William Lane Craig: not even a pretend physicist

If you've ever sat through one of William Lane Craig's academic essays on physics – and I have – it's easy to be impressed so long as you don't actually know that much about physics. This isn't to say that Craig doesn't know anything about physics; he actually knows a fair bit. But the difference between a physicist talking about physics and a theologian talking about physics is that the theologian obviously has an agenda. It's in Craig's personal interest to find information that appears to support his beliefs, and to be highly skeptical or even outright dismissive of anything that contradicts his beliefs.

Physics is complicated stuff, and even physicists are often hesitant to talk about its implications. There's so much we don't know, so many unanswered questions, that it's highly presumptuous to use our current state of knowledge as a boon to one's personal beliefs.

Which brings me to my frustration that started over in the "Apologetics 101" thread. We're discussing Craig's pet argument, the Kalam Cosmological Argument. The argument requires two things
  1. The universe was created out of nothing (it didn't come from another physical reality)
  2. Its cause was external to physical reality (God made it)
Simple as that. Craig is quick to jump on the bandwagon when evidence may support this, like in this excerpt from an essay he did for *cough* Leadership University:
This event [the Big Bang] that marked the beginning of the universe becomes all the more amazing when one reflects on the fact that a state of "infinite density" is synonymous to "nothing." There can be no object that possesses infinite density, for if it had any size at all it could still be even more dense. Therefore, as Cambridge astronomer Fred Hoyle points out, the Big Bang Theory requires the creation of matter from nothing.[1]
Physicists including Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss, Sean Carroll and Alexander Vilenkin have of course all postulated just such a hypothesis: that the universe was created out of nothing. Except that in their hypotheses, "nothing" is essentially a timeless quantum vacuum and, as Hawking says, the universe created itself out of nothing.

This would be fantastic news for Craig except for the tiny detail that it removes the need for a Creator. So, predictably, he objects, as he does here in his embarrassing criticism of The Grand Design:
What this implies is that Hawking and Mlodinow have not even begun to address the philosophical question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” For “nothing” in their vocabulary does not have the traditional meaning “non-being” but rather means “the quantum vacuum.” They aren’t even answering the same question.[2]
Craig does not like the implications of the universe creating itself out of quantum fluctuations. It makes his "non-being" definition of "nothing" irrelevant – because according to those quantum models "non-being" didn't exist (so to speak); in its place you had empty space, in an uncaused quantum region where time as we know it is meaningless. Craig doesn't actually have any rational grounds for objecting to this. He just doesn't like it, so he complains about semantics.

The idea that the universe sprang from a quantum vacuum was posited to explain observable features of the universe; it's not some conspiracy to remove God from the picture. The fact that it makes God irrelevant – or at least a theistic concept of God irrelevant – is a side effect that only matters to people clinging to that unjustified belief.

But Craig, being a black belt in sophistry, is not one to give up so easily. He likes to pull out the Borde, Guth, and & Vilenkin Theorem (aka the BGV Theorem) to bolster his case:
...three leading cosmologists, Arvin Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin, were able to prove that any universe which has, on average, been expanding throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past but must have a past space-time boundary.
Yes. The BGV theorem shows that inflation cannot go infinitely into the past, and we eventually reach a singularity. But in The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking elaborates on what the singularity really is:

"Although one can think of the big bang picture as a valid description of early times, it is wrong to take the big bang literally, that is, to think of Einstein’s theory [general relativity] as providing a true picture of the origin of the universe. That is because general relativity predicts there to be a point in time at which the temperature, density, and curvature of the universe are all infinite, a situation mathematicians call a singularity. To a physicist this means that Einstein’s theory breaks down at that point and therefore cannot be used to predict how the universe began, only how it evolved afterward.” [p.128]

 Craig then slips up:
What makes their proof so powerful is that it holds regardless of the physical description of the universe prior to the Planck time.
This is actually a huge concession on his part. Because in all his talk about the Big Bang being evidence of creation ex nihilo, there cannot be a "physical description of the universe prior to the Planck time". If there is, as in quantum theories, then the singularity cannot be the "non-being" definition of "nothing" that Craig wants; it has to be the "empty space" definition that physicists use. Then, Craig biffs hard:
Their theorem implies that even if our universe is just a tiny part of a so-called “multiverse” composed of many universes, the multiverse must have an absolute beginning.
Wrong. The theorem does not show that the multiverse must have had an absolute beginning; rather, as Caltech physicist Sean Carroll explains,
[Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin] show that a universe that has always been inflating (in the same direction) must have a singularity in the past.[3]
In other words, the entire multiverse would not have a beginning, but any universe within the multiverse that is undergoing inflation has a singularity – a beginning to inflation.

And then we get to the motherload, the masterpiece of equivocation to which this whole post has been building up. When discussing quantum models like the Hawking-Hartle No-Boundary proposal or Vilenkin's quantum tunneling model, Craig asserts [emphasis mine]:
These models feature an absolute beginning of the universe, even if the universe does not come into being at a singular point. Thus, Quantum Gravity models no more avoid the universe’s beginning than do purported Eternal Inflationary models.
...but only one actually knows what he's talking about
What Craig has done here is score a meaningless semantic victory. He's saying that even if these models are correct, the universe still has a beginning. It's just not a beginning at a finite point. Except Craig seems to have forgotten that creation ex nihilo required by the Kalam is not the same thing as the universe creating itself from a timeless, pre-existing region of space-time. But he glosses over that distinction just so he can hand himself the shallow victory of proclaiming that the universe did have a beginning.

I'm not impressed. When physics show that the conditions required by the Kalam have not been met, Craig equivocates by suggesting that it's still a "beginning"... even though it's really just a beginning to inflation from empty space, not a beginning out of the "non-being" for which he had previously argued. Craig may speak with a pretense of authoritative knowledge of physics, but he's really just doing his best to interpret the evidence in a way that conforms to his beliefs. That's just the problem with a theologian talking about physics, and that's why Stephen Hawking held the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge for 30 years while Craig was writing essays for an evangelistic online degree mill that isn't even accredited.


Popular posts from this blog

Why Christianity is bullshit, part 1: The Bible is stupid

Why Christianity is bullshit, part 2: The Bible isn't true

There is no such thing as sophisticated theology