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Debating Kalam: My Response to Dustin

As discussed in my previous two posts, I recently debated the Kalam cosmological argument with fellow atheist blogger Saint Gasoline. My previous two posts had our opening statements, so you might want to read them before reading this post.

Since I only had 5 minutes to respond to Dustin’s opening statement, I had to make a lot of points very quickly. I ended up not responding to everything that I thought could be reasonably criticized. For example, Dustin (in the written, but not the spoken, version of his opening statement) said that modern physicists do not seriously entertain the idea of God. This is an overgeneralization and could be easily refuted by pointing out that Nobel Prize-winning physicists like Charles Townes, William Phillips, Arno Penzias, Antony Hewish, and Joseph Taylor all currently affirm that God was the cause of the universe. Since a decent number of top physicists not only seriously consider the idea of God as the cause of the universe, but affirm that he was the cause, Dustin’s statement seems to simply be factually incorrect (even though the large majority of physicists do not believe in God).

Dustin also argued that modern physics denies that everything that begins to exist has a cause. Since he was the one making an aggressive claim, I was able to shift the burden of proof onto him and argue that modern physics does not deny that everything that begins to exist has a cause by saying it’s still possible that all things may be caused. Of course, saying that premise 1 of the Kalam argument has not been disproven is different than giving good reasons for thinking that it is true.

In response to my second premise, Dustin argued that there are other models of the universe in which it could have been eternal. Not being a physicist, I don’t really know how viable these models are. But William Lane Craig has a pretty comprehensive argument against the plausibility of these models, which I tried to summarize in my response.

In my next post, I’ll explain some of the reasons why I find Kalam unpersuasive, but first, here’s my response to Dustin’s opening speech:

I'd first like to clarify that by 'universe', I mean not just the observable universe, but the entire material world. My opponent acknowledges that the observable universe was created at the singularity, but hypothesizes that it may have been materially caused by what he calls “fantastic elements”. This may once have been plausible, but in 2003, Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin proved that as long as the average expansion has been positive, the material world must have had a beginning. Their theorem made no other assumptions and holds even if the universe has extra dimensions or if our theory of gravity is wrong. There are only three ways around the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem: an infinitely contracting universe, a static universe followed by our present expansion, or an infinitely cycling universe. The problem with eternal contraction before our present expansion is that the collapse would become increasingly chaotic (BKL chaos) in a way that is inconsistent with the type of Big Bang that took place. Static universe models also fail since, as Vilenkin points out, “Small fluctuations in the size of the universe are inevitable according to the quantum theory, and thus Einstein’s universe (the pre-expansion state) cannot remain in balance for infinite time.” And cyclic universe models do not work since in order for them to have been eternally cycling, entropy must be preserved, yet as physicist Thomas Banks points out, during collapse higher and higher energy states would be entered, maximizing entropy. It would be impossible for subsequent cycles to still begin at a low entropy state, like that right after the Big Bang. So the observable universe cannot be the latest in an infinite series of cycles. As Vilenkin observes, “an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.”

My opponent also did not respond to my hotel and book examples which demonstrated the extreme absurdities that would result from an actual infinity, other than to say that some things once thought absurd have later been shown to be true. He is correct, but scientists did not embrace seeming absurdities like general relativity merely because they best fit with their prior prejudices, they did so because that’s where the evidence led. I don’t think my opponent should be so willing to go against the evidence and accept an absurdity merely because of his prior beliefs.

Accepting that there could be an infinite series of events in time leads not just to absurdities, but even outright contradictions. Consider the Grim Reaper paradox, which recently won over Joshua Rasmussen, a published critic of the Kalam argument. Infinitely many grim reapers each set their alarms to between 8 and 9 and kill you as soon as they wake up if you’re not already dead. Unless they all conspire so that one of them wakes up at some time, say 8:15, and everyone else wakes up later, there will, with probability 1, for each grim reaper, be a grim reaper that woke up before him. So it is impossible for any one grim reaper to kill you, but it is also impossible for you to survive. Unless there’s some magic force making the reapers chose a non-problematic set of times, you either accept that someone could be killed without ever being killed, or recognize that an actually infinite series of temporal events is impossible. While events can go on without end, there can never come a time at which an infinite number of events have been completed.

My opponent claims that physics has shown that there are uncaused events. This is false. There are both deterministic and non-deterministic interpretations of quantum physics. As Victor Stenger explains, “Other viable interpretations of quantum mechanics remain with no consensus on which, if any, is the correct one”; hence, we have to remain “open to the possibility that causes may someday be found for such phenomena.” But even under non-deterministic interpretations of quantum physics, virtual particles do not come out of nothing. They arise out of the conditions of the quantum vacuum, which constitute a probabilistic cause of their origination.

In my last speech I explained why the creator of space and time can rightly be called God. While we do not fully understand immaterial agency, we also do not fully understand material agency and have no good material explanation for qualia or answer to the hard problem of consciousness. And since the creator of all matter cannot be material, an immaterial agent is the only reasonable explanation. So we still reach the conclusion that there is a personal creator of the universe who is beginningless, immaterial, and incredibly powerful.

The Nerd said...
March 11, 2010 at 6:52 AM  

Damn, I need to read this, but I never have time these days even to catch up on my That's Gay episodes! It's still in my queue - I'll get to it eventually.

Bill rabara said...
July 27, 2012 at 12:51 PM  

Lol. A few physicists believe in a 'god' = a decent number is distorting the truth.

kadir karabaƟ said...
February 22, 2013 at 10:07 PM  
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