Sunday, November 01, 2009

Excellent Recent Critique of the "Big Bang" Version of the Kalam argument

Pitts, J. Brian. "Why the Big Bang Singularity Does Not Help the Kalam Cosmological Argument for Theism", British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 59 (2008), pp. 675-708. Here is the link.

Perhaps it's worth noting that unlike William Lane Craig, James Brian Pitts actually has a PhD in physics.

UPDATE: Commenter "Pastor Tom" has kindly pointed out that Craig has offered a reply to Pitts. Here is the link. I leave it to the reader to decide whether Craig's reply is adequate.


Chad said...

Wow, playing the initials game.

Pastor Tom said...

Looks like Craig has responded here:

exapologist said...

Thanks for pointing out Craig's reply, Pastor Tom. I'll post the link in the post.

Ron said...

Thanks for posting this Ex. I've read one of the Morriston articles you've posted a while back and it convinced me that Craig's second philosophical argument against an actual infinite is dependent on the his first argument. I'll print this and read it over when I get time at the end of the semester. I hope your job search is going well! :)

exapologist said...

Hi Ron,

Good to hear from you! And thanks for the well-wishes!


Paul Wright said...

I love this stuff: it combines physics, philosophy and religion. I don't think Craig's response addresses Pitts's paper terribly well: they appear to be talking past each other. I have a physics degree gathering dust and a passing acquaintance with the philosophy of science, and I don't find Craig terribly convincing (but then, I'm also an ex-Christian atheist, so I wouldn't, would I?)

Craig seems to have misunderstood Pitts. Craig says the Kalam does not rely on a singularity but merely on the universe having a finite age, but as a matter of fact, Craig does appear to argue that the Big Bang singularity represent divine intervention, so Pitts's Cosmic Destroyer argument seems to have some force. When Pitts makes this argument, he accepts, for the sake of the argument, Craig's own claim that the past singularity of the Big Bang represents God's creative intervention, and asks why someone who accepts that claim would not also say that God intervenes destructively in black holes. The idea that God would do so probably seems silly to Christians, but Pitts says that on Craig's own argument, this feeling of silliness isn't well motivated. On the other hand, if the feeling of silliness is correct, perhaps Craig is wrong about singularities. A third possibility is for Craig to find some way to distinguish between the singularities, but Craig does not address this directly in his response.

Pitts's thoughts about possible other theories aren't necessarily an expression of Pitts's theological commitments (whatever those may be). The reference to van Fraassen is a clue (and the fact that this stuff is published in a philosophy of science journal): Pitts is talking about the arguments between scientific realism and more empiricist philosophies of science which owe something to logical positivism, such as van Fraassen's own constructive empiricism. He's taking a middle position: the unobservable objects posited by theories are meaningful but we ought to be careful about how far we believe they are real (van Fraassen says we can have no grounds to do so, though, contra positivism, we can accept that our theories meaningfully make such claims about unobservables; realists say there are grounds for believing in unobservables). Craig appears to be quite a bit more of a realist about General Relativity than Pitts, or indeed than working physicists like Sean Carroll.

The references to Bach-Weyl and so on are waved away (I'm no expert, but I think in that specific case, rightly, since as far as I can tell Pitts is talking about an early, failed attempt at a unified theory of gravity and electromagnetism), but the possibility of a theory which does not give lengths (durations) to curves should worry Craig, unless he is completely committed to GR. What does it mean to say "the Universe began to exist" on such a theory, or if the universe looks like Carroll thinks it does? Dennett: "What Professor Craig does, brilliantly and with a wonderful enthusiasm, is he takes our everyday intuitions—our gut feelings about what’s plausible, what’s counterintuitive, what couldn’t possibly be true—and he cantilevers them out into territory where they’ve never been tested, in cosmology where whatever the truth is, it’s mindboggling." (thanks to Daniel Fincke for that one: you can see the full quote at his blog).

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