Saturday, April 14, 2012

IDHEF - Chapter 3: In the Beginning There Was a Great SURGE

This is part of my breakdown of the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist." Related posts can be found by clicking here.

   We begin Chapter 3 with a quote from Einstein, one of which the meaning is often debated. From my understanding of Einstein, he occasionally spoke in metaphor. It pains me to say this, as liberal Christians often use this to justify bizarre verses in the Bible, but this quote is probably not meant to be taken literally. In the case of this quote, many have argued that the word "religion" refers to a sense of awe and wonder as opposed to more common definitions of the word which refer to the dogmatic belief in ideas, typically relating to the supernatural. While it's not important to discuss this in the larger context of the book, I find it nonetheless important to raise this point as this quote is often used as an argument from authority in society. That argument is typically along the lines of "Einstein, who was really smart, thought religion was important; therefore, religion is important"


   The chapter starts without an introduction section and dives right into speaking about Einstein's cosmological constant. I am bothered by many parts in this section where they make claims, such as "[Einstein] wanted the universe to be self-existent" (p73). Where do they get this from? Did Einstein personally say this himself in his lifetime? They later quote Eddington, not Einstein*, where Eddington says that he found "the notion of a beginning of the present order of nature [to be] repugnant" (p67). Did Einstein feel that way, too? My understanding of that era is that scientists generally believed that the universe was static. Why they believed this I do not know. My question, then, is did Einstein want the universe to be static (as the authors claim) or was he just trying to adapt his equation to the understanding of the universe at the time? While I don't know the answer to this, I do not appreciate the authors jumping to the conclusion of the former without providing adequate (or any, really) supporting evidence.

   There is also a curious bit a few paragraphs in where they claim that "Einstein had divided by zero—something even school children know is a no-no!" (p74). I'm quite sure they are oversimplifying things here. For one, there can be places where equations in physics can break down. It is my understanding that the equation for relativity produces infinite gravity (and thus infinite density) at the center of a black hole. Does infinite gravity make sense? Or is this a flaw in the equation? It's most likely the later. My question in regards to the book is for what situation was this divide-by-zero error discovered? I doubt that the equation produced such an error for all inputs.

   Otherwise, the authors are correct in that it was Edwin Hubble who discovered that the universe is expanding. This did result in the removal of the cosmological constant. However, what the authors do not tell us is about the discovery in 1998 that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. This has renewed interest in the need for a cosmological constant. This constant would account for dark energy. This book has a copyright of 2004, so I grant the science would have been much more new at that time than now in 2012. (The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum doesn't even discuss dark energy yet as of March 23, 2012 in their exhibit on cosmology.) (Actually, there is a reference to the idea that the acceleration of the expansion of the universe is increasing on page 86. What is thought to be the cause of this is called dark energy, but this book makes no direct reference.)

   Lastly, I must once again point out that there are people who would argue that Einstein would occasionally speak in metaphor. This time they are quoting Einstein as wanting "to know how God created the world" (p74). Though they acknowledge that Einstein himself claimed to be a pantheist, they also say that this quote better describes a theistic God. Sure, it does if you take the quote literally. But if "thoughts" is just a metaphor for, say, the process that created the universe (if there is such a thing), then it does indeed support pantheism.

* To be clear, the authors do correctly attribute the quote to Eddington, so I'm not highlighting that to point out any factual error. Rather, I want to point out that they seem to be using this Eddington quote to support their thoughts on Einstein. If they want to support their thoughts on Einstein, then they should really quote Einstein himself.


   In this section, the authors provide their logic for why the universe must have a cause. I don't really have any big objections to the logic itself. My objections begin with how they go about supporting their logic, beginning with the "Law of Causality." Now, I'm not exactly a scientist; my degree is categorized as a Bachelor of Science, but my field of study is engineering. Yet, I would have thought I would have heard of this law if it is supposedly so critical to science. When I performed a Google search on the term, I got a couple results from Wikipedia at the top, but they were not exact matches. The third result was an exact match, and it led to a Christian website. Now, I'll admit, in the top Wikipedia result, which is about causality, it had a section on science that states, "Causality is a basic assumption of science. Within the scientific method, scientists set up experiments to determine causality in the physical world. Embedded within the scientific method and experiments is a hypothesis or several hypotheses about causal relationships. The scientific method is used to test the hypotheses." That's fair. I'm not trying to deny that the idea of causality isn't very important; what I'm trying to point out is that no scientist, from what I can tell, claims it to be a "law."

   What bothers me more than them citing a law that isn't is the amount of certainty they are applying to this idea. They claim it is "well established and undeniable" (p75). How do they justify this? They say, "If there's one thing we've observed about the universe, it's that things don't happen without a cause" (p75). Let's say for a moment that this were true, have they observed every happening in the universe? Recall what they said about gravity in Chapter 2: "Are you absolutely, 100 percent certain that gravity makes all objects drop? No, because you haven't observed all objects being dropped" (p64). I agree with what they said there, but now they seem to be reversing course here in Chapter 3, implying that it is absurd to deny this "Law of Causality." To be fair, they maybe would have said it absurd to deny gravity. The point, though, is that, based on what they said in Chapter 2, they should have no problem if someone were to at least say we can't be 100% sure about causality.

   One other point that needs to be addressed with causes is that there can be non-deterministic causes. Radioactive decay, for example, is a process that is random. "According to quantum theory, it is impossible to predict when a given atom will decay." Now, there is probably some sort of cause for this, and I've seen some people describe it as "the tension between the attractive, short-range nuclear force, and the repulsive, long-range electrostatic force." At any rate, I find the authors' implications regarding their "Law of Causality" to be exaggerated.


S—The Second Law of Thermodynamics

   The first piece of evidence the authors present is the First Law of Thermodynamics, and they do a poor job explaining their analogies for this law, though they do present a reasonable definition. As they say, "the total amount of energy in the universe is constant" (p76). They then go on to say that the universe has only a finite amount of energy, which is also true, but then they use an analogy comparing this to gasoline in a car. It could have been a reasonable analogy, but the problem is they compare this to a car consuming gasoline. (They cite the Second Law of Thermodynamics here, though they have yet to explain what that law states—we'll get to this in a little bit.) With the way they set up the analogy, this implies that the universe is consuming energy. That's not true and goes against the First Law, which, as they said, states that the energy in the universe is constant. (They also refer to energy being "used up" at the end of the section (p78).) What they should have said is that the energy in the gasoline becomes distributed when it burns. Running a car doesn't cause energy to disappear, rather the energy is converted into heat. (This is much the reason why an engine gets hot when running.) Likewise, when you run a flashlight, the energy stored in the battery is converted into light and heat (you'll likely notice that the bulb in the flashlight gets hot after some time).

   The Second Law of Thermodynamics represents the concept of the energy from gasoline or a battery dispersing. The authors are correct when they say that "nature tends to bring things to disorder" (77). But the word "tends" is a key word. In other words, things don't always work this way. It is possible to have a local gain in order (loss of entropy) if the system as a whole loses order (gains entropy). They are also correct that it is through the Second Law of Thermodynamics that things fall apart. Blaming dresser disease on this is probably a little extreme, though, as there are probably other factors that go into that (such as gravity).

   For the rest of the section, I am first disappointed in their anecdotal story about a physics professor. (Recall I complained about anecdotes in the review of Chapter 1.) I'm really skeptical about this event ever happening. (May I just add, though, that a theory is the product of a human mind, which is in turn the product of a brain, which is material. Overall, the statement appears to be a category error. That's all I'll say as I don't want to distract much from the important parts of the book.) And then they quote Arthur Eddington again. This time the quote shows Eddington speaking strongly in support of the Second Law. But, if you recall from just a few pages ago, Eddington had called "the notion of a beginning...repugnant" (p73). It would seem, then, that Eddington didn't find the Second Law to be a convincing reason to believe the universe had a beginning. I just find this ironic because, in this later Eddington quote, the authors italicize this part where he says if a theory goes against the Second Law of Thermodynamics, "there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation" (p78). What does this say about Eddington himself? It would seem that he had humiliating theories of his own, at least as implied by the book's authors.

U—The Universe Is Expanding

   I want to start this section by pointing out a really good statement made by the authors. They say, "Good scientific theories are those that are able to predict phenomena that have not yet been observed" (p79). This is true! But I know of places later in the book where the authors promote a "theory" that fails to do this. It will be important when we get to that point to refer back to this page.

   Getting back to the topic at hand, in the third paragraph of this section, the authors claim "that the universe did not emerge from existing material but from noting" (79). Where is there evidence for this? I'm fine with them saying that there was no "before" without time (or saying there was no space), but could the matter that is in the universe have existed in a timeless state? Maybe not, but I think it is difficult to say for sure that it didn't.

   After this, they go on to speak of "atheistic" explanations. Yet again, I find myself needing to point out that atheism makes no claims; it is merely a rejection of god claims. For this reason, the idea that the universe began from noting does not "give atheists a lot of trouble" (p79). The authors, in order to demonstrate just how much trouble they think this causes, bring up another anecdote involving Peter Atkins. Not knowing who that is, I Googled his name and found out he is a chemist. Do these authors really think a chemist is going to be a good source on the topic of the origin of the universe? Is it because they think atheists are supposed to have a position on these things? At the end of this section, they quote some author who says, "An atheist must believe that the matter of the universe came from nothing and by nothing" (p81). Oh?!? "Must" I? You want to know what I believe about the origins of the universe? Nothing! (Pun not intended.) I just don't know enough about the topic to form a believe one way or the other. And that's OK...or at least it should be. Unfortunately, there are many theists that don't appreciate atheists providing an answer of "I don't know."

   The above is not to say that I don't find there to be interesting ideas about the universe. I'd even say Atkin's idea is an interesting one. Apparently the authors "can't imagine how mere mathematical points and time could actually cause the universe" (p81). I feel a bit sorry that they have such poor imaginations. Out of all seriousness, I don't find Atkin's idea promising...but still interesting. If you want to hear some really interesting ideas, Lawrence Krauss has a really good presentation on "A Universe From Nothing." I've embedded the video down in the supplemental section. (And now available as a book.) Speaking of which, if the authors really care what "nothing" means, then maybe instead of quoting long-dead Greek philosophers like Aristotle, perhaps they should be asking a physicist (such as Lawrence Krauss). If they did that, though, they'd find out that physicists do not define nothing as "literally 'no thing'" (p81). As Lawrence Krauss himself said on March 25, 2012 at the American Atheists national convention, (paraphrasing) "'Nothing' no longer means what it used to."

   Having now brought up Lawrence Krauss and the insistence I often see from Christians in demanding someone have a position, I want to make this crystal clear—as interesting as I find Krauss' ideas, I do not believe in those ideas. It would be a lie if I said I don't find them deserving of more study, but is it understandable how this is different than me saying that I believe in those ideas?

G—Great Galaxy Seeds

   I'm skipping over the section of radiation as I have nothing to comment. As for galaxy seeds, this is an area I am not too familiar with...nor COBE for that matter. I am, however, quite skeptical of what they say four paragraphs in:
COBE not only found the ripples, but scientists were amazed at their precision. The ripples show that the explosion and expansion of the universe was precisely tweaked to cause just enough matter to congregate to allow galaxy formation, but not enough to cause the universe to collapse back on itself. (p83)
Emphasis mine. There are two reasons why I find this statement bogus. First, I did some searching on the subject and could find no websites that suggested anything remotely similar. Rather, it seems these "galaxy seeds" are more like markers in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) that signal the early formation of galaxies, which just confirmed some ideas on how galaxies form. I saw nothing that suggested anything about amazing precision. (I did find a nice, simple-to-understand article on the CMB, though, via Scientific American.) The second reason I find it bogus is that, even if I grant the authors this notion of precision, it should not have come as a surprise or something to cause amazement. If such precision is truly necessary, then that should have been the expected result. Why? Because we exist. If things would have been off one way, our galaxy would not have formed and we wouldn't be here talking about it. Likewise if the universe had collapsed on itself. Now, as an engineer, I admit it is indeed great when observations match the predictions, but if they don't, that typically means the engineer, or scientist in the case of cosmology, made a mistake. Restating this, if there wouldn't have been this "precision" (again, granting the authors that they are correct on this), then that would have just meant that cosmologists were wrong on their predictions.

E—Einstein's Theory of General Relativity

   There is not much to say on this section. Again, I am not much of an expert on the subject of relativity. One thing I question is the claim that it "demands an absolute beginning for time, space, and matter" (p84). As far as I know, the theory just describes how time, space, and matter* interact with each other. I know of no suggestion that it demands a beginning for such things! And, recall, Einstein originally had his cosmological constant to keep the universe eternal. It would seem Einstein did not, at least initially, believe his ideas demanded such a thing. Oh, and I'm not sure how you verify a theory to five decimal places, either. Theories are not mathematical equations. Perhaps they are talking about the equations (typically called "laws") that are encompassed by the theory.

* Actually, I don't think relativity even discusses matter specifically, but rather the mass-energy of matter (amongst other things). I suspect most people are familiar with the equation "E=mc2" even if they don't understand it. That seems to have more relevance to relativity than matter itself.


   I am fighting off with some frustrations with the way the authors handle this section. If you recall, earlier in the chapter, they claimed things Einstein said about his god concept sounded like they described a theistic god (p74). They didn't seem to be taking Einstein at his word that he was a pantheist. Now, however, when they talk about Robert Jastrow, they seem perfectly fine at taking him for his word that he's an agnostic, though, based on the quotes they present, the man does not sound like one. Worse, they use this claim to give the impression that Jastrow is objective because he supposedly "has no religious axe to grind" (84). But is Jastrow really an agnostic? As the authors had pointed out in Chapter 1, an agnostic is basically someone who "says 'I don't know whether there is a God'" (p43). An agnostic can also be a person who claims that the existence of a god is unknowable, but Jastrow does not fit into these descriptions. He is quoted as saying that "supernatural forces" are "scientifically proven fact" (p85). Sure, he doesn't say that these forces he believes are proven are the result of a god, per se, but he does speak of "an act of creation" (p85). That sounds like the general idea of a god to me! And much unlike anything someone who is supposedly an agnostic should be saying! Now, Jastrow may not subscribe to any of the monotheistic religions, but not being part of a religion does not keep one from being a theist, nor does it make one an agnostic.

   The next head scratcher is the idea that "all of nature [was] created at the Big Bang" (p85) or that "there was no natural world or natural law prior to the Big Bang" (p85). How can they be so sure? Sure, all of nature as we currently know it exists in this universe. Maybe there is something outside our universe that could be considered "nature" that we have yet to discover (if even possible, but that's beside the point)? More importantly, where is their evidence? This is, after all, supposed to be a book that provides evidence for the existence of the Christian god concept. The whole idea seems to be based on two ideas—that the universe had a beginning and the old idea that "something cannot come from nothing." The flaw is that the second part, as I discussed earlier, is in question. I'll credit Tracie Harris with the question of how do you examine nothing? In other words, how can one say something cannot come from nothing until you have nothing to examine? And how would you even examine nothing?

   Another way to look at this is through the overused example of lightning. Once upon a time, humans thought lightning was supernatural. But our ancestors learned more about nature, and now we know better. Claiming lightning was supernatural is what is known as an argument from ignorance. It is called such because it makes a claim based on what we don't know (our ignorance). For this case, it would be claiming lightning is supernatural from not knowing the natural causes of lightning. Latter in the book (I don't remember where, exactly), I know the authors,too, explicitly use lightning as an example of an argument from ignorance, but claim that this is not what they are doing. But that is indeed what they are doing! They are trying to make it look like it's not by claiming that all of nature exists in this universe. Again, I do not find them justified in making such a claim. And what's to say that people who claimed lightning was supernatural thought they knew all there was to know about nature? This is going to sound philosophical, but just because you think you know (all of nature) doesn't mean you actually know. Based on the way we are still discovering things about the universe, like dark matter and dark energy, I lean on the side that these authors are overzealous about their claims.

   Additionally, they are essentially defining "supernatural" by what it is not (nature). (They say "outside of nature" (p85), but I argue that is equivalent to saying "not nature.") Remember the problem in my breakdown of Chapter 2 about defining something by what it is not? Remember the example I gave of defining a basketball as "not a cube"? That tells you nothing about what it is. So, even if I were to grant the authors for a moment that the universe was not brought into existence through natural causes, this tells me nothing about what this "supernatural" is.

   Lastly...the Bible. I really find it difficult how people can claim with a straight face, like Robert Jastrow, that "the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world" (p84). Though at least he has the decency to say, "the details differ" (p84). Yeah, the details a LOT! Lets just take a little look at Genesis 1 (my comments are in purple):
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. [What exactly are the "heavens"? I suppose one could equate this as being the universe. But what about the earth? Our planet was not there in the "beginning;" it took about 9 billion years after the Big Bang for the earth to form.] 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, [Oh, so maybe this could be viewed as saying the matter that eventually becomes earth was created at that time...] darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. [...but that can't work because there wouldn't have been water in the beginning.]

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. [So the light comes after the earth? That is backwards with cosmology. Stars form before their planets.] 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. [How, exactly, does one "separate" the light from the darkness? Isn't the darkness just a lack of light?] 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day. [Did you catch that? Above the sky, which is a "vault," is water. That's why the sky is blue; it's from the water that you can see on the other side of the "vault."]

9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. [This first "light" we typically call the sun. The second "light" is the moon. Oh, and notice the sun is formed after plants are put on earth. What did the plants use for photosynthesis until this point? Or did they use the "light" from the 3rd verse...the light that was already separated from night, but apparently has no source. Or perhaps that was light that God needed in order to see what he was doing, but didn't shine on the earth? Or perhaps the problem is that light was not in the sky, so the water above the sky was blocking that light from reaching earth? But then we are back to the problem of plants before light. Oh, and of course, note that the sun, moon, and stars are literally in the sky.] 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
It seems the main point that the religious people cling to is the first three words of the book, which are "In the beginning," in regards to tying Genesis to the Big Bang. I'm sorry, but this is just absurd! I was talking to my wife about this a long while ago and she said, "Lots of things have a beginning." Indeed! It doesn't require any divine knowledge to claim something has a beginning. So Genesis is just not impressive, especially with how many things it gets wrong. Less than 70% is typically a failing grade. (At this point, religious people tend to brush these errors aside claiming that "it's a metaphor!" Yeah, it's a metaphor, alright! A metaphor for "ignorant goat herders*" who just happened to get one thing right out of chance. Interestingly enough, "God" is never "a metaphor" to these people.) I've attached a comedy video (Mr. Deity and the Days) to the supplemental that makes fun of the Genesis creation story. It covers a lot of the ideas I presented here and then some.

   Overall, the largest problem with this section is it is largely an argument from authority, quoting scientists on their personal opinions, and, like with Jastrow, making a point of them not being "Bible-thumpers" (p85), rather than citing professionally peer reviewed papers. Sorry, but personal opinions of scientists do not count as evidence.

* Additionally, the first chapter of Genesis may originate with the Enûma Eliš, so it's possibly an adapted story from Babylonian mythology. So maybe we should be worshipping those gods instead? This was also covered in the video from the supplemental section of my breakdown of the Introduction.


   I don't have a lot to say about this section, at least not much against what they say. First, once again, they misrepresent the Second Law of Thermodynamics when talking about the cosmic rebound theory. Once again, energy is not "lost" in the way they imply. Energy disperses. That is why a dropped ball will eventually stop bouncing. The energy disperses out of the ball. However, the universe would be different. Recall what they said about the First Law of Thermodynamics? They said, "the total amount of energy in the universe is constant" (p76). The amount of energy in a ball is not. Their analogy is flawed. Second, once again, there is no "Law of Causality." And, again, it is true that "science is a search for causes" (p87), but calling this a "law" goes overboard.

   What I would like to add is that they (conveniently?) overlook the idea of a multiverse*. It's an idea that's not backed up by evidence, but it includes the idea that there is a natural process that creates universes. The idea that there are multiple verses comes about to address ideas like those that the authors presented when talking about galaxy seeds in that the conditions of this verse are what are needed to have one that can support galaxies and even life. Under the multiverse idea, there could be verses that expand too quickly to form galaxies. Or others may not expand fast enough and collapse in on themselves. Of course this is all just an idea that has no evidential support. I don't, and won't, believe this idea until that happens.

* Actually, when I was reviewing for Chapter 4, I found a mention to this idea there. It does fit into the ideas presented in Chapter 4, but I still think it deserve mention in this chapter.


   Jastrow. Again. What can I really say that I haven't already? Once again the authors are making it a point to call this guy an "agnostic." Yet, this agnostic that should be taking a position of "don't know" or "can't know" as per the definition of "agnostic" is speaking of "theological implications" (88). "If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck." This man speaks like a theist, not an agnostic.

   But enough of this as whether or not Jastrow is an agnostic is not relevant. It is his words alone that we must ultimately examine. And his words are flawed, particularly when he says, "The world had a beginning under conditions in which the known laws of physics are not valid, and as a product of forces or circumstances we cannot discover" (p89). Emphasis mine. Now, this is the one place where he does actually sound like an agnostic. But this idea contradicts the earlier quotes of him suggesting there are "theological implications" (88). This is because these "forces or circumstances" that "cannot [be discovered]" would include a god concept (or the "supernatural")! Though, like when Einstein talked about "God," he seems to have meant the word in a way that does not match most people's definition of the word. Perhaps what Jastrow means by "theological" is not what most typically think of the word? But even in this block quote, Jastrow goes on to talk about "implications" again. So can we know (discover) or not? Or is he saying that the implications of "forces or circumstances we cannot discover" is an implication of a god? Then, once again, he's not an agnostic. Also, this is then an argument from ignorance in the form of "We cannot discover the forces or circumstances that created the universe; therefore, God."

   There is an additional problem in what Jastrow says about scientists "refusing to speculate" (p89). The last section talked about three different speculations, and I added a forth to the discussion. So who's refusing to speculate? Or is the complaint aimed specifically at the idea that these speculations don't include the supernatural or a god? If so, then Jastrow is simply expressing personal disappointment that other scientists don't see things his way. When he talks about scientists "[losing] control," I get the impression he is projecting (talking about himself).

   Perhaps the biggest blunder in this section is the discussion of "meaningless phrases" (p88 and p89). They apply this to the ideas of "'mathematical points' and 'positive and negative energy'" (p88), but fail to apply it to their own ideas of the "supernatural" or, as they call it in this section, the "Eternal Cause" (p89). That is somehow meaningful? I can agree to the point that it does seem likely that, if the universe has a cause, that cause would be outside of space-time (and, yes, even matter). But that cause could be just about anything! It's much like that basketball that is not a cube. What is this "Eternal Cause," exactly? And how is that meaningful?


   There are only a couple thing to say about this section. First, I am a bit amused that they would quote George Will when speaking of a "theistic worldview" (p90). George Will is an atheist. (He calls himself an "agnostic," but it appears he is basing that off of a more strict definition of "atheist" similar to that used in this book. Using the looser definition that most atheists use, he would fall in that definition.)

   The second part is that they poorly describe infinity when they say, "something that is infinite has no end" (91). That is not true. The line they present in Fig. 3.3 is an infinite line. And it has an end. Where the authors go wrong is that it takes two ends for a one-dimensional object finite. Having one end (as is the case in the example) or no end at all will make it infinite. They are correct, though, when they suggest that there is no way to get to today. This is because, since we are going from left to right, there is no end point (don't let that term fool you; the term "end" means a "terminal point" as opposed to a "completion point" for this context) from which to start.


   The first flaw of this section should be obvious at this point. Once again they are talking about this "Law of Causality" that doesn't exist. And since it doesn't exist, they can pretty much say whatever they want about it, including that "atheists contention misunderstands [it]" (p92) or "it says that everything that comes to be needs a cause" (p92). Yet, this is far from the worst this section has to offer.

   The main issues here are all the assertions, such as "God did not come to be. No one made God" (p92). Evidence, please? I can accept the notion that "something outside the universe is eternal" (p93), but why assert that this is "God" (or being eternal is a characteristic of a god)? (And why is "God" a he when it would be a sexless thing?) Maybe there is a god and it is not eternal, but was created by something else that is eternal? (Though, I must admit, I don't know why one would call that a god.) The other thing is that perhaps there are things outside the universe that we cannot even conceive. Maybe there is such a thing as time outside our universe that is distinct from the time inside our universe? They also assert that "there are only two possibilities for anything exists" (93). Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe there is some third possibility of which we just can't conceive?

   Another issue with their assertions is that, in the last section, the authors talked about how an infinite series is "purely theoretical" (p91). Yet, now they are going to claim that this thing they are calling the "First Cause" is "infinite" (p93). What does that mean? Infinite how? Yes, yes, I see that they say "without limits" (p93), but I still don't really understand what that means. The same goes for "unimaginably powerful" (p93). And, once again, evidence, please? Yes, I see they claim to have drawn this from evidence, but drawing things from evidence is not evidence itself; it is merely speculation.

   I actually think I need to take a moment to explain a bit about how science works. Most people should have learned this in middle school, so my explanation may sound like I am addressing a child. I am not trying to insult anyone's intelligence. So, in science, you start out by collecting data. This data can also be referred to as "facts" or "evidence." After collecting data, one usually draws conclusions from said data. These conclusions are known as "hypotheses" (I called it "speculation" in the last paragraph). After forming a hypothesis, tests are to be conducted to obtain more data to affirm the hypothesis. Sometimes the tests are designed to look for things that the hypothesis predicts. After much rigorous testing, a hypothesis, if always confirmed and never disconfirmed by said testing, can be boosted up to the level of theory. The big bang theory started out as a hypothesis. That hypothesis predicted things like cosmic background radiation. Later, that radiation (as the book discusses) was found (even though by accident), confirming the hypothesis (not sure if it was considered a "theory" or not at that time).

   The point of the last paragraph is that even if they are drawing from the evidence, that makes their god claim merely a hypothesis. They still need to go out and test that hypothesis. But they are not doing that. They are instead skipping this and trying to claim that their hypothesis is correct because it makes more sense. Well, I have something to say about that in the next paragraph (as well as in the breakdown of Chapter 4).

   While writing this, I began thinking about something I heard is in the book "The Men Who Stare at Goats" (which was also made into a movie starring George Clooney). I heard there is a part where one of the main characters thinks to himself that he is mostly empty space and that a wall is mostly empty space; therefore, he should be able to run through walls. Of course he can't, but the idea that is important here is the fact that we are indeed mostly empty space! Now, imagine suggesting to someone 150 years ago that people and walls (and matter in general) are mostly empty space. They'd probably think you were crazy! Heck, if I were a betting man, I'd bet a lot of people today would think that notion to be crazy. But it's true! We are mostly empty space! We know this now because of improvements in science that led to the ability to observe and learn about the atoms that make up our bodies. The whole point of this is that likely no one would have ever thought we were mostly empty space until we had some direct evidence. And until we have some direct evidence of what is outside our universe (if that's even possible), I'm not going to buy into these ideas that this is what the "First Cause" has to be. Just like the book's character draws the wrong conclusion from the evidence of us being mostly space, these authors could be doing the same. This, too, is why hypotheses need to be tested. The character's hypothesis is that he can go through walls. My understanding of the book/movie is that the character tests his hypothesis and...well, I'm sure you can guess the outcome. So these authors have presented us with what they think the "First Cause" is. OK, great! Now, design some tests so that this can be confirmed. Until it is confirmed, it's just speculation. And it is certainly not evidence!

   Having said all that, there is one piece in their claims that I feel shows the whole thing to not be thoroughly thought through. It is this idea that the "First Cause" must be personal in order to make a choice, and specifically this idea of choice (or decision). How are choices made? My understanding of choices involve cause and effect. In computer software, for example, there has to be some cause that leads a program to make a procedural call that will make a decision. There also needs to be inputs so that the procedure has data with which to make a decision. Much the same seems to be true for humans. Something causes us to have the need to make a decision and various inputs will be used to make a decision. For example, let's say you are driving and you see a vehicle off to your side run a red light and they are going to cross paths with you. This situation is going to cause you to make a choice. Do you try to speed up and get through the intersection before they do or do you determine stopping would be the wiser choice? Do you need to swerve out of the way? That's going to be determined based on inputs like how fast the other vehicle is going, how close they are, etc. The overall point is I find that a choice is "something that comes to be." But the authors say this decision is the "First Cause." In other words, they have to be suggesting that this choice is not caused. I do not understand what a choice is without a cause. Based on my understanding of choice, this "First Cause" either cannot be the first cause or it cannot be personal (the event would have to be "random," if that even makes sense in a timeless domain). Until they can justify a choice without a cause, I cannot accept their last premise. And I don't know if they can justify that, because even they say "an impersonal force has no ability to make choices" (p93). Emphasis mine. Even they appear to understand that choices are made. (Or, to be fair, are restricted by the English language.) In other words, they "[come] to be" (p92). Therefore, according to their own Law of Causality, this choice needs a cause. Seeing how their characteristics are either incomplete or wrong, this is a strong case against the god they are trying to prove as they go on to claim these characteristics exactly match "[those] theists ascribe to God" (93).


   This section is a summary of what I don't like about apologists. They are "surprised" when an atheist will say that topic of the origin of the universe (or, in this case, specifically the idea of something coming from nothing) is "a really good question" (p94). It is a good question! Where they upset me most is when they suggest that it "is a question that we all have to answer" (p94). No! I've discussed this earlier in this chapter breakdown as well as in my breakdown of the Introduction. "I don't know" is an acceptable answer. One way I've heard this presented (once again I recall the source being Tracie Harris) is asking the question of if one believes the number of blades of grass in their yard (assuming they have a yard with grass, of course) is an odd or even number. Now, if we take this apologist approach to questions, you have to answer!!! And that answer had better be either "Even" or "Odd." You'd better not say you can't know one way or the other! The reality is that you would have no way to know one way or the other. "I don't know" (or "That's a really good question") is a reasonable answer to this question. That's the answer I give, too. I don't have a belief on how the universe came to be. I don't believe a god did it, nor do I believe natural causes did it. My position is that I do not know.

   What bothers me most about their question is with the qualifier they attach to the question. That qualifier is "if there is no god". This makes it a loaded question. By asking the question in such a manner, they are asking for a disproof of god. That's not how reasoning works. Perhaps the problem becomes more clear if I change the qualifier: "If there is no Flying Spaghetti Monster, why is there something rather than nothing?" Or, "If there is no Invisible Pink Unicorn, why is there something rather than nothing." (Or, similarly, "If Yggdrasil doesn't hold up the worlds, what prevents them from falling into the Ginnungagap?") It is interesting to ponder why there is something rather than nothing, but the qualifier is a rhetorical trick to shift the burden of proof onto the nonbeliever. The question that believers must answer is how did their god they claim exists bring about something from nothing? Do you think answers like, "It's eternal, infinite, and unimaginably powerful!" are reasonable?

   So the first step for apologists is to make their claim the default. (They give the impression it is you who needs to disprove god.) The second step is then to make you feel like you need to take a position. (Otherwise, they'll act like their god must exist since you can't disprove it.) The third step is to limit your options. In this section, they say "either no one created something out of nothing, or else someone created something out of nothing" (p93). But who says there was nothing before? Or what is nothing? Again, I'll refer you to the Lawrence Krauss video in the supplemental material section. These may not truly be the only two options. Finally, the forth step is to make the options that are not theistic sound silly. In this case, they keep it simple by just asking "Which view is more reasonable?" (p93). Note that they don't ask which view is more supported by evidence! No, instead they quote song lyrics! And, go figure, they end by quoting the supposed agnostic Robert Jastrow again suggesting that theologians have been right all along.

   By the way, which of the following views is more reasonable? (1) That we are not made up of mostly empty space or (2) that we are made up of mostly empty space? I'm not wanting to inform your choice, but it's the first one, isn't it? Now which one is supported by evidence? That would be the second one. The point is that I don't care which one of their premises sounds more "reasonable." Where's the evidence, for either side? Something appearing "reasonable" does not count as evidence, nor does it make something true. It is when there is evidence to support an idea that it becomes reasonable. Otherwise then we'd have conflicting evidence as to the composition of empty space in our bodies. (I wrote a post as a preview to this book for cases just like this that gives yet another example of the failings of human reason.) While I'm at it, perhaps I should just leave you with this thought that if you can't believe that your body is mostly empty space, "then you don't have enough faith to be an atheist!*" (p93).

* I fear I may have to elaborate more on why I used that phrase there. If you've been paying attention, the first problem is that atheists don't make positive claims. I don't believe something can come from nothing. But nor do I believe something can come from someone. Neither idea has any evidential support.

Supplemental Material

Lawrence Krauss - A Universe from Nothing

Mr. Deity and the Days

Here's a link to a video (sorry, couldn't see a way to embed) that looks at how the big bang supposedly fits in with the Bible. There are some things I find worth noting:
  • The producer warns us to not "get caught up in the details." Yeah, I wonder why.
  • To no surprise, he says the "heavens and the earth" could be translated into "universe."
  • He points to some verse in Isaiah about God "stretching out the heavens" as being connected to the expansion of the universe. Yet, what does "spreads out the earth" mean?
    Another thing to note is that "heaven" and "earth" are found by themselves. This suggests to me that there could have been separate Hebrew words for those term. So why didn't Genesis 1 just use that word that meant "heaven" instead of the one that meant both "heaven and earth." And I suppose whatever Hebrew term is used in Isaiah that translates to "heaven" can also be translated into "universe"? This, of course, is a reason I'm not supposed to get caught up in the details.
  • The example from Psalms seems even worse. Again, don't get caught up in the details. Just look at the word "stretches." Never mind that the expansion of the universe is nothing like a tent. Don't get caught up in the details.
  • It is also important to point out that there are many places in the Bible that refers to the "heavens" that sound nothing like the "universe." The Noah's Arc story (see Genesis 6-9) has many such examples, where life on earth is said to be "under" the heavens (which would seem to align with the idea of the heavens being like a tent). This story also speaks of the heavens having "floodgates." (See: Confirmation Bias)
  • His example for "constant laws" is so mind-numbingly stupid, I'm not sure what to say. Are we really supposed to be surprised that people from over 2000 years ago would notice that there were consistencies with how the world works??? How dumb do they think our ancestors were that they would need divine inspiration to figure this out???
  • Then (surprise!) after having told you at the beginning to not get caught up in the details, we are told how "accurately He described the his scriptures." But doesn't this "accuracy" depend on those details we were not supposed to get caught up on?

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