Thursday, April 26, 2012

Is God Just a Human Invention - Chapter 5 How Did the Universe Begin?

As mentioned previously, I am following a book club type format for this book over on another blog. I was going to just participate over there but I have a lot more to say than I want to shove into their comments, so I figured I'd do a normal long form post over here and then just talk about 1 or 2 main points over there. I'm sticking to my normal format of bold for section heading, regular text for summary, and italics for my commentary.


Basically a very quick introduction to big bang ideas with a little history of it. It mentions Albert Einstein's cosmological constant and a few other interesting facts. It mentions that we now pretty much all agree that the universe has a beginning, which naturally leads to wonder what caused the beginning of the universe. It also mentions Anthony Flew, who used to be "the world's leading academic atheist" until 2003 when he announced he was a theist. It briefly talks about why he changed his mind, I hope they go into that more as it sounds very interesting, if they don't touch on it might I will have to put it on my list of things to look up later.

Kalam Cosmological Argument

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause
2. The universe began to exist
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

What has actually been said I don't have much of a problem with, of course what was in this section doesn't talk about how we connect this to God at all. That is where the garbage starts to come in as far as I usually see. 

Alternate Explanations?

"Given the powerful theistic implications of the big bang model, the New Atheists have been eager to find an alternative explanation"

I have never seen an atheist try to claim the big bang didn't happen. This is just deceptive garbage.

In the 60s and 70s some cosmologists postulated that the universe infinitely expands and contracts. This theory is plagued with problems.

Yup, that is how science works, you come up with an idea and then test it out as best you can. This idea seems to been false.

Stephen Hawking popularized a theory that "rounded off" time at the beginning of the big bang by using imaginary numbers. "The problem is that imaginary numbers don't translate to the real world."

I don't even know what that quote is supposed to mean, but imaginary numbers show up in the real world all the time. Honestly, after reading that sentence, I want to just stop reading this book, it is pure garbage. It is so fucking dishonest! They also put "imaginary numbers" in quotes, implying they are bullshit. Just for the record, here is something I found with a quick google search about how imaginary numbers are used in real life.

Who Made God?

The atheists ask what caused God, but the point is that God is eternal. The argument only applies to things that begin to exist and God didn't begin to exist because he is eternal. Besides, if God was caused by something, then that thing must be caused by something and we have the same infinite regress problem. Since infinities are impossible this doesn't make sense.

Saying God can be eternal and the universe (or multiverse) can't be is special pleading. Infinite regress is not a problem if you are not afraid of infinities. You can have an infinite chain of causes provided you have an infinite amount of time in the past.

Kalam and the Judeo-Christian God

Sam Harris said that even if we accepted that the universe had to be created by an intelligent being, this would not suggest the God of the bible. We agree, but Kalam reveals that the universe was made and that someone made it

Wrong, it shows that there was a beginning of the universe, it does not show anything about an intelligent creator.


I'm pretty disgusted with this book right now. It has constantly misrepresented the arguments of the prominent atheists. It is possible that they are just mistaken about things, but I think they are purposefully misrepresenting their opponents for their own ends. They also said some pretty ridiculous things about math in this chapter that really irks me to read (for those new here, I am a mathematician).

The next chapter is "How Did Life Begin?". I'm sure it will be a hatchet job on abiogenesis. I'm not sure if I will do it, it partly will depend on if there is any interesting discussion over on apologetics 315 which is why I started this. Also, if anyone is reading along and wants me to continue please speak up. That could sway me.


  1. With regard to the big bang thing, on a second look I think this was just their way to lead into ideas such as the multiverse. I don't think they were trying to claim that atheists say that the big bang doesn't happen, they were trying to say atheists try to get around it or something. I still think it is worded poorly and can easily be misinterpreted to say what I thought on my first look. Also, the idea that the multiverse is a way around the big bang is just silly.

    1. I don't think the Kalam Cosmological Argument involves special pleading, although the traditional Cosmological Argument surely does.

      I kinda like the multiverse idea. Maybe it's because I'm a sci-fi nerd. I think a multiverse is more important to explain the fine tuning argument than the cause of the Big Bang.

      You might like Brian Greene's The Hidden Reality. It goes over a dozen ways there could be a multiverse, including one that might appeal to a mathematician.

      How's the book club work with the apologetics site? Do the apologists get to read atheist friendly books too?

    2. Doesn't Kalam involve special pleading when it claims that God did not begin to exist? In fact, isn't that why the first premise is worded in such an odd way?

      Hidden reality looks cool, I'll add it to my (ever growing) reading list. Thanks for the suggestion.

    3. I think it would only be special pleading if we weren't fairly sure the universe began to exist. There is no rule God is being exempt from. I could be wrong.

      Regardless it's still a lousy argument. Jumping to the conclusion of an intelligent creator is unfounded and the word eternal for anything outside the universe loses meaning when time itself began with the universe.

      1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause
      2. Time began to exist
      3. Therefore, time has a cause.

      ...but when could this cause occur? ;-)

    4. That is a good point, it is so strange to think of time starting at the beginning of the universe it is easy to confuse myself. "What came before the universe" might simply be a nonsense question.

      I think maybe the special pleading comes in after the clean 3 point argument when they try to insert God in as the answer. If you try to say "maybe it is the multiverse that is the cause, or maybe it is something we haven't thought of" they will say "no, it has to be God"

      I looked for a write up somewhere by WLC about how he makes the connection at the end but I am not seeing anything. The wikipedia page mentions that he just sorta insists at the end that it must be God, but the reference is a book so I can't go look it up.

      I guess it doesn't really matter as the argument seems to have a million things wrong with it, but it is annoying that it is hard to get a full version directly from him to shoot holes in. It's almost like he knows it is a bad argument.

  2. From what I have gathered, Christian apologists are not claiming that atheists want to avoid the Big Bang, but rather that atheists want something to happen before the Big Bang so that there isn't an ultimate beginning. WLC goes into some detail and quotes good work on this at Reasonable Faith.

    It is true that a variety of models have been put forth for what occurred before the Big Bang, but none have allowed us to conclusively avoid a beginning. We are pretty confident that inflation (which is consistent with General Relativity and normal matter) occurred before the Big Bang, but inflation could not have gone on forever everywhere.

    Bounces, reproduction from black holes and similar models that have a large universe before the Big Bang require a theory other than General Relativity with normal matter. It is anyone's guess what that theory might be.

    We know that General Relativity with normal matter is not the ultimate theory of quantum gravity. At high enough temperature and pressure it will fail to work. We don't know what replaces it, and we don't know whether that theory will be friendly to bounces (or similar) or to a spontaneous beginning.

    Also, where is the support for the claim that "Everything that begins has a cause." The universe is full of uncaused quantum fluctuations and decay products. Everyday things like coffee cups have a cause, but the universe isn't an everyday sort of thing.

    1. "From what I have gathered, Christian apologists are not claiming that atheists want to avoid the Big Bang, but rather that atheists want something to happen before the Big Bang so that there isn't an ultimate beginning."

      I think you are right, I went back and read that portion again and I think my initial assessment was incorrect.

      "It is anyone's guess what that theory might be."

      This is probably the most important thing here, no one really knows what really happened and nobody knows what new theory will solve the problems. Anyone that claims they really know what happened should be looked at very skeptically. They are trying to fool you, possibly because they have also fooled themselves.

      I do love that you can come by here though, and give us a sense of what we do know. I'm not going to pretend that I completely understand it, but it is really awesome to see and I figure every time I see such a thing my understanding increases just a little bit.

      "Also, where is the support for the claim that "Everything that begins has a cause."

      I know, that bugs me too, but there always seems to be a more egregious error at play that seems to draw my attention away from this.

      "The universe is full of uncaused quantum fluctuations and decay products."

      I'm wondering if you can expand on this a bit. When you say decay products I assume you are talking about things like radioactive decay. So if we are talking about half life, we know that after a half life has passed, half of the radioactivity will have decayed away, but we have no way of knowing which part it will be. I always thought of that as "We don't really understand the mechanism so we don't know the cause so we can't tell which atoms will decay". Where what you seem to be saying is it is "uncaused" in some way. Am I wrong in thinking it is just a cause that is not yet well understood? Is there even a way to untangle the idea of uncaused from the idea of a cause which is not understood?

      I think I stumbled over my question a little bit but I hope it is clear what I am getting at.

    2. Sorry about all the typos. I'm having some technical problems with blog comment boxes, making corrections difficult.

      If you watch a single U238 atom it might sit there for a billion year and then abruptly decay. We know that there is no outside influence that causes this. We know that there is no internal clock that triggers the decay. It is sitting there. Then it decays. No cause.

      We know this because outside interactions and internal clocks would affect the information content of the atom. This would have a measurable affect on interference experiments. I'd be hard pressed to devise an experiment that would show this directly, but it is part of the structure of quantum mechanics. We have many experiments confirming all of the parts of that structure, so we are very confident at this point.

    3. That is super interesting. I am curious if you have a good reference for that fact. Both because I might like to read more about it, and because it would be a nice thing to have chambered for the next time Kalam comes up.

      Also, I have a related question as long as I have got your ear, if you don't mind. Do we know why certain elements decay and why others don't. And do why know why different elements have different half-lives?


    4. If these topics interest you, you should learn quantum mechanics. Most people can't do the math, but if you have some math training, it will be no problem. If you want to learn the standard story, you should pick up an introductory quantum mechanics text. You will need to be able to solve easy partial differential equations, and find eigenvalues and eigenfunctions of some simple differential operators. Most problems can be reduced to linear algebra.

      If you want a more modern view you should grab something on quantum information and quantum computing. These books require less math (lineal algebra and some ordinary differential equations) but the ideas are more profound. These researchers have had to confront the central issues of quantum mechanics. It is mind bending. John Preskill at Cal Tech has some lecture notes from the 90s on his web page.

      Too bad ebooks stink at delivering mathematical content. If you speak math, you shouldn't be wasting your time on popular books about this stuff. The mathematical version is so much better.

    5. I love the idea of going through a quantum mechanics textbook. I was thinking that once I finish doing "the problem of pain" I would do Krauss' book next, but maybe I'll do this instead. Is there a physics equivalent of the Stewart calculus book? I could obviously do with an old edition and get away cheap.

    6. Take a look at

      These are Preskill's lecture notes and problem sets. The page is kind of a mess, but I think the books is written pretty well. You will mostly be interested in the first few chapters. Preskill explains how wave function collapse actually occurs, once you understand that it is easy to cut through a lot of the quantum mumbo-jumbo out there relating quantum mechanics to consciousness and other nonsense.

    7. That is absolutely awesome. I've saved the pdf's and bookmarked the page.

      Thanks again

    8. Thanks Gavin :) I bookmarked those pages as well. I will definately have to relearn calculus. Haven't taken it since high school (like 10 years ago) =)

  3. I will not be continuing over at 315. I think the Christian apologists make fools of themselves by acting like they are experts in everything. I'm a physicist/cosmologist. I stick to what I know.

    1. I keep changing my mind. I'll probably do at least one more week since there was some interesting (although somewhat infuriating) discussion over there last week.

  4. Does the book claim that evolution violates the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics? I go back to explain why that is nonsense.

    1. I did a search of the book, thermodynamics only showed up once when they were giving an argument for the universe having a finite past. Unless search on my kindle did a poor job they don't mention it in relation to evolution.

    2. Based on the table of contents, it looks like cosmological fine tuning is in Chapter 7. I'll save my comments on the Multiverse for then.

  5. Really interesting discussion here. I don't have anything to add to the Kalam argument, since it would be like kicking sand at an already demolished city. :)

    Thanks for your posts Gavin. There is so much cool stuff about quantum mechanics and the universe. I'm slowly learning about it, though I'm not going to pretent that I really understand all of it. =P


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