William Lane Craig is a hypocrite and a charlatan

A while back I mentioned Sean Carroll's response to William Lane Craig's podcast critiquing the article Carroll wrote for The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. I swung by Cosmic Variance earlier today and perused the comments, and it appears Craig himself popped by to offer a comment. Among the comments he offered was this gem:
The “eternal cosmologies based on quantum mechanics” so easily imagined by Prof. Carroll are not, in fact, tenable; but his unsuspecting readers would not know that.
Perusing the comments a bit more, it turns out that Craig has offered a pretty thorough response on his website, where he duplicates the above quote. So, it's safe to say the comment is authentic.

What surprises me about this remark is that Carroll is a cosmologist. At Caltech. William Lane Craig has often taken atheists to task for purportedly speaking beyond their areas of expertise, and yet here he is – a fucking theologian – presuming to lecture a physicist on what constitutes a tenable theory of cosmology. Just a tad hypocritical, no?

In Craig's response on his website, he precedes the above quote with this:
In his oral presentation of his paper at the conference in Cambridge, [Alexander] Vilenkin was clear: “There are no models at this time that provide a satisfactory model for a universe without a beginning” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXCQelhKJ7A). Interestingly, if you take a close look at Vilenkin’s powerpoint slides for this presentation, you will find Prof. Carroll’s own model listed among the purported “eternal cosmologies” which in fact fail to avoid the beginning of the universe.
Even if I take Craig's representation of Vilenkin's theorem at face value, Craig appears to be cherry-picking simply on the fact that he treats the issue as resolved. Vilenkin's theorem, to my knowledge (and I could be wrong), is not undisputed among cosmologists – that is to say, it may be a compelling idea or hypothesis, but it's not rigorously established fact at all, much less one that implies precisely what Craig wants you to think it implies – that the universe, having a beginning, requires an external cause.

But I'm not going to be quite that charitable. In the original article that sparked this whole back-and-forth, Carroll makes it clear that a "beginning" does not imply that the universe requires an external cause:
There is no logical or metaphysical obstacle to completing the conventional temporal history of the universe by including an atemporal boundary condition at the beginning. Together with the successful post-Big-Bang cosmological model already in our possession, that would constitute a consistent and self-contained description of the history of the universe.
Nothing in the fact that there is a first moment of time, in other words, necessitates that an external something is required to bring the universe about at that moment.
The best part is, Vilenkin agrees. On page 181 of his book Many Worlds in One (which has a whole chapter called "Creation of Universes from Nothing"), Vilenkin states:
If there was nothing before the universe popped out, then what could have caused the tunneling? Remarkably, the answer is that no cause is required. In classical physics, causality dictates what happens from one moment to the next, but in quantum mechanics the behavior of physical objects is inherently unpredictable and some quantum processes have no cause at all. 
And on page 177, he says,
So, what do we make of a proof that the beginning is unavoidable? Is it proof of the existence of God? This view would be far too simplistic. Anyone who attempts to understand the origin of the universe should be prepared to address its logical paradoxes. In this regard, the theorem that I proved with my colleagues does not give much advantage to the theologian over the scientist.
[...]
Also, the scientists might have been too rash to admit that the cosmic beginning cannot be described in purely scientific terms. True, it is hard to see how this can be done. But things that seem to be impossible often reflect only the limits of our imagination.

Vilenkin's work buttresses the Creator-less universe Stephen Hawking describes in A Brief History of Time as well as that describe by Lawrence Krauss in his book A Universe From Nothing (although their mathematical approaches differ). So really, there are at least a couple of ways to tackle Craig's second premise in his pet argument, the Kalam Cosmological Argument: "the universe began to exist":
  • That the universe had a beginning is not an agreed-upon fact among cosmologists (I would add that the very concept of "beginning" is philosophically thorny in the first place)
  • A universe with a beginning can still be self-contained and not require an external cause 
I find it telling that despite how much Craig loves to cite Vilenkin's work, he doesn't bother sharing the whole story. That goes back to a frequent criticism I have of Craig: that he seems to count on you not actually having read the source material for yourself. Even a cursory reading of Vilenkin shows that his work does not give Craig the advantage he would have you believe it does. Maybe he should stick to theology.

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