Let the Universe Be the Universe

By Sean Carroll | September 25, 2012 11:37 am

My article in the Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity, which asks “Does the Universe Need God?” (and answers “nope”), got a bit of play last week, thanks to an article by Natalie Wolchover that got picked up by Yahoo, MSNBC, HuffPo, and elsewhere. As a result, views that are pretty commonplace around here reached a somewhat different audience. I started getting more emails than usual, as well as a couple of phone calls, and some online responses. A representative sample:

  • “Sean Carroll, servant of Satan…”
  • “God has a way of bring His judgement to those who mock Him… John Lennon stated “Christianity will end, it will disappear.” Lennon was shot six times after saying that… Marilyn Monroe said to Billy Graham after Graham said the Spirit of God had sent him to preach to her: “I don’t need your Jesus”. A week later she was found dead in her apartment.”
  • “See you in hell.”
  • “Maybe GOD is just a DOG that you will meet when you are walking on the Beach trying to figure out how to get sand out of your butt crack.”

I admit that last one is a bit hard to interpret. The others I think are pretty straightforward.

A more temperate response came from theologian William Lane Craig (a fellow Blackwell Companion contributor) on his Reasonable Faith podcast. I mentioned Craig once before, and here we can see him in action. I’m not going to attempt a point-by-point rebuttal of his comments, but I did want to highlight the two points I think are most central to what he’s saying.

One point he makes repeatedly — really the foundational idea from which everything else he has to say flows — is that a naturalist account of the form I advocate simply doesn’t explain why the universe exists at all, and that in my essay I don’t even try. Our old friend the Primordial Existential Question, or Why is there something rather than nothing?

I have to admit I’m a bit baffled here. I suppose it’s literally true that I don’t offer a reason why there is something rather than nothing, but it’s completely false that I ignore the question. There’s a whole section of my paper, entitled “Accounting for the world,” which addresses precisely this point. It’s over a thousand words long. I even mention Craig by name! And he seems not to have noticed that this section was there. (Among my minor sins, I’m happy to confess that I would always check first to see if my name would appear in someone else’s paper. Apparently not everyone works that way.) It would be okay — maybe even interesting — if he had disagreed with the argument and addressed it, but pretending that it’s not there is puzzling. (The podcast is advertised as “Part One,” so maybe this question will be addressed in Part Two, but I still wouldn’t understand the assertion in Part One that I ignored the question.)

The idea is simple, if we may boil it down to the essence: some things happen for “reasons,” and some don’t, and you don’t get to demand that this or that thing must have a reason. Some things just are. Claims to the contrary are merely assertions, and we are as free to ignore them as you are to assert them.

The second major point Craig makes is a claim that I ignored something important: namely, the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin singularity theorem. This is Craig’s favorite bit of cosmology, because it can be used to argue that the universe had a beginning (rather than stretching infinitely far backwards in time), and Craig is really devoted to the idea that the universe had a beginning. As a scientist, I’m not really devoted to any particular cosmological scenario at all, so in my paper I tried to speak fairly about both “beginning cosmologies” and “eternal cosmologies.” Craig quotes (misleadingly) a recent paper by Audrey Mithani and Alex Vilenkin, which concludes by saying “Did the universe have a beginning? At this point, it seems that the answer to this question is probably yes.” Mithani and Vilenkin are also scientists, and are correspondingly willing to be honest about our state of ignorance: thus, “probably” yes. I personally think the answer is “probably no,” but none of us actually knows. The distinction is that the scientists are willing to admit that they don’t really know.

The theorems in question make a simple and interesting point. Start with a classical spacetime — “classical” in the sense that it is a definite four-dimensional Lorentzian manifold, not necessarily one that obeys Einstein’s equation of general relativity. (It’s like saying “start with a path of a particle, but not necessarily one that obeys Newton’s Laws.”) The theorem says that such a spacetime, if it has been expanding sufficiently fast forever, must have a singularity in the past. That’s a good thing to know, if you’re thinking about what kinds of spacetimes there are.

The reason I didn’t explicitly mention this technical result in my essay is that I don’t think it’s extremely relevant to the question. Like many technical results, its conclusions follow rigorously from the assumptions, but both the assumptions and the conclusions must be treated with care. It’s easy, for example, to find examples of eternally-existing cosmologies which simply don’t expand all the time. (We can argue about whether they are realistic models of the world, but that’s a long and inconclusive conversation.) The definition of “singularity in the past” is not really the same as “had a beginning” — it means that some geodesics must eventually come to an end. (Others might not.) Most importantly, I don’t think that any result dealing with classical spacetimes can teach us anything definitive about the beginning of the universe. The moment of the Big Bang is, if anything is, a place where quantum gravity is supremely important. The Borde-Guth-Vilenkin results are simply not about quantum gravity. It’s extremely easy to imagine eternal cosmologies based on quantum mechanics that do not correspond to simple classical spacetimes throughout their history. It’s an interesting result to keep in mind, but nowhere near the end of our investigations into possible histories of the universe.

None of this matters to Craig. He knows what answer he wants to get — the universe had a beginning — and he’ll comb through the cosmology literature looking to cherry-pick quotes that bolster this conclusion. He doesn’t understand the literature at a technical level, which is why he’s always quoting (necessarily imprecise) popular books by Hawking and others, rather than the original papers. That’s fine; we can’t all be experts in everything. But when we’re not experts, it’s not intellectually honest to distort the words of experts to make them sound like they fit our pre-conceived narrative. That’s why engagement with people like Craig is fundamentally less interesting than engagement with open-minded people who are willing to take what the universe has to offer, rather than forcing it into their favorite boxes.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Religion, Top Posts
  • Michael Ventura

    one of the best comments from the satan thread: ‘Quantum physics is quite close to explaining how the Eucharist works.’

  • Stian

    Your last paragraph is absolutely spot-on. Craig is one of the most intellectually dishonest persons I’ve ever seen in debate – ever, anywhere. He acts and pretends to be ike an academic and intellectual, but he’s arrogant, pompous and degrading and lying.

    “But when we’re not experts, it’s not intellectually honest to distort the words of experts to make them sound like they fit our pre-conceived narrative. That’s why engagement with people like Craig is fundamentally less interesting than engagement with open-minded people who are willing to take what the universe has to offer, rather than forcing it into their favorite boxes.”

    Absolutely spot on.

    The sad thing is that this guy won’t stop either. He’ll continue spreading lies and contaminating people around him with dishonest misinformation and lies about the world and the universe. People like Craig make me lose faith in humanity.

  • Zerub

    I think you got the wrong Hyperlink at – I mentioned Craig “once before”, and here we can see him in action”. 4th Para, I think.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean Carroll

      Zerub — thanks, fixed.

  • James Gallagher

    I don’t think the question about God is really possible to answer until we work out simpler stuff, like whether science explains free-will and consciousness.

    And it’s a bit dodgy to expect our current physics theories to describe the entire Universe and its origin, I mean we don’t even know if SUSY is correct, what dark matter is, why the Universe seems to have an accelerating expansion etc etc. We don’t even have any experimental confirmation that GR requires more than its linear approximation, we don’t know if gravity is just a statistical effect, we don’t know if time-travel is possible. We don’t know that inflation is right, we don’t know the origin of neutrino oscillations, we don’t know why we live in 3 large dimensions of space, we don’t know if the fine structure constant is constant, or whether the speed of light is constant, or whether there are only 3 particle generations, and if so why, we don’t know the reason for mixing matrices, or fractional charges of quarks but integer charge of hadrons. We don’t know if QM is truly probabilistic or deterministic, we don’t know lots of stuff really…

  • Dave

    As both an ex-physicist (Ph.D. and postdoc from a top-shelf institution, now on Wall St.) and a religious individual, I *sort of* have to agree with Craig when he says you ignored the Why question. OK, you didn’t completely ignore it, but seemingly, you miss the point. When you say (apologies for the extensive snippet, but it’s key)…

    “Why are some people so convinced of the need for a meta-explanatory account, while others are perfectly happy without one? I would suggest that the impetus to provide such an account comes from our experiences within the world, while the suspicion that there is no need comes from treating the entire universe as something unique, something for which a different set of standards is appropriate.
    For example, we could imagine arguing that there is no puzzle associated with the value of the vacuum energy. It had to be some number, and we have (perhaps) measured what that value is, and there’s nothing more to be said.”

    …it is clear that you’re on a different page. It’s not a question of being “perfectly happy” with or without… none of us theists — who include, as you are well aware, several modern physics Nobelists, living and dead — is trying to picture the account (well, maybe some are); but rather, it’s the knowledge that it is simply unacceptable to maintain that some collection of material parameters always “just existed”. Talk about pulling a rabbit out of your… um, hat. To put it another way, we all seem to picture an ever-existent 3-space+time structure (ignoring other dimensions), for example. But why 3? Where did that come from? Why not -17,001,489.062 dimensions? Where did ANY of these material, mechanistic numbers — and not just numbers, but more importantly, *precepts* — come from? In taking them for granted, as you apparently do (“there’s nothing more to be said”), you *seem* to be incapable of “thinking outside the [physical] box” — sorry for the cliché, but metaphysics is more than just thinking about the unknowable. I know that of course you, of all people, *can* think outside the box, but you seem not to be applying it here. The “nothing more” that you dismiss is a huge, yawning, logical gulf. And the knowable order — the very existence of numbers — and appearance of *time* that has sprung from *wherever*, and the ostensibly non-mechanistic consciousness that has appeared subsequently, has convinced many of us — purely through a plausibility argument — that the Prime Mover of Aristotle’s universe is a transcendent intelligence… the Universal Mind that Dyson writes of. Well, now I have nothing more to say…

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean Carroll

      Dave– I think you are illustrating my point perfectly. For one thing, writing 1,000 words about a topic, even if you disagree with the words, cannot sensibly be described as completely ignoring it. More importantly, in those thousand words I made an argument. I explained that the notion of “explanation” or “reason” is context-dependent, and may or may not apply to things like the universe, and we should be open-minded. If you want to disagree, your task is to show why the argument is incorrect. Instead of doing that, you say “it is simply unacceptable.” That is not actually an argument.

  • Doug

    ” And the knowable order — the very existence of numbers — and appearance of *time* that has sprung from *wherever*, and the ostensibly non-mechanistic consciousness that has appeared subsequently, has convinced many of us — purely through a plausibility argument — that the Prime Mover of Aristotle’s universe is a transcendent intelligence… the Universal Mind that Dyson writes of. ”

    Whoa, talk about pulling a rabbit out of your ass.

  • Brett

    it’s people with logic vs. people without logic, and it’s such an old argument.

    To me, God is a blatant creation of the human mind in an attempt to feel comfortable denying the idea that our lives are pretty meaningless compared to the universe, or even our galaxy. I hate to discuss it anymore because you’re arguing with people who can’t accept what a majority of answers to questions about existence are; “we don’t know yet, but we’re trying to figure it out and we’re doing a pretty good job”. There are people intelligent and strong enough to handle the truth and there are those that must live a delusional life in the fetal position chanting “god exists, he’s watching over us, and nobody ever really *dies*”. Because that way, you never have to face life as it truly is. Though the truth may sound depressing, it’s actually pretty beautiful to be able to appreciate the short time you are given because you value things a great deal more. For those who would disagree; consider the dominant social structure of governments (and states in the USA) which still enforce the death penalty and the dominant religious beliefs, vs that of those which do not. Look at how much violence and hate religions across the world have produced throughout time and tell me that the people who believe in God don’t have some piece of their mind slightly out of whack.

  • David Lau

    “Servant of satan”, as they commented on you. Sean, I find that amusing. Humans are their own evil and the origins of sin is the misuse of our intelligence. But with such sophisticated intelligence that we possess, we bound to get twisted in ways to dominate over others. Religion is created for comforting because of the fear of death, and now it has evolved and is all about control. Science has come a long way and yes, someday it will explain and come to a complete understanding of how the universe came about and there is absolutely no need for God and He does not have a place in this universe. The latest shows that 46% of Americans believe that we were created in the present forms less than 10000 years old, and some other creationists believe that the dinosaurs roamed alongside with Adam and Eve. I question about our country and society and how dangerous it can be . If we don’t educate our future generation of the importance of scientific methods and reasoning, and just believing that a creator does it all, then we have no chance to innovate in the future. Sean, I have always admired your knowledge in science and the way you express your vision in all of those blogging. Can’t wait to read your new book coming out in Nov.

  • Mike

    Unfortunately Sean, so long as anything remains to be explained (and of course there will always be things that remain to be explained) there will be those who use the remaining lack of an explanation to justify all manner of myth — the Christian god, the Hindu gods, the Greek gods (there must be someone who still believes this), the Universal Mind, magic underwear, and it goes on and on ad nauseum. It’s part of the story of the at first slow, but now much more rapid, triumph of knowledge over superstition. Still, that triumph only occurs as a result of folks putting up the good fight — spreading the tools of science and reason. Keep it up.

  • MKS

    Sean Carroll,

    what made you want to ‘enter into the American G_d debate?’ :3

  • philh

    Craig has been saying for donkeys years that the big bang proves the universe had a beginning, Sean correct if Im wrong, but I don’t think anyone takes that seriously anymore. So Craig has to find a new beginning , and so hes picked the beginning of eternal inflation envisioned by BGV. But posing a different beginning other than the big bang brings with it a heavy burden and that is experimental evidence. how are we going to get any evidence of this other beginning? Craig will be happy to point out theres an experimental evidence for a multiverse if you were discussing the fine tuning argument but hell drop that criteria rather quickly if its the BGV theorem. Incidentally did you read this paper:http://arxiv.org/abs/1205.5550
    arguing that multiverse is static ? I note Guth was thanked for his role.

  • http://johnmckay.blogspot.com John McKay

    Religion is inherently conservative. And what I mean by conservative is an approach to the world, not a political agenda. One of the core elements of conservatism is a belief that hierarchy is necessary. The universe cannot simply exist; it must exist because something made it exist and that something must have a purpose and, therefore, it must be directed by some form of intelligence. Ducks don’t migrate because of individual instinctive urges; they migrate because the duck at the front of the V ordered them to and shows them the way. Tornadoes and school shootings don’t just happen; they happen because God sends them to punish us for gay marriage or abortion or something else having to do with sex. You don’t say God is unnecessary for the universe to exist because you believe it; you say so because you are a bad person deliberately denying what you really know to be the truth. You are probably not even able to do that on your own; you say it because you are following a different hierarchy. One constructed either by Satan or by the wrong beach dog.

  • Ian Liberman

    Sean, you are right about William and Dave. They are not using evidence to support their arguments or answering the arguments and they are actually using random statements of Physicists , who do not even support their position because they are taking the statements out of context. Vilenkin is the perfect example. After his announcement of the universe having a beginning , which he has been stating for years, Vilenkin went on to elucidate that this beginning would still be tied to scientific theories, related research that included his own concepts like quantum tunnelling rather quantum fluctuations. However, the tunnelling still comes from a vacuum of nothing , not God and Vilenkin has stated in interview on Closer to the Truth that he has no belief in a personal or deistic God because of the lack of empirical evidence. The comments that are microscopically being used out of context, are being manipulated to support the theists perspective but overall from a macroscopic view, within context, they actually totally discredit them.

  • David Lau

    comment #14 is so out of touch that anyone here can ignore.

  • Mitchell Porter

    If one is going to say that the universe has an anthropomorphic cause, then the simplest model is to postulate a being which by human standards is either indifferent or evil. Consider all the millions of years for which living feeling beings have been hunted down, torn apart and eaten alive by predators, in which they have experienced starvation, being burned alive in fires, or being buried alive in earthquakes. Indifference: the universe was created to be a vast mechanism, and these are the unimportant sufferings of a few spontaneously generated microbes crushed between the cogs. Evil: the universe was created in order to be a mechanism which crushes suffering sentient beings between its cogs; it’s a torture device.

    The fact that “religious discussion” doesn’t weigh up *those* possibilities and try to make sense of them, but confines itself to atheism versus friendly theism, or to one established religion versus another, says something about how little thought and how little courage is at work there. I was struck very much by a remark of Nietzsche somewhere, where he points out that the characteristics of the afterlife and the “other world” and religious metaphysics in general consist of an inversion of all those features of reality which might be found intolerable. Life here contains suffering and death? Then there it contains happiness and immortality. The world we know about is ruled by an evil or indifferent nature? Then there must be a good and caring God somewhere over that.

    If we are considering anthropomorphic hypotheses regarding the nature of a first cause, then Azathoth (the blindly productive idiot god of Lovecraft), Satan supreme (god as cosmic torturer), and an indifferent geometer-God, should all be standard hypotheses, and the love-God of Christianity as dubious wishful thinking.

  • Marcus Chen

    The sample comments are just plain depressing. In the same vein as Gandhi’s famous quote, it strikes me as ironic how deeply un-Christian many people who profess themselves as Christians are.

    Should there, by some happenstance, actually be some sort of supreme being, one is inclined to wonder how they would explain themselves to Him?

  • Ben

    As a physicist, I personally think it might be a bit arrogant to think that metaphysics, as a branch of philosophy, can genuinely be replaced by physics without due process…. Physicalism, in my everyday experience with colleagues, is often characterized by the quasi-absence of self-reflexion on the ontology of mathematical objects in general, which are the building blocks of our physical models. When it is not the case (which is rare), the only apparently self-consistent philosophical option for a physicalist is to be a mathematical empiricist who gives to electrons, quarks, Hilbert spaces where state vectors evolve, real numbers, natural numbers, etc., all a similar level of ontological existence, by the indispensability argument. In short, these things “exist” because they explain the functioning of the world, at least until a better physical model replaces the current one, where new entities might replace the current ones. That might look fine, but there is a real problem, and the problem is that I guess every physicalist knows deep inside that natural numbers and real numbers will actually never be replaced. So, the mathematical empiricist just plays on words but thinks precisely the same, deep inside, in his deepest intuitions, as a Platonist. Being a mathematical Platonist is perfectly fine, it is the most commonly adopted philosophy of mathematics among mathematicians themselves. But it involves admitting some form of transcendence in the form of this immaterial platonistic world of ideas. So the physicalists, who generally give the same intuitive meaning to numbers as Platonists, do play a kind of philosophical trick, known as mathematical empiricism, in order to think exactly the same as Platonists, but reject any form of transcendence by the use of that trick. They can then go on explaining how we, as physicists, now know for sure that quarks do exist, while saying at the same time that they actually do not “really” exist, but actually by current physical indispensability they do exist, and the same is valid for 1+1=2, which is currently true but not really, etc…. Let’s just say I dont buy it: if someone thinks physics is self-sufficent to explain everything we need to know in the world, he is then neccessarily a Platonist in disguise. And the dirty word “transcendence” (damn, hell, aaaargh, vade retro satanas! 😉 ) is then difficult to avoid. Just my two cents.

  • Dennis J

    I wish I had the elegance and style of some of the above replies but I don’t. My beliefs in god are a matter of faith and not based on logic or even evidence. If some one were to tell me that there is no god I would reply that they could be right but I think otherwise, lets have a discussion about it. If some one were to tell me I am going to burn in hell because I don’t believe like they do I would tell them I would rather burn in hell than serve their vengeful hateful god in heaven. I mean no disrespect for any one but those that say they know the mind of god.

  • Brian Too

    People talking right past each other. Let me relate a story, one which indicates why I think it will always be thus.

    I was just thumbing through the autobiography of Dolly Parton. It’s a decent read and Dolly has always struck me as a sensible person. In it I found a quote which I will paraphrase here:

    “I love nature. I think everyone who looks closely at nature knows there is a God.”

    And there you have it. People who believe in God feel there is a God. That’s it, God is a matter of faith. Every religion I know of addresses faith directly and indeed celebrates that. Faith is not reason. Therefore using the tools of reason to address faith is bound to fail.

    Some of the faithful, as Mr. Craig above, seem determined to make an argument of reason to, what? Support faith? Undermine reason, as represented by science? Something.

    I do not wish to attack the faithful. Indeed I generally do not wish to engage them on the matter, and this is the reason why.

  • karaktur

    There is a lengthy debate between Craig and Christopher Hitchens on youtube. I thought Craig was a bit dishonest because he made about five points for Hitchens to argue against and from memory many if not most were “scientific” in that he drew upon recent cosmology. Hitchens, however, is not a scientist and pretty much ignored those points instead asked questions about why were we saved only 2000 years ago when humans are tens of thousands of years old. It’s better than watching TV.

  • David Lau

    Science is man discovered while religion is pure man made. That summarizes it all. Religions have created more wars than anything in this world while the development of science continues to benefit mankind especially in the medical field. Prayers are served as a mean of comforting but precise cutting edge medical treatments serve as a cure to the diseases. Teaching evolution is real because of the substantial evidence we have gathered over the centuries while creationism is pure fantasy. Science continues to move forward while religion is a standstill and continues to wage wars. Scientists have the courage to admit what they don’t understand while religious groups claim they have all the answers in this world including the origin of the universe based on false hopes. The 911 incident, I call it as ” science flies you in an airplane while twisted religion flies you into the building”.

  • Neil

    One says “See you in hell.” At least you will have some company.

  • Clark Griswold

    Carroll’s remarks about Craig’s criticisms are a total dodge, hamhandedly performed. Suggest he try once more, perhaps with feeling if not actual engagement.

  • David Lau

    Religious fanatics are so out of touch and reality that whatever they have to say can be treated as a bad comedy.

  • Christian Takacs

    @David Lau in particular,
    You really should be very careful about your ‘out of touch’ ad hominem. Please read a few history books about how many people died in religious wars. Estimates have been made… and they all pale in comparison to the head counts of such glorious ‘scientific’ cultural revolutions provided by Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and of course the often admired political theorist Mao Zedong. Each of these learned individuals were in tune with the ‘informed’ du jour intelligentsia of their time and place.
    @Sean Carroll,
    You really need to get over your axe grinding with religion. For you to be bad mouthing others for believing in things they can’t prove while you play host to many ideas based purely on mathematical conjecture is absurd. You thumb your nose and display smug contempt and disdain for people who want to believe God created the universe, while your fellow physicists happily blather on about 10 Exp 500 universes postulated in string theory and you treat them cordially with respect and serious consideration. For all your education and esoteric specialization, you seem quite blind to the beam in your own eye of belief while you kvetch about the splinter in somebody elses.
    Please use Cosmic Variance as a forum to discuss your knowledge of math and physics, and not your contempt of religious belief.

  • Pseudonym

    I note that David, in comment #25, makes the same error that William Lane Craig does, by assuming that science and religion fall into the same category.

    Sean, to his credit, did state in his piece that it is an assumption, and often an assumption that otherwise well-meaning scientifically-minded religious people say they don’t make, but effectively do without realising. Nonetheless, explanations about the physical world are not the only thing that religion provides, and it’s most likely not the primary adaptive trait which the evolution of religion enabled.

    Is religion is purely man made? Yes, in the same sense that music and storytelling are purely man made. But these are also inherent parts of the human condition. Nobody strictly needs religion any more than anyone strictly needs music or anyone strictly needs alcohol. Thinking that we can do away with it is like religious fundamentalists thinking we can all be celibate until we’re married. It’s wishful thinking at its silliest.

    Religion has “created more wars than anything else in this world”… if you squint and equivocate over that claim a lot. As any anthropologist will tell you, for most of human history, “religion” was not distinct a distinct concept from “culture”.

    There’s a sense in which science has delivered on every promise that religion made in the pre-Enlightenment era. It has healed the sick. It has given us the means to fly. It extended our lives. It has given us the means to destroy all human life in a fiery armageddon.

    Science gave us the airplane, and the building, and the economic and political system which makes people desperate enough that they will listen to a crazy guy who tells them to fly the airplane into the building.

  • Pseudonym

    Christian, one comment on your comment to Sean:

    You really should read Sean’s piece. I self-identify as religious (up the ultra-liberal end of the spectrum), and I thought it was extremely fair. A couple of his assumptions about the nature of religion are debatable (though they were true in the case of Craig!), but he did acknowledge that they were assumptions and proceeded on that basis.

    I’ve followed this blog for years, and I’ve never seen Sean display “contempt” for religion-in-general. He has shown contempt for (though more commonly frustration with) certain anti-scientific religious beliefs that are common in the US. Even then he’s been pretty nice about the whole thing. Go read P.Z. Myers’ blog or Jerry Coyne’s blog if you want to see evidence-free contempt.

  • blindboy

    I have always, perhaps natively, believed that to build an argument you must start from some proposition. The most fundamental proposition possible is that things exist. “shit happens” to use the vernacular. To try to answer “why” something exists rather than nothing is to fall into a bottomless, propositionless chasm of meaninglessness!

  • martenvandijk

    Read ”I am my brains” (Dick Swaab).

  • http://blog.noctua.org.uk/ Paul Wright

    @ Christian Takacs: disagreement is not “contempt”, and your ad hominems against Carroll aren’t much of an argument in favour of theism.

    The difference between Carroll and Craig is that, as Carroll says “the scientists are willing to admit that they don’t really know.” Physicists can and should make conjectures and see whether they are internally consistent and match up to reality (I’d add that these conjectures are extensions to theories we already think are good, in contrast to Craig’s wild ideas about disembodied superbeings).

    Contrast this with Craig who claims, not just that there are lot of things we don’t understand, but that one specific god was responsible for some of them. Craig claims to be assured of this by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit such that there’s no (or almost no, it’s not clear) evidence which could ever convince him otherwise. Carroll is much more reasonable than Craig.

    [I tried to submit this once before and it seems to have disappeared, so apologies if it appears twice.]

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    “Among my minor sins, I’m happy to confess that I would always check first to see if my name would appear in someone else’s paper. Apparently not everyone works that way.”


    I won’t mention any names, but apparently some people read all papers in their field, including mine, very quickly, or they have some automatic method of finding their names in papers which are only a few hours old. :-)

  • Ben

    @blindboy: a real question for you is: do numbers exist? If yes, what are they? (see my comment #19 hereabove) … you see, no “why” in this question, yet not an easy one. Probably also meaningless for you? But labelling every disturbing question as meaningless is the fast path towards nihilism, not the fast path to Science.

  • martenvandijk

    First see, then believe , said blind Abraham.

  • Joel Rice

    The universe does not need God to exist, the problem is that the Design of the World ends up looking pretty much God-like, in the sense of being about why the world is the way it is. But one does not go to church to hear a lecture on ElectroWeak theory and beyond. Religion is not about God – it is about good behavior. Ditto for Intelligent Design – the issue is not whether the design of the world was created, but that the design results in the existence of Pattern Recognizers – namely civilizations. Is it “intelligent design” ? Or is it “designed for Intelligence, ie pattern recognizers” ? Funny how any mention of pattern recognizers turns it into an Anthropic issue. Just to turn Wigner on his head – it would make perfectly reasonable sense to say that math is unreasonably effective in physics – if the design of the world is an algebra ! Last I looked at works on massively parallel artificial Neural Networks, and Bolzmann Machines and all that – there was lots of algebra.

  • chris

    it’s pretty telling that the first thing the apostles of love and peace invoke is the death squad…

  • James Gallagher

    What we really need to do is convince people like W L Craig that the answer requires a really big collider – then the fool might convince millions of deluded followers to actually invest the billions required to build the hardware (or convince the Republicans to fund it with a Bank tax or similar)

    Then get someone to chuck out an idiotic paper now and again suggesting how the latest particle discoveries probably explain the beginning of the universe.

    Depressingly, this might be the only way forward for big science projects, unless perhaps China gets its act together and takes over.

    I mean, Sean’s argument is more reasonable but it might be more beneficial for practical reasons to pretend that the theologians are on to something rather than ridiculing them.

    “Yes, William that’s really interesting, now if only we had $100 billion we could probably prove the existence of God.”

  • martenvandijk

    The problem has nothing to do with physics, but everything with psychology.

  • Jesse Rudolph

    34. Ben

    I think the questioning of axioms or axiomatic constructions is not meaningless because it’s disturbing, its meaningless because it is out of context, and thus not well formed. Whether or not numbers ‘exist’, without qualifying existence with a context, is of no consequence because they do in many abstract contexts by construction, proof, and axiomatic assertion, and in these contexts are where they derive their meaning and qualities.

    Imagine trying to prove the existence of skyscrapers in the context of pet grooming. The necessary language to describe it is not even available in this context. The question itself is constructed completely outside of the context of pet grooming to boot. Having an intuition for this is not a slippery slope to nihilism, it is a slippery slope to questions that can be answered with anything other than speculation and arbitrary nonsense.

  • David Lau

    I will repeat that religious fanatics are out of touch and out of reality. I respect scientists a great deal more than religious fanatics and politicians. The reasons are what I have already mentioned in comment #23. Plain and simple. Science and religion do not fall into the same category. I also respect Sean’s reasoning and all of his blogging on cosmic variance. He is not bad mouthing anyone but to express his idea about the nature of science and how it is different from religion. When it comes to teaching evolution in a science classroom, any religious contexts and contents should be thrown out. Its real science that we want to educate the youths, not some fairy tales that they can do on the side if they choose to.

  • collins

    Maybe long ago Dr. Carroll wrote why he’s been writing about atheism. The usual reasons are dismay at suffering through history, impediment to modernity, and sometime adverse personal experience in youth, all in the name of “religion”.
    He might wish to state (restate?) why he’s doing what phenotypically is a parallel academic career. It must mean more to him than just an illogical issue or a Rubic’s cube, to spend years on it. As he says in so many words, we are all products of our experiences. I know someone will say “what difference does it make why he writes about it?” but the Quo Vadis question (‘where are you going’) has the component of ‘where are you coming from’.
    I look forward to reading his Blackwell article (it will take time).

  • Pingback: Why is there something rather than nothing? | Mano Singham()

  • http://empiricalperspectives.blogspot.com/ James Goetz

    Sean, Thank you for the link with PDF version. I am currently busy, but perhaps I’ll have a comment or two for this thread within a week.

  • francisco

    And where will this go. I am a simple man with no professional background. I have had the science I could understand and the faiths that were put before me on a plate. From what is heard on this page and on the streets of this planet, we all are trying to figure something out. Some try with the powers of science and some by the powers of belief. I know only what I see, what I hear, what I taste, what I smell and what I touch. I am 65 and can honestly say, I think from what the world has given me as knowledge, I know little.

    I will die and cease to exist. I will disperse whatever energy is life and maintain the energy of a physical self. Bury me. Let what I have become be part of the earth. Someday the earth will be no more. What I become will drift in the universe with not a trace of a life before. Perhaps be part of another world where I will become another form of life billions of years from now. To know this, is freeing.

    For me there is no heaven nor hell and what science there is can only guess and scratch at the surface of a mind so small compared to the size of the universe. It is incomprehensible to think we will or have an answer. I think humans will just be looking forever. That in itself is a meaningful occupation.

    For me I am glad to start understanding, it just is. I wish I could have known the simplicity as a younger man. I would have used this time to take in the sight of where I am, hear its sounds, taste the earth, smell the wind, and touch. I would have been a different human.

    Have a nice life.

  • David Lau

    In my comment #23, I was contrasting between science and religion. They are certainly not falling into the same category. Science plays the game of Progress while religion plays the game of Congress. Pro and Con

  • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

    I understood “now” and “Pinky.”

    Quantum mechanics exists in this little area of science that my pea-like brain sometimes has a difficult time of understanding until I understand it. Then when I do finally understand it, my brain goes “holy crap” and it’s literally awesome. Like how I finally understand the whole idea behind the Big Bang because someone explained how it’s like a reverse black hole.

    Now I’m working on understanding the Higgs Boson.

    Good piece of writing, though. It got a bit confusing for me near the end, but I muddled through it.

  • PD

    A universe can have a beginning without a singularity in the past, with the following reasonable assumptions, each provided with its base:

    1. The universe began its existence in the inflationary epoch, just empty and with only the inflaton field, which from the GR viewpoint is just a big cosmological constant. Base: though we have (non-conclusive) evidence for one-time inflation, namely the CMB anisotropy pointing to adiabatic density perturbations, anything before inflation is just speculation, and so this assumption is as good as any other.

    2. The universe is closed and finite. Base: WMAP observations point marginally but consistently to a small positive curvature (spherical geometry).

    With this assumption, the scale factor at the inflationary epoch is:

    a(t) = a0 cosh(H t)

    with H = c sqrt(lambda / 3), and a0 = c / H,
    and lambda the cosmological constant of the inflationary epoch.

    The universe starts at a finite, non-zero size, with the maximum distance between two points being (a0 pi).

  • Ben

    @Jesse Rudolph: first of all, note that I’m not at all religious. What you didnt seem to get from my post #19 is that all fundamental particles and fields then have the same ontological status as numbers. When you are a working mathematician or theoretical physicist, you cannot avoid thinking as a Platonist, that’s most of the time the working hypothesis hiding in the background to make progress. Even though, for the rare people who think about it, and Sean is one of them (and I admire him for that, even though I disagree with his views on this), one can try some philosophical tricks to avoid admitting it. Mathematical empiricism is the most common such trick, but it has its own problems. In any case, these metaphysical questions about the foundations of mathematics are actually interesting questions, which might even indirectly lead to progress in hardcore physics. I personally think that the general disdain of modern-day physicists for metaphysics, contrary to the attitude of the great minds of the past (all great physicists of the beginning of the 20th century were keen on philosphical musings), is currently damaging the science itself. I personally am a non-theist (rather than atheist, but in the sense that I’m not feeling christian, nor muslim, nor jew, nor hindu, nor buddhist, nor whatever) but I am absolutely appalled that most atheist militants (Sean being an exception, but most of the contributors to this thread being good examples) think that their hatred of established religions necessarily has to go together with a hatred of Metaphysics, qualified as “arbitrary nonsense”… Hatred of metaphysics is not at all the signature of great minds to me, though this is the attitude of many fellow scientists… And that is surely ok for applied science, but damaging for fundamental science, and certainly a bit sad for humanity…

  • Dennis J

    I would like to apologies for my earlier post. It was counter productive and rude. I love the idea that we live in a universe where we have to scratch and dig for the answers to these big questions.

  • Pavel

    I think there is approach to advocating religion which may work for intellectuals:
    As I understand, his trick is basically withdrawal from arguments concerning empirical evidence for God and pulling Immanuel Kant “you observe religious law because it’s the LAW” on you.
    Requires a philosophically minded audience though, not to be popular.

  • Lord

    I would have to say that why is there something rather than nothing is not the most interesting question as it can only evince our ignorance of things far beyond our experience. A much more interesting question is why is there religion rather than not and why does man seem to need it. This is much closer to our abilities to reasonably understand while at the same time be just beyond our finger tips.

  • Pseudonym

    Pavel, that approach looks interesting, but I don’t think it would work for most philosophers, let alone most people.

    Deontological ethics (you obey the rules because they’re the rules) works, but only up to a point. We drive our cars on the left-hand or right-hand side of the road because the law has made a choice about that. It’s entirely arbitrary which one they could have chosen, but it’s important that everyone in the same jurisdiction sticks to one and only one. However, that approach generally doesn’t allow for flexibility.

    Utilitarian ethics talks about consequence (you did the right thing if the outcome was good), which also works up to a point, but runs into the “ends justify the means” problem.

    Virtue ethics (which you can think of as Classical and Christian ethics) talk more about character (you do the right thing because it shows that you are a good person). That also has problems; it’s rare that something that is a virtue to one person is a vice to someone else, but it might be neutral. Practically nobody would call temperance a vice, but not everyone agrees with Aristotle that it is a virtue.

    In the real world, no single approach is complete. And this isn’t bringing up the problem that much of our actions are social, and so to many people, there needs to be at least some kind of social ethics, as well as personal ethics.

  • Darth Dog

    @Christian Takacs#27 “You really need to get over your axe grinding with religion. For you to be bad mouthing others for believing in things they can’t prove while you play host to many ideas based purely on mathematical conjecture is absurd. You thumb your nose and display smug contempt and disdain for people who want to believe God created the universe, while your fellow physicists happily blather on about 10 Exp 500 universes postulated in string theory and you treat them cordially with respect and serious consideration. For all your education and esoteric specialization, you seem quite blind to the beam in your own eye of belief while you kvetch about the splinter in somebody elses.”

    Oh come on. Sean didn’t say that he has deep, unshakable faith in the multiverse, nor does any physicist. Have you ever known a religious person to say “I believe God exists, but if someone has a better explanation I’d be happy to consider it with an open mind. If they have a good argument or convincing evidence I will certainly change my mind about God.” Nonsense. The very term faith is used to show a commitment to a belief inspite of anything that may challenge it. To equate a religious belief with a scientist saying “that’s my current best guess but we’ll see” is just silly.

  • http://logosconcarne.com/ Wyrd Smythe

    Firstly, bravo to @Ben in #19 and #34. Brilliantly said, I think.

    Secondly, just to set the table, I’m agnostic with slight leanings in both directions, usually leaning towards a belief (and I fully recognize it for just a belief) that–for me–Occam’s Razor suggests there is more to “all this” than simply “all this.” If nothing else, it is just a choice to not believe in a purely materialistic universe.

    Thirdly, just for the record, I find militant atheists just as tiresome and intolerant as militant theists (I think some comments in this thread demonstrate this). To me, both have a vision of reality they insist must be true, but which seems based on faith to me.

    All that said, I’ve looked at the “Accounting for the world” section of Sean’s paper, but for my point, his summation in this post suffices:

    “The idea is simple, if we may boil it down to the essence: some things happen for ‘reasons,’ and some don’t, and you don’t get to demand that this or that thing must have a reason. Some things just are. Claims to the contrary are merely assertions, and we are as free to ignore them as you are to assert them.”

    Fair enough. Doesn’t that apply the the existence of a metaphysics? I don’t mean the straw dog of any established religion or vision of what God might be. I simply mean that, if you can accept reality “as is” without explanation, why wouldn’t that same logic also apply to accepting a metaphysics or even God?

    The problem with any origin argument is the “turtles all the way down” problem. At some point you have to just accept that “something is.” I usually choose to accept that that something is metaphysical. Clearly some are comfortable choosing the physical path.

    My only wish is that those on the physics-only side would stop conflating those of us who lean towards a metaphysics with religious fanatics or even religion, per se. I HAVE no religion; I do have a metaphysics.

  • James Gallagher

    Yeah, as Bill Clinton famously explained, it depends on what the meaning of is is.


  • Craig McGillivary

    William Lane Craig’s arguments depend on certain intuitions about causation. Is there any place for causation in modern physics?

  • James Gallagher

    well, there is one deterministic law in the universe for sure, that’s Schrödinger Evolution, which evolves probabilistic states.

    Otherwise we’re not sure, but eg, human/animal free-will might not be described by Schrödinger Evolution.

  • Tim

    @ francisco –

    Wise words.

    Thank you very much for sharing them.

    Respectfully …

  • JimV

    Speaking as a semi-militant atheist (internet-only variety – in real life I just have to shut up and take it as I flip past all-religion-all-the-time cable channels and bow my head for prayers on any and all occasions and hear “and may God bless the United States of America” at the end of every speech and see signs making assertions about Jesus every day, and so on) on the issue of whether theists or atheists have killed more people historically, my answer would be: people kill people. Whether we’re theists or atheists, like Soylent Green we’re just people. A referee (side-judge, actually) made what is regarded as a poor judgment on a football field this past Monday night. The next day I heard his name given on ESPN. He is probably receiving death threats as I write. Of course, if there were a God shining its grace on its chosen race, maybe more of us wouldn’t be like that, but unfortunately that does not seem to be the case.

    Metaphysics, or philosophy, is. I think, like rectums. Everyone has one, and most of them smell bad. A lot of the supposedly expert philosophers like Plantinga and Sober seem to think that saying “you can’t prove that a god does not exist, even such a seemly contradictory one as the Christian god” is saying something very profound that atheists have never considered. Before that, I had a generally good opinion of philosophers. Take Socrates: the wisest man in Greece because he alone knew that he knew nothing, and “be what you would like to seem” (great advice for Mitt Romney). Now there’s stuff that I can use. Plato’s Republic, ruled by philosopher kings–not so much.

    Here’s my philosophy: whatever convinces you that there must be a god (because things don’t just happen, or this universe which evolution adapted us to over billions of years is just so beautiful in your adapted eyes, or whatever), I’ll bet I could use the same argument with as much force to suggest that there then must be a higher god who created your god, and one above that, ad infinitum. What, you think a god as beautiful and perfect as that just happened? Okay, if you hear voices in your head I can’t argue with that, but I don’t, and the only person I know who does has been diagnosed as bi-polar (a very sad case).

    Secondly, whatever I think I know was either wired into me by my evolved DNA or learned empirically (yes, including math and logic – try teaching logic without giving real-life examples). In other words, knowledge is empirical – all the way down. It is what works in this universe.

  • http://blog.b-ark.ca Brett

    @55 Wyrd Smythe:

    ‘if you can accept reality “as is” without explanation, why wouldn’t that same logic also apply to accepting a metaphysics or even God?’

    Because reality is an actual, real thing whose existence is proven out by ample evidence. Sean’s point is simply that given the question “Is there a reason the universe exists as it does”, the answers “Because X”, “Because Y”, and “There is no reason” are all equally valid. It’s only our human biases that make us assume that “things happen for a reason” (man I hate that phrase).

    But God? Some random metaphysical construction? There’s no evidence that they exist in the first place, so there’s nothing that needs “accepting”.

  • http://empiricalperspectives.blogspot.com/ James Goetz

    Sean, Given all that Craig has written, I find the biggest problem with his cosmogony is that he proposed his Kalam argument as a proof of God while his argument falls short of proof. But his argument does support a conjecture of God. I suppose the strongest part of Craig’s argument is that a past-infinite elapse of time is impossible, which for some reason you have yet to grasp. And this impossibility of a past-infinite elapse of time indicates an uncaused original world with no succession of time. However, Craig would strengthen his argument if he admits that getting from proof of an uncaused original world with no succession of time to saying that the uncaused original world is God involves conjecture.

  • blindboy

    @Ben numbers I am quite happy about. They are abstract constructs that have been created by human culture to aid in understanding our environment. No great mystery there unless you want to turn it into one. As for avoiding disturbing questions I thought I had tackled it pretty much head on.
    If my initial construction of my position struck you as insubstantial I will try again.
    To consider the question of why there is something rather than nothing it is necessary to postulate the existence of non-existence, which is profoundly absurd. You may consider this merely a linguistic trick, I think it represents a deep and fundamental truth. Non- existence does not, and cannot under any circumstances, be said to exist, therefore it is not necessary to explain existence since there is no alternative to it. OK?

  • Ben

    @blindboy #63 & JimV #60: note that I am european, and that might explain why I think differently. Here, atheism is more or less the norm. And screaming out loud the seemingly obvious norm together with the laughing crowd has never been my cup of tea. Anyway, you are both totally right that the “why” question is totally irrelevant. As Wyrd Smythe #55 very wisely noted, the point is that, at some point, we all have to admit that something IS, or one is confronted with the ‘turtles all the way down’ problem (or the ‘God on top of your God’ argument). You choose to say: I believe the ‘material world’ exists and nothing else, because anything beyond it is not needed by Occam’s razor. But, when asked to describe this material world, you are probably going to say, very rightly, that it is all just quantum fields, and state vectors evolving in a Hilbert space. This is all that exists. Fine, but when asked whether numbers, vectors, or Hilbert spaces do exist, you will say: ‘Of course they dont, they are just human creations aiding us in understanding the environment’. But wait a minute, what environment? You mean the one made of state vectors evolving in a Hilbert space, neither of which really exist even though they give the right answers to our scientific experiences. Dont you see the possible contradiction there? When one is saying ‘nothing else than the material world exists because anything beyond it is not needed by Occam’s razor’, but then uses only things that ‘do not really exist’ to describe it because we need them in order to describe it? Note the central role of ‘need’ in the Occam’s razor argument. Again, I’m not here to advocate religious dogmas, which I clearly dont believe in. I just wanted to express the view that, in general, it can be particularly irritating to hear most atheist militants (Sean being an exception) thinking that anyone asking himself/herself any metaphysical question cannot be anything else than an utter idiot, a dogmatist, and a bigot, who should either be fought against or laughed at.

  • Mike Henry

    Comment #14 is Poe’s law at work.

  • James Gallagher


    I think the problem is that the metaphysical/philosopical/theological argument hasn’t evolved much over the centuries, whereas science has.

    Metaphysical arguments have existed in pretty much their current form for centuries (the main ones being The Ontological/Cosmological/Teleological argument for God’s existence).

    So they belong to an era of ignorance, and trying to appeal to modern science ideas to make the arguments seem more elaborate (than they really are) is a kind of con, that most reasonable people can easily see through.

  • blindboy

    @Ben Well actually I believe that numbers and the other entities you mention do exist if only as abstract concepts encoded in the brain. Nor do I necessarily condemn those who ask metaphysical questions. I just think that in the case of the particular question of existence/non-existence the traditional complex philosophical analyses miss the point that there is no alternative to existence. Further that all logic must have some starting point, some agreed upon observation and existence is as far as you can go in that direction before you end up with, to continue the metaphor, “a mess of turtles”.

  • Ben

    @blindboy: I am fine with the existence argument. But I’d just add, to end up the conversation, that the brain, like all the rest, is made up of quantum fields, i.e., following your reasoning, the brain is made out of abstract concepts encoded in the brain… Doesnt that sound strange? I’m not saying there is an easy way out of this conundrum, there obviously isnt, and it is normal that one can disagree on the answer. I just dont think that, in the context of the present discussion, it is irrelevant. It is surely irrelevant to most things, I mean it is perfectly fine to live a good and interesting life without ever asking such questions, to do research, to do engineering, to do medicine, … but in the context of the present debate, I dont think it is irrelevant. @Gallagher: fine, so is your final argument that I am not reasonable but you are? If yes, then the level of argumentation there is so high that I cannot object 😉

  • http://logosconcarne.com/ Wyrd Smythe

    @Gallagher #66: “I think the problem is that the metaphysical/philosopical/theological argument hasn’t evolved much over the centuries, whereas science has.”

    Has it? Philosophy seeks to answer the most fundamental questions and has not found them, but has described the situation very well. Science, when it comes to the most fundamental questions does no better.

    What is an electron or photon? Science answers: We don’t know (but we can describe them and work with them very well). What is the nature of consciousness? Science answers: We don’t know. What is the nature of time? Entropy? Okay, why did the universe start in such a low state of entropy. Science answers: We don’t know. How is it we live in a universe with such finely tuned parameters? We don’t know. Or the most basic of them all: Why are we here. We don’t know.

    Science describes the details of reality most excellently. But when it comes to the most basic, fundamental, existential ones, science does no better than philosophy. And my opinion, for what little it’s worth, is that truly understanding our reality will require both.

  • James Gallagher


    no, my argument is that metaphysical arguments aren’t any more worthy/convincing today than they were a thousand years ago, whereas Science and our ability to explain and predict our observations has progressed immensely without ever needing to invoke metaphysical ideas in the slightest tiny little bit (some scientists may be inspired by philosophical beliefs, just like they may be inspired by religious beliefs, but the final scientific theory never depends on these beliefs)

    Metaphysical arguments can sometimes provide temporary entertainment, like a Mahler Symphony, or a collection of Picasso paintings, but metaphysics has nothing to contribute to Science and vice versa.

  • James Gallagher

    @Wyrd Smythe,

    We could destroy all philosophy books ever printed and wipe the human race of all knowledge of philosophical arguments (maybe leave a bit of common-sense ethics) and the human race would be no worse off. In fact it would take about 1 month with the internet for the human race to rediscover all the basic philosophical ideas and arguments.

    The same could not be said of Science.

    However I agree that Science has limitations too, and they begin long before we can start discussing the concept of a god, just plain old human free-will and consciousness isn’t explained by the standard model or any proposed theory of everything, and in fact I believe this will require a new kind of science (no, not cellular automata! 😉 )

  • Richard M

    Wyrd: We do know what electrons are. We do know what photons are. We know them by their properties. We can tell an electron from a positron from a neutrino and so on.

    Every discipline must have its fundamentals, and in physics, particles are fundamental. Saying we don’t know what they are, because we can’t find some more fundamental “stuff” of which they are made, would be like a set theorist saying we don’t know what the empty set is because we can’t find a smaller set contained in the empty set.

    Your last paragraph gets one thing right. Science is descriptive. It doesn’t pretend to do
    more. It is only when people try to explore the philosophical ramifications of science that things become problematic, and that is because philosophy isn’t constrained by the same rigor that science is constrained by. The best philosophies are constrained by logical consistency, but it is only when the additional constraints of empiricism are applied that philosophy has a chance of accurately reflecting reality — and then, it is no longer philosophy, it is science. Within the constraints of empiricism and consistency, science does just fine.

  • John Merryman

    I think the theological foundations could be explored better than they have been.

    Logically a spiritual absolute would be the essence from which we rise, not an ideal from which we fell.

    Institutional religion tends to equate wholistic with singular. Oneness/unity is not the same as one/unit. Connectedness may be universal, but it also lacks distinction. The happy medium is also a big flatline on the universal heart monitor. Manifestation is dualistic; Inside/outside, good/bad, attraction/repulsion, positive/negative, yes/no, expansion/contraction, conservative/liberal, etc.

    It should also be kept in mind that polytheists first developed democracy, as a pantheon of contending gods was reflected in political form. Monotheism has historically validated monarchy and other forms of top down rule. Divine right of Kings, etc.

    One might reasonably argue that religion is a society’s vision of itself, as government is how it manages itself. Necessarily vision and management often clash and the various religions reflect this relationship. For instance, Christianity was an underground movement for its first four hundred years, before being co-opted by an empire in decline, so there has always been a strong distinction between the religious vision of Christian societies and their political organization. On the other hand, Islam was a very successful political movement for its first seven hundred years, coasted on that for the next six hundred and has only been eclipsed by the industrial west in the last hundred years, since the fall of the Ottomans. So it blends government and religion in ways which westerners cannot fathom. Judaism was largely a cultural movement for two thousand years, with no singular body politic to govern and now has difficulty fitting that very evolved culture into a particular political structure and situation.

    Which all goes to say this debate between neo-pagan religiosity and its detractors doesn’t explore the many aspects of human social evolution very deeply.

  • John Merryman

    I should point out I view religion as similar to language, in that all societies need some unifying vision, otherwise they fragment rather quickly, but that like languages, religions can be highly idiosyncratic and subjective.
    And yes, they can be as equally destructive, as constructive, but than language can be perverse in how it forms our thinking as well as enlightens it.

    Evolution is bottom up, but we can only view it top down.

    Life is a game where the goal is to figure out the rules and the first rule is that rules are either subjective or generic.

  • http://theaunicornist.com Mike D

    Sean, thanks for penning a response to this. Your article reinforces a great deal of what I’ve read elsewhere from, y’know, physicists, as opposed to theologians opining on cosmology.

  • Ben

    Gallagher, I think we can more or less agree on a certain number of things now. I never said that science needed metaphysics per se. I rather meant that foundational questions, such as the foundations of QM are indeed part of science, and that metaphysical musings can be inspiring for these, even though they are not necessary ingredients per se. There actually are strong metaphysical a prioris, conscious or inconscious, among the proponents of various interpretations of QM. But only empiricism can decide in the end what’s really physically relevant. Empiricism is, and will always remain, the heart of science. The end-product cannot be metaphysical, otherwise it would not be physics anymore. Your analogy with music is not irrelevant in that sense, even though I think the link is more direct in the case of metaphysics. I however strongly object the fact that metaphysical musings cannot be themselves inspired by the advances of science and mathematics, as you seem to imply. It is a great sadness of modern times that many philosophers are out of touch with science, and a similar sadness that scientists are out of touch with philosophy. Note that I separate mathematics from the rest of science, because I dont think mathematics is empirical, at least not in the same sense as physics. For instance, mathematicians do not need real world experiences proving the existence of transfinites to make use of transfinite numbers in some demonstrations. It is entirely possible that transfinite numbers will one day prove themselves directly relevant to physics, but until now it is not the case. That doesnt make the alephs and omega less ontologically “real” than 1 or 2 from a mathematical point of view, where some theorems can elegantly be demonstrated by making use of them. On the other hand, I am certain that searching for a more solid mathematical foundation of QFT can only lead to progress in the hardcore physics itself. But again, only empiricism will decide in the end. On the other hand, natural and real numbers are indispensable to current physics, vector spaces and manifolds too, and are in that sense as “real” as electrons are. To say that electrons are more real than numbers because we can measure their properties is the result of a confusion between the model and the measurement: what is obviously ontologically “more real” than numbers is the measurement itself. The model is making use of composite abstract constructions, the Dirac field known as “electron” and the QED lagrangian being one such construction, that are then used to make the predictions. These constructions are themselves driven by the measurements, but not only. Mathematical objects such as symmetry groups are also important in building them. But then, in the end, only the measurements decide. If the prediction proves correct, we can then say that the electron of the model “exists” as in the model. But then so do the ingredients of the model. This is a different kind of existence, more of a platonist one, than the measurement itself. It is difficult to do physics without, most of the time implicitly, recognizing this kind of platonist existence, whose metaphysical implications are interesting. It is not because these implications are not directly relevant to the efficiency of the physical model that “reasonable” people should all be forbidden to think about them. But anyway, you probably wont agree, but I rest my case now :)

  • James Gallagher


    that’s reasonable, just that I’m not a big fan of foundational arguments in QM, I mean, to me QM basically says that Nature is described by probability amplitudes which evolve according to an evolution equation, and the probability just “is”. Decades of whining about the existence of fundamental probability has led to the non-science subject of Foundations, and ridiculous metaphysical constructions (like MWI) to help atheists and/or determinists sleep at night.

    Mathematics is of course COMPLETELY distinguished from almost all philosophy (and infinitely from theology) by its rigour and applicability.

    But we’ve strayed a bit from the topic of whether God is necessary in Physics, so I’ll stop now.

  • Jon

    Comment deleted by poster. (I misread something!)

  • Tony Rotz

    Explain to me how a universe can create life, and not just life, but life that can know and understand itself, and not just know and understand itself, why we are what we are, and all the other nuances of human existence,hatred, joy, etc. and not just these, but how can a life created by the universe come to know unconditional Love and not just the love that is self serving, but unconditional service to each other, even to death, a death that would not have a reward, if the universe was its creator. But it does, an eternal one.

  • Richard M

    Everyone seems to be missing the big picture, which is that the Kalam argument disproves the existence of God. Consider: Let G0 be the cause of the universe. Then, either G0 began to exist, or G0 never began to exist.

    Assume G0 began to exist. Then G0 must have a cause, by Craig’s first premise. Call that cause G1. Now, for any natural number n, if Gn began to exist, then Gn must have a cause, G(n+1). This leads to an infinite regression, which is ruled out by Craig’s Hilbert Hotel argument. This means there must be a natural number x, such that Gx never began to exist.

    Now, if Gx exists, but never began to exist, then Gx must have an infinite past. Because the past consists of events that have happened, rather than potential events, an infinite past must be an actual infinity. And Craig has shown that actual infinities are not possible.

    This means that Gx cannot exist; therefore G(x-1) cannot exist, and so on, all the way back to G0. In this way, the Kalam argument proves that God does not exist. QED

    Of course, the above difficulties could be avoided by claiming that the restrictions against infinite regressions and actual infinities do not apply to God(s). But the Kalam argument is so rock-solid, it would be a shame if the conclusions we drew from it — whatever they may be — had to rest on the shifting sands of special pleading.

  • Cosmonut

    @Mitchell: Indifference: the universe was created to be a vast mechanism, and these are the unimportant sufferings of a few spontaneously generated microbes crushed between the cogs.

    Nice. That’s pretty much what I believe myself, and I find it oddly satisfying.

    Its always bugged me as well that this position never shows up in religious debates.

  • Cosmonut

    Sean: (or anyone else)

    Is it really necessary to have Quantum Gravity to understand the origin of the universe ?

    From what I understand IF we have a matter/radiation dominated universe, THEN we see energy density tending to infinity in finite time as we roll the picture back, and the existing laws break down and we need QG

    But what if, as in inflation models, we have a vacuum energy dominated universe, before a certain point of time ?
    Then the maths seems to say that we can go back infinitely far without any breakdown in the laws.

    So, couldn’t THAT be a default state for the universe ? An infinite expanse of space (described by classical GR) filled with vacuum energy which has always existed and just keeps inflating with occasional decays into ordinary matter/energy ?

    It would be good to have Quantum Gravity, but seems like it isn’t necessary to model the picture above.

  • Zerub

    Richard M, Craig responds by saying that God was timeless prior to creation. He says Divine Timelessness may be really strange, but there’s nothing Logically fallacious about it. He also says that God’s act of creating is simultaneous with the universe coming into Existence. And since it’s beginning, God became temporal.

  • http://logosconcarne.com/ Wryd Smythe

    @James Gallagher #71: I think that’s a bit hyperbolic at best. A great deal of philosophy, as with science, is built on th work of others. I think it would take far longer than a month (and I’m not quite sure how the internet makes any difference). In fact, given that micro- and nano-blogs seems to be progressively undermining deep and long thinking, I’d be surprised if most modern people are capable of the kind of philosophic thinking that winds back through people like Kant all the way to Aristotle.

    To be clear, I’m not suggesting philosophy is necessary to science, but I do think science is rather “bloodless” without it. (Atom bombs and genetic engineering being great examples.) I would no more want to live in a world without philosophy than I would a world without music or painting. You might consider such things “temporary entertainment,” but I consider them not just fundamental, but vital to the human experience. In fact, if I had to chose between science and art, I would pick art.

    Without some sort of philosophy, if not metaphysics, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to define morals or even “common-sense ethics.” Any such are necessarily based on some metaphysical view of human parity and primacy. Consider slavery, something which most people would agree is immoral or, in terms of an atheist view, unethical. Yet it enabled the creation of at least one, if not more, of the Wonders of the World. If my view of reality is such that building wonderful pyramids that last for thousands of years has greater primacy than the lives of thousands of slaves, on what basis can you say my view is truly wrong without appeal to some sort of metaphysics? After all, those slaves are now all long dead and dust, while the pyramids remain. What does their suffering really matter?

    If the universe is fully deterministic, and we are nothing more than machines, what does *any* of this matter except as “temporary entertainment?” In 2000 years all of this will be gone and forgotten.

    @Richard M #72: I don’t agree that science *does* know what electrons and photons are. I’m not referring to finding something more fundamental. I’m referring to the fact that science doesn’t know if they are, indeed, point particles that (somehow) have properties, or if they are tiny strings that vibrate in more dimensions than we know about, or if they are “kinks” in the mesh of LQG, or something else entirely. Science isn’t, as far as I know, even sure whether they have size or not.

    I have no problem accepting them as fundamental pieces of *some* picture, but I don’t believe we know what those pieces actually are. We only know how they behave.

  • Tony Rotz

    Perhaps the universe is a mere fragment of God, a shadow of Himself that He cast upon the waters of time and space. A revelation of Himself for those who can see. All the Love in the world is a mere shadow of Himself that truly is Himself, so, that may that may well be the case with the universe as well.

  • collins

    I read it. There are two Sean Carrolls.
    S.C. Spin A wrote the sober article referenced at the beginning, which can be used by moderates trying to maintain the scientific integrity of public school curricula. Like most scholarly works it won’t be widely advertised, but people with a stake in education will read and remember it.
    S.C. Spin B appears on web media panels with other atheists participating in a mutual admiration society with the usual snickers and insults. Thousands of people may view, but only as entertainment to confirm (not change) their own prejudice either way (being outraged for some is entertaining).

    Pick your Spin.

  • Richard M

    Zerub: Yes, that is the special pleading I was referring to.

    The funny thing about this particular case of special pleading is that it isn’t fallacious by declaring that there is something special (whether it’s the Universe, or one or more gods). It is fallacious by declaring that the Universe is not special.

    The Universe is like a proper class in mathematics — a collection (class) that cannot belong to another class. The collection of all ordinals (Omega) is a proper class, and the collection of all sets (V) is a proper class. Sets are classes, but they are not proper classes. Proper classes are special objects: without them, you get anomalies like Russell’s paradox.

    The Universe contains what appears to be an unbounded spacetime (try to plot a course leading you outside the Universe). It is not an object contained within that spacetime [1]. If it were, it would contain itself. The Universe is analogous to a proper class, and therefore already special. Adding one or more objects, giving them special status, and then withholding that special status from the Universe, really is special pleading.

    As for “timelessness”, whether or not the concept is logically consistent, it doesn’t help Craig at all. Timelessness requires that nothing is changing. You couldn’t have particles because particles have wave functions associated with them. You certainly couldn’t have thought. And since nothing is changing, God would be unable to contemplate creating the Universe prior to doing so. So Craig doesn’t like actual infinities, but has no problem with this bizarre scenario? In this view, the creation of the Universe would have to be a spontaneous cosmic accident, indistinguishable from the Universe coming into being ex nihilo.

    [1] Perhaps the Universe is embedded in some larger multiverse. That need not remove its specialness. Again going to math for an analogy, the class of ordinals is “embedded” (I’m not sure if this is the correct usage of that word) in the class of all sets, in the sense that all of its members are also members of the class of all sets — but that does not mean it is not a proper class.

  • Richard M

    Wyrd, I think if somebody handed you the absolute essence of everything, you’d wonder what the essence of that essence is. I would not.

    We know what particles are by their properties. We may or may not know *all* of their properties. But isn’t that the ideal that physics strives for — to learn these properties, and build models that incorporate those properties?

  • James Gallagher

    @Wyrd Smythe #84

    I admire your decision to choose art given either science or art has to go, I almost agree, since the science could be recreated over a few hundred years, whereas most of the great art would be lost forever never to be recreated. But for practical reasons I’d have to choose science, and weep about the lost art treasures (In the alternative scenario, where science goes, we’d revert to the middle ages for a few centuries and most of the art would be lost anyway)

  • Tom

    Sean, how do you know God doesn’t exist? Maybe God does exist. Does science answer the question? If so, how? Just curious. I’m an agnostic. For me, science deals with explanations of things which can be testable. Since we only have access to the physical world of the Standard Model, etc., because we are made up of Standard Model particles, the only testable ideas and explanations are those that have the Standard Model as their basis (i.e. “natural causes”, “materialism”, etc.). But we don’t know if this aspect of reality is the only one. Hence my agnostic views.

  • Classical Theist

    @Zerub #83

    Saying that “God became temporal” is incompatible with classical theism. In classical theism, God is eternal. Created beings exist in time, God in eternity, which BTW is not an infinite length of time. For anyone interested in the subject:



  • Tom

    Sean, why did you delete my comment? It’s an honest question and I’m very interested in reading your reply. Here, I’ve posted it again, but I’ve reworded my question to something better:

    How do you know God doesn’t exist? I’m an agnostic. For me, science deals with explanations of things which can be testable. Since we only have access to the physical world of the Standard Model, etc., because we are made up of Standard Model particles, the only testable ideas and explanations are those that have the Standard Model as their basis (i.e. “natural causes”, “materialism”, etc.). But we don’t know if this aspect of reality is the only one. That is, just because a belief isn’t testable, doesn’t mean it cannot be true. We just don’t know if that particular belief is true or false because we have no way of testing it. So it wouldn’t be right to just dismiss it as definitively wrong. Hence my agnostic views. Thanks!

  • Ed

    Tom @90&92. No one deleted your question. It is the same tired old “can’t prove a negative” question addressed in a million other places on the innertubes. Go Google it if you really want some answers. There are many responses, some are nice and simple like “How do you know the FSM or the orbiting teapot don’t exist?” Others take a degree in logic to understand. And there are many in between. Take your time. Then take it somewhere else. It doesn’t impress anyone here except your fellow “agnostics”, who are really just atheists who lack the courage of their convictions, or else xian trolls on the prowl.

    Also, on those days you are so inclined to entertain the notion of God’s existence, try wrapping your mind around some of the kinds of questions posed by Sean that “sophisticated theologian” and fine tuning expert Alvin Plantinga never seems to answer:

    “Why does God favor three generations of elementary particles, with a wide spectrum of masses?”

    “Would God use supersymmetry or strong dynamics to stabilize the hierarchy between the weak scale and the Planck scale, or simply set it that way by hand?”

    “What would God’s favorite dark matter particle be?”

  • Tom


    What’s wrong with not knowing whether God exists or not? I know the FSM and orbiting teapot don’t exist because their formation out there is incompatible with initial conditions and the laws of physics. But I can’t say that about God because the laws of physics are patterns we discovered through scientific investigation which has testable hypotheses as its basis. But that doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist or that we can be certain that God doesn’t exist. We can’t be.

    (Oops. I see now that the comment wasn’t deleted. I thought it had been deleted because I missed it as I was scrolling down.)

  • Ed

    Tom, you simply repeat tired scientific-sounding agnostic nostrums. Exchange God for FSM in all your sentences, and it makes just as much sense. If you were really interested in the philosophical arguments against agnosticism, you’d use Google and find sites like skepticblogs (with articles like http://www.skepticblogs.com/incredulous/2012/09/25/agnosticism-is-untenable-and-irrelevant-part-2/) and match wits with people who regularly refute agnosticism. You’d read books like “Atheism, A Philosophical Justification” or “Atheism: The Case Against God” and find out all you could ever want about the case for atheism. But what do you do? You troll a cosmology blog and burble sophomoric agnostic tropes. Begone, troll. You’re no longer worth the time to respond to. Go to a blog where they eat your type for breakfast, if you dare.

  • Doctor Paradox

    “How do you know God doesn’t exist?”

    He came to me in a dream and told me so Himself.

  • Alan

    Ed @ September 29th, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    How about a God-like structure to reality? There are studies on phenomena to do with an afterlife, for instance Chris Carter’s recent “Science and the Afterlife Experience: Evidence for the Immortality of Consciousness ” (2012). Another indication of this is these kinds of experiences – see this upcoming lecture at the SPR (October 4) by Dr. Mark Fox:
    http://www.spr.ac.uk/main/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=42 on extraordinary light phenomena seen during the time when someone dies. Need to be explained. My question – why is the universe structured such that these phenomena occur? Seems to have a kind of “preservative” quality – also no FSMs needed.

  • kaveh

    i am completely agree with Sean Carroll . indeed not only craig but even many experts don’t understand meaning of beginning that is used in cosmology (specially quantum cosmology). in fact for explaining the singularity there are three option : 1- time had a beginning or end ( should explain initial conditions,boundary conditions,…) . 2- time had no a beginning or end (beginninglessness and endlessness, past infinite. should explain evolution of universe across the singularity ) and i think most likely option 3- neither time nor space exist at the most fundamental ontological level so we encounter with a utterly timeless and spaceless structure(absolute timelessness and spacelesssness in so-called planck scale). i think Sean favours option two ( eternal universe). i also favour a fundamentally eternal universe ,but notice that eternity has two meaning :1- beginninglessness , 2- timelessness . i favour second definition because i think most quantum gravity theories strongly imply non-existence of time and space ( also causality) at the most fundamental level or at the most fundamental ontological basement ( in paul davis phrase). though i think third option is most likely one but i also see no reason forr ejecting eternal universe ( with no beginning or end) as sean favours. also i pointed out sean himself has open eyes to both of 2 and 3 options. for william craig but answer is already obvious , he will says universe had a definite beginning or an end but true is that he doesn’t understand fundamental physics and cosmology. for example he frequently says Hartle-Hawking no-boundary proposal established a finite universe ( universe with a beginning) . this here i claim he doesn’t understand quantum cosmology .indeed Hartle-Hawking theory disfavour both eternal universe ( in term of beginningless) and a universe with an absolute beginning, this theory goes beyond conventional thinking about universe ,time ,space and laws of nature. Hartle-Hawking theory favours a fundamental timeless and spaceless universe ( with no time,space,causality and evolution and also universe as a whole cann’t have a boundary or initial conditions ,in fact all of these concepts become meaningless at the most fundamental level of reality namely planck scale and this theory opens new windows to redefine universe as a whole, maybe super-ultimate reality as no-boundary proposal suggested is an abstract timeless and spaceless structure so universe in depth is mathematics. and mathematics is ultimate super ground of reality.

  • Tom


    How am I trolling? This post is about God and I am asking a question related to whether we can know if God exists or not. I can’t exchange God for FSM because the FSM is made out of standard model particles well-organized into a strand of spaghetti. It’s virtually impossible to find such a thing, much less a flying spaghetti monster, out there because it is incompatible with the initial conditions of the universe and the laws of physics. The only place you’d find a strand of spaghetti would be on earth, made by humans. That’s something we can be sure about. The situation is different with a supernatural deity. Can you provide me evidence that a supernatural “world” exists? No, because all we ever know more or less certain about is what we can learn by using the scientific method. The scientific method is based on explaining phenomena we observe using testable hypotheses. Well, all we can ever observe are phenomena in the natural world, and the only testable hypotheses explaining those phenomena are ones which occur within this natural world (otherwise, we’d have no way of discovering them because we ourselves are part of the natural world). But that doesn’t prove that a supernatural deity doesn’t exist. We simply have no way of knowing. And, who knows, maybe the universe did have a beginning in time, and since you cannot explain the “birth” of the universe using reasons that only apply to an already-existing universe (ie. using the laws of physics), then a supernatural explanation (since “natural” refers to an already-existing universe) becomes a possibility. But this we don’t even know yet because we don’t know what quantum gravity really looks like.

  • James Gallagher


    people who claim agnosticism is cowardly/untenable/illogical are in the spirit of tyrants.

    Agnostics just don’t have a stick up their ass like atheists/theists.

  • Tom

    Oops, one of the sentences I wrote should have been, “Can you provide me evidence that a supernatural, all-knowing, etc., God does or does not exist or is impossible?”

    Cheers. :-)

  • Tom


    How about if you take a stab at answering my question?

  • @b

    @James, the stickless (comfortable to remain without knowledge of disembodied minds) are to we the sticked, frustratingly apathetic towards the well-funded monotheist institutions busily placing said sticks up thy neighbours tailpipes.

  • http://blog.noctua.org.uk/ Paul Wright

    Tom: Carroll says the universe doesn’t need God, which is not quite the same as saying “we’re 100% certain that God does not exist”.

    However, something has gone wrong when we even ask the question “well, can you be 100% certain of that?”, and as other commenters have pointed out, it’s a pretty tired argument and it’s not Carroll’s job to educate you. Still, other commenters have tried, and I’ll try again.

    You write: “I know the FSM and orbiting teapot don’t exist because their formation out there is incompatible with initial conditions and the laws of physics.” What is incompatible with the laws of physics about there being a teapot?

    On the FSM, I think you will find that sophisticated Pastafarian theologians will tell you that His Noodly Appendage is not material, so we should not expect physical laws to rule it out, rather the Appendage is Pure Essence which can only be understood by analogy to physical things (see Feser’s blog postings, which someone linked to above, for an example of this kind of reasoning). Nevertheless, we can see (in an analogical sense) that there is a Noodly Appendage, for why else would the universe be fine tuned for the existence of pasta?

    Slightly more seriously, where you’ve gone wrong is to assume that there is something special to be agnostic about when talking about gods. What I mean by that is that there are countless conceivable possibilities which are difficult or impossible to rule out, so strictly we must be agnostic about them (if knowledge requires certainty), but we don’t trouble ourselves with them most of the time. I don’t go around proudly proclaiming that I’m agnostic about invisible gremlins in the walls and berating people who don’t see a reason to believe in the gremlins for their arrogance, yet apparently we’re supposed to see agnosticism about gods as the most fair minded position. The teapot and FSM examples are supposed to point out that this is silly. Google “privileging the hypothesis” for more.

  • Guido

    Coming late into this – I was struck by #23 David Lau: science is “discovered,” religion is “made” by man (and woman)
    What an opinion! The history of religion is one of discovery as well – our concept of deity is improved as much as our concept of matter – and bound to keep improving
    A finer sense of God and a finer sense of Atom are evolutionary
    We discover/make destructive religion as well as destructive science (Hiroshima) – and the opposite is also true
    My prediction is that we will shed our false duality (mind/body, spirit/matter, etc) and religion and science will be one

  • Philh

    The problem is Guide that sceince is not simply a body of facts its a method that combines logical consistency and emperical obervation. Since religion does nto reuqire emperical observation i cannot see how sceince and religion can be one. the religious have a pre conceived conclusion ie god exists. they also by and large teach us not to listen to our doubts. Science does not have this and teaches us that doubt is king, so they are incompatible.

  • Guido

    Philh, listen to you…. and the false duality – it is just you….seeing double

  • banev

    if you’re interested, part 2 of Craig’s review of your article is out. That is, in case you want a fistful of this charlatan’s nonsense, delivered with that really annoying “unctuous, smug and self-satisfied tone of voice” (to quote Dawkins). here’s the link:

  • http://what'sthis John Polasek

    Rather than ask whether you need God to create a universe, ask whether you need God to create life. The universe is too big to argue by e-mail.
    Watson and Crick have established that there is DNA ladder 2 meters in length in each cell of your body, straddled by 6 billion base pairs, (A,G,C & T) that are unique to each person. In other words, there is a 4-bit model number 6 billion digits long that defines you. We are represented by an impossibly complex and infinitely clever digital number that far predates our computers.
    The brilliance and complexity itself is beyond our comprehension. It could not possibly generate itself by any conceivable form of aggrandizement; entropy turns everything into junk.
    Even the paramecium has DNA which code defines it as a paramecium.
    The best and only theory science has for the beginning of life is swamp water lots and of lightning.
    Charles Darwin would be absolutely staggered to find out what’s really going on, with his “stands to reason” kind of observational science. From this standpoint, it’s absurd for school boards to be pressured to teach evolution as a science, because it will be teaching Darwin’s outmoded but it looks like up to now no one has really noticed that Darwin is completely irrelevant.

  • William Lane Craig

    Let me clear up Prof. Carroll’s bafflement. The reason I didn’t address his response to what he calls the Primordial Existential Question is that we recorded, not one, but three podcasts on Prof. Carroll’s article, the first dealing with the kalam cosmological argument, the second with the teleological argument from fine-tuning, and the third with the Leibnizian cosmological argument. The Primordial Existential Question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” comes up in the third segment. So hold on, it will come!

    The kalam argument concerns the different question of what brought the universe into being. As I explained in the podcast, Carroll avoids this question only by gratuitously reading a tenseless theory of time into certain cosmological models.

    Carroll downplays the significance of the BGV Theorem and the conclusions Vilenkin draws from it in his recent paper that I cited. In answer to the question “Did the universe have a beginning?,” Vilenkin concludes “it seems that the answer to this question is probably yes” (arXiv:1204.4658v1 [hep-th] 20 Apr 2012, p. 5). One would never have guessed that from reading Carroll’s Blackwell Companion article. In his oral presentation of his paper at the conference in Cambridge, Vilenkin was clear: “There are no models at this time that provide a satisfactory model for a universe without a beginning” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXCQelhKJ7A). The “eternal cosmologies based on quantum mechanics” so easily imagined by Prof. Carroll are not, in fact, tenable; but his unsuspecting readers would not know that.

    I’m disappointed that Carroll cannot have a collegial discussion of these important questions but feels the need to resort to snide, personal attacks in his closing paragraph. His unfamiliarity with my work is evident in his remark that I do not cite the relevant, original, scientific papers (despite my quoting the Vilenkin-Mithani paper in the very podcast to which he is responding), as well as the popular works of physicists (where they often feel freer to express what they take to be the philosophical and theological implications of their work). Carroll will pardon us, I hope, for our scepticism about his counting himself among the ranks of the open-minded.

  • James Gallagher

    Hi W L Craig

    You should use the Ontological Argument, that way you won’t have so many clever scientists explaining very simply why you are a pretty silly person.

    (Because they won’t care)

  • James Gallagher

    EDIT: lots of non-love against religious eegits deleted (by me)

  • Guido

    the so called open minded are really nasty… why?

  • Wes

    WLC is the Best there is. And all you have to do is look at the 25 dodged attempts and refusals from Mr. Richard Dawkins himself, who will willingly debate any priest, Nun, Clergymember, Pastor, or even Bill Oreilly. But he won’t dare step on the same stage with Craig. Attacks like these from Carroll are so typical.

  • Rigelrover

    It would be great to have Dr. Carroll on as a guest in the reasonable faith podcast, or even better in a joint academic paper where time can be taken to carefully look at each point made on both sides. I am sure it is hard for either Dr. Craig or Dr. Carroll to sound completely objective to the casual listener/reader when they both seem to have deep beliefs about the inquiry into God’s existence.

    It is always refreshing when someone can have a more objective sounding discussion/debate about this important topic rather than to quickly go on the defensive. In my opinion Dr. Carroll did quickly jump to defend himself; too quickly, in my opinion, to sound objective with his response.

    I really appreciate the dialogue between people like Alvin Plantinga and Richard Gale, for instance.

    From my perspective (after examining the details and claims) it looks like Dr. Craig was rather comprehensive about responding to Dr. Carroll, but (without owning the Blackwell edition in question) I haven’t seen that reciprocated here yet.

    Both men seem to be very interested and studied in the idea of “time”. It seems that if objectivity could be approached more closely on both sides, something fruitful might come of it…

  • http://www.philochristos.blogspot.com Sam

    or even better in a joint academic paper where time can be taken to carefully look at each point made on both sides

    Yeah, but would that be a philosophy paper or a physics paper?

  • Guido

    Sam, that would be great!

  • martenvandijk

    Don’t let the universe be the universe! Read ”The World Thinker” (Jack Vance)

  • ICD

    For God’s Sake Guys! Carroll with this argument of his and other genii like Roger Penrose with his CCC argument are much better than this WLC… at least they have taken time to think and re-phrase their thoughts in mathematical terms; while all that this WLC is doing is trying to defend a faith that was written down much much later than Christ himself!

    This is the path to the pinnacle of human intellectual achievement (we being able to think for ourselves, free-thought/will endowed) and coming close to realizing our very origins (OK, I admit that this could be asymptotically reachable)… but did you ever think why if we honestly question rationally the origins of our existence without clinging to any faiths or dogmas, the idea of a creator seems to distance itself…. to a negligible quantity of belief, so to say…? That’s what happens when you climb on the intellectual ladder unhindered by traditional thought processes… and that is what these great minds have come to realize, and eventually anyone else who will trod on these free-willed paths will also…

    While I’m not saying that anyone is right or wrong here, what I’m REALLY saying is that the intellectual attempts of people like Carroll are much worthier (even in their actions alone) than what people like WLC are doing…the latter don’t even contribute to the society in any way, save for trying to relegate the world to the Stone Age…

    Oh WTF, some people had had their lives ruined thinking like this, what with Gallileo, Bruno, etc., etc…. and this WLC’s forefathers wrought that evil then, and their sons are sowing those seeds now…. God Bless all these Souls! And all those who whine in the names of these unintellectual-hypocrites…

  • ICD

    p.s: My definition of Physics is “At any given time, the Current Human State (or compendium of knowledge, if you will) of comprehension of the universe and the dynamics of its phenomena” AND it “does not purport to understand the universe completely, and might never will, but is always evolving ” BUT “the idea of a creator for the universe seems to be distancing itself from the common-sense of the rationally thinking peoples, that is, in the light of the CURRENT state of human understanding (which is always improving)” —- OK, in other words, these two are like two asymptotes of the X and Y axes that are approaching a state of mutually perpendicular-ness (if I may say so)…. in much simpler terms, the idea of a need for a creator is much less required now, than it was 2000 years ago… and it will grow much lesser in the years to come though the thought itself will persist with those who will choose to believe in it in place of rational thinking…

  • James Gallagher


    You don’t need to invoke such reasonable arguments to debunk the religious idiots, just let them fight among themselves (literally) over their conceptions of Nature, there can be only one.

    I laugh at people who accuse the likes of me of being “nasty”, yeah, do I tell people how to behave sexually, how birth control must be practised, why biological research that might help/prevent disabilities cannot be allowed. Etc. Yeah, the nasties are the simpleton theists who hope to hitch a ride on the spectacular brilliance that is science to aid their arguments for basically nonsense.

    Nobody KNOWS, we just extend our understanding, and FWIW, I believe a TOE, a theory of all particles and the 4 known forces will be just a small step on our journey to understand things, and for that reason we should just all behave nice to each other, basically.

    But, we most not allow idiots to dictate things, because they can claim the remaining mystery is known to them is some special stupid/retarded/idiotic/moronic/dumb/deluded manner.

  • Guido

    nasty….and pompous?

  • Ross

    I’m late to the discussion, but can I point out just how genial and polite Craig is, in contrast with many of the comments against him? I respect that.

    I’m looking forward to hearing his comments in part 3 of his podcast. If anyone has a link, let me know.

  • http://maverickchristian.blogspot.com/ Wade

    One reason I found this article disappointing was that accusations were made against Craig that weren’t substantiated. For example:

    (The podcast is advertised as “Part One,” so maybe this question will be addressed in Part Two, but I still wouldn’t understand the assertion in Part One that I ignored the question.)

    Where does Craig assert that Sean Carroll ignored the question? I listened to it twice and I didn’t see Craig claim that the Carroll ignored the question, and Carroll gives no reference about where this claim might be found. I also read the transcript and couldn’t find the assertion.

    Craig quotes (misleadingly) a recent paper by Audrey Mithani and Alex Vilenkin, which concludes by saying “Did the universe have a beginning?

    How on earth does Craig quote it misleadingly? We are not told, and this accusation is never justified.

    More puzzling though is Carrol’s remark on the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem:

    The reason I didn’t explicitly mention this technical result in my essay is that I don’t think it’s extremely relevant to the question.

    I’m amazed Carroll would think so. Granted, it is not as simple as saying “the theorem says the universe has a beginning” but it’s very significant in the case for a beginning of the universe, as can be seen in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology’s entry on the kalam cosmological argument, which goes into somewhat lengthy technical detail in how the theorem supports a beginning of the universe. Given the prominence of the theorem in support of that “the universe began to exist” premise of the kalam cosmological argument, I’m surprised that Carroll evidently doesn’t see the theorem’s relevance.

    Mithani and Vilenkin are also scientists, and are correspondingly willing to be honest about our state of ignorance: thus, “probably” yes. I personally think the answer is “probably no,” but none of us actually knows. The distinction is that the scientists are willing to admit that they don’t really know.

    Does Vilenkin really believe we don’t really know as the author seems to suggest? It seems unlikely. On page 176 of “Many Worlds in One” he says, “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.” That doesn’t sound much like a state of ignorance, and ironically Vilenkin seems more convinced of the strong scientific grounds for a beginning of the universe than Craig does (on numerous occasions, Craig has reminded people of the tentative nature of science while also claiming that the universe having a beginning is supported by contemporary science).

  • James Gallagher


    Many deluded people in history could be quite genial too. Does Craig support stem cell research, or does he think disabilities are a natural thing which we shouldn’t interfere with using our evil science techniques?

    (I mean, let’s cut to the chase, arguing about the beginning of the universe and god just diverts attention from the nonsense that these people think)

  • James Gallagher


    Pompous? That’s hilarious, I would apply pompous to people who prevent medical science reducing a huge amount of suffering because they think it goes against the will of some great mysterious god’s plan. Or a pompous person who needs a punch in the face is someone who would describe abortion as murder, because they know the mind of god or whatever shit they would argue.

  • Richard M

    Returning to the discussion after being absent a while… Paul in #104 says:

    “I don’t go around proudly proclaiming that I’m agnostic about invisible gremlins in the walls and berating people who don’t see a reason to believe in the gremlins for their arrogance, yet apparently we’re supposed to see agnosticism about gods as the most fair minded position. The teapot and FSM examples are supposed to point out that this is silly” and suggests a Google search that leads to some claims that agnosticism is special pleading.

    Something bothered me about that argument, and it has finally occurred to me what that is. It all hinges on the boundedness of the question. If we ask, “Is there a teapot in orbit around the Sun, between the orbits of Earth and Mars”, we have a question that is bounded in every way. We can all agree (presumably) what a teapot is, and what it means to be in such an orbit. There are very specific bounds, and if we did an exhaustive search within those bounds, we’d have an answer. Of course, an exhaustive search isn’t feasible (with today’s tech anyway), but it’s possible to imagine settling the question. Barring such settlement, we can only fall back on the prior probability of such a thing existing, and conclude from the laws of physics (and no known human history of putting a teapot into interplanetary space) that the odds against finding such a thing in such a relatively small space are astronomical.

    Expand the scope to figurative teapots, and a very relaxed (i.e., wrong) definition of “in orbit around” that allows apparent motion due to Earth’s rotation, and we would have to say that there definitely is a teapot, albeit not at the required distance. Changing the bounds of the question changes the answer.

    Turning to the question of the existence of the FSM, we’d need a clear characterization that would allow us to agree when FSM has been found, and also clarification of where it can be expected to be found. On the first point, I’d be surprised if we didn’t find one or more schisms in Pastafarian beliefs — for example, between those who wear the strainer and those who don’t. And on the second point — Is the FSM near Earth? Somewhere in the Milky Way? Anywhere in the Universe? Maybe not in the Universe but out there in the multiverse? The farther out the bounds are pushed, the more unanswerable the question becomes.

    That is why such a poorly bounded question as “Does God exist?” can be met with a shrug by agnostics, and it doesn’t constitute special pleading. Put some bounds on it by asking, “Is there an immaterial (supernatural/metaphysical/spiritual) being that can interact with the natural world”, and I would bet that many agnostics would have more definite views. Does that make us atheists, or are we still agnostic? If this bounded question is what is actually meant by the unbounded one, then I guess the former is true, but I suspect the meaning can vary from asker to asker.

    Well, I’ve already referred to set theory twice in this thread, so here goes again: Ask a set theorist if measurable cardinals exist. Some will say it depends, some will say yes (because they like the consequences of these and larger sets existing), but they should all concede that it is fair to remain agnostic on the question (it can’t be shown from the usual axioms — ZFC — that they exist; and there is no known inconsistency of such cardinals with ZFC). Now ask if such a cardinal exists in the constructible universe, and they will tell you, flat out, “No”. But the constructible universe is also a valid model of ZFC. All that has changed about the question is the bounds.

  • banev

    So WL “Genocide” Craig (that’s how Dawkins has been referring to this guy lately
    and I’m trying to do my part in spreading it around given that Craig IS a disgusting genocide apologist), complains about Carroll’s tone and how he is “disappointed that Carroll cannot have a collegial discussion of these important questions but feels the need to resort to snide, personal attacks in his closing paragraph”. Really?

    In case anyone is tempted to agree with this abominable hypocrite, who frequently whines about how mean the New Atheists are and how impolite it is to call believers ‘delusional’, while at the same time having no problem (and is actually infamous for) regularly making snide comments, and personal attacks on his opponents, like putting up slides during his debate with Bart Ehrman, and elsewhere, titled “Ehrman’s Egregious Error” and “Bart’s Blunder”, check out this short YouTube clip “William Lane Craig and the Meaning of Ad Hominem Attacks”. There Craig is confronted by a student concerning his hypocrisy on that matter since apparently he has no problem characterizing the late Christopher Hitchens as “weaselly, oily and lacking in intellectual substance”. (Kind of like the perfect projection, another thing Craig is infamous for). The response of the oily weasel Craig?– he stands by all of those remarks. He goes on to insist that they’re not ad hominem attacks (despite the fact that no one ever said they were, but misdirection and distortion are two of that snake-oil salesman’s favorite tactics) and at most they were “just impolite”! Of course when Craig is being exposed as a shameless charlatan and basically a fundy (as Robert Price does in his excellent article on Craig’s apologetics and fundamental dishonesty “By This Time He Stinketh: The Attempts of William Lane Craig to Exhume Jesus”), his usual response is NOT that this is just impolite, rather he cries about how it’s just ad hominem and so on.

    One can definitely understand the position of Richard Dawkins that Craig is unworthy of debate (of course, Craig and his teenage fans always misconstrue exposing him as a hack and a waste of time as itself being a “debate”, hence hypocritical; but then, Craig has managed to poison the minds of a fair number of people). A whole book can be written providing evidence for just how disingenuous, insincere, hypocritical, sneaky, crazy (the guy actually believes Satan literally exists and is out to get you!), wicked (God can take life as he sees fit, and when he orders the Israelites to start butchering men, women and children, that’s not only right, but constitutes the Israelites moral duty!), utterly shameless (see below), anti-intellectual and fundamentalist (the guy had admitted that even if ALL the evidence were to turn against his faith, he’d remain a Christian because the Holy Spirit in his heart trumps ALL arguments and evidence!– ” Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa!”) , etc., etc.

    Here’s small example of Craig’s usual manner of conducting himself:
    During his debate with Hitchens, the above quote about the Holy Spirit was brought up by Hitch, yet later on during the debate, addressing the issue of evolutionary theory leaving no room for the Divine, Craig said that “you have to feel a little sorry for the atheist, he can’t follow the evidence where it leads!”(due to his commitment to materialism). Still later on, he went so far as to urge Hitchens to become a Christian by saying “If Mr. Hitchens is a MAN of GOOD WILL he’d follow the evidence where it leads, and all evidence tonight has been on the side of theism”!

    Now, only when one realizes that those utterances were made by a man who insists that no amount of evidence could (and should) convince him he’s wrong about his faith, hence he will not follow the evidence where it leads, if it leads away from Christianity, and therefore by his own definition is not a “man of good will”, one can fully appreciate just how utterly shameless and hypocritical Craig is; indeed, pathologically so. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if his work and debates become of prime interest to MDs (certainly not to philosophers, let alone to scientists): who knows, he might even get a medical condition named after him. (“Craig Syndrome”?)

    Sadly, too many people are oblivious to Craig’s true colors, and by agreeing to seriously engage him, they give him the credibility he needs and is desperate to get in order to be taken seriously. (Clearly putdowns like “Why I refuse to debate William Lane Craig” by Richard Dawkins do not count: in fact that’s how unscrupulous charlatans likes Craig should be dealt with, who, by the way, always provide the necessary arsenal in terms of crazy nonsense–the Holy Spirit trumping all evidence, and God having the right to be a homicidal maniac–to fend off charges of cowardice, as it happened in the case of Richard’s refusal to debate. If only he knew the half of it…) Indeed, Craig and his fans always boast about how he’s debated some of the most prominent scientists and philosophers, therefore what he says must be worthy of an engagement. I’m sure Krauss would never make that mistake again; unfortunately it took him two hours with Craig one on one to realize that he’s been duped, and that he’s essentially lost the debate the moment he agreed to share a stage with the most contemptible of religious apologists. I don’t think Krauss’s experience is unique in this regard.

  • Christian

    In Schopenhauer’s posthumous tracts one can find an aphorism known as «a conversation from the year 33»:
    -Have you heard the latest news?
    -No, has something happened?
    -The world is redeemed!
    -Excuse me?
    -The good Lord has put on a human form and traveled to Jerusalem, and has let himself be executed. An thus he has simply tricked the devil and redeemed us all!
    -That is truly wonderful!


  • NM

    banve, chill out. Take a break. Geez.

  • Michael Schwenk

    Dr. Carroll, that’s it? You say to the question of God: “probably not, but who knows, really?” This is the New Atheism we hear so much about and this is its answer: probably not? Probably? You’re going to rule out of court the faith of billions of people because there “probably” is no God? You expect people to take this seriously?

  • Chad Marxen
  • C

    What does Dr. Carroll say to WLC’s reply?

  • Andreas


    Knowing what a great physicist and academic Sean Carroll is, I must say that his response to William Lane Craig deeply disapponts me.

    There doesn´t seem to be any wish in Carroll to sincerely engage with Lane Craig and his arguments. Instead we get a Dawkins-like (Dawkinsian?) reply that basically boils down to Carroll not believing Craig to be worthy of debate because he is only a philosopher, and therefore by default doesn´t know what he is talking about.
    This may be what Carroll genuinely believes, but I must say, after reading Lane Craigs full response to Carrols response, that I dont feel confident that Carroll is giving us any sort of unbiased account of the implications of the BGV-theorem or where current mainstream cosmology is at.

    This lack of confidence could easily be mended if Carroll would to choose to engage in genuine, good-natured debate with a fellow academic, to the benefit of us lay-people who are genuinely curious and not just looking to affirm worldviews we already hold.

    Alas, until that happens, I cannot help but smile when I read the last sentence of this reply to Lane Craig:

    “That’s why engagement with people like Craig is fundamentally less interesting than engagement with open-minded people who are willing to take what the universe has to offer, rather than forcing it into their favorite boxes.”

    I would invite Carroll to look up the word “irony”.

    Andreas M.

  • banev

    “engage with Lane Craig and his arguments”

    Why should Sean Carroll engage Craig’s nonsense? The guy is but a Christian apologist who has no scruples abusing any scientific discovery that seems even remotely supporting his Iron Age dogma. I very much doubt that Craig actually harbors any illusions about how he and his ilk is perceived and how much credibility he has in academia, where the kind of believes that evangelicals generally hold–the Bible is the inerrant word of God, Satan literally exists and is out to get the good Christians, Jesus, the son of God, was born of a virgin, turned water into wine, walked on water, raised people form the dead, and was himself raised from the dead, and so on– are seen as so crazy and disreputable, that in normal circumstances (that is, not living in a society where for historical reasons, such beliefs are still not widely seen as a symptom of perhaps mental illness) such a person wouldn’t be trusted holding even a mop job.

    The attitude of the prominent scientists like Carroll, Dawkins, Krauss and Coyne towards people like WL “Genocide” Craig is common. That’s why he’s so desperate to get them to take him and his worthless arguments seriously. Having lived in Europe for a number of years, where Craig complains “it’s hard for the Gospel to even get a fair hearing”, he’s no doubt come to realize that living in a society where his brand of Christianity is seen on par with unicorns and tooth-fairies and is worthy of just as much respect (let alone public debates), and is dismissed as crazy nonsense right of the bat, is the worse case scenario for him and his religion; hence his pronouncements that Christianity is a fair game: from anyone else this might indeed be seen as open-mindedness, but not from someone who’s stated point blank that his mind is firmly closed because the witness of the Holy Spirit trumps all evidence and arguments, In fact, Craig holds the position of the average fundy– ‘there’s nothing you can say to me, no arguments or evidence you can bring forward that would change my mind’.

    I submit that if there’s anything worse and more obscene than a fundamentalist, it is one with intellectual pretenses. It’s not everyday that one sees a person who had set out to demonstrate the reasonableness of Christianity, as Craig does in his ill-named “Reasonable Faith” book, and present arguments and evidence in support, commit the most spectacular instance of an intellectual suicide in the very first chapter by arguing that reason (and arguments and evidence) have only a “ministerial” role and in case of a collision with the dogmas of Christianity (and the Holy Spirit, which has a “magisterial” role) the latter takes precedence over the former! He writes how he confided to one of his professors “If somehow through my studies reason is to turn against my faith, SO MUCH THE WORSE FOR REASON!” Again, this anti-intellectual fideist nonsense is written in a book called “Reasonable Faith”!

    So Craig is not interested in honest, open-minded assessment of the evidence (he’s made that abundantly clear), but in rationalizing the dogmas of his religion while desperately trying to avoid the conclusion of atheism which he bemoans as “unbearable”, “unlivable” and “with no hope” (no emotional issues there). In light of that, there’s no mystery about his confession that when he became “born again” he knew it will be forever and there will be no coming back.

    The bottom line: Carroll is absolutely right, I would say obliged by common decency, to refuse to engage this disgraced hack on any level apart from pointing out he’s hack. Engaging, let alone debating, him and his ‘work’ is not just a complete a waste of time but really an insult.

  • Andreas

    To banev:

    Carroll writes: ” I mentioned Craig once before, and here we can see him in action. ” You can press a link Carroll has put under “once before”, and read a blog entry from April last year, where Carroll talks about Lane Craigs debate with Krauss.

    Here, among other things, Carroll writes: “We should be good at presenting our arguments, and ready to do so. Craig is wrong about many things, but he’s not an out-and-out crackpot like Hugh Ross or Ken Ham. A good debate could be very interesting and helpful to thoughtful people who haven’t yet made up their minds.”

    I agree with Carroll when he writes this, so what has changed from April last year to September this year?

    Secondly, even if Lane Craig was a Christian fundamentalist of the worst sort, that has absolutely nothing to do with the cosmological arguments he puts forth.


  • C

    And still I ask, “What does Dr. Carroll say to WLC’s reply?”

  • altair


    Yes, I agree. I would very much like to see Dr. Carroll’s response to WLC’s reply (fuller version posted at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/sean-carrolls-reply-to-the-rf-podcast), particularly regarding the import of the BGV theorem. I don’t think Dr. Carroll can leave that hanging without readers concluding that Craig is correct about that.

  • David

    I am just amazed at how modern scientists think that simply because they are physicists or biologists or whatnot, they are also fine philosophers by default.

    The level of hubris never stops to amaze me. Just watch a couple of debates with W.L.Craig with any scientist, and see how filled are the scientists’ arguments with, say, genetic fallacies. No wonder these scientists make no major discoveries in science. Leibniz observed quite rightly when he said that he didn’t expect a person to make major discoveries in math if math is all that person does.

    Until modern scientists learn to do good philosophy (and for that they, obviously, first need to learn philosophy), the world will be stuck with incremental discoveries in science, and small, evolutionary advancements in technology.

  • Killjoy

    At best philosophy is just formalised common sense. Usually it leaves out the common sense.

    I would, however, like to see Carroll’s counter response to Craig’s response. Better yet I would like to see a debate between Craig and Carroll. Somebody must be able to defeat Craig in a debate. It can’t be that hard.

  • dexitroboper

    Until modern scientists learn to do good philosophy (and for that they, obviously, first need to learn philosophy), the world will be stuck with incremental discoveries in science, and small, evolutionary advancements in technology.

    [citation needed]

  • http://theaunicornist.com Mike D

    The “eternal cosmologies based on quantum mechanics” so easily imagined by Prof. Carroll are not, in fact, tenable; but his unsuspecting readers would not know that.

    You gotta love the sheer hubris of a theologian lecturing a Caltech physicist on what constitutes a tenable theory of cosmology, particularly in light of the fact – pointed out by Carroll in the original post – that absent a working theory of quantum gravity, we’re not really in a position to make too many assumptions about the origin of the universe in the first.

  • NM

    Mike, go back and read WLC’s point again.

  • altair

    Mike D: “You gotta love the sheer hubris of a theologian lecturing a Caltech physicist on what constitutes a tenable theory of cosmology…”

    Since Blackwell has vouched for both Carroll’s and Craig’s qualifications by publishing them on these topics, I don’t think the issue can be closed down just by citing Dr. Carroll’s credentials (particularly since this is an area where cosmology and philosophy overlap). Craig’s post needs a substantive response, so that if he is wrong on the scientific consensus regarding eternal cosmologies, or the import of the BGV theorem, we can see an argument to that effect.

  • Cosmology ftw!

    I look up to both of Carroll and Craig, and am myself very interested in cosmology and philosophy. I want to study astronomy/physics when I finish high school, and I read alot of cosmology books on my free time. And one of the questions that got me interested was the question of whether the Universe had a beginning or not, and if this may have philosophical implications. I now think cosmology warrants the view that the Universe, as Vilenkin says, probably had a beginning. I, personally, think this has theistic implications, and have made videos and written about it.

    First, to those here trying to dismiss either Craig or Carroll — just stop. Carroll and Craig are both really smart people who know what they’re talking about. I will admit that I’m biased, as a theist who thinks cosmology warrants the view that the Universe has a finite past, but to those claiming that Craig doesn’t know what he is talking about regarding cosmology and doesn’t cite papers, well here, let’s look first at one footnote in one section of a book he co-authored with Quentin Smith (Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology), published by Oxford University Press. Craig do cite sources and can handle at least some of the math involved in cosmology:

    “There has been some controversy over the value of the red-shifts as distance indicators. (For a synopsis of the debate, consult George B. Field, Halton Arp, and John N. Bahcall, The Redshift Controversy, Frontiers in Physics (Reading, Mass.: W. A. Benjamin, 1973). A lucid history of the dispute may also be found in Daniel Weedman, ‘Seyfert Galaxies, Quasars and Redshifts’, Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, 17 (1976), 227 – 62.) Pointing to various discrepancies in the ref-shift data, especially those from quasi-stellar objects (QSOs), some have argued that some other factor may account for the observed red-shifts. But the weight of the evidence supports the expansion hypothesis. Bahcall enumerates siz observational tests which the theory of red-shifts has passed, as well as three successful predictions of the theory. (Field et al., The Redshift Controversy, 77 – 9, 108.) According to Lang and his colleagues, the uncertainty concerning QSO red-shifts is due to small sampling, and the QSO slope, when correctedm us cinoarable to that of galaxies. (Kenneth R. Lang, Steven D. Lord, James M. Johanson, and Paul D. Savage, ‘The Composite Hubble Diagram’, Astrophysical Journal, 202 (1975), 583 – 90.)

    The discrepancies of red-shifts among closely related stars, moreover, do not suffice to overturn the Doppler effect theory, according to P.C. Joss, D.A. Smith, and A.B. Solinger, ‘On Apparent Association among Astronomical Objects’, Astronomy and Astrophysics, 47 (1976), 461 – 2- See also D. Willis and R.L. Ricklefs, ‘On the Redshift Distrivution of Quasi-stellar Objects’, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 175 (1976), 65p – 70p; M. Rowan-Robinson, ‘Quasars and the Cosmological Distance Scale’, Nature, 262 (1976), 97 – 101; Richard F. Green and Douglas O. Richstone, ‘On the Reality of Periodicities in the Redshift Distribution of Emission-Line Objects’, Astrophysical Journal, 208 (1976), 639 – 45. In the early autumn of 1976 an international astronomical conference held in Paris devoted itself largely to a debate of the red-shift controversy. The resylts of this important conference are published in the International Astronomical Union Colloquium, 37, Déclages vers le rouge et expansion de l’universe (Paris: Edition de Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1977). According to Peebles, there is no serious competitor to the expansion hypothesis, and he lists seven points in favour of an expanding universe: (1) the red-shifts from galaxies, (2) the frequency shifts of radio lines, (3) the fact that Hubble’s law fits a homogeneous and isotropic universe, (4) the harmony of theory and observation, (5) the fact that the Hubble time coincides with the age of stars and the elements, (6) the presence of the black body background radiation, and (7) the fact that relativistic corrections to stellar magnitudes brings these into harmony with the theory. (Peebles, Physical Cosmology, 25 – 7.) Most of these points will be explained later, but this seems the best place to list them all.”

    (W.L. Craig in Craig, W.L. & Smith, Q. (1995) Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology, Oxford University Press, pp. 37 – 38)

    “(. . .) In the metric for spacetime, the spatial geometry is dynamic over time:

    ds² = – dt² + R(t) (dr² + r²(dθ² + sin²θdΦ²))/(1 + kr²/4)²

    In this equation, called the Robertson-Walker line element, t represents
    cosmic time, the proper time of a fundamental observers. It is detached
    from space and serves to render space dynamic. The geometry of space is
    thus time-dependent. The factor R(t) determines that all spatial structures
    of cosmic proportions, for example, a triangle demarcated by three galactic
    clusters or fundamental particles, will either shrink or stretch through
    the contraction or expansion of space, in this case into a similar smaller
    or larger triangle. The boundary condition of homogeneity precludes other
    geometrical changes such as shear, which would preserve the area but not
    the shape of the triangle. The condition of isotropy further precludes that
    the triangle should be altered in such a way as to preserve both its area
    and shape while nonetheless undergoing a rotational change of direction.
    Thus, in a Friedmann universe there are certain natural symmetries related
    to the dynamic geometry which serve as markers for the foliation of spacetime
    and the assigning of a cosmic time parameter. Of course, there are other
    cosmological models which do not involve homogeneity and isotropy and so may
    lack a cosmic time altogether. Cosmic time is thus not normologically necessary,
    and its actual existence is an empirical question.

    Secondly, cosmic time is fundamentally parameter time and only secondarily
    coordinate time. Physical time can be related in two quite different ways
    to the manifold in which motion is represented. If it is part of that manifold,
    then it functions asa coordinate. If it is external to that manifold, then it
    functions as a parameter. In Newton’s physics time functioned only as a parameter.”

    (Craig, W.L. (2001) God, Time, and Eternity, Kluwer Academic Publishers, p. 209)

    The only reason I’m quoting him is because I’m tired of hearing comments to the effect that he, as a philosopher, has not read up on cosmology. He is quite involved with physics, especially with cosmology and relativity, as that has bearings on the philosophy of time, and the question of whether the Universe may have had a beginning or not. In terms of philosophy of time, the atheist philosopher Quentin Smith, who have also worked in the philosophy of physics and cosmology, writes about one of Craig’s books,

    “William Lane Craig is one the leading philosophers of religion and one of the leading philosophers of time. In this book, he combines his expertise in these areas to produce an original, erudite, and accessible theory of time and God that will be of great interest to both the general public and scholars. It is a rewarding experience to read through this brilliant and well-researched book by one of the most learned and creative thinkers of our era.”

    But you may dismiss him as ‘simply a philosopher’. Well, the quantum cosmologist Don Page, which I think is a friend of Carroll, have written this about Craig,

    “Although my philosophical predilections often differ from Dr. Craig’s (as they do from those of everyone else I know), I have found that he is very knowledgeable about science and current cosmological ideas. He provides interesting insights into their implications for our shared Christian beliefs.”

    Or why not take the prominent cosmologist George F.R. Ellis (who is a big inspiration to me when thinking about cosmology. I enjoy his papers and lectures very much), who like Smith liked the same book;

    “The nature of time is a continuing source of puzzlement both to science and in everyday life. It is also an important issue in theological understandings of the nature of God. In this interesting book, Professor Craig tackles this complex set of topics in a clear way. His discussion of the interrelated scientific, philosophical, and theological issues clears up many previous misconceptions and proposes a plausible understanding of the relation of God to time and eternity that many will find helpful.”

    George F.R. Ellis in specific, along with the cosmologists Kirchner and Stoeger, even cites two of Craig’s books in a paper that partially addresses problems with actualized infinities. They write,

    “Finally, it is worth emphasizing that actual physically realized infinities lead
    to a variety of apparently irresolvably paradoxical, if not contradictory results
    (see Craig 1993) in thought experiments, such as those involving adding to
    and borrowing books from a really infinite library, or putting up new guests in
    an already fully occupied hotel of an infinite number of rooms. In fact, just
    the notion of a completed infinite set seems to underlie some of the disturbing
    paradoxes of set theory (see Craig 1993 for a brief discussion and references).”

    (Ellis, Stoeger, Kirchner (2006) Multiverses and Cosmology: Philosophical Issues, p. 17: http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0407329)

    A reference to two of Craig’s books can be found in the references of the paper.

    Call me whatever you want. I’m just tired of stupid claims that Craig does not know much about cosmology, or that Craig should be silent on the topic as a philosopher. He knows quite a bit of cosmology, and especially for not being a physicist/astronomer.

    Putting that aside now, I think we can focus on the arguments themselves, and not whether this or that person have the right to talk about a specific topic.

  • Blathering Blathiscope

    Ed: Agnostics are cowards?

    With 100,000,000,000 stars in a galaxy, and around 100,000,000,000 galaxies in a universe thats over 13,000,000,000 years old, and possibly just one of billions of universes, for anyone to suggest an orbiting teapot doesn’t or hasn’t existed is just plain absurd.

    I would suggest your position is the untenable one, a position born of arrogance.

    We know of one world that contains life. We are unable to see any other world that contains life, we can’t contact other galaxies, we can’t contact other universes (if they exist) and don’t know what took place before the big bang.

    Cowardly? I would suggest its the only reasonable answer.

    The emails Sean got is a direct window into arrogance, hate and intolerance practiced by those who profess a loving God.

    I would further suggest that I lean towards the non existence of God, because if there was a God I’m pretty sure he would have struck down most televangelists with wrathful lightening.
    Starting with the faith healers who steal money from the ignorant.

    see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_scandals_involving_evangelical_Christians

    Finally, if there is a God, an omnipresent all seeing all knowing omnipotent God, I’m pretty sure he could make his presence known without having to resort to poor likeness of a bearded mans face on a grilled cheese sandwich.

    I would also think he could stop babies from dying of cancer or dying from a thousand other things.

  • NM

    Bnlathering, it doesn’t matter how many universes there are. There could be 100000000000000000000000000000^10000 universes for all we know. The problem, though, is that they all still require a beginning. Even Dr. Craig himself has said that it’s possible we are in a multi-verse and he has no problem with that theory. As Dr. Vilenkin/Craig/Ellis/etc and others have stated, they all still require a beginning.

  • Ryan Ashton

    Dr. Carroll writes:

    “…some things happen for ‘reasons,’ and some don’t, and you don’t get to demand that this or that thing must have a reason. Some things just are.”

    That may very well be true, but, as Dr. Craig points out in his 3rd podcast, this is only so for metaphysically necessary entities. So far as I can tell, Carroll hasn’t explicitly endorsed the proposition that the universe is metaphysically necessary (the way some abstract objects or God is a metaphysically necessary entity). If this is so, then the principle of sufficient reason applies (again, as Craig eloquently discusses) in order to give an account of the origin and existence of the universe. It would certainly be convenient for Carroll to consider the principle of sufficient reason “optional”; convenience, however, is not a luxury serious epistemology provides for.

    Speaking of seriousness, I wish to record for Dr. Carroll that no serious thinker will ever be impressed by argumentum ad hominem. Students of this debate have long grown tired and numb by relentless efforts to attack William Lane Craig’s character in place of his carefully developed arguments. I can’t for the life of me understand why someone of your credentials would ever publish a personal attack in response to a qualified critique of your work. Having recorded this observation, I will go on to say that a carefully constructed response to Dr. Craig’s objections would still be well-received by the serious thinkers amongst us. Many, including myself, would surely profit from such a move on your part.

  • http://blog.noctua.org.uk/ Paul Wright

    > It would certainly be convenient for Carroll to consider the principle of sufficient reason “optional”; convenience, however, is not a luxury serious epistemology provides for.

    Carroll’s quoted statement looks like he does not accept the PSR. So why should Carroll accept the it? So he can be considered a “serious” epistemologist?

    > no serious thinker will ever be impressed by argumentum ad hominem

    As a way of avoiding Craig’s substantive arguments, I agree that saying “Craig is not an expert, he’s a cherry picker” is unacceptable. But Carroll has tried to address some of those arguments.

    Craig’s fond of ad hom statements himself (“when a person refuses to come to Christ it is never just because of lack of evidence or because of intellectual difficulties: at root, he refuses to come because he willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God’s Spirit on his heart” and so on), though he does not generally use them in debates in front of the undecided, just as a way to shore up Christians against changing their minds when worrying about why their atheist friends are not convinced by their terribly compelling arguments. Still, I think that sort of thing, plus his previous statements about reason and the Holy Spirit, might lead some not to consider him a serious epistemologist.

    Anyway, I think that it’s acceptable to point out that someone is filtering the evidence as a warning that listeners need to research further rather than take what they say as gospel (but not as fully general argument against people you don’t like). The key phrase to google is “What Evidence Filtered Evidence?”

  • Ryan Ashton

    You are correct, Mr. Wright, that Dr. Carroll does not have to accept the PSR. This would purchase him the ability to assert some brute facts as givens, but this does come at a steep cost: How to avoid the problem of arbitrariness. Dr. Carroll writes in his article Does the Universe Need God? the following:

    “States of affairs only require an explanation if we have some contrary expectation, some reason to be surprised that they hold. Is there any reason to be surprised that the universe exists, continues to exist, or exhibits regularities? When it comes to the universe, we don’t have any broader context in which to develop expectations” (11).”

    At first glance, this doesn’t actually seem to be an outright denial of the PSR, though it may be said to be a weaker form of it. I think it is fair to interpret this statement as a sympathetic attitude toward at least the sentiment behind the PSR on Carroll’s part. If that is so, I don’t think we can excuse him of the burden to defend his position on the origin of the universe by accepting his claim that it “just is.”

    Considering his line of demarcation over demand for reasons–the degree of surprise within a state of affairs–I think there is good grounds for resisting his conclusion. He says we don’t have any broader context in which to develop expectations about the origin and existence of the universe. On the contrary, though, we do have a broader context in which to develop expectations: namely, modal reasoning. This is to say, we can entertain concepts of necessary and possible existence. Given that the universe exists, it is an open question whether it exists only possibly or necessarily. If the former is true, then it is, contra Carroll, surprising that it exists. If it is the latter, then it is not surprising. Thus, unless Carroll defends the view that the universe is a necessarily existing entity, his own standard appears to require an explanation on his part of why it exists rather than not. If he does in fact hold that the universe is a necessarily existing entity, it would be helpful if he would say so unequivocally to clear up any confusion.

    Finally, Mr. Wright, even if we grant that Dr. Craig is guilty of argumentum ad hominem (though it’s not obvious to me that the quote you mention is ad hominem, at least not the abusive variety, even though I disagree with Craig’s quoted statement), that doesn’t excuse Dr. Carroll’s use of it in the least. All that would show is that two men are guilty of poor argumentation rather than just one.

  • James Gallagher

    I can’t speak for others, but the reason I wouldn’t agree to a pubic debate with silly people, is because it would be like arguing with a panda.

  • John

    Sean is a man who is constantly arguing with himself.
    He knows he’s spinning in circles, disregarding the obvious, and fighting against his own colleagues to prove a point he’s not even good at making.

    The worst part of it all is how utterly infantile he is–as if he is back in the HS lunch room getting apple sauce smooshed in his hair again. Now the former dungeons and dragons grand wizard has a little band of followers with little more than a degree in nosepicking to make him feel special when all he really is is a sad lonely man waiting on oblivion with a boyish smile all because his puny mind cannot see Reality is not some scribble on his notepad.

    Let is know how that notepad plays out when you encounter the One you fought your whole life to belittle.

  • Me

    When I see him, I’ll explain quantum gravity, if I can remember it Myself.

  • Joebevo

    For most of the article, you’re using a strawman’s God, one that can be treated as a hypothesis, and emphatically answer that the universe does not need such a God. You may be right, but don’t you think that you’ve missed the point?

    I’m glad you say “It is certainly conceivable that the ultimate explanation is to be found in God; but a compelling argument to that effect would consist of a demonstration that God provides a better explanation (for whatever reason) than a purely materialist picture, not an a priori insistence that a purely materialist picture is unsatisfying.” Firstly, there are plenty of apologetics resources on the web that can dissuade you of your hardcore materialistic outlook, if only you had an open mind. Secondly, in the Christian tradition, one can only give you good reasons for why God exists, and why materialism isn’t the complete picture. To know the whole story you have to sign up and become a believer.

    The problem with your perspective is that you assume that knowledge only comes through dispassionate reason. But knowledge also comes through experience.

  • Pingback: Is Science Removing the Need For God? « Baker Book House Church Connection()

  • Martin

    So refreshing to read the diatribes of “open minded” people.

  • dovhenis

    God and religion notwithstanding…:

    Graviton’s Energy-Mass Dualism

    Everything in the dictionary and in the universe – nouns and verbs objects and processes – originate and
    derive from the energy-mass dualism, from the ongoing constant rate conversion of mass to energy, from the ongoing resolution-release of inert gravitons, mass, leaving the clusters of the fractured seed of the universe, singularity, and becoming energy, mass in motion.

    The Graviton’s energy-mass dualism derives from its gravity, self-attraction, and its compactness.

    the propensity of the gravitons – the elementary particles of the mass of the universe – to return to their singularity state of zero motion, of compacted zero inter-particle distance.

    the default particle’s size and shape that enable zero inter-particle distance at singularity.

    This, commonsensically, is the matrix of the universe.

    Dov Henis (comments from 22nd century)
    Energy-Mass Poles Of The Universe

    Life is the obvious manifestation of energy-mass dualism. The sun’s energy, i.e. fast-moving mass particles, convert into slow-moving temporary mass formats… DH


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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .


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