Friday, July 18, 2008

Philosopher: God is not dead, and physics arguments are one of the reasons

In a ground-breaking article in Christianity Today, philosopher William Lane Craig takes to task the recent spate of shallow village-atheist books because

New Atheism lacks intellectual muscle. It is blissfully ignorant of the revolution that has taken place in Anglo-American philosophy. It reflects the scientism of a bygone generation rather than the contemporary intellectual scene.
Interestingly, arguments from physics play a key role in Craig's view, for example the kalam cosmological argument:

This version of the argument has a rich Islamic heritage. Stuart Hackett, David Oderberg, Mark Nowacki, and I have defended the kalam argument. Its formulation is simple:

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

Premise (1) certainly seems more plausibly true than its denial. The idea that things can pop into being without a cause is worse than magic. Nonetheless, it's remarkable how many nontheists, under the force of the evidence for premise (2), have denied (1) rather than acquiesce in the argument's conclusion.

Atheists have traditionally denied (2) in favor of an eternal universe. But there are good reasons, both philosophical and scientific, to doubt that the universe had no beginning. Philosophically, the idea of an infinite past seems absurd. If the universe never had a beginning, then the number of past events in the history of the universe is infinite. Not only is this a very paradoxical idea, but it also raises the problem: How could the present event ever arrive if an infinite number of prior events had to elapse first?

Moreover, a remarkable series of discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics over the last century has breathed new life into the kalam argument. We now have fairly strong evidence that the universe is not eternal in the past, but had an absolute beginning about 13.7 billion years ago in a cataclysmic event known as the Big Bang.

The Big Bang is so amazing because it represents the origin of the universe from literally nothing. For all matter and energy, even physical space and time themselves, came into being at the Big Bang. While some cosmologists have tried to craft alternative theories aimed at avoiding this absolute beginning, none of these theories have commended themselves to the scientific community.

In fact, in 2003 cosmologists Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin were able to prove that any universe that is, on average, in a state of cosmic expansion cannot be eternal in the past but must have had an absolute beginning. According to Vilenkin, "Cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning." It follows then that there must be a transcendent cause that brought the universe into being, a cause that, as we have seen, is plausibly timeless, spaceless, immaterial, and personal.
Or else ... there are a zillion flopped universes out there, and all your nightmares are alive and are coming to get you ... [!!!]

To protect yourself, immediately invoke O'Leary's Protocol:
1. If it sounds nuts, assume it is.
2. Lay off the beer.
3. Cork the Kickin' Ass hot sauce.
4. When in doubt, doubt.
5. And if it sounds unbelievable, don't believe it.
6. Rinse face. Repeat, as needed, especially 2. and 3. ...
7. Pray. If God is trying to get your attention, don't argue, listen.