A theist and an atheist enter into a friendly dialogue about all things science, philosophy, theology, and where they overlap.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Defense of Cosmological Atheology

By L.A. Mitchell

I: Introduction

”The beginning is the end
Keeps coming round again”
- How To Destroy Angels, ”The Loop Closes”

I recently published an article called “General relativity entails that the universe has no external cause”. It is necessary to read this article in order to understand the arguments being made (a link will be provided in the reference page for this purpose). [1] The Christian apologist Miles Donahue has responded to this argument on his website [2], and I seek to offer a defense of my ”cosmological atheology” in this paper.

II: Quantum Gravity Theories

Mr. Donahue objects to the idea that every state of time is preceded by another state of time by appealing to certain quantum gravity models. According to his references, there are “certain” quantum gravity models which entail that you cannot speak of a state of time being preceded by an infinite number of ever briefer states.  While his objection seems erudite and hard to tackle at first, it becomes apparent through his language that it does not present a feasible to challenge to the first premise. I will explain at length why this is the case.

One must note the highly speculative nature of this quantum gravity model. A certain quantum gravity model contradicts the first premise. It might be the case that once we have a quantum theory of gravity, a first closed temporal interval of time will reappear. Mr. Donahue does not even speak with probabilities when he discusses this quantum gravity model. Instead, he speaks in terms of possibilities and speculation rather than what is known presently. As a certain hero of Mr. Donahue once said, "Possibilities come cheap!". [3]

Mr. Donahue fails to name what this quantum gravity model even is! If someone states that a model contradicts your premise, then it is reasonable to expect them to name the model. Mr. Donahue fails to name it, instead calling it a certain quantum gravity model. This has two implications on his argument. One, it can not even be considered an argument because there presently no way for me to address the evidence for it. Imagine if, instead of talking about  FRW models of the universe, I said that a certain cosmological model refutes the existence of god. No reasonable person should be expected to answer such an argument. I consulted the William Lane Craig article and even the great man himself failed to name it. Secondly, it leads to doubt about the validity of the model. If Mr. Donahue will not even name the model, then this suggests that there is some flaw which could be brought up if I knew what it was.  We can therefore reject Mr. Donahue’s objection to the first premise. However, rather than presenting a negative response to his objection, I will actually go as far as demonstrating the argument to be false.

P1: Quantum gravity models require the Minkowski interpretation of special relativity.
P2: The Minkowski interpretation of special relativity is false.
C: Quantum gravity models are false.

As a preliminary note, when my last paper mentioned Einstein’s theory of general relativity, I really meant ”Neo-Newtonian space-time”. I didn’t phrase my article in such a way because it is overly technical, and the two theories are mathematically equivalent. [4]

The Minkowski interpretation of special relativity is an interpretation of special relativity which denies an absolute frame of reference. The Neo-Lorentzian interpretation, which both of us agree is the best one, asserts the existence of an absolute frame of reference. Einstein’s general relativity is based on the Minkowski interpretation of SR[5], while Neo-Newtonian space-time is based on the Neo-Lorentzian interpretation of SR.

Quantum gravity is an attempt at using the principle of quantum mechanics to understand the force of gravity. Mainstream quantum gravity is based on Einstein’s general theory of relativity [6], which in turn is based on the Minkowski interpretation of special relativity. This is why using quantum gravity to cast doubt on my argument is actually contradictory with the worldview of Mr. Donahue.  We both agree that the best interpretation of special relativity is the Neo-Lorentzian interpretation, where there is an absolute frame of reference. However, quantum gravity entails an interpretation of special relativity which denies an absolute frame of reference. Mr. Donahue is therefore presenting a contradictory argument.

The second premise is supported by all of the evidence we have in physics.

The Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation is left-over radiation from the Big Bang explosion. It is taken as one of the best pieces of evidence that the Big Bang really happened[7]. The existence of the CMBR confirms Lorentz’s idea that there is an ether. The book Einstein, Relativity, and Absolute Simultaneity describes how the CMBR serves as an ether: ‘’The cosmic microwave background radiation fills all of space and is remarkably isotropic for any observer at rest with respect to the expansion of space. The radiation background will be anisotropic for any observer in motion with respect to an observer whose spatial coordinates remain fixed. It is therefore a sort of ether, serving to distinguish physically a fundamental universal reference frame.’’ As the theoretical physicist Lee Smolin writes in Time Reborn, ‘’Another way to fix a preferred family of observers is to use the cosmic microwave background. These preferred observers see the CMBR coming at them at the same temperature from all directions in the sky.’’[8] It should be remembered that this is not merely theoretical, but the motion of bodies has actually been measured relative to the CMBR. The following experiment is mentioned in Einstein, Relativity, and Absolute Simultaneity: ‘‘’Smoot, Gorenstein, and Muller discovered that the Earth is moving relative to the radiation background with a velocity of 390+60 km/sec in the direction of the constellation Leo. They comment, ‘’The cosine anisotropy is most readily interpreted as being due to the motion of the Earth relative to the rest frame of the cosmic blackbody radiation-what Peebles calls the ‘new aether drift’’’.’’’.[9]

Alain Aspect’s experiments with Bell’s Inequalities also serve as experimental vindication of the NL interpretation. Alain Aspect’s experiments with Bell’s inequalities demonstrate simultaneous causation with spatially distant photons. The measurement of one photon causes the other photon to instantaneously take on an anti-correlated spin [10]. A measurement of particle A causes an instantaneous change at particle B, which requires absolute simultaneity. The implications of this experiment on the Minkowski interpretation are huge, and some physicists and philosophers of physics take it as empirical falsification of the MI, and proof of the NL interpretation. As the physicist S.J. Prokhovnki writes, ‘’The notion of non-local causality, discussed by Bell, requires a criterion of absolute simultaneity which has some absolute significance: it is seem that a cosmological basis for a universal measure of cosmic time resolves this problem…’’[11]

It therefore follows that P2 is true. Since P1 is also true, the conclusion is true as well. Therefore, we have good reasons to reject any argument against the first premise based on quantum gravity.

III: Vallicella and Craig

Mr. Donahue has proposed that the first state of time can be thought of as the interval  0 < t ≤ 1. Now, according to the definition of a first state of time as presented by Donahue, this must be the first interval of time. However, this cannot plausibly represent the first interval of time. There is an earlier interval than this interval, which is the interval 0 < t  ≤ .9. This is an earlier interval than 0 < t ≤ 1 because it does not contain states of time which correspond to the real numbers between .9 and 1. Once can continue the process of identifying an earlier interval for a potentially infinite amount of times. Therefore, there is no first interval.

Even if his definition was valid, in what sense could god cause this interval to exist? He cannot cause any part of it, as any T that is greater than 0 and less than or equal to 1 will be sufficiently caused by a previous T. He cannot cause the whole thing, as the whole thing is instantiated by the fact that every T is sufficiently caused by a previous T. Mr. Donahue captures my reasoning spot-on when he writes (rhetorically) ”if the first temporal interval of the universe of the universe is half-open, then every state of the universe is caused by a previous state, so where, so to speak, does God cause the universe to come into being? Which state of the universe does God cause?”

Mr. Donahue would answer that ”there are parallel cases of things coming into being in half-open intervals of time, and yet having external causes”, which is an argument based on statements from William Vallicella and Craig. I will respond to each of their arguments individually.

William Vallicella’s argument, contrary to his assertion that his parody is parallel with Smith’s, is not the same. According to Vallicella, we can delete the first instant of my life, such as my birth, and my life would be a continuum of half-open states of time. However, it’s obvious that my birth had an external cause, so the fact that something is a continuum of half-open states of time does not mean it has an external cause. The argument fails as a parody by an analysis of the first instant of time and the first instant of my birth. In my previous paper, I gave arguments against the physical ontology of the Big Bang singularity. Its attributes are self-contradictory, like the attributes of having infinite temperature while also being a zero-dimensional point. The singularity at T=0 is deleted because it is necessary to do so. The deletion of the first instant of my birth is arbitrary and there are no reasons to do so. The key difference between the two deletions is that a first instant of the universe is physically impossible, while a first instant of my birth is physically possible. Vallicella seems to think that the argument reasons that since there is a continuum of half-open states, there cannot be an external cause. Rather, the reasoning is that a first instant is physically impossible, ergo there is a continuum of half-open states, ergo there is no external cause. Vallicella’s parody cannot be equal to Smith’s argument because it cannot contain the false premise ”the first instant of my birth is physically impossible”.

Quentin Smith takes this position in his article "A Cosmological Argument for a Self-Caused Universe". [12] He writes that,
"Some philosophers have argued that if the first instant of the first hour after the Big Bang can be 'deleted' (i.e., regarded as a nonexistent), then the first instant of any hour can be deleted. This would allow one to say that any hour or hour-long process has no external cause, since each of its instantaneous states is caused by earlier instantaneous states that are internal to the hour-long process. They say a cannon ball’s flying through the air could then be 'causally explained' without referring to the relevant external event, the explosion of the gun powder in the cannon, by saying that each instantaneous state of the ball’s movement is caused by earlier instantaneous states of its movement, implying that the external event, the gun powder explosion, is not the cause of the ball’s movement. Their mistake is failing to realize that the first hour after the Big Bang lacks a first instant because of a unique circumstance, that there is a cosmic singularity. There is no cosmic singularity at the present hour or at the various hours they mention and Big Bang cosmology implies these hours or hour-long processes must have a first instant. The first instantaneous state of the cannon’s ball movement is externally caused by the explosion of the gunpowder.”
Robin Collins, a professor of philosophy, wrote an article called "Objections to Smith’s Cosmological Argument" [13] which states some of the points Vallicella made about motion. Like Vallicella, Collins argues that if every state of a cannon ball firing is caused by a previous state of the cannon ball firing, then the gunpowder did not cause the cannon ball to fire. However, it clearly did, so there is something wrong with Smith’s reasoning. I will articulate the response made by Paul Draper and Quentin Smith in their article “Collins on Cannons and Cosmology”. [14] . They argue that that the PCE is better stated as "Once the existence of each of the parts (states) of the universe has a historically complete explanation in terms of (earlier) parts of the universe, the existence of the universe is completely explained, since the existence of the universe is a logical consequence of the existence of its parts." From this correction, Smith is able to say that ”Since the flight of the cannonball does not have a historically complete explanation in terms of earlier parts of that flight, no sound parallel argument can be constructed for the conclusion that the flight of the cannonball is completely explained by its parts and their causal relations.” I think this is sufficient to answer ”Mitchell’s Life Entailment Argument”, “The Truncated Universe Entailment Argument”, and “The Tennis Ball Entailment Argument”.

Vallicella also argues that "Hence each state’s being caused by earlier states cannot be invoked to explain why the universe began to exist." I am not sure as to why Mr. Donahue felt it was necessary to use this quote. My argument is not that we can explain the universe by saying that each state of the universe is caused by a previous state, although I think that’s true. The argument only seeks to eliminate a certain type of cause from the different causes that we can consider. There is no step in the argument which requires the reasoning that "the universe began to exist because every state of the universe is caused by a previous state".

There are arguments from Craig that motion would be impossible if Smith’s argument is correct. [15] He objects to it on what you could call a Zeno’s paradox of motion. I think these concerns can be solved through invoking supertasks. Supertasks entail dividing finite intervals of time into smaller states of time. I will present the most common way of solving Zeno’s paradox through the use of supertasks: The successive distances covered by Achilles as he progressively reaches the mid points of the spans he has left to go through form an infinite series 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/16 + … whose sum is 1. Consequently, Achilles will indeed reach point B (x = 1) at t* = 1 P.M. (which is to be expected if he travels with velocity v = 1 km/h, as has been assumed). Then there is no problem whatsoever in splitting up his run into smaller sub-runs and, so, no inherent problem about the notion of supertask. [16]

IV: Implications of Cosmological Atheology

I wanted to devote a section to stating the implications of my arguments on things other than the existence of god. Indeed, it does much more than demonstrate that god does not exist. I’ll simply quote from ”Collins on Cannons and Cosmology” to make this point, as Draper and Smith worded it very articulately. [17]
”First, Big Bang cosmology undermines one major theistic argument, namely, the kalam cosmological argument. This result is remarkable, since most defenders of the kalam argument appeal to Big Bang cosmology for support. According to the kalam argument, anything that begins to exist has a cause other than itself of its existence; therefore, since the universe began to exist, it follows that it has a cause other than itself of its existence. Suppose on the one hand that 'begins to exist' means 'has a first moment of its existence.' Then the second premise of this argument, the premise that the universe began to exist, should be rejected. For as explained above, Big Bang cosmology supports the view that the universe cannot exist at t0 and more generally has no earliest moment. Suppose, on the other hand, that “begins to exist” just means 'is finitely old.' Then the first premise of the argument asserts that anything that is finitely old has a cause other than itself of its existence. The argument in 'A Cosmological  Argument for a Self-Caused Universe' shows, however, that there is no good reason to believe that this premise is true. A finitely old universe with no first moment can have a complete explanation of its existence even if it has no 'external' cause. 
Second, even if we cannot disprove God’s existence, we still have a powerful probabilistic argument against it, indeed one having the same logical structure as Collins’ design argument. For Smith showed in 'A Cosmological  Argument for a Self-Caused Universe,' not just that a self-caused universe is possible, but also that its actuality is supported by our best scientific cosmology. Surely theists should be surprised by this while metaphysical naturalists, who deny the existence of supernatural causes, should not. Granted, many naturalists believe that the existence of our universe is a 'brute fact' (that is, a fact having no explanation); but the only reason they hold this belief is that they mistakenly think that a naturalistic explanation of the universe is impossible. Therefore, relying on Collins’ 'likelihood principle,' we can draw the following conclusion: the fact that our best scientific theory of the origin and evolution of the universe supports the claim that the universe is self-caused is antecedently much more likely given naturalism than it is given theism and so is very strong evidence supporting naturalism over theism.”
V: Conclusion

1: Appeals to QG models from Mr. Donahue are speculative and weak. Besides this issue, Mr. Donahue fails to state what QG model he’s even talking about. It is also the case that appealing to QG models contradicts Mr. Donahue’s belief in the Neo-Lorentzian interpretation of special relativity.

2:  0 < t ≤ 1 cannot represent the earliest interval of time.

3: William Vallicella’s parody is not parallel with Smith’s.

4: My argument still offers a refutation of the KCA and a probabilistic argument against the existence of god.

  1. Mitchell, L.A. “General Relativity Entails That the Universe Has No External Cause.” (n.d.): n. pag. Doubting Dave. Web. 29 Sept. 2013. 
  2. Donahue, Miles. “General Relativity Proves What, You Say?: A Response to L. A. Mitchell.” (n.d.): n. pag. Science, Philosophy, and God. Web. 29 Sept. 2013. 
  3. Lane Craig, William. “Our Grasp of Objective Moral Values.” ReasonableFaith.org. ReasonableFaith, n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2013. "But possibilities come cheap."
  4. Dainton, Barry. Time and Space. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print. 
  5. Evans, M.W., and H. Eckardt. “The Development Of General Relativity With The Minkowski Metric.” Alpha Institute for Advanced Studies (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. 
  6. “Quantum Gravity –The Missing Link to Understanding the Evolution of the Universe.” N.p., n.d. Web. 
  7. Krauss, Lawrence M. “Light from the Beginning of Time.” A Universe From Nothing. N.p.: Atria, 2012. 42. Print. 
  8. Smolin, Lee. “Time Reborn from Relativity.” Time Reborn. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. 166. Print. 
  9. Smith, Quentin, and William Lane Craig. “Metaphysics of Special Relativity.” Einstein, Relativity, and Absolute Simultaneity. New York: Routledge, 2007. 29. Print. ,
  10. The Fabric of the Cosmos, pgs 112-115
  11. Smith, Quentin, and William Lane Craig. “Metaphysics of Special Relativity.” Einstein, Relativity, and Absolute Simultaneity. New York: Routledge, 2007. 33. Print. ,
  12. Smith, Quentin. “A Cosmological Argument for a Self-Caused Universe.” (n.d.): n. pag. Internet Infidels. Web. 29 Sept. 2013. .
  13. Collins, Robin. “Objections to Smith’s Cosmological Argument.” (2008): n. pag. Internet Infidels Library. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. .
  14. Smith, Quentin, and Paul Draper. “Collins on Cannons and Cosmology.” (n.d.): n. pag. Internet Infidels Library. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. 
  15. Craig, William Lane. “Science and Religion.” California Polytechnic State University. Veritas Forum, Pomona, CA. 2004. 
  16. Pérez, Laraudogoitia, Jon. “Supertasks.” Stanford University. Stanford University, 29 June 1999. Web. 29 Sept. 2013. 
  17. Smith, Quentin, and Paul Draper. “Collins on Cannons and Cosmology.” (n.d.): n. pag. Internet Infidels Library. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. 

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