Reflections on the Craig /Carroll debate part 3:- From Teleology to Morality

3) In this part I want to see if its possible to slide seemlessly from teleology to morality.

The second major facet of the debate concerned the phenomena of cosmic fine-tuning. This time Carroll began with a concession: “This is the best argument that the theists have when it comes to cosmology.” However, in the very next sentence he maintained: “It is still a terrible argument, that is not at all convincing.” So what are his main complaints about the argument, an argument which relies solely on the data that the vast majority of the scientific fraternity agree exists, and from which very reasonable philosophical and theological inferences can be drawn?

Well, his first objection is to dispute the very existence of fine-tuning, on the premise that it is still really only speculation as to what constitutes life and what doesn’t. He says: “I am by no means convinced that there is a fine-tuning problem… I do not grant that therefore life could not exist… What is the definition of life…? There’s a huge panoply of possibilities. They sound very science fiction-ee… the results are gonna sound like they come from a science fiction novel.” Well, firstly, I’ll return to science fiction in a little while. But, secondly, this complaint is not new and has been considered many times before. Which is why WLC could refer to an article by the Australian physicist Luke Barnes who cites a vast array of world class cosmologists who acknowledge the phenomena. Among them is Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees who has explained:

“Any universe hospitable to life – what we might call a biophilic universe – has to be ‘adjusted’ in a particular way. The prerequisites for any life of the kind we know about — long-lived stable stars, stable atoms such as carbon, oxygen and silicon, able to combine into complex molecules, etc — are sensitive to the physical laws and to the size, expansion rate and contents of the universe. Indeed, even for the most open-minded science fiction writer, ‘life’ or ‘intelligence’ requires the emergence of some generic complex structures: It cant exist in a homogeneous universe, Not in a universe containing only a few dozen particles. Many recipes would lead to stillborn universes with no atoms, no chemistry, and no planets; or to universes too short-lived or too empty to allow anything to evolve beyond sterile uniformity.”

Goodness, even Richard Dawkins, in the God Delusion, accepted the reality of cosmic fine-tuning and the late Christopher Hitchens, like Carroll, believed it to be the best argument for theism. As WLC himself has previously noted:

“If these constants or quantities are altered even a little, what happens is you wouldn’t even have chemistry or matter, much less planets and stars that could serve as places for life to evolve. That kind of response (we don’t know what other forms of life might have evolved) simply doesn’t understand the catastrophic consequences of altering these constants and quantities… By life, scientists just mean something like this: the ability of an organism to take in energy, metabolize it, and reproduce after its own kind. Anything that can do that is called life. It doesn’t have to be anything of a form familiar to us. It just has to fill that very generic definition of being able to do something of that sort.” (Read more:

Carroll’s other major complaint is that he doesn’t believe that an initial low entropy condition is necessary for our existence and he questioned why God would make the entropy of the universe so unnecessarily low in order to create us. In response, Craig made 3 very reasonable philosophical reflections to this qualm, but before referring to them we should first pause and reflect on the science itself. Carroll’s argument here is an extension of the one he made in ‘The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity’, where he wrote:

“The entropy didn’t need to be nearly that low in order for life to come into existence. One way of thinking about this is to note that we certainly don’t need a hundred billion other galaxies in the universe in order for life to arise here on earth; our single galaxy would have been fine, or for that matter a single solar system.”

With this in mind we can see that, again, Carroll was in fact making a highly contentious scientific claim, while espousing his own authority to ram it home as if it were recognized science fact.  It’s not! Renowned Cosmologists, John Barrow, John Wheeler and Martin Rees all independently contradict Carroll’s view, as a great many other cosmologists similarly would:- (My thanks to ‘Philosophical Theist’ for the references)

“Chemical complexity requires basic atomic building blocks which are heavier than the elements of hydrogen and helium which emerge from the hot early stages of the universe. Heavier elements, like carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, are made in the stars, as a result of nuclear reactions that take billions of years to complete. Then, they are dispersed through space by supernovae after which they find their way into grains, planets, and ultimately, into people. This process takes billions of years to complete and allows the expansion to produce a universe that is billions of light years in size. Thus we see why it is inevitable that the universe is seen to be so large. A universe that is billions of years old and hence billions of light years in size is a necessary pre-requisite for observers based upon chemical complexity.” (John D. Barrow, Cosmology and The Origin of Life)

“A Universe that contained just one galaxy like our own Milky Way, with its 100 billion stars, each perhaps surrounded by planetary systems, might seem a reasonable economy if one were in the universal construction business. But such a universe, with more than a 100 billion fewer galaxies than our own, could have expanded for little more than a few months. It could have produced neither stars nor biological elements. It could contain no astronomers.” (John Wheeler, The World Within The World)

“The very hugeness of our universe, which seems at first to signify how unimportant we are in the cosmic scheme, is actually entailed by our existence! This is not to say that there couldn’t have been a smaller universe, only that we could not have existed in it.” (Martin Rees, Just Six Numbers)

Moreover, Craig is quite right to point out that the fine-tuning argument is based on empirical observations alone. The relevance of these observations is not dependent on postulating, a priori, that the purpose of the universe is ‘us.’ He remarked, on the one hand, that there may well be other intelligent life scattered about our universe. (As an aside, if this were the case does it not present another intriguing interpretation of John 10:16..?) While on the other, as Robin Collins would later expound  in his paper, it could be that the initial low entropy conditions were necessary to facilitate the ‘discoverability’ of our universe. As Craig himself put it:

“God has given us a world that is susceptible to rational exploration and discovery. If God wanted to make a universe discoverable by embodied, conscious agents he might well make it in such a low entropy condition.”

And this brings me back to Carroll’s reference to science fiction and what I see as the second potential dichotomy for the naturalist :-

At the conclusion of his opening speech Carroll showed a photograph of  several hundred galaxies apparently taken from the Hubble telescope, before imposing the idea that theists believe the universe “is like that because we were going to be here.” He continued, “but there’s nothing in our experience of the universe that justifies the kind of flattering story we like to tell about ourselves.”

Now either Carroll is right, in which case he should find the Craig response that we may not be alone in the universe as perfectly acceptable; or he is wrong. If so, and we are alone, then the Craig/Collins point about the ‘discoverability’ of the universe becomes more potent: because we would be left with some justification into thinking, as the apex of all creation, we are of central significance.

But this is not the potential dichotomy. This comes once we bring morality into the equation. If we recall, Carroll himself mentioned the possibility of other life forms being possible under different fine-tuning conditions. And he appealed to science fiction. So let’s run with this:-

Did you ever see that dreadful movie, ‘Flash Gordon’? Max Von Sydow is its only saving grace. Anyhow, Ming (Sydow) is about to destroy the Earth & Dr. Hans Zarkov implores him “But why, why…??” Ming merely replies, “why not?” Or did you ever read, ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’? At the beginning the ‘Vogons’ (I think!) are going to destroy the Earth for the ‘good’ of the rest of the universe as they want to place an intergalactic ‘by-pass’ straight through us.

The question is, in both of the above examples how can any ‘human social contract’ of morality be objectively binding? The point is that if we are not alone in the universe how does our system of morality and ethics impose itself as ontologically objective to anyone else? After all, we already know that our system of moral values and duties do not impose themselves upon any other species within just our own planet. So, if we are not alone in the universe on just what basis can we claim that our moral values and duties are any more ontologically objective than anyone else’s? Therefore, in the search for a foundation for objective morality we would need to look for something that is transcendent of this universe, would we not? So if the naturalist wants to affirm (as I believe Carroll and certainly his cohort Tim Mauldlin do) any ontologically objective truth about moral values and duties then, if we are not alone, that must surely either entail a transcendent grounding for them, or if we are alone, at the very least provide us with the justification that affords us believing, “the kind of flattering story we like to tell about ourselves.”

(When time permits!) In the concluding part I’d just like to make some final general remarks as well as referring to some things that Carroll has now himself said in his own now uploaded post debate reflections.

Postscript:- When Ming or the ‘Vogons’ do turn up on Tim Maudlin’s doorstep, does he really think that his personal exposition of Moral Platonism will save him…  ;-)

God Bless :-)

link to the debate –

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Reflections on the Craig / Carroll debate Part 2:-

2) In my last post I tried to outline some of the problems that arise when one attempts to ride roughshod through the principle of causality or apply it only arbitrarily. Yet, this is exactly what Carroll advocates, all the while remaining oblivious to his later apparent contradiction when he insists that, “Our metaphysics must follow our physics.” But more than this, 2 further problems were exposed which would seem to contradict his rather bold declaration that he made in his opening speech: “naturalism is far and away the winner when it comes to cosmological explanations.”

If memory serves, both of these problems were pointed out by William Lane Craig. The first being the second law of thermodynamics. For if the universe has existed eternally then it remains inexplicable as to why the universe is not already in a state of thermodynamic ‘heat death’. Aware that this observation would most likely be raised in the debate, Carroll’s response was to point to (failed) attempts at constructing eternal models of the universe, like his own, that somehow avoid this problem. But he again conceded: “It’s certainly a true issue that we don’t know why the early universe had low entropy and entropy has ever been increasing. That’s a good challenge for cosmology.” Having mentioned that he’s written a whole book on the subject, he’s still left declaring: “We don’t know why.” He goes on to ask: “Are there realistic models of eternal cosmologies?” And, as if throwing up some sort of smokescreen, he then mentions finding 17 such models in half an hour on the internet. But he happily declares that, “none of them are right…we’re nowhere near the right answer yet.” If you’re left scratching your head at how this response supposedly addresses the entropy ‘problem’, well you’re not alone!

It was immediately apparent that this smokescreen was really a part of his adoption of the tired-old straw man attack that theists are just appealing to a ‘God of the Gaps.’ He says, “I keep re-iterating: what matters are the models, not the abstract principals.” Such a comment is telling, on many levels. Firstly, it smacks of the naive and yet familiar prejudice that: ‘scientism and verificationalism trump philosophical reasoning,’ an attitude which seems so common within the science fraternity. Moreover, it conjoins with his continual complaint that, “theism is not well-defined.” What he’s inferring, of course, is that it doesn’t offer the intricate empiricism that can be found via the models of theoretical science. It appears that his presupposition is that the 2 are at odds. But this is not the case. It’s simply that many theists (like WLC) have explored and examined the findings and data that the scientific method has given us and then inferred that the explanation that there is a transcendent, causal agent behind reality, is the best explanation. This was the case for Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Faraday et al.

Secondly, it is always worth pointing out how oblivious the Atheist/naturalist is being when making such claims about their own levels of ‘faith’ on which they themselves are depending. (and this is usually whilst holding a condescending, dismissive attitude towards the theist for the levels of ‘faith’ on which they, supposedly, depend). For Carroll pleads, “Maybe the universe is eternal and has no equilibrium state…Maybe there is no high entropy state…maybe there is no equilibrium for it to fall into.” So, as well as arguing (pretty vacuously) against what has often been regarded as metaphysical bedrock: the principle of causality, here he is rejecting another bedrock principle, this time from physics: the 2nd law of thermodynamics. This is yet more pleading that flies-in-the-face of decades of established science, as well as the gamut of observational and empirical evidence on which the law is grounded. And he offers nothing empirically or theoretically that succeeds in addressing the problem. I, for one, would love to know what he means with his equivocation that while no models that have ever been proposed are “right,” he describes them as being ‘viable.’ Well, I’m sure Fred Hoyle’s ‘steady state’ theory of cosmology would still be seen as ‘viable,’ were it not for the magnitude of evidence that proved the theory wrong and the Friedman / LeMaitre model right!

You know, I happened to listen to a Tim Keller sermon last night ‘How the Gospel Changes our Apologetic’ and towards the end of it Keller spelt out his usual 3-step evangelistic technique. Step 2 involved illustrating how it actually takes more faith to deny the truths of Christianity than it does to embrace it. If that sounds like he’s setting the bar pretty high, just put it in the context of Carroll’s appeal that “we hope some day we get there..” (ie that there is a past-eternal cosmological model) having already made his, “naturalism is far and away the winner when it comes to cosmological explanations” claim. Of course, alternatively, Carroll could just put his ‘faith’ in the idea that something really can just ‘pop’ into existence (or come into being, if you prefer) from literally nothing. Then again, surely that would sound too much like an abstract principal…

Now, even if Carroll holds firmly in his ‘faith’ that one day some extravagant cosmological model can be conceived of that will overcome the thermodynamic problem, he would still be left with a further problem that was pointed out by WLC in his response: the age of the universe, given its rate of expansion. As Craig rightly points out: “Why would the universe transition to classical space-time just 13 billion years ago? It could not have existed from infinity past in an unstable quantum state, and then just 13 billion years ago transition to classical space-time. It would have done it from eternity past, if at all.” In other words, if the ’cause’ of our universe were just a prior eternal quantum state then the ‘effect’ of that cause: our universe, should also be eternal. Unless I’d fallen asleep and missed it entirely, Carroll never even attempted to respond to this glaring conundrum.

In part 3 I hope to raise another potential dichotomy that the naturalist faces when considering entropy and conditions suitable for life, that was discussed in the debate.

link to the debate –

God Bless ;-)

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Reflections on the Craig / Carroll Debate:- Part 1

So the recent William Lane Craig / Sean Carroll debate has me attempting my first ever blog! I watched the debate live in the wee small hours of last Saturday morning and found myself scribbling a couple of notes, which has left me wanting to make a few points:

1) It was inevitable that the Borde, Guth, Vilenkin (BGV) theorem of 2003  would come up. Firstly, it is clearly a testament to the plethora of evidence we have for the standard model of Big Bang cosmology that neither Carroll, nor Krauss before him, are trying to undermine it. (If anything, the discovery of the Higgs Boson served as one of the last missing pieces confirming it.) So what Carroll and the cosmological fraternity at large have been trying to do is no longer attack what increasingly seems to be the impeachable fortress of Einstein, Friedman and LeMaitre, but construct pre-Big Bang models that through the application of quantum mechanics can postulate a theoretical past-eternal ‘universe’ that would escape the parameters and conclusions of the BGV while maintaining a congruence with the standard model. Carroll himself conceded in his opening speech (The BGV theorem) “Means our ability to describe the universe ‘classically,’ gives out.” This could be loosely translated as saying ‘we now know, since 2003, that classical physics entails a cosmic beginning, so we’re all away desperately constructing quantum models to try and circumvent this problem.’ So we are at the point of accepting that the door is shut with regard to ‘classical’ explanations that could avoid a cosmic beginning, but the door is still open with regard to quantum explanations. (Perhaps that’s actually because we still know a great deal less about quantum physics than we do classical physics!)

In his rebuttal Carroll then goes on to argue that the principal of causality applies within the universe but not to the universe (or even multi-verse) as a whole. Firstly, this really does sound like counter-intuitive special pleading. Secondly, he provides no evidence or empirical data in support of this claim. Thirdly, as I think WLC pointed out, this just classically commits the ‘taxi-cab’ fallacy as Alexander Pruss has pointed out. Finally, and this is what had led to me scribbling, it seems to me that this whole issue presents the first of several troublesome dichotomies for the naturalist:

If he denies that causality is a meta-physical principle & shouldn’t be extended beyond this space-time, then he cannot arbitrarily concurrently claim that maths exists necessarily. Or to put it another way: either the naturalist can appeal to maths as a meta-physically, necessarily existing object that undergirds the presence of all natural laws, or not. If they argue the former, then just on what basis is one discounting causality as a meta-physical principle, as Carroll does in the debate? Surely they are inextricably linked? The rules of logic indicate so. If the latter, they have no answer to the question, ‘Where does nature and natural laws come from?’ Moreover, one is also surely leaving the best explanation for the applicability of maths to the natural world as being that it is itself a created/constructed ‘language.’ Any constructed ‘language’ or ‘system’ requires a constructor. And so it therefore would remain that the existence of mathematics is evidence of a transcendent agent.

2 mins of Craig on the applicability of maths:-                     

Ok, I’ve rambled on enough just on the first point that I wanted to try and articulate. So I’ll look to make the other points in follow-up posts in the next couple o’ days if time permits!

link to the debate –

God bless :-)

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