Debate Review: Sean Carroll vs. William Lane Craig: God and Cosmology!

by Randy Everist

The debate on God and cosmology at the Greer-Heard Forum (hosted by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) was extremely interesting. Representing the Christian side was William Lane Craig, and representing the skeptic side was cosmologist/theoretical physicist Sean Carroll. This was an exceptional debate (though it could have been better), in part because Carroll did better than Lawrence Krauss. Since this debate was concerned mostly with cosmology and whether or not it acted as evidence for God’s existence, much of it was over my comprehension. As a result, what follows is a basic overview, and I will undoubtedly fail to represent some aspect of the science correctly (I’ll do my best to keep that to a minimum). As anyone who reads me knows, however, I will interact with the philosophy involved.

Craig wants to contend that contemporary cosmology makes God’s existence considerably more probable than it would be without it. This just means that he believes the evidence of cosmology functions itself as evidence (though now we are using “evidence” in two different ways: the first way to mean scientific evidence and the second to mean a more general, philosophical evidence). Craig claimed that in doing this, one is not employing contemporary cosmology to prove that God exists, but to support theologically neutral premises in arguments with theistic conclusions/implications. What Craig does here is appeal to only two main arguments for his subject. Many past critics of Craig should thusly be mollified (as a common complaint against Craig is that he simply presents too many arguments).[1] The arguments given are the kalam and teleological.

1. If the universe began to exist, then there is a transcendent cause that brought the universe into existence.

2. The universe began to exist.

3. Therefore, there is a transcendent cause that brought the universe into existence.

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Craig initially takes (1) to be obvious, focusing on (2). He gives two lines of evidence to support that the universe had a beginning: evidence from expansion of the universe and evidence from the second law of thermodynamics. The absolute beginning of the universe is predicted by the standard model, and has not been avoided; in fact, it [an absolute beginning] has been only strengthened, Craig contends. The Borde-Guth-Vilenkin [BGV] theorem predicts there will be a boundary; either something is “beyond” the boundary or not. If not, then the boundary is the beginning. If something is beyond the boundary, that it will be that thing that is the beginning. Craig also appeals to the quantum region to point out that, among other things, it remains problematic why the universe transitioned to the state in which it now is some 13.7 billion years ago, and not some other time, say from eternity (or even not at all). I think this is a very powerful argument, and one that Carroll may not have even understood, since no response was ever given. Moving to the next line of evidence, given the naturalistic assumption that the universe is a closed system, then heat death will follow (from expansion). Why, if the universe has existed forever, is it not now in a cold, dark state of heat death? The universe cannot have existed forever; there was an absolute beginning a finite time ago. Carroll’s solution is that the overall condition of the universe is a state of equilibrium, but we are in a baby universe in a state of disequilibrium. The production of such universes is conjectural (and, according to Craig, a violation of the unitarity of quantum theory). There are irretrievable natural laws from the mother universe.

The fine tuning argument (teleological) is how Craig usually does it. Craig addresses the objection that since we live in a finely tuned world, we shouldn’t be surprised that the world is finely tuned by using Boltzmann brains as a counter-objection. This objection is stating that there will be many more universes in which there are no actual observers such as we are than universes where there are such observers; of these non-observer universes, there will be many Boltzmann brains, brought about by thermal fluctuations. Therefore, on the whole of probability, it is far more probable that we would find ourselves as Boltzmann brains than the observers that we are, if a multiverse scenario were true…

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