Tuesday, December 29, 2009

How Muhammad Got His Revelation

I know it's offensive, and I'm sure there are inaccuracies, but holy crap this is funny!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Richard Lewontin on Materialism

"We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door."

- Richard Lewontin

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Scientific Naturalism Refutes Itself


Scientific Naturalism: The natural world is all there is and one should only believe what can be scientifically proven.

Think about the claim that the natural world is all there is. This is a form of atheism, but I cannot imagine how one could scientifically prove atheism. Since science only studies the natural world, how could science possibly prove that there is nothing beyond the natural world. The only way the naturalist could hold this would be by faith, but that would contradict his position that one should only believe what can be scientifically proven.

Consider the second claim that one should only believe what can be scientifically proven. This claim is demonstrably false. It is too restrictive. There are all sorts of truths that we all rationally accept but cannot be scientifically proven. For example, logical and mathematical truths, metaphysical truths like "the external world is real", ethical truths, aesthetic truths, and finally...scientific truths. Science is permeated with unprovable assumptions. For example, the theory of relativity is based on the assumption that the speed of light is constant between any two points in a one way direction. This is unprovable, yet one has to hold to it in order to believe in general relativity.

Worse than that, the naturalist claim "one should only believe what can be scientifically proven" itself cannot be scientifically proven. Therefore, this view is self-refuting.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Dear World

This pretty much sums up my view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Moral Argument

Disclaimer: There is very little that can be known with absolute certainty. Logical and mathematical proofs might be among them, but almost any proposition can be shot down with enough hyperskepticism. I could deny many propositions that virtually everyone else would agree are true; that other minds exist, that the outside world is real, that George Washington was the first US President. While there is no absolute proof that these things I might be trying to deny are true, there is good reason to believe them, because the evidence better supports them than it supports their negations.

Deductive logic operates on deriving a conclusion from premises. If each premise is more plausible than its negation, and the connection between the premises and the conclusion is valid, then the conclusion follows logically and inescapably.

Here are the Big Four arguments in natural theology and what they attempt to demonstrate:

Kalam Cosmological Argument: There cannot be an actually infinite number of past events, therefore, matter cannot be eternal. There was a first event. The first event had to be caused. The cause for the first event had to be uncaused, nonphysical and had to have the properties of volition and causal potency

Teleological Argument
: That from which reality came had to possess intelligence, volition, and causal potency

Ontological Argument
: That which is greater than anything that can be conceived actually exists in all possible worlds

Moral Argument: Objective morality exists, and that from which objective morality came had to possess the property of morality

So far, we have been looking at philosophical and scientific reasons for believing in God. This is an ethical argument, and a comparatively simple argument, a favorite of Ravi Zacharias. It grabs people where they live, because every day as you live, you make moral choices. Therefore, every day, by your behavior, you answer this argument.

The Moral Argument

Premise 1: If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
Premise 2: But objective moral values do exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.

Premise 1: If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist

"Morality is a biological adaptation, no less than our hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says 'love thy neighbor as thyself' they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction and any deeper meaning is illusory."
-Michael Ruse

Objective Moral Values - Moral values that are valid and binding regardless of whether anyone believes in them or not.

For example, to say that the holocaust was objectively evil is to say that it was evil even thought the Nazis who had carried it out thought that it was good. And it would still be evil even if the Nazis had won World War II and had succeeded in killing or brainwashing all who disagreed with them, so that everybody thought that the holocaust was good.

Many theists and atheists alike will agree that if God does not exist, then moral values cannot be objective.

Consider what naturalism (there is nothing but atoms and the void) says: What foundation is there for objective moral values? More specifically: What is the basis for the objective value of human beings? If God does not exist as a transcendent anchor point for moral values, then it is hard to see why human beings would be special or that the morality that has evolved among human beings would be objectively binding.

Why think that we would have any obligations to do anything? Who or what would impose these obligations upon us? On naturalism, we are just products of biological and social evolution and the values that we embrace today are simply byproducts of this system of evolution.

"Ethics arises from the pressures of the community on the individual. Man does not always instinctively feel the desires which are useful to his herd. The herd, being anxious that the individual should act in its interests, has invented various devices for causing the individual's interest to be in harmony with that of the herd. One of these is morality"
-Bertrand Russell

If you were to rewind the film of evolutionary history, very different creatures might have evolved from the blind process of evolution that might have had very different values than those that we have today.

Michael Ruse asked the question "Is rape wrong on Andromeda?" He imagines that there might be a race of individuals living on the galaxy of Andromeda for whom rape is not thought to be wrong. Rape goes on all the time in the animal kingdom, and can be biologically advantageous, as the male who is willing to use force to spread his progeny is more likely to reproduce than the male who is not. Rape in the animal kingdom has evolutionary and biological advantage.

The problem is: on naturalism, we are just animals, just relatively advanced primates, and to say anything to the contrary is to be guilty of species-ism. If animals are not moral agents, then why think that we are?

"The central question about moral and ethical principles concerns their ontological foundation (foundation in reality). If they are neither derived from God nor anchored in some kind of transcendent ground, are they purely ephemeral?"
-Paul Kurtz

Richard Taylor invites us to imagine people living in a state of nature without any laws or customs. Let's suppose one of them kills another and takes his goods. Taylor says that this would have no more moral significance than if one animal killed another and took something that another animal had. A lion can kill a zebra, but does not murder it. Murder is a human value. A seagull may snatch a fish from the talons of another seagull, but it doesn't steal the fish. Stealing is a moral term. For people living in a state of nature, Taylor says that the same thing applies. We may take another's goods, but there is no such thing as murder or stealing, because those are just sociological constructs that only exist in our collective imagination.

Friedrich Nietzsche argued that the death of Christianity and the death of belief in God meant the advent of nihilism, meaning the absence of any value or meaning in life. This is not to say that we need to believe in God to live good moral lives, but that in a Godless universe, the idea of any sort of objective value or meaning is as incoherent as the idea of a married bachelor.

Many philosophers are uneasy with this moral anarchy and pick something like human beings to be the locus of morality. Perhaps whatever contributes to the flourishing of human beings or to the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people or to human prosperity is the good. This would be the value of humanists, who believe objective moral values come from humans and that man is the measure of all things. The problem with these attempts to salvage objective morality in the absence of God is that these thinkers are typically at a loss to justify their starting point. If we are just relatively advanced primates, why should we be the judges of moral values? Why should human flourishing be the standard of morality, rather than the flourishing of some other animal? This is species-ism, believing that your race stands out as something special.

As an illustration Walter Sinnott-Armstrong said about premise 1: "If God did not forbid rape, what make rape immoral objectively? This question is supposed to be hard for atheists to answer...What makes rape immoral is that rape harms the victim in terrible ways. The victim feels pain, loses freedom, feels subordinated, and so on. These harms are not justified by any benefits to anyone. What's immoral about causing serious harms to people without justification? Animals do this all the time. Forcible sexual copulation goes on all the time in the animal kingdom. What's wrong with causing harm? It simply is, objectively, don't you agree?"

When it comes to justifying his own moral standard, all Sinnott-Armstrong could say is: It is just wrong. There isn't any explanation why it is.

Of course I agree that it is objectively wrong, but as a theist I have a basis for that in my worldview with a God who transcends culture, society, and biological evolution. If that God does not exist, then on the atheistic view, why would rape be morally, objectively wrong?

Under the atheistic worldview, is there anything that can function as an objective standard for morals? Some have suggested some sort of non-divine transcendent anchor for moral values. I might call this "atheistic moral realism" where objective moral values are not grounded in God but just exist as abstract objects, such as the number 7. I am not sure what it even means for such values to exist as these Platonic forms. What is justice without a person to be just? I understand what it is like for a person to be just, or an action to be just, but how can justice exist independently of any person or action?

I also think that the idea of moral duty is incompatible with atheistic moral realism. Let's suppose that moral values such as mercy, justice, and love exist as abstract objects in some Platonic form. How does that result in any moral obligation for me? Who or what imposes that kind of duty on me? How does the existence of these abstract objects result in any sort of reason for me to follow them. I assume that on this view that other abstract values exist such as lust, envy, and greed. Why should I follow love and justice and not lust and greed? What obligates me to align my life with one set of abstractions and not another set?

It is easy for the theist to believe in being obligated to follow certain moral values, as it is constituted by God's command (divine command morality). You shall not murder. You shall not steal. In light of these moral commandments, we have a duty to live in a moral way. In the absence of a divine lawgiver, I do not see any grounds for moral obligation or moral duty even given the existence of these abstract options called moral values.

It is also extraordinarily improbable that just those sort of creatures would emerge from the blind, pitiless, indifferent process of evolution that would correspond to these abstractly existing moral values and principles. Why should this process produce just this type of creature that is in line with this objective system of morality. It's as if this realm knew that these creatures were coming, but it cannot know this on a naturalistic worldview. By contrast, on the view that God exists, both the natural realm, and the moral realm are under the sovereignty of God so that God could develop those sorts of creatures which would correspond to objectively existing moral values.

Hence, there is no reason for objective moral values to exist on the atheistic worldview. Everything would be socio-culturally relative. But...

Premise 2: Objective moral values do exist.

And we all know it.

Our belief in objective moral values is on par with our belief that the physical world is real. Any argument that you could give about being skeptical about the objectiveness of moral values, you could give a parallel argument about being skeptical about the reality of the physical world.

What about the arguments from Michael Ruse that morals are just the byproducts of socio-biological evolution, that they are ingrained that way? Such an argument commits the genetic fallacy, which tries to invalidate something by explaining how that thing came about. If someone said to you "the only reason you believe the world is round instead of flat is that you were born in modern times where this is the popular view, therefore your view is invalid" it wouldn't invalidate your argument that the world is indeed round.

If our gradual discovery of the realm of moral values undermines its objectivity, then the gradual discovery of the physical realm by science undermines the objectivity of the physical realm as well. So long as moral values are gradually discovered rather than gradually invented, then they are objective. You can show that there are cultural and biological influences that shape how you view morality, and I can show that there are cultural and biological influences that shape how you view the physical world.

Interestingly enough, if there are no objective moral values, then it is not objectively wrong with forcing a set of moral values on others. Under moral relativism, It would not be objectively wrong for a government to take a set of religiously derived moral values, turn them into legislation, and force everyone to obey them under penalty of death. A moral relativist might find this situation unpleasant and object to it, but would have no grounds to call such a system objectively wrong.

In 2006, the state of Colorado passed an amendment to its constitution recognizing only a marriage between one man and one woman as valid and binding. In response Barbara Streisand called for a boycott of all ski resorts and vacation spots in Colorado saying that the moral climate in Colorado has become unacceptable. Notice that this is a moral judgment that an atheist cannot rationally make, as it accuses Colorado of committing an act of immorality.

What about the crusades by the medieval Church? On what grounds were they objectively wrong? The Crusaders and the bulk of Europe's population sincerely believed that they were doing the right thing. What about the Spanish Inquisition? The Salem Witch Trials?

The Andromeda Argument

Suppose there exists a civilization on Andromeda whose people are physically similar to us, but evolved a different set of moral intuitions. Let's say that they find rape to be an acceptable behavior. Who are we to say that our moral intuitions are superior to theirs?

Suppose that this race is far more technologically advanced than us, invades Earth, and takes over. They institute a law saying that rape is acceptable and begin to rape humans. On what grounds is their behavior wrong? The law of reciprocity (do not do to anyone what you wouldn't want done to you)? While the Andromedans don't like being raped by humans, they don't mind as long as they can return the favor. Do we object by saying that right and wrong is what the herd says it is? Why is our herd superior to theirs? What if they vastly outnumber us? What if there are hundreds or thousands of species of intelligent aliens on Andromeda, all of whom find rape to be morally acceptable?

If objective moral values do not exist, then being morally wronged is like eating broccoli flavored ice cream. You may not like it, but cannot call it wrong. You cannot object without asserting that objective moral values exist.


How do you know what is moral and what is not?

This is a question of moral epistemology (how you know things). This argument is from moral ontology (that the moral values exist). Even if no one knew what was moral or not, it does not follow that objective moral values do not exist.

What if you were in a situation where you had to either lie or let someone get killed? Doesn't that show that moral values are shaped by the situation?

No. Moral objectivists like myself believe in a moral hierarchy. Certain moral values take precedence over others.

You said that objective moral values exist independently of whether we apprehend them or not, then argue that we know them by apprehending them. Isn't this a contradiction?

No. The situation is the same with the physical world. It exists objectively, but we know it through our 5 subjective senses. Even science must be known through the senses, since science is a method of discovering reality through repeat observation. Just as we are sometimes wrong about the physical world, we can also be wrong about the moral realm. It does not make the moral realm subjective any more than differences in how we observe the outside world makes it subjective.

The Euthyphro Objection

As Socrates said in his dialogue with Euthyphro: "Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by God?" If the good is good because God commands it, then it is arbitrary. There is a possible world where God commands rape, murder, and child abuse, and it is good. On the other hand, if God commands it because it is good, then God is subservient to the good.

Such an objection is a false dilemma. The foundation of moral values lies in God's essential nature, a set of properties that is identical in all possible worlds. God's nature is the good and could not have been different. God's commands flow from His nature. God's nature defines the good, and God is by His nature loving, kind, just, and holy. God's nature is expressed toward us in the form of commandments. These then become our moral duties.

The good is neither arbitrary, nor is God subservient to it. But why God's nature? Because there is no other standard available! Without God, there are no objective moral values, so if they do exist, they must be grounded in God.

God is also an appropriate standard for morality as He is the only being that is worthy of worship. Any being unworthy of worship cannot be God. Worship is not just admiration, but adoration of God, the supreme good. As a being that merits worship, God must be perfectly good, the locus of what the good is.

Hence, objective morality exists, and that from which morality came had to possess the property of morality.

For further reading on this subject, the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology will be released in May of this year.
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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The XKCD Fallacy

I see this objection way too often when I discuss supernaturalism. Here is the problem with this line of argumentation.

Suppose a scientist mixes one gram of salt into a glass of water. A miracle occurs and the amount of salt in the water doubles. The scientist boils the water and finds out that two grams of salt remain. What will the scientist conclude from the experiment? Do you think he will conclude that a miracle occurred, or that, perhaps, he messed up the experiment and forgot to use de-ionized water?

Since science is blind to supernatural processes, using science to argue against the supernatural is reasoning in a circle.

Also, I would define a miracle not as a violation of the laws of physics but as an agent outside our universe (not created at the big bang) exercising causal impact on something in the universe.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Teleological Argument

Disclaimer: There is very little that can be known with absolute certainty. Logical and mathematical proofs might be among them, but almost any proposition can be shot down with enough hyperskepticism. I could deny many propositions that virtually everyone else would agree are true; that other minds exist, that the outside world is real, that George Washington was the first US President. While there is no absolute proof that these things I might be trying to deny are true, there is good reason to believe them, because the evidence better supports them than it supports their negations.

Deductive logic operates on deriving a conclusion from premises. If each premise is more plausible than its negation, and the connection between the premises and the conclusion is valid, then the conclusion follows logically and inescapably.

Here are the Big Four arguments in natural theology and what they attempt to demonstrate:

Kalam Cosmological Argument: There cannot be an actually infinite number of past events, therefore, matter cannot be eternal. There was a first event. The first event had to be caused. The cause for the first event had to be uncaused, nonphysical and had to have the properties of volition and causal potency

Teleological Argument
: That from which reality came had to possess intelligence, volition, and causal potency

Ontological Argument: That which is greater than anything that can be conceived actually exists in all possible worlds

Moral Argument: Objective morality exists, and that from which objective morality came had to possess the property of morality

Note before reading: To assert: “Just because we don't understand how all events in our universe could have happened through natural, physical means doesn't mean that we can appeal to the supernatural” begs the question. The existence and causal impact of the supernatural on the natural world is the very issue at stake. To argue:

All effects of the physical world are produced by physical causes.
Therefore, we will eventually find a way to explain all events through physical causes alone.
Therefore, all effects of the physical world are produced by physical causes.
Is circular reasoning.

The conventional wisdom is that the argument from design was destroyed by Darwin and his biological theory of evolution and the critiques of skeptics such as David Hume. In recent years, this argument has come roaring back because of the discovery that the initial conditions in the big bang itself
had to be very finely tuned in order to permit the existence of any sort of intelligent life.

The Teleological Argument:
Premise 1: The fine tuning of the initial conditions of the universe is due
to law, chance, or design
Premise 2: It is not due to law
Premise 3: It is not due to chance
Conclusion: The fine tuning of the universe is due to design

Background for the Teleological Argument
When I use the term "fine tuning" I do not presuppose design. That
would be arguing in a circle. By fine tuning, I mean that there are two
sorts of quantity of the initial conditions of the universe:
1. Certain constants of nature
2. Certain arbitrary quantities

Fine tuning means that if one of these quantities or constants had been altered in a small way, it would be impossible for any sort of intelligent life to exist.

When the laws of nature are expressed as mathematical equations, there are certain constants that are expressed. For example: To calculate the force of gravity between two objects, multiply the gravitational constant of the universe, G, by the product of the masses (m1+m2) and divide it by the square of the distance between them (d^2)

The gravitational constant, G, exists independently of the other laws of nature. There is no need for the value of G to be 6.67300 x 10^-11 It could be any other value and the laws of nature would still hold.

The arbitrary quantities include the amount of entropy in the universe, the expansion rate of the universe or the ratio between matter and antimatter.

What scientists have been stunned to discover is that many of these quantities have to be fine-tuned to an incomprehensibly precise range of values in order for the universe to permit the existence of any sort of intelligent life, carbon-based or otherwise. In fact, some of these constants have to be finely tuned for matter itself to exist!

If the weak force had been altered in one part in 10^100, that's a 1 with 100 zeroes after it, the very elements necessary for life could not exist. To give you a conceptual idea of those kinds of odds, a 1 in 10^60 chance would be like randomly launching a dart from some empty space just outside our galaxy and hitting a target one inch in diameter...at the edge of the known universe (20 billion light years).

And that's just one constant out of about a dozen fundamental constants.

How about a quantity? If the expansion rate of the universe was increased by one billionth of one percent, no stars or planets would form. The universe would be a dark void of cosmic dust. If the expansion rate was reduced by a billionth of one percent, it would have collapsed into a singularity long before any stars had a chance to form.

The other way is in which we can imagine the possible range that these quantities and constants might take. Think of a radio dial. For you to dial in the station of life-permitting ranges, imagine a dial the size of the known universe. You would have to dial into an area of 2.5 centimeters.

What about a universe that was governed by totally different laws of nature? Those are not relevant to this argument, because we are only talking about universes that are governed by our laws of nature. To illustrate: Imagine a blank piece of paper with a little red dot on it. That red dot represents our universe. Let's change some of these constants and that would give you a new universe. If it is life-permitting, give it a red dot. If it is life-prohibiting, give it a blue dot. Do it again and again and again, until the paper is filled with dots. You will have a sea of blue with only a few pinpricks of red. Any randomly thrown dart that hits the paper will almost certainly hit a blue dot.

Imagine a fly resting on a large blank area of the wall. If a bullet is fired and hits the fly, it would be reasonable to conclude the bullet was aimed, even if outside the large blank area, the wall was covered with flies.

To conclude that the universe is balanced on a razor's edge is a gross understatement, it's more like being balanced on a single line of quarks!

Premise 1: The fine tuning of the initial conditions of the universe is due
to law, chance, or design

As far as I know, all causes fall into one of these three categories, or a combination of the three. Why is the sun round? Law (also known as necessity). Why did the lottery turn up a certain number yesterday? Chance. Why does the device on which you are reading this appear the way it does? Design.

Premise 2: It is not due to law

The idea that these quantities and constants appeared out of necessity is extraordinarily implausible, because it says that it is physically impossible for the universe to be life-prohibiting. However, it seems
plausible that the expansion rate of the universe could have been a little more or less, that the ratio of matter to antimatter could have been different, or that the entropy had been slightly different. The difference in any one of these quantities would have created a life-prohibiting universe. This objection bears an extraordinary burden of proof of why these quantities necessarily have to be as they are. Of course you could resort to pure speculation that these quantities might be fixed, and I could speculate
that the universe began five minutes ago with the appearance of age, or that I am a brain in a vat. There
needs to be some sort of evidence that every single one of these fundamental constants and quantities could not have been different, and there simply isn't any.

And even if every single one of the constants, such as the strength of gravity, electromagnetism, the strong force, the weak force, and the cosmological constant could be explained by the theory of everything, it still does not explain the quantities such as the ratio of matter to antimatter, the expansion rate of the universe, and the low entropy.

To quote PCW Davies: "Even if the laws of physics were unique, it does not follow that the physical universe itself is unique. The laws of physics must be augmented by some cosmic initial conditions. There is nothing in present ideas about laws of initial conditions remotely to suggest that their consistency with the laws of physics would imply uniqueness, far from it. It seems, then, that the physical universe does not have to be the way it is. It could have been otherwise"

It is important to understand what the term "theory of everything" means. It is not literally a theory that would explain everything, it is a catchy way of speaking about a unified theory of physics that would explain that the four fundamental forces (gravity, electromagnetism, atomic strong force, weak force) are all manifestations of a single force. Even if such a theory were discovered, it would not explain the cosmological constant, or the arbitrary quantities, such as the expansion rate of the universe. The best
candidate would come from string theory, an attempt to unify quantum physics with general relativity, reducing all matter to vibrating strings of energy. String theory itself involves fine-tuning, as string theory can only be formulated in 11 dimensions (m-theory). There is no explanation in the theory why reality would need to have exactly 11 dimensions. The fine-tuning of the four forces would be replaced with geometrical fine-tuning.

And it still does not explain the initial quantities.

Premise 3: It is not due to chance
The problem is that the odds of this happening are so incomprehensibly great that they cannot reasonably be explained this way. No reasonable person would ever adopt this alternative to explain some other improbability. No forensic investigator would look at a fingerprint in the victim's blood and
conclude "look how random chance caused a fingerprint that happens to match the fingerprint of our main suspect" It is true that fantastically improbable events happen. Therefore, it is not improbability alone that it significant. The key lies in specified improbability, that the event is improbable but
also conforms to an independently given pattern.

If you are playing cards, any deal of the cards is equally improbable, yet if someone continually dealt himself a perfect hand every time he dealt, you would know he was cheating, even though a perfect hand is just as improbable as any other hand.

What tips you off to design is when improbability conforms to an independently given pattern.

This shows the fallacy of responding to the argument with "every possible set of initial conditions and quantities is equally improbable. It's like winning the lottery. Any one person's winning the lottery is equally improbable, but somebody has to win it, so you shouldn't assume the lottery was rigged."

I'm not talking about the probability of any universe existing, or even this particular universe existing. I am talking about the probability of any life-permitting universe existing.

To use a more accurate lottery analogy, it would be like a lottery where 10^27 (one billion x one billion x one billion) black balls are mixed together with one white ball, and you are commanded to reach in and pull out a single ball. If the ball is black, you will be shot. If the ball is white, you will be allowed to live. While each ball is equally improbable, it will be overwhelmingly more probable that you will be dead. If you reach in and pull out a white ball, you would suspect that this lottery is rigged. What
if you had to pull out the white ball 5 times in a row?

When I say that an event arrives by chance, I am not saying that there is this force called "chance" that causes the event, or that the event is not determined by anything. Instead, it means that there may be two or more independent causal chains leading to the production of the event, and there isn't any relationship between the chains of events. In that sense, it means that the two independent causal chains happened to produce the same result. If you and I happened to meet by accident at the local Starbucks, and I say it was by chance. I am not saying that there is this thing called chance that determined us to meet there. I am saying that one set of events caused me to go there at such and such a time, and an unrelated set of events caused you to go there at the same time.

Anthropic Principle Objection
The Anthropic Principle states that we should not be surprised to find ourselves in such a finely tuned universe, because if the universe were not finely tuned, we would not be here to be surprised about it. Therefore, there is nothing to be explained. This appears to be Richard Dawkins' objection to this argument, and it is fallacious. The statement "we should not be surprised that we do not observe conditions in the universe that are incompatible with our existence" is a true statement. If conditions were incompatible with our existence, we probably would not be around to observe them. It does not follow from that statement that: we should not be surprised that we DO observe conditions compatible with our existence in light of the incredible improbability of those conditions existing.

Another way of saying it is "Why should these constants and conditions even exist in the first place?"

The Firing Squad Analogy
Imagine that you are visiting a banana republic country. You anger a relative of the dictator. The next day you are arrested and are sentenced to be executed. You are blindfolded and dragged before a firing squad. You hear the command: "Ready, aim, FIRE!" and then hear a series of clicks. The squad captain takes off your blindfold and you notice that of the 20 members of the firing squad, all of their guns jammed. Frightened, the dictator lets you go. When you return to America, you tell the news to a reporter who says "That's not surprising. If they killed you, you wouldn't be around to tell
me about it."

The Many Worlds Hypothesis
According to this hypothesis, our universe is just one member of a greater collection or ensemble of universes, which are real, actually existing, parallel (causally independent) universes. These are not just possible worlds, but actual universes. In order to ensure that our universe will appear, by chance, in this ensemble of universes, there has to be either:

1. An extraordinarily large number of these universes (like, Graham's number large) or
2. An actually infinite number of universes.

In either case, their constants and values must be randomly assigned, in order to make sure that life-permitting universes show up.

Here are four problems with both models:
1. Since these universes are unobservable, this hypothesis is neither less metaphysical nor more scientific than the hypothesis of a divine designer. John Polkinghorne said "People try to trick out a many worlds hypothesis in pseudo-scientific terms, but that's what it is: pseudo-science. It is a
metaphysical guess that there may be other universes with different laws and circumstances."

2. It is the ultimate violation of Occam's Razor, which states that causes should not be multiplied beyond necessity. It is simpler to posit one cosmic intelligence rather than many universes.

3. There is no explanation of how or why such a collection of universes should exist. Nobody knows where this world ensemble is supposed to have come from, why it exists, or why each universe would have random variables. Some scientists have tried to avoid the problem with an inflationary model
of the universe, like Andre Linde's chaotic inflationary model. In order to work, however, this inflationary model requires an extraordinary amount of fine-tuning itself. To quote Robert Brandenberger: "Linde's scenario does not address a crucial problem, namely, the cosmological constant problem. The field which drives inflation in Linde's scenario is expected to generate an unacceptably large cosmological constant which must be tuned to 0 by hand. This is a problem which plagues all inflationary universe models."

4. There is no evidence for the existence of a world ensemble. There isn't any independent reason to postulate it. By contrast, I believe we do have independent evidence for the existence of God. For example, the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the Moral Argument, and the Ontological Argument.

Many Worlds (large but finite) hypothesis
If there is an extremely large but finite number of universes, then what should we expect to observe? Obviously, all the life-prohibiting universes are ruled out, so that leaves us with the universes that produce intelligent life that can ask questions and observe what is going on. Other than that, the universe should be pretty ordinary. To use an example, suppose there was a party held for all the winners of the state lottery. Everyone who wins any money in the state lottery is invited to the party. Now you, being inexplicably star-struck by lottery winners, decide to walk up to a random individual and ask for an autograph. What are the odds that you will meet a big money winner? Very small indeed.

Back in the 19th century, there was a scientist in Germany named Ludwig Boltzmann, who was troubled by the problem of why we do not find the universe now existing in a state of heat death. According to the second law of thermodynamics, the universe will gradually use up all its energy until
it becomes a big hunk of inert, homogenized stuff. No stars, no chemical reactions. No activity. Why isn't the universe in this state already, if it is infinitely old? Boltzmann got around this by postulating a many worlds hypothesis. He believed that the universe as a whole does exist in a state of equilibrium, but by chance alone, there will appear fluctuations in this overall state of equilibrium which will produce pockets of disequilibrium. Boltzmann referred to these pockets as the many worlds. If our universe is just a fluctuation is this sea of equilibrium, then it is overwhelmingly more probable that we will be observing a much smaller area of disequalibrium than we do, namely, it would contain our star system and nothing else, or it might only contain a Boltzmann brain.

A parallel problem attends the many worlds hypothesis for explaining away the fine-tuning of the universe. According to the prevailing Darwinian model of evolution, intelligent life, if it will evolve at all, will do so as late as possible within the lifetime of its star. The less the amount of time available for the mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection to produce life, the more improbable life becomes. Given the complexity of the human organism, we should evolve as late as possible within the life cycle of our sun. John Barrow and Frank Tipler have listed in their book The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, ten steps (p 562-564) in the evolution of homosapiens each of which is so improbable that before it would occur, the sun would have ceased to be a main sequence yellow star and would have incinerated the Earth.

The Ten Steps

1. The development of DNA-based genetic code
2. The invention of aerobic respiration
3. The invention of glucose fermentation to pyruvic acid
4. The origin of autotropic photosynthesis
5. The origin of mitochondria
6. The formation of the centriole/kinetosome/undulipodia complex
7. The evolution of an eye precursor
8. The development of an endoskeleton
9. The development of chordates
10. The evolution of homo sapiens in the chordate lineage

Many Worlds (actually infinite) hypothesis
This is an utterly different scenario than the previous one. Infinity isn't just a large number, it is completely different. In an infinite number of universes, there are an infinite number of universes like this one. There are an infinite number of universes almost like this one, where perhaps, there is an extra oxygen molecule on Saturn. There would be an infinite number of universes that have greater differences, like a universe where you finish reading this post, walk out of this room, and get mauled by velociraptors.

Further, in an infinite multiverse, probabilities don't matter, because all possible events happen in some universe. There would be an infinite number of universes that do not contain the necessary conditions for intelligent life, but nonetheless contain it! Such observers are called "freak observers." Consider a random phenomenon, such as an evaporating black hole emitting Hawking radiation. When a black hole evaporates, there is an astronomically small but technically nonzero chance that it will emit an object such as a pair of shoes, a rock, chewing gum, or a human body, or a brain.

If all mental states are reducible to physical states, then there is a finite probability that any given brain will produce a certain mental state. One might be possessing the thought "I am a spontaneously materialized Boltzmann brain in an otherwise dead universe" while others might be experiencing illusory states "I am Spock" "I am Kaiser Sose" or "I am reading a blog on the Teleological Argument" Under such a hypothesis, it is logically consistent and rather likely that we are such freak observers.

It is also possible that there is no set of conditions which allows some orderly progression of a universe that leads to life. If this is the case, then all observers are freak observers. While an infinite multiverse must contain some freak observers, it need not contain any real observers. Perhaps there are no laws or constants at all. Perhaps there is only chaos, and out of that chaos, a brain pops out for a very brief period of time. Electricity, atoms, stars, planets, all you think you know could be an illusion.

Therein lies the problem with this line of thinking. Humans are extraordinarily capable of rational thinking, but once we abandon the first principles of metaphysics and fall for the brain in a vat theory, all rationality goes out the window. Once you follow the lure of hyperskepticism, it leads right into the trap of solipsism. Under the infinite multiverse scenario, we have to reason to expect or even think
about anything.

The Winn Brothers made a great video about this infinite universes hypothesis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wx4GZJpL8W0 For further reading on the infinite multiverse scenario, I'd recommend Anthropic Bias by Nick Bostrom

Ultimately, the many worlds hypothesis commits the inflationary fallacy of multiplying probabilistic resources without independent evidence. If there are many universes, then why are we not experiencing the absolute minimum conditions for intelligent life? If there is an infinite number of universes, then we fall into the trap of solipsism and abandon rationality entirely.

Who Designed the Designer?
This is a misunderstanding of the nature of explanation. In order to have a best explanation, you don't need an explanation of the explanation. Imagine a bunch of archaeologists are digging in the soil and find a bunch of arrowheads and tomahawks. They decide that the best explanation is that they have uncovered a village of a lost tribe. In order for that to be the best explanation, do you have to have an explanation of the tribe, who they were, how they got there? What if arrowheads were found on Mars? Same thing? What if some sort of machinery was found on the far side of the moon? If every explanation, in order to be valid, required an explanation of its own, then it would lead to an infinite regress of explanations. You'd need an explanation for the explanation for the explanation... and everything would be inexplicable.

Wouldn't the designer have to be more complex?
A common objection I see to this argument is that if the universe is so complex that it needs explanation, then how much more complex and in need of explanation is the designer?

First, this objection is making the claim that the designer is necessarily more complex than anything it designs. This isn't just a claim that designers are usually more complex than the things that they design, but that it is logically impossible for the designer to be less complex. In this case, the objector bears all the burden of proof, needing to show where the contradiction lies. On the face of it, there does not appear to be anything logically incoherent about the design being more complex than the designer.

Second, remember that the definition of God is: the greatest possible being. Such a being would be an unembodied mind, and such an entity does not seem that complex. It would have some complexity, such as memory, consciousness, and volition, but a mind would have to possess that in order to be a mind. In other words, it would possess that small amount of complexity by necessity.

Third, if divine simplicity is even possible, then there might not be any complexity to explain.

Finally, even if God is more complex than the universe, remember that there are three ways of explaining complexity: necessity, chance, and design. If God needs to be complex in order to be the greatest possible being, then His complexity would be due to necessity. In such a case, anything that would lack the necessary complexity would not be God.

Hence, it is reasonable to believe that from which reality came had to possess intelligence, volition, and causal potency.

For further reading on this subject, the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology will be released in May of this year.
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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

Disclaimer: There is very little that can be known with absolute certainty. Logical and mathematical proofs might be among them, but almost any proposition can be shot down with enough hyperskepticism. I could deny many propositions that virtually everyone else would agree are true; that other minds exist, that the outside world is real, that George Washington was the first US President. While there is no absolute proof that these things I might be trying to deny are true, there is good reason to believe them, because the evidence better supports them than it supports their negations.

Deductive logic operates on deriving a conclusion from premises. If each premise is more plausible than its negation, and the connection between the premises and the conclusion is valid, then the conclusion follows logically and inescapably.

Here are the Big Four arguments in natural theology and what they attempt to demonstrate:

Kalam Cosmological Argument: There cannot be an actually infinite number of past events, therefore, matter cannot be eternal. There was a first event. The first event had to be caused. The cause for the first event had to be uncaused, nonphysical and had to have the properties of volition and causal potency

Teleological Argument: That from which reality came had to possess intelligence, volition, and causal potency

Ontological Argument: That which is greater than anything that can be conceived actually exists in all possible worlds

Moral Argument: Objective morality exists, and that from which objective morality came had to possess the property of morality

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
2. The universe began to exist
The universe has a cause

Premise 1

Premise 1 is supportable both philosophically and scientifically. Philosophically, this is a first principle of metaphysics. Out of nothing, nothing comes. None of us believes that a raging Bengal tiger will pop into existence behind us and devour us while we try to read this post. No one believes that a piano will pop into existence 5 stories above their car and crush it. The idea of things popping into existence uncaused out of nothing is worse than magic. With magic, at least you have a magician and a hat! If things could could come into being uncaused out of nothing, then it is inexplicable why anything and everything doesn't just pop into being. Why doesn't a giant roll of $100 bills pop into my pocket out of nothing? I sure would like that!

Scientifically, this principle has been repeatedly verified and never been falsified. How could we even do science if things could just come into existence without a cause? Evolutionary biologists believe that all life evolved from a single-celled lifeform because they observe a pattern of fossils in the ground and similarities in the genetic code. If the fossils and genes could have come into existence without a cause, then all the evidence for evolution is undermined.

A common objection to this premise is that virtual particles seem to pop into existence out of nothing. This is part of quantum physics, which has a mathematical core, and many competing conceptual models. The Copenhagen interpretation states that particles appear out of a quantum vacuum, which is this sea of fluctuating energy, still governed by physical laws, not out of nothing. When quantum fields line up in a certain way, particles come into existence. This is no more mysterious than when I rearrange my fingers in a certain way, fists come into existence. The particles also cannot stay in existence any longer than the Heisenberg Indeterminacy Principle allows. To do so would violate physics.

Therefore, we have better grounds for believing Premise 1 than its negation.

But what about the universe itself? Premise 1 is not a physical principle, it is a metaphysical principle, "being cannot come from nonbeing" and applies to all of reality. You cannot dismiss this principle like a taxicab when you get to the origin of the universe itself. Prior to the big bang, there isn't even the potentiality of the universe existing, as there was no space or time in which for events to work.

Premise 2

There are two philosophical arguments and two scientific arguments for Premise 2

Philosophical Argument 1

An actually infinite number of things cannot exist.
A beginningless series of events involves an actually infinite number of things
Therefore, a beginningless series of past events cannot exist

An Actually Infinite Number of Things Cannot Exist
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Now, actual infinity, represented by aleph, is different than potential infinity, represented by the lazy eight. A potential infinite is a collection which is at every point, finite, but always growing toward infinity as a limit. It is finite at every point, but it grows, ceaselessly, without limit. It is used in calculus. By contrast, an actual infinite is a collection with an actual infinite number of members, which exceeds any natural number. It is not growing toward infinity, it is actually infinite.

The distance between any two points can be divided in half, and then in half again, on and on without limit. This is a potential infinite, not an actual infinite. To presuppose that any distance is composed of an actually infinite number of parts is begging the question.

In fact, if an actually infinite number of things could exist, it would violate the law of non-contradiction.

For example, if you could have an actually infinite number of things in reality, you could subtract various quantities from your infinite collection. Suppose we have the numbers, 1,2,3... to infinity. If we subtracted all of the odd numbers, we would have all of the even numbers. We have subtracted an infinite number of odd numbers from an infinite number of actual numbers, and we got an infinite number of even numbers. Infinity - infinity = infinity. What if we subtracted from this set all numbers greater than 4. We have four natural numbers left. Infinity - infinity = 3. You will any number you want, even though in each case, you have subtraced identical quantities from identical quantities. This is a self-contradiction, which is why in mathematics, you are prohibited from subtracting from actual infinity.

If an infinite number of things existed in reality, you could not prevent someone from taking some of them away. If I had an infinite number of marbles, I could give some to you. I could give you all the odd numbered marbles, or I could give you a few handfuls, or all of them. Self-contradictions will result.

This concept was developed by David Hilbert, one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century. He also demonstrated this absurdity with his paradoxical Hilbert Hotel.

The typical objection is that modern set theory proves that an actually infinite number of things can exist. Set theory states that an actually infinite number of natural numbers can exist in the set aleph-null. This is the typical refutation, and it collapses, because:

1. Not all mathematicians agree that actual infinites exist, even in the mathematical realm
2. Existence in the mathematical realm does not imply existence in the real world

When mathematicians say there are an infinite number of numbers in a set, they are postulating a realm of discourse, governed by certain arbitrarily adopted axioms and rules. There is no guarantee that all the axioms and rules are true in the real world.

3. The existence of an actually infinite number of things in the real world would violate the rules of set theory. Subtraction with infinite quantities leads to self-contradictions and therefore infinite set theory prohibits these kinds of operations. You cannot subtract or divide with these numbers because it leads to contradictions, but there is nothing preventing you from doing so in the real world.

A beginningless series of events involves an actually infinite number of things

This is pretty uncontroversial. A beginningless series of events is an actually infinite number of events. An event is a thing. Do I really need to defend it?

Philosophical Argument 2
This argument is wholly independent of Philosophical Argument 1, and does not presuppose it. It is based on the possibility of forming an actually infinite nubmer of things through successive addition.

An actually infinite collection of things cannot be formed by successive addition
The series of past events is a collection of things formed by successive addition
Therefore, the series of past events cannot be actually infinite

An actually infinite collection of things cannot be formed by successive addition, meaning adding one at a time, one after another.
This is called the impossibility of counting to infinity. No matter how high you count, you can always count one higher number. This is also called the impossibility of traversing, or crossing, the infinite. no matter how far you run, you can always take one more step.

Some people have responded to this argument by stating that you cannot form an actually infinite collection of things by beginning at a point and trying to reach infinity, but you can form an actually infinite collection of things by never beginning and ending at a point, but this would be like trying to count down all the negative numbers from negative infinity. It would be like forming an actual infinite by successive subtraction. There are deeper absurdities involved in this method of counting down the negative numbers.

Suppose we meet someone who claims to have finished counting down all the negative numbers, and has just finished today. We might as ourselves "why did he finish his countdown today? Why didn't he finish yesterday, or the day before?" If he has been counting down from infinity, there have been just as many days prior to yesterday as there were prior to today. If he is counting one number per minute, or per hour, given that there were an actually infinite number of hours prior to today as there were yesterday, or why didn't he finish counting down a trillion years ago, or any time in the finite past? At any point, an infinite amount of time would have passed. No matter how far back in the past, you will never find the person finishing. At any point your reach, the man would have already finished his countdown, but if at no point in the finite past, could you find the man finishing his countdown, then it is not true that he has been counting down from eternity.

Therefore, in modern set theory, any notions of successive addition has been done away with. In a set, all members are given simultaneously. They are not formed through successive addition or subtraction.

The series of past events is a collection of things formed by successive addition
The past is not given whole and entire. Events are formed sequentially, one after another. Nor are events formed by subtracting events from the present. Sometimes we speak of an infinite regress of events into the past. Technically, it is our minds that regress into the past, the events are not regressing. They are progressing. One event occurs after another in the direction of the future. The past is a collection of things formed by adding one event after another, until we have arrived at today.

If time had to traverse an actual infinite number of events, it would never get to today.

Scientific Arguments
The scientific arguments exist independently of the philosophical arguments do not presuppose them.

In 1917, Albert Einstein applied his general theory of relativity to cosmology. Einstein initially believed in a steady state theory of the universe. However, he noticed that his equations based on general relativity would not permit such a static universe. Alexander Friedman had used Einstein's formulas to predict that the universe is growing apart.

In 1929, Edwin Hubble, showed that the light emanating from distant galaxies appears redder than it should, because distant galaxies are moving away from us faster than galaxies closer to us. However, he noticed that every galaxy had a red shift. He had noticed the expansion of the universe. Also, according to general relativity, matter is not expanding into pre-existing space, but space itself is expanding. The galaxies are thought to be at rest relative to space, but the space in between the galaxies is stretching.

If you glue buttons to a balloon, and blow up the balloon, the buttons will become farther apart from one another. As you go back in time, everything gets closer and closer, until the entire universe is contracted down to a mathematical point, before which the universe did not exist. That initial point is called a singularity and represents the edge of space and time. On this view, the big bang represents the creation event of all the matter in the unvierse, but of space and time as well. This is now the controlling paradigm for contemporary cosmology. Under this model, the universe came into being at some point in the finite past.

As Barrow and Tipler emphasized: "At this singularity, space and time came into existence, literally nothing existed before the singularity. If the universe originated at such a singularity, we would have a creation ex nihilo."

Argument From Entropy
According to the second law of thermodynamics, processes taking place in a closed system tend toward states of higher entropy as their energy is used up. For example, if you placed a hot cup of water in a room, the heat will be dispersed from the water to the rest of the room until the water and the room reach the same temperature. You would not expect to place a cup of water that is room temperature into a room and come back an hour later to find that the water is now boiling hot.

What happens when the law is applied to the universe as a whole? The result is grim. Scientists believe that in time, the universe will use up all of its energy and become cold, dark and dead. All the stars will burn out, and then protons will decay into positrons and electrons until the universe is nothing but a thin gas that the distance between a positron and an electron will be the size of our present galaxy, growing ever more dilute as it expands into the infinite darkness.

If in a finite amount of time, the universe will achieve this state, why then, given an infinite past, isn't the universe already in such a state?

Objections to the Scientific Argument
The history of cosmology in the 20th century is a history of failed attempts to avoid an absolute beginning to the universe.

The steady state theory was proposed in 1948 by Fred Hoyle. According to this theory, the universe is in a state of cosmic expansion, but as the universe expands, new matter appears in order to fill in the void created by the retreating galaxies. This violates the first law of thermodynamics. This theory never secured a single piece of experimental verification. It was always trying to explain away evidence that contradicted it. Also, the discovery of farther and farther radio galaxies undermined the theory by showing that the universe was different in the past than it is today. The nail in the coffin came when two other confirmations came of the big bang model, namely the synthesis of the light elements (hydrogen and deuterium) in the big bang, as well as the microwave background radiation. While heavier elements are synthesized in the stars, lighter elements could not have been synthesized in them because the temperatures are not high enough. In order to explain these lighter elements, only the big bang could produce enough heat to create these elements. With regard to the microwave background radiation, in 1965 R.W. Wilson discovered that the entire universe is bathed with a background of microwave radiation. This radiation background of a very hot and very dense state of the universe. Under the steady state model, no such condition could be possible, the steady state model was discredited.

The oscillating models of the universe state that if the universe is dense enough, then the internal pull of gravity would eventually overcome the expansion of the universe and pull everything back together again into a big crunch. If the universe were not exactly even in its matter distribution, it was theorized that some of the matter would pass by during the crunch so that the universe would appear to re-expand again. It would bounce back to a new expansion, on and on. This theory was extraordinarily speculative. In 1970, the prospects for this model were severely dimmed thanks to Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking formulated singularity theorems. They are equations about how singularities form. Under these theorems, an initial cosmological singularity is inevitable for a universe that is under gravitational self-collapse. The universe's matter would not pass each other by, it would collapse into a singularity.

Despite the fact that no spacetime path can go through a singularity, and therefore a singularity marks an edge of space and time, this model persisted, due to its metaphysical implications. Then, three further strikes were lodged against it. First, there are no known physics which could cause a collapsing universe to bounce back into another expansion. It would require a whole new physics, which is completely unknown. Physics predicts that a universe collapsing on itself would not bounce, but would collapse into a singularity. Second, the observational evidence has continued to indicate that the density of the universe is not sufficient to generate a gravitational attraction to halt the expansion of the universe. The most recent evidence indicates that the expansion appears to be accelerating rather than slowing down. Third, the thermodynamic properties of an oscillating model predict the very origin of the universe that proponents of this model sought to avoid. The thermodynamic properties of this model indicate that entropy is conserved from cycle to cycle, making each successive big bang, bigger than the previous one. As you trace this model back in time, each big bang gets smaller and smaller until you come to a smallest cycle and an origin of the universe.

To quote the Russian scientist Sergei Petrovich Novikov: "The multicycle model has an infinite future but only a finite past"

The physicist Joseph Silk estimated that based on the current entropy levels in the universe, the universe could not have gone through more than 100 previous oscillations.

Quantum Fluctuation Models

The next class of models are vacuum fluctuation models, that require the use of quantum physics in addition to general relativity. On the quantum model, certain particles called virtual particles are thought to arise through a release of the energy that is locked up in the quantum vacuum. They exist for a fleeting moment and then dissolve back into this vacuum.

In 1973, a scientist named Edward Tryon speculated whether the universe itself might be a long-lived virtual particle. This led to the vacuum fluctuation models. On these models, the universe that we observe is not the whole universe, rather, it is just a tiny part of a wider, mother universe. This wider mother universe is a vacuum that is filled with energy at a subatomic level. By these fluctuations, many universes are born within the womb of this mother universe. These models did not outlive the 1980s among professional cosmologists. In addition to theoretical problems, these models faced a deep, internal incoherence. According to these models, it is impossible to specify just where and when a fluctuation would occur that would produce a universe. At every point in space, there is a positive probability within a finite interval of time that a universe will form there and grow. If there is a positive probability, given enough time, that a universe will form, then given an infinite past, universes will have formed at every point in the cosmic vacuum, and then will collide with one another and coalesce, forming one infinitely old universe, completely contradicting observation.

Christopher Isham called this problem "fairly lethal to vacuum fluctuation models, which is why they did not find wide acceptance. The only way to avert this problem is to posit an expansion of the cosmic vacuum itself, which reintroduced the singularity problem.

One of the most fertile of the inflation theorists has been Andre Linde, who created the chaotic inflationary model. According to this model, as the universe expands, certain domains in it begin to blow up and expand in a super rapid way. When these domains reach a certain size, they also produce inflation. Imagine a Mickey Mouse balloon where blowing up the main balloon causes ears to spring out of it, and then ears to spring out of those ears, ad infinitum. Under this model, the universe has an infinite future.

However, Linde writes about the problem regarding the past: "The most difficult aspect of this problem is not the singularity itself, but the question of what was before the singularity. This problem lies somewhere at the boundary between physics and metaphysics."

In 1994, Arvin Borde and Alexander Vilenkin developed a theory that showed that any universe that is eternally inflating into the future cannot have a beginningless past. "A model in which the inflationary phase has no end naturally leads to this quesiton. Can this model be extended to the infinite past? This is in fact not possible. In future eternal inflationary spacetimes, such models must, necessarily produce initial singularities."

In response to this, and other problems including the weak gravity conjecture, Linde abandoned the chaotic inflationary theory.

If that was not enough, in 2001 and then again in 2003, Vilenkin and Borde, in cooperation with Alan Guth, the founder of inflationary theory, were able to strengthen their theorem to show that any universe that has been expanding throughout its history must have an inital boundary point in the past.

Hawking Hartle Model

Stephen Hawking and James Hartle formulated a theoretical model to avoid the initial singularity by plugging imaginary numbers into the time variable in Einstein's equations, rounding off the beginning of space and time. It is an irrelevant objection, because it only avoids the singularity, but not the finitude of time. Time is still divisible into a finite number of hours. Also, imaginary numbers are used to grease the math, and have to be converted to real numbers in order to apply to reality. Once the numbers are converted back to real numbers, the singularity reappears.

String Cosmology

These models are based upon an alternative to the standard model of elementary particle theory. On the standard model, the fundamental building blocks of matter are quarks. On the string model, the building blocks of matter are tiny, vibrating strings of energy. String theory is so embryonic that its equations have not all been stated yet, much less solved. This has not thwarted cosmologists from attempting to avoid the beginning of the universe by standard big bang cosmology. One of the most popular models is the Ekpyrotic model developed by Paul Steinhardt.

These ekpyrotic scenarios have undergone numerous revisions as deficiencies have been exposed. In the cyclic revision, we are asked to imagine two 3-dimensional membranes existing in a 5 dimensional space. The membranes approach one another and collide, then recede, approach, collide, and recede. Each time the membranes collide, it causes one of the membranes to expand. That membrane is our universe. With each collision, the expansion of our universe is renewed. This model is so highly speculative that it resembles science fiction more than science. It is built on speculation which is built on speculation. There are numerous problems with it. One is that this cyclic model is the oscillating model writ large in 5 dimensions. There is no known physics for the universe to go through a singularity and bounce back. Andre Linde has complained that while this cyclic model has been popular among journalists, it is very unpopular among scientists.

In September of 2001, Borde and Vilenkin, in cooperation with Alan Guth, were able to generalize their model which shows that inflationary models cannot be eternal in the past, to apply to other models including cosmology in higher dimensions.

Conclusion to the Scientific Argument

Science is always provisional, and its conclusions are always tentative. Alternative models will continue to be proposed. As they come and go, with each successive failure, they confirm the beginning of the universe as predicted in the standard big bang model.

There is no other model of the universe which is as mathematically consistent, nor as consistently corroborated by the evidence as the standard model.

As P.C.W. Davies said: "What caused the big bang, one might consider some supernatural force beyond space and time as being responsible for the big bang, or, one might prefer to regard the big bang as an event without a cause. It seems to me that we don't have too much choice. Either something outside the physical world or an event without a cause."

So overwhelmed was the atheist philosopher Quentin Smith that he concluded: "The most rational thing to believe is that the universe came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing"
This is hyperskepticism at its finest.

Therefore, Premise 2 is more plausible than its negation.

Therefore, there is good reason to believe the universe had a cause.

Implications of the Kalam Cosmological Argument
What could cause the first event? What properties would it have?

It had to be uncaused, or else its cause would be the first event.
It would have to be causally potent, obviously.
It had to be nonphysical, because matter, time, and space came into existence with the big bang
It had to be immutable, or else it would lead to an actually infinite number of past events
It also had to have the property of volition, since only volition can cause without being caused.

Hence, there is good reason to believe:

There cannot be an actually infinite number of past events, therefore, matter cannot be eternal. There was a first event. The first event had to be caused. The cause for the first event had to be uncaused, nonphysical and had to have the properties of volition and causal potency

For further reading on this subject, the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology will be released in May of this year.
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Update: Dan's Disastrous Downfall

The Kalam Cosmological argument is one of the most misunderstood arguments out there. Dan Barker in particular, whose arguments the atheist side borrowed, badly misunderstands why something that begins to exist needs a cause. First, let me lay out three assumptions that I share with Barker.

1. An event is a change in the state of affairs. When an electron moves around a nucleus, that is an event. When light moves through space, that is an event. When a mind produces a thought, that is an event.

2. Time is a sequence of events occurring one after another. When there are no events, there is no time.

3. There is not an infinite number of past events. The past is finite, meaning that there was a first event.

Barker's booming blunder is his assumption that because time began to exist, there is no state of affairs before the first event, and therefore the universe can exist necessarily because there was no time before the universe was. "Asking what existed before the first event is like asking what is north of the north pole." Barker confuses the fact that there was no time before the first event (indeed, the idea of events before the first event is self-contradictory) with the notion that there was no state of affairs before the first event. In fact, if there was a first event, then there had to be some unchanging and therefore timeless state of affairs prior to it. The question is: what was that state of affairs?

On an atheistic view, there was nothing, except perhaps abstract objects such as numbers. How then did this state of affairs give rise to matter, energy, time, and space? If the cause was an impersonal set of sufficient conditions, then it can't exist timelessly, as it is inseparable from its effect. Only a personal agent, an unembodied consciousness can exist timelessly, and then act.

Once you realize this, then admission to those three assumptions leads necessarily and inescapably to a personal creator.