Can Science Answer All Questions?

By Paul Rezkalla

In the movie Contact? Ellie told her father that she loved him, but she couldn’t prove it scientifically. That’s because science can’t do that sort of thing. Science can’t show that two people love each other. Science is simply a tool that we utilize to uncover facts about the observable universe. So here’s a fun fact: Science is not omniscient. It cannot answer all our questions. Not by any stretch of the imagination. And the idea that we can’t know anything unless we have scientific evidence for it, is ridiculous. The claim ‘We can’t know anything unless we can verify it scientifically’ cannot, itself, be verified scientifically. That kind of argument is self-defeating. Interesting, no? So when someone says, “There’s no scientific evidence for that, therefore I won’t believe it”, I can respond by saying either:

1. Your face has no scientific evidence

or

2. There are things that we know to be true apart from any scientific evidence.

I find the latter to be more efficient, although not nearly as epic.

Science Questions

Here are 2 categories of facts that we all accept without help from science:

1. Metaphysical Facts

Metaphysics, by definition, lies outside the realm of science. The term ‘Metaphysics’ means ‘meta-physics’ or ‘beyond physics’.  Metaphysical facts include the existence of other minds, the existence of the world outside of your own mind, and the reality of the past. We believe that there are minds other than our own, the external world is real, and the past wasn’t created 5 minutes ago and given only the appearance of having aged as it did. These beliefs are what philosophers call properly basic beliefs. That means that they are foundational. We can’t show them to be true or false. We accept them as facts without question, but they cannot be proven by science.

Science cannot tell me that there are minds other than my own. When I’m in a lecture, I assume that the professor who is lecturing is a real entity with a mind and not simply a figment of my imagination or a part of my dream (as much as I’d like to think so). I treat the world around me as if it is real. I could be stuck in the matrix or I could be a brain floating in a jar of chemicals being stimulated by some crazy scientist who is giving me the illusion of this world. But I know I’m not. I know that the past is real; I was not created 5 minutes ago and implanted with 22 years’ worth of memories. I comfortably believe all of this and yet there is no scientific evidence that confirms it.

2. Ethical Facts

A lot of interest has been generated recently in the field of Evolutionary Psychology. Some experts in this field have argued that we can get morality from understanding who we are as social mammals. The idea of the purely ‘selfish gene’ is slowly being understood to be false, or at least an incomplete picture of who we really are. We are not simply lone mammals on the quest to propagate our DNA at all costs—there is a complex social infrastructure in mammalian groups/herds that has an inbuilt morality for the purpose of helping us deal with each other. Elephants bury their dead, bonobos comfort each other after loss, and most primates understand and operate by the laws of reciprocity and justice. This explains morality, right? Science has given us ethics!

Just a minute, buddy. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This kind of argument commits what David Hume articulated as the            Is-Ought fallacy. You can’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. This means that observing and understanding how things are cannot tell us that this is the way things ought to be. Just because we observe that mammals help each other doesn’t tell us that we should help each other. Well, maybe we can say that we ought to help each other because that increases human flourishing. Right? Ok, but that presupposes that human flourishing is good and should be striven towards. But why is increasing human flourishing good in the first place? Why should we pursue it? Any answer that one gives to that question will not come from science. That’s because science is descriptive, not prescriptive. The ‘should’ or ‘ought’ has to come from elsewhere. Science can’t give us that.

Science doesn’t tell us that rape is evil. Science can’t tell us that rape is evil. The value judgment, evil, lies beyond the scope of the scientific method. Sure, science can tell us that rape can have biological and psychological repercussions on individuals and societies, but to say that rape is evil is not something that science can do. We know that rape is evil wholly apart from science.

Science can’t answer questions beyond those about the observable, testable world around us. Trying to do so is akin to using a yardstick to find the weight of a bucket of water. It won’t work because that isn’t the correct tool. My point here is not to say that science is bad. Not at all. I love science. Science has given us, and continues to provide us with progress in health and understanding the world around us. But we should not try to apply science outside of the fields for which it is meant.

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11 Objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument

By Randy Everist

The Kalam Cosmological Argument is one of the most popular cosmological arguments around today. The argument is fairly straightforward and enjoys intuitive support. It goes like this: “Whatever begins to exist had a cause; the universe began to exist; therefore, the universe had a cause.” The argument has several common objections, and eleven of them are listed here, along with some of my comments. I believe each objection can be satisfactorily answered so that one is justified in accepting the KCA.

objections kalam

1. “Something cannot come from nothing” is disproved by quantum mechanics.

Answer: This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the claim. The claim of the first premise is “whatever begins to exist had a cause.” It’s often demonstrated by listing the causal principle “something cannot come from nothing,” or ex nihilo, nihilo fit. Quantum mechanics does not in fact posit something coming from nothing, but rather things coming from the quantum vacuum–which is not “nothing.”

2. Truth cannot be discovered wholly from reason.

Answer: It’s true that one needs some level of empiricism in order to judge many things. However, one absolutely needs reason to judge all things. I just don’t see how this is an objection against arguments, for it must use reasoning (of some metaphysically-ultimate sort, even if it’s a brute fact) in order to tell us reason doesn’t tell us the whole story. Well, how will we know if the reasoning behind this claim is telling us the whole story? The answer: because this is the kind of claim that can be reasoned out. The KCA is just such an argument, by its very nature.

3. Some truths are counterintuitive, and therefore intuition cannot be a guide to truth.

Answer: This is a classic non-sequitur, on par with “some people have incorrect thoughts, therefore thoughts cannot be a reliable guide for truth.” The point is this: why should I doubt my intuition because someone else got theirs wrong? Indeed, why should I doubt my own intuitions even if I have been wrong in the past? I mean, if I am insane or intuiting on things I have frequently been incorrect on, or if there are necessary or empirical truths that overcome my intuition, or even if I have a competing intuition that I hold stronger than the original, then fine: I should abandon it. But otherwise, rational intuition is at the very core of reasoning. It is said that by rational intuition, we mean the way we know “if X, then Y; X; Therefore, Y” is true. Therefore, it may be argued that not only is jettisoning intuition wholesale unjustified, but actually irrational (by definition). “But wait!” I can hear one protest. “Just because you intuit this doesn’t mean I do.” Fair enough. But since I do, I am free to accept the ramifications, unless one of the conditions for jettisoning an intuition apply. In fact, we ought to accept our intuitions in the absence of these undercutters or defeaters, unless there is some reason to suspect our cognitive function is impaired.

4. Since science is not itself a metaphysical enterprise, the arguer cannot apply science to a metaphysical argument.

Answer: That science is not a metaphysical enterprise is, I think, absolutely correct. However, it does not therefore follow that science cannot be employed in a metaphysical claim. This is somewhat akin to claiming philosophy and science don’t mix, which is surely impossible (how can anyone come to a scientific claim or know anything without applying reasoning to what has been observed?). The KCA does not have science itself do the metaphysical work; rather, it simply uses the best and most current science to show that the universe most likely had a finite beginning and does not avoid it. It’s then the philosophy that takes over given this.

5. The first cause is logically incoherent because it existed “before” time.

Answer: First, it should be noted that this is not an objection to either premise, and thus one could claim this and still believe the universe had a cause. Second, the foremost proponent of the KCA, William Lane Craig, points out that the First Cause need not be in existence before time, as there is a first moment–the incoherence runs both ways. So what we have is a timeless, unchanging (because it is timeless) First Cause whose first act is bringing the world into existence. If the objector wants to insist this is impossible because the First Cause existed before time, he must remember that positing a moment before time began is incoherent, so his objection cannot get off the ground. The first moment is itself identical with the first act of bringing the universe into existence.

6. If some metaphysical truth is not well-established, one is unjustified in saying it is true.

Answer: It’s difficult to know what is meant by “well-established,” but it seems to mean something like “gained wide acceptance among philosophers.” But that’s a fairly poor way of evaluating an argument: a poll! Sure, philosophers are more likely than your average person to be able to evaluate the argument properly, but let’s not pretend this is the only way to discover truth. Moreover, this is an impossible epistemology. If no one is justified in believing some metaphysical claim to be true unless a majority of philosophers accept it, then either no such majority will exist (because the vast majority will stick with this claim) or if such a majority exists it will be a “tipsy coachman” kind of group (where they are right for the wrong reasons). Surely this is a poor epistemology.

7. There could be other deities besides the Christian God.

Answer: Again, it must be noted that this is not an objection to either premise and hence not the conclusion. It is an objection to the application of the conclusion. However, it must be noted that the KCA is an argument for natural theology, not revealed theology (cf. Charles Taliaferro, The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, ch. 1). It is not the domain of natural theology to discuss, explicitly, the Christian God. Of course, we Christians happen to believe this being is identical to the Christian God ontologically. However, let’s take a look at some of the properties: timeless, spaceless, changeless (logically prior to the Big Bang), immensely powerful, and the creator of the universe. Hmm, sounds far more like the God of Christian theology and the Bible than any of the other alternatives, doesn’t it?

8. There are non-theistic explanations that remain live possibilities.

Answer: This objection attempts to state that although the universe had a beginning, some non-theistic explanation is just as possible (or even probable) as God. The multiverse, aliens, whatever. However, most of these examples (such as a multiverse) can really best be described as objections to the second premise, not the application of the conclusion. The multiverse, for instance, really doesn’t solve the problem, but merely places it back one step. One may reply the multiverse could be identical with Lewis’ plurality of worlds, so that every logically-possible world actually exists, and it was impossible that any such possible world fail to exist. However, this is extremely ad hoc, and there is literally no reason to believe that if there is a multiverse, it is as complete as Lewis claimed (in fact, there’s decent reason to believe such a state of affairs is impossible if identity across worlds holds).

9. Popular-level science teaches the universe had a beginning, but someone says the real science shows it doesn’t.

Answer: This is a bit of an odd claim. We aren’t given any argument as to why it’s really the case that a potentially-successful model for the beginning of the universe shows no finite beginning. We’re simply to take someone’s word for it, when we actually have physicists and scientists admitting these theories don’t work.

10. The KCA relies entirely on current science, and science can change.

Answer: It’s very true that science is changing, and any claim should be held tentatively (even gravity–seems dubious though, right?). However, two points remain. First, simply because some claim remains open to change does not mean that claim cannot be accepted as true. It seems bizarre to say that because some claim is in the purview of science, one should not claim it as true. Of course we can claim it is true! Second, the KCA does not rely entirely on science. In fact, the second premise (“the universe began to exist”) can be defended solely on rational argumentation. One may think these arguments fail, but to claim the KCA rests almost wholly on the science demonstrates a lack of familiarity with the basic defenses of the KCA’s premises.

11. There is some problem of infinite regress of a first cause.

Answer: Presumably, this is the “Who created God?” problem (I can’t for the life of me think of any other problem). I don’t see why this is a problem, given the formulation of the argument. “Whatever begins to exist had a cause.” God did not begin to exist. “Ad hoc!” one might cry. But they would be mistaken. There is a very good reason for stating this. The application of the conclusion demands that the First Cause precede, logically, all else. The First Cause’s act of bringing the universe into existence is the first moment. Hence, if the First Cause was not really the first cause after all, then the first moment of time would already have existed. But it did not exist. Hence, the First Cause was the first.

Each objection has been dealt with by providing an answer. This means that each Christian, and each person, is rationally justified in accepting the KCA. If that is true, then it seems that the KCA’s truth implies God–not just any God, but the God of the Bible!

 

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Presuppositions of Science

By Philip Carlson

Often I am told that science should be the ultimate arbitrator of truth. While it would be nice if this were true it just does not hold up under scrutiny. Science would need to be the final authority on all matters and while that might be a nice thought, it can’t stand under its own weight.

Presuppositions of Science

We should believe only what can be scientifically proven. But is such a statement provable scientifically? What of these other ideas that seem inaccessible by science? Statements such as, “She is beautiful,” “That is wrong,” “Abortion is evil,” “Red is a color,” “One is an odd number” and the like.It is clear that many issues would need to be explored to further vet this idea known as scientism. One of these areas involves the many presuppositions of science itself. How can something claimed to be the sole arbitrator of truth; the only source of knowledge, depend on anything else?

It is easily seen that if P is a presupposition of Q, then P is fundamental for Q, that is, P is a necessary condition for Q. If one is to abandon P, then he must also abandon Q. What are the P of science? It seems that there must exist some presuppositions for science (if you are a scientific realist) to operate.

John Kekes states in his Nature of Philosophy,

“Science is committed to several presuppositions: that nature exists, that it has discoverable order, that it is uniform, are existential presuppositions of science; the distinctions between space and time, cause and effect, the observer and the observed, real and apparent, orderly and chaotic, are classificatory presuppositions; while intersubjective testability, quantifibility, the public availability of data, are methodological presuppositions; some aaxiological presuppositions are the honest reporting of results, the worthwhileness of getting the facts right, and scrupulousness in avoiding observational or experimental error. If any one of these presuppositions were abandoned, science, as we know it, could not be done. Yet the acceptance of the presuppositions cannot be a matter of course, for each has been challenged and alternatives are readily available.”(1)

He makes a good case here as to the failure of scientism. If there are definite things that must be in place for science to hold then those things must be yet more fundamental and foundational to what truth is. Many say that we should go to peer reviewed scientific journals to find reliable true statements about how the world is. This statement assumes the honesty of those reporting the results. This is an assumption that should not be taken for granted as the number of retractions, plagiarism and even criminal prosecutions are seemingly ever apparent for out right fraud on the authors behalf.

There are additional philosophical presuppositions that must be held for science to be done. J. P. Moreland gives a decent list of these presuppositions of science in a number of his works.(2-4) He lists (2) at least ten:

1. The existence of a theory-independent, external world
2. The orderly nature of the external world
3. the knowability of the external world
4. The existence of truth
5. The laws of logic
6. The reliability of our cognitive and sensory faculties to serve as truth-gatherers and as a source of justified beliefs in our intellectual environment
7. The adequacy of language to describe the world
8. The existence of values used in science
9. The uniformity of nature and induction
10. The existence of numbers

Each of these serves as a foundation to carrying out science as it is typically thought of. These ideas must be established and argued about before science can be wrought. (At least they must be assumed implicitly.) The consistency and coherence of these presuppositions depend on the worldview of the holder. It is very difficult for an atheist to posit a number of these things in any consistent manner, yet he is likely the one to be putting forth this view (or a version of it).

An entire book could be written about each of these ten items. There are so many positions held, and nuances of position to be explained that to do so in any exhaustive manner would use up more time than one would undoubtedly wish to devote to this topic. We will look over these presuppositions in more detail as well as associated ideas about how science relates to Christianity in general over the next few posts. Rest assured that science will continue to be carried out while we look over the finer debated details of how it is performed.

 

This blog post was originally published on the CAA website. Visit the CAA here.

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(1) Kekes, John; “Nature of Philosophy” (Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1980) pp.156-157
(2) Moreland, J. P.; “The Creation Hypothesis” (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1994) p. 17
(3) Moreland, J. P.; Craig, William Lane; “Philosophical foundations for a Christian worldview” (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2003) pp. 346-366
(4) Moreland, J. P.; “Christianity and the Nature of Science” (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1989)

Is Science the Sole Means of Knowing Truth? No Chance.

Modern culture esteems science as the preeminent means of understanding the world. If something cannot be established by science, then, according to many, it is either unknowable or simply a matter of personal faith.

While science is an undeniably important means of discovering truths about our world, and it has contributed greatly to human flourishing, it is unwarranted to claim that it’s the sole—or even the best—means of knowing truth.

In his excellent book, The Experience of God, philosopher David Bentley Hart provides a penetrating response to the claim that science is the sole means of knowing truth:

Quite a few otherwise intelligent men and women take it as established principle that we can know as true only what can be verified by empirical method of experimentation and observation. This is, for one thing, a notoriously self-refuting claim, inasmuch as it cannot itself be demonstrated to be true by any application of empirical method.

More to the point, though, it is transparent nonsense: most of the things we know to be true, often quite indubitably, do not fall within the realm of what can be tested by empirical methods; they are by their nature episodic, experiential, local, personal, intuitive, or purely logical. The sciences concern certain facts as organized by certain theories, and certain theories as constrained by certain facts; they accumulate evidence and enucleate hypotheses within very strictly limited paradigms; but they do not provide proofs of where reality begins or ends, or of what the dimensions of truth are. They cannot even establish their own working premises—the real existence of the phenomenal world, the power of the human intellect accurately to reflect that reality, the perfect lawfulness of nature, its mathematical regularity, and so forth—and should not seek to do so, but should confine themselves to the truths to which their methods give them access.

They should also recognize what the boundaries of the scientific rescript are. There are, in fact, truths of reason that are far surer than even the most amply supported findings of empirical science because such truths are not, as those findings must always be, susceptible of later theoretical revision; and then there are truths of mathematics that are subject to proof in the most proper sense and so are more irrefutable still. And there is no single discourse of truth as such, no single path to the knowledge of reality, no single method that can exhaustively define what knowledge is, no useful answer whose range has not been limited in advance by the kinds of questions that prompted them.

The failure to realize this can lead only to the delusions of the kind expressed in, for example, G.G. Simpson’s self-parodying assertion that all attempts to define the meaning of life or the nature of humanity made before 1859 are not entirely worthless, or in Peter Atkin’s ebulliently absurd claims that modern science can “deal with every aspect of existence” and that it has never in fact “encountered a barrier.” Not only do sentiments of this sort verge upon the deranged, they are nothing less than violent assaults upon the truth dignity of science.

Science is an unbelievably value means of knowing the world. We should never downplay its significance. But, as Hart points out, we should avoid the temptation to overplay its significance as well.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.


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Are Science and Faith at Odds? Insights by Augustine

The relationship between science and faith is one of the most important, and yet controversial subjects of our day. Are science and faith opposed? Do they support one another? Do they threaten one another? Or do they address entirely different “magisteria”, as Stephen Jay Gould famously suggested.

It is important to get the relationship between science and faith correct, for as David Kinnaman has pointed out in his book You Lost Me, the perceived conflict between them is one of the top reasons young people disengage the church. While there are many good books on the dynamic between science and faith (See, for instance, Where the Conflict Really Lies by Alvin Plantinga), sometimes the best wisdom comes from the past.

In his book On the Literal Meaning of Genesis, Augustine gives some helpful advice for how to approach science. Long before the Scientific Revolution, Augustine was well aware of the supposed conflict between science and faith. His advice is worth heeding today:

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens…and this knowledge he holds to as Are Science and Faith at Odds? Insights by Augustinebeing certain from reason and experience. Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear aChristian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn…If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books on matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason” (Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, vol. 1 (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1982), 19:39, p. 42).


Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

 

Militant Atheist Lacks an Argument

By Steve Lee

Lawrence Krauss, theoretical physicist and cosmologist at Arizona State University,  penned an article with The New YorkerScreen Shot 2015-09-28 at 2.02.04 PM It is provocatively titled “All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists.”  Not just an atheist, but a militant atheist.  Krauss, has risen in fame in the past few years, penning such books at The Physics of Star Trek and The Universe From Nothing. In an interview with Sam Harris, he describes himself as “as an anti-theist rather than an atheist.”  Krauss has had multiple debates with William Lane Craig here in the United States as well as in Australia (here and here and here).  He even did a movie with Richard Dawkins titled The Unbelievers. Dr. Craig did a series of podcasts commenting on the film.

In his September 8 article in The New Yorker, Krauss claims that “it’s inevitable that [science] draws people away from religion.”  Oddly enough he just merely asserts this claim without any evidence or argument.  Are we to just believe him on blind faith.  If science inevitably draws people away from religion how does he explain Francis Collins, Sarah Salviander, John Lennox, Neil Shenvi, Ray Bohlin, Michael Strauss, John Polkinghorne, or Alister McGrath.  Or how the book True Scientists, True Faith explores how twenty of the world’s leading scientists explain how their science enhances their faith and their faith undergirds their science.

Even more oddly is his focus in the article on issues that have nothing to do with science at all.  In eleven full paragraphs a total of seven were on social issues like Kim Davis, Hobby Lobby, the shame people feel for questioning their parents faith, and Planned Parenthood.  As Edward Feser says in his article Krauss discusses “matters of public controversy entirely irrelevant to either science or the question of God’s existence.”

He surely has a right to express his opinion on issues entirely outside his domain of expertise, but they carry no more weight as a business student has in expressing his views on the background radiation in the cosmos.  When he does he reveals aptly how sophomoric his reasoning is on the issue of God and science.  As Plantinga said about Dawkins and his book The God Delusion I believe the comments apply to Krauss as well:

Dawkins [and Krauss] is not a philosopher (he’s a biologist). Even taking this into account, however, much of the philosophy he purveys is at best jejune [i.e., naive, simplistic, and superficial]. You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside), many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore philosophy class.

Below are some articles that react to Krauss:

“Scientists Should Tell Lawrence Krauss to Shut Up Already” by Edward Feser in Public Discourse The Witherspoon Institute, Sept. 28, 2015.

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 12.26.07 PM

Feser is as entertaining as he is educational.  A partial excerpt:

The closest Krauss comes to justifying his thesis is in the following passage:

science is an atheistic enterprise. “My practice as a scientist is atheistic,” the biologist J.B.S. Haldane wrote, in 1934. “That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career.” . . . In my more than thirty years as a practicing physicist, I have never heard the word “God” mentioned in a scientific meeting. Belief or nonbelief in God is irrelevant to our understanding of the workings of nature . . .

Is this a good argument? Only if this parallel piece of “reasoning” is also a good argument:

Checkers is an atheistic enterprise. My practice as a checkers player is atheistic. That is to say, when I move a game piece across the board, I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my career as a checkers champ. In my more than thirty years as a checkers player, I have never heard the word “God” mentioned at a checkers tournament. Belief or nonbelief in God is irrelevant to our understanding of the workings of the game.

So, it isn’t just science—even checkers proves atheism! Who knew?

 

“Why Can’t These Guys Stay on Topic? Or Read?” by Edward Feser at Edward Feser Oct 4, 2015 – Here Feser responds to some criticisms of his critique of Krauss.

“Should Scientists Be Atheists? More Nonsense From Lawrence Krauss,” by Kelly James Clark in The Huffington Post, Sept. 14, 2015.

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 12.24.55 PM

Philosopher Kelly Jame Clark in The Huffington Post lambastes Krauss for his lack of elementary logic and non-scientific ranting:

While Lawrence Krauss has publicly denounced philosophy, he can’t seem to stop himself from doing it and doing it badly (and publicly, to boot). His lack of intellectual self-control is remarkable given that he is an accomplished physicist. He might have profited in his latest rant, “All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists,” by a course in elementary logic.

This diatribe was prompted by the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage license to gay couples. He writes of militant atheism and science, “I found myself thinking about those questions this week as I followed the story of Kim Davis….” How this totally non-scientific event is relevant to his scientific thesis is mind-boggling.

Portrait of a Fanatic” by Kevin D. Williamson The National Review Sept. 11, 2015

At the National Review Kevin D. Williamson reacts as well:

As we have seen with the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye the Politics Guy, when scientists and the scient-ish (Mr. Nye is a mechanical engineer by training) step out of the confines of their actual expertise, what they step into is more closely associated with the field of animal husbandry. But step in it they do, Professor Krauss with more enthusiasm than most. Professor Krauss’s argument is shockingly sophomoric, the sort of thing that all of us heard, and most of us tired of, during late-night dorm-room debates when we were teenagers. His intellectual sloppiness is both embarrassing and worrisome; one must wonder what sort of intellectual standards Arizona State expects of its faculty engaged in public matters.
This video is related to Eric Metaxas Wall Street Journal article which quickly become the most viewed online article in the journal’s history:

For more articles like: Militant Atheist Lacks an Argument visit Steve’s site at IsChristianityTrue.wordpress.com

Steve Lee is a graduate from the CrossExamined Instructor Academy.

Was Belief in God a Science-Stopper? Not for Newton

I’d like to call attention to a couple of excellent blogs by Luke Barnes correcting some historical blunders that Neil deGrasse Tyson made. Tyson argued that Newton failed to discover the stability of the solar system due to blinders that resulted from his belief in God. Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2 of the blogs by Barnes, a cosmologist from Australia.

I had recognized historical misrepresentations by Tyson in the Cosmos series such as that Giordano Bruno was a martyr for science and that Galileo went to jail for his scientific beliefs[1] but I wasn’t aware of the broader story behind this famous interaction between Laplace and Napolean. You really need to read Barnes’s blogs for the details but, in a nutshell, the story is that Napolean upon reading physicist Pierre-Simon Laplace’s writings about the physics of the solar system asked why they never mentioned a Creator. Laplace replied that “Sir, I had no need of that hypothesis.” Also, as Barnes summarizes: “Tyson claims that Newton (1642-1727) should have discovered what Laplace (1749-1827) did – that the combined pull of the planets on each other do not destabilize their orbits – but was hamstrung by his theism.” Tyson wonders why Newton didn’t discover the stability of the solar system but inserted God as a means of intervening to keep things stable:

What concerns me is, even if you’re as brilliant as Newton, you reach a point where you start basking in the majesty of God, and then your discovery stops. It just stops. You’re no good anymore for advancing that frontier. You’re waiting for someone to come behind you who doesn’t have God on the brain and who says “that’s a really cool problem, I want to solve it.” And they come in and solve it.”

Barnes points out several problems with Tyson’s claims:

  • This story may have never actually happened – the case for its historicity is somewhat weak as Laplace himself denied it and the earliest reports about the meeting are relatively late.
  • It is simply false that Newton ceased from scientific exploration into this problem – he did develop a theory of perturbations. He failed to develop the proper theory primarily because he had the wrong tools – as one historian summarizes “success came for Newton’s successors only with a new approach, different from any he had envisaged: algorithmic and global.”
  • Laplace had lots of help – as Barnes explains: “note the mathematicians who worked on the problem of perturbations to planetary orbits before Laplace: Clairaut, Euler, d’Alembert, and Lagrange. These are the greatest mathematicians of their age; Leonard Euler is arguably the greatest mathematician of all time: “Read Euler, read Euler, he is the master of us all.” That quote, incidentally, is from Laplace. Euler was a devout Christian and a Lutheran Saint. Apparently, having “God on the brain” didn’t prevent him – as it didn’t prevent Newton – from working on this scientific problem.” “Newton, of course, was a mathematical genius. But we can hardly blame him for not being smarter than Clairaut, Euler, d’Alembert, Lagrange and Laplace combined.”
  • Laplace’s theory is not quite accurate either – “orbits of the Solar System are chaotic over timescales of a few billion years.”

I personally think it’s important to correct this type of misleading historical account because it is often used to argue against interpreting something like fine-tuning as evidence for a Creator – anyone that sees evidence for God is said to be a science-stopper.

Why does Tyson feel the need to inject historical misrepresentations at all into his otherwise excellent public lectures on the beauty majesty of nature and the scientific endeavor? I assume that Tyson didn’t know the broader story but we should expect more thorough research from a scientist and public spokesperson.

Here are some resources you might find helpful that discuss the relationship between science and religion historically:

https://ischristianitytrue.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/science-series-the-myth-that-the-church-hindered-the-development-of-science/

The Mythical Conflict Between Science and Religion” James Hannam, Medieval Science and Philosophy (website for the book The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution)
_____________________________

[1] Both of these myths are debunked in Galileo Goes to Jail: and Other Myths About Science and Religion, ed. Ronald L. Numbers (Harvard UP, 2009)

 

Can Multiverse Theories Explain the Appearance of Fine Tuning in the Universe?

For many theorists, the multiverse has the best chance of explaining the appearance of fine-tuning in our universe. Other explanations, such as appealing to chance or physical necessity, offer solutions from “inside the room” of our universe. Multiverse explanations, however, point once again to an external causal agent: a mechanism capable of creating an incredibly large number of universes, each with its own set of physical laws. According to this theory, most of these universes in the multiverse collection are incapable of permitting life. Our universe, however, through “a series of cosmic accidents,” just happens to support our existence. Multiverse theories overcome the incredible odds against life (and explain the appearance of fine-tuning) by increasing the chances of such a life-permitting universe.

GCS Chapter 02 Illustration 06

Illustration from God’s Crime Scene

In my new book, God’s Crime Scene, I examine all the naturalistic explanations for eight pieces of evidence in the universe (one of which is the delicate fine-tuning of the universe for the emergence of life). The multiverse theory fails to account for the appearance of fine-tuning for the following reasons:

This Explanation Lacks Evidential Confirmation
Multiverse models lack observational or experimental evidence. Scientists can’t access other universes in the multiverse because they are separated within the vacuum by too great a distance (and according to these theories, this distance is allegedly growing). As a result, many scientists, especially String Theorists, are suspicious about the existence of a multiverse. Some call it a “fantasy,” others call it “intellectually bankrupt” or a “cheap way out.” Lacking evidential support, many physicists see the multiverse theory as deficient when compared to efforts to find unity within the laws of physics.

This Explanation Requires Fine-Tuning
If there is a multiverse vacuum capable of such creative activity, it would be reasonable for us to ask how the physics of such an environment could be so fine-tuned to create a life-permitting universe. As Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne observes, any proposed multiverse mechanism “needs to have a certain form rather than innumerable possible other forms, and probably constants too that need fine-tuning in the narrow sense . . . if that diversity of universes is to result.” Theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking, when assessing “eternal inflation” models as a source for the multiverse, admits the same problem of fine-tuning: “The problem is, for our theoretical models of inflation to work, the initial state of the universe had to be set up in a very special and highly improbable way. Thus traditional inflation theory resolves one set of issues but creates another—the need for a very special initial state.”

This Explanation Relies on Speculative Notions of Time
Theorists who propose a pre-existing vacuum must account for the nature of time in this setting. All descriptions of this vacuum describe it as temporal (with bubble universes emerging or quantum events occurring over time). But the Standard Cosmological Model indicates time, as we know it, began with our universe. Physicist Alexander Vilenkin describes the dilemma this way: “There is no matter and no space in this very peculiar state. Also, there is no time . . . In the absence of space and matter, time is impossible to define. And yet, the state of ‘nothing’ cannot be identified with absolute nothingness.” Multiverse explanations must provide an account for the temporal nature of the vacuum lying at the core of their theory.

This Explanation Results in Absurdities Common to “Infinites”
Multiverse proposals result in a number of interesting (and disturbing) absurdities. If there are an infinite number of universes in the multiverse collection, and there exists a remote chance one of them could have a set of laws like ours (and a history similar to our own), we must accept (given the infinite size of the multiverse) an infinite number of universes resembling ours. In fact, if there’s a small chance any of these similar universes might have precisely the same history as our own (with someone exactly like you reading this book at this very moment), there are an infinite number of universes precisely the same as ours in every possible way. The absurdity of this proposal has been noted by a number of physicists and philosophers. Multiverse models describe an ensemble of universes both identical and slightly different from our own. As physicist and cosmologist Alan Guth admits, “There is a universe where Elvis is still alive.” The incredulity of such a proposal seems a high price to pay to accommodate a theory yet unproven by the evidence. Physicist Paul Davies says, “…the very notion that there could be not just one, but an infinity of identical copies of you, leading identical lives (and infinitely many others leading similar but not identical lives) is deeply unsettling.”

This Explanation Acknowledges an “External” Creative Cause
Those who propose multiverse models acknowledge the difficulty in explaining the apparent fine-tuning of the universe from “inside the room” of the natural universe. Multiverse models attribute the conditions of our universe to an “external” cause: a primordial vacuum possessing attributes necessary to create a life-permitting universe. The laws governing this primordial vacuum, however, are equally difficult to explain. Even cosmologist Lawrence Krauss acknowledges their foundational nature: “The laws themselves are all that exist. These laws themselves require our universe to come into existence, to develop and evolve, and we are an irrevocable by-product of these laws. The laws may be eternal, or they too may have come into existence, again by some yet unknown but possibly purely physical process.” The existence of these external laws, as well as the vacuum in which they exist, must be explained, and “this does beg the possible question, which might of course not be answerable, of what, if anything, fixed the rules that governed such creation.”

Efforts to employ multiverse theories to explain the appearance of fine tuning in our universe fail. Fine-tuning is best explained by an intelligent Fine-Tuner who had a purpose in mind. A Creator God, “outside the room” of the physical universe, is still the best explanation we have for the precision and tuning we see “inside the room”. This brief summary of the problem of fine-tuning in the universe just begins to describe the insufficiency of naturalistic theories. For a much more robust account of the inadequacy of naturalism in this regard, please refer to God’s Crime Scene, Chapter Two – Tampering With the Evidence: Who Is Responsible?

J.Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene.

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God’s Crime Scene

It’s about 2 a.m. on an August morning in 1979. A beautiful young nurse by the name of Lynne Knight is living in a bungalow behind a larger house in Torrance, California. As two police officers approach her door, they notice a chair overturned in the entryway and bloody footsteps leading back to the rear bedroom. Each officer has his gun drawn, not sure what to expect.

When they switch on the light, they witness the worst murder scene of their careers. Ms. Knight is lying on her bed, undressed. Her throat is deeply severed, and her lifeless body, which had been stabbed repeatedly, is covered in blood.

Under her body is 18 inches of twisted wire strung between two small pieces of wood that had been sawed off from an old broomstick. Although they’ve never seen one in person before, the officers immediately know it’s a garrote—a homemade weapon used to strangle someone in order to commit a murder quietly.

The killer tried to murder Lynne with the garrote, but couldn’t complete the evil act because she fought back. So the killer stabbed her to death and left the garrote behind in a panic.

Could the garrote lead the cops to this monster? Not soon enough. For nearly three decades the case went cold until cold case homicide detectives J. Warner Wallace and Rick Glass got involved in 2007. They dusted off the evidence left in a box at the Torrance PD, and Wallace made it his personal mission to analyze every aspect of the garrote. It turned out to be the key to the murder trial that took place last summer in the same LA courtroom where O.J. Simpson was tried. And there was familiar face in this trial. The defendant, Doug Bradford, hired O.J. lawyer Robert Shapiro to be his defense attorney.

While Bradford was a former lover of Knight, there was no eyewitness or DNA evidence to link Bradford to the murder. And there were several other suspects in the case, some of whom had since died. Wallace, Glass, and LA District Attorney John Lewin had an uphill battle to convince a jury of twelve that Bradford had indeed committed the crime. There would be no conviction unless all twelve agreed.

But Wallace, Glass and Lewin had been down this road before. They earned convictions on every cold case they had brought to trial so far. Three of those cases were so intriguing that NBC’s Dateline featured them. This case was no different: Keith Morrison and his Dateline crew were filming the case in an episode they called “The Wire.”

Although Dateline didn’t know it going in, their confidence was rewarded: on August 14, 2014, this LA jury returned a guilty verdict. Robert Shapiro, perhaps aware he had been out argued, didn’t even show up for the verdict. Doug Bradford is now serving a life sentence after being free for 35 years.

How did they get the conviction?

They began by asking the question all detectives ask at a death scene: can this death be explained by staying inside the room, or does it require us to look outside the room? Obviously, this death was a murder and required a suspect outside the room. Had this been a suicide, natural death or accidental death, the event could be explained by staying inside the room.

Then Detective Wallace used some very ingenious methods to link the garrote back to Bradford. (You can watch the entire Dateline explanation here.) He linked the effect (the garrote) back to the cause (Bradford).

Now Wallace is employing the same investigative principles he uses to solve cold case murders to eight of the greatest questions we ponder as human beings. He does this in his insightful new book, God’s Crime Scene. In the book Wallace seeks to discover if we can stay inside the room (the natural world) or must go outside the room (the supernatural world) for the causes of the following effects:

  • The origin of the universe
  • The fine-tuning of the universe
  • The origin of life
  • The origin of new life forms and biological machines
  • Consciousness
  • Free will
  • Objective Moral Values
  • Evil

Each of the eight chapters starts with the details of a real criminal case and then applies the principles to the question at hand (the Lynne Knight case is in Chapter 4).

Wallace was a committed atheist until age 35. Now he is a highly skilled author and speaker who presents a unique case for the Christian worldview across the country. Columnist Mike Adams and I have recently teamed with J. to equip Christian youth and their parents with the case for Christianity through a dynamic new College Prep program. I can tell you that audiences are captivated by the way he applies forensic principles to build the case for Christianity.

But don’t think Wallace just tows the party line. Since he is a cold case homicide detective, Wallace presents you with the evidence pro and con, and then leaves you to draw your own conclusions. He does a masterful job of laying out the evidence and even illustrates that evidence with over one hundred of his own drawings, which clarify and summarize some potentially difficult subject matter. (Who said a serious book can’t have pictures?)

God’s Crime Scene is an engaging and very readable work that investigates some of life’s most important questions. I highly recommend you get it regardless of your religious viewpoint. I can’t guarantee you’ll be convicted, but your thinking will be challenged.

Cameras of the Watchman: The Reality of the Relationship between Science and Theology (part 3/3)

Scott Symington

3.3.4 Complex / Contextual

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 10.17.15 PM

 

A couple that really loves each other, may still have a history of ups and downs, especially relationships susceptible to psychological and other influences. Marriage counselors will often hear, “It’s complex”, in reference to how the relationship is going.

 

Historians of science and religion have come to see this too. John Hedley Brooke had a serious impact on scholarship, when he and his colleagues produced work that led to a new consensus in the scholarship. Brooke looked beyond the intellectual points to the sociological, political, and cultural factors involved. Dixon, Cantor, and Pumfrey in their work, Science and Religion: New Historical Perspectives, and Lindberg and Numbers, follow on from Brooke and developed further the idea that the complex relationship is contextualized, and displays diverse interactions based upon a number of influential, environmental and contextual factors.

 

Therefore, people working out of the science or theology perspective will have conflicts with the other field, but these speak only to other influential factors being involved, and not necessarily to the reality of the relationship. If a specific theological field were invalid, then the conflicts would likely, over time, rise to the level of defeaters, or at least would display the trend towards the conflict model. If a specific theology were valid, there would almost certainly still be conflict, being closed-off from proof and open to the external factors on the people involved. But in contrast to the trend of invalid models, over time, the trend would show occasional conflicts, but an overall rise towards agreement and examples of mutually supporting each other.

 

So while the conflicts between science and Christian theology may be the exception, these are very good opportunities to investigate to help decide if the conflicts are real and the predicted trend will be towards further conflict and invalidation of the source of knowledge, or only apparent conflicts brought on by the complex factors, and will predictably become examples of mutual support in the trend towards concordance.

 

One aspect of the mutual support, are examples of seeming conflict that turned into supportive corrections, such as the aforementioned biblical correction of inaccurate historical claims (see section 3.2.4), and of scientific claims regarding the beginning and cause of the universe. Also, faulty biblical extrapolations have been corrected by scientific discoveries, such as in the case of the Galileo affair, in which Galileo himself said those opposing him simply based their position on an inaccurate interpretation/extrapolation. Notice in these cases, the conflict arose between the people involved and their personal interpretations of data from nature or extrapolations from scripture (going beyond what was actually stated), which is to be expected whenever people are involved.

 

You own land, which a neighbor’s herd of sheep crosses over and grazes on periodically. You ask if you can see this herd, and know previously this neighbor is honest and reliable, and she says her herd always stays together and only consists of eight sheep. As you approach where the herd is currently grazing, you see ten sheep.

 

Apparent conflict exists between the two sources of information, your observation and the word of your neighbor. But then again, as you move in closer you notice two of the sheep are running in circles around the rest, and closer still, you realize those two are actually sheep dogs. Apparent conflict resolved by mutual support provided by one field to the other.

Let’s consider several common, current antagonistic subjects. First, many in science, and many who accept Christian theology, think that the Big Bang models of the beginning of the universe conflict with biblical theology. This is very interesting considering the history of thought concerning the beginning of the universe, covered in section 3.2.3, involved scientists recognizing the Big Bang models were “scientific Genesis”, while the real conflict was between those who believed the universe was eternal and the discoveries of modern science. Yet, now many who accept Christian theology claim the Earth and Universe must be relatively young, around 10,000 years old, compared to the 4.5 billion and almost 14 billion year age science provides for the Earth and Universe respectively. These dates certainly conflict.

 

However, as noted earlier, areas of conflict are good opportunities to test the relationship model and determine if it is an example of the apparent conflict, which will occur in valid fields of study with incomplete knowledge and susceptible viewers of that knowledge, or an example of real conflict, which over time will grow in support and number and trend toward the conflict models. The age of the Earth example is apparent conflict, and an excellent example of symbiosis between science and theology. Biblical theology accumulates bad interpretation or extrapolation leftovers over time, such as an idea promoted by a bishop in the 17th century that one could use genealogies in the Bible to determine the age of the Earth. Bishop Ussher even declared the time of day creation began, which should have waved the red flag warning of something that needs to be checked. Instead the idea was liked by enough, or the right people, to be added as a commentary in the King James Bible, which many people then took as established fact, instead of following the biblical command to “examine everything carefully”[1] concerning things being taught, and realizing the claim was based on five assumptions, which are all easily proven false. Therefore, there is no age of the Earth given, nor any way to determine the age without serious and unsupported steps beyond what the Bible provides. There are actually five assumptions that must all be correct in order to extrapolate a date with reasonable accuracy, and all five assumptions are mistaken. This faulty extrapolation polluted Christian theology, and like the clownfish which cleans up leftover waste on sea anemones, the conflict with science has led many in Christian theology to re-evaluate and discard the extrapolation. Many still accept the young earth idea, but as science and Christian theology advance the knowledge bases further, the accurate view of reality will continue to be made clear.

 

Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett claim evolution is unguided, so there is an apparent conflict with any theology claiming God’s guidance was involved. But is this conflict just apparent, or is it real? If you read Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker, where he makes this claim, check how he tries to defend the claim. Dawkins only gives support to show that it is not impossible, or not astronomically improbable that natural selection could lead to complex biological features, but no evidence showing arrival at the life we have was not guided, as science does not even have the tools to determine if God was involved or not. Dawkins also ignores the good arguments for intelligent guidance of the process. So Dawkins and Dennett’s claim – that it all happened by unguided process – is mistaken. The claim is simply philosophical gloss added onto the science involved with evolution.

 

Even when considering amazing work in the origin of life from non-life, at every end we find examples of proof-in-principle, meaning it is shown that certain building blocks or steps in the origin of life are possible, but not that guidance was not also involved. This was publicly highlighted at the international ISSOL conference in 2002 on the origin of life. Biochemist and attendee, Fuz Rana, recalled that after a presentation by James Ferris, where Ferris triumphantly declared that clays in the environment were shown, by his team, to be able to provide an important step in the origin of life, a top-level origin of life researcher, Robert Shapiro, stunned the audience during the question-and-answer period by dismissing the team’s decades worth of work as offering little insight into chemical evolution, and instead provided elegant proof of intelligent design![2] Think about it: Ferris’ team, with massive expenditure of the brightest minds in the field, money, top-level equipment, and voluminous processes required to produce, in a precisely controlled lab, the results sought, showed how an important step could have happened. What follows from that? That the origin of life did happen like that, and without intelligent guidance – of course not. Shapiro realized that whatever led to the actual, full origin of life from non-life, must have been more intelligent and better funded than the Ferris team! Results in the diverse areas of study in the origin of life research have similar findings: proof-in-principle, but all reached with massive intelligence and investment involved, and absolutely no evidence that intelligent guidance was not involved.

 

Those who declare they don’t need to believe in God because of evolution, or they don’t believe in evolution because they believe in God, are simply making a false dichotomy, and display a lack of understanding of the concepts involved. It is not a zero-sum game, so they are making “Much to-do about nothing”, which was the title of the talk I gave on “Darwin Day” at the University of Michigan. While there have been theologians and Christians since Darwin’s time that were fine with evolution being the method God used, many other Christians have had a problem with evolution, yet there have always been Christians on both sides of the issue because while the Bible notes God did perform special acts in creation, it doesn’t preclude evolution. If there were, then, at most, inerrancy would be in question, but none of the support provided for the biblical model would be, as that verification exists independently. And as far as science, there is nothing in the science circle, or in the theories or evidence of evolution demonstrating that the process precludes any guidance.

 

Those who claim evolution does preclude any special guidance have stepped outside of the science circle because such a claim is a philosophical add-on, and not something shown by science. As Alvin Platinga elucidates in his book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (2011), ask a person making such a claim: “How do you know that there is no guidance? How could you possibly determine that?” Such a claim is philosophical gloss, as science is incapable of determining no intelligent guidance was involved in perhaps: fine-tuning the initial conditions, preserving specific populations or gene expressions over others, increasing the probabilities involved with certain favored mutations, or even special one-time acts.[3]

 

Another serious area of conflict is found in evolutionary psychology. Some writings in this field of study have claimed that beliefs in God are simply evolutionary responses to lack of control and fear felt, or like Freud thought, for want of a father figure that is strong and benevolent. There is no conflict so far, as maybe such an instinct has evolved, and if God does exist, then maybe this is one mechanism used to help us accept and trust him. When someone tries to add to the claim that this belief in God is only caused by evolution, and there is no actual God to believe in, then there is a conflict with theology. However, again this is only an apparent conflict, as again, such a claim is only a philosophical add-on, without evidence. The evolutionary psychologist has to step outside of the science circle (as the science circle does not have the radius to include disproof of God, only some specific theological claims) and into the philosophy circle to make such a claim. If one turns on their philosophy cam, then they will be enlightened to the fact that such a claim is mistaken. Even if such belief in God were partially, or entirely caused by evolutionary means, it simply does not follow that God does not exist, as that has to be determined by the evidence in all applicable fields of study. Evolutionary psychology is not applicable as it does not have the tools to gain evidence in whether God exists or not, the most it could do is if it were shown that no God exists, then evolutionary psychology could show how such a false belief arose.

 

One more subject of primary discord, miraculous events and supernatural entities, could be a defeater to most, if not all theologies, if science showed that miracles are impossible and the supernatural does not exist. Then again, these topics are covered here because they are samples of only superficial conflict. Some have argued that miraculous events are not part of reality because they would be violating fixed natural laws as uncovered in the science circle. The question ultimately goes back to whether there is an intelligent cause that created the universe out of nothing. If so, then do you think any miraculous event after that would be a problem? It would be like asking a person who could build a car from the ground-up if that person was able to change the spark plugs. But when addressing the conflict directly, each of these natural laws, which describe how things act in nature, is only applicable to a closed system. Those claiming the impossibility of violating natural laws of science are assuming without scientific evidence or backing (actually against the evidence as we shall soon see) that the natural universe is entirely and always a closed system. Natural laws do not say anything about a situation when something outside the natural system interacts with it, and since science does not support the assumption of a naturally closed system, nothing in science goes against miraculous events because natural laws would not be violated.

 

Science could be used to demonstrate that a miraculous event would be beyond our typical experience and exceedingly rare – but that is the point – for a theology to establish itself as having a source beyond humanity would require something beyond what humanity can provide for verification.

 

Some may argue that is true for classical physics, but what about quantum mechanics? Platinga covers this topic well as he correctly notes that events in the quantum world aren’t fixed in the same way as classical mechanics, but instead have a probability of occurring this way or that, and in that probability is significant room for an intelligent agent to guide or utilize the probabilities to produce events that are otherwise miraculous (occurring even against massive odds against it, or even if phenomenally rare). There is a probability, which is exceedingly small but can be calculated, that all the matter and energy in a room become oriented in a way that causes a small volume around a person to become a temperature that would freeze the person solid in an instant. While thankfully this is unlikely enough to never need worry about it, it is possible in the quantum understanding. Again, the only way to rule out miracles would be to assume at the start that theism is not true, which is not anywhere in the realm of science to determine.

 

Similarly, while the belief that science only studies the natural world may work as a restrictive, but generally true characteristic, the theory of naturalism or materialism, that the physical matter and energy and space and time of our universe is all there is, was, or ever will be (as Carl Sagan famously put it) – has already been proven false. By some of the most amazing discoveries in modern science, we have found that the entire universe, and all material and nature that makes up the universe, had a beginning, and is therefore contingent, or dependent on something beyond itself for its existence. If the cause is outside of, or beyond nature, that is supernatural, or hyper-natural if one doesn’t like the other associations with the word supernatural, Either way, we know that the cause of the universe is beyond nature, so claiming supernatural entities do not exist, not only is outside of science’s ability to prove, but also comes with scientific support.

 

In the examples regarding the age of the universe, evolution, evolutionary psychology, miracles and the supernatural, once one removes the unsupported, philosophical add-on claims regarding the non-existence of God, the conflict is shown to be only apparent and caused by faulty reasoning by the people making such an ontological claim.

 

So conflicts do exist, and there are other examples, but as was the case in even the most noted area of disagreement, the conflicts are apparent. And while there may be some conflicts that cannot be resolved, when one looks at the trend through time, it is reasonable to expect that with further knowledge these too will be resolved into the trend toward concordance. Yet more will arise as the relationship is complex.

 

The complex-contextual model does take into account the relevance of other factors, and does explain why we have both concordance and some conflict. Nevertheless, this model, like NOMA and COMA, has restricted applicability. The complexity/contextual models apply to events in the history of the interactions between science and theology, but do not describe the reality of the relationship between these two sources. The reality of the relationship is determined by the validity of the two sources, and if these sources interact.

 

This was recognized by Dixon, Cantor, and Pumphrey in noting: “the personal dimensions of both scientific and religious activities ought to be taken more seriously. There is a sense in which we need to read abstract discussions of theology and science more as personal statements than as assertions about the relationship between two independent systems of thought.”[4] In other words, personal statements are influenced by the influential factors those authors discussed previously, which leads to the complex and contextual history, yet these personal statements do not speak to the actual relationship between the two independent sources of knowledge.

 

If the two sources are valid, and if these sources interact, then both sources will be in agreement with the reality provided by each – as each is viewing the same reality – but until all the knowledge is in, and humanity is free of external-influential factors (i.e., cultural, political, psychological), there may be apparent conflict, or confrontation between the people involved. So the history, or series of specific events in the interactions, can be described by the complexity/contextual models. Yet, regardless of the history, whether it be all conflict, or all agreement, or a mixture (which is most likely, and is what we see), the reality of the relationship between two valid sources of knowledge does not change. And it is the reality of the relationship that we want most to know, because that determines what theology is valid and worthy of founding our thoughts, actions, responses, goals, priorities, and direction in life upon.

Bottom-line

While very useful in explaining why specific times show conflict and other times concord between science and theology, complex/contextual theories do not address what the actual relationship is between science and specific theologies, and therefore, cannot explain one of the most significant pieces of evidence in the relationship – trend-lines.

 

3.3.5 SOMA

While the scholarship appears to diverge into the full range of possibilities, when recognizing accurate points and restricted applicability in each proffered path, a clear direction emerges to a singular reality of the interaction.

 

The flowchart began by assuming for the moment that science and a specific theology (or any two sources of knowledge) are valid. Next, it was shown that science and theology do interact, therefore NOMA is a false model. Because we do not have complete knowledge, neither field allows proof, and external-influential factors are involved, the two sources will not necessarily be in complete agreement where they intersect, and in fact will likely show concord and conflict in different contexts. COMA doesn’t apply. While the history may be complex, if both fields are valid, then the history of interactions conform to a trend over time – toward mutual support and agreement in a symbiotic relationship – which would be the reality of the relationship and is entirely described by the SOMA model. The complex/contextual models are not capable of explaining either the trend, or the actual relationship between the two sources of knowledge. SOMA incorporates or explains the accurate aspects of each alternative model, and extends the explanatory scope and power to be applicable to the full and actual relationship between science and specific theologies.

 

This model is a predictive one, which means the reader does not have to rely on what this paper has gone-on about to this point, and can simply allow discoveries over time to either support or invalidate the SOMA model.

 

SOMA predicts:

  1. Non-interaction models falsified further
  2. Less than “Proof” is the upper limit for Christian theology
  3. Likely a history of complex/contextualized examples
  4. Each field will do things for the other, each cannot do for itself – mutual support
  5. Trend over time toward concord & mutual support
  6. Will see the same in relationships with other fields of knowledge
  7. Opposite trend for mutually exclusive theologies
Predictions 1, 2, and 3

Predictions one through three have been discussed, but the remaining predictions could be detailed further. As far as prediction three, the relationship, being complex, could swing to seemingly total conflict, or total concord, but it seems unlikely. Most likely would be that emotional, social, and cultural influences will push for both discord and concord in different people, at different times, leading the relationship to appear to have conflict and concord regardless of what whether there is true contradiction or agreement.

Prediction 4

Prediction four entails the symbiotic nature of the relationship, which means that even if both fields are valid, being in a complex relationship will bring conflict, thereby creating an environment where each field of study is in a position to do things for the other field that each cannot do for itself (such as one field validating data in the other, correcting bad interpretations of data or extrapolations of the other, etc.). William Lane Craig provided a good summary, along with examples, in his online article: What is the Relation between Science and Christianity.[5] Some of the examples will be presented below as they differ from previous ones used in this paper.

[1] 1 Thessalonians 5:21.

[2] Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 154-6.

[3] Alvin, Platinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (2011).

[4] Thomas Dixon, Geoffrey Cantor, and Stephen Pumphrey, Science and Religion: New Historical Perspectives, Cambridge University Press (2010), 41.

[5] William Lane Craig, “What is the Relation between Science and Christianity”, Reasonable Faith, <http://www.reasonablefaith.org/what-is-the-relation-between-science-and-religion> (2014).

The following is a handful of examples of mutual support that will occur between two valid sources of knowledge, specifically science and theology in this case:

4a. Religion[1] furnishes the conceptual framework in which science can flourish.

4b. Science can both falsify and verify claims of religion.

4c. Multiple layers of checks add reliability to a field, and extends the overall circle of knowledge.

4d. Religion can help to adjudicate between scientific theories.

4e. Science can establish a premise in an argument for a conclusion having religious significance.

 

The clownfish and the sea anemone provide a biological example of symbiosis. The clownfish swims within the sea anemone without being stung, which provides protection from predators, which do get stung, and simultaneously create water circulation beneficial to the anemone. The clownfish also cleans away fish and algae remains within the anemone, which again is mutually beneficial. Similarly theology tends to accumulate bad interpretations of data or extrapolation leftovers over time (as is also true of science), and the other field, can expose and even help clear away some of this worthless accumulation. A valid theology, like the clownfish, can interact within the science circle without getting actually “stung”, while contradictory theologies can be damaged or even ended, when interacting within the science circle. Each field can also provide food (for thought) that stimulates or compliments the other field, and promotes the circulation of ideas.

 

4a. Religion furnishes the conceptual framework in which science can flourish.

Craig supplies:

Science is not something that is natural to mankind. As science writer Loren Eiseley has emphasized, science is “an invented cultural institution” which requires a “unique soil” in order to flourish.[2] Although glimmerings of science appeared among the ancient Greeks and Chinese, modern science is the child of European civilization. Why is this so? It is due to the unique contribution of the Christian faith to Western culture. As Eiseley states, “it is the Christian world which finally gave birth in a clear, articulate fashion to the experimental method of science itself.”[3] In contrast to pantheistic or animistic religions, Christianity does not view the world as divine or as indwelt by spirits, but rather as the natural product of a transcendent Creator who designed and brought it into being. Thus, the world is a rational place which is open to exploration and discovery.

 

Furthermore, the whole scientific enterprise is based on certain assumptions which cannot be proved scientifically, but which are guaranteed by the Christian world view; for example: the laws of logic, the orderly nature of the external world, the reliability of our cognitive faculties in knowing the world, and the objectivity of the moral values used in science. I want to emphasize that science could not even exist without these assumptions, and yet these assumptions cannot be proved scientifically. They are philosophical assumptions which, interestingly, are part and parcel of a Christian world view.

 

4b. Science can both falsify and verify claims of religion. This is important because people often are more drawn to what they want to believe, whether or not it is founded on truth. Combined with that psychological influence, humanity has vast imagination, therefore, science is very useful as it can impose limits of reality onto the overgrowth of imagination beyond what is based on truth.

 

An example of science verifying a theological claim(s) was already given in the NOMA section, involving the beginning of the universe, and physicists John Barrow and Frank Tipler explained this verification of the biblical claim of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing): “At this singularity, space and time came into existence; literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated at such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo (out of nothing).”[4]

 

Here is a bold prediction: it is possible, but not necessarily the case, that science can even support the claim that there is a divine authority as the source a specific theology draws upon. Again, “proof” will not be reached, but when combining what science, history and a specific theology offers on a subject(s), it is possible that the most reasonable explanation will be that there is a divine authority, or at least an intelligent agent beyond humanity involved. Whether this is the case is another opportunity for further study, yet we have already covered something significant with the predictions the biblical model made concerning specifics about the beginning and cause of the universe. If one does not believe the biblical knowledge is beyond humanity’s ability to produce, then that person should be able to provide other comparable examples throughout all of human history, of anything ever produced by man, covering a handful (and there are more that can be added) of clear, specific predictions, made thousands of years in advance of modern science, in clear contradiction with all contemporary and current competitor theories, and then only be proven accurate by modern science discoveries over three-thousand years later. If there is not another example that reaches such a level, then this is at least absolutely unique, and worthy of further study.

 

4c. Multiple layers of checks add reliability to a field, and extends the overall circle of knowledge. Providing independent checks from other sources of knowledge is obviously useful in building the reliability of something, which one source brings into its circle of knowledge.

 

Furthermore, our overall circle of knowledge, which is a combination of all fields of study, is expanded by each valid field. As noted previously, if one wants to learn quantum mechanics, theology is not the place to look. What may be less obvious to some is how theology expands the view of what someone in the science circle is restricted from viewing. Craig provides a common reflection from physicist David Park, “As to why there is spacetime, that appears to be a perfectly good scientific question, but nobody knows how to answer it.”[5] Why is there something rather than nothing? Such a question arises naturally at the edge of the scientific circle, yet answers lie beyond.

 

That is frustrating to Park as a watchman, the science cam just doesn’t provide a good view in that area of reality, yet the same theology cam that views the beginning cooperatively with science, also extends into that area science cannot. Theists typically accept a God that is a necessary being, the uncaused, first cause, whose non-existence is not possible, and who created the contingent space, time, matter and energy of our universe. Science and philosophy have anticipated such an uncaused cause, but science had just assumed it was the universe itself. Now that the universe has been shown to have a beginning, and therefore is contingent or dependent upon something else, the theist has the explanatory resources to provide Park and other watchmen a potential view of the ultimate explanation.

 

A valid theology can also provide the same benefit to other valid areas of study. For example, philosophy can provide that there is no objective morality without a transcendent authority, and theology can provide support for the reality of that authoritative grounding. Political views set down in the Declaration of Independence hold that: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights . . .” Theology provides the grounding or basis for this political stance, because if there is no Creator, then there are no inherent, unalienable rights, as without a transcendent authority, “rights” just become subjective opinions of people, and the King of England had a different opinion at that time.

 

4d. Religion can help to adjudicate between scientific theories. Craig writes of this benefit, and while I think it is true, such adjudication certainly wouldn’t carry much weight until the specific theology establishes itself as a valid and productive source. For example, when most accepted that the universe had always existed, and someone brought the idea of a beginning to Sir Frederick Hoyle, it is not entirely surprising he ridiculed it as “scientific Genesis.” Unless Hoyle did studies of biblical theology, he wouldn’t be aware of other areas where biblical statements regarding the natural world demonstrate accuracy. However, after the scientific findings regarding the beginning, properties of the cause, and fine-tuning of the universe have been made public, the biblical model has warrant, and therefore weight in possibly adjudicating between other theories in science.

 

Craig provides a specific example in two possible ways scientists can interpret the mathematics in the Special Theory of Relativity. Craig notes: “The Einsteinian and the Lorentzian interpretations are empirically equivalent; there is no experiment you could perform to decide between them.[6] But I want to argue that if God exists, then Lorentz was right.”[7] And then Craig provides the argument from theology and applies it to the science discussion to augment one theory over another.

[1] Craig chose to use “religion” as opposed to my choice of “theology”, which in this case is warranted as “religion” may be defined as the organization and activity people place around a theology, and as such, is involved in the mutually supportive examples.

[2] Loren Eiseley, “Francis Bacon,” in The Horizon Book of Makers of Modern Thought (New York: American Heritage Publishing, 1972), 95-96, as cited in Craig.

[3] Loren Eiseley, Darwin’s Century (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1958), p. 62. I am indebted for the Eiseley references to Nancy Pearcy and Charles Thaxton, The Soul of Science (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1994), as cited in Craig.

[4] John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), 442, as cited in Craig.

[5] David Park, The Image of Eternity (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980), 84, as cited in Craig.

[6] Craig added: “Actually, this statement bears qualification; for as a result of the Aspect experiments verifying the predictions of quantum mechanics with respect to Bell’s Theorem, we now have substantial empirical grounds for affirming relations of absolute simultaneity between distant events, thus vindicating the Lorentzian interpretation.

[7] William Lane Craig, “What is the Relation between Science and Christianity”, Reasonable Faith, <http://www.reasonablefaith.org/what-is-the-relation-between-science-and-religion> (2014).

 

4e. Science can establish a premise in an argument for a conclusion having theological significance. There are many examples of this, and two common ones are provided here. A version of the Cosmological argument goes as follows:

Premise 1. Everything that begins to exist has a transcendent cause.

Premise 2. The universe began to exist.

Conclusion. Therefore, the universe has a transcendent cause.

Premise two is supported by modern science discoveries of the beginning of the universe.

 

The Fine-Tuning argument:

Premise 1. The fine-tuning of the universe is the result of necessity, chance, or design.

Premise 2. It is not the result of necessity or chance.

Conclusion. Therefore, it is the result of design.

Premise two has received tremendous evidential support from science, and mathematics.

Prediction 5

While it may be difficult to establish the amount of time needed to ensure a reliable trend-line, it seems we have had enough discoveries in multiple fields of study to establish a positively rising trend-line of evidence for Christian theology with multiple valid fields of study. These trend-lines can be difficult to quantify, and therefore, may have higher uncertainty bars due to the qualitative aspects, but the trend remains clear. Especially clear is the trend in the fine-tuning evidence, due to it being quantitative enough that a graph can be produced rather easily.

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You can track in the scientific literature this trend of increasing established examples of fine-tuned features. While chemist Lawrence Joseph Henderson, in the 1913 book The Fitness of the Environment, was one of the earlier researchers noting the fine-tuning, the tracking of these examples really began in the late 1980s, and the examples have grown from that point. Numerous scientists and works were involved, some samples include Barrow and Tipler’s The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, Gribbon and Rees’ Cosmic Coincidences, and Paul Davies Cosmic Jackpot: Why Our Universe is Just Right for Life. A listing of examples is provided by one who stands in both the science and theology circles often; Hugh Ross is an astronomer, who through his study of astronomy and theology is now also a pastor, and provides the list at the link in the footnote.[1] Attempts to refute examples has consistently led to finding an even stronger example of fine-tuning, or has led to refining the probabilities involved. If not for an overload of physics projects at work (or simple laziness), this graph could be updated further, as physicist Luke Barnes, not a theist as far as I am aware, noted that the number of fine-tuning examples in the universe was around 200 in 2011.[2] And, on average, following the scientific literature will provide a new example every month or so.

[1] Hugh Ross, Reasons to Believe, RTB Design Compendium (2009), http://www.reasons.org/links/hugh/research-notes

[2] Luke A. Barnes, The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life, Cornell University Library, 2011.

 

Each of these findings adds to the verification of premise two in the fine-tuning argument, which has implications in theology. Similar graphs can be produced in other fields, and is an opportunity of further study.

Prediction 6

If a specific theology provides a valid viewpoint of reality, then interactions with other valid fields through time will produce similar trends. In the interaction between history, archeology and the biblical account, the vast majority of apparent conflict has been resolved into phenomenal agreement between the three fields of study, to the point that it would be difficult to find other sources more valuable than the Bible in directing researchers to new discoveries. Examples were noted in the NOMA section of the paper where set theory was discussed.

Prediction 7

And of course, opposite trends will exist for invalid theologies, or where theologies are mutually exclusive with a valid one. The information is available in other sources, but needs to be organized and updated. Some examples include: 1) nature theologies, which ascribe divinity to things that are a part of nature, such as the storm and fertility deity, Baal, have been progressively discredited as we learn more about nature; 2) pantheist religions, which posit that all of nature is united as divinity, runs counter to modern science discoveries of the universe having a beginning, meaning nature is contingent, or depends on another cause for its existence; 3) the Book of Mormon has numerous claimed revelations concerning the Americas that are historically testable, and these have been roundly falsified; 4) even atheist worldview core beliefs, such as naturalism or materialism, have serious conflicts as knowledge increases within the circle of science and demonstrates that all of nature had a beginning and therefore a cause beyond nature. Platinga further details conflicts between science and naturalism in his book, Where the Conflict Really Lies. This is yet another opportunity for further study, which the SOMA model instigates.

 

Arguments for the different models are useful, to a point, but at some point the models have to “put up, or shut up”, as the verification of predictions will continually flow and deepen the pile of evidence surrounding the accurate model.

Bottom-line

If either science or a specific theology were false sources of knowledge about reality, then the concordance and mutual support between the fields would be the exception, and overall a trend would develop through time and increased knowledge, which would conform to the pure conflict model relationship. And this is what we do see between science and most theologies. On the other hand, if both sources of knowledge are valid, then the trend would conform over time towards concordance and mutual support. The points in the SOMA model apply to the relationship between any two or more valid sources of knowledge, which reside in the same context as science and theology, and the specific conflicts, supports, trends and relationships espoused in this paper between science and Christianity or other theologies, and the predictions of the SOMA model itself can be dynamically tested by following the evidence as it grows in the involved fields of study.

 

This new model and paper focused upon the relationship between science and Christian theology, which should not be surprising when considering most scholarship in this area, and therefore available data also involves Christian theology. However, this does instigate much further study, as any good model should. Other theologies and worldview beliefs (i.e., atheism, Hinduism, agnosticism, Islam, etc.) should be equally considered and analyzed as was done in this paper. Other questions arise: how much can the trends be displayed and quantified between specific theologies and other fields of study? Over what time frame is enough to demonstrate a significant and reliable trend? How are the predictions of the SOMA model faring? The positives of integrating fields of study were discussed, what about the negatives? When and how would the reality of the SOMA model apply to one’s decision-making process?

 

As watchman of our house of the universe, we can choose to turn off or ignore a camera, if not liking or trusting what it shows. This is beneficial if the view is invalid as it is only noise, but if that camera is valid, providing an accurate view, then we will have purposefully created a blind spot. And if that blind spot is in the area where worldview beliefs are determined, then so many of our thoughts, responses, goals, priorities and directions in life will be impacted. The significance of the topic of this paper, unfortunately, may be experienced by many who created a blind spot, and from that un-illuminated area of the house allowed disastrous consequences to gain entrance.

 

References

 

Baker, Joseph. “Public perceptions of incompatability between science and religion,” Public Understanding of Science, 21 (3), 2012: 340-353.

 

Barbour, IanWhen Science Meets Religion. San Francisco: Harper, 2000.

 

Barbour, IanReligion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues. San Francisco: Harper, 1997.

 

Barrow, John and Frank Tipler. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.

 

Brooke, John H. Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives. Cambridge University Press, 1991.

 

Craig, William Lane. “What is the Relation between Science and Christianity”, Reasonable Faith, (Retrieved 3/2/2015).

 

Dalai Lama. “The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality.” Broadway, 2005.

 

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

 

Dixon, Thomas, Geoffrey Cantor, and Stephen Pumphrey. Science and Religion: New Historical Perspectives, Cambridge University Press, 2010.

 

Ecklund, Elaine Howard. Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010.

 

Ecklund, Elaine Howard, and Jerry Z. Park. “Conflict Between Religion and Science Among Academic Scientists?”. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 48 (2), 2009.

 

Ferngren, Gary, ed. Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

 

Gould, Stephen J. “Dorothy, It’s Really Oz”, Time 154, 1999.

Harrison, PeterThe Cambridge Companion to Science and Religion. Cambridge, 2010.

 

Hoyle, Fred. The Nature of the Universe, second edition. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1952.

 

Jastrow, Robert. God and the Astronomers. W. W. Norton & Co. Inc., 1992.

Larson, Edward J., and Larry Witham. “Scientists are still keeping the faith”Nature Vol. 386, 1997: 435 – 436.

 

Larson, Edward J., and Larry Witham. “Leading scientists still reject God”. Nature, Vol. 394, No. 6691, 1998.

 

McDowell, Josh. New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999.

 

National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine. Science, Evolution, and Creationism. National Academies Press, Washington, 2008.

 

Norris, Pippa, and Ronald Inglehart. Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide, second ed. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

 

Numbers, Ronald, ed. Galileo Goes To Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion. Harvard University Press, 2009.

 

Platinga, Alvin. Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. Oxford University Press, 2011.

 

The Pew Forum. “Science in America: Religious Belief and Public Attitudes”. 18 December 2007.

 

Polkinghorne, John. Science and Theology. SPCK/Fortress Press, 1998.

 

Polkinghorne, John, and Philip Clayton, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science. Oxford University Press, 2006.

 

Principe, Lawrence M. Science and Religion. The Teaching Company, 2006.

 

Richardson, Mark, and Wesley Wildman, ed. Religion & Science: History, Method, Dialogue. Routledge, 1996.

 

Ross, Hugn. RTB Design Compendium. Reasons to Believe (Retrieved 3/2/2015).

 

Russel, C.A., and Gary B. Ferngren, ed. Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

 

Stace, W. T. Time and Eternity: an Essay in the Philosophy of Religion. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1952.

 

Stenger, Victor J. God and the folly of faith: the incompatibility of science and religion. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2012.

 

Stump, J.B., and Alan G. Padgett, eds. The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

 

Tipler, Frank J. The Physics Of Christianity. New York, Doubleday, 2007.

 

Tyson, Neil deGrasse. Natural History Magazine, October 1999.

 

Vilenkin, Alexander. Many Worlds in One. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006.

 

 

Cameras of the Watchman: The Reality of the Relationship between Science and Theology (part 2/3)

Scott Symington

3.3 Third Intersection: 4 Types of Interaction

Any two valid forms of knowledge (as defined previously), for example, physics and mathematics, science and philosophy, history and archeology, theology and science, theology and history, either can or do not interact. If two valid sources do interact, then there is a continuum of agreement upon which this interaction would lie, and four distinct types of interaction on this continuum, all of which, except one, have been addressed in the literature.[1]

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 10.06.31 PM

[1] The kinds of interactions were categorized, according to theologian and physicist John Polkinghorne as: (1) conflict between the disciplines, (2) independence of the disciplines, (3) dialogue between the disciplines where they overlap and (4) integration of both into one field. John PolkinghorneScience and Theology (SPCK/Fortress Press, 1998), 20-22. Theologians Ian Barbour and John Haught provide similar categorizations. More can be found by theologian and biochemist Arthur Peacocke, with reference links provided by Wikipedia.

3.3.1 COMA

If the two sources of knowledge are valid, do interact, and if there was complete knowledge, meaning all the possible data was in and was accurate, if we had a sort of God’s-eye-view, then wherever the two sources viewed the same subject (intersected), there would be complete concord. William Dembski gave a lecture regarding information content in biological molecules, and during the interesting talk, NOMA was brought up. Dembski supplied his idea: if a theology is accurate to reality, then all knowledge in science and theology will agree in a Completely Overlapping Magisteria model (COMA). Great acronym. Some have used the “all knowledge is God’s knowledge” phrase. While I agree to some extent, I noted in the Q and A that his model is from God’s perspective, while the relationship in question involves science and theology as tools or viewpoints from humanity’s application and perspective. And currently, we do not have complete knowledge, therefore we have not, reached COMA.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 10.07.59 PM

In addition, there are areas in the knowledge encircled by science that are outside of the area encircled by theology, and vice-versa. The Bible does not provide: “And on the sixth day God synthesized deoxyribose nucleic acid, but the polymerization of complex proteins, enzymatically catalyzed by . . .” If I want to learn about electric and magnetic dynamics, I will not be looking in the Bible (or anywhere in the theology circle), but instead will look within the science circle, and perhaps the intersection with the mathematics circle, where Maxwell’s work is located. Similarly, I don’t count on science to explain why there is something rather than nothing, or about the ontology of objective morality. If I want to stand upon truth regarding how to have a relationship with God, and assurance of the best outcome for me and loved ones, especially eternally, then I will look in theology (and also into science, philosophy, history, etc., to determine which worldviews stand on rock, and which on sand).

Polkinghorne adds that while there will be a consonance between the answers science and a specific theology give if both accurately provide answers to a fundamental unity of reality, still, “neither science nor theology should make the mistake of supposing that it can answer the other’s proper questions.”[1]

 

After presenting the SOMA model to get his opinion, Dembski, acting out what I had expected after a couple of previous conversations and interaction with some of his work, showed humility and quick, focused thought, by avoiding a defensive stance for his idea (with the better acronym), and instead agreed the SOMA model is right, and then provided two excellent supports, which I still have to buy the mp3 of the conference in order to retrieve and add his examples to this paper.

Bottom-line

COMA is accurate if you are talking about a God’s eye view of science and theology, and only in the areas of intersection. Therefore, the applicability of this model, like NOMA, has a limited scope.

[1] John Polkinghorne and Philip Clayton (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science (Oxford University Press, 2006), 57.

 

3.3.2 Proof

Science does not accept things as “proven”. And as far as the Christian God, and therefore the biblical model, proof is also not the goal. God does not seek propositional knowledge, or just believing that he exists, but instead purposes for a relationship of love and trust. Gaining redemption and a saving relationship with God is by grace, a gift we would be incapable of earning, so it is not part of the biblical model that we can plug in our wisdom, and by our intelligence solve an equation and prove that God exists. If that were how we gain eternal relationship with God, then heaven would look a cast shot in Leonard’s and Sheldon’s room in The Big Bang Theory.

There can be enough evidence to convince, but not compel belief. Therefore, just less than “proof” would be an upper limit on the continuum of this relationship between two fields that disallow proof.

3.3.3 Conflict

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At the opposite end of the continuum of agreement, are the conflict models. Cornell University’s Andrew Dickson White published a book entitled, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. The metaphor of “warfare” to describe the relations between science and the Christian faith became very common at the end of the 19th and first half of the 20th century in Western culture, even with Christians. John William Draper followed along with White in arguing continuous conflict through history, methodologically, factually and politically. Conflict examples included claims that the biblical worldview hindered the progress of science, churches relying on prayer instead of using lightening rods, and the Galileo affair. Contemporary scientists and speakers such as Richard DawkinsSteven WeinbergCarl Sagan, Jerry Coyne, Daniel Dennett, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Shermer, as well as many theist “creationists” also promote the idea. The conflict thesis remains popular in the public perception, and is fostered in popular media, such as seen, for example, in outspoken atheist, and creator of Family Guy, Seth MacFarlane’s work.

 

However, most contemporary historians of science reject the conflict thesis.[[1]][[2]][[3]][[4]] Much of the scholarship that served as a basis for the conflict thesis has been discredited as inaccurate or misrepresented. For example, modern historians of science such as J.L. Heilbron, Alistair Cameron CrombieDavid LindbergEdward Grant, Thomas Goldstein, Ted Davis, Charles Thaxton and Nancy Pearcey posit that not only is the idea of Christian theology stunting science an inaccurate understanding, but Christianity actually has a sustained history of preserving and fostering education and science.

 

The Johns Hopkins University Drew Professor of the Humanities, Lawrence M. Principe, states that even current-day conflict is limited to religious and science extremists, over only very few topics, and that the flow of ideas between scientific and theological thought has been more the norm.[5]

 

Gary Ferngren, a Historian of Science, adds: “If Galileo and the Scopes trial come to mind as examples of conflict, they were the exceptions rather than the rule.”[6] And then, of course, are all the examples of concordance, dialogue, and mutual support between science and theology.

 

While a better understanding of the history of science has moved scholars away from the conflict model of the relationship, nevertheless, some forms of conflict do exist. Because there are mutually exclusive theologies, which mean that only one at most can be accurate to reality wherever theologies contradict, one should expect conflict between science (or other valid methods of study, such as history) and most theologies (at least those that are testable). This is precisely what we do see, which will be left to the reader to look into further as the subject and evidence are voluminous and will not be covered here.

 

What about Christian theology, which has been the focus of most of the scholarship concerning science and theology interaction, and the focus of this paper? Conflict situations have in the past, do currently, and will in the future occur. While the conflicts may be the exception, and there are established examples of mutual support, as noted previously, the specific conflicts have to be taken into account in an interaction model that has sufficient explanatory scope.

Bottom-line

While the conflict model has been discredited, there are examples of conflict, therefore, conflict exists, but is applicable only to a limited extent.

 

Even if two sources of knowledge are valid, and show areas of agreement and mutual support, if one or both fields disallow proof, or if we are not at the point of complete and accurate knowledge, or if influential-external factors are involved, which is certainly the case when people are dealing with such serious and personal concerns as theology brings, then there will likely also be conflicts between even two valid fields.

 

This is getting complex! And brings us to the last potential model, which combined with the others funnels us toward the new model that contains the accurate points of the former ones, and expands the explanatory scope to allow for dynamic testing as new discoveries keep coming.

 

[1] C.A. Russel, and Gary B. Ferngren, ed., Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 7 “The conflict thesis, at least in its simple form, is now widely perceived as a wholly inadequate intellectual framework within which to construct a sensible and realistic historiography of Western science.”

[2] Steven Shapin, The Scientific Revolution (University of Chicago Press, 1996), 195. “In the late Victorian period it was common to write about the ‘warfare between science and religion’ and to presume that the two bodies of culture must always have been in conflict. However, it is a very long time since these attitudes have been held by historians of science.”

[3] John H. Brooke, Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (Cambridge University Press, 1991), 42. “In its traditional forms, the conflict thesis has been largely discredited.”

[4] Gary Ferngren, ed., Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), x “… while [John Hedley] Brooke‘s view [of a complexity thesis rather than an historical conflict thesis] has gained widespread acceptance among professional historians of science, the traditional view remains strong elsewhere, not least in the popular mind.”

[5] Lawrence M. Principe, Science and Religion (The Teaching Company, 2006), as noted in Wikipedia: relationship between religion and science.

[6] Gary Ferngren, ed., Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), Introduction, p. ix.

 

Cameras of the Watchman: The Reality of the Relationship between Science and Theology

Part 1/3

Scott Symington

Medical Physicist, Department of Radiation Oncology, Allegiance Health

Initial draft September 1999, current version April 2015

 

Abstract

You are fast approaching an “orange” light, within just moments you naturally use viewpoints including physics, history, observation and ethics to arrive at a conclusion to either stop, or pass through. Similarly, most choices in life are best visualized when multiple valid viewpoints, or sources of knowledge, are turned on the subject. The question then arises: what, if any, interplay occurs between differing sources of knowledge, particularly ones as influential as science and theology? While the scholarship appears to diverge into the full range of possibilities, when recognizing accurate points, yet specificity of application in each proffered path, a clear direction emerges to a singular reality of the interaction. If two sources of knowledge are valid, providing unique, useful, and accurate information, and if these sources do interact, the sources will be in concord, even if coming from different viewpoints because each valid source will view the same reality. However, if one or both fields disallow proof, or if lack of data or influential-external factors are involved with the viewers (people), then the interaction will likely display both concord and conflict in a complex contextualized history. Yet, this complex history will trend over time, as the knowledge bases grow in accuracy, conforming towards the reality of the mutually supportive relationship between two valid sources. This paper will progress though: an illustration and definitions, a flowchart displaying our progress through each intersection of possible relationships, thought-provoking examples, and an explanation of relationship between science and theology that has the successful predictive model and demonstrative trend-line.

 

Part 1. Introduction

One of the earliest memories I have involves a pretty good story. I was on a class field trip and so young that the eight of us were all holding hands with each other, during the entire time at a museum. We sat down in a circle, still holding hands, with myself at one end, the teacher in the middle, and the last student at the other end holding the hand of the museum worker, who was reading us a story.

 

Almost immediately I lost interest in the story, and noticed that there was an open electrical outlet on the wall next to me. Within moments I went through the basic scientific method:

1) Observation or problem: if I jam my fingers into that open outlet, will the shock just get me, or will it make it all the way to that museum reader?

2) Hypothesis: my past history did show that even touching the metal prongs of a night light will shock me, and I heard stories of others touching sticks to electric fences and getting shocked, and, and my mom gave a brief physics lesson noting electricity can travel through some things, so it may make it through a line of connected people. I included views from science, personal history, even ethics, but failed to place much weight on ethics.

3) Test and Data: so, I jammed my fingers into the open-ended wires in the outlet, and sure enough, the back-straightening jolt instantly went through the line of us, and terminated with the unsuspecting museum employee.

4) Analysis: my hypothesis was correct, and totally worth the effort.

 

Since childhood we naturally and efficiently integrate different sources of knowledge when facing a problem to solve, or decision to make. On your way home tonight, you may find yourself fast approaching a traffic light that is “orange”, within just moments you naturally use viewpoints including physics (you don’t actually do a napkin calculation, but consider momentum and road friction); history, you consider occurrences yourself or others have had; observation, check for any nearby police officers; and ethics, wondering if you may put others at risk of injury, to arrive at a conclusion to either stop, or pass through.

 

Similarly, many choices in life are best visualized when multiple valid viewpoints, or sources of knowledge, are turned on the subject. The question then naturally arises: what, if any, interplay occurs between differing sources of knowledge, particularly ones as influential as science and theology. While the scholarship appears to diverge into the full range of possibilities, considering this vast scholarship on the issue provides two unexpected and significant features: a) each proffered path contains accurate points, and b) each currently proffered theory is restricted to only being applicable to a specific subset of the relationship between science and theology. Taken together, these two unexpected features leads one directly to a singular reality of the interaction between science and theology.

 

This paper will progress though: an illustration and definitions, a flowchart displaying our progress through each intersection of possible relationships, thought-provoking examples, and an explanation of relationship between science and theology that has the successful predictive model and demonstrative trend-line.

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Part 2. An Illustration and Definitions

2.1 The Night Watchman of the Universe

Imagine yourself as the night watchman of the house of the universe. You are required to stay in the office of life, which gives only a marginal view of the rest of the house. But you have cameras, labeled: physics, philosophy, mathematics, theology, history, and others, which monitor different areas of the house through the respective unique points of view. While each camera sends back its own view and information, you can combine all the views at your terminal in the office, in order to have the most comprehensive possible coverage of the house.

 

Now and then you notice that some important large areas, and some difficult corners cannot be fully illuminated by a camera. Therefore, you simply turn other cameras towards the same area. Even though the cameras will view the area from different points of view, they each still view the same thing and together cooperatively illuminate difficult areas. That is a good system, and the watchman can feel secure of being aware of as much as is possible.

 

Science and theology are not friends or foes, but different fields of study, or methods to gain knowledge about reality. If both the science cam and theology cam turn to the same aspect of the universe, or reality, they together provide a wider field of vision, and not only more knowledge, but also a very productive way to verify or discredit the accuracy each of the points of view provide. Or maybe these two different camera views shouldn’t, or can’t intersect?

 

2.2 Definitions

Walking out of an Ann Arbor bookstore, I couldn’t stop reading an article by Stephen Jay Gould, “Dorothy, It’s Really Oz!” The narrow-sightedness displayed by the Harvard professor so captured my thoughts, that my focus became similarly constricted, and the myopic article was almost the last thing to pass through the mind of this myopic pedestrian.

 

Returning to the article, after almost being removed from the gene pool by inappropriate selective attention, I wrote a response article and realized something was wrong with our culture’s mechanism for naturally selecting out faulty ideas. That was over a decade ago, and while my article has evolved to incorporate new discoveries that bolster my position, SOMA, the faulty idea promoted by Gould, NOMA, may not have evolved, but certainly dominates the mental landscape where science and theology meet.

 

The late professor, author, and scientist was extremely intelligent, and Gould’s accomplishments may be longer than this article, while mine could be stated in a breath. But Gould was simply wrong, due to significant misconceptions of the concepts involved.

 

Considering the consistent miscommunication surrounding science and theology, it will be helpful to start with definitions of the key terms.

  • Science: “(A) systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.”[1]
  • Theology: An approach that builds and organizes knowledge from the study of areas relating to God, and knowledge provided by a divine authority.

 

Of course, a lot of details should be unpacked from these simple definitions, but simple is a nice place to start, and to refer back to when these terms are used. The definition of science, provided by Wikipedia above, is a good one as it entails the most important component of science – the approach or scientific method. Yes, science can be defined as the search for causes, or in many other related ways, and the conceptions of science have changed over time with no agreed upon definition even now. Still, the basis for the great success of science is its approach to that search. The science camera provides its view of an issue by starting with a problem or question to answer, then developing a hypothesis, or model, which explains in detail how we think the world may work, next the explanations and predictions of the model can be tested. This testable model approach provides data, which if analyzed appropriately, allows us to follow the evidence into knowledge about reality.

 

Now science, however you define it, cannot claim exclusive rights on this approach, as it is the same approach each of us use naturally every day, even since childhood, as displayed with my shocking example, but science makes it an enterprise.

 

Some people choose to add to the definition of science, such as science applying only to issues testable by observation and repeatable experiment. Those are very good tests. On the other hand, such restrictions would render much of human experience outside the limits of scientific inquiry, including past events like the Big Bang, and some of the greatest endeavors in science, which were or still are based on inference to the best explanation. If one chooses to make the definition of science more restrictive, that person only shrinks the circle of what science is able to view, or add knowledge within. Gould agrees with me here, and harshly notes the claim that “[The belief that an idea] must be dubious because the process has not been directly observed – smacks of absurdity and only reveals ignorance about the nature of science. Good science integrates observation with inference.”[2] The flexibility or diversity with which some define science impacts the breadth of the viewpoint, and the circle of knowledge the “science” viewpoint will circumscribe, and will impact what people will perceive in the interaction between science and theology. However, the reality of the relationship between science, however defined, and theology will only be impacted in the amount of interaction, not the specific way these two sources of knowledge will relate to each other. Bottom-line, science is a method of obtaining information about reality, and as such provides a circle of knowledge that can or cannot interact with the circle of knowledge provided by other views, including theology.

Most people seem to approach this issue as the relationship between “science and religion,” but “religion” is too convoluted as it involves how people organize around a theology, and includes more than will be covered here. “Theology” was chosen for specificity and simplicity. You could just define it as “the study of God.” The definition used here is more in-line with the definition of “science” as – bottom-line – both are approaches to learn things about reality. Some may want to add to this definition too, but the simple definitions provided above, with the focus on approaches and the knowledge encircled by these approaches, is what is meant in this paper when those terms are used.

[1] Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science.

[2] Stephen J Gould, “Dorothy, It’s Really Oz”, Time 154 (1999), Viewpoint. http://www.arn.org/docs/kansas/gouldks823.htm.

 

Part 3. A Flowchart

 

To begin, mutually exclusive theologies must be considered separately in their respective relationships with science, as the mutually exclusive relationships will obviously differ. Thomas Dixon, et al., supports this by noting that this study cannot progress in isolation from the reality of religious pluralism, and implied in Dixon’s point is the recognition of the law of non-contradiction as applied to the pluralism.[1]

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.43.38 PM

 

[1] Thomas Dixon, Geoffrey Cantor, and Stephen Pumphrey, Science and Religion: New Historical Perspectives, Cambridge University Press (2010), 41.

3.1 First Intersection: Validity

A first point of intersection, when considering how two sources of knowledge relate to each other, is determining whether both sources are valid, or if one or both sources are not valid. The term “valid” is used here to mean a source of knowledge that provides unique and accurate knowledge about reality. Both science and theology are certainly valid in this sense, which I do not except anyone to accept without evidence, but will be evident in examples provided shortly.

 

An example, however, going the other route, would be the relationship between mathematics and astrology. Astrology is not a valid source of knowledge. This source does not provide accurate knowledge about reality. If an invalid source of knowledge does happen to interact with a valid source, then the interaction will either be one of non-interaction, unimportant interaction, conflict where the two sources interact, or only insignificant or apparent concord. If not at a point of complete knowledge, then there can be apparent concord, but likely the trend over time will be increasing conflict as the quantity and quality of knowledge grows. For example, here is an intersection between mathematics and astrology from a challenge I posted to a claim supporting astrology:

Test it. Each week, have someone cut out all the horoscopes from the week before, but remove the labels “Capricorn”, “Gemini”, or whatever, and pick the one that precisely described your week. Did you pick your sign? Do this over a year and see how many you got right. Just picking the horoscopes out of a hat will result in ~10% of the time getting your sign, so how much more than 10% did you get? How accurate is your horoscope really? The more you do this test, the more your results are likely to conform to just randomly picking your horoscope blindly out of a hat. I am sure it is not “OMG so accurate!” as claimed in the article.

 

There is a bottom-line: if a source of knowledge, or the camera and circle of knowledge it provides, as illustrated with the watchman example, is not a valid source for knowledge about reality – turn that camera off. Such a camera only provides noise, and only interferes and is detrimental to the likelihood of making decisions that are best for you.

 

If, on the other hand, both sources of knowledge, or cameras, do provide valid views of reality, then we come to a second point of intersection: either these two sources do or do not interact.

 

3.2 Second Intersection: Interaction

With an understanding of the terms “science” and “theology” as they are used in this paper, we now proceed to how these terms interact. Some like to think that science and theology can’t play nice together, or further, cannot play together at all. Conversely, I believe there will be a day, when little science and theology ideas and models will join hands as symbiotic [1] siblings, and will be judged not by their point of view, but by the validity and productive output of their content. No offense in mutating Dr. King’s famous lines, actually, he would likely agree with the above thesis. And, in fact, science and theology have already been engaging in a mutually beneficial and supportive relationship, which, after explaining the NOMA and SOMA models, will be demonstrated with one of science’s greatest areas of discovery.

 

3.2.1 NOMA

An eminent paleontologist, the late Stephen Jay Gould, provided a good description of a very common thought regarding science and theology, in his article presented in Time. Gould was responding to the Kansas Board of Education’s consideration of removing the Big Bang theory and evolution from the state’s science curriculum. Gould correctly stated that such a move would limit the students’ view of reality to what the Board decides. This was a clear demonstration of religious people shutting off their science cam, and trying to force others to a similarly restricted view of the universe. Weak thinking.

 

Gould then spends the rest of his article supporting his declaration that “these two great tools of human understanding (science and religion) operate in complimentary (not contrary) fashion.”[2] The professor is close to hitting upon a rock-solid point, but then displays the fault-line in his reasoning by adding that science and religion work together “in their totally separate realms (my emphasis): science as an inquiry about the factual state (again, italics mine) of the natural world, religion as a search for spiritual meaning, and ethical values.”[3] In other words, in the science circle are contained all facts and truth about reality, while in the religion circle are “spiritual meaning and ethical values”. Sounds weak.

 

Yet, W.T. Stace, a philosopher of religion also thinks the two fields are independent, each consistent and complete in its own domain.[4] The U.S. National Academy of Science supports the independence view also with its statement:

Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to put science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.[5]

 

The statement above not only depends on the logical fallacy of a strawman argument, but also glosses over the interaction by claiming religious faith “typically” involves supernatural entities, and this is not always the case as certainly theology makes claims about the natural world where science would interact.

 

Aside from the errors involved in the statement given above, there is something even more fundamentally faulty: does reality neatly separate itself, like high school subjects during my tenure as a student? So if we want facts about reality, then we must look in the science circle, while whatever Gould meant by “spiritual meaning” separates itself out, and lands only in the theology field of view?

 

Believers in NOMA, including other scientists and some contemporary theologians, for example, Wittgenstein and Randall and possibly Sam Harris, believe these two fields of study address fundamentally separate forms of knowledge and aspects of life, and are too diverse to intersect, or accept some form of the non-intersecting models, and (excluding some like Dawkins and possibly Bill Nye “The Science Guy”) typically have no problem with those who want to use their theology camera, but expect those who do to keep that camera turned away from the area encompassed by science. Never the twain shall meet. This view, labeled “Non-Overlapping Magisterial” (NOMA) is illustrated below.

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[1]  I heard this term used by John Clayton of the Does God Exist? organization in the 1990’s in relation to the relationship.

[2] Gould, “Dorothy, It’s Really Oz.”

[3] Gould, “Dorothy, It’s Really Oz.”

[4] W. T. Stace, Time and Eternity: an Essay in the Philosophy of Religion (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1952).

[5] National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, Science, Evolution, and Creationism, National Academies Press, Washington (2008), 12.

In the years since Gould’s article, his NOMA belief has become the dominant popular understanding (or possibly the conflict model). Nevertheless, the popular belief is not always the one founded on reality. NOMA is valid, if and only if the following conditions are met:

NOMA is accurate, if and only if:

  • No area of life (or reality) can be addressed by both science and theology.
  • Theology cannot provide a testable, falsifiable scientific model.
  • Theology cannot add accurate knowledge to the “factual state of the natural world,” or to any area contained in the circle encompassed by science, and vice-versa with science into the theology circle.
  • Neither field can provide support, or denial, or interact with any knowledge encompassed by the other circle of knowledge.

NOMA artificially creates separate and unequal “magisteria,” or circles of knowledge. Both the religious people Gould chided in his article, and interestingly enough, Gould himself, based their positions on the misconception of “faith” as they conflate “faith” with a specific subset of faith, often referred to as “blind faith” or belief without supportive reasons, and incorrectly assumed knowledge about reality in the theology circle does not involve reasons, facts, supportive evidence, claims about the natural world, or testable models. So both sides in that Board of Education debate wanted to keep the two fields of study from mixing. I never knew Gould, and cannot claim he turned off his theology camera in his personal life, but he certainly disregarded it when trying to gain a picture of the “factual state of nature,” and thought it impossible for both cameras to point to the same area of reality and each provide the same, accurate, factual information.

 

And as far as scientism, the belief that all that can be known about our universe will be gained through science, not much space will be spent on this belief here, other writings have shredded this idea, maybe a century ago now. Briefly, you have to step outside the science circle to believe in scientism. One cannot prove through science that scientism is true – that is a philosophical claim. Proponents would have to know enough about reality to claim all that can be known will be made known through science. That is a bold claim without the evidence to rationally believe it. Even before beginning to utilize science, one must start with philosophical assumptions of realism, laws of logic, etc., and if you have to rely on philosophy to even do science, then science is not the all-in-all. Scientism is an invalid belief.

 

The night watchman described earlier is a person, and when people are involved, even the best system can fail. A watchman may decide to shut-off, or not pay attention to a camera, but disregarding a camera is only warranted if it fails to provide a unique point of view unattainable by the other cameras, and accurate information. Otherwise that careless watchman self-inhibits the view, creating a blind spot.

 

People, acting as a watchman, may try to justify turning off the history cam because they don’t like to focus on the past, or the mathematics cam, claiming the wiring is bad. I have spoken to historians and mathematicians, and while they may be past-centered and wired differently, respectively, the view each provides is necessary to have a comprehensive understanding of reality. Stephen Hawking, and other physicists, have openly declared their belief that the philosophy cam provides no new information not already provided by science. However, had their philosophy cam been turned on, then those physicists would have watched themselves step outside the circle of science and step right into the circle of philosophy; because their claim is a philosophical one – a bad one – and the philosophy camera would have shed light on that bad philosophy. Reality doesn’t disjoint itself to always fall neatly into one discipline or the other, but instead is best determined when all possible cameras provide their views of the area (or subject in reality), allowing for diverse study and multiplied validation.

3.2.2 SOMA

The model I proposed in 1999, in response to Gould’s article, is called Symbiotic Overlapping Magisteria (SOMA), where different approaches to the study of reality, whether science, theology, philosophy, mathematics, history, and other fields, all have areas of life they may exclusively contain, but also have many areas of knowledge that can be simultaneously viewed by multiple fields, providing mutually beneficial and supportive interaction, which biologists would call a symbiotic relationship. This idea, as opposed to NOMA, is valid if and only if the following conditions are met:

SOMA is accurate, if and only if:

  • There is an area(s) of life that can be addressed by both science and theology.
  • Theology adds accurate knowledge to the “factual state of the natural world,” or to any area contained in the circle encompassed by science, and vice-versa with science into the theology circle.
  • In that intersection of the circles, inaccurate interpretations or understandings in the science or theology views can be called into question by the other, and areas of knowledge can also be confirmed by the two independent approaches.
  • Theology can provide a testable, falsifiable, scientific model.

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Only one example is needed to invalidate NOMA, and meet the criteria of SOMA, and that knock-out-shot example is found right from the start – the beginning. The study of the beginning of the universe is saturated with Nobel Prizes, top-rate scientists, some of the greatest discoveries of modern science, and claims from every worldview belief system and theology. The science and theology cams have both been focused directly on this issue, and what has been found in the intersection of these views?

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            3.2.3 One Example: A Knock-Out Shot

We exist, unless you are a first year philosophy student, or an obsessive Matrix fan, the existence of ourselves and the universe can be taken as a given, or a properly basic belief. If we exist, then our existence leaves only two possibilities: either our universe had a beginning, or it did not have a beginning. Those are the only two options. Simple.

 

So we have the first step in the basic scientific method, problem/question: Did our universe have a beginning? This question of origins is also one of the core or “big questions” in life and worldview beliefs. Also very useful, the different worldviews and science took the second step in the scientific method by providing their respective hypotheses or models, and divide clearly between these two options. Let’s consider what each model predicted before the evidence came in.

 

Christian theology will be focused upon since much of the scholarship regarding the interaction of theology and science concerns Christian theology, yet the reader may take any other theology and do the same comparisons that follow. As far as theology, the biblical model, millennia before modern science brought its tests, not only predicted the universe had a beginning, but also provided the gold-standard that science seeks in its models – predictions that were unable to be known, unless the model is on to something unique. Such as:

 

(1) The universe, and all that is a part of the universe, had a beginning (Genesis 1:1, compound use of Hebrew words “shamayim” (heaven) with “aretz” (earth), refers to everything of the entire universe; John 1:3, everything aside from God was created, was caused, and has a beginning).

(2) Time itself had a beginning (Genesis 1:1; Hebrews 1:10; Jude 1:25).

(3) Space and time began together (Genesis 1:1; use of “bārāʾ” refers to divine creating something new out of what was not in existence before, and this happened at “the beginning”).

(4)-(5) The universe came from not anything visible, or of this universe (Gen. 1:1; Heb.

11:3; John 1:3).

(6) The universe follows fixed laws (Jeremiah 33:25-6).

(7) The cause of the universe is given very specific properties, some of which include: uncaused, and outside of, or beyond space, time, matter and all nature.

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There are more, but these will do for now. As for the other models, possibly all theology models not tied to the Bible, predicted an uncaused, eternal universe, some with variations like an eternally cycling universe. Those in the scientific community generally accepted an eternal universe, as well as atheists in general; consider the first affirmation of Humanist Manifesto I.[1] If your worldview belief’s model is not provided, then add it on one-side or the other, beginning or no beginning.

 

3rd Step: Test the Models

It is important to keep in mind the Bible is not a scientific text, meaning its stated purpose is more of a love letter from God, explaining our situation, and giving Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Therefore, care must be taken in not extrapolating beyond what the Bible is providing to make a claim in the area of science. Nonetheless, theologies, the biblical model included, make claims about the natural world, and when these are clear and specific, like the ones above, then these claims are simultaneously in both the domain of theology and of science. William Lane Craig echoes this idea: “When religions make claims about the natural world, they intersect the domain of science and are, in effect, making predictions which scientific investigation can either verify or falsify.”[2]

 

This is already not looking good for NOMA, if the theologically produced models are testable/falsifiable, NOMA is no mas, as these theologically elucidated areas are also in the realm of science. And it only gets worse for NOMA fans. Let’s look at the tests and analyses.

 

The evidence is in, and includes: some of the greatest discoveries of modern science, multiple Nobel Prize winners, Einstein’s field equations of General Relativity, Hubble’s telescope, Hawking’s space-time theorem, the microwave background radiation and ripples, and great quotes, such as Alexander Vilenkin’s noting, “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.”[3]

 

People have attempted the myriad of ways to get around the universe having a beginning in the finite past, typically I would provide a survey and the recognized refutations of those ideas, but for this discussion will leave that to the reader’s discretion. To not believe in the beginning of the universe, one would have to go against ALL the evidence. When one side of the argument has ALL the evidential support, and the other side has NONE, then even a graduate from Ohio State University can figure out what that means (I am a University of Michigan fan, whose football enjoyment has been greatly abused by that team to the south).

 

What science now knows:

(1) The universe and all that is a part of the universe had a beginning nearly 14

billion years ago.

(2)-(3) Time itself had a beginning, and is linked with the universe, physicists and

astronomers use the phrase “space-time fabric” of the universe.

(4)-(5) There was nothing, not anything of our natural universe, then a super dense, super hot, universe came into existence, and was so dense and hot that no light was able to be released until almost 400,000 years later.

6) The universe began expanding and cooling following fixed laws of nature.

7) Discoveries lead to specific properties of the cause of the universe.

Look again at the biblical model’s predictions. The phenomenal match between the biblical description and what modern science discovered has not been lost on those scientists involved.

  • Astronomer Sir Frederick Hoyle was confronted with the points mentioned above about the beginning of the universe, but he believed the universe was eternal and ridiculed the idea of a beginning as “scientific Genesis.” He called the theory the “Big Bang” in his disbelief. The name stuck. Hoyle later remarked, “there is a good deal of cosmology in the Bible.”[4]
  • Robert Jastrow, founder of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies said: “…astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world…. the essential element in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis is the same.”[5]
  • Nobel Prize winners Penzias and Wilson add respectively: “The best data we have (concerning the Big Bang) are exactly what I would have predicted had I had nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms and the Bible as a whole.”[6] And, “Certainly there was something that set it all off…. I can’t think of a better theory of the origin of the universe to match Genesis.”[7]

Mathematical physicist Frank Tipler sums up one of the conclusions: “From the perspective of the latest physical theories, Christianity is not a mere religion, but an experimentally testable science.”[8]

[1] Raymond B. Bragg, Humanist Manifesto I, American Humanist Organization,

http://americanhumanist.org/Humanism/Humanist_Manifesto_I (1933).

[2] William Lane Craig, “What is the Relation between Science and Christianity”, Reasonable Faith,

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/what-is-the-relation-between-science-and-religion (2014).

[3] Alexander Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006), 176.

[4] Fred Hoyle, The Nature of the Universe, second edition (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1952), 109.

[5] Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers (1992), 14.

[6] Arno Penzias, interview in New York Times on March 12, 1978.

[7] Robert Wilson, interview with Fred Heeren,
Show Me God: What the Message from Space Is Telling Us About God (Day Star Publications, 2000), 157.

[8] Frank J. Tipler, The Physics Of Christianity (New York, Doubleday, 2007), Preface.

4th Step: Analysis & Conclusion

It is simply false to claim theology doesn’t make factual claims about the natural world. For example, the world religions make various and conflicting claims about the origin and nature of the universe and humanity. Therefore, the idea of non-interacting fields of science and theology, and NOMA, is falsified.

 

Theologies have produced scientifically testable models. The theological approach utilizing the Bible provided accurate factual knowledge about the natural world, and did so in an area science also addresses. NOMA is double-falsified.

 

And from that point, science supported theology in that it exposes inaccurate theologies, and adjudicates between mutually exclusive ideas. Other theologies, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc., predicted an uncaused, eternal universe; the worldview of atheism predicted the same; science and common thought even into the 1950’s held to the eternal universe. Therefore, science can support, deny, or interact with subject(s) encompassed by the theology circle of knowledge. This triple-falsification invalidates NOMA, and demonstrates the symbiotic relationship of SOMA precisely.

 

Just as science provides maintenance for theology, the reverse also occurs. While not attempting to be a science textbook, theological text does account for properties in nature that can be tested. While all reasonable options need to be explored, just think if researchers gave more credence to the biblical model of the beginning, more time and effort could have been directed correctly, instead of focusing on faulty conceptions that science and other belief systems held even through Einstein’s time. Further examples are discussed in section 3.3.5.

 

We started at the beginning of the universe, and what is the next logical question? What was the cause of the universe? And again we find the same trail of evidence supporting SOMA and disproving NOMA. Because this paper is not focused on covering all the intersections, the cause of the universe and fine-tuning will not be covered here, but astronomer Robert Jastrow’s revelation is fitting: “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”[2]

[1] Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers (1992), 106-107.

[2] Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers (1992), 106-107.

3.2.4 Relationship Described by Set Theory

What has been shown above can be described in basic set theory, and the Venn diagrams we experienced in elementary school. Set theory was originally developed and utilized in mathematics, so if my application or memory of set theory runs afoul, I would appreciate corrective comments to make the explanation more accurate and robust. A set is a collection of things or elements, for example, a set A includes all even numbers 1-10, while set B contains even numbers 6-20, which would be written as: A = {2, 4, 6, 8, 10}, B = {6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20}. Sets can even contain other sets, for example, if set A and B are both elements of set R, (written as AR and BR), then: R = {A, B} = {2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20}. A union of sets means that you combine all the elements in the union, or joining of the sets, so the union of A and B would be: A È B ={2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20}. The intersection of sets means all of the elements that are in common between the sets. For example, the intersection of sets A and B would be: AB = {6, 8, 10}. This can be illustrated with a Venn diagram.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.55.26 PM 

As applied to the relationship between science and theology, let the knowledge obtainable through science be set S, the knowledge obtainable through theology be set T, and all the knowledge about reality be set R. So set S will include elements such as: S = {helical structure of DNA, Maxwell’s equations, optics, black holes, the beginning of the universe, … }. Set T will include elements such as: T = {does God exist, what is God like, has this being communicated with us, objective morality, free will, inherent value/purpose of life, claimed historical events, after-life, NDEs, claims about numerous aspects of life, the beginning of the universe, … }. There are other sets or approaches that bring knowledge about reality, including (Ph)ilosophy = {laws of logic, realism, ethics, logical fallacies, deductive reasoning, inferential reasoning, … }, (H)istory, (M)athematics, (P)sychology, etc. Set R will include knowledge gained about reality from every set, including S and T, R = {S, T, Ph, H, M, P, …}.

 

For NOMA to be true, there can be no element (e) that is factual knowledge about reality, which can be found within (T)heology. Further, there can be no e that is found in both S and T; ST = Æ, these two sets must be disjoint.

 

But there are multiple elements, e’s = such as facts about the beginning and cause of the universe, which are found in the intersection: ST = {all matter, energy and space had a beginning, time had a beginning, the cause is able to produce matter and energy from no “natural” thing ontologically prior, the universe follows fixed laws, … }. Formally, if e = the fact that the universe had a beginning, then ST = {e : eSeT }. Therefore, NOMA is false.

 

SOMA accurately describes the relationship between science and Christian theology. Notice how similar figure eight from Wikipedia is to my SOMA diagram, figure four. And, in that area of intersection, you could picture not just the Big Bang, but many other areas of knowledge to further establish this idea. For example, a psychology professor at a prominent university on the U.S. west coast, whose lectures were often overflowing with unregistered students and other professors, was once asked what was the key to a “good and happy life.” The professor responded that the most succinct and accurate prescription he had ever encountered for a healthy life was given by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 1-12). PT = {e : ePeT }. The professor did not want his identity given due to possible repercussions for his theological statement, so you can take this example or leave it. But before you leave it, read the biblical passage yourself to consider the subject.

 

Additionally, the Bible has been scoured with the finest-toothed historical combs, due to the massive number of specific historical data provided. Critics have claimed numerous errors as had been found in any comparable writing. The accepted belief in historical studies was that there was not even writing during Moses’ time, the Davidic tunnel was a myth and excavation seemed to verify the inaccuracy, the Hittite people never existed, the alleged researcher Luke must have gotten many facts wrong in his gospel account. Further study revealed: the biblical account of writing during Moses’ time was correct, the Davidic tunnel was found and is a tourist attraction today, and thousands of artifacts now bring a wealth of information about the Hittites.

 

Regarding the reliability of Luke, and the biblical account in general, archeologists have targeted the biblical source as no other, and their results have been declared by top researchers in the field. William F. Albright, who is respected as possibly the top archeologist of this century, stated “There can be no doubt that archeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition.”[1] Sir William Ramsay, considered one of the greatest archeologists to have ever lived, serves as another source. His schooling led him to believe that the scripture records were unreliable, but he had to consider biblical writings of Luke for a study of Asia Minor. His belief was completely reversed and he became a Christian through overwhelming evidence uncovered during his studies. Ramsay declared:

I began with a mind unfavourable to it (the truth of the biblical record), for the ingenuity and apparent completeness of the Tubingen theory (a theory that rejected the reliability of Luke’s writings) had at one time quite convinced me. It did not then lie in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found myself brought into contact with the Book of Acts (a book in the Bible that was written by Luke, who wrote one-quarter of the New Testament) as an authority for the topography, antiquities and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth . . . I gradually came to find it a useful ally in some obscure and difficult investigations.[2]

Then after 30 years of study, regarding Luke’s ability as a historian, Ramsay declared that “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy . . . this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.” And to reinforce the check-ability aspect, Ramsay affirms: “Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.”[3] HT = {e : eHeT }.

 

If two sources of knowledge are valid, and if both view the same subject, then the views will show the same thing. And if a specific theology has concordance in the intersection with science, or in other ways is demonstrated to be a valid source of knowledge about reality, then one would expect to see the same type of interactions with other valid sources of knowledge, such as philosophy, history, archeology, etc. Conversely, contradictory theologies to a valid one, would likely demonstrate a trend in the opposite direction in the interaction with other valid methodologies for gaining knowledge. The biblical model again was and is the focus of most scholarly writings on the interaction, but the same comparisons can be done with other theologies and is left to the reader and other researcher’s discretion.

Bottom-line

The belief that science and theology cannot interact is mistaken. However, one can show that these fields of study have very different sources of data, and contain much in their respective circles of knowledge that is independent from the other’s circle – so the NOMA view is applicable, but only in this limited way. Keep this in mind (a model concerning the relationship between science and theology being partially accurate, but only applicable to a limited scope), as it will recur in other proposed models.

 

First, it has been demonstrated that indeed there are facts or knowledge about reality that can be cooperatively illuminated by both the theology and science cameras, or approaches, and fit simultaneously in both circles of added knowledge.

 

Second, both theology and science benefit from corrective and corroborative support from each other, and other fields of view, such as history, philosophy, etc. Theology provided a number of contradictory views about the beginning and cause of the universe, as noted in the predictions step, and science helped eliminate inaccurate viewpoints and provide support for correct view(s). While benefitting from phenomenal verification regarding the beginning of the universe, Christian theology also obtained corrective support. The Aristotelian view about the earth being at the center of the universe was accepted by the culture and many in the church of Galileo’s time. While the account of Galileo’s trials has often been portrayed erroneously in many presentations I have witnessed, the church leadership, particularly a cardinal who got his ego tweaked by Galileo, did buy into the faulty idea and used a biblical passage to try to support it. Science provided knowledge about our solar system, which led to further research into the biblical passage, and exposed faulty extrapolations from it made by some in the church.

 

Third, some theologies do not provide testable/falsifiable models, and some do. The ones that do can be checked throughout the history of discovery, in every field of knowledge. Trends are important indicators. You see trends in your grades, the economy, your health, and other areas, and trends speak loudly. If a theological or scientific view is valid, as time goes on, new discoveries and confirmation between different fields of study will increase, or the opposite, if the view is not true. Although over what time frame will the accurate trend arise? Who knows, as it depends on a number of factors, but we do have a considerable history of development of knowledge and equally significant trends have emerged. Check for your self, the relationship between specific theologies and science, history, philosophy, and other fields do have demonstrative inclinations. More about the SOMA model later.

 

As scholars began rejecting the NOMA model, the recognition of the interaction, and the modern dialogue between religion and science grew in popularity with Ian Barbour‘s 1966 book Issues in Science and Religion. Since that time, the study of the relationship has grown into a serious academic field, with academic chairs in the subject area, and dedicated academic journalsZygon: Journal of Religion & Science, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, and Theology and Science. Articles are also found in mainstream science journals such as American Journal of Physics, Nature, and Science.

 

Institutions interested in the intersection between science and religion include the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science, the Ian Ramsey Centre, and the Faraday Institute. Numerous scholarly works are available, as are numerous societies for promoting this dialogue, for example, the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology, the Science and Religion Forum, the Berkeley Center for Theology and Natural Science, and so on. Very significant on-going conferences sponsored by the Berkeley Center and the Vatican Observatory, in which prominent scientists like Stephen Hawking and Paul Davies have joined with prominent theologians like John Polkinghorne and Wolfhart Pannenberg to discuss the interactions and implications. The Templeton Foundation has awarded its million dollar Templeton Award in Science and Religion to integrative thinkers like the aforementioned Paul Davies, John Polkinghorne, and George Ellis for their work in science and religion. The dialogue between science and theology is so significant that both Cambridge University and Oxford University have established chairs in science and theology. The interaction between these two sources of knowledge has been the source of consistent and substantial scholarship.

 

With the NOMA model’s exposed limited applicability, and failures, and the movement of scholarship into the interaction models, what type of interaction has been found? This is the topic of part 2 of this series, which eliminates two other popular thoughts on either extreme.

 

[1] William F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (Baltimore: Johns

Hopkins Press, 1942), 176, as cited by McDowell, New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 98.

[2] Sir William M. Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915), 222, as cited by McDowell, NE, 63.

[3] Ramsay, BRDTNT, (1915), 222.

Turek-Shermer Debate: Is Morality Better Explained by God or Science?

Last week our friends at NewYorkApologetics.com hosted a debate on morality between me and Dr. Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine. You can see the raw streaming video from the debate here (a three camera professional video is forthcoming, but I’m not sure when).

You’ll notice that while both Michael and I agree that there are objective moral values, I am more interested in explaining why objective moral values exist (ontology), whereas Michael is more interested in how we know them (epistemology).  Of course, before you can know something it has to exist (this is the difference between the “order of being” and the “order of knowing”).  So why do objective moral values exist?  What grounds them (what is their foundation)?   I’ll leave it to you to judge who made the better case. (The first 30 minutes is just pre-debate happenings; you may want to skip that to get the opening statements).

Please tune in this morning at 10:05 am ET because I’ll be interviewing Michael Shermer for the full hour on CrossExamined radio.  If you miss the interview, please download the app.  It should be posted there by Monday.

(A special thanks goes out to Nick Mitchell and Anthony Uvenio of NewYorkApologetics.com who did a superb job organizing the debate and all the ensuing events in New York.  Want to learn how they did it?  Join them and others at CIA this year.  Hope to see you there.)

You Can Still Hear the Recording of My Appearance on “Dogma Debate” Atheist Radio Show

A couple weeks ago I was invited, along with two friends, Blake and Derrick, to be on an atheist radio program called “Dogma Debate” (website here). Blake Giunta is the recent founder of a really great apologetics website called TreeSearch. The main host, David Smalley, and his co-hosts, enjoy interaction with Christian believers, and I applaud their efforts in seeking out opportunities to provide a platform to both sides of the argument to present and defend their case. Unfortunately, few shows are like this. Unbelievable, with host Justin Brierley, on Premier Christian Radio might be the closest Christian equivalent to this show. The hosts for this episode — indeed, our interlocutors — were David Smalley and Lydia Allen. We were originally invited on to discuss how Christians and atheists could better engage and interact with one another (something I have previously written about here). But, as is often the case with radio, the conversation went way off on a tangent quite quickly. The debate was rather intense at some points and went on for about three hours — then there was also the “After Show” discussion exclusive for paid subscribers, which went on for perhaps another 90 minutes.

You can listen to the debate at this link. Enjoy!

Fine-Tuning of the Force Strengths to Permit Life

“As we look out into the Universe and identify the many accidents of physics and astronomy that have worked together to our benefit, it almost seems as if the Universe must in some sense have known that we were coming.[1]” Physicist Freeman Dyson

In my previous blog, I discussed how numerous changes to the laws of physics would have resulted in a lifeless universe. I admitted that this was relatively modest evidence for my fine-tuning claim:

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

I say relatively modest because the evidence I cite in my blog about the fine-tuning of initial conditions is so powerful and the same I argue applies to the evidence I present in this blog. This blog examines how the constants governing the four fundamental forces of physics must be finely-tuned to support life. Refer to my previous blog for the qualitative aspects of these forces and how they have to be just right to permit life. I now focus on the quantitative constraints on the strengths of these forces if intelligent life is to plausibly exist anywhere the universe. First some background – physicists typically refer to coupling constants for those dimensionless constants[2] which represent the strength of each force. The strength of these forces ranges over about 40 orders of magnitude – that is to say that the strongest force is 1040 times stronger than the weakest force. Thus, it would be surprising if the strengths of these forces must lie in narrow ranges to permit life – at least if the values were set at random such as would be the case in a universe without God. Let’s look at how sensitive these parameters are with respect to permitting life:

1)      Strong nuclear force

This force is important for the existence of stable atoms beyond hydrogen. If the strong force were 50% weaker, no elements used by life would exist because protons couldn’t be held together in the nucleus. The strong nuclear force must exceed the strength of the electromagnetic force sufficiently to overcome the electromagnetic repulsion of positively charged protons. While learning chemistry would be much easier if only the first few elements existed in the periodic table, there would be no physical creatures around to learn it! If the strong force were about 50% stronger no hydrogen would be left over from nuclear fusion processes occurring in the early universe. Hydrogen plays a critical life-supporting role not only as a constituent of water but hydrogen-burning stars last 30 times longer than alternatives. This particular constraint may not make intelligent life impossible but life would certainly be much harder to originate if the available time were so limited and if neither water nor hydrocarbons existed.

Also, hydrogen-bonding is very important in biology for many reasons: information storage in DNA, antibody-antigen interaction, and for the secondary structure of proteins. Remember that parameters that seem beneficial for life but are more fine-tuned than is strictly necessary counts against a multiverse explanation of the fine-tuning because multiverse scenarios predict only what is minimally necessary for life.[3] An even tighter constraint is that if the strong force were more than about 2% stronger protons wouldn’t form from quarks – in which case no chemical elements would exist![4] If the strong force were 9% weaker, stars would be unable to synthesize any elements heavier than deuterium (which is heavy hydrogen).

2)      Electromagnetic force

This force is responsible for chemistry and plays a critical role in stellar fusion which powers life. The electromagnetic force needs to be much weaker than the strong nuclear force for atoms to be stable – so that the radius of the electron orbit is much larger than the radius of the nucleus.[5] Unless the electromagnetic coupling constant (which represents its strength) is less than about 0.2, there would be no stable atoms because electrons orbiting the nucleus would have enough kinetic energetic to create electron-positron pairs which would then annihilate each other and produce photons. Additional examples of fine-tuning for this force strength will be described later in this blog.

3)      Weak nuclear force

The weak force controls proton-proton fusion, a reaction 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 times slower than the nuclear reaction based on the strong nuclear force. Without this, “essentially all the matter in the universe would have been burned to helium before the first galaxies” were formed. Because the weak nuclear force is so much weaker than the strong nuclear force, a star can “burn its hydrogen gently for billions of years instead of blowing up like a bomb.[6]” I’ve previously described the negative ramifications for life if there were no hydrogen in the universe.

John Leslie points out several other ways in which the weak nuclear force is finely-tuned. “Had the weak force been appreciably stronger then the Big Bang’s nuclear burning would have proceeded past helium and all the way to iron. Fusion-powered stars would then be impossible.[7]”

Neutrinos interact only via the weak force and are just powerful enough to blast off outer layers of exploding stars but and just weak enough to pass through parts of the star to get there. The weak force also plays a role in fusing electrons and protons into neutrons during the core collapse of stars to keep the collapse proceeding until it becomes an exploding star (supernova). UK Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees estimated that a change in the strength of the weak nuclear force by about 1 part in at least 10,000 relative to the strength of the strong force would have prevented supernova explosions which allow heavier elements to find their way to planets.[8] Without these supernova explosions key heavy elements would be unavailable for life.

4)      Gravitational force

Many physicists think that we’ll eventually discover a Grand Unified Theory, uniting gravity with the other 3 fundamental forces. For this reason Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind remarks that “the properties of gravity, especially its strength, could easily have been different. In fact, it is an unexplained miracle that gravity is as weak as it is.[9]” This probable underlying relationship leads to a natural expectation that gravity could be as strong as the strongest force. The strength of gravity is about 40 orders of magnitude weaker than the strong nuclear force. Based on this expectation that gravity can vary up to strong nuclear force strength, the level of fine-tuning required for life is pretty remarkable:

  • If gravity is weaker by 1 in 1036, stars are unstable to degeneracy pressure (for small stars) or unstable to radiative pressure just expelling huge chunks of the star (for larger stars).
  • If gravity is stronger by 1 in 1040, the universe is dominated by black holes not stars.
  • If gravity is weaker by 1 in 1030, the largest planet that would avoid crushing effects of gravity on any large-brained creatures would have a radius of about 50 meters – which is not a good candidate for an ecosystem and the development/sustenance of intelligent life.

These are huge numbers that may be hard for most readers to visualize.  Thus, consider the following analogy to help understand the improbability of 1 part in 1036. Suppose one could make a sand pile encompassing all of Europe and Asia and up to 5 times the height of the moon.[10] Suppose one grain of sand is painted red and randomly placed somewhere within this pile. A blind-folded person then randomly selects one grain of sand from the pile. The odds that she would select that one red grain of sand are slightly better than the 1 in 1036 odds of a life-permitting strength of the gravitational force based on just one of the above criteria.

Let’s explore a few more fine-tuning cases constraining multiple constants concurrently.

Long-Lived Stars

As I’ve discussed previously, stars play at least two key roles in making the universe life-permitting:

1) As a long-lived power source that helps life overcome the effects of the Second Law of Thermodynamics that would otherwise lead to an eventual state of disarray and equilibrium.

2) For synthesizing elements not created by the Big Bang (which is basically everything past beryllium).

We take the sun for granted as a long-lived stable source of power but note the lack of any comparable long-lived power source on earth as an indication that is not always the case. A star is basically a controlled nuclear explosion held together by gravity – that it can last so long requires a delicate balance of various physical parameters. Consider that the Sun outputs less energy per kilogram of its mass than a person does – without fine-tuning, stars would die out much sooner. Obviously the sun is still able to output enormous quantities of energy because it’s so huge! Another surprising aspect of the sun is that photons generally take at least several thousand years to travel from the sun‘s core to its surface through the ionized plasma.[11] There are significant constraints on the strength of gravity and electromagnetism if there are to be long-lived stars. Luke Barnes summarizes some of the key physics research in this arena:

“There is a window of opportunity for stars – too small and they won’t be able to ignite and sustain nuclear fusion at their cores, being supported against gravity by degeneracy rather than thermal pressure; too large and radiation pressure will dominate over thermal pressure, allowing unstable pulsations.[12]”

Barnes does some calculations based on the possibility that gravity could vary in strength up to the strength of the strong nuclear force and uses a uniform prior distribution of possible values for the gravitational coupling constant and the electromagnetic coupling constant. Using this approach, he computes that “the stable-star-permitting region occupies 1038 of parameter space.” This is even less probable than my previous sand analogy!

Production of Both Carbon and Oxygen in Stars

One of the earliest examples of fine-tuning was discovered by astronomer Fred Hoyle with regard to the fine-tuning required to make both carbon and oxygen in stars. Three distinct coincidences are required to abundantly make both types of elements in stars. These restrictions impose a constraint of about 1 part in 250 on the relative strength of the strong force and the electromagnetic force in both directions. Actually a more recent study by Ekström[13] in 2010 indicated that a change of just 1 part in 10,000 in the electromagnetic coupling constant would have resulted in the inability of stars to synthesize both carbon and oxygen. Despite being an atheist Hoyle conceded:

“Some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule. A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.[14]”

Other Constraints among Force Strengths

For a more comprehensive examination of fine-tuning constraints, refer to Luke Barnes excellent review article that I’ve previously referenced. This review article is an excellent summary of a hundred or so physics articles, and in many cases references multiple articles per fine-tuning constraint. Barnes lists several additional constraints I haven’t mentioned and provides additional details. Just among constraints involving powers of these coupling constants, Barnes lists a half dozen or more cases. Usually the power involves just a squared term but it’s important to note that there are linear, quadratic and inverse relationships among the coupling constants. For example, the electromagnetic force strength is constrained in one way based on a linear constraint and in another way based on a quadratic constraint and in another way based on the inverse of the force strength relative to some other constant. It is remarkable that there is a life-permitting region that simultaneously satisfied these multifaceted constraints.

Also, since each coupling constant can be expressed in terms of more fundamental parameters such as Planck’s constant and the speed of light there are very tight constraints on those parameters as well – especially because of the constraints across different powers of the coupling constant. Thus, Planck’s constant is constrained in one way and the square of this constant is constrained based on a different life-permitting criterion – and likewise for the speed of light.

Moreover, there is a finely-tuned cosmological parameter, known as Q, which can be expressed in terms of various other parameters including coupling constants. In an equation derived by Max Tegmark and Martin Rees[15], there are the following powers on various coupling constants: -1, 16/7, 4/7. Also, there is a natural log of the electromagnetic coupling constant to the -2 power that is taken to the -16/9 power. Without the various contributions of coupling constants taken to the various powers, the value for this parameter Q would not have been life-permitting. Q represents the magnitude of variations in energy density in the early universe. If Q was larger than 10-5 the universe would have consisted of too many black holes to be life-permitting. If Q were smaller than 10-6 there would be gravitationally bound structures in the universe – no stars, no planets and therefore no life. See Barnes’s article on page 32 for more details on the fine-tuning of Q and its relationship to coupling constants.

Finely-Tuned Output of Stellar Radiation

Brandon Carter first discovered a remarkable relationship among the gravitational and electromagnetic coupling constants. If the 12th power of the electromagnetic strength were not proportional to the gravitational coupling constant then the photons produced by stars would not be of the right energy level to interact with chemistry and thus to support photosynthesis. Note how sensitive a proportion has to be when it involves the 12th power – a doubling of the electromagnetic force strength would have required an increase in the gravitational strength by a factor of 4096 in order to maintain the right proportion. Harnessing light energy through chemical means seems to be possible only in universes where this condition holds. If this is not strictly necessary for life, it might enter into the evidence against the multiverse in that it points to our universe being more finely-tuned than is strictly necessary.

Closing Thoughts

It’s important to note how the values of these constants must lie within narrow ranges to be life-permitting based on multiple, independent criteria! My next blog will provide additional examples of this “coincidence.” This multiplicity makes my fine-tuning claim more robust because even if most of these peer-reviewed articles were wrong about fine-tuning claims, there would still be enough cases left to show that life-permitting physics is rare among possibilities.

Also, the question arises as to the likelihood there would exist any value for a constant that could satisfy multiple finely-tuned life-permitting criteria? Why would the life-permitting regions necessarily overlap at a single value that could then permit life relative to all of the constraints? UT Austin philosopher Robert C. Koons argues that this points to a higher-order fine-tuning and thus to design:

“When the value of a single constant is constrained in more than one way, it would be very likely that these independent constraints put contradictory demands on the value of the constraint. By way of analogy, if I consider several algebraic equations, each with a single unknown, it would be very surprising if a single value satisfied all of the equations. Thus, it is surprising that a single range of values satisfies the various anthropic constraints simultaneously. Leslie argues that this higher-order coincidence suggests that the basic form of the laws of nature has itself been designed to make anthropic fine-tuning possible. In other words, Leslie argues that there is evidence of a higher-order fine-tuning.[16]”

This coincidence grows even more surprising when one goes beyond the sheer multiplicity of constraints and also analyzes how differing powers on the constants appear in equations expressing independent and unrelated life-permitting constraints. Why is it that a given strength of electromagnetism turns out to be just right for long-lived stars, atomic stability, proton stability, electron stability, the synthesis of carbon and oxygen, the energy of photons output by stars, and the magnitude of density fluctuations in the early universe? Even speculative multiverse theories do not explain this type of coincidence.


[1] John Barrow and Frank Tipler. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, p. 318

[2] Actually, these are constants at current densities but in the early universe the 3 non-gravitational forces are thought to have been unified in the sense that at those energy levels all of the forces behaved in the same manner. Once we get beyond the first 1/100th of a nanosecond of the universe though we can speak of these as being constants.

[3] For an explanation of this widely accepted principle, refer to my previous blog: http://crossexamined.org/god-or-multiverse.

[4] Walter Bradley. (He happened to be the head of an engineering department when I was at Texas A&M). http://www.leaderu.com/offices/bradley/docs/universe.html

[5] Luke Barnes. The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life. Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia, p. 42. (http://arxiv.org/abs/1112.4647)

[6] Freeman Dyson, Scientific American 225 (1971), p. 56.

[7] John Leslie. The Prerequisites of Life in Our Universe. http://www.leaderu.com/truth/3truth12.html

[8] Martin Rees, Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. London A 310 (1983), p. 317.

[9] Leonard Susskind, Cosmic Landscape, p. 9.

[10] I know that this is physically unrealistic but this hypothetical analogy aids in visualizing the magnitude of the fine-tuning.

[11] NASA web site. http://image.gsfc.nasa.gov/poetry/ask/a11354.html

[12] Barnes, p. 30.

[13] Ekström S., et al., Astronomy and Astrophysics, p. 514.

[14] Fred Hoyle. Engineering and Science, 11/81, p8-12.

[15] Max Tegmark and Martin Rees The Astrophysical Journal (1998), p. 499, 526

[16] Robert C. Koons. Theism vs. the Many-Worlds Hypothesis. http://www.reasons.org/articles/theism-vs.-the-many-worlds-hypothesis

Many Changes to the Laws of Physics Would be Life-Prohibiting

In my previous blog, I discussed how the initial conditions of our universe had to be extremely finely-tuned to support life of any kind anywhere in the universe. As part of my ongoing series on how fine-tuning provides evidence for the existence of God, I now turn to the laws of physics themselves. It turns out that life seems to require all 4 fundamental forces of physics. Let’s do a quick survey of some of the many ways that alternate physics could have been life-prohibiting:

1)      Gravity is essential in the formation of stars and planets. As I discussed in a previous blog, life needs something like stars as a long-lived stable energy source. Also, as cosmologist Luke Barnes has pointed out: “if gravity were repulsive rather than attractive, then matter wouldn’t clump into complex structures. Remember: your density, thank gravity, is 1030 times greater than the average density of the universe.”

2)      The strong nuclear force is necessary to hold together the protons and neutrons in the nucleus. Without this fundamental force, no atoms would exist beyond hydrogen and thus there would be no meaningful chemistry and thus no possibility for intelligent life. The positively charged protons in the nucleus repel each other but thankfully the strong nuclear force is sufficiently stronger than electromagnetic repulsion. If the strong force acted at long ranges like gravity or electromagnetism, then no atoms would exist because it would dominate over the other forces. Barnes notes that “any structures that formed would be uniform, spherical, undifferentiated lumps, of arbitrary size and incapable of complexity.[1]”

3)      The electromagnetic force accounts for chemical bonding and for why electrons orbit the nucleus of atoms. Without chemistry, there is no plausible way to store and replicate information such as would be necessary for life. Light supplied by stars is also of critical importance to life in overcoming the tendency towards disorder, as dictated by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Barnes points out that without electromagnetism, “all matter would be like dark matter, which can only form large, diffuse, roughly spherical haloes.[2]” Suppose like charges attracted and opposites repelled (in contrast with the behavior in our universe), there would be no atoms.

4)      The weak nuclear force plays a key role during core-collapse supernova[3] in the expulsion of key heavier elements, making them available for life rather than just entombed forever in dying stars. Also, the weak force enables the key proton-proton reaction which powers stars in our universe. There is a clever paper by Harnik[4] that attempts to find a life-permitting universe without the weak force but only at the expense of a “judicious parameter adjustment.” See this discussion of the additional finely-tuned constants that were necessary to compensate for the lack of a weak force.[5] Also, some physicists think that the weak force is necessary for there to be matter in our universe.[6]

A region of star formation in a small nearby dwarf galaxy (N90) as captured by the Hubble telescope:
StarFormation

The existence of matter in our universe relies on some asymmetries in physics that are not yet precisely understood. Most physical reactions produce matter and antimatter in equal proportions and these products would simply annihilate each other upon contact, resulting in a matter-less (and therefore lifeless) universe consisting solely of radiation. We’re fortunate that the laws are such that this asymmetry produces a slight excess of matter over antimatter (about 1 part in ten billion)[7]! It would be premature to try to make a numerical claim that a constant has to be finely-tuned to permit this phenomenon but this unusual asymmetry provides yet another example of how different physics could have been catastrophic for life.

Another key physics principle that is critical for life is quantization. Values are defined as being ‘quantized’ if they can only take on discrete rather than continuous possibilities. Without quantized orbits electrons would be sucked into the nucleus and no chemistry would be possible. This quantization also leads to stable orbitals and consistent chemical properties. If electrons could orbit the nucleus anywhere such as is permissible for planets orbiting a star, then a given chemical element would have properties which are too variable for information storage of the type needed for intelligent life. Consider how the DNA in your genome would become cancerous within a day if its properties/information content were constantly varying. Also, consider how a breath of oxygen could conceivably become poisonous if its properties had no consistency.

Some other aspects of quantum mechanics are also very important to life. We need the Pauli Exclusion Principle so that all electrons don’t just reside in the lowest energy-level orbital. The multiple levels of orbitals contribute greatly to the richness and diversity of chemistry. Not all types of particles follow the Pauli Exclusion Principle – if electrons were bosons rather than fermions they wouldn’t be restricted by this principle. The Pauli Exclusion Principle coupled with the quantization of electron orbitals is responsible for giving matter its rigidity, which is important for the existence of stable structures. Moreover, without quantum mechanics, atoms would decay in about 10-13 seconds as Earnshaw’s theorem demonstrates based on classical mechanics.

Physicist Leonard Susskind points out yet another way that physics could have been life-prohibiting:

‘The photon is very exceptional. It is the only elementary particle, other than the graviton, that has no mass… Were the photon mass even a tiny fraction of the electron mass, instead of being a long-range force, electric interactions would become short-range “flypaper forces,” totally incapable of holding on to the distant valence electrons. Atoms, molecules and life are entirely dependent on the curious fact that the photon has no mass.[8]’

The trend in physics is that the number of cases of fine-tuning is growing over time. For example, physicist Joel Primack recently discovered an important link between the existence of dark matter and galaxy formation. Primack showed that “galaxies form only at high peaks of the dark matter density.“ Galaxies are generally thought to be necessary for life because they are critical for star formation. Thus, even aspects of physics which might seem pointless, such as dark matter, turn out to play an important role in making the universe more bio-friendly. I’ve also referenced an article in a previous blog that discusses how black holes “may actually account for Earth’s existence and habitability.[9]”

Any one of these facts by itself might just be seen as fortunate coincidences but there are enough of them to provide at least modest support for my 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 support is not as strong as what I documented based on our universe’s initial conditions nor as strong as what I will document concerning the fine-tuning of the constants of nature but it adds to the overall case. Moreover, this evidence has some bearing in the consideration of the multiverse[10] as an explanation of fine-tuning because it deals with physics at the level that most multiverse proposals cannot explain. In most multiverse scenarios the laws of physics are the same – what changes are the constants in the equations representing those laws. If you want to explore more about various multiverse alternatives, here is one useful perspective that was referenced in comments of a previous blog. Max Tegmark has proposed what he calls a level 4 multiverse in which all mathematical possibilities are realized somewhere in the multiverse. If we lived in such a multiverse, Occam’s Razor would not be a fruitful heuristic and we wouldn’t have Nobel laureates[11] talking about how simple, elegant theories led them to discoveries. There would be infinitely more equations with lots of complicated terms and expressions than there would be simple equations with minimal terms. Colombia professor Peter Woit provides a powerful critique of Tegmark’s highly speculative metaphysical proposal. These multiverse scenarios in which fundamental laws are different are not widely accepted among physicists.

In summary, life needs all of the 4 fundamental forces of nature and several principles from quantum mechanics. These facts about the laws support my fine-tuning claim that life-permitting physics is rare among possibilities. Standford physicist Leonard Susskind summarizes the physics well:

“It is gradually becoming accepted, by many theoretical physicists, that the Laws of Physics may not only be variable but are almost always deadly. In a sense the laws of nature are like East Coast weather: tremendously variable, almost always awful, but on rare occasions, perfectly lovely.[12]”

 


[1] Barnes, Luke. The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life. Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia, p. 18. http://arxiv.org/abs/1112.4647

[2] Ibid., p, 18.

[3] A supernova is an exploding star and is the key way heavy elements are distributed throughout the universe.

[4]Harnik R., Kribs G., Perez G., 2006, Physical Review D, 74, 035006

[5]Barnes, p. 46-7.

[6] Fermilab website. DOE. http://lbne.fnal.gov/why-neutrinos.shtml

[7] Here is a website if you want to explore this further: http://abyss.uoregon.edu/~js/cosmo/lectures/lec22.html

[8] Susskind, Leonard. The Cosmic Landscape, p. 174-5.

[9] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-black-holes-shape-galaxies-stars-planets-around-them/

[10] If you missed my other blogs and are wondering what a ‘multiverse’ is, a multiverse is simply a collection of universes. If there is a vast ensemble of other universes with widely varying laws this might be a candidate explanation of the fine-tuning. Here was my blog on that topic: http://crossexamined.org/god-or-multiverse/

[11] For example, Eugene Wigner’s famous essay on The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences. https://www.dartmouth.edu/~matc/MathDrama/reading/Wigner.html. Also, see how Weinberg regards beauty as a guide to finding the correct physical theories: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/elegant/view-weinberg.html. Or refer to this essay for a historical review: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-h-bailey/why-mathematics-matters_b_4794617.html

[12] Susskind, p. 90.

But We Can’t Even Define Life

In my previous blog I addressed some important issues in making the case that fine-tuning supports theism over atheism. Today I want to look at the objection against fine-tuning that says we can’t assess fine-tuning claims because we can’t even define ‘life’ – or put another way: “fine-tuning claims don’t properly account for other possible life forms.” It has proven surprisingly hard for scientists to agree upon a definition for life. This uncertainty, however, hasn’t prevented biologists from making inferences about life nor has it kept physicists from writing numerous articles claiming that certain changes to physical constants would have resulted in a lifeless universe. In most cases, the inference to a lifeless universe is based upon severe catastrophes such as:

  • A very short-lived universe
  • No stable atoms
  • No chemistry
  • No long-lived sources of energy (such as stars)

It seems plausible that in these situations no life could arise of the kind that could evolve into intelligent, rational creatures. Many fine-tuning constraints involve multiple life-permitting criteria so that even if one of them was incorrect, there would still be other constraints on the life-permitting range of values based on different life-permitting criteria. John Leslie affirms that “many of the fundamental constants have to take the values they do for several independent reasons.” Moreover, even if half of the fine-tuning claims were mistaken there would still be a sufficient number of finely-tuned parameters to conclude that life-permitting universes are rare among possibilities. My fine-tuning claim is therefore robust since it doesn’t rely on all physicists’ claims being true – here it is again:

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

If some peer-reviewed articles are in error, there might be other articles defining other constraints or at least there would be enough remaining evidence to conclude that the life-permitting universes are rare among possibilities. But let’s look in detail at what is necessary for life according to scientists.

What are some essential attributes of any plausible life form?

Self-replicating

Any life form that could evolve to possess intelligence would have to include a self-replicating system. John von Neumann showed that any self-replicator requires certain features such as information storage and processing. Any information storage system would need to be comprised of reasonably stable entities. A star, for example, is a hot plasma of charged particles in rapidly changing configurations and thus is deemed implausible to store information needed to originate and sustain life. Also, in the near vacuum of space there are so few particles interacting that there is no plausible way to replicate enough information for complex life.

Non-trivial information content

As origin of life researcher Stuart Kauffman has noted: “all living things seem to have a minimal complexity below which it is impossible to go.” One theoretical estimate for the amount of information for the simplest possible life form is 113,000 base pairs.[1] Any life form is likely to require polymers of some type to serve as building blocks that can be replicated. There are multiple ways in which a lack of finely-tuned parameters could have prevented the formation of any atoms beyond hydrogen. In this scenario, there would be no polymers and indeed no chemical compounds except for H2. It is implausible to think that if only hydrogen ever existed in the universe that we would have intelligent life or so many physicists have argued.

Preservation of information content during replication

We also have some indications from our own planet of the importance of high fidelity information replication. The canonical genetic code that provides the mapping from RNA codons to amino acids used on our planet is highly optimized and arose early in life’s history[2] (else it wouldn’t be as universal.) Biologists interpret this as evidence of the importance of minimizing errors during translation and replication. The ability to preserve information is therefore recognized as being highly important for life.

Ability to harness energy from environment

Life must be able to harness energy from the environment or else the Second Law of Thermodynamics would pose an insurmountable hurdle. A long-lived stable energy source such as a star would therefore be required.

These same constraints and additional ones are described as prerequisites for life in an important article[3] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that explains the attributes of alternate life forms that might eventually be found elsewhere in the universe. This article serves to confirm that the physics literature is making generous assumptions about what could be life-permitting. Here are some key points of the article with my comments provided after the quotations:

  1. “It is predictable that life, wherever we encounter it, will be composed of macromolecules.” I agree – information and storage would most likely require polymers of some type.
  2. “Only two of the natural atoms, carbon and silicon, are known to serve as the backbones of molecules sufficiently large to carry biological information.” I think that most physicists writing about fine-tuning are open to more alternatives than this article but the article raises some important points about the unique suitability of carbon:
    1. Carbon “unlike silicon … can readily engage in the formation of chemical bonds with many other atoms, thereby allowing for the chemical versatility required to conduct the reactions of biological metabolism and propagation. … Silicon, in contrast, interacts with only a few other atoms, and the large silicon molecules are monotonous compared with the combinatorial universe of organic macromolecules”
    2. “Life also must capture energy and transform that energy into the chemistry of replication. The electronic properties of carbon, unlike silicon, readily allow the formation of double or even triple bonds with other atoms.”
    3. “It is critical that organic reactions, in contrast to silicon-based reactions, are broadly amenable to aqueous conditions. Several of its properties indicate that water is likely to be the milieu for life anywhere in the universe.”
  3. “Life that depends only on chemical energy inevitably will fail as resources diminish and cannot be renewed.” This agrees with my point about needing a stable, long-term energy source to overcome the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
  4. “Temperature is a critical factor for life. Temperatures must be sufficiently high that reactions can occur, but not so high that that complex and relatively fragile biomolecules are destroyed. Moreover, because life probably depends universally on water, the temperature must be in a range for water to have the properties necessary for solute transfer.” Again I think that the physics literature is more open-minded in this aspect but certainly at some point it becomes too hot or too cold to either reliably store information or to have enough energy to replicate it.

But Does Life Have to be Carbon-Based Life?

My fine-tuning claim and that by prominent advocates such as Luke Barnes don’t presuppose that any life form would have to be carbon-based – it’s much more general than that. However, this PNAS article is one of many to claim that silicon is the best alternative to carbon as a basis for life. Silicon bears some similarities to carbon as expected from its position just below carbon on the periodic table. If we can understand why silicon-based life doesn’t appreciably increase the possibilities for life, then we can gain confidence in the generality of the fine-tuning claim.

As the PNAS article indicates, carbon is much more suitable for life than is silicon. Consider the specialness of carbon with regard to the number of types of molecules that can be formed with H (hydrogen) and the following elements[4]:

H – 1

He – 0

Li – 1

Be -1

B – 7

N- 7

O -2

Ne-0

C (carbon) – over 2300 known types of molecules just involving C and H

 Revisiting our dartboard analogy, consider how a life-permitting region is tiny among possibilities. As a reminder, just one finely-tuned parameter, the cosmological constant, has to be set in a narrow life-permitting region among possibilities that is comparable to hitting a bull’s-eye on a huge wall that is 376 million light-years per side. If the life-permitting region for carbon-based life is small, the region for silicon-based life should be smaller since silicon is less suitable for life than is carbon. Although there is one fine-tuning constraint that specifically references carbon, it turns out to also be applicable to silicon. Unless there was a nuclear resonance at just the right energy level, fusion in stars might have never produced carbon. However, without this resonance level there would be a bottleneck that would also inhibit silicon or elements heavier than carbon from being synthesized. Stars make carbon on the way to making silicon. (Most elements past beryllium were synthesized in stellar fusion from smaller atoms.) Thus, universes that produce silicon are no more likely than those that produce carbon – so the bull’s-eye for silicon-based life is smaller and basically just overlaps the carbon bull’s-eye.

Lessons Learned from Origin of Life Research

Consider how some origin of life researchers admit that the origin of the first life form from non-life is exceedingly improbable even with carbon and a diversity of other elements, long-lived stars, and other helpful attributes in our finely-tuned universe. For example, Christian Schwabe writes: “the formation of the first life is viewed as a chance process that occurred in spite of minuscule odds such as 1:10300 and which is accepted only because we are here.[5]“ Eugene Koonin appeals to the multiverse to overcome a horrendous improbability that he estimates at 10-1018 for a plausible first evolvable cell. Not all researchers are this pessimistic but the slow progress in the field should caution those who think that non-carbon life forms a large region in the space of possible parameters. If carbon is so clearly the best choice for life as most biologists believe and if the origin of life is somewhat of an unlikely event even utilizing organic (carbon-based) molecules such as RNA, how much more unlikely is a naturalistic origin of life without carbon.[6]

Fine-Tuning for Intelligent Life

Recall that my fine-tuning claim refers not to just any life form but to intelligent life. Since theism predicts that God would want some advanced life forms, this raises the bar for constraints on life-permitting universes. If merely primitive replicating cells could originate in somewhat less finely-tuned universe, this still would not count against my fine-tuning claim unless this life could also evolve to achieve intelligence and self-awareness. Clearly more fine-tuning is required for the universe to support rational conscious life than would be required for very primitive life forms.

Closing Thoughts

Most physicists writing about fine-tuning think that there are some very clear-cut cases of fine-tuning such as that for the cosmological constant. Consider, for example, how Nobel prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg has argued for a multiverse explanation to the fine-tuning of the cosmological constant. He posits vast numbers of universes each with different values for the cosmological constant, the energy density of empty space. Weinberg’s argument for the value being consistent with multiverse predictions relies on a hard limit[7] for the life-permitting range so that our universe can be considered typical among life-permitting universes[8]. Smolin and others have critiqued his prediction as not being that close to what a multiverse would predict but that is irrelevant to my current point which is simply that Weinberg clearly believes that varying this constant by a tiny amount among the possibilities would result in no life of any kind living anywhere in that universe. Refer to my multiverse blog for why our universe would need to be typical among life-permitting universes for a plausible multiverse explanation.

Few physicists specializing in fine-tuning point to other possible forms of life as a supposed refutation to the fine-tuning argument but those who do should write rebuttals to the many peer-reviewed articles claiming life would not exist in certain scenarios involving different physical constants or initial conditions. Skeptics need to show why these authors were mistaken. Perhaps this is a good point of emphasis in urging physicists to be careful in their claims. If some of these fine-tuning claims are over-stated though this would actually provide evidence against a multiverse explanation to the fine-tuning because it would represent ways in which our universe is overly fine-tuned for life. A naturalistic multiverse predicts that our universe should not be more fine-tuned than is minimally necessary to support life.

 


[1] Forster A. C., et al. Nature Mol. Syst. Biol., 2 . doi:10.1038/msb4100090 (2006).

[2] Early Fixation of an Optimal Genetic Code. Molecular Biology and Evolution. Oxford Journals. Stephen J. Freeland2, et al.

[3] Pace, Norman. “The universal nature of biochemistry”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 98 (3) (2001): p. 805–8.

[4] This was presented by Luke Barnes at the Philosophy of Cosmology conference in 2013 in Santa Cruz, CA.

[5] Schwabe. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part B: February 1994: (Volume 107, Issue 2) p. 167.

[6] In this blog, I have no intention of getting into discussions about whether or not we have evidence for divine intervention in the origin of life – that is a separate topic. Note that the origin of life and fine-tuning are separate issues. Fine-tuning deals with setting up an environment conducive to life – sort of like that biosphere they setup in Arizona. Conversely, origin of life relates to whether or not life forms were put into that biosphere or originated from non-living matter within it.

[7] By ‘hard limit’ I mean that no other life forms could exist anywhere in universes with cosmological constants whose absolute value exceeded a threshold that is about 120 orders of magnitude less than the natural values predicted by the Standard Model of Particle Physics. BTW, Weinberg first coined the term “Standard Model.”

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.

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?

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.