We’re about a third of the way through Eric’s argument and he’s given us absolutely nothing of substance. In his fourth premise, he ends his appeals to intuition and the obviousness of the truth of his assertions and instead invokes scientific findings to bolster his case. As we’ll see, he doesn’t fare very well. Here it is as stated during his debate with Matt Dillahunty.
Premise number four: The universe is not eternal. Proof of this comes from the evidence of the expanding universe, evidence for the radiation echo, the laws of thermodynamics and hot spots in the universe, and also there’s nearly universal acceptance in the scientific community regarding this premise. 1
Eric then played a sound clip from a debate in which Dr. Lawrence Krauss said that the universe having a beginning is a matter which is beyond dispute. This sound clip is the only actual support Eric has offered for anything he has said thus far. I admit I’m hitting that point pretty hard, but I’m doing so to underscore the fact that there’s no factual basis for Eric’s repeated references to this premise-stacking as “rock-solid evidence”. I’m making every effort to remain focused on his arguments without getting sidetracked. But man, fuck that guy.
This fourth premise is the most supported-sounding one in Eric’s case. I say supported-sounding rather than supported because Eric merely references scientific findings; he doesn’t actually apply them. Perhaps this is due to time constraints. There are only so many minutes allotted for an opening statement and Eric has a long Gish gallop to cover in that time. In addition to providing no actual application of the science to his premise, Eric continues to demonstrate a complete lack of diligence in defining his terms. Clarity, careful communication and discussion of ideas don’t appear to be as meaningful to him as trying to win a debate though the sheer volume of bald assertions which can be barfed out in ten minutes.
Eric references “the radiation echo” and “hot spots in the universe” which gives the impression they are two distinct observations. This appears to merely be a mishandling of what is commonly referred to as the cosmic microwave background (CMB). The CMB is thermal radiation which by definition would encapsulate “radiation echo” and “hot spots”. There’s no reason to refer to them separately unless one either misunderstands the CMB or is deliberately misrepresenting it. Eric also references “the laws of thermodynamics”. This is a favorite of many Christian apologists although they consistently show a complete lack of understanding of the laws they’re referencing. A cursory internet search will turn up several articles debunking these apologetic arguments, so I’ll defer to them for that purpose.
Eric also references the expansion of the universe without explanation or application, so again we’re left guessing what the hell he means. I assume he’s suggesting that it’s impossible for the expansion to have been happening for eternity and so it must have begun at a point in the finite past. I’m willing to grant that, but a brief explanation would’ve helped tremendously. As it was, he spent less time on this point than he did when he said “something exists”. His use of the sound clip could be construed by some to be an argument from authority, particularly those who think he’s a smug jackass and want to be hypercritical of him. However, I think he used it to confirm the scientific consensus rather than resting the truth of the statement on the expertise of the speaker, so I think it’s valid. The fact that he’s a smug jackass is irrelevant.
What many people, especially Christian apologists, fail to realize is that there’s nothing magical about logic. It doesn’t perform any mystical feats. All logic does is allow us to analyze the relationships between propositions and the validity of the conclusions drawn from them. Logic cannot generate facts about the real world. You can take the proposition that Professor X has more mind powers than a master Jedi and logic the shit out of it all day long, but no conclusion you draw will reflect anything about the world we actually live in. Logic, at its core, is a linguistic tool for clear communication. That’s why defining one’s terms is so important. That’s also why it’s a big deal that Eric hasn’t bothered to do that at all.
The first major term in Eric’s fourth premise is the word universe. Different people can use it to mean different things. Some may use it to refer to the whole of reality, much the same way as Carl Sagan defined the cosmos as “all that is or was or ever will be”. To others, the universe refers to observable space including all astronomical objects and phenomena. Since this is part of a cosmological argument, it would be helpful to have clarification on the scope of what Eric is talking about. I’m going to be charitable and assume Eric means the observable universe in which we find ourselves. To ascribe scientific observations beyond that (to a construct we have not in fact observed) would be to talk completely out of one’s ass, and Eric doesn’t do that. Significantly out of his ass, yes. But not completely.
The second major term in Eric’s fourth premise is eternal, and this is the wall into which Eric crashes. As it is used here, eternal refers to an infinite amount of time in the past. I limit it to the past because Eric’s argument is constructed so that we’re standing in the present and looking back to the Big Bang for causation, so an eternal future is irrelevant and beyond the scope of the argument. However, to use this term is to take leave of the very science Eric is trying to use to support his premise.
Time began at the beginning of the universe. There was no amount of time before this. Time itself is finite in the past. So the universe has existed as long as time has, and there is no time in the past at which the universe did not exist. In one of his lectures, Dr. Stephen Hawking explains how the question of what happened before the Big Bang is a meaningless question.2