Saturday, February 22, 2014

More thoughts on the Sean Carroll/WLC debate

I feel that WLC let Carroll off the hook in a certain aspect of the debate. Carroll repeatedly inculcated the point about how many promising cosmological models there are that can explain the existence of the universe without a finite, quantum singularity, beginning point. He then criticized WLC for not fully understanding the mathematical bases for these models. In logical form:
  1. Cosmological models exist that have promising explanatory value that obviate the need for a "beginning" to the universe.
  2. In time, these models will be refined until one is discovered to be superior.
  3. If they can be understood by a person, there would be no need for that person to appeal to beginning.
  4. If there is no need to appeal to a beginning, there is no need to look for a transcendent cause to the universe. The universe can be explained by the language of science without appeal to the supernatural.
  5. That kind of epistemological explanation is to be preferred to subjective, metaphysical language.
  6. Since these models are mathematically rigorous (#1) and are going to become stronger through a sort of scientific evolutionary process (#2) and their language is to be preferred to metaphysical language (#5), there is no need to look for a beginning to the universe and a "cause."
Obviously, the implication here is that people like WLC dogmatically cling to outdated characterizations of the universe because those descriptions harmonize with nonscientific, religious, subjective, metaphysical beliefs. Such beliefs can't be confirmed by methodological naturalism which we know to be epistemologically superior. Therefore, those beliefs have been superseded by the kinds of models that Carroll promulgated.

Here is the major flaw with Carroll's line of thinking that WLC didn't really pursue. There were a few instances when the early conditions of the universe were mentioned. Assuming that there was a quantum singularity, there was a point at which the 4 fundamental forces were combined in the compressed/condensed universe. Once expansion starts to occur (the Big Bang), those forces begin to differentiate from one another. What this means is that the so called "laws of physics" that Carroll trumpeted as the proverbial kanon are not applicable during such early conditions. Worse, we can't even make meaningful observations about conditions prior to that because our noetic mechanisms for doing so are incompatible with those conditions, which Carroll acknowledges and discussed more than once. Here is where WLC let Carroll off the hook. We have a model that works! It's called the Big Bang, It is scientifically efficacious and parsimonious. It is based on observable, testable phenomena. It is has predictability. Yes, it presumes a quantum singularity but, that is where the science is now. 

The models that Carroll so fondly caressed are thoroughly problematic (and he even criticized one the competing models). In contrast with the Big Bang, they are not based on observable phenomena. They are not empirically testable. Worse, in some cases they anachronistically retroject current scientific language on to an imagined phase of the universe that potentially doesn't adhere to current laws of physics. I am not suggesting that scientists should abandon such cosmological investigations. What I am saying is that we have to recognize them for what they are; metaphysical speculations with scientific sounding language. They are imaginative, creative, brilliant and could ultimately be helpful or even explanatory. Right now, they're somewhat like string theories which are largely based on mathematics with little to no empirical confirmation. This is why there is a lack of accord between quantum physicists and string theorists. There are quantum physicists who view string theory as somewhat dubious.

In this regard, WLC adhered to the conventions of methodological naturalism more so than Carroll did. it's deceptive that WLC is not a scientist and Sean Carroll is. Worse, Carroll used scientific sounding language and science like models to dazzle people who don't realize the debate wasn't about science. It was about what science implies. This is where WLC's credentials exceed Carroll's. Carroll is not a trained metaphysicist or theologian.

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