Unpacking a Cosmologist’s Philosophy

Last night I watched the first part of a debate between William Lane Craig and Sean Carroll. Craig is a Christian philosopher and apologist who has dealt with cosmology, and Carroll is a physicist and cosmologist who has spoken against God. Today I watched a Youtube video of Carroll giving a talk where he gave similar explanations.

One of Carroll’s points is that if God existed, we would have expected the universe to turn out differently. He mentions a scientific point of the entropy rate of the early universe, but then quickly lists as evidence the existence of evil and random suffering. Carroll goes on to say that if God existed, He would have given us a specific, clear list of instructions on how we should live, how we should treat each other, and instructions on such things as how atoms are structured. “It might not be easy to follow the instructions, but it would be easy to know what the instructions were.” If God existed, “He would explain Himself to us very clearly.” That we have such a world as we actually observe, says Carroll, is evidence that God does not exist, for He would not have created a world as we see today.

To summarize Carroll’s argument, he is saying that we have a way that we would expect God to act, we do not see this way universally throughout the universe, so we have evidence against the existence of God.

Sean Carroll is a very smart and intelligent man. He has a Ph.D from Harvard and is well versed in theoretical cosmology, a field that requires rigorous study. However, his arguments presented here are not good, and in fact fail quite largely and demonstrably.

He tells us that if God existed, we would expect God to act differently. This presumes to know how and why an all wise, all knowing God would act. A glaring problem with this is that we do not even know why we act the way we do ourselves. We all find ourselves shouting out in frustration, “Why did I do such a thing?” We say hurtful things to those we love, we commit acts we cannot justify to ourselves or to others, and we cannot explain our motives. We cannot even truly explain why we prefer red to chartreuse, or chocolate over vanilla. Further, we do not know why other humans do what they do. We merely know what we do, not what our motivations are. We can take some good guesses about some of the actions of others, saying “She fed that dog because she always has compassion on starving animals.” But we do not know why she has compassion for animals and does not spend her time creating artwork. We just know that she does.

So how can Carroll honestly expect us to believe that we would know how an infinite God would act? We can no more predict how God would act than we can predict, upon the birth of a baby, that because the parents both regularly attend opera then the child will also.  Such an argument of Carroll amounts to no more than a “It seems to me . . .” type argument, one based on personal opinion, not empirical fact. It is mere opinion presented in persuasive language, not even logical, let alone scientific.

As an example, Carroll says that if God existed, God should tell us “governments should derive their power from the consent of the governed.” But why is this so? Is it not the case that Carroll prefers this type of government because he was raised in the west? Why would it not be the case that, as Aristotle held, that the educated should govern over those who are incapable of understanding the issues, and do not know what is good? It seems to Carroll that governments should be this way, but as an argument against God, it fails completely.

Further, his arguments are not even correct. God has indeed revealed to us what He is like, and rather clearly. In Isaiah chapters 40 to 50, God spends quite a bit of time telling us what He is like. It is not complex nor hidden.

Carroll asks for God to reveal clear, unambiguous rules for how we ought to treat each other. Perhaps the ten commandments? If we showed him “thou shalt not steal” and “treat others as you would have them treat you” would this be sufficient? In fact, we have exactly what Carroll asks for, a clear set of instructions that God has given us to tell us how to treat each other. Carroll is right about one thing: It is easier to understand the rules than to keep them. In this regard he is a good theologian.

Further supporting his argument, Carroll says the following as a logical support against God:

Imagine you are a theologian in a world where there wasn’t evil or random suffering and where God had given perfectly clear instructions. There were holy scriptures that said ‘be nice to each other.’ If you were that theologian, would you take the absence of injustice in the world as evidence against the existence of God? I think you would not. I think you would say ‘this is what I would expect God to do. He made a just society for us.’ If you wouldn’t count the absence of injustice as evidence against the existence of God, then you should count the presence of injustice as evidence against the existence of God.

I find it interesting that he holds his views as evidence supporting a reasonable argument against God. Many atheists are quick to tell us that such arguments are impossible to make, so they hold the burden of proof to always be on the theist. Indeed, they tell us that atheists do not have evidence nor even make a truth claim. But if it is impossible to argue against the existence of God, no one seems to have told this to Sean Carroll. I take his arguments as a disproof for the atheist claim that no one can present an argument against the existence of God, and a disproof that atheists never make truth claims.

Let’s set aside the fact that there are holy scriptures that say exactly what he asks for, and apply his argument and see how it holds. He is trying to say that the injustice in the world is evidence against God. But what of this? We do indeed have the concept of justice in the world. We are not stuck with mere amoral chemical reactions, but we have the ability to distinguish between good and evil, as proven by Carroll making his argument. So while it is true evil exists, it is also true that good exists, in the form of love, bravery, courage, and justice. It is not the case that only evil exists, but that some evil exists. If we use Carroll’s own criteria, the existence of good in the world is then evidence for the existence of God.

The moral argument for the existence of God does NOT argue that only good exists in the world; the existence of some evil cannot disprove the argument for God. Rather, it argues that since good exists at all, and since there are moral laws that exist, then there is an ultimate Good, a moral lawgiver.

Think of it this way. Carroll says “If you wouldn’t count the absence of injustice as evidence against the existence of God, then you should count the presence of injustice as evidence against the existence of God.” Using this same line of reasoning, Carroll is forced to say that 1) the presence of justice in any form, and 2) our ability to tell the difference between justice and injustice, are both evidence for the existence of God. If Carroll debates 1), he is saying “it seems to me” that God would have less injustice in the world, a purely subjective argument. If he debates 2), he has no metaphysical legs to stand on, coming from a purely materialistic worldview. Indeed, in the talks I have seen, he does not address the presence of good in a purely material world.

But it gets worse. In Carroll’s hypothetical God-infused world, he says that if we were consistent, we would “count the lack of injustice in the world as evidence against the existence of God.” The first problem with this is a misunderstanding of the nature of evil. Evil cannot exist on its own, but only as a lack of good, such as rot can only exist as an absence of good wood. Pure injustice cannot exist, but only a bastardization of justice. Second, it is unclear how such an argument could ever be proved. By Carroll’s own definition, the God he speaks of is a good God; how would the presence of evil prove such a God existed? Is it not the case that theists now claim that God exists and evil also, and there is no contradiction? What would be the evidence that decided the argument? If it were an evil God, the hypothetical world would not exist. When unpacked, this line of reasoning turns to hollow persuasion, not logical argument.

Carroll’s statements leave the field of his scientific expertise and enter the world of philosophy and argumentation. He would do much better to stick with his theoretical calculations and leave the arguments against God to others. Indeed, he would be better to spend a quiet afternoon reading the book he seems to wish existed, the Bible.

About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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3 Responses to Unpacking a Cosmologist’s Philosophy

  1. rautakyy says:

    Hmmm… To a certain extent I agree whith you. If we are unable to fathom the reasons and motives of ourselves, or at least other individuals, how could we possibly understand the motives and nature of an all-creator? How could we possibly profess that this entity is “benevolent”, or that it has some “plan” for us? Yet, faith is very much and to many people, the commitment to the alledged revelations from this entity. Is it not? Is such a commitment reasonable? It certainly does not stand on an “empirical fact” as you put it.

    What government would you prefer and why? You say: “Why would it not be the case that, as Aristotle held, that the educated should govern over those who are incapable of understanding the issues, and do not know what is good?” So, would you prefer a comintern to govern you? Because, that is exactly what dear old Aristoteles is suggesting. It has been tested out and it was not a real success, was it?

    I do not claim to know how the universe should be set, if there really was a benevolent, or even merely “intelligent” designer behind it. However, it seems a counter intuitive suggestion as long as no actual evidence of such a designer is ever presented. The idea of faith seems to go against even presenting any such evidence, for if there was such evidence and it was conclusive as “empirical fact”, there would be no need for faith. On the other hand I can not see what the faith is ever for. What is it’s purpose? To test how gullible we are?

    To me the moral argument seems silly, because the concepts of good and evil do not require a moral lawgiver of absolutes in any way. Good and evil are very much evolutionary standpoints seen from a certain perspective. But that is a nother matter all togehter…

    • humblesmith says:

      If we presuppose there is no God and deny the Bible, as Carroll does, then he has only his own subjective speculations about how God would act. The difference between him and Christians is that we know God has told us about Himself, as mentioned in the post. Carroll denies the descriptions God gives of Himself in the Bible, so he has no basis to assume what God would do. Christians do have a description of what God is like and what He has done. He tells us He is benevolent and has a plan for us.

      The type of government I prefer is irrelevant to the philosophical point I was making, namely that Carroll’s statement that God would reveal a particular kind of government is an invalid assumption. (As an aside, Aristotle’s view was closer to an oligarchy of educated people).

      As to a designer, there is indeed empirical evidence for design. https://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2012/01/02/aquinas-evolution-providence-chance/

      “Faith” is a term that is being perverted today. A better word is perhaps trust, which is what the Biblical sense of the term means. Trust and reason go together, and in fact must go together. Trust and demonstration do not. For an explanation, see here: https://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2010/12/09/what-is-the-relationship-between-faith-and-reason/

      As to your statement about morality, it fails for several reasons. First, your statement about the origin of good is held to be a description of good that applies to all people, and is thus a universal description of what is good. But the statement says good is different from every perspective. Your statement is therefore self-refuting.
      For more, see here: https://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/evil-god-and-atheism/

      • rautakyy says:

        If we decide to presuppose any god, then we need to choose which god(s) we should presuppose. By which standards should any such choise be made? Most people do this according to their own particular cultural heritage. Is that a method to reach a logical conclusion? Even more important is the question why should we presuppose any gods? If we have no particularly logical reason to presuppose any particular god, then why should we even presuppose a god at all? If we refuse to make the choise before we compare the god claims whith reality and between each other and even try to make an effort not to fall for our own cultural heritage on the matter are we not starting from the point where we are not presupposing any gods? We can not presuppose any particular god before we have decided on the standards of the choise, because otherwise the standards shall inevitably influence how we make our choise. Correct?

        Why do you presuppose the Bible as an accurate source about gods and not for example the Mahabharata, the Kalevala, the Edda, or the Quran, just to name few? Is it only because of your cultural heritage?

        If we can define one sort of government as better than a nother, not as a mere matter of taste, but as according to any measurable standards of what we collectively think is good, then inevitably it results that a god handing out models of government reveals itself to be either good in giving a beneficial model of govenrment, or evil in handing out a bad model of government, or perhaps incapable, in providing a model of poor government.

        The point being, that we can not call any gods “benevolent”, if the alledged actions of said god are not benevolent. That means, that in order for us to compare god claims we must be able to evaluate both the reliability of the claims and the quality of the god. If we are simply asked to “trust” an entity based on claims about the supreme authority of this entity then that trust is not based on our intelligence, but on our gullibility. Right?

        Personally I prefer to wait and hold my judgement of any gods before they reveal themselves to me. None have this far. However, I do think I have the right to compare, judge and evaluate the different god claims according to what ever knowledge I have about them. That knowledge is at present based on the anecdotes and descriptions of the gods by their adherents, since none of the gods seem to be able to influence the reality in any way as far as I know.

        My statement of the morality is by no means self refuting. Each individual holds their own perspective of what is good, but that does not mean, that there could be no collective consensus on what is best for everybody. This is the ground on which democracy is build upon. That is why democracy is considered better than, for example informed oligarchy, or comintern. Yes?

        There could very well be some sort of absolute good, but the problem whith reaching any absolutes is that there could always be additional information that changes our perspective on any issue. Therefore we do not deal in absolutes, but according to the best possible information we presently have at hand.

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