Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Cavuto on Campus

The question mark: A harmless punctuation mark or a way to get a way with saying anything ridiculously subjective without sounding biased? Jon Stewart explains:

Stewart Lampoons Cavuto

I ran across another interesting poster on campus this week, with the headline "Does God Exist? An informal debate." Reading closer, I noticed that this debate was sponsored by "Campus for Christ" and "UW Debate Society." With that, I knew that it wasn't a question mark being used in the headline, it was a Cavuto, covering up the fact that the headline actually said "God exists. Watch as an atheist fails to prove a universal negative in our 'debate.'"

Read more about this at the website they've made, with plenty of articles on the subject as well. But, of course, every one of these articles supports the belief that God exists, without one explanation of why he doesn't (or even might not). So, with that in mind, I'm taking it upon myself to write a reply to their "God exists" article. Before reading on, make sure you've read my previous post on The Ultimate Answer.

It starts off tamely:

"You can't prove God exists and you can't prove God doesn't exist." This is the response one often hears when the question of God's existence is raised.

It is true in one trivial sense, but quite misleading in another critical sense. If we are using "prove" in the strict sense of absolute certainty, it may be true that we can't prove or disprove God's existence.

I'd argue that it in fact is true that we can neither prove nor disprove God (or anything).

But this does not mean that there is no good evidence or arguments for God, which might make belief in God's existence very reasonable. We know very little (if anything) with absolute mathematical certainty, so certainty is neither a reasonable or necessary standard. Like virtually all of our other knowledge, I think we can show that it is highly probable that God exists.

And already they've dropped the masquerade of presenting both sides in order to answer a question. *sigh*


There is no shortage of good arguments for God's existence. Alvin Plantinga, arguably one of the world's more brilliant philosophers, once delivered a paper outlining two dozen or so theistic arguments. Space will limit me to two.


Premise 1. Whatever begins to exist must have a cause.
Premise 2. The Universe began to exist.
Conclusion: Therefeore the Universe has a cause.1

Whatever begins to exist must have a cause. Most of us have no problem accepting this principle. We assume its truth in virtually every aspect in our daily lives. Our experience always confirms it and never denies it. But surprisingly philosophers have been unable to prove its veracity.


Nevertheless, it has always been a fundamental first principle of philosophy and science that "from nothing, nothing comes", "being cannot come from non-being".

Most people may have no problem with the first premise, but I'll flat out deny it right now. I'll also deny the claim that science agrees that "from nothing, nothing comes." This may have been believed by scientists at once, but not anymore. A new potential phenomenon has been theorized which literally is something coming from nothing.

What I'm talking about here is Pair Production. When one zooms down to the quantum scale, one can see fluctuations going on even in a vacuum. Some of these fluctuations result in a particle and its negative version (a version having negative charge, mass, spin, and every other conserved property) being created simultaneously, then quickly recombining into nothing. Now, it's also commonly theorized that negative-mass particles would travel backwards through time, so one could observe this as a particle orbiting through one spatial dimension and one time dimension. There's no innate cause to the particle being there, it just does exist.

This could also be theoretically applied to the universal scale. We know that our universe started out at a quantum scale, so the fluctuations could have theoretically allowed pair-production of universes. Of course, this is just one theory. Other theories of the creation of the universe postulate that this universe is the result of natural processes in an outside "universe" of possibly infinite time.

The article mostly continues along this line of argumentation, and then goes to explain why God is exempt from these rules:

Most Common Objection

"What caused God"

The question "What caused X?" only makes sense if there was some indication that "X" had a beginning. There is nothing that indicates that the cause of the Big Bang had a beginning. In fact since time did not exist beyond the Big Bang, the cause of the Big Bang must have existed timelessly. Thus it could have no beginning, and hence no cause. We may want to say this about the universe, but we can't, since as we have seen, the evidence is the universe had a beginning.

Let's start with "time did not exist beyond the Big Bang." This is presented as simply a fact, with no supporting evidence. If we allow that time did exist before the Big Bang in some sense, then this argument starts to fall apart.

This attempt to answer the question of "What caused God?" mostly revolves around the claim the God is "timeless." The problem here is that "timeless" is never well defined. So, let's see if we can figure out what it means, and what possibilities are allowed. Normally, we think of time as being a dimensional axis with special properties leading to change, causality, and with laws of conservation. We also have spacial axes which, if viewed as if they were time, would exhibit change, but no reasonable causality or conservation laws. There's also no reason we can't also extend this to have multiple time-like axes, where a variance in one would show change to the entirety of our universe's existence.

So, what would it mean for something to be timeless? The Oxford Desk Dictionary defines it as "not affected by the passage of time" or "eternal." God is already defined to be eternal (that is, existing at all times), so this does us no good. The other alternative is that he's not affected by the passage of time at all - that is he's static. Given that the Bible shows him thinking and doing things, this is obviously untrue.

That covers all existing definitions, and since neither of them covers how they seem to be using it, "Timeless" now meets the qualifications for Doggerel. Okay, so let's try to think about what they likely mean by it, then. What possibility is left? I planted a seed in a previous paragraph about this that could explain how they're thinking: God exists on a separate time-like axis. This seems to cover all that they're claiming. There could legitimately be no time (on our axis) before God created our universe, but there's still a time (on his axis) for this before to actually exist. It's also time-like, so he could sit there and think in it. And, since he's omnipotent, there's no reason not to limit him to stay in that axis; he could easily switch over to our time axis once it's created.

But the problem with this is that it still requires the existence of a form of time for God. Whatever they may use to explain this (aside from meaningless appeals to "It's magic."), the problem still remains that God must experience time, with or without our universe. Once this is clear, we can still demand an answer to "What created God?" If they don't deny they're in a corner here, the only options they have are that God was either created from nothing, or he's infinite. The former is unlikely to be used, as it would leave open the possibility that the universe could be created from nothing. Now, let's go on to the latter.

Say God is infinite. This means that at the bottom level of the universe, God just exists. The bottom level is the existance of a being of ultimate power and knowledge. It doesn't sound too reasonable to me, but that alone isn't an argument against it. What is an argument against it, however, is the existence of other possibilities. I already pointed out a couple of these. One of these is pair production from nothing, and the other is natural processes in some other, infinite universe. Both of these are fundamentally simpler than a being of infinite power, and thus more reasonable to hypothesize. But the existance of these possibilities does nothing to disprove God. What it does do, however, is provide a reason why their line of argumentation does not necessitate a god, and thus provides no actual evidence for him.

There's one other key argument they use in this article, the fine-tuning argument:

Astrophysicists have been discovering that the Big Bang appears to have been incredibly fine-tuned. Stephen Hawking describes the situation,

"...the universe and the laws of physics seem to have been specifically designed for us. If any one of about 40 physical qualities had more than slightly different values, life as we know it could not exist: Either atoms would not be stable, or they wouldn't combine into molecules, or the stars wouldn't form the heavier elements, or the universe would collapse before life could develop, and so on..."7

The numerical values of the different natural forces like gravity, electromagnetism, subatomic forces, charges of electrons, etc. "just happened" to fall into an extremely narrow range that is conducive for life to exist. Minute changes in any one of these forces would have destroyed the possibility for life and in most cases destroyed the universe itself.

At first glance, this seems like a valid argument. But let's go back to the two scenarios I hypothesized earlier for the creation of our universe. The first is pair-production from nothing, which leaves open the possibility of this happening at other times in other places in the "nothing," giving a potentially infinite number of universes. The other possibility was natural processes within an outer universe, which also leaves open the possibility of replication, creating multiple universes.

The article lists a few examples of physical laws and constants that appear to be fine-tuned. Some of these we can easily see being variable in different universes, such as the expansion rate (and similarly, the amount of matter). Since we're allowing an unlimited number of universes to be created, certainly many (infinitely many still) will meet the requirements of these variable constants.

But what about other constants, that aren't apparently variable, such as the proton-electron mass ratio? The Christians claim that God can just set this to be whatever he wishes, so they're already saying that they can be varied. When we get down to think about it, there's no concrete reason that we also can't hypothesize that these constants (and possibly many laws of physics as well) are in fact variable outside our universe, and they're chosen randomly at the creation of the universe. Once we've allowed this, there will exist some finite (if miniscule) chance of a universe being created that meets all the needs for intelligent life to form. Once it does, and chance also leads to intelligent life existing in that universe, we'll exist right there wondering why we exist there.

So, the problem comes down to plausibility. Is it more plausible to assume a god, a being of infinite power creating one universe so that intelligent life will be created there, or to assume the random creation of an infinite number of universes, some of which will be amenable to life, allowing life to form? The latter takes up much more space, it seems, but at the bottom has very little necessary complexity. The former, on the other hand, has an extremely high level of complexity at the bottom level. In fact, what seems unlikely here is that in the beginning things would be just right to have this infinitely powerful being. Don't the arguments of Intelligent Design advocates themselves say this can't happen?

As before, this doesn't disprove God. But it does provide an alternative, which is possibly more reasonable. Given this, it would be fallacious to say that the fine-tuning of the universe implies the existence of a God. After all, wouldn't the God need to be fine-tuned to be so powerful? No appealing to the supernatural here, let's keep it to logical explanations.

Now, just to clarify. What I've done here isn't intended as evidence that there is no god, or even that God doesn't exist as the Christians picture him. This is just a rebuttal of their claims of evidence for this god. I could get into evidence that their view of a god is unlikely, but this post is long enough already, and plenty of people have already gone into it.

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