Posts

5 Ways Christian Parents Fail to Prepare Their Kids to Engage with Questions of Faith and Science

By Natasha Crain

I’m coming down to the final six weeks of writing my next book and am very much looking forward to being on the other side of that deadline! I’ve missed being able to blog regularly during this intense writing time, so I had to take a break today and share a new post inspired by some of the topics my next book will address. (On a side note, watch for a new post very soon to reveal the cover and title of the book!)

Children Faith Science

My favorite section to write has been on Science and God, because I know so many parents are looking for help in talking about this subject with their kids. While writing the chapters in that section, I thought a lot about how we, as Christian parents, are collectively failing to adequately prepare our kids to engage with questions of faith and science. Today, I want to share 5 ways I believe that’s happening, and encourage all of us to consider what we can do better in our own homes.

1. We don’t talk about the relationship between faith and science at all.

This is, without a doubt, the number one way we fail our kids in this area—we fail to say anything at all. Not only do we need to say something, we need to say quite a lot. Over and over again, researchers have found that a leading reason why so many young people walk away from faith is that they believe they have to choose between Christianity and science. Meanwhile, other research has shown that only ONE percent of youth pastors address any issue related to science in a given year.

This is a giant disconnect.

Regardless of the fact that churches need to do a much better job in this area, parents need to take the reins. This is our responsibility, and there is absolutely no doubt that questions of faith and science will challenge our kids in some way…whether this is an area we feel equipped to discuss or not. If you do feel equipped, great—get started. If you don’t, that’s OK—start learning. Those are really the only two options.

2. We boil all “science versus faith” conversations down to one (or two) issues.

I find in talking with parents that when you say the words “science and faith,” most people quickly launch into a conversation about evolution. There’s no doubt that evolution is one of the most important topics in this category, if not the most important topic. But there are many other questions our kids need to understand, especially at the more philosophical level. For example, people throw out broad statements like “science disproves God” all the time. Kids need to know what to make of those kinds of assertions just as much as they need to know what to make of the subject of evolution.

The second section of my next book will address six of these broader questions:

  • Can science prove or disprove God’s existence?
  • Do science and religion contradict one another?
  • Do science and religion complement one another?
  • Is God just an explanation for what science doesn’t yet know?
  • Can science explain why people believe in God?
  • What do scientists believe about God?

3. We teach overly simplistic answers that ignore important nuances.

I understand that science is not a “user-friendly” topic for many people. The only C grade I ever received in my life was in high school chemistry and I’m still bitter about it.

Unfortunately, this leads many parents to either 1) ignore the science-versus-faith dialogue completely (see my first point) or 2) teach overly simplistic answers that can inadvertently do major damage to their kids’ faith later.

One of the most important ways we can avoid this is by taking the time to define key words. For example, consider the question, “Can science prove or disprove God’s existence?” If someone asked me that, I couldn’t even answer their question unless I first asked them: What do you mean by science? What do you mean by prove or disprove? And what do you mean by God? People use those words in many different senses today and you simply can’t have a meaningful discussion without understanding their more nuanced underlying question. They may be asking:

 Can a specific branch of science provide evidence that strongly challenges a specific historical claim of a given religion? (Answer: Yes.)

Or, they may be asking:

Can the field of science, when defined as the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the natural world, say anything about the existence of God, when defined simply as a supernatural being who may or may not have created the world? (Answer: No—and even most atheists would agree.)

While we may wish we could simply teach our kids easy answers like, “Of course science doesn’t disprove God!”, we fail to adequately prepare them for this challenging secular world when we do.

4. We teach only one of several Christian views on origins (age of the Earth and evolution).

If you’ve read my first book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side, you know how strongly I feel about this. There are eight chapters written to explain why Christians have varied views on how and when God created the world—based on both scriptural and scientific considerations. While many parents don’t teach their kids anything at all on this subject, many of the remaining parents only teach their kids one specific view (for example, young-Earth creationism, old-Earth creationism, or theistic evolution). Whatever view you teach, your kids will hear challenges from both other Christians and from atheists—a very confusing position for them to be in if you’ve never explained the issues at stake.

Note that I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t tell our kids what we believe. There’s no problem at all with explaining our own convictions. The problem lies in teaching them our views in a silo rather than taking the time to explain why fellow believers and skeptics interpret science and/or the Bible differently than we do.

5. We’re overly fearful of suggesting there’s a conflict between Christianity and science.

One of the things I found most interesting when preparing to write on whether or not science and religion contradict one another was just how quick Christians are to lay out a case for why Christianity and science are not in conflict. Much of the time, Christians jump straight to showing 1) how science can’t say anything about a Being outside of nature and/or 2) how there’s no reason to expect that science could even be done if there weren’t a God to rationally design the universe. Those things are true. But much of the time when skeptics talk about the conflict of science and Christianity, they’re talking specifically about the conflict between mainstream scientific consensus and a specific claim of the Bible that intersects with the natural world—for example, the age of the Earth (based on the young-Earth interpretation of Scripture) and direct creation (versus evolution). If we just keep insisting “there’s no conflict,” when there actually are apparent conflicts in some areas, we miss some very important discussion opportunities with our kids. Again, we have to define terms clearly.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the accurate interpretation of scientific data and the accurate interpretation of the Bible will never be in true conflict. If apparent conflicts arise, (at least) one interpretation is wrong. When we’re convicted of the accuracy of our interpretation of Scripture, we shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge when the Bible conflicts with scientific consensus; Scientists can be wrong. On the other hand, when there is an apparent conflict, we should be willing to thoughtfully consider the scientific data; Our biblical interpretation can also be wrong.

Rather than sweep apparent conflicts under the carpet, we can help our kids significantly by 1) confidently explaining why apparent conflicts may arise and 2) studying the scientific and scriptural considerations together.

What questions about science and faith do you most have trouble discussing with your kids? If you don’t currently have these discussions, what’s your biggest barrier?

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2mouGKB


 

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.

Christian Apologetics Alliance BLOG Banner

What is the Best Evidence for Intelligent Design? Interview with Brian Johnson.

Last year, when I was speaking at a church in South Dakota for a Heroic Truth Event, I met Brian Johnson. He invited me on his Podcast, and we had a great conversation about “hot” cultural issues today.

Brian is one of the founders of South Dakota Apologetics, an organization dedicated to spreading the Gospel and helping fellow Christians better understand why they believe what they believe. Brian and his buddies at SDA actually offer their speaking services for free, so check ‘em out!

Brian is especially passionate about the evidence for intelligent design. Given his interest and expertise, I recent caught up with him and asked him some pressing questions about the evidence for intelligent design. Enjoy!

Evidence Intelligent Design

SEAN MCDOWELL: Are there any recent scientific advances that are changing what we know about the inner workings of the human body?

BRIAN JOHNSON: I think that accolade needs to go to the discovery of the DNA double helix in 1953 by Crick and Watson. Once this was discovered it blew open the doors to a whole new world of biology. From that we have been able to begin to piece together an entirely new understanding of what it takes to make our bodies function. This has led to major advancements in medicine as well as many other disciplines. The discovery of DNA has also enabled us to build an incredibly strong case for Intelligent Design.

SEAN MCDOWELL: What got you interested in DNA as evidence for design? And why do you think this is such an important area for Christians, and in particular students, to understand?

BRIAN JOHNSON: I’ve always been interested in science and it was the scientific evidences for God that really started to convince me of His existence. As I started to look into the biological evidences I was awestruck at how obvious it was to make a design inference based on the inner workings of the cell. The molecular machines that are working inside each of our bodies at this moment scream of a designer.

If more Christians understood the beautiful structure of how the different processes within our bodies function I know it would not only strengthen their faith but would give them a much greater sense of just how amazing God’s creation really is. And this is certainly true for students who are often not exposed to the evidence for ID since our schools only teach Darwinian evolution.

SEAN MCDOWELL: Can you give a few specific examples of things in DNA that point to design?

BRIAN JOHNSON: Sure!

The first argument for Intelligent Design is based on the information we find in the cell. The arrangements of the four nucleotides, ACTG, contain specified information and convey meaning for the production and arrangements of proteins. Stephen Meyer makes the case for this in his book Signature in the Cell.

The second is a process called DNA error correction (aka, DNA repair). This process is mind-boggling and is currently at work in your body as you read this. Your body is creating new DNA at this moment in a process known as DNA Replication. During this process the DNA double helix is split in two, kind of like a zipper on a coat. As you unzip your coat you then have two sides of that zipper. Now pretend that the ‘teeth’ of the zipper on one side of the coat are each represented by a nucleotide letter of either a, c, t, or g. During the replication process a brand new set of ‘teeth’ are joined to the existing set of ‘teeth’ much the same way as when you zip the coat up and the two set of ‘teeth’ are joined together to seal the coat. If during this process an incorrect nucleotide is put down an error correcting process catches the error, stops the process, plucks out the wrong nucleotide, inserts the correct nucleotide, and then allows the replication process to continue. Describing this process as mind-blowing is actually an understatement.

The third process is one that has just recently been discovered. It now appears that in addition to repair mechanisms DNA also contains proofreading processes as well that make sure the information that passes through it is as accurate as possible. This all happens where messenger RNA transcripts are translated into proteins. The complexity of these processes is simply inconceivable.

SEAN MCDOWELL: Isn’t Intelligent Design based on a “God of the gaps” fallacy?

BRIAN JOHNSON: The God of the gaps objection is a common one. But it is mistaken. Rather than arguing from gap in our knowledge (i.e., what we can’t explain), Intelligent Design reasons from what we do know about the world by considering all the evidence and making an “inference to the best explanation.” This is the exact same scientific method Darwin used in his theory of natural selection. If you want to disregard the method we just used to infer an Intelligent Designer as the cause for what we find in the genome, then you must also reject Darwin’s conclusion as well. The knife cuts both ways.

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.

Christian Apologetics Alliance BLOG Banner

 


Resources for Greater Impact: 

Why Science Needs God DVD SHADOW

WHY SCIENCE NEEDS GOD

Science dont say DVD box Einstein

SCIENCE DOESN’T SAY ANYTHING, SCIENTIST DO


(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)

Are Christianity and Darwinism Compatible? One Biologist Says No.

Did God Use Evolution?

Years ago I was sitting in the middle seat of an airplane, minding my own business as I watched the PBS show Evolution. As soon as I closed my laptop, the lady next to me perked with interest and asked what I was watching. It turns out she was a practicing geologist and a staunch Darwinist. She didn’t just believe in neo-Darwinian evolution, she described it as a beautiful theory that ties all of science and humanity together.

Since she was both trained in geology, and a committed Darwinist, I simply asked her what evidence she considered most compelling for her views. As best as I can remember, she said, “Have you been to a museum? There are tons of fossils that clearly reveal that we descend from a common ancestor. The fossils tell us that evolution is true.”

Christianity Darwinism Compatible

Her answer struck me as both interesting and confused. First, while there are certainly many preserved fossils, there is genuine debate about whether they support Darwin’s theory of gradual evolution. But second, even if the fossil record were complete, it could not in principle establish Darwinian evolution as true. Why not? Waynesburg University Biologist Wayne Rossiter explains:

Even if we grant the pattern of common ancestry (which has recently been cast into doubt), proponents of evolution cannot stand back, post hoc, and simply declare that this is the product of natural selection…it is possible that all of life could share a common ancestor, and yet the splitting of species (and their evolving) could be the consequence of things other than natural selection.[i]

In other words, while the fossil record could be consistent with Darwinism, it could never independently establish it. A complete fossil record could also be consistent with another naturalistic mechanism and some versions of intelligent design. To establish Darwinism, proponents need to show that the mechanism—natural selection acting upon random mutation—is sufficient to explain the diversity and complexity of life. Despite the enthusiasm of my geologist friend on the plane, the fossil record simply can’t establish Darwinism alone.

This is just one example of an important insight that Dr. Rossiter makes in his recent bookShadow of Oz. His goal is to raise some difficult questions—both scientific and theological—for common attempts to wed Darwinism and Christianity. While there is considerable variety of perspectives and approaches within the theistic evolution camp, Rossiter raises some apparent “inconsistencies” in the views held by prominent spokespersons such as Ken Miller, Karl Giberson, and Francis Collins. Consider ten quick examples that he cites in the book:

  1. “The fatal flaw of all attempts to hold both Darwin and Christianity in their full potency is that one cannot be unintended and intended at the same time.”[ii]
  2. “Theistic evolutionists are persuaded to make room in their theology for Darwin, but not room in their Darwin for theology. They perceive this as a discussion between demonstrable facts (for Darwinian evolution) and claims of blind faith (in God’s activity). Naturally, whenever the two disagree, the facts will necessarily carry the day, or the faith claims are simply compartmentalized, and the conflict is not acknowledged.”[iii]
  3. “For all their contempt for ID, they seem utterly unaware that they are also offering a brand of ID. If they believe God exists and is intelligent, and they believe he created anything at all, then he is an intelligent designer!”[iv]
  4. “We understand large-scale (and small-scale) physics better than biological evolution, and yet the theistic evolutionist is happy to argue against the consensus views of physicists and cosmologists, but not those of evolutionary biologists.”[v]
  5. “Why are [some theistic evolutionists] so willing to accept fine-tuning in the physical constants that govern the universe, but not in biological instances of the coding of specified information in DNA?”[vi]
  6. “[Theistic evolutionists] seem to be arguing that he [God] is content to simply let his machine run, rather than tinker with its inner workings. It is hard to reconcile this position with the constant interactions between God and his creation described throughout the books of the Bible.”[vii]
  7. “Theistic evolution puts the God-man project on its head, holding that creation emerges from chaos toward perfection, rather than it being in a continual state of decay.”[viii]
  8. “In theistic evolution, God’s creative process is destructive. His method for creation leads to the death of stars, the annihilation of habitable planets, disproportionate ratios of negative mutations—many of which lead to inhuman deformities, sufferings, diseases, and loss of life—and the evolutionary mechanism of fitness at all costs in the biological realm.”[ix]
  9. “It is ironic that theistic evolutionists argue that all creation appears random and meaningless, while staunch atheists like Richard Dawkins attempt to explain away the ‘apparent design’ of creation using blind and purposeless mechanisms.”[x]
  10. “It’s funny how evolutionists like to reference ‘poor design’ as evidence against the hand of a creator, and then use words like ‘near-perfect’ when they are describing what Darwin’s theory is capable of.”

Rossiter is not necessarily aiming to disprove Darwinian evolution, but to draw out some particular implications (often ignored) that follow from attempts to blend Christianity and Darwinism. According to Rossiter, the devil is in the details.

Since co-writing the book Understanding Intelligent Design with William Dembski, I have been eagerly following the discussion over the intersection of science and religion. While I have read many books on all sides of this issue, Shadow of Oz is one of my new favorites. It is accessible, insightful, and not overly technical or wordy. If you enjoy the science and faith dialogue, this book is a must-read. You can also listen to Dr. Rossiter discuss the book in an interview with Greg Koukl.

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.


Resources for Greater Impact:


[i] Wayne D. Rossiter, Shadow of Oz (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2015), 108, 111.

[ii] Ibid., 9.

[iii] Ibid., 6.

[iv] Ibid., 16.

[v] Ibid., 18.

[vi] Ibid., 49.

[vii] Ibid., 53.

[viii] Ibid., 70.

[ix] Ibid., 77.

[x] Ibid., 83.

[xi] Ibid., 146.

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.


Resources for Greater Impact:

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.

8 Ways that Anti-Intellectualism is Harming the Church

By Brian Chilton 

When asked to identify the greatest commandment in all of the Law, Jesus answered the inquiry by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command” (Matthew 22:37-38).[1] It seems that one aspect of this commandment has eluded the modern church. Yes, the church notes the great need to love the Lord with the heart, that is the will and emotions. The modern American church also focuses on the love that one must hold for God with one’s soul, that is, one’s conscious being (life). However, the third aspect of the great commandment seems to have escaped the modern American church. The Christian is also commanded to love the Lord with his or her mind. Extreme fideism (believing that the Christian life is only about faith without reason) has led the church into a state known as anti-intellectualism. Anti-intellectualism is defined as the state of “opposing or [being] hostile to intellectuals or to an intellectual view or approach” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). In this case, the intellectual approach is the intellectual approach to the Christian faith. Anti-intellectualism not only hinders one from keeping the great commandment, but such an attitude is also damaging to the church. This article will present eight ways that anti-intellectualism harms the church.

1. Anti-intellectualism harms the church theologically.

By theologically, I simply indicate how the church views God. Dr. Daniel Mitchell, one of my theology professors from Liberty University, once said, “The more you study God, the bigger God becomes.” His statement proved true. So often, anti-intellectuals limit their scope of God. Because anti-intellectuals fail to examine, research, and contemplate, they miss out on the vast nature of God. While the Christian may understand the basic fundamentals of God’s omniscience and omnipotence, one who allows oneself to contemplate and study these attributes of God will be left in great awe of the greatness of God Almighty. We love God with our minds when we study God. “Search for the LORD and for His strength; seek His face always” (1 Chronicles 16:11).

 2. Anti-intellectualism harms the church doctrinally.

By doctrinally, I simply indicate how the church views God’s interactions with humanity. How does the church view salvation? How does the church view humanity? The modern church has allowed pop culture to dictate these issues according to social fads and the like. The anti-intellectual will relish in having loads of moving music, will jump with excitement with the latest form of entertainment, but will be left with no basis for examining whether such songs and activities fit within the parameters of orthodoxy. So often, modern Christians leave their churches feeling great excitement, yet are left without any solid foundation for knowing what the church stands for and why it stands for certain things. Issues of salvation have become universalized, issues of eternity have been compromised, and issues concerning humanity have been radicalized because many modern Christians fail to love the Lord with their minds.

 3. Anti-intellectualism harms the church apologetically.

Those who know my testimony knows that I left the ministry for seven years and nearly became an agnostic. Why? My faith was shaken by the Jesus Seminar. When I asked Christian leaders why it was that I could trust the Bible, they responded by saying such things as, “Because it’s the Bible;” “the Bible says we should believe the Bible;” and “you shouldn’t ask such things!” It wasn’t until I came across the works of Christian apologists like Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, and many others that I began to realize that there were good reasons for why I should believe the Bible. Many of those evidences came from outside of the Bible (e.g. archaeology, manuscript evidence, and et. cetera). Had I been given this information earlier, I would not have left the ministry. Anti-intellectualism is killing the church today because we are left with no defense from the attacks arising from secularists and the like. We must remember that we are instructed to “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). To do otherwise is to neglect the love that we have for God with the mind.

4. Anti-intellectualism harms the church emotionally.

The fourth statement may sound counter-intuitive. Often when a case is made for intellectual Christianity, emotionalism is invalidated. However, emotions are important for human beings. Yet, emotions can lead us astray. Anti-intellectualism, such as is found in movements like the prosperity gospel and the like often lead to far more emotional damage than intellectual Christianity. A proper understanding of theodicy, suffering, and the problem of evil will help the believer in times of great distress. Proponents of anti-intellectualism are far less equipped to deal with times of tragedy than those who have a solid understanding of such topics. In fact, I have personally witnessed pastors who advocated anti-intellectualism fall into times of far greater distress and doubt when they are met with times of suffering and stress. Their doubt and stress is at a far greater degree than those who are grounded with an intellectual faith. An intellectual faith grounds the emotions and demonstrates how a person can love God with the mind.

5. Anti-intellectualism harms the church philosophically.

Philosophy and theology are intertwined to some degree. Theology is a branch of philosophy. Philosophy, simply put, is “a discipline comprising as its core logic, aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology” (Merriam-Webster), or the “pursuit of wisdom” (Merriam-Webster). How do we see the world? How do we see society? What is the meaning of life? These are questions that everyone must answer. Different people come to differing conclusions. In a culture where every opinion is held to equal value, it is important that the believer understands such concepts as truth, logic, and value. Otherwise, the believer will be led by everything thrown their direction or, in contrast, oppose everything that may have some value. Some oppose philosophy because of Paul’s statement to the Colossians saying, “Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition” (Colossians 2:8). A closer examination of Paul’s statement will reveal that Paul is not dismissing philosophy, but rather Paul is dismissing bad philosophy. In addition, Paul’s statement on philosophy is a philosophical statement. Thus, it would seem that quite the opposite is being promoted by Paul. One should not avoid philosophy. One should avoid bad philosophy. How does one know bad philosophy? They know bad philosophy because they know good philosophy. Possessing good philosophy is another way that the church loves God with the mind.

6. Anti-intellectualism harms the church socially.

It seems that many are led more by politics rather than their religious convictions. The opposite should surely be the case. When one allows political parties and nationalistic fervor to dictate their beliefs, one may well be found favorable among the populace while being very unpopular with God. Anti-intellectual Christians will find themselves more easily swayed by the great influence of politics. The intellectual Christian, one grounded in the fundamentals of the Christian faith, will understand the great value of all lives despite race, nationality, or gender. Intellectual faith remembers and realizes the truthfulness of Paul’s statement in that “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). When intellectual faith realizes and actualizes Paul’s statement, then one will truly love God with the mind…and will be moved to love their neighbors as themselves.

7. Anti-intellectualism harms the church evangelistically.

While in prison Paul wrote that “what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advance of the gospel…I am appointed for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12, 16). How would Paul have been able to know how to defend the gospel if he did not know why one should believe the gospel? Many anti-intellectuals hold a limited if not unbiblical view of faith. Anti-intellectuals often consider faith to be the acceptance for which no evidence exists. Or, some may view faith as simply an emotional crutch. Faith is not demonstrated in such a way in the Bible. For instance, consider Jesus’ use of miracles. Jesus did not ask for blind faith. Jesus would back up his claims with a demonstration of power. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5) and then provided the light of physical sight to the man at the pool of Siloam. At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus told Mary and Martha (the sisters of Lazarus) as well as everyone else “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live” (John 11:25). Bold words to say at a man’s tomb, don’t you think? Yet, Jesus demonstrated that he was the resurrection and the life by raising Lazarus back to life. Jesus backed up his claims. It behooves the modern Christian to know the evidences for the faith. This will provide great strength to one’s evangelistic efforts. Know what you believe, know why you believe what you do, and know the One in whom you are believing, so that you can tell others about the One you serve. Doing such demonstrates a love for God with the mind.

8. Anti-intellectualism harms the church spiritually.

Finally, anti-intellectualism harms the church spiritually. How one might ask? Anti-intellectualism harms the church spiritually in many ways. I will list only two for the purpose of this article. 1) It harms one’s view of salvation. Some have added to or taken away from the gospel message because of an unexamined view of salvation from the Bible. False professions have been made without understanding the submission required for salvation, that is to say one’s submission to Christ as the Lord of one’s life. 2) It harms one’s spiritual walk. Sometimes anti-intellectuals will allow things into their lives which should not be present. When confronted, the person will say, “I have faith and that is all that matters.” Such a view stems from a bad interpretation of faith. If a person had studied their Bibles, researched passages, and held a true love of learning about God, then one would be willing to submit themselves to God fully and completely. Perhaps some of the problems of integrity in the modern church stems from the laziness which is so boldly exhibited in the anti-intellectual movement. Such can be protected at least to some degree by loving God with the mind.

Conclusion

Socrates is noted as saying that “an unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates is right. However, one could stretch the philosopher’s statement in saying that “an unexamined faith is not worth having.” Biblical faith is enmeshed with reason. We should know why we believe in God and why we believe in Christ. If one simply accepts Christ because their family or friends did, is their faith truly legitimate? The Christian should not be afraid of loving God with the mind. One need not leave their brain at the door of faith. In fact, reason and faith are complementary because we serve a real God who provides a real trust. Anti-intellectualism is harmful for the church. It is a trend that must be reversed. Charles Bugg puts it best in saying,

“There is no excuse for preaching that requires people to leave their head outside the church. In the Great Commandment, Jesus taught His disciples to love God with all of their mind, heart, and soul. Some preachers make their living by attacking education or by riding the horse of anti-intellectualism. The result is a kind of demagoguery that creates unwarranted suspicion toward education. Ministers need to use the minds God has given them and to love God with all of that mind. Likewise, they need to call their listeners to love God with all of their minds” (Bugg 1992, 125-126).

Sources Cited:

Bugg, Charles B. Preaching from the Inside Out. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992.

Mish, Frederick C. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003.

 Click here to see the source site of this article

© August 24, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quoted in this article comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).

Is it Stupid to Believe in Miracles?

In my previous blog I defended the notion that it’s not stupid to believe in the creation of the universe by God. It seems fitting in this Christmas season to also look at another claim derided by skeptics – the possibility of miracles. Here is how Richard Dawkins puts it:

“The nineteenth century is the last time when it was possible for an educated person to admit to believing in miracles like the virgin birth without embarrassment. When pressed, many educated Christians are too loyal to deny the virgin birth and the resurrection. But it embarrasses them because their rational minds know that it is absurd, so they would much rather not be asked.[1]”

There certainly are educated, intelligent, science-respecting modern-day Christians who unashamedly believe in these miracles[2]. There is nothing irrational or anti-scientific about the possibility of miracles unless one can disprove the existence of anything supernatural which certainly has not been done. Contra Hume, I don’t see a non-question-begging in-principle argument against the mere possibility of miracles[3]. In previous blogs, I’ve argued that the origin of the universe and the fine-tuning of the laws and constants of nature to support life constitute evidence for God. There are many other philosophical arguments for a transcendent God capable of acting on nature – which is all I take a miracle to be. Miracles don’t break the laws of nature[4] but merely represent God acting in the universe. If we have evidence of intervention at such fundamental levels as creating a universe, setting up its initial conditions, and setting fundamental parameters to precise life-permitting values, then why think it irrational that God could create a sperm to fertilize Mary’s egg? The skeptic needs to interact with these and other arguments and should not merely dismiss the possibility of miracles by ridiculing believers – as Dawkins advocated when he said “Mock them. Ridicule them. In public.”

I’m not complaining about considering a miracle claim a priori unlikely – I actually encourage that since miracles should be expected to be rare if they occur at all. Rather, I argue against a dismissive attitude characterized by ridiculing the possibility of miracles without interacting with the evidence or arguments for God’s existence. Merely scoffing at the potential implications that miracles are possible if God exists does not disprove the hypothesis that God exists.

Even leading scientists and philosophers who are skeptical about God propose a number of speculative theories with some rather surprising implications. I likewise argue we should not dismiss the possibility that these theories are true merely because of even bizarre consequences, which in some cases are more radical than the possibility of God acting in the world. Consider the following theories:

Aliens seeded life on earth

  • Dawkins mentions this possibility in the movie Expelled.
  • Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick wrote a book that proposes this scenario to explain life’s origins on Earth.[5]
  • Implications: if this hypothesis were true, a form of Intelligent Design (ID) would be true – to some skeptics that is about as bizarre as you can get![6]

Our universe originated from a quantum fluctuation

  • Edward Tryon first proposed this and Lawrence Krauss has proposed a more recent version of this theory.
  • Implications: the entire universe would have originated from what appears to be “empty” spacetime – at least as empty as it can be made. Note that it’s more likely for a single sperm to fluctuate into existence to impregnate a virgin than it is for a huge, long-lived universe such as ours to fluctuate into existence.
  • Why I’m skeptical? I’m not skeptical because the emergence of matter from spacetime in its lowest energy state may be counterintuitive for this certainly does happen! Although virtual particles are known to emerge from rearrangements of the energy in the quantum vacuum, large fluctuations are exponentially less likely than small fluctuations – and we have quite a large universe! Likewise the emergence of long-lasting fluctuations are exponentially less likely than short-lived fluctuations where the emergent matter is converted back to energy – and we have quite a long-lived universe! Thus this theory makes predictions inconsistent with our universe (even after applying a selection effect based on the universe permitting life). Here is my critique of Krauss’s proposal in more detail.

It is probable that we’re living in a simulation

  • Nick Bostrom proposed this argument in 2001.
  • Implications: everything is an illusion and The Matrix movie tells us more about reality than all science textbooks combined.
  • The Wikipedia article linked to above has some decent critiques of this proposal but here is a nice critique of this argument by a Stanford prof.

Eternal inflation

  • Eternal inflation is probably the leading multiverse theory. We have decent reasons for believing that there was an early rapid expansion phase in our universe which is dubbed cosmic inflation (although no physical mechanism has of yet been identified that could produce this inflaton field and only certain types of inflation would result in other universes). Certain theories for mechanisms of inflation could possibly create “bubble universes” with enormous fecundity – by some estimates about 12 million billion universes created per second. Many consider these implications to be absurd but I think we need to evaluate such proposals on the basis of the evidence for this flavor of inflation rather than on the implications of the theory.
  • Implications:
    • Vilenkin summarizes the radical implications by stating that “there are infinitely many O-regions where Al Gore is president and – yes! – Elvis is still alive.[7]”
    • There are identical copies of you (and everyone else) in other universes because there are more universes than there are possible events at the quantum level and thus materialist assumptions everything is repeated an infinite number of times in an infinite multiverse.
    • There are universes in which everything is identical except that you wrote this article and I’m reading it now.

Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics

There are many possible interpretations of quantum mechanics that are consistent with the math but in this radical interpretation reality branches out like a tree where every possible quantum outcome happens in one branch of the tree which constitutes a sort of parallel universe. The implications of this theory are basically just as radical as those described above for eternal inflation.

Everything that is mathematically possible is realized somewhere in the universe

  • MIT physicist Max Tegmark, who has done some important research validating various fine-tuning claims, adopts this radical viewpoint.
  • Implications: this is even more radical than the previous theories because it would entail not just that all physical possibilities but that all metaphysical possibilities are realized somewhere. There would be uncountable infinities of infinite multiverses of infinitely different types! Unicorns, fire-breathing dragons, and all science-fiction characters would certainly exist somewhere in this multiverse!
  • Why I’m skeptical: In this case perhaps the implications do lead to a reductio ad absurdum but one can also argue strongly against the theory itself. The overwhelming number of life-permitting universes within this overall universe would not have concise physical laws with minimal parameters since there are vastly more ways to have much more complex laws of nature that could still permit life – Occam ’s razor would not be a fruitful heuristic! You wouldn’t have Nobel Prize winning physicists waxing eloquent about the beauty and simplicity of physics and how that is a guide to true theories.[8]

I am skeptical of all of these theories but I don’t think we should dismiss any of them merely because their radical implications seem implausible. In the same way, one shouldn’t dismiss the possibility of God even if miracles seem too implausible to you. One should examine evidence for these theories relative to their predictions and relative to alternate theories – i.e. by employing abductive reasoning (an inference to the best explanation). I think that many of these speculative proposals are inferior alternatives to the hypothesis that God created the universe and finely-tuned the physics to support life and are actually posited to some degree as alternatives to evidence for design. Naturalistic presuppositions seem to play some role in motivating many of these speculative theories, with the probable exception of the Many Worlds Interpretation (which I think is by far the most likely of any of these to actually be true – which isn’t saying much though).

By unjustifiably endowing what is created with god-like powers, perhaps some skeptics are falling into a modern-day version of the trap that the apostle Paul warned about in Romans 1:25 where he talks about people who “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”

Agnostic physicist Paul Davies also warns about “the most general multiverse theories … At least some of these universes will feature miraculous events – water turning into wine, etc. They will contain thoroughly convincing religious experiences … [that would look like] … direct revelation of a transcendent God. It follows that a general multiverse set must contain a subset that conforms to traditional religious notions of God and design.[9]” In trying to deny evidence for God, some skeptics have had to so broaden their ontology as to enable the possibility of miracles after all!

____________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 187.

[2] Francis Collins, John Lennox, John Polkinghorne, Mike Strauss, Don Page, Henry Schaefer, James Tour, etc.

[3] I think Hume’s arguments failed, if you disagree consider agnostic John Earman’s book entitled Hume’s Abject Failure.

[4] “Nothing can seem extraordinary until you have discovered what is ordinary. Belief in miracles, far from depending on an ignorance of the laws of nature, is only possible in so far as those laws are known.” C.S. Lewis, Miracles

[5] I think he later backed away from this proposal but at one time he thought it was plausible enough to make a focal point for a book he wrote.

[6] Parenthetically, note that this possibility also shows an example of what ID advocates point out – that intelligent design (at least in biology) doesn’t necessarily even require the supernatural and thus should not be precluded from scientific consideration.

[7] Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One, p. 113. This is actually a quote from an article Vilenkin wrote for a physics journal.

[8] See 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

[9] Bernard Carr (ed.), Universe or Multiverse, p. 495.

Are Creationists Stupid?

It is quite common in Internet circles to attack the intelligence and even sometimes the integrity of anyone believing in creation. An unfortunate strategy among some leading atheists is to group all opposition to solely naturalistic origins theories into one category, perhaps the one they think can most easily be refuted – young earth creationism. They like to ignore that God can also use processes and that many scholars (both now and in the early church) don’t think that the Bible teaches the age of the universe. Clearly some creationist claims are mistaken[1] but is it ridiculous to hold to any belief in creation at all?

In evaluating this question, first consider how creation is defined according to the Oxford dictionary: “The action or process of bringing something into existence.[2]”

By this definition, everyone should agree that the following were created:

  • Our universe
  • Life
  • All species
  • Consciousness

Even atheists agree that none of these are eternally existent. Atheism entails though that there has been no intervention by a supernatural Creator in the origin of these entities and that is the notion of creation to which they object.

Let’s consider the most foundational type of creation that atheists must deny – the creation of the universe. The second definition in the Oxford dictionary actually highlights this particular aspect by defining creation as “the bringing into existence of the universe, especially when regarded as an act of God.” However, it is a well-established scientific fact that our universe has a finite age and most scientists agree that its early history is characterized by an expansion out of an incredibly dense and tiny state in what is now known as the Big Bang. So our universe was created! But does that necessarily mean there was a Creator?

Nobel prize winners who have contributed to the confirmation of the Big Bang have noted how it appears quite similar to a creation event:

“The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five Books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole.“ Arno Penzias

“There is no doubt that a parallel exists between the Big Bang as an event and the Christian notion of creation from nothing.[3]” George Smoot

Edwin Hubble’s successor, long-time atheist Allan Sandage, became a Christian late in life and notes that “it was my science that drove me to the conclusion that the world is much more complicated than can be explained by science… It is only through the supernatural that I can understand the mystery of existence.[4]” Sandage also notes that “Astronomical observations have also suggested that this creation event, signaled by the expansion of the Universe, has happened only once. The expansion will continue forever, the Universe will not collapse upon itself, and therefore this type of creation will not happen again.[5]”

Quantum physicist Christopher Isham notes that “perhaps the best argument … that the Big Bang supports theism is the obvious unease with which it is greeted by some atheist physicists. At times this has led to scientific ideas, such as continuous creation [steady state] or an oscillating Universe, being advanced with a tenacity which so exceeds their intrinsic worth that one can only suspect the operation of psychological forces lying very much deeper than the usual academic desire of a theorist to support his/her theory.[6]“

So maybe it’s not so ignorant to see the Big Bang as a creation event and as evidence (not proof) for a supernatural Creator. But could there have been a natural cause to the Big Bang? I’ve blogged previously about how the overall universe had to have a beginning. I’ve quoted Alexander Vilenkin, a prominent cosmologist: “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.” In this same blog I also discussed and referenced the New Scientist article entitled: Why physicists can’t avoid a creation event?

There are some loud voices trying to silence these frank admissions – most notably by atheist Lawrence Krauss. Even Krauss speaks about creation but just claims it is out of nothing, which when pressed he admits by nothing he means the quantum vacuum. I posted several short video clips from an interview I conducted with OU physicist Mike Strauss asking for his response to Krauss’s claim that our universe could have originated from nothing. Strauss is also skeptical that the universe can be created from the quantum vacuum. I also asked him whether Vilenkin’s BGV theorem even left open the possibility that the quantum vacuum has eternally existed and again he was skeptical.

Strauss is but one many of Krauss’s critics. Consider this scathing NY Times critique by physicist/philosopher David Albert of Colombia: “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.[7]”

As Frank Turek likes to ask – “Which is more reasonable that nothing created the universe or that Someone created the universe?”

There is also the matter of “dummies” like Leibniz (who was one of the inventors of calculus) arguing philosophically for the need for God even if the universe was eternal as I’ve blogged about recently. None of this argumentation relies on anything that is even remotely called into question by modern science so one cannot just dismiss this argument by assuming that Leibniz just lacked knowledge of future scientific discoveries. My blog also cites recent developments by Rob Koons and Alex Pruss and others that further these types of arguments by offering compelling support for the key premise of Leibniz’s argument.

Thus, creation shouldn’t be considered a dirty word used only by those who are intellectually inferior. We have logical reasons to believe that the universe needs a Creator; we find scientific evidence that looks remarkably like a creation event, and attempts to attribute the creation of this universe to solely naturalistic causes are scientifically implausible. We’ve also discovered that a remarkable orderliness in the original Big Bang state was necessary for the existence of any form of life. Thus, we have many independent lines of evidences that combine to form a strong cumulative case for creation, and even for a Creator!

__________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Since there are many different, conflicting views of creation they cannot all be correct. The same could be said for various scientific theories as well.

[2]http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/creation

[3] George Smoot, Wrinkles in Time (1993)

[4] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/newsweek/science_of_god/scienceofgod.htm

[5] http://www.leaderu.com/truth/1truth15.html

[6] Isham, C. 1988. “Creation of the Universe as a Quantum Process,” in Physics, Philosophy, and Theology, A Common Quest for Understanding, eds. R. J. Russell, W. R. Stoeger, and G. V. Coyne, Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory, p. 378.

[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/a-universe-from-nothing-by-lawrence-m-krauss.html?mabReward=relbias:w&adxnnl=1&module=Search&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1418576495-uhuZjnkGzY+luBnAcl0rPQ

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.”

Mistaken Objections that Seek to Trivialize Fine-Tuning

This is my third blog in a series on fine-tuning as evidence for God. Here are the first and second blogs, which deal with the philosophical background. Before I share the evidence I want to refute or at least rebut a few objections seen at the popular level but rarely in scholarly circles – otherwise, readers might just ignore the argument no matter what fine-tuning evidence is presented. Generally one should be wary of dismissive claims that attempt to trivialize what many intelligent physicists and philosophers think is worthy of discussion and evaluation. Even hardened skeptics admit that the fine-tuning evidence is worth evaluating. The late Christopher Hitchens answered a question concerning what is the best argument from the other side: “I think everyone of us picks the fine-tuning one as the most intriguing… you have to spend time thinking about it, working on it. It’s not a trivial [argument].” But let’s consider some popular level responses that seek to trivialize fine-tuning.

The Universe is not Adapted to Us, We’re Adapted to the Universe

This was the primary response given by atheist philosopher Peter Boghossian when I discussed fine-tuning in his recent Q&A session at UT Dallas. This response is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the articles in the physics literature as addressed in my previous blog. The fine-tuning deals with how the physics has to be setup before life gets started so without fine-tuning there is no evolutionary way for adapting life to the universe.

Aren’t Any Set of Physical Constants Just As Likely As Any Other?

About 5 years ago I had the opportunity to engage in sort of a friendly debate with the head of the science department at the high school where my daughter and son attended. She was taking a “Theory of Knowledge” class as part of the International Baccalaureate curriculum and the instructor needed to provide an example to students of presentations of opposing viewpoints. He had heard that I was an advocate of Intelligent Design and wanted each of us to make presentations supporting our viewpoints. He is an excellent teacher and heads the science department and I was somewhat nervous to be engaging in my first public debate of this type – this was before I had read a dozen or so books on fine-tuning and taken a graduate course on Cosmology. However, the instructor gave a surprisingly weak response to the fine-tuning evidence that I had presented. He set up an analogy for the students of dealing out a set of 5 cards from a set of 10 packs of cards with different backings. The odds of dealing out any particular hand were extraordinarily low but he argued that since any set of cards was just as likely as any other set, no inference could be made that the cards were not dealt at random. This was supposed to refute a design inference because any set of constants of physics is just as likely as any other.

However, the assumption that any set of constants is just as likely as any other is the very thing that we want to know. Starting off with that as an assumption begs the question against design. As Luke Barnes articulates in this excellent podcast dealing with responses to the fine-tuning claim, suppose we’re playing poker and every time I deal I get a royal flush. If this continues to happen, you become increasingly convinced that I’m likely to be cheating. If I responded to an accusation of cheating by just saying “well any set of 5 cards is just as likely as any other so you can’t accuse me of cheating” you would be rational to reject this explanation. The question is not “how likely is any set of 5 cards?” but rather “how likely is it I’m cheating if I just dealt myself 10 straight royal flushes?” This question accounts for the possibility that I’m cheating which would almost certainly be true in this scenario. So the right question is “given the fine-tuning evidence, how likely is it that the constants were set at random?” The values for physical constants conform to a very particular pattern – that which supports life. The fact that we have so many finely-tuned constants makes it unlikely that they were all set at random (at least in the single universe scenario and I’ve already shown some of the problems/challenges in multiverse explanations.)

RoyalFlush

Photo: Graeme Main/MOD

Puddle Thinking

Another failed objection to Fine-Tuning is based on something written by Douglas Adams, the well known author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (although this quote is not from that book):

“Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact, it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’”

Richard Dawkins applied this to the fine-tuning at Adams’ eulogy. There is a meaningful lesson perhaps in this analogy but it’s not applicable to the fine-tuning. In the analogy, “gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller” but the water still conforms the hole perfectly up to a certain height. If we discovered that any set of constants and initial conditions would permit life, then the puddle analogy would be applicable but since the universe has to be fine-tuned to support life, it’s quite disanalogous! Any configuration of dirt supports water whereas very, very few configurations of physics can support life. Some skeptical scientists who have studied the fine-tuning explicitly state this analogy “doesn’t hold water” – such as David Deutsch.

Improbable Events Happen All the Time

Yeah, but when a series of unlikely events have something in common that is predicted by a hypothesis one generally treats that as evidence for the hypothesis. There are many cases in science where inferences are made based on probabilities. Certain organisms, for example, are considered to be evolutionary descendants because it would be extremely unlikely for unrelated organisms to randomly arrive at the same DNA sequences (from a naturalistic perspective anyway). Unlikely events or states conform to a pattern predicted by the hypothesis of common descent.

In the fine-tuning case, a series of fundamental constant of physics such as various particle masses and force strengths all happen to take on values in a narrow range that permits life. These facts conform to a long-standing hypothesis that God would want to create a life-permitting universe and leave evidence that He created it and thus fine-tuning should be treated as evidence for design.

Just one Universe so Probability of Life Must be 1 out of 1

This response implies a frequentist view of probability whereas my fine-tuning argument deals with a Bayesian approach to probability which deals with epistemic probability (as a degree in belief). Refer to this article in the Stanford Encyclopedia for some issues in the finite frequentism version of probability theory – it might be useful in some contexts but there are many cases in science where we would be unable to make reasonable inferences without a more generalized approach to probability theory. For example, if scientists are reasoning about what caused the disappearance of the dinosaurs, finite frequentism is not a useful tool for analyzing this one-time event. There are also many cases in theoretical physics in which we can compute probabilities for certain events and don’t need to rely solely on past statistics. Suppose we have just created the first ever 20-sided die (an icosahedron with numbered sides). Under the finite frequentist approach, suppose we roll the die one time and obtain a 7, should we assume the probability of rolling 7’s is 1 out of 1? We can do better using theoretical physics and recognize that we have a 1/20th chance of rolling each number if the die is perfectly constructed. In engineering, we frequently assess theoretical probabilities before deciding what to build.

Consider an example from theoretical physics – we can know that universes in which the electromagnetic force is stronger than the strong nuclear force will likely be lifeless without having to find such a universe and test it for the presence of life. In such a universe there would be no stable atoms and thus no way of plausibly storing enough information to support a self-replicating system. As Luke Barnes says, analyzing fine-tuning is “not just like theoretical physics, it is theoretical physics.” He also has an excellent blog dealing with the limitations of finite frequentism.

Irrelevant Objections

A common objection is that the universe is not jam packed with life, therefore the universe is not-fine-tuned for life” or that “we can’t live in most parts of the universe so it’s not fine-tuned for life.” Note that these objections are very human-centric whereas in Christian theology God not humans is the most important thing in the universe. In my introductory blog, these kinds of overly narrow expectations of what God would or wouldn’t do are what I caution against. The logical approach for a skeptic would be to assess whether or not God exists in an open-minded way and then seek out more information about His attributes. A God that is not merely a human creation should differ at least slightly from human expectations. In terms of these particular objections, God may simply want to humble humans and show us how small and powerless we are compared to Him. More importantly though, these objections are irrelevant to the fine-tuning claim that I made:

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

Moreover, as Barnes points out – if you can understand why humans can’t live in these other parts of the universe such as the vacuum of space or near a black hole you can understand why the universe needs to be finely-tuned because without such fine-tuning the entire universe would be a near vacuum or too full of black holes for life. So in some sense these objections implicitly affirm the fine-tuning claim.

Atheist

Does The Origin of the Universe Point to God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are the Premises True?

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

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

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

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

Wilson_penzias200

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

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

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

Why physicists can’t avoid a creation event?

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

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

________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

What Counts as Evidence for God from Science?

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Feature X is so complicated it must be designed”

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

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

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

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

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

Using questionable theology to refute clear science

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

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

Can Science Disprove God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there is also Scientific Evidence for God!

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

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

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