This is why science beats religion

Any regular readers of this blog are likely familiar with the Christian theologian William Lane Craig. Judging by his debates with Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Peter Atkins and many others along with a great deal of work in Blackwell's Companion to Natural Theology, he's regarded by many a Christian as one of today's formost apologists.
His pet argument is the Kalam Cosmological Argument. A key premise in this argument is the idea that the universe had a finite beginning. Craig derives this from the Big Bang, and it's absolutely central to his theology. If the universe has no beginning – no moment of creation – then there's no need for a Creator. God could still exist of course, perhaps as some sort of pantheistic divine intelligence. But in order for his theology to be tenable, the universe must have a finite beginning.

Here's the thing though: we don't actually know whether the universe had a finite beginning, and the Big Bang is not evidence for it – primarily because the "starting point" of the Big Bang, the cosmological singularity, is little more than an artifact of the equations of General Relativity. While those equations "break down" (i.e., yield infinities) at the cosmological singularity, the equations of quantum mechanics do not.

So here's the big question: What caused the Big Bang? For William Lane Craig, it's a closed case: the Christian God did it and that's the beginning of the universe, so there. But as this video with Nobel Prize winning physicist John Mather simply illustrates, for science, it's still an open question.

This is the fundamental difference between science and religion. Where we lack understanding, science seeks answers; religion, on the other hand, makes assumptions. In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins remarks (paraphrasing) that theologians and scientists both like mystery, but for different reasons: for the scientist, it's the beginning of a quest for knowledge; for the theologian, it makes for a convenient gap in which to insert a god.


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