Notes on Morriston's "Creation Ex Nihilo and the Big Bang"

Notes on Morriston’s “Creation Ex Nihilo and the Big Bang”, Philo 5:1 (2002), pp. 23-33.

0. Introduction (fill in later)

1. Craig’s First Argument: Infinite Density = Nothing
1.1 According to the Big Bang theory, the universe began with a great explosion from an infinitely dense point-particle.
1.2 There can be no object having infinite density.
1.3 So, “infinite density” is synonymous with “nothing”.
1.4 Therefore, the Big Bang theory requires that the universe had a beginning and was created out of nothing.

2. Criticisms of Craig’s First Argument
2.1 First, an infinitely dense point-universe is not nothing
2.1.1 the initial singularity is not nothing
2.1.2.1 Nothingness can’t begin expanding, since there is nothing there to expand. By contrast, the “point-universe” began expanding.
2.1.2.2 Even if the point-universe lacks spatial and temporal spread, it yet has other properties, e.g., being a point, being infinitely dense, being capable of expanding, etc.
2.2 Second, 'infinitely dense entity' is not synonymous with 'nothing'
2.2.1 Compare: (a) There can be no round squares; therefore, (b) 'round square'; is synonymous with 'nothing'. 
2.2.2 In general, from the fact that there can be no entity E, it doesn’t follow that ‘E’ is synonymous with ‘nothing’.
2.2.3 Therefore, even if there can be no infinitely dense point-universe, it doesn’t follow that ‘infinitely dense point-universe' is synonymous with ‘nothing’
2.3 Third, if nothing can be infinitely dense, then the universe was never infinitely dense
2.3.1 But if so, then premise 1 is false as stated
2.3.3 Craig’s argument is therefore subject to a dilemma:
2.3.1.1 Either we change Craig’s description of what the Big Bang theory says, so that it doesn’t involve a state of infinite density, or we don’t
2.3.1.2 if we do, then the argument loses its basis for inferring that the universe was created out of nothing
2.3.1.3 If we don’t, then the criticism above (viz., that if (2) is true, then (1) is false) goes through
2.3.1.4 either way, the argument is unsound
2.4 Fourth, few Big Bang cosmologists today think the universe was ever infinitely dense and point-sized
2.4.1 It’s true that, on the standard Big Bang model, the geometry of the universe’s expansion, when traced backward in time, continually decreases toward a limit of a diameter of zero
2.4.2 However, the limit diameter zero is thought of as an ideal, and not an actual, limit
2.4.3 Furthermore, we have no theory that allows us to infer the universe’s behavior  as we approach this limit
2.4.3.1 Relativity theory breaks down prior to Planck time (i.e., 10-43seconds), and quantum effects become dominant prior to that point
2.4.3.2 we need a quantum theory of gravity (which we don’t yet have) to accurately infer what happened prior to Planck time
2.4.3.3 Until then, any claim about the earliest stage of our universe’s history is “sheer speculation”

3. Craig’s Second Argument: No Time Prior to the Singularity Entails Creation Ex Nihilo
3.1 The initial singularity exists at the earliest point of space-time.
3.2 There is no time prior to the earliest point of space-time.
3.3 Therefore, there was nothing temporally prior to the initial singularity.
3.4 So, the initial singularity must have come into existence out of nothing.
3.5 If, therefore, the initial singularity was created, it must have been created out of nothing

4. Criticisms of Craig’s Second Argument
4.1 First, the Big Bang theory doesn’t entail that there was no time “prior” the singularity
4.1.1 Craig himself has argued that it’s possible that there is a more fundamental “metaphysical time” that can exist independently of the physical time of our universe.
4.1.2 Craig’s thought experiment: Suppose God led up to creation by counting “1, 2, 3, … fiat lux!” 
4.1.3 In this scenario, time is elapsing, and yet no physical objects exist.  Its moments are individuated by the succession of contents in God’s mind.
4.1.4 Craig thinks this thought experiment shows that a time “prior” to physical time is metaphysically possible.
4.1.5 In fact, given Craig’s theism, he thinks this metaphysical time is actual
4.1.6 According to Craig, metaphysical time is absolute, tensed, and dynamic
4.1.7 But if so, then Craig’s view of metaphysical time entails the metaphysical possibility of time prior to the Big Bang singularity
4.1.8 The epistemic possibility of metaphysical time prior to the singularity is thus an undercutting defeater for premise 2
4.2 Second, there being nothing temporally prior to the singularity doesn’t entail there being nothing ontologically prior to the singularity
4.2.1 What follows from (3) is not (4), but rather the weaker claim that the universe didn’t come from something that existed  at an earlier time.  It's therefore compatible with the possibility of the universe created from timeless stuff
4.2.2 To close the logical gap between (3) and (4), then, we need another premise, viz.,
(3 ½) If there was nothing temporally prior to the initial singularity, then it must have come into existence out of nothing.
4.2.2 But it’s not clear that (3 ½) is true
4.2.2.1 Craig is already committed to saying that, ontologically prior to the singularity, God exists timelessly
4.2.2.2 It’s therefore not clear what principled grounds he could have to rule out the epistemic possibility that, ontologically prior to the singularity, other things besides God exist timelessly (e.g., a timeless stuff from which the universe was made)
4.2.2.3 And if that’s right, it’s not clear how Craig can rule out the epistemic possibility that God created the universe out of a timeless stuff
4.2.2.4 Therefore, even if there was no time prior to the singularity, it doesn’t follow that God created the universe out of nothing
4.2.3 Anticipated reply: Craig thinks he can rule out the epistemic possibility of timeless stuff because he thinks: (a) the only possible stuff from which God could make the universe is matter/energy; (b) timeless stuff is quiescent; and (c) matter/energy is never quiescent.
4.2.4 Rejoinder: it’s not clear that (a) is true: it’s epistemically possible that God created the universe out of some timeless stuff that’s distinct from matter/energy
4.2.5 Third, the grounds for a requirement of a timeless efficient cause of the universe is on an epistemic par with the grounds for a requirement of a timeless material cause
4.2.5.1 The evidence for both causal principles is the same
4.2.5.1.1 Both are intuitive
4.2.5.1.2 Both enjoy strong empirical confirmation [N.B., actually, the case for material causes is stronger, given apparent counterexamples to the need for efficient causes in quantum mechanical phenomena. --EA]
4.2.5.2 The theoretical costs of both is the same
4.2.5.2.1 We’ve never observed timeless stuff, but we’ve never observed a timeless person, either. 
4.2.5.2.2 It’s odd to think that the material cause of the universe was timeless sans creation, and then entered time with its creation, but then Craig thinks the same is true of the efficient cause of the universe: God is timeless sans creation, but entered time at the moment of creation
4.2.5.3 Given epistemic parity, we have a dilemma: Either our commonsense intuitions about ordinary cases of causation can reasonably applied to the beginning of the universe or they can’t. If they can, then creation of the universe out of timeless stuff is more plausible than creation ex nihilo. If they can’t, then we can’t draw any conclusion whatever about the existence and nature of the cause of the universe. Either way, Craig’s argument fails


Important New Book

Here. Not quite on point for a philosophy of religion blog, but important nonetheless. A nice review of the book can be found here.

Index: Notes on Ehrman's Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium

Below is a list of links to my recent series of posts on Ehrman's Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. The book provides a nice, clear summary of the case for the mainstream view among New Testament scholars that Jesus was fundamentally an apocalyptic prophet heralding an imminent eschaton, and not the Son of God.

(ch. 1 is omitted, as it can be summarized quickly as follows: Christians from the present all the way through the past have believed that the end of the world would occur in their generation. There is a good reason for this: Jesus thought so, too.)

Notes: Assessing The Case for an Apocalyptic Jesus in Ehrman’s Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium

Notes: Assessing The Case for an Apocalyptic Jesus in Ehrman’s Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium


Review


-Scholars use criteria of authenticity to sift the earliest sources with eyewitness testimony to reconstruct the historical Jesus

-Applying these results yields seven general lines of evidence that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet:
  • #1: The earliest sources portray Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet
  • #2 The later sources tone down the apocalyptic language in the earlier sources
  • #3: Those connected to Jesus and his message before and after his earthly ministry were apocalypticists
  • #4: The apocalyptic prophet hypothesis makes best sense of his core teachings
  • #5 The apocalyptic prophet hypothesis makes best sense of his ethical teachings
  • #6: The apocalyptic prophet hypothesis makes best sense of his actions
  • #7: The apocalyptic prophet hypothesis makes best sense of his last days 
On the Nature of Ehrman’s Argument

-Ehrman’s argument is best construed as an inference to the best explanation
  • Inferences to the best explanation proceed by listing a range of data, and arguing that one competing hypothesis best explains that data
  • A hypothesis is the best explanation of the data to the extent that it exemplifies the theoretical virtues (simplicity, scope, conservatism, predictive power, etc.) better than any competing theory
Reconstructing Ehrman's Argument
-Call the hypothesis that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, Apocalyptic Prophet
-Ehrman’s argument can then be stated as follows: 

1. If Apocalyptic Prophet is the best explanation of the relevant data, then Jesus was probably an apocalyptic prophet.
2. Apocalyptic Prophet is the best explanation of the relevant data (cf. 1-7 above)
---------------------------------------------
3. Therefore, Jesus was probably an apocalyptic prophet


Evaluating Ehrman’s Argument

-The key premise is (2): the Apocalyptic Prophet hypothesis is the best explanation of the relevant data.

-But is it?

-To answer that, we’ll need to answer two other questions:
  • What standards does an explanation have to meet to be the best? 
  • Does the Apocalyptic Jesus hypothesis meet those standards better than any competing hypothesis?
Step 1: What Makes an Explanation the Best?
-In the type of case at hand, predictive power and related theoretical virtues aren't all that relevant, as we're evaluating hypotheses that explain past facts, and not future phenomena.  Determining which hypothesis is the best explanation therefore largely boils down to the following three:
  • 1. Simplicity: One hypothesis is simpler than another if the former adds fewer new assumptions than the latter to explain the data.
  • 2. Scope: One hypothesis has wider explanatory scope than another if the former explains more data than the latter.
  • 3. Conservatism: One hypothesis is more conservative than another if the former requires throwing out fewer of our prior beliefs than the other that are already well-justified.
-In short, then: the simplest, most conservative hypothesis that has the widest explanatory scope is the best explanation of the historical Jesus, and is thus the most probable one.

-The consensus view: The Apocalyptic Jesus hypothesis best explains the relevant data, viz., at least the seven discussed in Ehrman’s book (cf. Sanders, Vermes, Fredriksen, et al.)

-However, some scholars deny this and reject premise 2

-If they are better explainations, then they must meet the criteria above (and perhaps others) better than The Apocalyptic Prophet hypothesis.

-The main obstacle with such approaches is that they have trouble explaining all the early, multiply-attested data for this hypothesis discussed in Ehrman’s book. Let’s briefly look at how they aim to do so:

1. Responses from Conservatives:
A. Divide and Conquer (Craig Blomberg, et al.): the strategy is to take the group of passages that seem to have Jesus saying the apocalypse is imminent (i.e., that it would occur within his generation), and provide an alternative interpretation for each one (e.g., when Jesus said that his generation wouldn't pass away before the apocalypse happened, what he really meant was that the Jews wouldn't pass away before it happened. When Jesus said that his earliest disciples wouldn't finish preaching to the surrounding cities of Israel before the end happened, he was really referring to the perennially incomplete task of evangelism to the Jews; etc., etc..)

B. Destruction of the Temple (NT Wright, et al.): the strategy is to argue that, yes, Jesus really did predict the end within his generation, i.e., we should take those passages at face-value. However, all the end-time passages were fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

C. Possible End Only (Ben Witherington, et al.): the strategy is to assert that what Jesus really meant in all those passages is that the End *might* be at hand, not that it *is* at hand.

2. Responses from Moderates
A. Jesus Didn't Say That: (Raymond Brown et al.): the strategy is to say that all the passages that have Jesus preach the imminent coming of the apocalypse are inauthentic -- i.e., Jesus didn't say those things; they were attributed to Jesus by the early church. However, Jesus is the Son of God.

B. Jesus Said it, and He Was Wrong. But So What! (Dale Allison, C.S. Lewis et al.): the strategy is to admit that the passages where Jesus predicts an imminent end are authentic, and to admit that he was wrong -- the End didn't happen -- but to say that it has no serious implications for the truth of Christianity. Jesus is still the Son of God.

3. Responses from Liberals: 
Jesus Wasn't an Apocalypticist (Crossan, Mack, et al.): the strategy is a variation on the Jesus Didn't Say That response of the Moderates. The strategy is to argue that all those passages that have Jesus preach the imminent coming of the apocalypse are inauthentic -- i.e., Jesus didn't say those things; they were attributed to Jesus by the early church. However, Jesus wasn't the Son of God, either -- at least not in any literal sense. Rather, he was a social reformer, a revolutionary, a sage philosopher, or some variant of thereof.

Evaluation: Which Hypothesis Is the Best Explanation?

-To evaluate Ehrman’s Apocalyptic Jesus argument, then, we need to:
  • Examine each hypothesis
  • Determine which hypothesis is the simplest, most conservative hypothesis with the widest explanatory scope
-The consensus view: hypothesis that Jesus was primarily an apocalyptic prophet (cf. Sanders, Vermes, Fredriksen, Ehrman, etc.)

-Why? The other proposals mentioned above seem to be more complex (i.e., they add new assumptions to explain the same data), have less explanatory scope (i.e., they can’t explain all seven lines of data as well, and sometimes not at all), and/or less conservative (i.e., they require that we throw out some of the seven lines of data discussed in Ehrman’s book).

Conclusion: It therefore looks as though Ehrman is correct: the most probable hypothesis is that Jesus was primarily an apocalyptic prophet of an imminent eschaton.

Notes: Chapter 12 of Ehrman's Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium

Notes: Ch. 12 of Ehrman’s Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium

Thesis: Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem, and his subsequent arrest, trial, and execution, are best explained in terms of his acocalyptic message and actions.

1. Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem for the Passover Celebration, and his subsequent activities there, are best explained in terms of his apocalyptic message and his perceived role in proclaiming it.

2. Jesus went to the temple during the Passover Festival, and spent many days teaching about his apocalyptic message of the imminent coming kingdom of God. -The apocalyptic message included the idea that the temple in Jerusalem would also be destroyed.

3. Jesus’ also caused a disturbance in the temple itself, which appears to have been a symbolic enactment of his apocalyptic teaching about the temple’s destruction.

4. Jesus’ teaching and disturbance in the temple during the Passover put Jesus on the Sadducee’s radar. They were ready to have him arrested, as they thought he might tip the scales of high political tension that regularly exists during the Passover due to silent protests (see ch. 7).

5. Jesus’ betrayal by Judas Iscariot, and Jesus’ subsequent arrest, is best explained in terms of Judas’ betraying to the religious authorities (the Sadducees and the chief priests) Jesus’ teaching (to his inner circle of disciples) that he would be the King of the Jews in the coming Kingdom of God.

6. Jesus was executed on the charge of political sedition, due to his claim that he was the King of the Jews. His execution was therefore directly related to his apocalyptic message of the imminent coming of the kingdom of God.

Notes on Morriston's "Creation Ex Nihilo and the Big Bang"

Notes on Morriston’s “ Creation  Ex Nihilo  and the Big Bang ”,  Philo  5:1 (2002), pp. 23-33. 0. Introduction (fill in later) 1. ...