GUEST BLOGGER: Quentin Smith’s Atheist Cosmology – Response

Please note that this essay has been moved to True Freethinker where it was posted at this link.


  1. Pretty decent article, in the sense that the criticisms against Smith's take on cosmology from 1996 is mostly correct (I won't go into the KCA again). I don't think Smith will find many takers among physicists today to support his claims that the Hartle-Hawking no-boundary proposal has been sufficiently evidenced by observations. I don't think the article is very relevant though, because:
    1) 1996 is hardly "recent", much has changed in cosmology since then
    2) the no-boundary proposal is a piece of mathematics posed within a framework of incomplete physical theories (quantum mechanics and general relativity), where already its theoretical merits and the validity of this "Euclidization" has been questioned (notably by Penrose)
    3) the no-boundary proposal is not directly evidenced by observations, but merely compatible with observations
    4) there are dozens of other cosmological theories that can also be made to fit current observations, and there is not yet enough evidence to distinguish between them
    5) does anyone besides Smith believe that the Hartle-Hawking no-boundary proposal is the model most favored by evidence?

    It is simply much too early, both from the viewpoint of the incompleteness of current physical theory (need new theory of quantum gravity) and the degeneracy of observational evidence (it could be evidence for any of a dozen different theories), to distinguish between a number of cosmological theories at this point, and that's that.

  2. Thanks for the warm welcome and open invitation Mariano. I have started a blog now, but it is more an online "workbook" for me to flesh ideas out, so don't expect a predominance of perfect arguments!

    Thanks for the feedback adonais, your points are well taken. I'd disagree with your relvance objection however, as Smith is a prominent atheist philosopher and some may be swayed by his arguments (which are well displayed on infidels.org) as they lack knowledge regarding your points 1-5. Hence the article.

  3. Perhaps Smith a prominent philosopher in some circles, but I don't find him referenced a lot in any literature that I own, so I personally haven't given him much weight. I basically stopped reading his section on "scientific cosmology" when I came across his assertion that: "Hawking's theory is confirmed by observational evidence." This, of course, is nonsense. I have a book from 1996 called "The Nature of Space and Time" by Hawking and Penrose, which captures a series of public debates between the two that took place in 1994, wherein Hawking notes a handful of astronomical observations that appeared to be consistent with the no-boundary proposal. But this is a far cry from a "confirmation" of the theory, and a lot has happened since.

    In 1998 the expansion of the universe was discovered to be accelerating, which can still be made consistent with the no-boundary proposal, but it also set off a lot of new research into dark energy, which was never considered by Hawking in the no-boundary proposal. Loop quantum gravity theories in the current decade have also offered a new tool for investigating Big Bang scenarios, which may even be able to make some specific predictions about signatures in the cosmic microwave background that could possibly be observationally confirmed.

    In short, I don't think Smith's views on cosmology with regards to the Hartle-Hawking no-boundary proposal had much merit in 1996, and even less in 2009 :-)

  4. Well I would agree with your last sentence! :-). However, you are obviously well aquainted with the topic. My point is that some may not be as well aquainted as you, and it is those people who constituted my target audience when writing this article.

  5. I agree with Adonais (and Andrew T) that Quentin Smith's satements regarding the H&H theory went beyond what was justified given the status of Cosmological Theory (both then and now). I would go further: even if his observations about the observational evidence for the H&H theory had been correct (and even if it were the defacto consensus cosmology of today), he was still unjustified in his stated conclusion. I think he is very wrong when he says, "So in conclusion, contemporary scientific cosmology is not only not supported by any theistic theory, it is actually logically inconsistent with theism." It seems to me to be an inherent property of theism that, regardless of the actual state of reality, it is possible to develop some version of theism that is consistent with that reality. General theistic beliefs are essentially contentless and void of meaning.

    I also understand Adonais' point in not wanting to get back into the KCA since we have beaten that poor old dead horse so much recently any more discussion would just be perverse. I just wanted to point out that even if Smith is dead wrong (not just unjustified) that that in no way implies that the KCA is correct.

  6. Hi jdhuey, thanks for the comments. I (predictably) have issue with your statement "General theistic beliefs are essentially contentless and void of meaning". Many people find their theistic beliefs very meaningful (myself included), are you working with some kind of verificationist based theory of meaning?

  7. What I was trying to get across was the idea that if you concoct some specific theistic claims then you have a religion. That religion may or may not be inconsistent with any given cosmological theory. But the general idea of theism - that is, there exists some type of supernatural entity that bears some type of relationship with the Universe is such a vague and malleable concept that it is impossible for it to be inconsistent with, well, with anything. And when you have a concept that is incapable of being inconsistent you find yourself with a concept that is "not even wrong".