Sunday, January 27, 2019

Why The Universe? Critiquing Sean Carroll

When answering the question of why something exists one can certainly first appeal to the mechanism or cause for its existence. A painting exists because a brush applied paint to the canvas. By carefully observing how the paint is applied to the canvas we can learn quite a bit about technique and why the painting looks the way it does. Using radiation we can probe what lies underneath the paint to see rough sketches and changes to any underlying pigments. To some scientists, the mechanism of how the paint is applied to produce the finished product is the limit of what observations from science can tell us since science deals with laws and mechanism. But of course, there is much more to the story of a painting because there is an artist behind the brush strokes who created the painting with purpose, the real "reason."

When cosmologist Sean Carroll discusses "Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing" he claims, "The best we can ask is whether we can imagine laws of nature that fully account for how the universe behaves, even at the earliest moments."1 As pointed out in my previous post Carroll's search for the cause of the existence of our universe has certain constraints and presuppositions that will restrict any conclusions. These include (1) his answer will be limited to mechanisms and cannot include reasons, (2) he is incorrect in assuming that finding a mechanism eliminates the need for a creator (3) he makes the false assumption that laws and mechanisms have the causal ability to implement, (4) he constrains all answers to the natural realm thus eliminating any supernatural creator, a priori. Despite these problems, I find Carroll's writings to be thoughtful and insightful and worth reading and critiquing. I also find that his ultimate answer requires a transcendent creator despite his insistence that it does not.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

If you search on the internet for the phrase, "Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing?" you will find a host of articles, many by philosophers but some by scientists, that discuss this profound question. The book by Lawrence Krauss, A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something From Nothing, which I have discussed in a previous post will probably appear near the top of your search engine. Last June, the cosmologist Sean Carroll added his name to the list of those writing about this subject with the article "Why Is There Something, Rather Than Nothing?"1 and a reader of my blog asked me to comment on Dr. Carroll's article.

In general, although Sean Carroll is an atheist, I find his writings to be quite reasonable and thoughtful, unlike some other atheist scientists whose writings and lectures indicate that they have done little research regarding the vast history of dialogue among deep thinkers in regards to these important philosophical and theological questions. In a previous post I highlighted one of Dr. Carroll's talks in which he honestly pointed out that almost all hypothetical ideas about the origin of our universe do not solve the problem of the initial low entropy state at the big bang, except for a small class of models that he favors. He objectively shows that most of the proposals that attempt to remove God from the origin of our universe flatly fail because they do not give the correct initial conditions.

At the beginning of the recent article Carroll points out that there are at least two ways to interpret the question of "Why there is something rather than nothing?" That question could be asking either for the mechanism or for the reason for our universe. On the web site a similar idea is developed when the author writes, "To get us started thinking about it, let’s distinguish between reasons and causes. When we ask why something is the case, depending on our purposes and what kind of explanation we seek, we might be asking for a reason, or we might be asking for a cause."2