If You Don’t Want God, You Better Have a Multiverse!

Such is the advice from Bernard Carr in grappling with the fascinating discovery that the physics of the universe had to be fine-tuned if it were to support life. Carr views the only viable options as being either God or a multiverse (the theory that there are a vast number of other universes). Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind also calls our attention to these relatively recent discoveries: “Science may be undergoing a huge course correction, a paradigm shift. A titanic controversy has erupted over the strange anthropic pattern that nature seems to exhibit – the pattern of extraordinary unexplained coincidences that are necessary for our own existence.[1]” I will discuss these fine-tuning discoveries and their implications in a series of blogs as part of my ongoing series on scientific evidence for God.

Here are my previous blogs in this series prior to the recent hiatus:

Philosophy

Can Science Disprove God?
What Counts as Evidence for God from Science?

Evidence for God from the Origin of the Universe:

Origin of the Universe

Doesn’t Quantum Mechanics Violate the Causal Principle?

Much Ado About Nothing

Philosophical Arguments that the Universe had a Beginning

 Before presenting the actual fine-tuning scientific data, I want to explore the philosophical basis of the argument. We can then examine the scientific data relative to some reasonable evaluation criteria.

What is Fine-Tuning?

Fine-tuning is not a synonym for design but is rather a technical term in physics that refers to a narrow range for suitable values among possibilities. All else being equal, if theory A requires fine-tuning and theory B doesn’t, then theory B is deemed to be more likely to be true because it doesn’t rely on assumptions for narrow constraints for the values of one or more parameters. There are other contexts where fine-tuning is discussed with respect to various hypotheses having nothing to do with life, but I defend this fine-tuning claim:

“In the set of possible physical laws, parameters and initial conditions, the subset that permits rational conscious life is very small.”

The universe is said to be finely-tuned for life if most possible ways for setting up physics would have resulted in no intelligent life anywhere in the universe. My claim is close to that defined by Luke Barnes[2] in his important review article. I use the term “rational conscious life” rather than “the evolution of intelligent life” because the fine-tuning claim can be evaluated independently of biological evolution. My wording also reflects Christian expectations that God wanted creatures in His image – rational, conscious creatures with whom He could have a relationship.

It’s important to note that my fine-tuning claim deals with the fundamental physics of the universe required before any biological evolution could get started. I personally happen to be skeptical of the all-encompassing claims about naturalistic macroevolution but even if it explains the full diversity of life that is irrelevant to my fine-tuning claim. For example, a universe without one type of fine-tuning would have lasted only a few hours and never cooled below 9000K. Thus, it is unreasonable to expect such a universe to have contained life – much less intelligent life. Physicists writing fine-tuning articles routinely make claims about life being impossible without certain finely-tuned parameters or initial conditions. Craig Hogan, for example, is very explicit, stating that “changing the quark masses even a small amount has drastic consequences [for] which no amount of Darwinian selection can compensate.” Alan Lightman of MIT clarifies the nature of the fine-tuning: “if these fundamental parameters were much different from what they are, it is not only human beings that would not exist but no life of any kind would exist.” No biological evolution can start until you have the first living cell and the vast majority of ways to setup the physics never allow life to get started.

My future blogs will detail some of the evidence supporting my fine-tuning claim but here is a foretaste from atheist physicist Stephen Hawking’s best-selling book, A Brief History of Time (on p. 125):

“The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers [i.e. the constants of physics] seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life. For example, if the electric charge of the electron had been only slightly different, stars would have been unable to burn hydrogen and helium, or else they would not have exploded. It seems clear that there are relatively few ranges of values for the numbers [i.e. the constants of nature] that would allow for development of any form of intelligent life.”

How widespread is the acceptance of fine-tuning among physicists?

In a word – very! In my years of researching this topic, I’m amazed at how few scientists who have studied the fine-tuning details disagree with this core claim that the subset of life-permitting physics is a tiny fraction among possibilities. Since Luke Barnes is a top researcher on this topic, consider his input on the level of acceptance of the fine-tuning claim: “I’ve published a review of the scientific literature, 200+ papers, and I can only think of a handful that oppose this conclusion, and piles and piles that support it.[3]

Of course, any topic with potentially significant philosophical or even spiritual implications is likely to encounter some opposition. Many physicists who accept the fine-tuning data do not, of course, embrace the design implications. Some readers might be wondering how the skeptics interpret this evidence. The most common response among skeptical physicists is an appeal to the multiverse as alluded to in the introduction.

QuasarKevinSquareImage: Courtesy Kevin Hainline

Is the multiverse a satisfying explanation of the fine-tuning?

If we have an enormous number of other universes and if they have widely varying laws, then perhaps sufficient probabilistic resources exist for life to emerge in some universe. We need to carefully evaluate how well the multiverse serves as a potential explanation for fine-tuning. Here are some potential challenges to a multiverse explanation of the fine-tuning:

– No empirical evidence exists for any universe other than our own

– We need vast numbers of other universes to overcome horrendous odds against a life-permitting universe – probably more than 10100 (which is more than the number of subatomic particles in our observable universe)

– A universe generating mechanism might itself require fine-tuning to generate so many universes

o This is certainly true for the most popular multiverse theory – eternal inflation.

♦ Sean Carroll admits[4] that “inflation only occurs in a negligibly small fraction of cosmological histories, less than 10-66,000,000.”

o Also, other assumptions are required for eternal inflation – as Vilenkin admits: “The most likely thing to pop out of the [quantum vacuum] is a tiny Planck-sized universe, which would not tunnel, but would instantly recollapse and disappear. Tunneling to a larger size has a small probability and therefore requires a large number of trials. It appears to be consistent only with the Everett interpretation.” This Everett or many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics is one of a dozen or so interpretations and many physicists are skeptical of this interpretation because it entails that parallel universes are spawned at every quantum event.

–  The new universes would need to have different physical constants

o There are many theoretical reasons for thinking constants might vary but we have no clear evidence that fundamental constants have ever been more than trivially different in different parts of our observable universe. Without new physics in each universe, our odds for life wouldn’t be helped – it’d be like buying a million lottery tickets with the same set of numbers for each ticket!

–  The constants would need to vary extremely widely

o The degree of variety in possible values for the constants may not be sufficient unless a particular version of string theory is true. Some string theorists think that perhaps there are as many as 10500 different possible values for the constants. This variance would be more than sufficient. Polchinski, however, is one of many string theorists who disagree with this proposal – “there is no reason to expect … a large number of variations in the constants of physics.[5]”

♦ A significant minority segment of the physics community is highly skeptical of any version of String Theory because it thus far has no clear empirical confirmation and a history of failed predictions.

– It is fallacious to view the fine-tuning itself as evidence for a multiverse since the existence of other universes doesn’t make it any more likely that our universe supports life. We need independent evidence for the multiverse hypothesis before it becomes a viable candidate explanation of the fine-tuning. MIT philosopher of science Roger White shows this using Bayesian logic and summarizes: “the fact that our universe is fine-tuned gives us no further reason to suppose that there are universes other than ours.”

– Is the multiverse theory even scientific?

o Personally I’m not too concerned about this question – we just want to follow the evidence wherever it leads even if that is beyond the realm of direct empirical confirmation. It should be pointed out though that the most popular multiverse theories, such as eternal inflation, postulate other universes that could not have interacted with our universe, even in principle. About the only way to affirm such multiverse theories is to examine how well our universe conforms to multiverse predictions after applying a selection effect due to the constraint that observers can only observe a life-permitting universe. This selection effect is known as the anthropic principle although it really deals with any type of observer whereas ‘anthropic’ is derived from the Greek word ‘anthropos,’ which means human.

o Thus, our universe should be typical among life-permitting universes. If our universe appears “overly” fine-tuned it would still look more like the product of design than a random member of an ensemble of life-permitting universes. For further information about this widely accepted principle among multiverse advocates, see this excellent book of essays by prominent physicists entitled Universe or Multiverse?

♦ Many scientists are highly critical of this approach of trying to indirectly affirm the multiverse. However, some skeptical scientists seem willing to accept this approach because it seems to be the only way to avoid the design implications of the fine-tuning. Polchinski, a leading string theorist, acknowledges that “anthropic reasoning runs so much against the historic goals of theoretical physics that I resisted it long after realizing its likely necessity. But now I have come out.”[6] Susskind claims that “the stakes are to accept the [string] landscape and the dilution in the scientific method it implies or give up science altogether and accept intelligent design (ID) as the explanation for the choices of parameters of the standard model.”[7]

As we’re examining the fine-tuning evidence in future blogs, I’ll point out cases where parameters are significantly more fine-tuned than is necessary since this counts against the multiverse as a solution to the fine-tuning problem. As a preview consider that many physicists such as Lee Smolin have pointed out problems in this arena such as proton decay rates being many orders of magnitude smaller than the life permitting region. Also, Oxford physicist Roger Penrose says that the multiverse is “worse than useless” as explanation of the finely-tuned initial conditions because the multiverse predicts hyper-exponentially more tiny universes than large ones like ours.

Some physicists have rightly pointed out that a multiverse by itself is not necessarily a violation of Occam’s razor since it could arise from a simple law-like mechanism for generating universes. The key issue though is that for the multiverse to be an adequate explanation for the fine-tuning it requires the conjunction of several hypotheses for which we lack any empirical evidence:

  1. A universe-generating mechanism that generates a plethora of universes
  2. That this mechanism doesn’t itself require fine-tuning
  3. The many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics
  4. The ability to widely vary constants in those universes. If you think that it’s a foregone conclusion that String Theory/M-Theory[8] will come to the rescue in this area, you should watch this video clip by Oxford physicist Roger Penrose where he exclaims that “it’s not even a theory … it’s a collection of hopes”.

Occam’s razor therefore does seem to favor design over the multiverse. When one accounts for the extensive problems in affirming premise 2 and how these multiverse theories make predictions incompatible with our universe, the hypothesis that God designed the physics of the universe to bring about life is more plausible. That so many physicists appeal to the multiverse to explain away the design implications of fine-tuning testifies to the power of this argument!

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[1] Susskind, The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design. The Chattahoochee Review Podcast. (near about the 6th minute)

[2] I highly recommend Barnes’ excellent blogs correcting various people on both sides of the debate when they make mistakes in their analysis of the math, physics, or philosophy. I hope I can get more people to read his blogs. I recommend his blogs more than my own – I’m just trying to be a popularizer of the excellent scholarly work that is out there!

[3] To support the claim that Barnes is a top researcher/thinker on fine-tuning consider that he was invited to speak at last summer’s Philosophy of Cosmology conference. Here is his blog article from which I obtained his quote: http://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/christmas-tripe-a-fine-tuned-critique-of-richard-carrier-part-3/

[4] Carroll, Tam. Unitary Evolution and Cosmological Fine-Tuning. http://arxiv.org/abs/1007.1417v1

[5] Polchinski, String Theory. (1998, Vol. 2, pp. 372-73).

[6] Lee Smolin. The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next. (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006), 169.

[7] Ibid., 197.

[8] M-Theory is simply a more generalized version of String Theory

Reasons For Faith: A Couple Of My Interviews

meradioI recently re-listened to a couple of radio/podcast interviews I have done on why I am a Christian. I thought these may be of benefit and interest to readers, so I decided to post the links here.

The following one is mostly about intelligent design and why I think a case can be made from biological evidence for the role of an intelligent causal agent in the development of life on earth. The total duration is 37 minutes.

Biologist Interview: Jonathan McLatchie (Apologetics 315)

In the following interview, I discuss why I am a Christian and address common objections such as “How do you know God exists?” “How do you know the Bible is reliable?” “How can you believe in miracles?” “How do you know Jesus existed?” “What about the problem of evil and suffering in the world?” “How could a loving God send people to Hell?” “Why should a Christian do apologetics?” and “What about homosexuality?” The total duration is 120 minutes.

Theology Matters With The Pellews

The first is a good introductory crash course to the arguments for intelligent design in biology. The second covers broader material, and discusses some of my reasons for being a Christian. I start out fairly quiet in the second interview, and am somewhat hard to make out. You can tell I was nervous, with it being one of my first live interview experiences. After we get going though I speak far more clearly.

I hope readers find these interviews edifying.

Philosophical Arguments that the Universe had a Beginning

This is my last blog dealing with the origin of the universe as an argument for the existence of God. I’ll examine the issue of whether new physics might be discovered to enable the universe to be past eternal. I’ll offer a couple of philosophical arguments against the possibility of an eternal past. If these arguments succeed we can be confident that no scientific discoveries could ever show that the universe has existed forever. Indeed if these arguments are sound, the scientific evidence I’ve offered so far would become superfluous.

If the universe has existed forever, this would entail an actually infinite number of past events. I use the term “actually infinite” to distinguish it from a potential infinite quantity. No one doubts that the number of future events can grow without limit but this is merely a potential infinite. Any finite time in the future there would still have been a finite number of events since the current time so the infinity is just potential – it represents an unattainable limit as this article by George Ellis, a prominent cosmologist, indicates.

Is it possible for actually infinite numbers of entities to be realized in the actual world?

One of the greatest mathematicians of all-time, David Hilbert, certainly didn’t think so: “the infinite is nowhere to be found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitimate basis for rational thought.“ Georg Cantor established a mathematically rigorous way of dealing with the concept of infinity that is very useful for mathematical and scientific calculations. Although Hilbert defended Cantor’s work, he argued that infinities couldn’t exist in the actual world or they would lead to absurdities.

Some readers may be thinking that if it is mathematically possible it has to be physically possible. But not everything used in mathematics necessarily implies a direct correspondence with physical ontology (nature of being). Infinitesimals are mathematically feasible and highly useful in calculus, but modern physics holds that everything is quantized. Mathematical consistency and coherence doesn’t necessarily imply physical realization – there are abstract mathematical systems that can be constructed that are coherent but not all of them are necessarily realized anywhere in physics. In computer science we often choose between multiple mathematically equivalent but quite different ways of computing things – they can’t all correspond to physical ontology because they entail fundamentally different ways of modeling reality. Infinities that show up in physics equations are considered problematic unless and until some type of renormalization can be performed.

So if we can show that absurdities result if actual infinites exist, then we have good reasons for rejecting the possibility of an actually infinite number of past events – even if it is mathematically feasible. Here is how philosopher Peter S Williams makes this argument to a lay audience:

Suppose I ask you to loan me a certain book, but you say: ‘I don’t have it right now, but I’ll ask my friend to lend me his copy and then I’ll lend it to you.’

  • Suppose your friend says the same thing and so on…
    1. If the process of asking to borrow the book goes on forever, I’ll never get the book
    2. If I get the book, the process that led to me getting it can’t have gone on forever

Somewhere down the line of requests to borrow the book, someone had the book without having to borrow it. It’s easy to see how this analogy applies to the Kalam – if the arrival of the current event/book required infinitely many prior events, it would have never arrived. You cannot traverse an actual infinity. If the current event/book did arrive, the process that led to it couldn’t have gone on forever.

Another example of the physical impossibility of an actually infinite number of items is the following. Suppose that there is one particle of some type for every positive whole number (integer) – we can think of these as comprising a mathematical set in which we’ve numbered the particles. The number of particles is aleph null and represents a so-called countable infinity. Suppose this type of particle is not stable and thus half of the particles decay in some time interval. One could think of the number of particles in this set as now consisting of the even integers. But one can also reach a contradictory answer that the number of particles is the same as the original by proving mathematically that the number of even, positive integers is the same as the number of positive integers.

This mathematical proof is quite simply done by showing a one-to-one correspondence between the elements in the set. For every integer in the original set, there is one integer in the set of even integers (2,4,6, …) obtained by just doubling the original value. Thus, the number of particles in each set is mathematically identical even though half of the original particles underwent decay. After we wait another half-life, half of the remaining particles have now decayed so the set would consist of particles (4,8,12, …). However it can also be mathematically proven that the number of positive integers that are multiples of 4 is identical to the number of positive integers. Have the number of particles been reduced or not? We reach contradictory results – no matter how many half-lifes we wait, the number of particles is the unchanged and has been reduced as per the usual physics equation. Thus, dealing with the actually infinite in reality would violate the laws of physics.

Philosopher Alexander Pruss offers at 6 arguments in support of premise 2 of the Kalam – that there couldn’t have been an infinite number of past events. Although he thinks actual infinities might be possible in general, he doesn’t think an infinite causal chain is possible. “This strengthens the Kalaam argument by showing that the premises can be weakened: the Kalaam argument only needs the kind of causal anti-infinitism that I now cautiously accept.”

Objection: But doesn’t Christianity require that God has lived through an infinite number of events?

There has never been a time at which God has not existed. However, if time is a physical entity that began to exist, it seems to have been something brought about by a cause outside of time. The classic theistic understanding is that God is an eternal being that exists outside of time. There is an interesting passage in the New Testament, Jude 24, that speaks of God having dominion and glory before time began. See also Titus 1:2 for another Biblical reference consistent with the understanding from modern physics that time had a beginning. As evidence of God being able to see into the future one can study Biblical prophecies of the future state of cities such as Memphis, Thebes, Babylon, Ninevah, Ashkelon and peoples such as the Philistines, Edomites, and Jews. (See this link to explore this evidence for divine inspiration of texts known to be written before the fulfillment)

It may be hard for us to grasp something that exists outside of time since we are constrained in this realm. Many scientists, however, do posit the existence of other space-time dimensions and explain how we would be unaware of these – e.g. see the book Flatland, which Hawking and Sagan point to an illustration of the possibility of unseen dimensions. Perhaps God exists in another realm or dimension of time or perhaps William Lane Craig is right in theorizing that God existed timelessly before creation and stepped into time when He created time.

Final Comments on the Implications of the Kalam

The conclusion of the Kalam is pretty modest. It doesn’t establish the existence of a particular god etc. Deism rather than theism could still be true if this is all we had to go on. The Kalam, however, is a strong refutation of naturalism – the view that nature is all there is. Most atheists hold to naturalism and if they admit that it’s false they’ve undermined the most significant traditional arguments for atheism.

A transcendent cause to the Universe possesses some properties of God such as being beyond space and time and being immaterial. It’s pretty hard to deny this as atheist scientist Lewis Wolpert discovered in his debate with William Lane Craig. Wolpert admited that the universe had a beginning saying “well we know that, nobody disputes that.” The ease with which he is willing to admit this should bother you if you’re a skeptic as it is yet another testimony to how this argument depends only upon mainstream, widely accepted science. Wolpert’s assertion that it might have been a very special computer fails miserably as one can see here.

Much Ado About Nothing

In my blog series on scientific evidence for God, I’ve initially focused on the origin of the universe. I defended the Kalam cosmological argument and argued that since currently known physics shows that the Universe had to have a beginning there must be a transcendent cause possessing some attributes of the classical understanding of God (as a spaceless, timeless, and immaterial being) Thus, the Kalam provides good reasons for believing in theism over atheism – I claim it provides epistemic support rather than constituting a deductive proof because we cannot prove the premises beyond the shadow of a doubt.

I appreciate the comments and interaction thus far! John raised another good question recently about whether the quantum vacuum could have appeared from nothing and I responded briefly:

Even if our entire universe fluctuated into existence from the quantum vacuum this would not be a defeater for the Kalam unless one could also show that the quantum vacuum is eternal. If spacetime had a beginning, as currently known physics[1] indicates, then so did the quantum vacuum and thus a transcendent spaceless, timeless cause of the Universe would still be required. But if the quantum vacuum itself could emerge from absolutely nothing then the materialist/naturalist would have a path to creating a universe without a god.

I promised to blog in response to this important question, so here it is.

Is it possible for the quantum vacuum to emerge from absolutely nothing?

By “nothing” I mean simply the usual English definition of “not anything.” The concept of “nothing” defined in this way has no properties and thus no potentiality to bring about something. A widely accepted tenet of philosophy is that “out of nothing, nothing comes.” The quantum vacuum is certainly not nothing because it has properties and ones that can be modelled quite accurately using mathematical equations! The quantum vacuum is best thought of as the lowest energy state in spacetime. Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal of the UK, explains:

Cosmologists sometimes claim that the universe can arise ‘from nothing’. But they should watch their language, especially when addressing philosophers. We’ve realised ever since Einstein that empty space can have a structure such that it can be warped and distorted. Even if shrunk down to a ‘point’, it is latent with particles and forces – still a far richer construct than the philosopher’s ‘nothing’. Theorists may, some day, be able to write down fundamental equations governing physical reality. But physics can never explain what ‘breathes fire’ into the equations, and actualised them into a real cosmos. The fundamental question of ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ remains the province of philosophers.

Too bad Lawrence Krauss didn’t heed Rees’s warning. Krauss wrote a book entitled “A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing.” The book’s subtitle references this great question of philosophy about which contemporary philosopher Derek Parfit exclaims: “no question is more sublime than why there is a Universe: why there is anything rather than nothing?”

In the comments section of a critical blog written by ardent atheist Jerry Coyne, Krauss ironically admits his book doesn’t live up to its subtitle “I may not be focusing on the classical question that has bother philosophers, but I don’t think I ever claim to.” But Lawrence, you made that the subtitle of your book! So when pressed even Krauss seems to be backing away some from claiming that the Universe can be created from a state of nothingness prior to the existence of a quantum vacuum. Other times he does seem to be claiming this but even Coyne criticizes him for “a bait-and-switch.” Krauss is equivocating between different definitions of nothing in his argumentation.

Whatever Krauss might be claiming there is no basis for claiming that the quantum vacuum can originate from a state of absolutely nothing. There is no physics of non-being. No scientific experiment has ever been performed in the absence of space and time and thus there is no scientific basis for extrapolating from ‘not anything’ to the physical world.

For a more detailed critique of Krauss by those much more knowledgeable and articulate than myself please read this blog by cosmologist Luke Barnes – here is an excerpt:

Krauss repeatedly talked about universes coming out of nothing, particles coming out of nothing, different types of nothing, nothing being unstable. This is nonsense. The word nothing is often used loosely – I have nothing in my hand, there’s nothing in the fridge etc. But the proper definition of nothing is “not anything”. Nothing is not a type of something, not a kind of thing. It is the absence of anything.

Barnes also has a follow-on blog that is quite helpful where he states:

if something can some out of nothing, then anything and everything can and should come out of nothing at all times and places. This, then, is the empirical evidence we would need in order to believe that the universe could come out of nothing.

I also highly recommend this scathing review of Krauss’ book by philosopher/physicist David Albert that appeared in the NY Times. Here is an excerpt from Albert:

[Physics has] nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of where those [quantum] fields came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular kinds of fields it does, or of why it should have consisted of fields at all, or of why there should have been a world in the first place. Period. Case closed. End of story.

But don’t Christians also claim in a creation from nothing?

Note that when theists speak of “creation ex-nihilo” they are referring to creation out of nothing physical. The Christian view is that God is an eternally existing necessary being and so there was something causally before the Universe began (but not temporally since there was no time!)

Note that there are also independent reasons for thinking that a necessary being such as God must exist – for example in the Leibnizian cosmological argument. I chose not to get into that argument because my series of blogs focuses on science and that is a philosophical argument that doesn’t even depend on the universe having to have a beginning. So in the Christian view, God created the Universe out of nothing physical. While that sounds very mysterious to us, science itself has shown us that all of space, time, matter and energy came into being in the finite past. There is nothing physical or natural left to appeal to as a causal explanation. Thus, by deduction we’re left with a supernatural cause – a cause beyond nature.

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[1] By “currently known physics,” I mean the well understood physics of General Relativity and physics associated with semi-classical spacetime. Because no one knows the correct version of quantum gravity, it is possible that new details concerning quantum physics could permit a past eternal universe. Aron Wall has published some good arguments for why one should not expect any new discoveries in quantum physics to overturn the current understanding that the universe had a beginning. Vilenkin has also argued along these lines as well.

Objection to Premise 1 of the Kalam: Doesn’t Quantum Mechanics Violate the Causal Principle?

It depends on what you mean by causality. A philosophically-informed physicist would say Quantum Mechanics (QM) doesn’t do away with causality:

“In fact, QFT[Quantum Field Theory] is constructed in such a way to explicitly preserve causality. Any QFT textbook devotes 10 pages of chapter 1 to explain why the square root of the Klein gordon equation does not make a good wave equation for a QFT – it cannot preserve causality.”

In physics, we speak of things happening based on mathematical laws. For example, two electrons are repulsed by the electromagnetic force and we can compute their path of motion. There seems to be a clear causal connection because the math is fully deterministic. In QM, the only difference is that the math is probabilistic rather than exact. No one is even sure that QM is indeterministic – Bohm’s interpretation might be right. Even if QM is non-deterministic, is it appropriate to say that things are happening without causes? We can use the Schrödinger/Dirac equation to make quite accurate probabilistic computations concerning the evolution of a system. We may not know when a particular radioactive atom will decay but we can use statistically large sets of atoms to accurately perform radiometric dating.

To be sure, there is a lot of controversy over how to interpret causation in QM (e.g., does the observer play a role?) but I don’t think QM really does away with the causal principle in the sense relied upon by the Kalam. The Kalam relies only on there being underlying reasons for things coming into being. If something happens in a manner that can be probabilistically predicted (as is always the case in QM), then it’s not a case of something being created without a cause from absolutely nothing. Things originating without causes could not be predicted even probabilistically!

Here is philosopher/Physicist David Albert on how Quantum Mechanics doesn’t explain the origin of the Universe from absolutely nothing: “The fact that some arrangements of fields happen to correspond to the existence of particles and some don’t is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that some of the possible arrangements of my fingers happen to correspond to the existence of a fist and some don’t. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings — if you look at them aright — amount to anything even remotely in the neighborhood of a creation from nothing.”

The Borde-Vilenkin-Guth theorem that I referenced in the previous blog indicates that spacetime cannot be extended into the infinite past. QM operates within spacetime so if spacetime is not eternal it is unreasonable to claim that quantum processes have been eternally in operation. Some physicists do speak of highly speculative theories of creating a universe out of the quantum vacuum but the quantum vacuum is not nothing – it’s just the lowest energy state of spacetime. It’s weird to think about spacetime not existing but such is the implication of BVG and the earlier Hawking-Penrose singularity theorems. This Scientific American article might be helpful in explaining how the Big Bang is not just describing expansion into “some imagined preexisting void.” The Big Bang is not dealing with expansion into preexisting space but the expansion of space.

For more details on the problems when some scientists speak about the Universe being created from absolutely nothing I highly recommend this blog by cosmologist Luke Barnes.

Atheist

Does The Origin of the Universe Point to God?

A logical starting place for consideration of scientific data that may serve as evidence for God is the origin of the universe. William Lane Craig has made famous the following ancient argument known as the “Kalam cosmological argument[1]:”

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The Universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the Universe was caused.

See also this video for a nice summary of the argument. Universe here is defined here as the totality of space, time, matter and energy. So even if there are other universes as various multiverse theories entail, they would still be part of the overall Universe. I’ll use the capitalized version of ‘Universe’ to clarity that I’m referring to this broad definition.

If the Universe began to exist, then it’s reasonable that it must have been caused by some cause acting outside of the Universe. William Lane Craig has pointed out that one can deduce the properties for such a cause – it would have to be timeless, spaceless, immaterial and enormously powerful. For otherwise, how could the cause of space, time and matter have any of these properties. Thus, some key attributes of God can be derived by deduction.

While this argument alone doesn’t come close to showing that Christianity is true, it does show that there is a cause that transcends nature. If the Kalam succeeds it gives good reasons for favoring theism over atheism and that is all that scientific arguments for God can hope to accomplish. Skeptics often attempt to refute non-scientific arguments for Christian claims such as the resurrection by appealing to naturalism, the view that nothing exists beyond nature. They might claim, for example, that science has shown that resurrection is impossible. If, however, the Kalam shows that naturalism is falsified, then this is a key first step in a cumulative case for Christianity.

Few philosophers doubt that the Kalam argument is philosophically valid. (i.e., if you grant the premises then the conclusion follows necessarily). So the key factor in determining if the argument is sound is the plausibility of the two premises. Note that we don’t have to prove the premises with absolute certainty to provide epistemic support for theism – we just need to show that the premises are more plausible than not.

Are the Premises True?

Science is largely based on the first premise being true – that things that come into being have causes. Note that no prominent advocate of this or other cosmological arguments has ever claimed that everything that exists has a cause – only that what begins to exist has a cause. Therefore, “Who made God?” is not a serious objection to this argument. If you think it is, I refer you to this blog by philosopher Ed Feser. Even the famous skeptic David Hume admittedI never asserted so absurd a proposition as that something could arise without a cause.”

Thus, the argument hinges on the second premise. For literally over a thousand years great religious and non-religious thinkers debated whether or not the universe has always existed. Judaism and Christianity asserted that the Universe was created by God out of nothing – “creation ex-nihilo.” They offered philosophical arguments for why the Universe could not be eternal. Many secular thinkers asserted that the universe was eternal and therefore did not require a cause. In an analogous manner, Christians asserted that God was eternal and therefore could not be caused.

What scientific evidence exists for the truth of the second premise?

For centuries, this question was beyond the scope of science but we know have significant evidence that the Universe began to exist a finite time ago. The first set of evidence centered on the Big Bang origin to our universe now dated to 13.8 billion years ago. This model eventually became the standard origins model after its prediction of the cosmic microwave background radiation was verified in 1964 by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson. (shown below with their antenna)

Wilson_penzias200

These two Bell labs engineers had been trying to determine the source of excess noise in their antenna. Assuming that it was due to a pigeon’s nest, they spent hours looking for and removing dung. As a colleague noted, “they looked for dung but found gold, which is just the opposite of the experience of most of us.” Indeed they won the Nobel Prize for detecting this remnant radiation from the Big Bang. By the way, if you have an old analog TV you can see this background remnant of the Big Bang as a small contribution of the static. Dr. Turek has documented other key evidence for the Big Bang in his I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist book.

The radical thing about the Big Bang was that it appears to be an origin not just of the matter-energy but also of the spacetime of our universe. The Big Bang appears to be a “creation ex nihilo” as affirmed by Nobel Prize winning physicist George Smoot: “There is no doubt that a parallel exists between the Big Bang as an event and the Christian notion of creation from nothing.”Based on Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, Hawking and Penrose proved that space and time itself began at the Big Bang.

However, since General Relativity doesn’t apply at tiny quantum scales in the early universe, there were speculations that perhaps something preceded the Big Bang. In 2003, an important paper was published by three leading cosmologists who had proposed some of the key speculative theories attempting to circumvent the absolute beginning implied by the Big Bang. Vilenkin summarizes the conclusion of their article in his Many Worlds in One book: “It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.” The ‘proof’ is based on the very general assumption that the Universe has on average expanded which is consistent with observations and theoretical expectations.

Why physicists can’t avoid a creation event?

This was the provocative title of an article appearing in New Scientist in 2012. At a scientific meeting honoring his 70th birthday, Stephen Hawking released this pre-recorded statement: “A point of creation would be a place where science broke down. One would have to appeal to religion and the hand of God.” In what was dubbed the “worst birthday presents ever,” Vilenkin presented his recent work showing that 3 different types of origins models of different classes cannot avoid a beginning to the Universe. Admittedly this is still not an absolutely settled conclusion, but Vilenkin summarizes: “All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning.” This fits well with the criteria I laid out in the previous blog. Data can be used in support of an argument if it is supported by currently understood science. Science is always provisional and therefore subject to change but if leading atheists specializing in this arena concede that all the current evidence points to the Universe requiring a beginning then I think it is more rational to accept the second premise of the Kalam.

In upcoming blogs, I’ll consider objections to the Kalam and discuss the philosophical arguments against the possibility of an eternal universe.

________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Here is an alternate formulation of the Kalam by Peter S Williams that is also helpful to consider:

  1. Every physical event has a cause
  2. There was a first physical event
  3. Therefore, the first physical event had a cause
  4. The first physical event’s cause was non-physical (else the event that caused that physical event would have itself been a prior physical event)
  5. Therefore, something non-physical must exist
  6. Therefore, materialism is false

What Counts as Evidence for God from Science?

Some might say that science leaves no room for the supernatural and therefore it’s impossible for science to ever provide any evidence for God. Note that if such a claim is made then science could likewise never claim any evidence against God’s existence as it would be completely blind in that realm. There is actually a scientific effort underway to try to find intelligent life beyond earth. They’re looking for physical alien life forms but a search for supernatural intelligence shares much in common. Both types of searches seek to discover artifacts not produced by humans or natural processes.

Independent of how one defines science, however, science can support the truth of premises in philosophical arguments. That is what I would like to offer in this series – philosophical arguments for the existence of God where we have scientific support for the truth of key premises. We want to find the truth about origins without worrying about conventions concerning how to define science. As I previously blogged, science is not the only source of knowledge.

As another introductory blog in this series, I want to provide some background and lay down a foundation. Let’s start with the proper definition of evidence – evidence is not the same thing as proof. Science isn’t in the business of proving things and if you’re waiting for mathematical-type proofs before acting on evidence you’re going to be pretty idle because one almost never has such proof. Here is a fairly standard way of defining evidence: An observation is evidence for a hypothesis if the hypothesis is more likely given the observation than it would have otherwise been.

One can have some evidence for each of several different competing scientific explanations. In some cases, there is not yet enough evidence to determine which candidate hypothesis is true. Thus, evidence does not even necessarily make it more likely that the hypothesis is true than not. The combined evidence and prior probabilities can yield this assessment (from a Bayesian perspective). What I would like to do in this series is to present several different lines of evidence for God that together form a powerful cumulative case. Independent of one’s prior probability that God exists, each piece of evidence increases the likelihood that God exists. Each line of evidence can and should be assessed independently before combining all of the probability assessments. This is a standard Bayesian approach to probability. This series of blogs will be somewhat like a courtroom evaluation of some science-related evidence. I encourage you to interact with this evidence and the argument that it points to God.

There at least two general ways in which God might operate within the universe in detectable ways. First, God might directly intervene to do something beyond the laws of nature to bring about life or some intended feature of nature. This could be detected by finding some feature of nature that seems generally in accord with God’s purposes but which is very unlikely to be the product of natural processes. Secondly, God might setup the natural processes themselves and/or the initial conditions to bring about His purposes. This “fine-tuning” would be detectable evidence for God if these natural laws or initial conditions were constrained to a tiny range among possibilities. Some leading atheist thinkers agree that it’s possible to have this type of scientific evidence for God although they obviously resist the conclusion. Stephen Hawking admits in Brief History of Time that fine-tuning is possible evidence of “a divine purpose in Creation and the choice of the laws of science (by God)” Peter Millican, a prominent philosopher at Oxford, conceded in a debate with William Lane Craig that “if there is an inexplicable coincidence in the fundamental constants of nature whose values have to be precisely-tuned within a wide range of otherwise available possibilities that would make a complex universe possible then this constitutes a phenomenon that very naturally invites explanation in terms of a cosmic scale designer.”

I’ll discuss their responses to this evidence in a future blog but first I’d like to discuss a few possible pitfalls in the origins debate. Here are some problematic responses or arguments in this debate about God and design:

“Feature X is so complicated it must be designed”

This is not a good way to argue for design because it’s not really an argument at all. The theist needs to argue why natural processes would not be expected to account for feature X and why God would be expected to want such a feature.

“Science has no explanation for X, therefore God did it”

This is a “god of the gaps” argument, an argument from ignorance. Even in the Christian view, God has set up many natural processes and it’s highly inappropriate to assume by default that divine intervention is happening in every unknown situation.

Indiscriminately calling every argument for God a ‘god of the gaps’ argument

At the other extreme, the skeptic may reject any evidence that seems to point to God by appealing to a future but as of yet undiscovered natural explanation. Philosopher of science Karl Popper coined a term for this unsubstantiated hope in future evidence to sustain naturalism – “promissory naturalism.” Just as promissory notes promise to pay money in the future, some naturalists promise that evidence will be found to justify naturalism. Returning to our courtroom analogy, one cannot appeal to possible evidence that might be found in the future but rather a judge must examine only currently available evidence. If what is known about science indicates natural processes are highly unlikely to produce an effect that God would plausibly want to bring about, then this wouldn’t be a “god of the gaps” argument.

Using questionable theology to refute clear science

An atheist should not have overly narrow expectations of what a god would or wouldn’t do. If you don’t believe that any gods exist, why assume very particular expectations of how a god would act? Just as a SETI researcher should not refuse to recognize evidence of alien artifacts just because she is surprised at certain aspects of the artifacts relative to her narrowly preconceived expectations, so a truth-seeker shouldn’t dismiss evidence for God because of overly narrow expectations of what God would and wouldn’t do.

In the next blog, we’ll start off at the very beginning and see if we can find evidence for God based on the origin of the universe.

Can Science Disprove God?

Suppose that there were no scientific evidence whatsoever for the existence of God, would that disprove God? Or would that necessarily make it irrational to believe in God?

I argue that it wouldn’t – such an overly-skeptical view reveals a flawed epistemology (theory of knowledge). One who makes such a claim is apparently adhering to a strong form of scientism, the view that science is the only source of knowledge. For, there are many non-scientific reasons for belief in God, such as:

The purpose of this blog is not to explore these non-scientific arguments but merely to point out that one cannot call belief in God irrational without also refuting these types of non-scientific arguments. Explore the hypertext links for a sampling if you’re unfamiliar with these arguments. The claim that science is the only source of knowledge is self-refuting – it’s a philosophical claim that cannot be scientifically demonstrated so if science is the only source of knowledge one could not rationally affirm it. Dr. Turek’s Roadrunner Tactic (of applying a claim to itself) reveals this pretty clearly. Most philosophers have long since abandoned this overly narrow epistemology but unfortunately some scientists still hold to it.

Too often skeptics point to prominent scientists who are atheists as though that somehow shows that belief in God must be irrational. I confess that I myself unfortunately went through a period of doubts in the late 1990’s in part because of this fear of how so many of these smart scientists could think that there is no evidence of God.

But is science really even the appropriate discipline for determining God’s existence?

I later came to realize the folly of assuming scientists are best-suited for evaluating evidence for God. Sure a disproportionate number of really intelligent people are scientists but are they really trained so as to be able to best evaluate potential evidence for God? Clearly, they are not trained to evaluate any of the non-scientific evidence I listed above. Many of the most vocal atheistic scientists such as Krauss, Dawkins, and Hawking make numerous philosophical mistakes.

Moreover, science is generally defined such that no appeal to the divine is even considered – this is known as methodological naturalism. Thus, both the nature of the knowledge taught to scientists as well as the methodology they learn for evaluating evidence are not well-suited for evaluating the breadth of evidence and arguments about God.

Dr. Ed Feser, who has been on the CrossExamined podcasts here and here, has an excellent rebuttal to scientism. He critiques Alex Rosenberg’s argument that science can show that God doesn’t exist. First , here is Feser’s summary of Rosenberg’s argument:

1. The predictive power and technological applications of physics are unparalleled by those of any other purported source of knowledge.

2. Therefore what physics reveals to us is all that is real.

Feser goes on to explain: “How bad is this argument?  About as bad as this one:

1. Metal detectors have had far greater success in finding coins and other metallic objects in more places than any other method has.

2. Therefore what metal detectors reveal to us (coins and other metallic objects) is all that is real.

Metal detectors are keyed to those aspects of the natural world susceptible of detection via electromagnetic means (or whatever).  But however well they perform this task — indeed, even if they succeeded on every single occasion they were deployed — it simply wouldn’t follow for a moment that there are no aspects of the natural world other than the ones they are sensitive to.  Similarly, what physics does — and there is no doubt that it does it brilliantly — is to capture those aspects of the natural world susceptible of the mathematical modeling that makes precise prediction and technological application possible.  But here too, it simply doesn’t follow for a moment that there are no other aspects of the natural world.”

But there is also Scientific Evidence for God!

I don’t intend any disrespect for science in this blog – I should mention that I myself have a degree in physics and have worked in scientific/mathematical domains of software engineering for the past 27 years. I have great respect for science and actually I think that God has also left plenty of scientific evidence for His existence. This blog is an introduction to a series making a case that what we have learned from science actually does support theism over atheism. It’s important, however to keep things in perspective! Scientific knowledge is just one aspect of knowledge and a skeptic who hasn’t searched out the non-scientific forms of evidence is making a big mistake. Nevertheless, the church too often provides no response or a weak response to challenges to belief in God from atheistic scientists. I think, therefore, that it is important to look at whether or not there are theistic implications from origins science. Over the next few weeks I’ll be making a case in this blog that the following aspects of science provide evidence that God exists:

  • Origin of Universe
  • Origin of the Laws to Support Life
  • Fine-Tuning of the Initial Conditions of the Universe to Support Life
  • Fine-Tuning of the Constants of Nature
  • Origin of Life

Before we get into the evidence, in my next blog I’ll discuss what would constitute suitable evidence for God from science and some of the objections that invariably arise. A careful philosophical evaluation is in order before laying out the facts so that we can properly interpret them.

The Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye “Post-Debate” Round Up

Just as expected, the much anticipated and hyped debate between Kan Ham (CEO of Answers in Genesis) & Bill Nye (the “Science” Guy) sparked a “mini-blizzard” of blogs and articles from people on both sides of the debate (I guess this is just one more to add to the pile).

Ham-Nye debate

If you happened to miss the debate, it will be posted here on the AiG (Answers in Genesis) website and will also available for purchase. An estimated three million people viewed the debate which was streamed live from the internet to schools, churches and colleges across America and around the world.

It is certainly easy to play “Monday morning quarterback” on these sorts of debates. Both men are to be admired for being willing to stand “in the arena” and defend their respective views and take criticism.

I thought both men handled themselves admirably, although I must say that I thought Nye was more personable and passionate when he was speaking which certainly plays to his favor rhetorically. One of Ken Ham’s strongest moments, I thought, was when he played the clips of various PhD. scientists who are  creationists and have either invented useful technologies [MRI] or have conducted peer-reviewed research, undercutting Nye’s claim that a belief in Divine creation stifles or limits science.

Nearly everyone has thoughts on what “should have been said” or “what kinds of evidence should have been used.”

I read though the various blogs and articles, however, I came across several great points which I will highlight in a moment.

Originally, I had planned on writing a point-by-point critique and evaluation of the debate, but since that has already been done on numerous other sites (which I will list below for your consideration); instead, I will review just a couple of my personal expectations on what I thought the debate would accomplish (I originally shared all six on my personal Facebook page) and whether or not they “played out” as I expected.

1. Both debaters represent a popular understanding of the respective positions on this debate (Faith & Science). It will certainly not be settled in this debate, but will spark even more debate and reams of new blogs from apologists scrambling to distance themselves from “Simple minded” creationists like Ken Ham.

As expected, I remain unconvinced that someone who was watching the debate last night will walk away with a deeper and more enlightened understanding of this complex issue (i.e. faith and science and their compatibility).

There’s certainly nothing wrong with public speakers who try to popularize complex ideas and communicate them to an broad audience (that’s what I do!), but I don’t believe that these two gentlemen were the best representatives of their respective “camps.”

As a friend of mine pointed out last night, “…they both seemed like they were giving infomercials for their respective audiences.” I agree.

Also expected and fulfilled were the reams of new blogs and articles from apologists offering alternative explanations and perspectives (I guess this one is a self-fullfilled prophecy!).

2. As a classically trained apologist (in the vein of Aquinas, C.S. Lewis, Geisler, et. al.), I cringe at the very likely possibility that Ham will “…beg the question” in his presuppositional approach to defending the Bible. When and if he uses evidence, I will rejoice and be glad.

The question that was debated was “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?” While this is a good question, it actually doesn’t get at the root issue which is whether or not a theistic God exists and what evidence, if any points to His existence.

At CrossExamined we don’t take an official position on the age of the earth. We have students and supporters who defend each of the mainline views on origins (i.e. Young Earth Creationism and Old Earth Creationism, etc…).

That said however, we confidently stand on evidence in support of our belief in a personal, all-powerful, space-less, timeless, immaterial Creator. We leave it to Christians to sift the evidence for themselves, as to whether or not the earth is young or old.

The question of the age of the earth is a “second order question.” The question of God’s existence is a “first order question.” In dialoguing and debating non-believers, we should not front-load the conversation with secondary questions. Establishing God’s existence is primary.

Last night Ken Ham’s very starting point for science was the Bible itself and the age of the earth. The only problem with that is that Bill Nye and perhaps millions of others, don’t accept the Bible as true because they don’t believe there is a God.

My criticism isn’t necessarily leveled against Ken Ham’s Young Earth Creationism (or some of the other evidences he presented), rather it’s against the WAY that he argued which is just as important. In beginning with the Bible, he put the cart before the horse.

Let me be perfectly clear – I am a staunch defender of Biblical inerrancy, but in order for inerrancy to be philosophically true, Truth (with a capital “T”) must exist, God must exist and naturalism (as a worldview) must be false. The space-time universe is not a closed system, so miracles and the supernatural are very reasonable possibilities.

3. The truth of Romans 1 & Psalm 19 has been in full operation since the creation of the world when there were no publicly hyped debates.

One of the great things about God’s Word is that its truths are timeless and ever relevant.

Creation itself (which is silent yet vocal – Psa. 19:3-4) is the greatest evidence for the Creator. The evidence is so great and overwhelming that there is no debate – all men are without excuse (Rom. 1:20). The age of the earth wasn’t an issue when Paul penned Romans, yet he tells us that “everyone can know that there is a Creator.”

Below are a few blogs that I found especially helpful in illuminating and evaluating the Nye/Ham debate.

Helpful Blogs About the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham Debate On Feb 4th, 2014

Casey Luskin (Discovery Institute) Old Earth Creationist 

David Coppedge (Creation Writer) Young Earth Creationist 

Melissa Cain Travis (Houston Baptist University) Old Earth Creationist

Dr. Albert Mohler (President, Southern Seminary) Young Earth Creationist 

 

 

Does Causality Apply Outside of Space and Time?

The-Law-of-Causality-JM2 During a radio debate I had with an atheist recently, I pointed out that the universe had a beginning and thus needs a cause.  He responded by claiming that since there was no space or time prior to the creation event we shouldn’t appeal to the law of causality to claim that the creation event was caused.

 

Dr. Lawrence Krauss cites a slightly different objection. When Dr. Krauss says that every physical thing requires a physical cause, he is talking about what Aristotle called “material” causality—namely, what the cause is made of.  But the objection my radio opponent made deals with what Aristotle called “efficient” causality.  An efficient cause is what most people think of when they think of a cause.  It is the primary source of the effect:  an author writes a book, a spider builds a web, a quarterback throws a pass.  They are efficient causes.

Atheists who make this claim are saying that there is no efficient cause of the universe because it didn’t take place in space or time. Let’s look at that argument in a syllogism.

  1. The law of causality only applies to physical things in space-time.
  2. The creation of the universe did not occur in space-time (it was the creation of space-time).
  3. Therefore the law of causality does not apply to the creation of the universe.

This argument doesn’t work because the first premise is false. Notice that there is no physical relationship between the premises and the conclusion of the argument above (or any argument).  Also notice that the premises are not objects in space-time.  Yet, there is a causal relationship between the premises and the conclusion.  In other words, true premises cause valid conclusions.

If this atheist argument were sound, then no argument could be sound.  Why?  Because if the law of causality only applied to physical things, then no argument would work because premises and conclusions are not physical things.  For any argument to work—including arguments against God—the law of causality must apply to the immaterial realm because the components of arguments are immaterial.

In other words, logic itself wouldn’t work if the first premise were true. But since logic works, the law of causality applies metaphysically not just physically.  In fact, to deny causality beyond space and time would be to deny logic, which would be self-defeating and would negate our ability to argue anything.

You can also see why it is self-defeating to deny the law of causality by simply asking anyone who doubts it, “What caused you to come to that conclusion?”  Or more precisely, “What reasons do you have for your position?”

If the person cites scientific experiments or observations as the source for his evidence, then point out that experiments and observations presuppose cause and effect.  You couldn’t make those observations or draw any conclusions without the law of causality.[i]  Likewise, any process of reasoning he uses would also use the very law of causality he would be denying.  In other words, it’s self-defeating rationally and scientifically to conclude that effects do not need causes. That’s because any denial of the law of causality uses the law of causality. 



[i] Some atheists will appeal to the quantum level to question the law of causality.  But just because we can’t predict cause and effect among subatomic particles, doesn’t mean that there is no cause and effect.  That could be a matter of unpredictability rather than uncausality.  In other words, the limits of our knowledge of the quantum level might be the issue. Moreover, any conclusion the atheist makes about the quantum level would use the very the law of causality he is questioning.  That’s because his observations of the quantum level and his reasoning about it use the law of causality!  While it is possible that causality does not apply at the quantum level, given the fact that the law seems universal everywhere else and the scientist uses it in all of his conclusions, why would anyone conclude it’s more plausible to believe that causality does not apply at the quantum level?  Could it be because it helps one avoid God?

Was the God of the Bible Copied from Ancient Myths?

Did the Old Testament God (Yahweh) evolve from Canaanite gods & myths such as Baal, El, etc.?

This is a common claim by liberal OT scholars which is based on several faulty assumptions & presuppositions about the Torah (Pentateuch) and the stories that are contained in it.

The biggest (faulty) assumption is: that the first five books of the Bible were essentially “invented,” compiled (cobbled together) by Jews during Babylonian Exile (ca. 586 B.C.) who borrowed material from Mesopotamian & other indigenous (i.e. Canaanite) sources.[1]

But, it’s no surprise that there would be some similarities, simply because Hebrew is a Western Semitic language and before Moses, the OT patriarchs would not have worshiped God by his covenant name YHWH (Ex. 3:13-15).

The generic Canaanite word/name for “god” was originally  il um, which later became el. So this generic Canaanite word (name) El” was used by biblical writers, yet the usage was quite different.

For instance the Old Testament patriarchs worshipped God under various (modified) names such as: El Shaddai (Ex. 6:3; Gen. 17:1; 43:14; etc.); El ‘Elyon (Gen.14:18-24); El ‘Olam (Gen. 21:33); El Ro’i (Gen. 16:13; cf. Yahweh Yir’eh, Gen. 22:14); El Bethel (Gen. 31:13; 35:7). [2]

Admittedly, the name of the God of the biblical patriarchs (El), was at times similar & identical to their pagan neighbors, but there was a marked difference in HOW they worshipped El.

OT scholar John Bright interestingly points out that,“All of the patriarchal narratives were written from the point of view of Yahwistic theology, by men who were worshippers of Yahweh; whether they used the name or not, they had no doubt that the God of the patriarchs was actually Yahweh, God of Israel, whom the patriarchs, whether consciously or unconsciously, worshipped. Yet, there is also internal evidence in the text that the Patriarchs also knew God as Yahweh before Moses (or at least Yah”) but did not fully understand the full extent and meaning of the name until that time. [3]

One of the main (but certainly not the only) differences between God (OT – Yahweh) and Ba al, El is that, whereas the Canaanite “gods” have theogony’s (myths of their origins) such as the Baal Epic of Ugarit & others; the God of the OT has no origin. His name means “I AM.” There is no theogony for Yahweh because He has no beginning. He IS. Genesis begins with Him alone.. “In the beginning God...” (Gen. 1). Throughout the OT He is presented as standing above and apart from all other so-called “gods” & idols of the surrounding nations (see Jeremiah 10).

Another difference is that when God (Yahweh) creates, He speaks creation into existence, rather than having to fight a dragon or monster, or some other “god” in a cosmic battle for power. The Canaanite & other pagan “gods” all have to fight or go to war[4] to create, whereas God (Yahweh) merely speaks all things into existence by the power of His word (Gen. 1).

Marduk (the storm god) slaying Tiamat (chaos). Recorded in the Babylonian Creation Epic "Enuma Elish"

Marduk (the storm god) slaying Tiamat (chaos). Recorded in the Babylonian Creation Epic “Enuma Elish”

The last thing I would point out is that recent discoveries in archaeology (Egyptology) now show that the Pentateuch (the Exodus & Joshua in particular) is a record of historical events (exactly as they were recorded in the text). These discoveries and other internal literary factors, undermine the hypothesis/theory that the Torah was mythologized & invented during the Babylonian Exile. These discoveries will certainly frustrate those who have built their careers on the belief that Moses did not write the Torah.

Yahweh had no origin. He was and is from everlasting to everlasting. Certainly monotheism did not begin with Moses (anyone can know that there is one God from Creation – Psalm 19 & Romans 1:18-23), but the (monotheistic) God recorded in the early chapters of Genesis was known by His connection to certain men who had a personal and intimate relationship to Him by faith (Gen. 12; Heb. 11).

That same God still calls men to know Him & follow Him today. Two-thousand years ago, He revealed Himself perfectly in the form of a man (Jesus Christ) so that we could know Him as much as we possibly could (Hebrews 1).

Other Sources for further study:

John Walton’s book, Ancient Israelite Literature In It’s Cultural Context: A Survey of Parallels Between Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Texts is a great source to look at the major differences between the OT account of God and the surrounding pagan (Canaanite) accounts of God (Baal, El). There are too many to list here.

One more excellent source (although his section on the Exodus/Conquest is now out of date) is William F. Albright’s book, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (1968). The first three chapters are especially helpful in revealing the historical context of the religion of early Israel. Chapter 3 is “Archaeology and the Religion of the Canaanites.”

 

[1] This idea came to “full bloom” in the “Documentary Hypothesis of the Pentateuch” of Julius Welhausen in his works, Prolegomena to the History of Israel (1878), and Die Composition des Hexateuchs und der historischen Bücher des Alten Testaments (1885). These works were preceded & anticipated in the previous century by the writings of  Eichorn, de Wette, Graf & others.

            [2] John Bright, A History of Israel (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), 96.

            [3] Ibid. See also, Allen P. Ross, “Did the Patriarchs Know the Name of the Lord?,” in David M. Howard Jr., & Michael A. Grisanti, Editors, Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2003), 323-39.

            [4] for instance the epic battle between Marduk & Tiamat in the Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish, where Tiamat is killed by Marduk, the storm god who divides her body which then becomes the heavens and the earth.

“Eternity Has the Floor:” Another Look at Pascal’s Wager

Silent you stand before the altar of death! Life here and life after constitute an eternal conundrum; but its expiring spark awakens us to holy devotion and quiets every other voice except religion. Eternity has the floor.

~Alfred Nobel: read at his funeral (1896)

The above words were spoken at Alfred Nobel’s funeral service in 1896. In life Nobel was an interesting but ironic man. He is remembered, of course as the Swiss chemist and engineer who invented dynamite among other things, and also the man whose name is associated with coveted prizes in physics, chemistry, literature and peace. Nobel was also an atheist, and yet he also left large sums of money to churches. In 1888 when Nobel was reading through a French newspaper, he was astonished to read about his own obituary – the heading was “The merchant of death has died.” As it turned out, it was actually his brother Ludwig that had died. It would only be eight years later that Alfred himself would die by a brain hemorrhage at age 63.

Apparently Nobel had given some thought to that moment when he would face his own mortality. It’s not a pleasant thought – thinking about one’s own death, but one day every person must stand in silence and enter that mysterious realm beyond this life on earth, or as Nobel says… that eternal conundrum

Cementary

The Old Testament patriarch Job pondered this question millennia ago when he asked, If a man dies, will he live again? (Job 14:14)

Atheists and materialists alike, stake their eternal souls on the belief and the affirmation that there is no afterlife or soul which survives the body after physical death. But is science equipped to answer such a question? Pascal would say no.

In the 17th Century (the 1600’s) a brilliant Frenchman (child prodigy, pioneering mathematician, inventor of the world’s first mechanical calculator, philosopher and scientist)[1] named Blaise Pascal put forth a rather strange argument for religious faith – and not just generic religious faith, but faith in full orbed Christianity.[2]

This is Pascal’s famous argument called “The Wager” (or The Bet).

But first let’s clear up a common misconception and make one clarification about Pascal’s famous Wager.

(1). He is not proposing “faith in faith” (a blind leap in the dark), but assumes that we have our data correct (faith is only as good as its object) – i.e. that the true God is the God of Christianity and that salvation is found only in a belief in Jesus Christ and that rejection of Him will result in eternal damnation.[3]

(2) Similar to the above notion – the Wager should not be considered in complete isolation from the larger work of Pascal’s Pensees (his apologetic for Christianity).

As philosopher James R. Peter’s observes, “Properly understood, the wager makes a compelling but limited point….”[4]

Kreeft clarfies:

“The Wager is not an attempt to prove the God exists. It is not a new argument for the existence of God. Rather it tries to prove that it is eminently reasonable for anyone to “bet” on God, to hope that God is, to invest his life in God. It moves on the practical, existential, human level rather than the theoretical, metaphysical, theological level. …It is not an alternative to the traditional arguments for the existence of God… [the Wager]…is addressed to unbelievers, to those who are skeptical of both theoretical reason and revelation.”[5]

What Pascal’s Wager highlight’s is the fact that we are all “in the game” – there is no neutrality on the question of God’s existence or of eternal salvation in Jesus Christ.

He writes:

“Let us examine this point, and let us say: ‘Either God is or he is not.’ But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question. Infinite chaos separates us. At the far end of this infinite distance a coin is being spun which will come down heads or tails. How will you wager? Reason cannot make you choose either, reason cannot prove either wrong.

Do not then condemn as wrong those who have made a choice… ‘No, but I will condemn them for not having made this particular choice, but any choice, for although one calls heads and the other one are equally at fault, the fact is that they are both at fault: the right thing is not to wager at all.’

Yes, but you must wager. There is no choice, you are already committed. What will you choose then? Let us see: since a choice must be made, let us see which offers you the least interest. You have two things to lose: the true and the good: and two things to stake: your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness.”[6]

Finally and interestingly, the Wager comes down to a pleasure (or a happiness) calculus – which appeals to what a person has the potential to gain from such a wager.

Here is what is at stake.

A. God exists (& Christianity is true)

  • If I believe it and it turns out to be objectively true then I gain eternal happiness and lose nothing.  
  • If I do not believe it and it turns out to be objectively true then I lose everything (including happiness and pleasure).

B. God does not exist (Christianity is not true)

  • If I believe this and it is objectively true then I gain nothing and lose nothing.
  • If I do not believe this and it is objectively true then I gain nothing and lose nothing.

If Christianity is true then those who don’t believe it have everything to lose. But if it is not true then nothing, in the end, is lost to the pious believer. It is really the unbeliever who has more to lose if they are wrong.

Pensee 241 provides a good summary:

I should be much more afraid of being mistaken and then finding out that Christianity is true than of being mistaken in believing it to be true [& it not actually be true].

On death’s threshold “eternity has the floor,” then religious questions don’t seem so silly after all.

What will you choose then?


[1] For an old but excellent biography of Pascal’s life see Morris Bishop’s classic, Pascal: The Life of Genius (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1936)

[2] See his Pensees, 418.

[3] For more on this point see Peter Kreeft’s excellent book, Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensees Edited, Outlined & Explained (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), pp. 292-3.

[4] James R. Peters, The Logic of the Heart: Augustine, Pascal, and the Rationality of Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 188-9.

[5] Kreeft, pg. 291 [emphasis mine].

[6] “233” in Pensees, Translated by W.F. Trotter, Robert Maynard Hutchins, Editor in Chief, Great Books of the Western World, (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952), 213-6 [emphasis mine].

A Universe from Nothing? Dr. Krauss Explains Nothing

If Dr. Richard Dawkins is the atheist’s rock star of biology, Dr. Lawrence Krauss is the atheist’s rock star of physics (maybe only second to Stephen Hawking).  An engaging speaker and winsome personality, Dr. Krauss is a theoretical physicist and professor at Arizona State University.  In his book A Universe from Nothing, Krauss seeks to answer the age old question, “Why is there something rather than nothing” without reference to God.

Dr. Krauss says the cause of the universe is not God—it is “nothing.”  He cites happenings at the quantum level to dispense with the need for God.  (The quantum level is the world of the extremely small, subatomic in size.)

“One of the things about quantum mechanics is not only can nothing become something, nothing always becomes something,” says Dr. Krauss. “Nothing is unstable. Nothing will always produce something in quantum mechanics.”[i]

Now, whenever you hear something that just doesn’t sound right, you ought to ask the person making the claim, “What do you mean by that?” In this case, the precise question to Dr. Krauss would be, “What do you mean by ‘nothing’?”

It turns out that Dr. Krauss’ definition of “nothing” is not the “nothing” from which the universe originated.  The initial starting point of the universe was not the quantum vacuum that Dr. Krauss keeps referring to in his book. The starting point was non-being– literally no thing.  Since no thing isn’t anything, there are no properties to work with.  Nothing is, as Aristotle put it, what rocks dream about.  Unless someone powerful intervenes, the ancient maxim still stands:  out of nothing, nothing comes.

A quantum vacuum, on the other hand, is something—it consists of fields of fluctuating energy from which particles appear to pop in and out of existence.  Whether these particles are uncaused, or are caused but are merely unpredictable to us, is unknown.  There are ten different models of the quantum level, and no one knows which is correct.  What we do know is that, whatever is happening there, it is not creation out of nothing.  Moreover, the vacuum itself had a beginning and therefore needs a cause.

Lest you think I am mad to question the physics of Dr. Krauss, please note that I am more questioning his logic, which is required to do science of any kind.  Dr. Krauss is committing the logical fallacy known as equivocation—that is using the same word in an argument but with two different definitions.  The “nothing” in the title of Dr. Krauss’ book is not the “nothing” from which the universe came.

This critical distinction was not lost on fellow atheist Dr. David Albert.  A Ph.D. in theoretical physics, Dr. Albert is a Professor at Columbia University and author of the book Quantum Mechanics and Experience.  In his scathing review of Krauss’ book in the New York Times, Dr. Albert questions both Krauss’ logic and his physics.  He pulls no punches and even uses his fist to illustrate.

Commenting on Krauss’ central claim that particles emerging from the quantum vacuum are like creation out of nothing, Dr. Albert writes:

 But that’s just not right. Relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states — no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems — are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff. The true relativistic-quantum-field-­theoretical equivalent to there not being any physical stuff at all isn’t this or that particular arrangement of the fields — what it is (obviously, and ineluctably, and on the contrary) is the simple absence of the fields! The fact that some arrangements of fields happen to correspond to the existence of particles and some don’t is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that some of the possible arrangements of my fingers happen to correspond to the existence of a fist and some don’t. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings — if you look at them aright — amount to anything even remotely in the neighborhood of a creation from nothing (emphasis in the original).[ii]

            Speaking of fists, Dr. Albert lands the knockout blow to Krauss’ entire thesis this way, “But all there is to say about this, as far as I can see, is that Krauss is dead wrong and his religious and philosophical critics are absolutely right.” (It’s important to note that Dr. Albert and Columbia University are not known for Christian fundamentalism.)

Now Dr. Krauss didn’t take all this lying down.  He got up off the canvas and fought back by calling Dr. Albert “a moronic philosopher.”[iii]

Well that solves that then.  If the guy’s a moron, the non-moron must be right. Right?  Actually, on several occasions in this book, Dr. Krauss confuses even non-moronic readers when he admits Dr. Albert’s point in advance—namely, that the “nothing” Krauss is talking about is not exactly the nothing from which the universe came.  Dr. Krauss even puts his “nothing” in quotation marks like I just did.

In an interview, Krauss acknowledges that no matter how one defines “nothing,” the laws of physics are not nothing (sorry to keep using the word nothing, but there’s nothing else to use!).  And although he’s clearly annoyed doing so, Dr. Krauss eventually gets around to admitting that his “nothing” is actually something.

“Even if you accept this argument that nothing is not nothing,” he says, “you have to acknowledge that nothing is being used in a philosophical sense. But I don’t really give a damn about what ‘nothing’ means to philosophers; I care about the ‘nothing’ of reality. And if the ‘nothing’ of reality is full of stuff, then I’ll go with that.”[iv]

So if Dr. Krauss admits all this, why the bait and switch title: “A Universe from Nothing:  Why there is something rather than nothing”?  Why smuggle in the laws of physics and the quantum vacuum and then call it “nothing”?  Why diss philosophers who are only trying to bring the book’s assertions back to reality?

Dr. Krauss seems to think that philosophers are not talking about reality, when in fact, that’s exactly what philosophy is—the study of ultimate reality.  The problem for Krauss is two-fold.

First, reality is not merely physical stuff.  Since nature and the laws of physics themselves had a beginning, ultimate reality is beyond nature or supernatural.  So despite claiming to explain how the universe came from nothing, Krauss has explained nothing.

The second problem is a far more serious intellectual disease that infects the thinking of Krauss and several other prominent atheists as well.  This disease is so severe that it threatens the accuracy of the very science they seek to promote.  Krauss, like Dawkins and Hawking, are dismissive of philosophy.

Now, having studied a lot of wacky philosophy myself, I sympathize with them.  But the existence of wacky philosophy doesn’t discredit the existence of good philosophy any more than the existence of wacky science discredits the existence of good science.  While it is true that one can use bad philosophy, it is impossible to use no philosophy.

In fact—and this is the essential point—Krauss, Dawkins and the like can’t do science without philosophy.  While scientists are usually seeking to understand physical cause and effect, science itself is built on philosophical principles that are not physical themselves—they are beyond the physical (metaphysical). Those principles help the scientist make precise definitions and clear distinctions, and then interpret all the relevant data rationally.

What exactly is relevant?  What exactly is rational?  What exactly is the best interpretation of the data –including what exactly is or isn’t “nothing”?  Those questions are all answered through the use of philosophy.  (Perhaps that’s why the “Ph.” in Ph.D. stands for “philosophy.”  The originators of advanced degrees knew that philosophy is the foundation of every area of inquiry.)

Einstein had an observation about the man of science.  He said, “The man of science is a poor philosopher.”  Unfortunately, if you abandon good philosophy you end up with bad science. And if you disdain all philosophy, as Krauss and company tend to do, then you put yourself in the self-defeating position of holding a philosophy that disdains all philosophy.  You can’t get away from philosophy.  It’s like logic.  To deny it is to use it.

In the end, despite the lofty promises of his book’s title, Dr. Krauss explains nothing about the ultimate origin of the universe.



[i] Opening statement of Lawrence Krauss in his debate with Dr. William Lane Craig, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-craig-krauss-debate-at-north-carolina-state-university#ixzz2bwKlOhe1.  See also Dr. Krauss’ book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing, Atria Books, 2012, Chapter 10.

[ii] David Albert, “On the Origin of Everything ‘A Universe From Nothing,’ by Lawrence M. Krauss,” The New York Times, March 23, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/a-universe-from-nothing-by-lawrence-m-krauss.html?_r=0.

[iii] Ross Anderson, “Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?”. The Atlantic, April 2012, http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/print/2012/04/has-physics-made-philosophy-and-religion-obsolete/256203/.

[iv] Ross Anderson, Ibid.

A Titanic Failure: Never Learning from Our Past

Rulers, Statesmen, Nations, are wont to be emphatically commended to the teaching which experience offers in history. But what experience and history teach is this, – that peoples and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.

~ Georg Wilhelm F. Hegel, from his lectures, On the Philosophy of History (1837)

Just recently my son has become keenly interested in the story of the Titanic, the steam ship which hit an iceberg and sank in the Atlantic on April 14, 1912. These past few days we have watched a number of very interesting documentaries, some of which recount eyewitnesses to the disaster who were passengers on board the night it sank. On board the ship that fateful night were some of the world’s most famous and prominent people – among them were the American millionaire John Jacob Astor IV and his wife Madeleine Force Astor, industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim, Macy’s department store owner Isidor Strauss and his wife Ida among many others. Throughout the documentaries there were historians and letters cited from people who lived at the opening decades of the 20th century. Historian Carroll Quigley in his book Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time writes that, “The 19th century was characterized by (1) belief in the innate goodness of man, (2) secularism, (3) belief in progress, (4) liberalism, (5) capitalism, (6) faith in science, (7) democracy, (8) nationalism.”[1]

Although most people today think of the Titanic as the award-winning movie of 1997, in 1912 it was the symbol of the hopes and dreams of thousands of people around the world. For the wealthy it represented the pinnacle of technology and the triumph of science, to the poor, it represented a chance for a new life in America – itself a symbol of hope for millions of immigrants. On the evening of April 15, 1912 the huge ship struck an iceberg ripping open a huge section of the hull. In 2 hours, 40 minutes it was on the bottom of the Atlantic. 1,514 lives were lost. The world was in shock.

Sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic, April 15, 1912

Sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic, April 15, 1912

The sinking of the Titanic was the first of several shocks the world of the early 20th Century would receive. Just two short years later, (July, 1914) for the first time in history, the entire world would be engulfed in the First World War. In 1918 when the war ended, over 10 million Allied & Central command soldiers were dead, not including civilians. The results of WWI set in motion the gears which led to the Second World War when Adolf Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.[2]

WW I also had a profound effect on some of the greatest artists (Picasso, M. Duchamp, etc…) and literary minds of the 20th century. Among them was J.R.R. Tolkein whose Lord of the Rings series came right out of his gruesome experiences of fighting in the trenches on the Western Front. One of his biographers makes a telling comment. He writes:

This biographical study arose from a single observation: how strange it is that J.R.R. Tolkein should have embarked upon his monumental mythology in the midst of the First World War, the crisis that disenchanted and shaped the modern era.[3]

“The crisis that disenchanted and shaped the modern era…”

What can we learn from this and the other tragedies of the last century?

QUESTIONS TO PONDER

In conclusion, I would like to ask if there are any lessons we can learn from these opening decades of the 20th Century? Are we, in the 21st Century, still clinging to 19th century ideals which lead to the disillusionment of so many? I assert that we certainly are. We are holding on to at least three of them and we are once again setting ourselves up for even greater disillusionment or even worse:

(1). Belief in the innate goodness of man. (Is human nature basically good?)

“The belief in the innate goodness of man had its roots in the eighteenth century when it appeared to many that man was born good and free but was everywhere distorted, corrupted, and enslaved by bad institutions and conventions. As Rousseau said, Man is born free yet everywhere he is in chains.

Obviously, if man is innately good and needs but to be freed from social restrictions, he is capable of tremendous achievements in this world of time, and does not need to postpone his hopes of personal salvation into eternity.”[4]

If the Twentieth-Century and our own experience has taught us anything, it is that man is not innately good – but has a fallen nature. People automatically don’t do the right thing and despite all of their valiant efforts[5], atheists & materialists fail to ground absolute goodness in reality. Similarly, if there is no God – no absolute standard, then there is no ultimate grounding for right and wrong (morality). If there is no God (in reality) then (in reality), there is no difference between Mother Theresa and Hitler.

(2). Secularism (Is ‘religion’ just a hangover from our past?)

Secularists have a strictly materialistic & mechanistic view of human nature and because of this they utterly fail to account for man’s religious nature which they will never eradicate nor will they understand with the methods of the sciences. For most of human history people have had the desire to worship. This is certainly not to say that all religions are the same or that they are all equally true, but merely to point out that the desire to worship and the desire for transcendence is part of what it means to be truly human.[6] Secularism just doesn’t get it! The ultimate question is which religion is true? Which religion corresponds to reality? If the laws of logic apply to all of reality then they apply to religious claims as well. Only one can be true.

(3). Faith in science (Will “science” solve our problems?)

“Science” is touted by many today as the only true view of reality and an inoculation against the claims of religious masses who still live in ignorance & stupidity. These are the ones who still believe that “science” will answer all of our burning questions and solve all of humanity’s problems. But lest we forget, we have the 20th Century as a guide. It is intimately familiar to us. We have lived through much of it. It is analogous to all of human history because of the simple fact that human nature remains the same and many are still trusting that “science” and the scientific worldview is the way forward.

Why are things not improving now in the first decade of the 21st Century – the most well-informed, well-educated and scientifically minded centuries to date?

Surely the sciences and technology have brought us much good (curing diseases, saving lives, etc…), but they are ill-equipped to solve our greatest problems which are spiritual & moral in nature.

Many critics will surely point to religious extremism and the turmoil happening in the Middle East as the prime example that “religion” is at the core of the world’s problems. They fail, however, to make vital distinctions between contradictory religious truth claims (especially in the Theistic religions of Judaism, Islam & Christianity). Yet it is only in the religion of Christianity – whose message is the reconciliation of fallen humanity (made in God’s image) to the Creator by the God-Man, Jesus Christ who died on a cross for the sins of the world – that there is hope for the future.

There simply is no unity, order or peace apart from Him.


[1] Carroll Quigley, Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1966), pp. 24-5.

[2] And of course, WW2 ended with the dropping of the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

[3] John Garth, Tolkein and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003), xiii.

[4] Summary of Quigley, p. 24.

[5] One of the latest is Sam Harris’s, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (New York: The Free Press, 2010).

[6] For an excellent study on the relationship between science and human nature I strongly recommend Brendan Purcell’s excellent work, From Big Bang to Big Mystery: Human Origins in the Light of Creation and Evolution (Hyde Park, New York: New York City Press, 2012).

A Not So Bright Future: Technology, Atheism & the Death of Man

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844-1900

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844-1900

It is widely believed that the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche ushered in the twentieth century with his famous phrase, “God is dead…”[1] Nietzsche himself died in 1900. Obviously atheism didn’t start in the twentieth century with Nietzsche. In fact, he was the culmination (the pinnacle) of a long line of thinkers which reached back into the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[2] The European Enlightenment promised grand and wonderful things when human reason finally divorced itself from the shackles of faith.[3] Using the newly found tools of the “scientific method,” (via Bacon & Spinoza); a humanistic morality which was becoming increasingly devoid of God (via Nietzsche); and the burgeoning industrial revolution with its new technologies, the twentieth century was set take mankind to new heights never before dreamt of – a utopia of sorts. Some who were wise, however, could see that “wicked things were written on the sky.”[4] The next century (the 20th) would either be wonderful or it would be a nightmare. Enter H.G. Wells novel, A Modern Utopia (1905), the book which inspired Aldous Huxley’s vision of the future in Brave New World (1932), and later, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four (1949).

Both of these novels predicted a future in which mankind would be destroyed either by external oppression by a despot using technology (the big-brother of Orwell), or through technologies which would make us lazy and undo our capacity to think (Huxley).[5] In both instances, technology would somehow be used to lead to our undoing.

If there is no God (or at least since He died in the 19th century) then humans must put their hopes, dreams and aspirations for the future in something. Enter the Enlightenment 2.0 – 21st century edition – human reason, science and technology will surely help us solve all of the world’s problems. How are we doing 13 years into this century? Not very well. Do we ever learn? Usually not.

Neil Postman makes a brilliant observation in, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (1992). An observation that we should etch into our heads.

Our most serious problems are not technical, nor do they arise from inadequate information. If a nuclear catastrophe occurs, it shall not be because of inadequate information. Where people are dying of starvation, it does not occur because of inadequate information. If families break up, children are mistreated, crime terrorizes a city, education is impotent, it does not happen because of inadequate information. Mathematical equations, instantaneous communication, and vast quantities of information have nothing to do with any of these problems. And the computer is useless in addressing them.[6]

The scientific, atheistic and materialistic worldview is utterly incapable of ensuring civilization. It can’t be trusted. Why? Because the last century has been one gigantic experiment in what it is capable of and also of what it is incapable of.

In my next post A Titanic Failure: Never Learning from Our Past, we will take a look at some epic examples of the complete failure of the European Enlightenment and materialistic atheism and what it could teach us about our future – if anything at all.


[1] See, “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” in Walter Kaufmann, Editor & Translator, The Portable Nietzsche (New York: Penguin Books, 1982).

[2] For an excellent book on the philosophical battles which ensued between various German thinkers on the role of reason during the era of the Enlightenment see, Fredrick C. Beiser’s, The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987); for a Christian analysis of the Enlightenment see, James Collins, A History of Modern European Philosophy (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1954).

[3] Interestingly, the modern Internet & Wikipedia had its birth in the Enlightenment with the idea of the Encyclopédie which was published in France 1751-1772.

[4] To borrow line from Chesterton’s poem “The Ballad of the White Horse” – a poem about England’s Saxon king, Alfred the Great.

[5] I am indebted to Neil Postman for this observation in his excellent book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985). Postman’s thesis is that Huxley was right. History has proven that he was correct.

[6] Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), p.119.

 

Should Women Be Apologists? They Already Are!

In the past couple of decades or so there has been a renaissance of apologetics at the college and seminary level. There was a time when undergraduate and graduate degrees in Christian apologetics did not exist. Now there are a number of great schools and universities that offer degrees in Christian apologetics (i.e., Talbot School of Theology at Biola, Southern Evangelical Seminary, Denver Seminary and lately Houston Baptist University, just to name a few). I am not aware of any specific statistics, but with all of these schools whose graduates are now entering the world of work and/or ministry, the question of the role of women in apologetics was bound to come up.

I have given some thought to this, and as I see it, there are several issues that are really at the heart of this question.  The main question, however, that I wish to focus on is – Is apologetics for everyone in the church or just men only? Some might even ask, Why is this even a question worth considering? Women are already engaging in apologetics and making great strides for the Kingdom of God. One such organization is the International Society of Women in Apologetics which is managed by apologist Sarah Ankenman – to learn more go to – http://www.womeninapologetics.com. Then there are those in the church who believe that a woman’s place is to remain silent and not be involved in teaching in any way.

Perhaps a good place to begin to answer this question is at the very beginning of Christianity. In his excellent book, History of Apologetics, Cardina Avery Dulles makes a salient point in his chapter on ‘Apologetics in the New Testament.’ He writes:

“Before being an apologetic, Christianity was of course a message. It began as a conviction that Jesus was Messiah and Lord, and this conviction seems to have drawn its overpowering force from the event of the Resurrection. As the message concerning Jesus as risen Lord was proclaimed, it gave rise to certain questions and objections from inquirers and believers, and from adversaries. In answer to such objections, and possibly also in anticipation of foreseen objections, the Christian preachers spoke about the signs, and evidences that they found convincing. …To some degree, therefore, apologetics was intrinsic to the presentation of the kerygma [proclamation – Gospel].”[1]

Apologetics, therefore, was and is intrinsic to evangelism. Apologetics, of course, can also be used to strengthen and reinforce the faith of those within the Church. So from this standpoint, the question now is – Should women be involved in the proclamation of the Good News? The answer – I hope – is obvious! We know from the New Testament that women played a key role in bringing people (including men!) to the Jesus, the Savior. One shining example is the Samaritan woman (or the woman at the well in John 4:1-38). After His encounter with her, in verse 27, Jesus’ disciples asked Him an interesting question and His response was even more interesting (especially in light of the first-century Jewish culture!).  After Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman and revealed hidden things about herself that only God could know [evidence], she left Him to go tell others:

“…His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, ‘What do you seek?’ or ‘Why are You talking with her?’ The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, ‘Come, see a Man who told me all things I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’ Then they [the men!] went out of the city and came to Him.” (Jn. 4:27-30)

This point is reinforced by a closer look at who (if we are truly honest) the world’s very first apologists were – the women at the empty tomb!  All four Gospels record the fact that it was women who were first to arrive at the empty tomb of the risen Christ and they were the very first to report (& proclaim) that Jesus is risen (Matt. 28:5-8; Mk. 16:2-8; Lk. 24:1-8 & Jn. 20:1).

One of but many examples of women in apologetics in today’s cultural context is the necessity of women evangelists/apologists to Islam – the fastest growing religion in the world. In light of Islamic culture (where it is inappropriate for men to build relationships to other women), it is crucial that Christian women engage Muslim women with the Gospel and with Truth. But women apologists are not only needed in to reach Muslim women – but also to reach those in modern Western culture – with its Post-modern, Post-Christian outlook  – women trained in apologetics – who know how to skillfully and gracefully defend the Faith once and for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 1:3). Basically, where there is a need for the Gospel to be proclaimed and defended (which is everywhere!) – then women apologists are needed. Exactly how various churches and ministries utilize apologetically trained & educated women, will certainly vary from place to place and from church to church.

Nancy Pearcy studied under noted Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer at L'Abri Fellowship. She is the author of "Total Truth"

Nancy Pearcey studied under noted Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri Fellowship. She is the author of “Total Truth”

I would encourage my fellow female apologists who are probably more highly trained & educated in apologetics than many of their pastors – to be faithful where God has planted you. Wherever and whoever your audience is – proclaim the resurrection of Christ and defend the Faith with gentleness & respect (1 Pet. 3:15). God will open doors of ministry and opportunity for you, in His good wisdom and in His perfect timing. This is not only good advice for female apologists – but (I believe) to guys as well.

Christianity never stopped being a Message which should be proclaimed (& defended). The Great Commission (Matt. 28: 18-20) was given to the Church (to both men & women).  The Church has been in the past, and certainly will be in the future, enriched by the effective witness of women who have found the Savior and who give a reasoned defense of His resurrection.


[1] Cardinal Avery Dulles, History of Apologetics (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 1-2

Does God Exist? Craig vs. Millican

Dr. William Lane Craig is probably the best debater for evangelical Christianity today.  Rarely do Craig’s opponents address his arguments, much less provide coherent refutations.  Dr. Peter Millican at least attempts to refute Craig’s arguments directly.  This makes for a very spirited exchange.

For those of you who may not have time to watch the entire debate, the blogger Wintery Knight has summed up the exchange nicely here.  He also provides links to the audio.

Darwin’s Doubt

Darwin’s Doubt, the brand new New York Times bestseller by Cambridge-trained Ph.D., Stephen Meyer, is creating a major scientific controversy.  Darwinists don’t like it.

Meyer writes about the complex history of new life forms in an easy to understand narrative style.  He takes the reader on a journey from Darwin to today while trying to discover the best explanation for how the first groups of animals arose.  He shows, quite persuasively, that Darwinian mechanisms don’t have the power to do the job.

Using the same investigative forensic approach Darwin used over 150 years ago, Meyer investigates the central doubt Darwin had about his own theory.  Namely, that the fossil record did not contain the rainbow of intermediate forms that his theory of gradual evolutionary change required.  However, Darwin predicted that future discoveries would confirm his theory.

Meyer points out that they haven’t.  We’ve thoroughly searched the fossil record since Darwin and confirmed what Darwin originally saw himself: the discontinuous, abrupt appearance of the first forms of complex animal life.  In fact, paleontologists now think that roughly 20 of the 28 animal phyla (representing distinct animal “body plans”) found in the fossil record appear abruptly without ancestors in a dramatic geological event called the Cambrian Explosion.

And additional discoveries since Darwin have made it even worse for his theory. Darwin didn’t know about DNA or the digital information it contains that makes life possible.  He couldn’t have appreciated, therefore, that building new forms of animal life would require millions of new characters of precisely sequenced code—that the Cambrian explosion was a massive explosion of new information.

For modern neo-Darwinism to survive, there must be an unguided natural mechanism that can create the genetic information and then add to it massively, accurately and within the time allowed by the fossil record.  Is there such a mechanism?

The answer to that question is the key to Meyer’s theory and entire book.  Meyer shows that the standard “neo-Darwinian” mechanism of mutation and natural selection mechanism lacks the creative power to produce the information necessary to produce new forms of animal life.  He also reviews the various post-Darwinian speculations that evolutionary biologists themselves are now proposing to replace the crumbling Darwinian edifice.  None survive scrutiny. Not only is there no known natural mechanism that can create the new information required for new life forms, there is no known natural mechanism that can create the genetic code for the first life either (which was the subject of Meyer’s previous book Signature in the Cell).

When Meyer suggests that an intelligent designer is the best explanation for the evidence at hand, critics accuse him of being anti-scientific and endangering sexual freedom everywhere (OK, they don’t explicitly state that last part).  They also claim that Meyer commits the God of the gaps fallacy.

But he does not.  As Meyer points out, he’s not interpreting the evidence based on what we don’t know, but what we do know.  The geologically sudden appearance of fully formed animals and millions of lines of genetic information point to intelligence.  That is, we don’t just lack a materialistic explanation for the origin of information. We have positive evidence from our uniform and repeated experience that another kind of cause—namely, intelligence or mind—is capable of producing digital information.  Thus, he argues that the explosion of information in the Cambrian period provides evidence of this kind of cause acting in the history of animal life. (Much like any sentence written by one of Meyer’s critics is positive evidence for an intelligent being).

This inference from the data is no different than the inference archaeologists made when they discovered the Rosetta Stone.  It wasn’t a “gap” in their knowledge about natural forces that led them to that conclusion, but the positive knowledge that inscriptions require intelligent inscribers.

Of course, any critic could refute Meyer’s entire thesis by demonstrating how natural forces or mechanisms can generate the genetic information necessary to build the first life and then massive new amounts of genetic information necessary for new forms of animal life.  But they can’t and hardly try without assuming what they are trying to prove (see Chapter 11).  Instead, critics attempt to smear Meyer by claiming he’s doing “pseudo science” or not doing science at all.

Well, if Meyer isn’t, doing science, then neither was Darwin (or any Darwinist today).   Meyer is using the same forensic or historical scientific method that Darwin himself used.   That’s all that can be used.   Since these are historical questions, a scientist can’t go into the lab to repeat and observe the origin and history of life.   Scientists must evaluate the clues left behind and then make an inference to the best explanation.  Does our repeated experience tell us that natural mechanisms have the power to create the effects in question or is intelligence required?

Meyer writes, “Neo-Darwinism and the theory of intelligent design are not two different kinds of inquiry, as some critics have asserted.  They are two different answers—formulated using a similar logic and method of reasoning—to the same question: ‘What caused biological forms and the appearance of design in the history of life?’”

The reason Darwinists and Meyer arrive at different answers is not because there’s a difference in their scientific methods, but because Meyer and other Intelligent Design proponents don’t limit themselves to materialistic causes.  They are open to intelligent causes as well (just like archaeologists and crime scene investigators are).

So this is not a debate about evidence.  Everyone is looking at the same evidence.  This is a debate about how to interpret the evidence, and that involves philosophical commitments about what causes will be considered possible before looking at the evidence.  If you philosophically rule out intelligent causes beforehand—as the Darwinists do—you will never arrive at the truth if an intelligent being actually is responsible.

Since all evidence needs to be interpreted, science doesn’t actually say anything—scientists do.  So if certain self-appointed priests of science say that a particular theory is outside the bounds of their own scientific dogma, that doesn’t mean that the theory is false.  The issue is truth—not whether something fits a materialistic definition of science.

I’m sure Darwinists will continue to throw primordial slime at Meyer and his colleagues.  But that won’t make a dent in his observation that whenever we see information like that required to produce the Cambrian Explosion, intelligence is always the cause.  In fact, I predict that when open-minded people read Darwin’s Doubt, they’ll see that Dr. Meyer makes a very intelligently designed case that intelligent design is actually true.  It’s just too bad that many Darwinists aren’t open to that truth—they aren’t even open minded enough to doubt Darwin as much as Darwin himself was.

An Atheist Asks About Morality, Cosmology and Hell

At the University of Dallas last month, a polite atheist (Carter) had four major questions/objections to my “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” presentation.  Our nine minute exchange covered the following questions/objections:

  1. Your moral law argument is offensive because by it you are asserting that atheists can’t be moral.
  2. Why are you assuming that God is the cause of the universe?  Couldn’t something in another dimension cause the universe?
  3. Why do we have to worship the cause of the universe?
  4. If we don’t worship the cause of the universe, God will send us to Hell.  So we really don’t have a choice.

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Asteroid Belts and Planet Biohabitability

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A new study by Rebecca Martin of the University of Colorado finds that “Solar systems with life-bearing planets may be rare if they are dependent on the presence of asteroid belts of just the right mass.” Science Daily summarizes:

“They suggest that the size and location of an asteroid belt, shaped by the evolution of the Sun’s protoplanetary disk and by the gravitational influence of a nearby giant Jupiter-like planet, may determine whether complex life will evolve on an Earth-like planet.

This might sound surprising because asteroids are considered a nuisance due to their potential to impact Earth and trigger mass extinctions. But an emerging view proposes that asteroid collisions with planets may provide a boost to the birth and evolution of complex life.

Asteroids may have delivered water and organic compounds to the early Earth. According to the theory of punctuated equilibrium, occasional asteroid impacts might accelerate the rate of biological evolution by disrupting a planet’s environment to the point where species must try new adaptation strategies.

The astronomers based their conclusion on an analysis of theoretical models and archival observations of extrasolar Jupiter-sized planets and debris disks around young stars. “Our study shows that only a tiny fraction of planetary systems observed to date seem to have giant planets in the right location to produce an asteroid belt of the appropriate size, offering the potential for life on a nearby rocky planet,” said Martin, the study’s lead author. “Our study suggests that our solar system may be rather special.””

Moreover,

“Martin and Livio suggest that the location of an asteroid belt relative to a Jupiter-like planet is not an accident. The asteroid belt in our solar system, located between Mars and Jupiter, is a region of millions of space rocks that sits near the “snow line,” which marks the border of a cold region where volatile material such as water ice are far enough from the Sun to remain intact. At the time when the giant planets in our solar system were forming, the region just beyond the snow line contained a dense mix of ices, rock, and metals that provided enough material to build giant planets like Jupiter.

When Jupiter formed just beyond the snow line, its powerful gravity prevented nearby material inside its orbit from coalescing and building planets. Instead, Jupiter’s influence caused the material to collide and break apart. These fragmented rocks settled into an asteroid belt around the Sun.

“To have such ideal conditions you need a giant planet like Jupiter that is just outside the asteroid belt [and] that migrated a little bit, but not through the belt,” Livio explained. “If a large planet like Jupiter migrates through the belt, it would scatter the material. If, on the other hand, a large planet did not migrate at all, that, too, is not good because the asteroid belt would be too massive. There would be so much bombardment from asteroids that life may never evolve.””

This discovery can be added to the constantly expanding list of factors that make our planet’s position in the universe pretty special.

Cross-posted from Evolution News & Views.

New Scientist Asks: Is There Such A Thing As Reality?

Last week, New Scientist magazine featured a special edition on reality. What particularly caught my attention is the accompanying video appearing on their website, which you can view for yourself here. The description states:

“Is there such a thing as reality?

It’s easy to take reality for granted: after all, science does a reasonably good job at describing the world in an objective way. But what does science have to say about the concept of reality itself?

One approach would be to identify what is most fundamental in the universe. Using this reasoning, everything around us can be broken down into molecules, which in turn are composed of atoms, which in turn are made up of smaller and smaller components. So what would this process finally uncover? And is this mysterious precursor the ultimate basis of reality?

In this animation, we look at two ways of defining what is real and look at what lies at the heart of the universe. To find out more, read our full-length feature, “Reality: The definition“, or check out the rest of our special issue on reality.”

The video maintains that what is most fundamental in the universe are math and numbers, since everything can ultimately be broken down into something simpler. Furthermore, we are told, numbers are constructed based on “a concept known as an empty set, better known as ‘nothing’.” It draws the following absurdity of a conclusion: “That means that if math really is what is most fundamental in the universe, then reality is ultimately based on nothing. Which is to say that nothing is what is real.”

This is the kind of nonsensical pseudophilosophy that one might expect to see from Stephen Hawking or Peter Atkins. Both men might be brilliant scientists in their respective fields. But neither is a philosopher — and when they attempt to weigh in on philosophy, it shows.

As Oxford’s professor John Lennox notes in God and Stephen Hawking (page 333),

“What this all goes to show is that nonsense remains nonsense, even when talked by world-famous scientists. What serves to obscure the illogicality of such statements is the fact that they are made by scientists; and the general public, not surprisingly, assumes that they are statements of science and takes them on authority. That is why it is important to point out that they are not statements of science, and any statement, whether made by a scientist or not, should be open to logical analysis. Immense prestige and authority does not compensate for faulty logic.”

Check out the video for yourself. I swear I’m not making this up!

Cross-posted from Uncommon Descent.