as the Earth and the whole universe, and that mankind is only a few thousand years old? Besides this, Genesis says light on Earth -- and day and night -- were created before the Sun was, among various other nonsensical assertions. How do you get light on Earth -- and day and night -- without the Sun??”
Well, there’s a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is that a Christian can either reinterpret the Bible to agree with popular, or else he can reinterpret popular to agree with the Bible.
Former strategies include the gap theory, day/age theory, revelatory day theory, analogical day theory, and framework hypothesis.
Latter strategies involve a direct challenge to the methods and assumptions of popular science. This can take several forms:
i) One can challenge BB and/or conventional dating schemes. John Byl and Kurt Wise take this approach.
ii) One can invoke creation ex nihilo to distinguish between the inception of the initial conditions, and the resultant cyclical processes from that frontloaded fiat.
It would be analogous to the difference between the time a watch is made, and the time a watch is set for.
iii) Dating involves the measurement of time, which—in turn—raises the question of whether time has an intrinsic metric. If not, then the age assigned to the universe by popular science is merely an artifact of our conventional chronometry. For a discussion of the issues, cf.:
“Your point only supports Dawkins' argument since theists argue the emergence of mankind was improbable without divine intervention -- and complements my argument that apparently improbable things do happen all the time, that many things may be improbable at one level, but are not so improbable at another.”
This confuses the epistemic improbability of our knowing the outcome, given a physically deterministic system, with the metaphysical improbability of a physically deterministic system coming into being.
“I think that when you ask a question like "what is selecting for the instantiation?", you are implying what you want to prove, namely, the existence of an Intelligent Selector. At any rate, if we are to speak of "selectors", the selector or selectors can indeed be a naturalistic factor or any number of them.”
Can it? Why does one possible world obtain rather than another?
“I wasn't referring to the psychological process of abstraction. I meant abstract constructs, which can indeed include numbers. If you're saying God is an "abstract universal", I have to repeat what I've said earlier in this email and in my previous one: I don't think an abstract form can create a universe. To say that God exists in the same sense that numbers exist is not much of an argument for the existence of a God that created the universe and mankind. Numbers are human constructs to describe reality. If you're saying God is like a number, then you're admitting that God is a human construct!! And then, I'd have to say to you: welcome to the atheist camp!!”
A couple of basic problems:
i) If you’re going to adopt conceptualism, then the physical universe does not exemplify an objective, mathematical structure. Rather, that is a merely human, psychological projection on an otherwise amorphous universe.
ii) Apropos (i), the theories of mathematical physics do not and cannot, on that view, be truly descriptive of the universe. They do not correspond to any extramental reality.
So you’ve just consigned all of your cosmological theories to the cosmic dumpster.