Blogger's "Scientific" "Rational Proof" of God comes up short... way short.

Some guy named Anders Branderuds wandered into the comments of my blog, and tried to slap me with an "Ultimate Proof" that atheism is a logically untenable position.

I found the following two articles on his blog:

Challenge to the atheist: Explain the existence of anything at all without a Prime Cause

Proof of the existence of an Intelligent and Perfect Creator

The first article was written and copyrighted by Paqid Yirmeyahu Ben Dawid. I'll assume that Anders is reprinting with permission. The second article seems to be written by Anders, and is basically a crib of Ben Dawid, with a kind of Jewish take on "Mere Christianity" mixed into the argument. Both articles purport to be based on logic and science, and both articles are supposed to be irrefutable.

The first argument has this logical argument:
1. Assume: There is no Prime Cause
2. There is nothing physical that exists without a cause
3. Therefore, nothing physical can exist
4. However, we see, and can touch, all manner of physical things around us that exist
5. Conclusion: There IS a Prime Cause
6. Q.E.D.

The second argument is based upon this assumption:
It is a fundamental law of physics (causality) that every physical occurrence in the universe has a cause.
The fundamental laws of physics then require a cause of the universe ex nihilo (since timespace has a beginning); i.e., a Prime Cause Singularity that is non-dimensional and independent of timespace.

There's a problem here. Most well-read atheists and scientists can already spot it. But Ben Dawid tries to head you off at the pass in the first argument by stating:
There may be some (..) who argues that #2 isn't necessarily true because things may exist and we simply cannot explain how. (...) This person has gone from pseudo-scientific cultism (banning pertinent information) to logical fallacy: argumentum ad ignorantiam – claiming that ignorance/silence supports their position, thereby avoiding the burden of proof of demonstrating the logical validity of their position. If something can exist with no Prime Cause then they must explain how; the burden of proof is on them to demonstrate how or they're just assuming another ladder. Until they explain how, and no legitimate scientist even entertains that suggestion, their cultist argument is logically invalid by argumentum ad ignorantiam.
(The ellipsis are in the text I quoted from Anders blog site. I haven't looked up the original text, so I'm not sure what is missing)

It's true. We don't know what came before the Big Bang. A rational person would leave it at that, and merely say, "We don't know." Only in religion does anyone claim to know. And that claim is inherently unprovable. Ben Dawid attempts to shift the "burden of proof" to those who say, "we don't know", and thereby do a little jig that automatically assumes a creator.

But there is something that we DO know, with a great deal of certainty. A certainty so great, that we use its physical properties every day as part of our basic technology.

We know that sometimes things happen without a cause.

What, you want proof? Evidence? Sure. A fairly easy bit of evidence to understand is the process of radioactive decay.

When a material has an unstable atomic nucleus it will spontaneously lose energy by emitting particles and radiation. The rate of "decay" of material is well understood and predictable. The term "half-life" is used to describe the rate of exponential decay of the material. (As an aside, "half-life" as applied to exponential decay works exactly like Zeno's Paradox. After the first time period, half of the material has decayed. After the second time period, half of the remaining material has decayed, and so on and so one. In theory, the arrow will never reach it's target, but in practice, it always does.)

So here's the kicker, although we know that there is a precise rate of decay, what we do NOT know is exactly WHICH given atom will decay next. Each atom decays spontaneously. This is called a "Stochastic process", meaning that it has a completely random, and completely unpredictable function to it. Better yet, it is proven that it is impossible to figure out when a given atom will decay next. We might try to study an atom's state, in order to find out when it will decay - but Heisenberg's uncertainty principle prevents us.

The "when" of an atom's decay is uncaused.

Another example is "Brownian Motion", where particles suspended in a fluid move randomly.  (Note, all gasses, such as air, are  fluids.)  Although the general amount of motion can be related to the heat of the material, the vector of any particular particle cannot be predicted.

Now that I've shown that actions can happen uncaused, let's talk about how a "physical occurrence in the universe" can happen without a cause. (I'll assume he means the creation of matter and energy.)

Albert Einstein did a lot of great things for physics. His General and Special theories of Relativity took Newton's original physics, and expanded on them to explain effects in the universe that we had yet to observe. One of the first tests of his theories involved solving the Kepler problem of the orbit of Mercury.

But Einstein had one last spectacular failure. He had a hard time accepting the evidence of Quantum Mechanics.

Einstein believed, just as Anders Branderuds does, that everything in the universe has a cause. During his life, physicists Heisenberg and Bohr were working on quantum theory and came up with the idea that the quantum world was based upon probabilities, which could be modeled by mathematical wave functions. These "waves" of probability seemed to collapse when they interacted with classical physics. The nature of a quantum particle is that it is both wave and particle. (See the double-slit experiment for proof).

This duel nature of quantum particles blew Einstein's mind. He argued with Bohr for years on the subject, and Einstein's thought experiments were proven wrong by real experiments. Einstein never changed his mind on this, finally stating that he remained convinced that God does not play dice (with the universe).

He was wrong. As Stephen Hawking has quipped, "God not only plays dice. He sometimes throws the dice where they cannot be seen." Meaning that not only are quantum events random, but their cause is inherently unknowable.

So how does something come from nothing? Let's look at "Quantum Foam" At the smallest distances possible in the Universe, we can tell that the fabric of the universe is based upon quantum turbulence. At this scale, "virtual particles" form and annihilate each other constantly. Just like radioactive decay or Brownian motion, these virtual particles are uncaused.

A virtual particle and virtual antiparticle form at the same time, exist for a period, and then recombine to annihilate each other. This turns out to be a "zero sum game" that follows the rules of the conservation of energy.

Steven Hawking used quantum virtual particles to explain how black holes can (over a great deal of time) evaporate. As pairs of virtual particles form around the event horizon of a black hole, one particle of the pair may fall into the black hole. The particle that falls in always has negative energy, and the particle that escapes always has positive energy. The black hole loses a little bit of mass, and the now free particle ceases to be virtual, and instead becomes real as it travels away from the black hole as a form of radiation. The whole process is described as Hawking Radiation.

So what does this mean in regards to the Big Bang, and how we get something from nothing.

First things first - we don't know what came before the Big Bang. It may be that it is impossible to know what came before. That doesn't mean that you automatically get to stick a God into the equation at that point.

There is also a lot of guesswork going on about the physics of our universe, and how that might relate to the possible existence of other universes. One of my personal favorite guesses is by the physicist Andrei Linde, who describes something called the Chaotic Inflation theory.

In this theory, quantum foam may produce virtual particles and antiparticles that don't get back together and annihilate each other. Instead, there is a non-zero probability that the process will generate a form of positive feedback that allows it to continue happening.  Left unchecked, positive feedback increases very quickly.  This would generate a very rapid inflation, a "big bang" that in turn creates a bubble universe. According to this theory, the universe would continue to expand, and would eventually expand to the point where it started to decay. As the universe decays, the particles again interact with their antiparticles, returning back to their zero state, and energy is conserved.

Is this true? Who knows? Physicists don't know, and it is for certain that religious people don't know. As I said above, Ben Dawid desperately tries to hand wave this away by calling it an argumentum ad ignorantiam. But we are NOT arguing from a point of ignorance.

Peter Wall has restated this whole mess in a much easier to follow statement.  "(T)he 'Cosmological Argument' says only (that) 'physics does not rule out God'; it does not say 'physics proves God.'"  But physics has no problem with uncaused events, and physics is fine with something coming from nothing as long as energy is conserved, if only for a little while.

And perhaps for us, that "little while" might equal the age of the universe.

So physics isn't clueless about possible ways that the universe might have started.  Indeed, there seems to be many different ways that the universe could have started by following the laws of physics as we currently understand them.  We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to possibly jump-starting universes.  It will be interesting when we get to the point where we can start testing different theories.  Perhaps in testing these theories, we may end up creating universes.  Who knows?

Religion, on the other hand, has no theories of how the universe came to be other than, "God did it."  And worse, competing religions blame mutually exclusive gods for our universe's existence. 

The burden is not on science to disprove God, science merely needs to say, "I don't know" and then stop.  The burden instead rests on religion to not only explain how they are sure a God put things into motion, but to also explain why it is their particular god that did so.

Finally, Anders Branderuds has a very specific problem.  His proofs of God all point to his particular god, the God of Judaism, not of Christianity.  I'm sure my Christian friends would be happy to tell Anders how wrong his is, and how he would learn the "Good News" if he only... well, the list of "onlys" is endless.


To wrap this up, let me explain that what I know of physics comes from the undergraduate courses I took while preparing for my BSEE.  I do not have postgraduate education in physics, and so of course my simplified explanation may have inaccuracies.  I may be wrong.  I'll happily correct my errors if they are pointed out and explained to me by someone qualified in physics.  Kent Hovind, Ray Comfort, and Ken Ham obviously don't qualify, so please don't use their arguments as refutation.

3 comments:

R. Moore said...

From the comment Anders left:

"In my blog (bloganders.blogspot.com ;left menu) I have an article that proves the existence of an Intelligent Creator and His purpose of humankind using formal logic (i.e. a rational proof) and science."

Well, I found informal logic and absolutely no science at all.

How strong is one's faith if you must lie in it's defense. This always leaves me with my head shaking.

GDad said...

"It will be interesting when we get to the point where we can start testing different theories. Perhaps in testing these theories, we may end up creating universes. Who knows?"

It would be an interesting sci-fi story. The late Jack Chalker was fond of this trope with the Well of Souls books.

Glad you're writing semi-regularly again.

Calladus said...

Chalker died too soon. My favorite Chalker book was "Web of the Chozen". Although I'm very fond of the "Dancing God" series.