No, your personal view of God is not required by the Big Bang

This is a thread that has been cooking in my mind for some time. It deals with theism, cosmology, creation ex-nihilo, “standard” physics, and the nexus of metaphysics with creation. Initially, I was going to start a great debate, but I think this is more appropriate for the Pit.

Let me paint the picture:

A month ago I attended a Templeton Series lecture at the University of Colorado by the theologian and philospher William Lane Craig. A basic outline of his talk is here

Now, Dr. Craig is not a cosmologist or even a scientist, so I have a number of objections to his formulations. First of all, his insistence:

seems to me to be a based on taking the “standard model” of the Big Bang and extrapolating to a point that we don’t have a model to describe. There is no reason that the universe has to have a singularity, but if we take this singularity model to describe the universe, the first time we have something meaningful to say about the universe is at the so-called Planck Time, 10^-43 seconds after this “singularity”.

The only problem is, since we don’t have any models that even begin to make sense before this time at 10^-43 seconds, there is no way we can say that a singularity exists. To do that, we’d have to have a model of quantum gravity that would make predictions for the behavior of energy densities described by the Planck scale.

Those of you who are still following may now see where I think Craig utterly fails. His opinion is that science was “uncomfortable” with an ab initio point and therefore the atheist establishment conspired to construct fantastical scenarios that didn’t require a singularity. Of course, since we have no idea what happened before the Planck Epoch, it makes little sense whatsoever to talk about what went on at that time except to make sure that whatever model is proposed matches up with current theory and observation. To that end, there are a number of models that are presented that do not require a cosmic singularity that Craig dismisses by means of some rather backhanded maneuvers.

First of all, Craig talks about the first debate involving the Steady State Model which we now know to be false. His dispatching of the Steady State Model is framed in a way to let the audience feel that the atheists were defeated in their indignation. However, I think this is your basic red herring as he doesn’t establish until the very end his (nebulous) reasoning that a cosmic singularity indicates a creator. The Steady State vs. Big Bang debate was not about whether the universe was created. One could believe in a Steady State Universe and still have a creator, for example.

He then goes on to talk about other models which effectively remove the singularity (the cyclic, ekpyrotic, eternal inflation, Hartle-Hawking etc.) with a basically incorrect critique of each. I won’t go into the details, but I am willing to debate anyone who thinks that he has effectively dispatched any of these models.

My basic objections are three-fold.

One: Is it really important for theists (and Christians in particular) to have science inform their beliefs about God creating the universe? In other words is it important that there be an ab initio point for the universe in time? If we discover that there isn’t, does that really present a problem for those who believe in a creator? I feel that the answer to this is “no”, but I’d be interested to hear other opinions.

Two: Who the fuck does William Lane Craig think he is? I mean, I work in the field of astronomy and I was the ONLY person from the field to hear is talk. I sincerely think the reason is because he makes declarations such as follows:

Now, as I have described above, there is not only evidence to say that this isn’t true: the “standard model” isn’t even really a “model” in the scientific sense of the term. His criticisms of the physics of brilliant scientists are not only pedestrian, they are filled with such “uncomfortabilities” as not liking imaginary numbers because they are unphysical! Excuse me, Billy, but that’s a debate for the ages. So Craig ends up attracting a crowd that isn’t familar with the field and furthermore has a vested interest in hoping to see he’s correct (basically fellow theistic Christians). Talk about preaching to the choir.

Three: How dangerous is this sort of game-playing? I don’t care if you’re a theist, but to say that science and philosphy point to a neccessary monothestic construct that is centered around your belief system seems highly problematic from a purely objective standpoint. Why is it that people such as Craig and Hugh Ross feel that they can imprint their own designs onto science and then claim that this is evidence of “Intelligent Design”? The only “design” I see is the one they forced upon observations and theory.

So, there’s my rant.

Holy fuck do I love this board.

I don’t think you even need to go as far as you do. You seem very knowledgable about the field, so correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s my understanding that even if there is a singularity, it has absolutely no bearing on the “creation” of the universe. Time would not be defined at the big bang, so the good Dr. Craig’s statement:

is patently false, and absurd on its face, isn’t it? The singularity is not a beginning in the sense of an origin, correct? So really, the question of whether there is a singularity is irrelevant to the point.

Blasphemy! The Earth is the center of the universe. Recant or be burned at the stake! :wink:

BTW, just curious - why didn’t you put this in Great Debates?

I posted here because after writing my post in a form for Great Debates I realized that I was simply ranting more than posting a debatable point. AFAIAC, Craig is just plain wrong. There is nothing to debate. He deserves to be pitted, not debated.

However, I wouldn’t mind tearing to shreds someone who wanted to take William Lane Craig’s lame side of the debate.

I do think, blowero, that your point is pretty much on target in terms of the philosophy of the whole thing. I’m not a philosopher, and I was basically sayin that his own jumping all over my chosen profession simply served to piss me the hell off.

Craig seems to think that an ab initio point requires a “creation” event. I’m inclined to agree with him though I don’t think that that necessarily has theistic implications.

To wit, there is a point when time existed. IF time and space didn’t exist, there was an absence of existence as we know it. Thus some event could be labeled as “creation”, though not necessarily theistic.

My point is, we don’t even know if there IS a singularity or a point where time and space didn’t exist in the first place. We can’t say a DAMN THING about any of this stuff, so claiming that he’s seen God through science is simply his own fun spin on what he wants to see. I don’t have any problem with that, in principle, but I do have problem with his insistence that this is the way science necessarily points.

Well of course I agree with your main point, but I’m not following you on this one specific thing. And my knowledge of physics is admittedly from reading Hawking and other laymen’s books, so feel free to correct anything I say that’s wrong. But my understanding is that the singularity is the entire mass and energy of the universe existing in a single point. I understand that there is no model for us to understand what this means, but that doesn’t mean that the universe “began” to exist then, does it? The singularity, if it exists, would consist of everything rather than nothing, wouldn’t it?

Sentient Meat started a thread on this very subject awhile back (I can’t find it due to the poor performance of the search engine), and the consensus seemed to be that it’s nonsensical to refer to a time when “time and space didn’t exist”, because time and space are functions of the universe itself. IOW, there is no “before” the universe, nor is there any “outside” of the universe. Or at least, if other universes exist, there are not temporally bound to ours.

My understanding is that we cannot identify a time when there was “nothing”, because time is not defined before the big bang.

Your point is an excellent one; I just think you concede more than you need to. Questioning whether the singularity actually exists is unnecessary; even if it does exist, you still can’t use the laws of physics to get from there to any place “before” the universe.

If I were a religionist, I’d be mighty careful about basing my beliefs on any scientific proposition. Scientific theories are constantly changing and evolving. What happens when one’s bedrock of faith is undermined by new evidence? Does one cling to it anyway (i.e. practice bad science) or does one simply discard or modify one’s religious beliefs? If one is prepared to do the latter, if one were actually able to make testable hypotheses about God, then is it really religion we’re talking about, anymore?

On the other side of the table, I’ve heard some agnostics/atheists profess that they believe in the oscillating Universe, and endless cycle of Big Bangs and Big Crunches, because it tidily eliminates the need to ask what caused the Big Bang, so there’s no need to think uncomfortable thoughts about a Creator. When I tell them that the Universe probably isn’t headed for a Big Crunch, they tend to get awful quiet. Oopsie. That’s what happens when you try to make science conform to your philosophical and religious views; science changes and leaves you in the lurch.

In general, wish that people were more comfortable with accepting that “We don’t know,” is the answer to many scientific questions. I don’t mean that everybody should just accept it, of course—scientists in the field should constantly be pushing the boundaries of what’s answerable or what not. I’m speaking of laymen. I’m perfectly okay, as a non-cosmologist, with saying we don’t know what happened during the Planck Epoch, but many people seem to think that they have to come up with something that happened then, just to fill in that uncomfortable mental blank spot. And they say, “Could it be this?” and you answer, “We don’t know.” And they say, “Yes, I know we don’t know, but could it be,” and you say, “There isn’t any data, we don’t know,” and then they smugly say, “Ah, so it could be that I’m right.” A pointless exercise, but some people never tire of it. And you know their little unsubstantiated imagining has become another piece in their worldview (be it theistic or atheistic.) None of my business, I guess, what other people decide to believe, but it’s annoying nonetheless.

That kind of dichotomy is unwarranted. And “oscillating” universe doesn’t disprove a creator, nor does the absence of an oscillating universe prove, or even suggest a creator. As I said, my understanding is that the question “what caused the big bang?” is nonsensical, as the concept of a cause does not exist if time is not defined. If I’m wrong about that, if there have been discoveries in physics in recent years that I missed, please tell me. I don’t see how it matters how many big bangs and/or big crunches there are, the question is nonsensical either way. If we assume an all-powerful God who created the universe, he could have just as easily made it an oscillating or non-oscillating one, or for that matter, He could have created a steady-state universe. There is no scientific reason that would point to God either way.

We still seem to be assuming some sort of time continuum that transcends the universe, and there is no evidence that such a thing exists.

But I think you’re absolutely right. There is a certain elegance to the idea of a universe that cycles back and forth for eternity, and a certain uneasiness to a universe that just keeps getting bigger and bigger until it dies. Sometimes it’s helpful to consider which theory is more elegant in the initial stages of the theory (Einstein apparently did this), but to cling to an idea that is contraindicated by the evidence, just because it’s personally more appealing, is wrong.

You don’t need a Big Crunch to have an oscillating universe: ESPECIALLY when you have a universe that has a vacuum energy density. All you need is a scalar potential to roll on down to start the oscillation all over again.

We can say that there are consequences for certain models. Just because we don’t know what happened, doesn’t mean we can’t test the consequences of a given idea you put forward.

For example: the universe as a pink bunny rabbit during the Planck Epoch would give a lot of problems: in particular it would be too underdense to allow for a universe to last as long as it has to develop structure, etc. So there’s constraints on what we don’t know, even though we don’t know what happened.

Yeah, well. It’s reasonable to be skeptical of anything produced under the auspices of the Templeton Foundation. Hell, they even gave money to that fraud, Elisabeth Targ, daughter of the fraud Russel Targ, to “research” distant healing. John Templeton is an evangelical Presbyterian - in other words, a fundie.

Damn good OP by the way, JS, damned good. If I may be so bold, you might consider expanding it a bit and submitting it to Skeptical Inquirer, or one of the other mags of that genre, for publication. Seriously; I think it’s that good. If you think you might wanna consider that, talk to David B, the GD mod. He’s has a several articles published in the Inquirer.

If you define “beginning” as the point when time starts to exist then, yes, the point where time starts to exist is the beginning.

However, most people define “beginning” differently. In particular, they tend to define “beginning” as “the point in time when x starts”. This is obviously incorrect in the context of a Big Bang singularity.

The rest of your argument still stands.

The presentation sounds very interesting. I haven’t had a chance to read through all of the notes at the link you provided so I don’t really feel qualified to comment on the particulars of the presentation. However if you have provided an honest account of the event then I can see how you are frusterated. If he had presented his interpretations of these events as a possibility among a field of other possibilities then I don’t think that your criticism would be warrented. I also see nothing wrong with a philosopher addressing the theological implications of physical theories. However it appears by your account that he presented one of several possible theories as the absoultlely correct one and then went on to use that theory to prove a theological point that he supports.

I would be especially disappointed in this in that I think it unecessary to have to disprove all other possibilities (theological, philosophical, scientific) in order to find special meaning in only of the possibilities. This smells of hubris and I don’t like it when either side of any philosophical issue attepmts to present a fool-proof formula (either scientific or philosophical) that once and for all proves their case. This happens often on both (or all) sides of philosopical debates. (A recent thread in GD tries to present a mathematical theory that once and for all disproves the validity of monothesim for instance).

So as a tried and true Immaterialist Christian I will answer the questions you asked:

#1) It is for some Christians but not for me (at least). I am interested in how quantum and astro physics may reflect my views of existence but I don’t base my theories about existence on any scientific model – nor do I need science of any type to validate my beliefs.

#2) I don’t know who the fuck he thinks he is. Kidding aside, I don’t think that it is his fault that more scientists don’t attend his lectures. If a scientist such as yourself believes that he is distorting and manipulating scientific evidence and theory then the scientist has a duty to attend his presentations to make objections. Was there a Q&A after the lecture? If so how many scientists spoke up to challenge his ideas? If there was no Q&A then he is being less than intellectually honest. I did browse his publications and found very few articles presented in scientific journals which may go towards saying that he is dodging real scientists. Still, there is nothing stopping a philosophically minded scientist from tearing down his theories in the same philosophical journals in which he publishes.

#3) Making philosophical and theological inferences using scientific knowledge isn’t in itself dangerous and it is not only Christian theologians and Intelligent Designers that do so (Carl Sagan). However when a philosopher or theologian ruefully distorts and/or misrepresents what science really has to say I would say that it then becomes sad (rather than dangerous). Saddest of all is that what could have been a vaild philosophical point if presented as a possibility loses its integrity when it is forced into the mould of absolute truth.

The conversations I’m talking about are generally do not concern hypotheses that have bearing on matter/antimatter asymmetry or the inhomogeneity of the Universe. I’m talking stuff like, “The Universe was, like, incomperehnsible to mankind, man! It was, like, the mind of God, man!” Or like, “All the forces were united, man, so, like, the whole Universe was united in harmony, man!”

Yes, “beginning” in the sense of a terminus, NOT in the sense of an origin. Zero is the beginning of the measurements on a ruler, but not the origin of the ruler. So I’m still not understanding why you say you’re “inclined to agree” that an ab initio point requires a “creation” event. Is the singularity not simply the “place” (for want of a better word) in the time-space continuum where t=0, distance is infinitessimal, and density is infinite? Why would this require a creation event?

Well, I can say the following: scientists aren’t prone to attend a lecture on a topic by someone who doesn’t understand the topic in the midst of an audience of people who really understand even less. The argument is pointless as I learned firsthand.

Yes there was a Q&A that centered a lot on people who were NOT familiar with science spouting off and basically blathering at the mouth. I posed the point that since we cannot know if a singularity really did occur then we cannot even begin to evaluate his points. I also made clear that the arguments he made against the “ontological” perspectives of certain models were basically full of hot-air. His response was nothing short of absolute confirmation that he is summarily full of it. He said first off that the cosmic singularity was not of importance in his model (baloney: it’s the major crux of his talk and we have the documentation to show it) and that models that were ontollogically incomplete “recovered” the singularity in any case. I was flabbergasted: the man had just in plain sight of a lecture hall contradicted himself. Yet, I heard a snide voice remark that I was somehow “shot down”.

So you see the problem: here’s a phoney who is basically full of bullshit trying to argue a point until he contradicts himself. Then in a feat of utter insanity, the uninformed public thinks that he has somehow scored points for his so-called “side”. I was appalled. No wonder scientists don’t attend this fellow’s lectures: they’re intellectual claptraps.

When you are as wrong as Craig it seems you are forced to only engage in friendly ampitheaters that are not in the business of providing a fair fight. Objectivity is completely dismissed and we end up with a guy who toots his own horn and can get away with lying to the self-satisfaction of the theists who look down their noses at anybody who thinks differently from them.

I have no interest in philosophy: I am simply interested in engaging in the scientific arguments. I’m afraid I feel that the venues in which Craig makes his scientific arguments are reviewed by people that are not famliar enough with the science to see them for what they were. I’m not about to try to make a philosophical point, thus, they are not likely to publish my rebuttal as they have no way of knowing whether my argumentation is correct or his is (or they wouldn’t have published it in the first place). Since I do not have any desire to engage in the philosophy of the matter, all that remains is for me to ignore this bug.

Or pit him: whatever.

What I found dangerous was how his misrepresentations led to a “here, here” attitude of the crowd. It’s the same problem I have with creationists. A person who spends a lot of time crafting his argument so that the holes aren’t easily seen by the layperson then snowjobs a congregation of people who want to believe what he has to say. Can somebody say, “mind control”?

Gotcha. The real issue is what you think creation implies. Do you think it implies the beginning of a train trip or the building and set-up of the trainline and train?

I would imagine that most people would say the latter but an argument could also be made for the former. Me? I don’t really care: creation, noncreation, any other nation.

There is a saying that may help you here (I’m not sure who originally said this, or which case it is in):

He is looking at a crowd and picking out his friends.

He’s even doing worse than that; he’s distorting truths to reflect his beliefs.

Why don’t we just burn all the fucking science books and read the fucking bible? Why don’t we stop observing and start believing shit that doesn’t exist?

GRRR ARGH GRR gnashing of teeth

I am perturbed by this also.

Oh, and your OP rocked.

Yeah. If that really was the case then I guess the only thing to do is to ignore him and his followers. Sounds like he is in the business of telling people what they want to hear.

You can fight him on other grounds however. A battle raged at my alma mater (Baylor University) a few years ago when a group of professors and alumni attempted to establish an intelligent design institute. The university administration was somewhat ambivalent towards the group but nevertheless it seemed that it would be successfully created. The heads of the various science departments however with great difficulty were able to block the creation of the institute while at the same time educating the student body and the administration of the dangers of the intelligent design movement. It was a great moment in the continuing development of the integrity of the university.

JS Princeton, can you point me to a site that will explain in laymen’s terms:
“You don’t need a Big Crunch to have an oscillating universe: ESPECIALLY when you have a universe that has a vacuum energy density. All you need is a scalar potential to roll on down to start the oscillation all over again.” I am interested in the oscillating universe theory but I had heard that the latest evidence by Mapp was pointing away from it. I vaguely remember reading of alternative oscillating universe theories that could still fit the evidence. What in is scalar potential? Any direction on this would be really appreciated!

Don’t let this guy get your goat. There are a lot of ways to merge science to theology and most of them are bad. You can bend science to fit your theology which means doing both badly. You can believe in a God of the gaps that created all the things that science hasn’t yet nailed down. Unfortunately that God keeps getting chipped away into nothingness.

I take a little bit different approach. My understanding of the universe stregthens my faith. Contrarian yes, but it suits me. I see the idea that all the space, energy, time and stuff, the entire universe may have started as a singularity that itself just blinked into existence as a quantum fluctuation as an incredibly way for God to have created everything. I have not one shred of scientific evidence to support it. It is a matter of faith for me. I reject the notion that the big bang theory indicates there must be a creator as mush as I do the notion that it means there can’t be a creator.

I reject a God of the gaps, too. But I’m not sure about it being chipped away. The more that gets answered, the more questions arise. Still, I don’t understand the pressing need some philosophers feel toward discovering God in the universe. It is rather like looking for the living among the dead. God is about morality, and the universe is amoral. There are no morality particles. There is nothing in the universe that is either good or evil. It is man’s spirit that makes moral decisions, acting out his moral play in a mis-en-scene of atoms. It is a fine thing that science can discover a way to feed everyone on earth, but the job won’t get done until the hearts of men change.