There is a video every atheist must see, who ever wants to think about or debate the origin of the known universe (with a theist or even a fellow atheist). It is a superb video. It is the kind of video we need more of. What is so great about it? Some atheists went to some actual scientists (actual cosmologists and theoretical physicists) and asked them about the claims made by Christian apologists like William Lane Craig. And asked follow-up questions. And recorded what they said. And edited it together with useful commentary. Imagine this being done for origin of life studies or any other question where theists love to abuse the science (but doesn’t get the same coverage as evolution). Or claims theists make about cosmological science that didn’t get covered in this video.
The video I’m talking about is by the SkyDivePhil video team (an awesome couple who do a lot of great stuff on science awareness through their YouTube channel). The specific video in question is Before the Big Bang – Loop Quantum Cosmology Explained. It’s great for a number of reasons. For one, it gives a nice explanation of what quantum loop gravity theory is and has to contribute to superstring theory and how they came to differ, and then ties this all into current debates in cosmology, in particular the origin of the known universe, in even more particular what caused the Big Bang.
You can see why theists would be nervous at this point. And why atheists might be especially keen to check this out. I know there are lots of videos about the Big Bang and cosmological arguments. But this one is a league above them all. Because it distills the right points, from real experts, in a well-organized way that will leave most smart layfolk with a much better idea of why theists are wrong about Big Bang cosmology and how the likes of William Lane Craig are conning people with their selective distortions of it. Some of the discussion might be easier to understand for at least college graduates and autodidacts, but I think anyone with smarts can grasp the main points, and brush up on anything they don’t quite get with some judicious googling.
Either way, this should be anyone’s first-stop in that quest to understand current Big Bang theory. And everyone who wants to be able to speak informedly on this issue (such as to debate it) definitely must know at the very least what’s said here. So you should all give it a view. It’s 44 minutes, so find a nice pleasant time to just sit down and watch it. You’ll come away with a better grasp of how to articulate the points made in it, and make use of that to thwart Christian apologetics, as well as just understand how we (as intelligent life) got here, better than you did before. The triumph of atheism is reflected in the incredible strides of success science has made in answering that question…without having to posit a god to explain anything.
Below I’ll say more about it, why the video is worth watching, and what other resources you can tap to make the most use of it–and show to Christians why they are just wrong about godless cosmology…
Great for Atheist Debaters…but Also Great for Atheists Just to Know
Those who have a particular interest in William Lane Craig’s apologetics (and Christians who rely on it or try to use it against you) will have a particular interest in this video. A little over half way through, for example, they ask actual experts about how WLC uses the BGV theorem (the Borde, Guth, Vilenken theorem) and discover he isn’t exactly being honest about it (or correct, if you prefer to think he’s honest and just incompetent; for examples of treatments of his abuse of the BGV, see here and here). They also ask about his claim (sometimes made in debates) that a contracting universe is impossible, or that eternal inflation is impossible, or that entropy makes a past eternal universe impossible, and so on, where he keeps claiming cosmologists agree with him. Well. Why not listen to what actual cosmologists say? You’ll be surprised. Well, okay, maybe not. But at least you’ll be armed with evidence that he’s not being exactly honest (or, at least, correct) about such things. Likewise other Christians and Christian apologists who ape this stuff or make similar claims.
I also found the video really educational on just the things it talks about, apart from the whole atheism-theism debate. I understand quantum loop cosmology so much better now than I ever did. And how it is actually compatible with superstring theory (and not so much a rival theory as just a sometimes neglected component of what may end up being a part of the actual, as in correct, grand unified theory of everything…I know, I’m conflating GUT with ToE there, but they are looking like they might end up being nearly the same thing, and any quest for one is also getting closer to the other, and this video will clue you in to part of that ongoing quest).
Pausing to Correct a Misleading Statement
There are likewise some good explanations of inflation theory, and how in fact it follows necessarily from a very small number of very simple assumptions (which is why Occam’s Razor currently prefers it to creationism in the real science of cosmology…the god theory is not even remotely as simple, if you want it to actually fit the evidence). The only thing I found misleading in the video, however, was in this discussion of inflation theory, where at one point one of the cosmologists (Ivan Aguillo) keeps talking about “the” Big Bang when discussing the BGV theorem, giving the impression (I think inadvertently) that the associated paper proved that there was only one Big Bang.
In fact, even if the paper’s conclusion is correct, that is not what it concludes. It concludes that there had to be a first Big Bang…not that that first Big Bang was ours. This is such a crucial distinction that I have to add a comment on it here.
What the BGV theorem says is that there may have been zillions of Big Bangs, exactly as chaotic inflation theory entails, just not infinitely many of them. In chaotic inflation, according to BGV, there would be one initial inflation event that got the whole multiverse started, but then kept sprouting new universes everywhere, with Big Bangs occurring in sequence as well as in adjacent timeframes, as the initial inflation event (the “first” Big Bang) expanded and new inflation events began happening here and there in the expanding space-time bubble, which then cause new inflationary events, and thus new bubble universes, and so on.
The only thing the BGV theorem ruled out was past-eternal inflation (as opposed to future-eternal inflation), i.e. that this mess of repeatedly re-spawned new universes goes back in time infinitely. It did not rule out a vastly large (but still finite) number of bubble universes in our past–hence, it did not rule out Chaotic Inflation Theory (in fact, as Guth himself has argued, the number of universes generated by now, even on a finite model, would be far more than 10 to the power of 37, or 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 universes). And Chaotic Inflation Theory (not past eternal inflation) is what entails a large number of universes exist, ours just being one, a conclusion that supports multiverse theory, which is bad for business in Christian apologetics town, because it eats the fine tuning argument for breakfast. Insofar as Craig (or anyone) misleads his readers and audiences on this point, chalk that up to dishonesty or incompetence, whichever you prefer. Bullshit either way.
But the BGV theorem isn’t correct anyway. Aguillo gives good reason to conclude it is not (one of many reasons to watch this video). Or rather, to conclude that it is fallacious (in the formal terminology of logic), because, like the Hawking-Penrose theorem (which Craig also used to keep citing, even decades after Hawking and Penrose themselves agreed it had been refuted), it assumed conditions we now know in fact to be impossible–therefore one of the premises in the BGV theorem as such is demonstrably false. And so it’s conclusion does not follow. Aguillo explains why (just not using the vocabulary of philosophy).
BTW, the original authors of the paper actually agree with this–in the paper itself. Hence that paper’s actual conclusion is that eternal inflation doesn’t work on current physics, but might work on a unified theory of quantum relativity. And since we know current physics is incomplete and there must be a unified theory of quantum relativity (and loop quantum gravity is one such theory), their paper’s conclusion even as written could never have supported the argument Craig uses it for. The physicists in the video explain all this. But I make the point here because in saying their conclusion is fallacious, I am saying their conclusion as Craig uses it is fallacious. They themselves were well aware of the fallacy and avoided it with a judiciously worded conclusion. It’s just that that conclusion (the paper’s actual conclusion) is useless to Craig.
Back to Battling Christian Apologetics (and to the Origin of Our Universe without a God)
This same video team also produced the best direct take-down of WLC apologetics a while back, in their Debunking the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Definitely a good watch as well. They also have a good one on The Fine Tuning Argument Debunked. Both are very scientifically informed and informative, and have been recommended by actual physicists and cosmologists. This video team also recorded a related lecture by Dr. Hirnaya Peiris, in which she describes her own work (and others’) in looking for evidence of other universes (yes, it’s theoretically possible to do that).
For utility I’ll mention some related useful resources of my own that can supplement these and help you leverage their videos into effective take-downs of creationist nonsense:
Most generally, you can make what use you can of my response to 20 Questions Atheists [Supposedly but Actually Don't] Struggle to Answer and my related comment about abstract objects (including moral facts). Those can be used to tie all the contents of the universe to cosmology.
For a correct logical analysis of Occam’s Razor, see my Bayesian analysis (with citation of the scholarship) in Proving History (it’s in the index). That’s essential to understanding why chaotic inflation theory is far simpler than divine creation theory.
Note that although in Sense and Goodness without God [III.3.3, pp. 75-81] I had shown this for Smolin Selection Theory (one of chaotic inflation theory’s competitors, although they aren’t mutually exclusive), I also point out there that I only do that because it’s the easiest to argue in terms layfolk can follow–whereas Chaotic Inflation Theory is actually simpler (it requires fewer ad hoc assumptions) and is the most widely regarded as the most probable theory in the cosmological science community. At the time I personally thought Smolin Selection Theory had the better case, but I later came to agree Chaotic Inflation Theory in fact has the more evidence and is more probably correct (and that is my position now), although both might yet turn out to be true.
I’ve noted before that even by definition God is actually the most complex ad hoc theory humanly imaginable (he has maximum specified complexity…by definition, because nothing is supposed to be better than him at anything). See my discussion of this point in The God Impossible.
And that’s just at the level of the conceptual definition of the theory, whereas by contrast, all of nature can be explained by a finite and relatively small set of starting assumptions, e.g. a high-pressure quantum vacuum governed by Relativity + Quantum Mechanics entails the Big Bang and all ensuing contents of the universe and all laws governing it. Which is why cosmological scientists believe Big Bang Theory and not Big God Theory.
All that’s left to explain are the exact contents of the Standard Model, which is what Superstring Theory is about (whereas Loop Quantum Gravity theory is more aimed at explaining how Relativity and QM interact at the cosmological level). The fine tuning argument generally riffs on that, but it doesn’t work logically or factually–as several professional mathematicians have demonstrated already (as I explain in my my chapter on the design argument in The End of Christianity, where I popularize and expand their arguments).
When we look at the connection between the conceptual definition of God and the evidence in need of being explained, the problem only gets worse. Aristotle’s theory of four elements is simpler by far than our current theory of over 90 elements (the Periodic Table). But in fact, the evidence cannot be explained by Aristotle’s theory. Thus the 90-or-so-element theory is the simplest explanation that fits the actual evidence. Likewise naturalism vs. theism. The latter is akin to Aristotle’s four-element theory: even if it started out as a simple theory (it’s theists who irrationally insist on defining it with maximum specified complexity–one needn’t do that; god might not be all that impressive), it would not fit any of the evidence. Instead it has to be loaded with tons of ad hoc assumptions about god’s wishes and nature and plans and abilities to get it to fit the evidence as it actually is (hence the Argument from Evil, the Argument from Confusion, and so on), without which a simpler God theory entails massively different predictions than what we observe.
To see why this is the case, see my chapter on the design argument in The End of Christianity and my four-point argument in Why I Am Not a Christian. Although that latter only shows why Christian creationism does not fit the evidence, not any other God or gods, it’s easy to extrapolate to others from there (and I explain how in the atheism section of my book Sense and Goodness without God, sect. IV.2, pp. 253-89).
The creationist’s error is thus twofold:
(1) The creationist fails to recognize that positing an infinite mind with dozens of remarkable infinite abilities is not a simple theory (God has the highest specified complexity of any conceivable entity; thus you have to prove God is a necessary being, otherwise, he is killed by Occam’s Razor, not saved by it). So theists are starting out of the gate with a theory they have actually chosen to define as absurdly complex, for no good reason.
(2) The creationist is overlooking the fact that one also must have dozens of hidden assumptions in their theory, in order to get it to explain the same facts as naturalism does (e.g. why god is silent, not abundantly active, doesn’t design the world to be less evil and unjust, and so on). Thus the only way Theism can explain the evidence as well as Naturalism is by making Theism even more complex by inventing dozens of non-evidenced ad hoc assumptions to rescue it from contradicting the evidence that is already entailed (and thus wholly expected) on Naturalism without Theism.
And this gets us back to cosmology. With Quantum Mechanics alone, scientists can calculate the probability of an inflaton (a particle that essentially is the nucleus of a universe: because it dissolves immediately, and necessarily, into an inflating universe) arising just by random chance. That probability is extremely, absurdly small. But it is not zero. Though one of the cosmologists in the video I’m directing you to today (Abhay Ashtekar) points out that its probability in a quantum vacuum at an early time state comes out to be nearly 100% in Loop Quantum Gravity theory (so as a theory of the origin of the universe, you can see why cosmologists find that a very compelling result), that isn’t even necessary.
Any nonzero probability, no matter how small, approaches 100% over time. So it doesn’t matter how improbable an inflaton is. Inflatons will randomly appear even in our universe eventually. Indeed, depending on how large our universe actually is, they may have appeared many times already (just so far away that we would never see them or their effects…because they are so improbable, they are therefore so rare that only one occurs every zillion lightyears or so, or locally every zillion years or so). In fact, the observable universe is accelerating, which means unless that changes, eventually it will tear itself apart in a Big Rip, wherein dark energy will tear apart even quarks at the subatomic level, and eventually far beyond that. In fact, if not stopped, this continued acceleration will eventually produce such vast releases of energy as to essentially dissolve the entire universe into a whole cloud of inflatons (and thus vast numbers of new universes will sprout from the ashes of ours).
Even shy of that, the energy release might be indistinguishable from our Big Bang. We might thus be the end result of a previous universe that underwent a Big Rip, especially if it took so long to occur that that universe had reached near maximum entropy, near total equilibrium of scattered particles. Cosmologists believe the scars of the previous universe would be visible in the cosmological background radiation, but that presumes there was any structure left in the previous universe to be preserved in any visible way in ours. Indeed, the physicists in today’s video note that the very process of dissolving a previous universe into inflatons will probably quantum mechanically erase all previous structure.
As I wrote in The End of Christianity (n. 31, p. 411):
[If] the universe in some form will continue to exist for 10^1,000,000 years, then it could easily contain an event as improbable [as 1 in 10^1,000,000], and that event would as likely be its origin as anything else. In fact, since quantum mechanics entails that a big bang of any size and initial entropy always has some (albeit absurdly small) probability of spontaneously occurring at any time, and since on any long enough timeline any nonzero probability approaches 100 percent no matter how singularly improbable, it could easily be that this has been going on for untold ages, our big bang merely being just one late in the chain. We could be at year 10^1,000,000 right now, and as this conclusion follows from established facts and there is no known fact to contradict it, it’s no more unlikely than the existence of a god (and arguably a great deal more likely).
So it doesn’t matter how improbable an inflation arising is. As long as there is any random universe (even one wholly incompatible with life, even one very simple, even one a total chaos, it doesn’t at all matter), eventually you will get a universe like ours. Even if that first universe had a beginning (and began as just a literally random grab-bag universe, a completely randomized quantum event). Even if it didn’t (and it’s been randomly arising inflatons all the way back for all eternity). Eventually, zillions of trillions of years later, this random universe will have produced zillions of trillions of randomly arising inflatons, each its own universe. One of which will randomly come out like ours–able to produce life. The odds are virtually 100%.
There is therefore no need of positing any divine creator. And this follows from known physics.