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WLC Quotes Fred Hoyle

06/29/2010 6 comments

If there’s one thing that William Lane Craig loves, it’s an appeal to outdated or irrelevant authorities.  So it’s no surprise that Dr. Craig uses Fred Hoyle to promote a specific interpretation of the Big Bang Theory.

Therefore, as the Cambridge astronomer Fred Hoyle points out, the Big Bang Theory requires the creation of the universe from nothing. This is because if you go back in time, you reach a point, at which, in Hoyle’s words, “the universe was shrunk down to nothing at all.”

– William Lane Craig’s opening statement during his debate with Doug Jesseph (1996)

Fred Hoyle was certainly an amazing cosmologist, but he had one major flaw: he was dogmatically opposed to the Big Bang theory until the day he died in 2001. As physicist Ethan Siegel points out on his blog:

The real tragedy is that this brilliant man [Hoyle] simply couldn’t accept new evidence [of the Big Bang Theory] and adjust his world-view accordingly. And so he died in ignorance, clutching onto his discredited theory [the Steady State model], in futility, for nearly the last forty years of his life.

Of course, this doesn’t automatically mean that Dr. Craig’s use of Hoyle is dishonest or incorrect, it’s just a bit sneaky and suspicious.  To get to the heart of the matter we need to look at the source, which turns out to be a textbook Fred Hoyle authored and published in 1975 titled Astronomy and Cosmology. Here is a wider context to the quote (page 658):

Note: the passage refers to a hypothetical triangle where each point represents a galaxy – as time increases the galaxies get further apart.

In the past the triangle was smaller than it is now. In the future the triangle will be larger than it is now. This prompts the question: If we go far enough back into the past, was the triangle ever shrunk down to nothing at all, as in Figure 16.2 [described in above note]? The answer to this is yes, because Q [the scale] was once zero.

The next question is, does the universe actually behave like this hypothetical triangle? The answer to this is no, because this hypothetical scenario only takes area into consideration. Sure, as you shrink a triangle, it will eventually become a single point containing no area. But if we’re talking about galaxies which contain mass, then the density of that point becomes infinite (as does the temperature). Is a point of infinite density (i.e. a singularity) really nothing?  Well, it turns out not to even matter because (quoting physicist Ethan Seigal again) there probably was no singularity:

…the idea that our Universe started from a singularity was a very good one back when we thought that the only important things in our Universe were matter and radiation, but now that we know about inflation, there is no reason to believe that our Universe ever had a singularity in the past.

Of course, the Hoyle’s textbook was written in 1975 which was five years before inflation was proposed, so we shouldn’t really blame Hoyle. However, we can blame William Lane Craig for using a quote that is extremely out of date.

BONUS DEBUNKING

Here is another quote Dr. Craig uses every once in awhile from Fred Hoyle:

A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has monkeyed with physics.

-As used in W.L. Craig’s article on the problem of evil.

This quote comes from a 1981 article titled The Universe: Past and Present Reflections by Hoyle. Interestingly, Craig cuts off the end of the quote which says “…as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.”  But it doesn’t really matter, the article is nearly 30 years old and blah blah blah.

…It might just be easier to conclude with a remark Dr. Craig made during his debate (a little more than half-way through) with Keith Parsons concerning the idea of “common sense.”

We really disagree on this idea that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and look what he said in his last speech, ‘it’s just common sense.’  Boy, your anntenna should go up immediately when somebody makes that kind of appeal because that means there’s a want of an argument.

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Ask an Astrophysicist on the Origin of the Universe

06/21/2010 5 comments

NASA has a pretty cool feature called Ask an Astrophysicist in which you can ask a question to an astrophysicist.  (duh!)

Well, about a month ago I asked the following question:

In various pop-science books and TV documentaries, astronomers and physicists sometimes refer to the universe expanding from ‘nothing.’  But what exactly do they mean by ‘nothing?’ Does that mean no matter, no energy, no space, no time, no physical laws, no vacuum, etc?

And this was the answer I received:

No one knows.  Our understanding of physics does not extend this far. From a short time after the Big Bang until now, the broad history of the universe is becoming pretty well understood (though with big mysteries like dark energy and dark matter and a lot of other fascinating details to be filled in).  But we have no current understanding of the very beginning.

Dr. Randy A. Kimble
JWST I&T Project Scientist

While I think “no current understanding” sounds a bit too absolute (after all, there certainly are a lot of very good ideas in theoretical physics), it really underscores the fact that we really don’t know much about the initial moments of the universe.

WLC Quotes John Barrow and Frank Tipler

06/21/2010 9 comments

If you’ve watched many William Lane Craig debates (such as this one from 2009), you’ve probably heard him use the following quote from cosmologists Barrow and Tipler while defending his Kalam Cosmological Argument:

At this singularity, space and time came into existence; literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated at such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo.

– John Barrow & Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (1986), page 442

(Note for the non-Latin speakers: ex nihilo translates to “out of nothing.”)

In the clip linked above, Dr. Craig specifically claims that this Barrow and Tipler quote represents “contemporary cosmology” – never mind that the book it was taken from is nearly 25-years-old.  But in reality,  a lot has happened in the last 25 years in regard to the initial (Big Bang) singularity.

Remember: Barrow and Tipler’s claim that the universe came from “literally nothing” depends on whether or not there was an initial singularity (“if the Universe originated at such a singularity…”). Athough, I’d argue that Barrow and Tipler’s definition of “nothing” is not the same as Dr. Craig’s definition of “nothing,” but I’ll save that for another post (or you can watch my video on this quote).

So, was there an initial singularity at the Big Bang? Barrow and Tipler seemed to think so in 1986.  But in 1988, Stephen Hawking (commenting on his singularity work with Roger Penrose) wrote in A Brief History of Time (page 50):

It is perhaps ironic that, having changed my mind, I am now trying to convince other physicists that there was in fact no singularity at the beginning of the universe—as we shall see later, it can disappear once quantum effects are taken into account

And the tide has shifted against the singularity ever since. As theoretical astrophysicist Ethan Siegel explained in 2010,

…the idea that our Universe started from a singularity was a very good one back when we thought that the only important things in our Universe were matter and radiation, but now that we know about inflation, there is no reason to believe that our Universe ever had a singularity in the past.

He goes on to say that the initial singularity is an “outdated idea.”

WLC Quotes Paul Davies

06/19/2010 7 comments

In many debates (such as this one from 2009), William Lane Craig uses the following quote from physicist Paul Davies (“P.C.W. Davies”) to bolster his Kalam Cosmological Argument:

The coming-into-being of the universe, as discussed in modern science, is not just a matter of imposing some sort of organisation upon a previously incoherent state, but literally the coming into being of all physical things from nothing.

Because Paul Davies is a physicist, you’d think that Dr. Craig would quote one of his scholarly articles or one of his books, but instead Dr. Craig takes this quote from an interview which the Australian Broadcasting Company aired in 1995 (and subsequently published online in 2002).  Since Dr. Craig has heavily abridged this quote, here it is in full (with the parts that Craig uses in bold):

The mechanism of the coming-into-being of the universe, as discussed in modern science, is actually much more profound than the biblical version because it does not merely involve order emerging out of chaos. It’s not just a matter of imposing some sort of organisation or structure upon a previous incoherent state, but literally the coming-into-being of all physical things from nothing.

The first thing you’ll notice is that Dr. Craig leaves out the bit where Davies claims that the “coming-into-being of the universe” is “much more profound than the biblical version,” and the reason for this is pretty obvious: If Craig left that bit in during debates, it would make the Bible look inadequate or, worse yet, it might make the bible look like it is in error – a huge problem for a Biblical inerrantist like Dr. Craig.

But to be fair, Paul Davies is not a Biblical scholar. So, the argument could be made that his interpretation of the Bible is incorrect.  So, let’s stick to the cosmology: is Paul Davies really claiming that “all physical things” came literally from nothing? Well, it certainly seems that way to me.

On the other hand, an argument could be made that the use the word “nothing” by a physicist tends to be a lot different from the way Dr. Craig defines uses the word “nothing”.  In this case, it’s a bit difficult to tell, so let’s just assume for now that Davies is saying exactly what Dr. Craig thinks that he is saying.

So, my first question is, “what model of cosmogony (i.e. the origin of the universe) is Davies using to make this claim?”  Well, the only model that is mentioned in the interview is the Friedman model – also known as the Standard Big Bang Model.

Now, I’m sure the “Standard” model sounds very impressive. In fact, if it’s the “Standard” model, then most physicists and cosmologist must use this model, right?  … Well, no.  The Standard Big Bang model always had problems because it predicted a singularity (a point of infinite density) at the beginning of the universe which causes problems mathematically.

Because this interview with Davies was conducted in the mid-1990s, he may have had in mind the Hawking-Penrose equations from the 1970s which saves the initial singularity at the big bang.  Unfortunately, the conclusion of this work was eventually rejected by both Hawking and Penrose because they failed to keep quantum mechanics in mind.  To quote from Hawking’s 1988 book, A Brief History of Time (page 50) concerning the Hawking-Penrose equations:

It is perhaps ironic that, having changed my mind, I am now trying to convince other physicists that there was in fact no singularity at the beginning of the universe—as we shall see later, it can disappear once quantum effects are taken into account

And since then, the tide has certainly shifted against the initial singularity.  In fact, in 2008 Davies wrote an article for The Guardian in which he was very clear about this:

The epoch before about a billionth of a second, however, remains murky territory, with plenty of scope for disagreement.

So, if Davies was using the Standard Big Bang model, then his remarks in the quote which Dr. Craig uses are simply outdated – in which case, Dr. Craig has absolutely no legitimate reason to present the quote as if it represents modern cosmology/physics.  But, it’s possible that Davies was talking about something other than the Standard model… right?

For example, he could have been talking about a vacuum fluctuation model, but this wouldn’t work for Craig because he rejects these models.

Davies could have been talking about Alexander Vilenkin’s model which states that the universe came from “nothing,” but that model wasn’t elaborated on until 2003, well after the interview this Paul Davies quote was taken from (also, Vilenkin’s model doesn’t claim that the universe came from absolutely nothing, but that’s a topic for a different post).

No, no other models besides the standard model seem to make sense with Davies’ claim. But that model is outdated… so is Dr. Craig just being dishonest with this quote?

WLC Quotes Anthony Kenny

06/19/2010 11 comments

I’ve already made a video on the dishonest use of Anthony Kenny by William Lane Craig (and posted this on his forums + submitted it as a question), but it is worth restating here.

If you’ve ever watched one of Dr. Craig’s debates, he almost always uses a quote by Anthony Kenny (“of Oxford University”) while defending his Kalam Cosmological Argument. Craig quotes Anthony Kenny as follows:

A proponent of the Big Bang Theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the universe came from nothing and by nothing.
– Anthony Kenny, The Five Ways (P. 66)

The following is the list of reasons I object to Dr. Craig’s use of this quote:

1. Craig cuts out an important part of the quote. Kenny actually writes that an atheist must believe “the matter of the universe comes from nothing” not just “the universe comes from nothing” (as Craig quotes it).  So, unless Dr. Craig wants to argue that the matter in the universe is synonymous with the universe as a whole, then it seems a bit dishonest to just leave that bit out. What other reasons would there be to alter the quote in this way?

Edit: For the sake of completeness, here is the unedited Anthony Kenny quote from page 66 of The Five Ways . . .

A proponent of such a theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the matter of the universe came from nothing and by nothing.

2. Anthony Kenny provides no sources or explanation of the claim. He just asserts it, and since he is not an expert in the field (he’s not a scientist at all), then why should we take his views on physics seriously?

Furthermore, I object to the fact that Dr. Craig very rarely mentions Kenny’s profession, but instead refers to him only as being “of Oxford University.”  Why does it matter what university he is from if he’s not an expert in physics? This seems like Craig is trying to trump of Kenny’s credentials in order to make a fallacious appeal to authority.

3. Kenny wrote the book in 1969 and the cosmology is outdated because of it. None of the current theories regarding the origin of the universe (or, at least, none that are seriously considered by theoretical physicists) were around 40 years ago.  So, on what physical basis are we to take Kenny’s claim seriously?

Until these three objections are answered, this common quote of Dr. Craig’s should be outright dismissed.

Update: A volunteer at Craig’s Reasonable Faith Ministry has responded to these points (and I responded those responses) here.