[The universe is better than theology or our syllogisms.]
I am going to do something I rarely do, and that's link to a post before I've thoroughly read and considered it myself. Jos Gibbons comments on Richard Dawkins's site and always has sensible things to say, as far as I have seen. Jos addresses William Lane Craig's pet, the Kalam Cosmological Argument, and even my quick skim of the address convinces me it's worth reproducing here (I have commented in passing on the KCA here and here). The full post appears below. There was some ensuing discussion of RD.net, but I did not capture it. You'll have to go there yourself if you want to follow the discussion.
This is going to be a very long post. Why? Because I want to expose ALL the flaws in the Kalam Cosmological Argument, not just a couple. That this post is so long shows you how many errors it manages to squeeze in. The error density per word is actually quite impressive. In short, it’s just a list of questionable assertions, whose “support” is even more questionable assertions, until we finally end up with provably false assertions. As we shall see, the Kalam Cosmological Argument has a long ancestry of gradually modified arguments behind it. But while the intent of all this was to make the case seem more convincing – indeed, the alleged intent is to make it a genuinely better case – there is actually far more to object to than in the simplest versions of the cosmological argument.
Since as far as I can tell Czar Bernstein [note: CB gave the original post in the thread] is not an advocate of this nonsense I have avoided using the word “you” in my critique of the argument, as were I to do so it would be unclear which person was the target of my criticism. But William Lane Craig is definitely a crackpot. Anyone who wants to see how many holes there are in his ideas – in short, far, far more than even this long post demonstrates (as it deals with only 1 of his arguments), although his arguments all have roughly the same error density – should search YouTube for “William Lane Craig is Not”, as YouTubers are challenged to make videos demonstrating he is not some specific expert type, e.g. not a historian. (William Lane Craig is Not a Batman Historian is especially funny because it parodies his arguments for the historicity of the resurrection to show just how silly it really is
Oh, one more thing: usually, by theism I mean theism or deism. (They so need a collective name.)
1. Whatever BEGINS to exist has a cause
Why postulate this rule? There’s no good reason to, as will become clear when I debunk the defence given of it below. Let’s be honest about the REAL reason anyone uses this premise. Here’s how the cosmological argument started life:
Theist: Everything has a cause, so that includes the universe. Its cause is God. Ta–da!
Skeptic: If that’s what you insist on calling it (not that you’ve proven it has any attributes we associate with that term), but knowing the universe has a cause – if your argument really does achieve that – seems pretty useless. We’re no better off than we were before. After all, what caused “God”, as you insist on calling it?
Theist: Oh no, God has no cause.
Skeptic: But, you just said everything has a cause. You have tried to prove the existence of something with a premise allegedly applying to everything – the logic of the universe, you might call it – and in order to convince me the argument has any merit you have to then say that this one thing is the exception to the logic of the universe, a pretty big claim to swallow, as you’re trying to convince me it exists at all. See how unconvincing that is? That you are using premises to prop up a conclusion which contradicts those premises?
Theist: Look, I meant everything other than God has a cause.
Skeptic: But if you reference the as yet unproven thing in the first line of your argument, you’re just assuming your conclusion at the start.
Theist: OK, only one thing doesn’t have a cause, if you insist on me not naming it yet. I can name it at the end.
Skeptic: Yes, but even if the number of things without cause is exactly one – which seems a pretty arbitrary, unevidenced premise if you ask me – why not make the exception something we actually know exists, like the universe?
After a while, the theist comes up with the idea of making up a rule of the form “Everything with property X has a cause” such that he can (he hopes) plausibly argue everything we know of has property X, but which he can later say the cause of those things – which he’ll call God – doesn’t have property X. Of course, why this invisible unknowable thing should manage to have such uniqueness when nothing else manages it is never explained. As before, it’s a case of trying to avoid a conclusion’s contradicting its supporting premises by saying this thing is the exception to the logic of the universe, a pretty big claim to swallow, in trying to convince us it exists at all. And, as I shall show when we discuss the later defence offered for that premise, not only do those efforts at supporting premise 1 fail, but we actually do have good reasons for thinking premise 1 is false. I will not spoil the surprise too much, but it is called evidence, something which arguments trying to prove the existence of an invisible being can never use.
2. The universe began to exist
Why assume that? It’s blatantly just being done to complete the syllogism, unless anything can be offered to back it up. As I shall show, the efforts there fail too.
Brief theistic support
This line is arguably the most ominous one in the entire piece, as it reveals something rather disturbing. The argument is first introduced as a syllogism: if you accept the two premises, you accept the conclusion of that syllogism, which – rather than being deistic or theistic – is simply the universe being caused. But, apparently, this 2–premise, 1–conclusion structure is not the whole story. From this point onwards, nothing that is said is given a rigorous logical structure as the chosen format for the argument. If the argument really does work, it should be possible to rewrite it using nothing but nested syllogisms, with all the inflexibility that that rightly entails. The Kalam cosmological argument is centuries old, and has gradually evolved and gained more so–called “support” from a selective treatment of modern physics (which, in continuing the effort to “improve” the original cosmological argument which the imaginary conversation above shows happened several times before the Kalam version arose, reveals a belief in a god to be all about flogging a dead horse, endlessly rewriting a bad argument in a hope it will eventually work), all of which is decades old (yet nonetheless sometimes still out of date, which gives you an idea how much more progressive is science than religion). That all the claims on which the argument relies turn out to have been around for a while, as does the argument using them, means there has been plenty of time to give the whole piece the same formal layout treatment the syllogism above uses. This has not been done, since there is no way to make it work; there are just too many holes, as we shall see. So the purpose of that syllogism is in fact not an honest effort to find truth, but to make the case seem deceptively straightforward – when, in fact, there’s much more to it than meets the stupid, uncritical eye.
Premise one seems intuitively obvious.
In other words, there’s no evidence to cite for it at all, but “common sense” demands it. That is the basis for thinking the Earth is Flat, to mention just one of myriad examples. If I could choose one word to describe the truths found by science, it would be “counter–intuitive”.
The alternative is that something can come from nothing, which is contradicted in our everyday experience.
Lots of truths are contrary to our everyday experience. That is literally the point of science. As I shall show, premise 1 is provably wrong, but the proof relies on evidence found in real science rather than in everyday experience.
Should be no real debater on this premise.
What there shouldn’t be is anyone defending it these days. You want an example of uncaused entities which begin existing? Virtual particles in a vacuum. The only explanation we have of them is quantum theory, which precludes their having a cause. Yet we know that explanation is correct because it is just about the best supported idea in the history of science, by evidence including its accurate predictions of detectable consequences of the existence of these virtual particles, such as the Casimir effect.
Premise two is supported by both philosophical and scientific evidence and argument. -Philosophical: if the universe never began to exist, that means the number of past events is actually infinite. But an actual infinite cannot exist in reality.
There is literally no reason for thinking that. None at all. It’s just something philosophers say, and not all philosophers, and the only reason it’s ever said is as a premise in arguments for the existence of a god. That alone is proof that deism/theism is a dead enterprise. The idea of an infinite past is sometimes critiqued by saying it would take an infinite amount of time to get from the start to now. Kant irrevocably destroyed this objection when he observed that an infinitely old world is one which never began, not one which began an infinite amount of time ago. And if people still insist on saying there’s an actual infinity, let them answer this: the same laws of nature which they insist on citing to pretend they’re telling the truth also tell us that, since the expansion of the universe is now known to be accelerating, the universe will never end, so will exist for an infinite amount of time. Why do these people think t cannot have arbitrarily low values when they should know it can have arbitrarily high values? Do they expect us to believe the time line is able to take the form of what mathematicians call a half–line, while its instead simply being a line (extended infinitely in both directions rather than one; that which is finite in both directions, such as the side of a square, is a line segment) is a non–starter? That a line makes as much sense as does a half–line is a truth going back to Euclid. And anyone who claims reality cannot actually contain something, even though logic does not preclude it, clearly doesn’t know what “logically possible world” means.
Hubble's discovery of cosmic expansion, Second Law of Thermodynamics (we are not in a state of "heat death," if the universe were eternal we would be), Big Bang cosmology etc.
So the Big Bang happened a finite amount of time ago. Big deal. I hate to break it to you, but there’s no reason there couldn’t have been infinitely many Big Bangs and Big Crunches before the Big Bang of which we know. Interestingly, we have good reasons to think the Big Bang would erase all physical information prior to itself, and therefore empirical evidence should be mute on whether or not the Big Bang was the true beginning. I will discuss this in more detail later in this section, as all the points you put together are intimately related, but the various things which need to be said are best put in a leapfrogging order.
The first thing to notice about a heat death is that it does not occur due to high entropy – which the universe has – but high entropy relative to the amount of space it has to fill. The maximum entropy a sphere radius R can contain is proportional to R squared (not R cubed, irritatingly, which is why I had to say “relative to the amount of space it has to fill” rather than “density”; oh, and the reason I am typing squared and cubed is because this website can’t even display the shift 6 symbol for exponentiation, let alone show upper indices – get it fixed). Our universe has expanded far too rapidly for the “relative entropy” (entropy as a proportion of the maximum allowed in a space that size) to grow; it has indeed shrunk.
Now because the Big Bang started from a very small amount of space it couldn’t have had very much entropy – and, as entropy and information are intimately related, this also tells us there wasn’t very much information fed into the Big Bang, so nothing even as complex as a bacterium, let alone a deity, need be posited as the source of that information – although it might have had a high relative entropy. Indeed, a relative entropy of 1 (the maximum) is quite plausible given what we know about theoretical physics, and it is this possibility which would erase any evidence of a prior history and is what is meant by a heat death. Notice expansion serves to take a universe in this state out of it, which is why we are not at relative entropy 1 now, even though we may have been during the Big Bang.
A rather subtle point may have occurred to you. If time is infinitely old (which, since premise 1 is wrong, does not need to be assumed to avoid concluding the universe has a cause, divine or otherwise, but let’s critique premise 2 all we can anyway, as we have above), and there have been Big Bang and Big Crunch cycles but the latest Big Bang happened only finitely long ago, wouldn’t the total entropy just prior to the latest Big Bang be extremely high (even infinite, perhaps), so the universe couldn’t squeeze down to the small size it had at the time of the Big Bang, as such large amounts of entropy wouldn’t fit on the Planck scale? This would indeed be so, if entropy really cannot reduce under any circumstances, as a strict reading of the Second Law of Thermodynamics would suggest. If a universe undergoes a Big Crunch, this fact follows from the Friedmann equation et al, and entropy seems to be unable to stop this, if you again take the Friedmann equation strictly. The Friedmann equation considers only gravity to matter; if entropy really can oppose a Big Crunch, it would do so through an outward entropic pressure, which would need taking into account in addition to gravity. But the option theoretical physics finds most viable is that Big Crunches can reduce the entropy of the universe, which may sound like a cop–out but you must bear in mind the Second Law of Thermodynamics is a theorem of low–energy (if you will, classical) physics axioms we know we must change in the future as we develop a quantum theory of gravity, rather than an axiom in its own right we cannot escape in any physical theory.
You may be thinking the matter of premise 2 is not quite so clear as is that of premise 1. But it is worth bearing in mind just how much greater knowledge about physics the argument’s framer is claiming than the greatest physics minds in the world today. And it is an old and not a recent argument, which only worsens the insult. Religious people often praise themselves for their alleged humility, whilst they claim cosmological knowledge even the most arrogant atheistic scientists do not. This is a good sign of what is wrong with religious beliefs.
From which it follows that the universe has a cause. The cause of space and time, must exist outside of space, time and matter (God or not) because these things only came into being after the Big Bang.
What about other space–times? M–theory posits an eternal 11–dimensional universe in which Big Bangs creating universes with fewer dimensions occur due to collisions between what are called p–branes. And unlike the prescientific, dogmatic and often refuted claims made in the Kalam Cosmological Argument, M–theory is posited not simply to explain one thing, but as numerous lines in theoretical physics seem to lead to it better than they do anything else. It is still far from demonstrated that string theories are the only game in town, but they have far more going for them than religious apologetics, because they at least make a sincere effort to engage with every current problem we have in consistently uniting everything we think we know about the universe.
Thus, the cause must be transcendent and immaterial and powerful.
What does transcendent mean? Not in spacetime? Where is it then? If theists are right, apparently it is in “Heaven” (wherever that is). What does immaterial mean? The immaterial does NOT have a mass, temperature, Young’s modulus etc. – what DOES it have? If theists are right, apparently it has an obsession with petty human squabbles. What does powerful mean? Able to make a universe? What else does that tell us? If theists are right, apparently that intercessory prayer exists. It is clear there is precious little correlation between what the premises of this argument really demand and what theists want to pretend they have any good reason to believe.
There are two things that fit this description: abstract things or intelligent minds.
Why can’t there be another option we haven’t thought of? This is the argument from personal incredulity, plain and simple. And it is no good talking of inferences to the best explanation, even if it is conceded we are adopting the best explanation we can think of but know there may be others. Not only does this preserve the role of the argument from personal incredulity, but it also adds another fallacy. What if none of the explanations are very good? Explaining a complex universe by positing a designer, who must therefore be more complex still, without offering an explanation for it – or even, as theists do, explicitly claiming there is none – is not a good explanation, whether or not it is the best, or joint best. Surely, if one lacks any good explanations, one shouldn’t believe any of them. This is how science proceeds. The trouble with arguments for the existence of a god is that, time and time again (and the Kalam one has done this many times), they display a mentality which doesn’t even acknowledge any of the findings or methods of science, so the discussion may as well be taking place in the Bronze Age.