Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Actually, Quantum Mechanics does undermine the Kalam

I had a reader send me this article over at the Strange Notions blog with a request that I put a comment in given the work I’ve done providing a counter argument to the Kalam.

I find that the article brings up some good points on the theistic side to address objections from quantum mechanics, but it leaves out key points that would count most strongly against the Kalam.

First, there isn’t a direct difference laid out between efficient causation and material causation, the difference is effectively discussed, but it’s not made clear.

What we have in quantum mechanics is what appears to be an effect without an efficient cause. One can argue that there are interpretations of QM that will provide us with efficient causes for these effects, but the standard view currently is that these effects lack an efficient cause.

Given that the Kalam wants to argue that the universe has an efficient, but not a material cause, this is a fairly significant point that shouldn’t be understated.

What Trent rightfully points out is that even if these QM events lack an efficient cause, it’s not “something coming from nothing”, which he calls the main intuitive support for Premise 1. What this is pointing out is that we don’t have something coming beginning to exist without a material cause.

Combine this with the common interpretations of QM, and we find intuitive and evidential support for the idea that we can have things begin to exist with an “efficient and material cause” or “just a material cause”, but never any cases where we have just an efficient cause. This is again a very strong point against the Kalam, since it supports the idea that “something material has always existed”.

That line of thought brings us into premise two of the Kalam, which isn’t really at issue here, so I won’t say much more than there is absolutely no evidence that all of material reality was preceded by a state of “absolute nothingness” in cosmology or philosophy. The most we could say is "we don't know what happened before the first Planck second in the Big Bang".

But let’s get back to this issue of “something can’t come from nothing” since it’s another point where I think counts very strongly against the theist.

The idea that “something can’t come from nothing” is typically supported by the idea that “we don’t see things just popping into existence from nothing”. The QM objection that Trent is addressing here tries to challenge this notion, which he rebuffs by pointing out that “the quantum vacuum is not nothing”.

However in doing this, Trent undermines the only support he has for the premise that “something can’t come from nothing”. How does one know “something can’t come from nothing”? Trent cannot appeal to the common experience we have of things not just popping into existence, since he’s rightly pointed out that when we DO see things popping into existence from “seemingly nothing”, it’s not really the “nothing” he’s talking about in the context of the Kalam.

Let’s pretend that “something could come from nothing”, this notion is no longer problematic or at odds with our common experience, because we have absolutely no experience with the kind of “nothing” in question. This all boils down to how one defines “nothing”, and the definition required by proponents of the Kalam gives us a version of “nothing” that we have absolutely no experience with that we have very good reasons for doubting that a state of this kind of “nothing” could exist in the first place (the First Law of Thermodynamics says hi).

When it comes to cosmological arguments, atheists are generally left with the idea that “something material has always existed” or “something actually can come from nothing”. While I personally hold to the former, the apologist answer to the QM objection shows that the latter could very well be a live option simply because “something coming from nothing” doesn’t contradict any of our common experience.

Monday, September 9, 2013

I was on the Faith & Skepticism Podcast discussing Kalam!

This past weekend I was a guest on the Faith and Skepticism Podcast, and it was honestly awesome!  I was on there with ElijiahT who blogs over at Hashtag Apologetics. He turned out to be as cordial to interact with verbally as he is on Twitter.  I'd definitely class him and Jason (the F&S Podcast Theist Co-Host) as the type of apologist I can happily converse with on these kinds of topics.  They're strong in their positions, but are willing to recognize the validity of others opinions.  That always helps when you're going to go into a debate.  Nathan (the Atheist F&S Co-Host) was also a lot of fun to work with on this, and I recommend checking him out on Twitter.

I was on to debate/discuss the Kalam. I say debate since that's kind of the premise of the show, but in reality I think we had more of a discussion which I think was far more productive for all sides.  We were able to highlight most of the major issues with the Kalam and identified key points where the underlying assumptions of either side play a big role in whether or not someone will find the argument compelling.

I highly recommend checking out the Faith and Skepticism Podcast in general, but you should of course start with the episode featuring me!

Just in case you wanted some links, here's the total of my "Countering the Kalam" series, as well as a helpful video by YouTube Team Skydivephil on Loop Quantum Cosmology which helps answer arguments that reference the Borde, Guth, Vilenkin Theorem that gets brought up so often to try and support the Kalam.  Additionally, here's a great post detailing problems with William Lane Craig's arguments against actual infinites written up by ExApologist.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Virtual Beers with Jonathan Pearce, Justin Schieber - Evidential Problem of Evil!

I just finished up another awesome Virtual Beers session with Jonathan Pearce and Justin Schieber where we discuss the Evidential Problem of Evil and the problems with common theistic responses.

I think that we packed in a lot of philosophical meat in this session and it was honestly a blast!

Extra geek cred if anyone can identify what the wall scroll to the left of me is (ie. not the Dragon Ball Z one). I'd be pleasantly surprised to see if anyone can!

EDIT: The answer is Terry Bogard from Fatal Fury/King of Fighters.  Here's the actual source artwork, from Real Bout Fatal Fury 2