Home > Cosmic Origins, Quote Mining > WLC Quotes Paul Davies

WLC Quotes Paul Davies

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?

  1. J.A. Kraulis
    08/23/2010 at 1:48 PM

    You write that “to be fair, Paul Davies is not a Biblical scholar”, graciously granting Craig a concession that he does not deserve. He frequently tries to trump his opponents with exactly this kind of a challenge, disparaging the reasoning of those like Richard Dawkins who he asserts don’t have his supposedly sophisticated understanding of philosophy and theology.

    But Craig is assuredly not a cosmologist or a physicist, all while he frequently poses with ideas from cosmology and physics which he could not truly comprehend. Richard Feynman famously said, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.” If that was the reckoning of arguably the greatest physicist of his generation, what credence can we give to Craig’s dilettantish dabblings in modern science?

    If J.B.S. Haldane’s suspicion (often quoted by Dawkins) “that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we CAN suppose” is correct, every possible argument that Craig could marshall to defend simple biblical models or analogies regarding the origin of things is rendered irrelevant from the get go.

  2. J. O. Polanco
    10/29/2012 at 9:15 AM

    How does any of this change the fact that the universe began about 14 billion years ago? If the universe began, where did it come from? After all, something cannot come from nothing … can it? 🙂

    • Rob Heusdens
      06/20/2014 at 1:22 PM

      Then for sure it began not in nothing. Inflation looks good as a theory, but maybe not the definite answer.

  3. Mlungelwa Dlamini
    01/18/2013 at 5:48 AM

    Being honest I do not see the contradiction: Craig simply paraphased the quote, which to me looks to essentially have the same meaning(give or take). But what I have noted is that scientists have lost their objectivity. If I’m a Christian I try to prove the existence of a intelligent designer and if I am an athiest I try to disprove God. Science seems to have become a battleground to prove whose faith is correct and less about unbiased discovery.

  4. Gerry De Naro
    09/10/2013 at 3:36 AM

    Davies is an agnostic, just b/c his science doesn’t support Biblical theism is irrelevant to the need to explain creation in the finite past. He says “There is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all….It seems as though SOMEBODY has fine-tuned nature’s numbers to make the Universe….The impression of design is overwhelming”. and “The laws [of physics] … seem to be the product of exceedingly ingenious design… The universe must have a purpose”. (5)
    Prof. Paul Davies, theoretical physicist: “The really amazing thing is not that life on Earth is balanced on a knife-edge, but that the entire universe is balanced on a knife-edge, and would be total chaos if any of the natural ‘constants’ were off even slightly. You see,” Davies adds, “even if you dismiss man as a chance happening, the fact remains that the universe seems unreasonably suited to the existence of life — almost contrived — you might say a ‘put-up” job
    conclusion: the universe came into being from nothing which could hardly be misconstrued as a naturalistic or material explanation.
    Ex nihilo creation would be the conclusion of Dave Hilbert “The infinite is nowhere to be found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitimate basis for rational thought. The role that remains for the infinite…is solely that of an idea…” A beginningless series of events in an infinite past would be a logical absurdity. The burden of proof lies with anyone who would suggest otherwise. Perhaps a Nobel Prize awaits u but we wont hold our breath.

  1. 07/09/2010 at 3:40 PM
  2. 08/28/2010 at 6:31 PM

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