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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label Big Bang. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Big Bang. Show all posts

Monday, January 06, 2014

Can You Get a Something from a Nothing?

In my debate against Richard Carrier, I argued that the beginning of the universe pointed toward the existence of God. I had said, "The most fundamental law of science is 'Out of nothing, nothing comes.' We simply do not see things popping into existence for no reason. Every parent understands this axiom when they find crayon marks on the wall or mud scraped across the floor. A child's response of 'no one did it, it just appeared' would be rightly rejected as silly."

This seems pretty common-sensical to me. One cannot get a something from a nothing. In fact, the word "nothing" can be broken apart to show that it means "no-thing." But Carrier replied to my point with this statement:
Oh yes, "out of nothing, nothing comes" is another one. If there is absolutely nothing, then there are no rules governing what will happen. So the idea that "only nothing can come from nothing" is a rule. That's something; that's not nothing. If you really have absolutely nothing then anything can happen. Nothing governs what's going to happen. If we start with nothing, we have no idea what could occur. As physicists will tell you, like Victor J. Stenger in The Fallacy of Fine Tuning, nothing is inherently unstable. So if we did start the universe with nothing, we could actually expect something to come out of it because the probability of nothing remaining nothing is rather low and because there is nothing governing what will happen.
There are a lot of problems here. First, let's look at what we mean when we use the word "nothing." When I say the universe began to exist, I mean that all matter, energy, space, and time came into being where they had previously not existed at all. In fact, when philosophers talk about the concept of nothing, it is generally understood to mean a state that is devoid of all properties. If there is nothing, then there are no physical things that can act and there are no laws of nature by which the non-existent entities would be able to act.

But Carrier seems confused on this. He first states, "The idea that 'only nothing can come from nothing' is a rule. That's something; that's not nothing." Well, that's not really accurate. The idea isn't a rule, but a description. It is another way of saying there are no laws and nothing upon which actions could even take place. But then, he goes on to say, "If there is absolutely nothing, then there are no rules governing what will happen… If you have absolutely nothing, then anything can happen!" Well, using Richard's own criteria, that would be a rule. That means you haven't started with nothing!

The idea that nothing is inherently unstable is a real science-stopper. Imagine people saying, "Well, I we had nothing and now we have this new chemical because anything can happen!" or "We don't know how that came into existence. It must've simply popped into existence because nothing can produce anything!" This is not a reasonable answer. It sounds more like magic than anything else.

So, I find this response problematic on several levels. First, Carrier argues that nothing is a great way to get something. I think that is a terrible answer and he needs to explain why we should accept it for the beginning of the universe then turn around and reject it for any other scientific question. Secondly, if "out of nothing, nothing comes" is considered something, then 'If you have absolutely nothing, then anything can happen" should also be considered something. As such, Carrier hasn't started with nothing and he needs to explain how his "rule" came into existence.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Can Infinite Universes Explain Fine-Tuning?

In my debate against Richard Carrier, one of the facts I offered for God s existence is that the universe clearly shows evidence of being finely-tuned for life. Our universe is not simply "fine-tuned" but exquisitely -tuned for advanced life. Examples of fine tuning may be found in the laws of the universe, in the fundamental constants of the universe, and in the initial distribution of mass and energy at the universe's beginning.

First, the LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE. Two such finely tuned laws are:
  • The law of gravity that acts on all matter. Without gravity, stars would break apart and we would have no long-term energy to sustain life.
  • The strong nuclear force. Without this, the protons in the nucleus of an atom would repel each other and our universe would be made up of nothing more than hydrogen.
Secondly, we see fine tuning in the FUNDAMENTAL CONSTANTS that govern just how much items in the universe are affected by certain laws.Here are just two:
  • We know that the gravitational constant, which is the value of how much masses will be attracted to one another could sit in a range anywhere within 1x 1040 power, or 1 followed by 40 zeros. But if the force of gravity was increased by one part in a billion, billion, billion, billion, advanced life would be crushed according to Cambridge Royal Society Research professor Martin Rees.[1]
  • Barrow & Tipler, in their landmark book The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, note that if Einstein's cosmological constant varied in either direction by as little as 1 x 10120, (which is a fraction so small that it would take more zeros to write than there are atoms in the universe) If this were to be changed by even that amount, the universe would expand too fast for galaxies & stars to form.
Thirdly, we see that the INITIAL DISTRIBUTION OF MASS AND ENERGY of the Big Bang needed to be just right. The initial conditions of the universe show extremely low entropy. Roger Penrose calculated the chances of this to be 1x1010^(123), a fraction so incredibly small it defies any example. Penrose said, "I cannot even recall seeing anything else in physics whose accuracy is known to approach, even remotely, a figure like one part in 1010^(123)."
Taking all this into account, John Leslie remarks, "Clues heaped upon clues can constitute weighty evidence, despite doubts about each element in the pile."[2]

Does the Multiverse Solve this Problem?

Carrier claims that the multiverse hypothesis solves the problem of an exquisitely fine-tuned universe poised just right for advanced life to develop. He claims by simply having an infinite number of universes being created, there is bound to be one that would have the conditions we see, and naturally we are here because we happen to live in that universe. But I see at least three problems with this assumption:

The Many Worlds Hypothesis is Speculatory

The idea of an infinite number of universes having every conceivable construction of laws is sheer speculation. There simply is no observable data to back this up. In fact, there cannot be any observable data since we would never be able to observe anything outside our own universe. If we can see it, measure it, or in some other way capture data, we know it's in this universe.

The Many-Universe Making Machine Would Then Need to be Designed.

If an infinite number of universes that are all divergent are somehow being generated continually, we've simply pushed the problem back a notch. What is this thing, this mechanism that is a universe-generating machine? How come it functions so well at generating universes that it never stops? How does it get all the right components to make a self-sustaining universe together and spit out a finished product? If it is a mind, then it s still evidence for God. If it is material, then the machine must itself have been created somehow, which means we're back to the same question.

Even with Multiple Universes, Our Universe is Special

 EVEN IF multiple universe creation in chaotic/eternal inflation is true, it coupled with our observation that the cosmological constant is non-zero would seem to suggest that our universe would appear to be the first one ever to appear. In their paper "Disturbing Implications of a Cosmological Constant" physicists at MIT and Stanford (Lisa Dyson, Matthew Kleban, Leonard Susskind) show that given the factors necessary for life and the low initial entropy conditions, either there is no real cosmological constant or "an unknown agent intervened in the evolution, and for reasons of its own restarted the universe in the state of low entropy characterizing inflation." [3]


[1] Rees, Martin. Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe (New York: Basic Books, 2000) 30.
[2] Collins, Robin. "A Recent Fine-Tuning Argument." The Philosophy of Religion Reader. Ed. Meister Chad. New York: Routledge, 2008.
[3] L. Dysona,b, M. Klebana, L. Susskinda, "Disturbing Implications of a Cosmological Constant" Journal of High Energy Physics 0210:011,2002. Revised 14 Nov 2002
Available online at

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

How Can God be Without Beginning or End?

Yesterday, I featured an article by famous movie reviewer Roger Ebert where he tells of his growing disbelief in a personal God since his childhood. It began early in elementary school as the young Ebert had increasing difficulty wrapping his head around the concept of an eternal God:

I lay awake at night driving myself nuts by repeating over and over, But how could God have no beginning? And how could he have no end? And then I thought of all the stars in the sky: But how could there be a last one? Wouldn't there always have to be one more? Many years later I know the answer to the second question, but I still don't know the answer to the first one.
As kids are wont to do, Ebert first chose to ask a favorite nun about his conundrum, to which she answered, "That is just something you have to believe. Pray for faith." This was a terrible answer, and Ebert acknowledges that it was inherently unsatisfying, even to a second grader. "Then I lay awake wondering how I could pray for faith to a God I could not believe in without faith."

As I had written in my last post, the inability of a nun to answer his questions is what set Ebert on the road to disbelief. It should serve as a warning to parents, pastors, and Sunday School teachers that it's never too early to inject apologetics into childhood instruction.  There are good answers to questions such as these, and they can be couched in such a way that even young children can understand.

Let's take the idea of a God without beginning or without end. In his article, Ebert writes, "I'm still struggling with the question of how anything could have no beginning and no end." If I was instructing the young Roger Ebert I would have simply pointed to a drawing of a circle and I imagine a conversation going something like this:

Lenny: "Roger, can you point out the corner in this circle?"

Roger: "But there is no corner."

Lenny: "Why not? Why isn't there a corner."

Roger: "Because it's a circle. Circles don't have corners!"

Lenny: "You're right! As soon as you have any shape that has a corner, it is no longer a circle. A circle must by definition not have corners, right?"

Roger: "Yes."

Lenny: "OK then.  Can you also see since there is no corner to the circle that every point on the circle is exactly like every other point?

Roger: "Um. Yes, I guess that's true."

Lenny: "Good. So if every point is equal with every other point, then the circle really has no starting point.  Lines have starting and stopping points, but lines are also broken. They can be in many different shapes. Unlike a line, a circle must have all points equally connected to be a circle. That's what makes it a circle and not an arc. A circle is a shape without a beginning point or an end point, yet the shape still exists.

"God has properties which define him in the same way a circle has properties which define it. A circle cannot have corners and a circle cannot have a starting or stopping point and be a true circle. In the same way, God is defined as someone who can exist outside of time; He is someone who has no starting or stopping point because you must be limited by time in order to have that. But it no more illogical to believe in a God who has no beginning or end than to believe in a circle that has no beginning or end."

I would hope that this would be sufficient to show any youngster that while the concept of an eternal God may be difficult, it is not an illogical belief. There are other examples, such as abstract objects like numbers, which can exist outside of a temporal realm. For example, the concept of "three" wasn't invented but recognized, though the symbol that represents the concept was created. One can have a set of three of something, like laws or properties that exist eternally, before time begins.

In his first paragraph, Ebert says he has figured out the answer to his question of a last star, writing "I know there cannot be a Last Star, because we know the universe to be curved. At least, that's what mathematicians tell us. I can't form the concept of a curved universe in my mind, but I think I know what they're trying to say." If Ebert can recognize a curvature of space-time makes a last star implausible,[1] then why can't he by that same token acknowledge a First Cause that begins all events? This concept is not "something that falls outside all categories of thought and must be unknowable and irrelevant to knowledge" but can be known to have at least the following properties:
  1. It must be outside of space, for it is the reason space exists.
  2. It must be outside of time, for it is the reason time exists.
  3. It must be immaterial, since all matter is created by it.
  4. It must be self-existent.
  5. It must have a will in order to will the creation event to begin.

Those properties are specific and most of humanity across history would recognize that description as only fitting God.

I hope Roger Ebert keeps seeking. I would love to expose him to some of the incredible advancements in natural theology that have occurred in recent years, so that he can see the belief in God rests on strong intellectual grounds. But I hope more that other kids who have similar questions would not be shut down with a pat answer of "You just have to believe. Pray to have faith" for that is no answer at all.

[1] Actually, Ebert is premature here.  Olber's Paradox seems to imply that the universe is finite. But even if the universe is curved, it could still contain a finite amount of stars. Cosmologists and philosophers are divided on this issue, but most admit we don't have enough data yet to know what the definitive answer is.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Big Bang is Not the Enemy of Theology

The Big Bang is a term that's very familiar to most people, but many Christians seem to be afraid to hold to such a concept. However, the idea of a Big Bang is really not the enemy of theology. See, nobody can explain what the Big Bang actually is. The main idea of the Big Bang is simple: at some point in the past, the universe was created. It didn't exist and then it did. Exactly when it happened is a separate question and the answers have changed as scientists find out more. But the concept of the Big Bang—that the universe came into existence at a point in time that we can number—is really a ground shaking idea in science.

We're Running Down the Clock (The universe can't be infinitely old)

It makes sense that the universe cannot be infinitely old. You see, what Russell did without knowing it is he substituted his own line of turtles for the old lady's. If the universe is infinitely old, then we'd have a never-ending chain of events going back, back, back without a beginning. Now think about that for a minute. If the universe is infinitely old, that means that it had to start an infinite amount of time ago, right? But if the universe started an infinite amount of time ago, that means that it would take an infinite amount of time to get to where we are today. But we're here, so how did we cross infinity and get to its end if infinity has no end? Since we're here, we know that the universe had to have started less than an infinite amount of time ago. Otherwise, it's like turtles all the way back, as opposed to turtles all the way down because it uses an infinite regress of time. Since the universe is experienced inside of time, then it must have a starting point, a beginning some finite amount of time ago.

We're Running out of Steam (The universe is losing functional energy)

There's another interesting thing that we notice about the universe. It's like a wound-up clock that is continually running down. We see this all the time in our lives. If I pour myself a hot cup of coffee, I would want to drink it within a reasonable amount of time from when I poured it. Why do I say that? Because my coffee's going to get cold. How can I tell whether a coffee cup has been sitting for five minutes or over an hour? I simply touch it and see if it's still hot. Coffee can't stay hot on its own, since it loses its heat energy to its surroundings. This is called entropy, which states that all things in our universe are radiating away their energy. Every battery you have will eventually run out of juice whether you use it or not. Every coffee cup will eventually run out of steam. Even our sun and our earth, anything that holds heat, will eventually turn cold and dark to a point where everything in the universe is equal. There will be no functional motion at all. So if everything is running down, it follows that everything was wound up to some point in the beginning, and the clock's moving forward in a certain direction.

We're Running Away from Everything Else (The effects of the Big Bang are still seen)

There are more reasons, however, than just the winding-down of the universe for knowing that it had a beginning. Scientific discoveries made in the 20th century have been so astounding, they have pretty much put Russell's assertion of "no reason to assert the world has a beginning" to rest. The first was when famed astronomer Edwin Hubble calculated the speeds at which all of the galaxies in the universe are moving. He found that they are moving away from each other, and they separate faster the farther apart they are from each other. This was just the kind of motion one would see in the aftermath of an explosion; everything that exploded would be moving away from each other to greater distances. Since all the galaxies were acting this way (and it didn't matter where in the universe you looked), Hubble came to the conclusion that they were all together at one point and there was some kind of an explosion, and that's what's causing everything to separate as it does. It validates the Big Bang.

One of the most definitive discoveries happened in 1965, when two scientists who were listening to the sounds of space heard a distinct type of noise found throughout the universe. What they heard was background radiation which is a kind of the noise that would accompany the Big Bang. It was the confirmation everyone was looking for to prove that the universe did indeed originate with a bang. After their discovery was published, even scientists who still held out against the concept were forced to accept the Big Bang as the origin of the universe. This is a huge development because it means that scientists were in all in agreement in that the universe began to exist at some point in the past. NASA astronomer Robert Jastrow put it this way:
"For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."

Jastrow, Robert. God and the Astronomers (Toronto: George J. McLeod, 2000)107.
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