Friday, December 10, 2010

My Comments / Refutations on the Claim that Relativity Theory Refutes the Kalam Cosmological Argument

I have done quite a bit of dialog over at Common Sense Atheism regarding relativity theory and its relation to the A and B theories of time and whether it forces us into a B theory of time, thus nullifying the Kalam Cosmological Argument. I think I sufficiently showed that it doesn't, and I used the findings and arguments offered by many who accept the neo-Lorentzian interpretation of relativity theory.

The comments are found at these posts: What is Special Relativity?, Time and the Light Box, and, A Map of Craig & Sinclair’s 2009 Defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. I will post all of the comments I made, with most of the quotes I am responding to. For the full context, you obviously need to visit the posts.


Comments on CSA’s relativity posts
What is special relativity
The only way special relativity becomes incompatible with a tensed theory of time is if one adopts space-time realism, that the possibility of graphing points of space-time means that those measurements have an ontological reality. But just because we can graph relations doesn’t mean they’re real in that sense.
Furthermore, general relativity reintroduced absolute simultaneity into physics.
My second intuition – that I could use a microwave oven on a distant planet moving very fast relative to Earth – turned out to be correct.
Well earth relative to that planet is actually the one moving that fast on special relativity. So which one is actually moving? One would have to find a privileged reference frame. Perhaps this microwave radiation could be a privileged frame?
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Lorentz explained the Michelson-Morely experiment by pointing to the contraction of length that the measuring rods used in the experiment would experience. Whichever arm of their interferometer was parallel to the direction of movement would be contracted, thus giving the appearance that the earth is stationary within the aether (since the light had a shorter distance to travel when the arms were contracted). I don’t know what the justification is to posit that there is no aether based on that, though.
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Hermes,
Bossmanham, do you have support for your claim that “… general relativity reintroduced absolute simultaneity into physics”?
No, I just say things. Of course I do. William Lane Craig (theist) and Quentin Smith (atheist) point it out in their introduction to Einstein, relativity and absolute simultaneity. “The hypersurface of homogeneity and isotropy is the preferred hypersurface for the formulation of the laws of physics and the measurement of space and time” (Craig, William Lane and Quentin Smith. Einstein, Relativity, and Absolute Simultaneity. New York: Routledge, 2008. P 8). This frame is used to measure the age of the entire universe. So when people say the universe is 13.8 billion years old, they aren’t using an arbitrary frame of reference, such as their house, they are using this cosmic age of the universe.
I’m talking about actual simultaneity. This reference frame would be privileged.
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Hermes,
I ansered the question in italics. If there is a priviledged reference frame, as the “Hubble flow” (as it’s known) could be, or as God would be, then there actually is absolute simultaneity. It’d be silly to call it “absolute” and not mean it.
Second, what does it matter if the claim is on page 8? I’m pretty sure Smith and Craig, who have spent large portions of their careers studying relativity and the work behind it, aren’t going to be so silly as to state something that isn’t true in their introduction. Furthermore, arguments critiquing absolute simultaneity on both sides are found throughout the book.
Modern physicists aren’t always trained in philosophy, which means they may have certain presuppositions that they have picked up that are unjustified, such as the one I mentioned above about graphing space-time and thinking it therefore is an ontological reality. Why should we think that there is no aether? What was Einstein’s reasoning? It was pure verificationism. He gives no argument, he just discards it de facto. This is the problem with that interpretation, it presupposes this debunked positivistic mentality without justification.
Also, there are several things in physics that are good grounds for a privileged frame. The microwave background radiation (mentioned above) that permeates the entire universe, and is amazingly isotropic, and against which the speed of the earth has been measured (380 km/second in the direction of the constellation Leo). Why shouldn’t this be considered the aether against which we measure events? The quantum mechanical vacuum, which underlies all of reality, could be a privileged reference frame (as this article and this article mention), and has produced test data that supports absolute simultaneity. Why shouldn’t that be considered?
Not to mention you completely waved your hand at what was offered, while giving no counter argument. I consider that a weakness on your side of the argument. 
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Michael,
You are not using the term “preferred frame of reference” the way that physicists use it: a special frame of reference where the laws of physics are different than in other frames. You are instead using “preferred” in a common way to mean “given a choice, people would pick it”.
I am saying it is a frame by which to measure the laws of physics and absolute simultaneity.
The quote you trot out is a cute way of saying that the frame of reference in which the cosmic background radiation is at rest is a preferred frame. Well, no competent physicist would make that claim: only a conman equivocating on “preferred” would write that. True, a frame of reference where the CMBR is at rest makes some measurements easier, but Special Relativity has absolutely no problem with that and that is not what physicists mean by “preferred frame of refefrence.”
Give me an argument for that, Michael. Why shouldn’t we consider it a privileged frame of reference? Because you prefer the status quo interpretation? The neo-Lorentzian interpretation I tend to think is far better grounded philosophically fits in perfectly with the mathematical core that makes up special relativity. All you’ve done here is say I’m wrong because you and this other physicist say so. WHY shouldn’t the background radiation be considered the frame that used to be called the aether? Why shouldn’t the quantum vacuum? There are physicists, such as John Field from CERN, who think it should. What makes their interpretation incorrect? This isn’t about the data or the measurements, it’s about how to interpret them.
The theory of special relativity is based on the principle that there are no preferred reference frames, In other words, the whole of Einstein’s theory rests on the assumption that physics works the same irrespective of what speed and direction you have. So the fact that there is a frame of reference in which there is no motion through the CMB would appear to violate special relativity!
Einstein and Murkowitz’s interpretations are based on that, yes. Einstein simply presupposed, without argument or justification, that there is no preferred reference frame (PRF). If you say there is no PRF because SR is based on it, you’re incorrect and begging the question. Einsteinian SR is based on that, Lorentzian isn’t. There are good arguments out there for the PRF’s I have suggested. You need to present an argument to the contrary that isn’t begging the question.
To repeat, all of the empirical data fits with either Einstein or Lorentz’s interpretations. Einstein based his interpretation off of a verificationist scheme, which is why many philosophers who study the arguments for relativity have come to reject his reasoning.
However, the crucial assumption of Einstein’s theory is not that there are no special frames, but that there are no special frames where the laws of physics are different.
Yes, which is what I am questioning. He really gave no argument to support that presupposition, yet you all just happily accept it and move along as if nothing’s happened.
Hermes,
I never claimed you had to choose sides in anything. All I said is I’d answered your question and gave even more reasons for why I would argue for this interpretation. I gotta wonder what’s wrong with me taking the words of two philosophers (and more who contributed to that collection of essays) on what they said about general relativity, when you seem to be taking the word of random atheist bloggers on the subject?
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Muto,
So all arguments you can’t understand are “trickery”? Craig isn’t the only one who makes this argument, as I’ve already pointed out that Quentin Smith, who Craig has famously debated, also argues along similar lines.
I think it’s about the intellectually weakest thing to do to accuse someone that you disagree with of trickery. You lose debates that way.
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Muto,
You do not need arguments, but experimental data
Experimental data is useless without arguments that explain the reasoning behind how to interpret it. Furthermore, the data is the same.
RE: trickeryYou accused Craig of trickery, and I’ve seen that several times from different people on this blog. Seems to me some people, when in a corner, are reduced to accusing their opponent-in-ideas of trickery, which is just bailing out of the argument.
Hermes,
So, it’s a convention for explaining things not intended to be taken as a description of reality? If that is what you meant, I’m fine with that. You need explain nothing more
No, I’m speaking of this as reality. I’m not sure where scientific anti-realism was even hinted at here. This is a frame that is coextensive with the universe and is isotropic (see here. That would be a universe-wide frame of reference. I’m not sure what else to say.
Except for one detail. I asked for modern physicists. Your reply ignored that, and answered as if you were addressing my question.
I ask you for modern physicists that explain why the burden of proof isn’t on them. I did mention a modern physicist who holds to a view like this. I just linked to a paper of more. One wonders what else I could offer before you just start looking hard-headed.
Chip,
So what you mean is that cosmology has a preferred frame, not that general relativity does. The whole point of general relativity is to write the laws of physics in a way valid in all reference frames.
The hypersurface of homogeneity and isotropy that is part of general relativity is said privileged reference frame. This is why we can refer to the entire universe as 14 billion years old without relying on the earth’s frame of reference.
The CMB frame might be a good frame for cosmology, but it’s a lousy frame for, e.g., NASA calculating trajectories for satellites.
So what? Then you use different reference frames for that stuff. Galilean and Lorentzian relativity would still be viable in this view. Besides, practicality != true.
Do you think the laws of physics look any different in the “preferred” frame than any other? If so, then this contradicts general relativity, instead of being supported by it.
I’m not sure what that means. I think the laws of physics are constant throughout the universe. I do think that from the priviledged frame, things would objectively experience length contraction and time dilation. Craig explains what an observer in the priviledged frame would observe here. Search for the paragraph that begins: “There are, after all, other physical interpretations of the Lorentz transformation equations that constitute the mathematical core of STR which are empirically equivalent to the received interpretation and which, if correct, would lead to completely different conclusions when applied metaphysically.” 
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Hermes,
You made a claim. I asked for support from you of your claim from the relevant experts; physicists.
I gave it.
Why should anyone take your claim as the default? Are you a relevant expert?
Because it’s never been supported with argument but is rather assumed. Arguments for a privileged frame have been given, and general relativity supports the contention. I’d say the burden of proof lies elsewhere.
You asking for physicists to explain why you aren’t right, and then pushing me to do that research is a clear shifting of burden.
No, I’m asking for an argument to simply assume that there is no privileged frame of reference in the universe. I’m aware that many physicists simply adopt the status quo.
Are they in the consensus among relevant experts (GM focused physicists)? (If so, provide some evidence that they are.)
This constant moving of the goalposts is somewhat amusing, and just adds to my impression that you’re just being hard-headed here. You keep changing and adding to the standard.
There’s rarely a consensus opinion on new and innovative interpretations of data. See Gallileo, Copernicus, Darwin. Consensus != good arguments or support. Furthermore, how many defunct theories enjoyed a huge consensus of agreement? Global warming, classical Newtonian physics, etc. Nothing would change if we always required a consensus view on things.
Is the conclusion you say they came to accepted as the most likely option or is it one of many? (If so, provide evidence that it is the consensus opinion relevant experts.)
It doesn’t matter if it’s the better argument. It is far better philosophically grounded, and meets up with all of the observational data, ergo it is the preferred theory. Certainly, it would basically make Luke’s assertion that the Kalam argument fails because the B-theory of time is correct just about null, since it doesn’t show anything of the sort.
If you reference something more recent, that would be good too. +35 years is a bit out there. If the authors of that one paper are still alive, they may not even say what you say the +35 year old paper said.
You do realize that Einstein’s work is from 1905, and it is still valid? Most of this stuff is based on years and years of research. Field’s stuff is within the past 10 years, and Smith, Tooley, and Craig’s stuff is also. This is recent work done by people who are unsatisfied with the verificationist assumptions of Einstein and the strange ontologizing of the Minkowskian interpretation.
Bossmanhan, I take it that your silence is due to you reconsidering the issues? If so, that is encouraging. Feel free to post your updated thoughts on this
Actually, it’s more due to me being too busy to get on Luke’s blog for a few days.
I haven’t really been given a reason to reconsider the conclusions I’ve been coming to since beginning my reading. I took physics a few years back and simply accepted the relativity taught there because I hadn’t read up on epistemology. Once I did, and then reconsidered Einstein’s assumptions and read the critiques by some philosophers like Craig, Smith and Tooley, and physicists like Field, I began to think that Einstein’s assumption is unjustified and that the neo-Lorentzian model is far better grounded. No scientific theory is too sacred to be reexamined and scrutinized. I’d think skeptics would appreciate that.
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Rick B,
bossmanham in my opinion is starting to sound trollish- he’s not arguing for his position and refuses to support it with evidence. He also rejects the evidence provided by others.
So then the arguments I’ve provided, and the evidence I’ve cited, aren’t arguments or evidence? You may want to read through the thread again, though I’ve found this tactic to be quite common when atheists don’t have an argument.
But, to summarize the discussion so far, for your exlusive benefit, Rick B:

Luke claims relativity theory proves the B theory of time.
I say it doesn’t, because there are interpretations that would support a Newtonian type of absolute time, and base it on neo-Lorentzian interpretations.
People ask for reasons.
I say that Einstein’s assumption that there is no privileged frame of reference is unfounded, and stems from positivism, which is a defunct philosophy.
People say that special relativity requires that assumption, so it’s necessary.
I point out that’s begging the question. Then give evidence from general relativity and quantum mechanics that there is a privileged frame.
People say to name some modern physicists who accept this. I did. People challenge me to link to articles. I did.

Not sure you’re up to date here, my friend.
SR is supported by evidence; its implications mean that for all known frames of reference the laws of physics hold [excluding the well-known problem of quantum mech. disunity]. That this is so indicates there is no privileged frame of reference.
SR, like all theories, is supported by certain assumptions. The neo-Lorentzian interpretation conforms to all of the same evidence, without making the same strange assumptions. And you’re just asserting that there is no privileged frame based on a theory that ASSUMES that there isn’t to work, which is textbook begging the question.
Believe it or not, many physicists also are deeply aware of the philosophical implications of their work; but you’ve merely stated that other interpretations of the mathematics of the theories on question do not imply that there are no privileged frames of reference. You quoted philosophers. You didn’t show the philosophers are good enough at mathematics to dig through the physics; you didn’t use recent references; you didn’t prove anything
Is it ironic that you’re doing what you accuse me of doing? First off, one doesn’t have to understand all of the relevant mathematics to understand what relativity theory says. Second, the interpretation of the mathematical core of the theory isn’t one in the same with the mathematical core of the theory. Neo-Lorentzian relativity relies on the same core evidences. Third, one doesn’t need to understand the mathematics to see the philosophical assumptions and their faults. Fourth, you assume that Craig, Smith, Tooley, and others don’t understand the math, but they cite it quite a bit and then expound on it in their essays and books. Fifth, there are physicists who have developed the neo-Lorentzian model.
Hermes,
Rick B, thank you. It is hard to argue with your comments.
Heh, cheer leading for the home team are we?
And until there is some wrangling with the things I have mentioned, I can’t do anything else for you. Again, the hard-headed impression is still pretty apparent
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Time and Light Box
This is all true for events that are relative to, say, us as observers of different frames of reference here in the universe, but you’re simply assuming there is no privileged frame of reference, and then make the metaphysical conclusion that, therefore, time is truly relative (which then leads to your grand metaphysical leap into the equal ontological reality of all moments in time, which is really weird).
I’ll grant that physical clock times are relative, but this does nothing to prove that time itself is segmented or is a block and is a physically distinguishable dimension. But, I’d like to know what evidence supposedly proves that. All of these experiments show that clock times are relative to different reference frames, but it does nothing to show that there isn’t a privileged frame.
It seems intuitively obvious to me that, as I am writing this, there are events happening on one of the moons of Jupiter simultaneous to my tapping on the keys on the computer. To tell me that light rays may reach these events at different times and then reach me later than you, or vice versa, is completely irrelevant. We’re not talking about light signals or the time it takes for them to travel, we are talking about what happens at a moment of time.
It seems to me that this continued endeavor to “disprove” the A theory of time using SR is to either be ignorant of the true discussion, or to be ignoring the counter arguments being offered. My contention is that there is a universal time by which distant events actually are simultaneous with each other and which does pass moment by moment. I’ve already cited several empirical evidences of that on previous posts, and there are good philosophical reasons to reject a B-theory and to accept an A-theory. It just isn’t the case that special relativity disproves the A-theory. 
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Tarun,
Special relativity tells us that both spatial and temporal intervals are relative to reference frames
Special relativity doesn’t really show this, but rather it assumes it.
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Shane McKey,
Of course, that is not in any way to undermine your point that WLC does not know his physics
Of course, you must be ignorant of Craig’s several works on relativity theory, found:
here and here and here, among others
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In response to: “Special relativity only assumes two things: (1) The laws of physics take the same form in all inertial reference frames, and (2) The speed of light is fundamental constant. Based on these assumptions, it tells us that spatial and temporal intervals are relative to reference frames.
Also, it is true that you can consistently maintain that there is a privileged rest frame while still acknowledging the empirical adequacy of special relativity. This rest frame will be epistemically inaccessible, so postulating it seems otiose, but I will grant that it is an available move. But this seems to get far more complicated when we move to the general theory of relativity, where spacetime itself plays a dynamical role (not just space but *spacetime*). If you don’t grant the existence of any times except the present (or the present and the past) it is completely unclear to me how you could possible account for this dynamical role. It seems you would require a quite radical revision of our best theory of gravitation. Again, you could postulate a preferred foliation of spacetime (although again this seems otiose), but I don’t see how you can claim that only one slice of this foliation actually exists.”
And #1 assumes what we just said, does it not, since that would not be the case it there were a privileged frame, as I understand it.
I agree, special relativity certainly is empirically viable even under the form of relativity I adhere to. While I don’t think it’s the case that it’s epistemically inaccessible any longer, with the advent of general relativity that introduces the hypersurface of isotropy and cosmic time, I would add that even if we didn’t have that, we’d have the issue of Einstein’s SR not really being completely empirically adequate. The length contraction and clock retardation that is observed is left unexplained, and is simply derived from the equations. On forms that retain a privileged frame, these are explained (see Prokhovnik’s Light in Einstein’s Universeas I am completely unqualified to explain the fine details).
My main complaints are not the empirical data, as the model of relativity theory I think is correct is empirically equivalent to Einstein’s, but the philosophical assumptions that underly the status quo interpretation.
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Kyle,
I lose track of where I’ve posted here sometimes, so I hope you see this answer.
Chroma asked me : you say that special relativity cannot explain length contraction or time dilation. What have you been smoking?
Einstein’s SR does not posit the physical reasons for length contraction and clock retardation. Rather they are almost just brute facts derived from the equations. Lorentz’s does and I referred everyone to a physicist’s paper which explains it. I really don’t understand it yet.
Plus, you said that special relativity simply ‘assumes’ that time and space intervals are relative to reference frame – epistemic libel born from ignorance.
Not sure what he’s trying to say here, but Einstein is very straightforward about this.
Moreover, you think that a preferred frame – whatever that is – would make simultaneity absolute, but fail to recall that absolute is short for not [variant] on frame of reference, and thus are oblivious to simple fact that the question of good-looking frames is moot for the relativity or absoluteness of simultaneity
Again, not completely clear on what he’s trying to say here, but when I use the term absolute, I am using it in the cosmic sense. On a cosmic level, the level God would view, there would be events that happen at exactly the same instant. This would be measured against this absolute frame. Of course you could still have arbitrarily set frames that you could still measure other frames against within the larger frame, but the existence of this privileged frame would do away with the confusion that Einsteinian and especially Minkowskian models introduce as it relates to the intuitive concept of time.
On top of this, you ask where the ‘proof’ is of the idea the universe is a spacetime block, while failing to recognize the fundamental purpose of the entire idea is its immense explanatory power.
Explanatory power alone isn’t enough to verify a theory’s truth. Solipsim would have immense explanatory power about the existence of the world (all in your mind), but is almost certainly not true.
Where is the proof or evidence of an (a)ether?
I’ve given this in previous posts Luke has done, and on my own blog. A couple would be the microwave background radiation, the hypersurface of simultaneity that general relativity posits, which introduces a cosmic time (and btw, this argument about SR is really just academic, because GR overtakes SR).
Given this level of misconception coupled with your level of (still apparently tentative) confidence, I suspect you might be operating or partially operating on an agenda with regards to this issue.
I am pretty new to the whole deal, I’ll admit. But I find the arguments of the neo-Lorentzian physicists very persuasive, especially since Einstein’s interpretation was borne out of logical positivism. There’s no reason to just eliminate the aether, especially when doing so is so problematic on a metaphysical level.
This debate isn’t about the empirical data. The data is compatible with either interpretation (except for the proposed special reference frames). It’s a philosophical debate about what is an appropriate interpretation of the data.
Hermes,
I get the impression that you are only re-stating the comments of Craig and other apologists
So? In this field where I have no more experience than a beginning physics course in college, I’m going to rely on the work of those who have studied it. That’s what most people do when arguing for a position. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here.
That said, it doesn’t mean I haven’t thoughtfully considered the arguments and reflected on their cogency. And my only agenda here is to get at truth, and the truth is that the theory of relativity doesn’t force us into a B-theory of time.
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Hermes,
Who said I didn’t understand the source? Just because I didn’t completely develop the argument doesn’t mean I don’t understand it. I have to have some grasp of it to formulate it for the context of this discussion. I don’t know all of the mathematical equations, but you don’t have to to understand the differing physical interpretations.
Furthermore, if we’re demanding original content now as a standard of reliability or whatever, then about 99.9999% of everything written today needs to be scrapped. We build off of people’s work most of the time.
How to fix this: One way to make an idea your own is to give an example or analogy that the original source did not give but that still illustrates the ideas found in the original source
I have done this. I have restated the arguments in my own words as I understand them with it in mind to make it understandable to an audience that may not be completely familiar with it.
Now, if you’re done patronizing me and critiquing the way I present arguments, maybe I can see you actually interact with them?

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