Atheistic Scientism Revisited

I recently had the great pleasure of reading The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, by David Berlinksi. (Many thanks to Roger Barnett for recommending the book to me.) Berlinski, who knows far more about science than I do, writes with flair and scathing logic. I can’t do justice to his book, but I will try to convey its gist.

Before I do that, I must tell you that I enjoyed Berlinski’s book not only because of the author’s acumen and biting wit, but also because he agrees with me. (I suppose I should say, in modesty, that I agree with him.) I have argued against atheistic scientism in many blog posts (see below).

Here is my version of the argumment against atheism in its briefest form (June 15, 2011):

  1. In the material universe, cause precedes effect.
  2. Accordingly, the material universe cannot be self-made. It must have a “starting point,” but the “starting point” cannot be in or of the material universe.
  3. The existence of the universe therefore implies a separate, uncaused cause.

There is no reasonable basis — and certainly no empirical one — on which to prefer atheism to deism or theism. Strident atheists merely practice a “religion” of their own. They have neither logic nor science nor evidence on their side — and eons of belief against them.

As for scientism, I call upon Friedrich Hayek:

[W]e shall, wherever we are concerned … with slavish imitation of the method and language of Science, speak of “scientism” or the “scientistic” prejudice…. It should be noted that, in the sense in which we shall use these terms, they describe, of course, an attitude which is decidedly unscientific in the true sense of the word, since it involves a mechanical and uncritical application of habits of thought to fields different from those in which they have been formed. The scientistic as distinguished from the scientific view is not an unprejudiced but a very prejudiced approach which, before it has considered its subject, claims to know what is the most appropriate way of investigating it. [The Counter Revolution Of Science]

As Berlinski amply illustrates and forcibly argues, atheistic scientism is rampant in the so-called sciences. I have reproduced below some key passages from Berlinski’s book. They are representative, but far from exhaustive (though I did nearly exhaust the publisher’s copy limit on the Kindle edition). I have forgone the block-quotation style for ease of reading, and have inserted triple asterisks to indicate (sometimes subtle) changes of topic.

*   *   *

Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, … is not only an intellectually fulfilled atheist, he is determined that others should be as full as he. A great many scientists are satisfied that at last someone has said out loud what so many of them have said among themselves: Scientific and religious belief are in conflict. They cannot both be right. Let us get rid of the one that is wrong….

Because atheism is said to follow from various scientific doctrines, literary atheists, while they are eager to speak their minds, must often express themselves in other men’s voices. Christopher Hitchens is an example. With forthcoming modesty, he has affirmed his willingness to defer to the world’s “smart scientists” on any matter more exigent than finger-counting. Were smart scientists to report that a strain of yeast supported the invasion of Iraq, Hitchens would, no doubt, conceive an increased respect for yeast….

If nothing else, the attack on traditional religious thought marks the consolidation in our time of science as the single system of belief in which rational men and women might place their faith, and if not their faith, then certainly their devotion. From cosmology to biology, its narratives have become the narratives. They are, these narratives, immensely seductive, so much so that looking at them with innocent eyes requires a very deliberate act. And like any militant church, this one places a familiar demand before all others: Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

It is this that is new; it is this that is important….

For scientists persuaded that there is no God, there is no finer pleasure than recounting the history of religious brutality and persecution. Sam Harris is in this regard especially enthusiastic, The End of Faith recounting in lurid but lingering detail the methods of torture used in the Spanish Inquisition….

Nonetheless, there is this awkward fact: The twentieth century was not an age of faith, and it was awful. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot will never be counted among the religious leaders of mankind….

… Just who has imposed on the suffering human race poison gas, barbed wire, high explosives, experiments in eugenics, the formula for Zyklon B, heavy artillery, pseudo-scientific justifications for mass murder, cluster bombs, attack submarines, napalm, intercontinental ballistic missiles, military space platforms, and nuclear weapons?

If memory serves, it was not the Vatican….

What Hitler did not believe and what Stalin did not believe and what Mao did not believe and what the SS did not believe and what the Gestapo did not believe and what the NKVD did not believe and what the commissars, functionaries, swaggering executioners, Nazi doctors, Communist Party theoreticians, intellectuals, Brown Shirts, Black Shirts, gauleiters, and a thousand party hacks did not believe was that God was watching what they were doing.

And as far as we can tell, very few of those carrying out the horrors of the twentieth century worried overmuch that God was watching what they were doing either.

That is, after all, the meaning of a secular society….

Richard Weikart, … in his admirable treatise, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany, makes clear what anyone capable of reading the German sources already knew: A sinister current of influence ran from Darwin’s theory of evolution to Hitler’s policy of extermination.

*   *   *

It is wrong, the nineteenth-century British mathematician W. K. Clifford affirmed, “always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” I am guessing that Clifford believed what he wrote, but what evidence he had for his belief, he did not say.

Something like Clifford’s injunction functions as the premise in a popular argument for the inexistence of God. If God exists, then his existence is a scientific claim, no different in kind from the claim that there is tungsten to be found in Bermuda. We cannot have one set of standards for tungsten and another for the Deity….

There remains the obvious question: By what standards might we determine that faith in science is reasonable, but that faith in God is not? It may well be that “religious faith,” as the philosopher Robert Todd Carroll has written, “is contrary to the sum of evidence,” but if religious faith is found wanting, it is reasonable to ask for a restatement of the rules by which “the sum of evidence” is computed….

… The concept of sufficient evidence is infinitely elastic…. What a physicist counts as evidence is not what a mathematician generally accepts. Evidence in engineering has little to do with evidence in art, and while everyone can agree that it is wrong to go off half-baked, half-cocked, or half-right, what counts as being baked, cocked, or right is simply too variable to suggest a plausible general principle….

Neither the premises nor the conclusions of any scientific theory mention the existence of God. I have checked this carefully. The theories are by themselves unrevealing. If science is to champion atheism, the requisite demonstration must appeal to something in the sciences that is not quite a matter of what they say, what they imply, or what they reveal.

*   *   *

The universe in its largest aspect is the expression of curved space and time. Four fundamental forces hold sway. There are black holes and various infernal singularities. Popping out of quantum fields, the elementary particles appear as bosons or fermions. The fermions are divided into quarks and leptons. Quarks come in six varieties, but they are never seen, confined as they are within hadrons by a force that perversely grows weaker at short distances and stronger at distances that are long. There are six leptons in four varieties. Depending on just how things are counted, matter has as its fundamental constituents twenty-four elementary particles, together with a great many fields, symmetries, strange geometrical spaces, and forces that are disconnected at one level of energy and fused at another, together with at least a dozen different forms of energy, all of them active.

… It is remarkably baroque. And it is promiscuously catholic. For the atheist persuaded that materialism offers him a no-nonsense doctrinal affiliation, materialism in this sense comes to the declaration of a barroom drinker that he will have whatever he’s having, no matter who he is or what he is having. What he is having is what he always takes, and that is any concept, mathematical structure, or vagrant idea needed to get on with it. If tomorrow, physicists determine that particle physics requires access to the ubiquity of the body of Christ, that doctrine would at once be declared a physical principle and treated accordingly….

What remains of the ideology of the sciences? It is the thesis that the sciences are true— who would doubt it?— and that only the sciences are true. The philosopher Michael Devitt thus argues that “there is only one way of knowing, the empirical way that is the basis of science.” An argument against religious belief follows at once on the assumptions that theology is not science and belief is not knowledge. If by means of this argument it also follows that neither mathematics, the law, nor the greater part of ordinary human discourse have a claim on our epistemological allegiance, they must be accepted as casualties of war.

*   *   *

The claim that the existence of God should be treated as a scientific question stands on a destructive dilemma: If by science one means the great theories of mathematical physics, then the demand is unreasonable. We cannot treat any claim in this way. There is no other intellectual activity in which theory and evidence have reached this stage of development….

Is there a God who has among other things created the universe? “It is not by its conclusions,” C. F. von Weizsäcker has written in The Relevance of Science, but by its methodological starting point that modern science excludes direct creation. Our methodology would not be honest if this fact were denied . . . such is the faith in the science of our time, and which we all share” (italics added).

In science, as in so many other areas of life, faith is its own reward….

The medieval Arabic argument known as the kalam is an example of the genre [cosmological argument].

Its first premise: Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

And its second: The universe began to exist.

And its conclusion: So the universe had a cause.

This is not by itself an argument for the existence of God. It is suggestive without being conclusive. Even so, it is an argument that in a rush covers a good deal of ground carelessly denied by atheists. It is one thing to deny that there is a God; it is quite another to deny that the universe has a cause….

The universe, orthodox cosmologists believe, came into existence as the expression of an explosion— what is now called the Big Bang. The word explosion is a sign that words have failed us, as they so often do, for it suggests a humanly comprehensible event— a gigantic explosion or a stupendous eruption. This is absurd. The Big Bang was not an event taking place at a time or in a place. Space and time were themselves created by the Big Bang, the measure along with the measured….

Whatever its name, as far as most physicists are concerned, the Big Bang is now a part of the established structure of modern physics….

… Many physicists have found the idea that the universe had a beginning alarming. “So long as the universe had a beginning,” Stephen Hawking has written, “we could suppose it had a creator.” God forbid!

… Big Bang cosmology has been confirmed by additional evidence, some of it astonishing. In 1963, the physicists Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson observed what seemed to be the living remnants of the Big Bang— and after 14 billion years!— when in 1962 they detected, by means of a hum in their equipment, a signal in the night sky they could only explain as the remnants of the microwave radiation background left over from the Big Bang itself.

More than anything else, this observation, and the inference it provoked, persuaded physicists that the structure of Big Bang cosmology was anchored into fact….

“Perhaps the best argument in favor of the thesis that the Big Bang supports theism,” the astrophysicist Christopher Isham has observed, “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 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 or her theory.”…

… With the possibility of inexistence staring it in the face, why does the universe exist? To say that universe just is, as Stephen Hawking has said, is to reject out of hand any further questions. We know that it is. It is right there in plain sight. What philosophers such as ourselves wish to know is why it is. It may be that at the end of these inquiries we will answer our own question by saying that the universe exists for no reason whatsoever. At the end of these inquiries, and not the beginning….

Among physicists, the question of how something emerged from nothing has one decisive effect: It loosens their tongues. “One thing [that] is clear,” a physicist writes, “in our framing of questions such as ‘How did the Universe get started?’ is that the Universe was self-creating. This is not a statement on a ‘cause’ behind the origin of the Universe, nor is it a statement on a lack of purpose or destiny. It is simply a statement that the Universe was emergent, that the actual Universe probably derived from an indeterminate sea of potentiality that we call the quantum vacuum, whose properties may always remain beyond our current understanding.”

It cannot be said that “an indeterminate sea of potentiality” has anything like the clarifying effect needed by the discussion, and indeed, except for sheer snobbishness, physicists have offered no reason to prefer this description of the Source of Being to the one offered by Abu al-Hassan al Hashari in ninth-century Baghdad. The various Islamic versions of that indeterminate sea of being he rejected in a spasm of fierce disgust. “We confess,” he wrote, “that God is firmly seated on his throne. We confess that God has two hands, without asking how. We confess that God has two eyes, without asking how. We confess that God has a face.”…

Proposing to show how something might emerge from nothing, [the physicist Victor Stenger] introduces “another universe [that] existed prior to ours that tunneled through . . . to become our universe. Critics will argue that we have no way of observing such an earlier universe, and so this is not very scientific” (italics added). This is true. Critics will do just that. Before they do, they will certainly observe that Stenger has completely misunderstood the terms of the problem that he has set himself, and that far from showing how something can arise from nothing, he has shown only that something might arise from something else. This is not an observation that has ever evoked a firestorm of controversy….

… [A]ccording to the many-worlds interpretation [of quantum mechanics], at precisely the moment a measurement is made, the universe branches into two or more universes. The cat who was half dead and half alive gives rise to two separate universes, one containing a cat who is dead, the other containing a cat who is alive. The new universes cluttering up creation embody the quantum states that were previously in a state of quantum superposition.

The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is rather like the incarnation. It appeals to those who believe in it, and it rewards belief in proportion to which belief is sincere….

No less than the doctrines of religious belief, the doctrines of quantum cosmology are what they seem: biased, partial, inconclusive, and largely in the service of passionate but unexamined conviction.

*   *   *

The cosmological constant is a number controlling the expansion of the universe. If it were negative, the universe would appear doomed to contract in upon itself, and if positive, equally doomed to expand out from itself. Like the rest of us, the universe is apparently doomed no matter what it does. And here is the odd point: If the cosmological constant were larger than it is, the universe would have expanded too quickly, and if smaller, it would have collapsed too early, to permit the appearance of living systems….

“Scientists,” the physicist Paul Davies has observed, “are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth— the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issue concerns the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient ‘coincidences’ and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, and hence conscious beings, to exist. Change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal.”….

Why? Yes, why?

An appeal to still further physical laws is, of course, ruled out on the grounds that the fundamental laws of nature are fundamental. An appeal to logic is unavailing. The laws of nature do not seem to be logical truths. The laws of nature must be intrinsically rich enough to specify the panorama of the universe, and the universe is anything but simple. As Newton remarks, “Blind metaphysical necessity, which is certainly the same always and everywhere, could produce no variety of things.”

If the laws of nature are neither necessary nor simple, why, then, are they true?

Questions about the parameters and laws of physics form a single insistent question in thought: Why are things as they are when what they are seems anything but arbitrary?

One answer is obvious. It is the one that theologians have always offered: The universe looks like a put-up job because it is a put-up job.

*   *   *

Any conception of a contingent deity, Aquinas argues, is doomed to fail, and it is doomed to fail precisely because whatever He might do to explain the existence of the universe, His existence would again require an explanation. “Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary.”…

… “We feel,” Wittgenstein wrote, “that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched.” Those who do feel this way will see, following Aquinas, that the only inference calculated to overcome the way things are is one directed toward the way things must be….

“The key difference between the radically extravagant God hypothesis,” [Dawkins] writes, “and the apparently extravagant multiverse hypothesis, is one of statistical improbability.”

It is? I had no idea, the more so since Dawkins’s very next sentence would seem to undercut the sentence he has just written. “The multiverse, for all that it is extravagant, is simple,” because each of its constituent universes “is simple in its fundamental laws.”

If this is true for each of those constituent universes, then it is true for our universe as well. And if our universe is simple in its fundamental laws, what on earth is the relevance of Dawkins’s argument?

Simple things, simple explanations, simple laws, a simple God.

Bon appétit.

*   *   *

As a rhetorical contrivance, the God of the Gaps makes his effect contingent on a specific assumption: that whatever the gaps, they will in the course of scientific research be filled…. Western science has proceeded by filling gaps, but in filling them, it has created gaps all over again. The process is inexhaustible. Einstein created the special theory of relativity to accommodate certain anomalies in the interpretation of Clerk Maxwell’s theory of the electromagnetic field. Special relativity led directly to general relativity. But general relativity is inconsistent with quantum mechanics, the largest visions of the physical world alien to one another. Understanding has improved, but within the physical sciences, anomalies have grown great, and what is more, anomalies have grown great because understanding has improved….

… At the very beginning of his treatise Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution, Robert Carroll observes quite correctly that “most of the fossil record does not support a strictly gradualistic account” of evolution. A “strictly gradualistic” account is precisely what Darwin’s theory demands: It is the heart and soul of the theory.

But by the same token, there are no laboratory demonstrations of speciation either, millions of fruit flies coming and going while never once suggesting that they were destined to appear as anything other than fruit flies. This is the conclusion suggested as well by more than six thousand years of artificial selection, the practice of barnyard and backyard alike. Nothing can induce a chicken to lay a square egg or to persuade a pig to develop wheels mounted on ball bearings….

… In a research survey published in 2001, and widely ignored thereafter, the evolutionary biologist Joel Kingsolver reported that in sample sizes of more than one thousand individuals, there was virtually no correlation between specific biological traits and either reproductive success or survival. “Important issues about selection,” he remarked with some understatement, “remain unresolved.”

Of those important issues, I would mention prominently the question whether natural selection exists at all.

Computer simulations of Darwinian evolution fail when they are honest and succeed only when they are not. Thomas Ray has for years been conducting computer experiments in an artificial environment that he has designated Tierra. Within this world, a shifting population of computer organisms meet, mate, mutate, and reproduce.

Sandra Blakeslee, writing for the New York Times, reported the results under the headline “Computer ‘Life Form’ Mutates in an Evolution Experiment: Natural Selection Is Found at Work in a Digital World.”

Natural selection found at work? I suppose so, for as Blakeslee observes with solemn incomprehension, “the creatures mutated but showed only modest increases in complexity.” Which is to say, they showed nothing of interest at all. This is natural selection at work, but it is hardly work that has worked to intended effect.

What these computer experiments do reveal is a principle far more penetrating than any that Darwin ever offered: There is a sucker born every minute….

… Daniel Dennett, like Mexican food, does not fail to come up long after he has gone down. “Contemporary biology,” he writes, “has demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt that natural selection— the process in which reproducing entities must compete for finite resources and thereby engage in a tournament of blind trial and error from which improvements automatically emerge— has the power to generate breathtakingly ingenious designs” (italics added).

These remarks are typical in their self-enchanted self-confidence. Nothing in the physical sciences, it goes without saying— right?— has been demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt. The phrase belongs to a court of law. The thesis that improvements in life appear automatically represents nothing more than Dennett’s conviction that living systems are like elevators: If their buttons are pushed, they go up. Or down, as the case may be. Although Darwin’s theory is very often compared favorably to the great theories of mathematical physics on the grounds that evolution is as well established as gravity, very few physicists have been heard observing that gravity is as well established as evolution. They know better and they are not stupid….

… The greater part of the debate over Darwin’s theory is not in service to the facts. Nor to the theory. The facts are what they have always been: They are unforthcoming. And the theory is what it always was: It is unpersuasive. Among evolutionary biologists, these matters are well known. In the privacy of the Susan B. Anthony faculty lounge, they often tell one another with relief that it is a very good thing the public has no idea what the research literature really suggests.

“Darwin?” a Nobel laureate in biology once remarked to me over his bifocals. “That’s just the party line.”

In the summer of 2007, Eugene Koonin, of the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the National Institutes of Health, published a paper entitled “The Biological Big Bang Model for the Major Transitions in Evolution.”

The paper is refreshing in its candor; it is alarming in its consequences. “Major transitions in biological evolution,” Koonin writes, “show the same pattern of sudden emergence of diverse forms at a new level of complexity” (italics added). Major transitions in biological evolution? These are precisely the transitions that Darwin’s theory was intended to explain. If those “major transitions” represent a “sudden emergence of new forms,” the obvious conclusion to draw is not that nature is perverse but that Darwin was wrong….

Koonin is hardly finished. He has just started to warm up. “In each of these pivotal nexuses in life’s history,” he goes on to say, “the principal ‘types’ seem to appear rapidly and fully equipped with the signature features of the respective new level of biological organization. No intermediate ‘grades’ or intermediate forms between different types are detectable.”…

… [H[is views are simply part of a much more serious pattern of intellectual discontent with Darwinian doctrine. Writing in the 1960s and 1970s, the Japanese mathematical biologist Motoo Kimura argued that on the genetic level— the place where mutations take place— most changes are selectively neutral. They do nothing to help an organism survive; they may even be deleterious…. Kimura was perfectly aware that he was advancing a powerful argument against Darwin’s theory of natural selection. “The neutral theory asserts,” he wrote in the introduction to his masterpiece, The Neutral Theory of Molecular Evolution, “that the great majority of evolutionary changes at the molecular level, as revealed by comparative studies of protein and DNA sequences, are caused not by Darwinian selection but by random drift of selectively neutral or nearly neutral mutations” (italics added)….

… Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the evolutionary biologist Michael Lynch observed that “Dawkins’s agenda has been to spread the word on the awesome power of natural selection.” The view that results, Lynch remarks, is incomplete and therefore “profoundly misleading.” Lest there be any question about Lynch’s critique, he makes the point explicitly: “What is in question is whether natural selection is a necessary or sufficient force to explain the emergence of the genomic and cellular features central to the building of complex organisms.”…

When asked what he was in awe of, Christopher Hitchens responded that his definition of an educated person is that you have some idea how ignorant you are. This seems very much as if Hitchens were in awe of his own ignorance, in which case he has surely found an object worthy of his veneration.

*   *   *

Do read the whole thing. It will take you only a few hours. And it will remind you — as we badly need reminding these days — that sanity reigns in some corners of the universe.


Related posts:

Same Old Story, Same Old Song and Dance
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Thing about Science
Evolution and Religion
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design
Science, Logic, and God
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
The Big Bang and Atheism
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
Religion as Beneficial Evolutionary Adaptation
A Non-Believer Defends Religion
The Greatest Mystery
Landsburg Is Half-Right
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Thoughts about Evolutionary Teleology
A Digression about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Demystifying Science
Religion on the Left
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
Something from Nothing?
Something or Nothing
My Metaphysical Cosmology
Further Thoughts about Metaphysical Cosmology
Nothingness
Pinker Commits Scientism
Spooky Numbers, Evolution, and Intelligent Design
The Limits of Science (II)
The Pretence of Knowledge
“The Science Is Settled”
The Limits of Science, Illustrated by Scientists
Some Thoughts about Evolution
Rationalism, Empiricism, and Scientific Knowledge
Fine-Tuning in a Wacky Wrapper
Beating Religion with the Wrong End of the Stick
Quantum Mechanics and Free Will
“Science” vs. Science: The Case of Evolution, Race, and Intelligence
The Fragility of Knowledge
Altruism, One More Time
Religion, Creation, and Morality
The Pretence of Knowledge
Evolution, Intelligence, and Race

Fine-Tuning in a Wacky Wrapper

The Unz Review hosts columnists who hold a wide range of views, including whacko-bizarro-conspiracy-theory-nut-job ones. Case in point: Kevin Barrett, who recently posted a review of David Ray Griffin’s God Exists But Gawd Does Not: From Evil to the New Atheism to Fine Tuning. Some things said by Barrett in the course of his review suggest that Griffin, too, holds whacko-bizarro-conspiracy-theory-nut-job views; for example:

In 2004 he published The New Pearl Harbor — which still stands as the single most important work on 9/11 — and followed it up with more than ten books expanding on his analysis of the false flag obscenity that shaped the 21st century.

Further investigation — a trip to Wikipedia — tells me that Griffin believes there is

a prima facie case for the contention that there must have been complicity from individuals within the United States and joined the 9/11 Truth Movement in calling for an extensive investigation from the United States media, Congress and the 9/11 Commission. At this time, he set about writing his first book on the subject, which he called The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11 (2004).

Part One of the book looks at the events of 9/11, discussing each flight in turn and also the behaviour of President George W. Bush and his Secret Service protection. Part Two examines 9/11 in a wider context, in the form of four “disturbing questions.” David Ray Griffin discussed this book and the claims within it in an interview with Nick Welsh, reported under the headline Thinking Unthinkable Thoughts: Theologian Charges White House Complicity in 9/11 Attack….

Griffin’s second book on the subject was a direct critique of the 9/11 Commission Report, called The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions And Distortions (2005). Griffin’s article The 9/11 Commission Report: A 571-page Lie summarizes this book, presenting 115 instances of either omissions or distortions of evidence he claims are in the report, stating that “the entire Report is constructed in support of one big lie: that the official story about 9/11 is true.”

In his next book, Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11: A Call to Reflection and Action (2006), he summarizes some of what he believes is evidence for government complicity and reflects on its implications for Christians. The Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, publishers of the book, noted that Griffin is a distinguished theologian and praised the book’s religious content, but said, “The board believes the conspiracy theory is spurious and based on questionable research.”

And on and on and on. The moral of which is this: If you have already “know” the “truth,” it’s easy to weave together factual tidbits that seem to corroborate it. It’s an old game that any number of persons can play; for example: Mrs. Lincoln hired John Wilkes Booth to kill Abe; Woodrow Wilson was behind the sinking of the Lusitania, which “forced” him to ask for a declaration of war against Germany; FDR knew about Japan’s plans to bomb Pearl Harbor but did nothing so that he could then have a roundly applauded excuse to ask for a declaration of war on Japan; LBJ ordered the assassination of JFK; etc. Some of those bizarre plots have been “proved” by recourse to factual tidbits. I’ve no doubt that all of them could be “proved” in that way.

If that is so, you may well ask why I am writing about Barrett’s review of Griffin’s book? Because in the midst of Barrett’s off-kilter observations (e.g., “the Nazi holocaust, while terrible, wasn’t as incomparably horrible as it has been made out to be”) there’s a tantalizing passage:

Griffin’s Chapter 14, “Teleological Order,” provides the strongest stand-alone rational-empirical argument for God’s existence, one that should convince any open-minded person who is willing to invest some time in thinking about it and investigating the cited sources. This argument rests on the observation that at least 26 of the fundamental constants discovered by physicists appear to have been “fine tuned” to produce a universe in which complex, intelligent life forms could exist. A very slight variation in any one of these 26 numbers (including the strong force, electromagnetism, gravity, the mass difference between protons and neutrons, and many others) would produce a vastly less complex, rich, interesting universe, and destroy any possibility of complex life forms or intelligent observers. In short, the universe is indeed a miracle, in the sense of something indescribably wonderful and almost infinitely improbable. The claim that it could arise by chance (as opposed to intelligent design) is ludicrous.

Even the most dogmatic atheists who are familiar with the scientific facts admit this. Their only recourse is to embrace the multiple-universes interpretation of quantum physics, claim that there are almost infinitely many actual universes (virtually all of them uninteresting and unfit for life), and assert that we just happen to have gotten unbelievably lucky by finding ourselves in the one-universe-out-of-infinity-minus-one with all of the constants perfectly fine-tuned for our existence. But, they argue, we should not be grateful for this almost unbelievable luck — which is far more improbable than winning hundreds of multi-million-dollar lottery jackpots in a row. For our existence in an amazingly, improbably-wonderful-for-us universe is just a tautology, since we couldn’t possibly be in any of the vast, vast, vast majority of universes that we couldn’t possibly be in.

Griffin gently and persuasively points out that the multiple-universes defense of atheism is riddled with absurdities and inconsistencies. Occam’s razor definitively indicates that by far the best explanation of the facts is that the universe was created not just by an intelligent designer, but by one that must be considered almost supremely intelligent as well as almost supremely creative: a creative intelligence as far beyond Einstein-times-Leonardo-to-the-Nth-power as those great minds were beyond that of a common slug.

Fine-tuning is not a good argument for God’s existence. Here is a good argument for God’s existence:

  1. In the material universe, cause precedes effect.
  2. Accordingly, the material universe cannot be self-made. It must have a “starting point,” but the “starting point” cannot be in or of the material universe.
  3. The existence of the universe therefore implies a separate, uncaused cause.

Barrett (Griffin?) goes on:

Occam’s razor definitively indicates that by far the best explanation of the facts is that the universe was created not just by an intelligent designer, but by one that must be considered almost supremely intelligent as well as almost supremely creative: a creative intelligence as far beyond Einstein-times-Leonardo-to-the-Nth-power as those great minds were beyond that of a common slug.

Whoa! Occam’s razor indicates nothing of the kind:

Occam’s razor is used as a heuristic technique (discovery tool) to guide scientists in the development of theoretical models, rather than as an arbiter between published models. In the scientific method, Occam’s razor is not considered an irrefutable principle of logic or a scientific result; the preference for simplicity in the scientific method is based on the falsifiability criterion. For each accepted explanation of a phenomenon, there may be an extremely large, perhaps even incomprehensible, number of possible and more complex alternatives, because one can always burden failing explanations with ad hoc hypotheses to prevent them from being falsified; therefore, simpler theories are preferable to more complex ones because they are more testable.

Barrett’s (Griffin’s?) hypothesis about the nature of the supremely intelligent being is unduly complicated. Not that the existence of God is a testable (falsifiable) hypothesis. It’s just a logical necessity, and should be left at that.

Spooky Numbers, Evolution, and Intelligent Design

“Spooky numbers” refers to Steven Landsburg’s position — expressed here in commenting on a post by Bob Murphy about intelligent design — that natural numbers just are. This encapsulates Landsburg’s thesis:

The natural numbers are irreducibly complex, moreso (by any reasonable definition) than anything in biology. But the natural numbers were not designed and did not evolve….

I previously addressed Landsburg’s claim about natural numbers, here; for example:

Why have humans, widely separated in time and space, agreed about numbers and the manipulation of numbers (mathematics)? Specifically, with respect to the natural numbers, why is there agreement that something called “one” or “un” or “ein” (and so on) is followed by something called “two” or “deux” or “zwei,” and so on? And why is there agreement that those numbers, when added, equal something called “three” or “trois” or “drei,” and so on? Is that evidence for the transcendent timelessness of numbers and mathematics, or is it nothing more than descriptive necessity?By descriptive necessity, I mean that numbering things is just another way of describing them. If there are some oranges on a table, I can say many things about them; for example, they are spheroids, they are orange-colored, they contain juice and (usually) seeds, and their skins are bitter-tasting.

Another thing that I can say about the oranges is that there are a certain number of them — let us say three, in this case. But I can say that only because, by convention, I can count them: one, two, three. And if someone adds an orange to the aggregation, I can count again: one, two, three, four. And, by convention, I can avoid counting a second time by simply adding one (the additional orange) to three (the number originally on the table). Arithmetic is simply a kind of counting, and other mathematical manipulations are, in one way or another, extensions of arithmetic. And they all have their roots in numbering and the manipulation of numbers, which are descriptive processes.

But my ability to count oranges and perform mathematical operations based on counting does not mean that numbers and mathematics are timeless and transcendent. It simply means that I have used some conventions — devised and perfected by other humans over the eons — which enable me to describe certain facets of physical reality.

Mathematics is merely a tool that can be useful in describing some aspects of the real world. Evolution and intelligent design, on the other hand, are theories about the real world. Though evolution and intelligent design are not complete theories of the real world, they are far more than mere mathematical descriptions of it.

To understand the distinction that I’m making, consider this: Some of the differences between apples and oranges can be described by resorting to the mathematics of color, taste, shape, and so on. But an apple or an orange — as an entity — is more than the sum of its various, partial descriptors. So, too, is the real world more than the sum of any number of mathematics or descriptors (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.) that have mathematical components. The real world encompasses love, hate, social customs, and religion — among many things that defy complete (or even partial) mathematical description.

Now, what about evolution and intelligent design? Are they reconcilable theories? Murphy implies that they are. He says that

Michael Behe–[a leading proponent of intelligent design] who (in)famously said that the bacterial flagellum exhibited too much design to have arisen through unguided evolution in the modern neo-Darwinian sense–does not have a problem with the idea that all of today’s cells share a common ancestor….

So yes, Behe is fine with the proposition that if we had a camera and a time machine, we could go observe the first cell on earth as it reproduced and yielded offspring. There would be nothing magical in these operations; they would obey the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. The cells would further divide and so on, and then over billions of years there would be mutations and the environment would favor some of the mutants over their kin, such that natural selection over time would yield the bacterial flagellum and the human nervous system.

Yet Behe’s point is that when you look at what this process spits out at the end, you can’t deny that a guiding intelligence must be involved somehow.

The question-begging of that last sentence is what frustrates scientists. It says, in effect, that there must be a guiding intelligence, and the complexity of the products of evolution proves it.

No, it doesn’t prove it. God — as an entity apart from the material universe — cannot be shown to exist by pointing to particular aspects of the material universe, be they evolution or the Big Bang (to offer but two examples). God is a logical necessity, beyond empirical proof or disproof.

I greatly respect the sincerity of theists and the credence they give to sacred texts and accounts of visions and miracles. Their credence may be well-placed. But I am just too much of a doubting Thomas to rely on unfalsifiable, second-hand evidence about the nature of God and His role in the workings of the universe.

I will say this: Given the logical necessity of God, it follows that the universe operates in accordance with the “laws” that are inherent in His creation. Intelligent design, as an explanation for the forms taken by living creatures, is therefore something of a truism. But intelligent design cannot be proved by reference to products of evolution.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Free Will: A Proof by Example?
A Theory of Everything, Occam’s Razor, and Baseball
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Science, Logic, and God
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
What Is Time?
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
The Tenth Dimension
The Big Bang and Atheism
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Demystifying Science
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
Are the Natural Numbers Supernatural?
Not-So-Random Thoughts (II) (first item)
Mysteries: Sacred and Profane
Something from Nothing?
Something or Nothing
My Metaphysical Cosmology
Further Thoughts about Metaphysical Cosmology
Nothingness

Nothingness

Edward Feser’s post, “Fifty Shades of Nothing,” prompts this one.

Preamble:

Nothing is the alternative to the existence of the universe,* that is, to the existence of something. Something is either caused by a self-existent, uncaused entity (i.e., God), or something simply exists. In the letter case, something must be uncaused and eternal, ruling out the possibility of nothing.

Therefore, given the necessity of God, nothing is possible, though there has been something for at least 14 billion years, according to the Big Bang theory. And there may have been something into the indefinite past, according to cyclic models of cosmology.

This suggests the following questions:

A. Given that nothing is possible, what can be said about it, other than that is the alternative to something?

Consider:

1. Make a fist and then open it. What do you see? “Nothing” is the usual answer if you’re not holding an object in your hand. But the “nothing” that you see is in fact the absence of an object in your hand. (It would be mere pedantry to say that your hand is “holding” a column of air, which is “something,” anyway.) Therefore, you don’t see “nothing”; you see an open hand, which happens not to hold an object. But the open hand is part of something, that is, the universe. If there were nothing, there would be no open hand to begin with. A vacuum in a bottle or in outer space is of the same ilk; it is an apparent emptiness (lack of matter-energy) that is noticed only because there is something, the universe that includes the bottle and the objects that surround and define outer space

2. If you are a philosophical materialist (i.e., disbeliever in supernatural phenomena or divine interventions),** you believe that a person ceases to exist when his brain ceases to function (if not when the person lapses into permanent unconsciousness). From your perspective, the cessation of brain function (or even of consciousness) puts an end to the things that made the person a particular being with a unique set of characteristics: personality, memory, habits, ways of talking, laughing, etc. You might even say that where there was a particular person there is now “nothing.” But that “nothing” is really an absence or negation of the particular person who existed before brain death (or permanent lapse into unconsciousness). It is not the kind of nothing that is understood as an alternative to the existence of the universe; it is the perceived absence of an erstwhile portion of that universe. In fact, by the laws of physics, that erstwhile portion of the universe continues to exist, though not in a form that you would you would call a person. Here again, we have “nothing” (i.e., absence of a person) only because there is something.

Generally:

No more can be said of nothing than that it is the alternative to something (i.e., the universe). Nothing, by definition, has no characteristics. It is neither imaginable nor describable, despite the temptation to think and speak of it as some kind of empty blackness within which nothing exists. The image of an empty blackness is an image of something, not nothing.

B. Can nothing follow something, as death follows life?

Nothing can follow something only if something (i.e., the universe) is annihilated. Annihilation necessarily means the disappearance of all traces of matter and energy and the space that contains their existence. It doesn’t mean the conversion of matter, energy, and space to a mere blankness (black, white, or otherwise).

Annihilation is beyond the ability of humans, and beyond the forces of nature. It is a job for God.

C. Does the fact that there is something rule out the possibility of nothing?

No. See the preamble and the answer to B.

__________
* I use “universe” generally, to include the possibility of a spatial and/or temporal multiverse.

** I am a kind of philosophical materialist, but unlike most materialists I am not an atheist. Specifically, I believe that the universe was created by God. But I also doubt (regretfully) that God plays an active role in the workings of His creation, except to sustain it (as against the possibility of annihilation). As long as the universe is sustained, it (seemingly) operates according to “laws” that are (in theory) discoverable, though the ultimate nature of existence is not discoverable.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Free Will: A Proof by Example?
A Theory of Everything, Occam’s Razor, and Baseball
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Science, Logic, and God
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
What Is Time?
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
The Tenth Dimension
The Big Bang and Atheism
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Demystifying Science
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
Not-So-Random Thoughts (II) (first item)
Mysteries: Sacred and Profane
Something from Nothing?
Something or Nothing
My Metaphysical Cosmology
Further Thoughts about Metaphysical Cosmology

Further Thoughts about Metaphysical Cosmology

I have stated my metaphysical cosmology:

1. There is necessarily a creator of the universe, which comprises all that exists in “nature.”

2. The creator is not part of nature; that is, he stands apart from his creation and is neither of its substance nor governed by its laws. (I use “he” as a term of convenience, not to suggest that the creator is some kind of human or animate being, as we know such beings.)

3. The creator designed the universe, if not in detail then in its parameters. The parameters are what we know as matter-energy (substance) and its various forms, motions, and combinations (the laws that govern the behavior of matter-energy).

4. The parameters determine everything that is possible in the universe. But they do not necessarily dictate precisely the unfolding of events in the universe. Randomness and free will are evidently part of the creator’s design.

5. The human mind and its ability to “do science” — to comprehend the laws of nature through observation and calculation — are artifacts of the creator’s design.

6. Two things probably cannot be known through science: the creator’s involvement in the unfolding of natural events; the essential character of the substance on which the laws of nature operate.

It follows that science can neither prove nor disprove the preceding statements. If that is so, why can I not say, with equal certainty, that the universe is made of pea soup and supported by undetectable green giants?

There are two answers to that question. The first answer is that my cosmology is based on logical necessity; there is nothing of logic or necessity in the claims about pea soup and undetectable green giants. The second and related answer is that claims about pea soup and green giants — and their ilk — are obviously outlandish. There is an essential difference between (a) positing a creator and making limited but reasonable claims about his role and (b) engaging in obviously outlandish speculation.

What about various mythologies (e.g., Norse and Greek) and creation legends, which nowadays seem outlandish even to persons who believe in a creator? Professional atheists (e.g., Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Lawrence Krauss) point to the crudeness of those mythologies and legends as a reason to reject the idea of a creator who set the universe and its laws in motion. (See, for example, “Russell’s Teapot,” discussed here.) But logic is not on the side of the professional atheists. The crudeness of a myth or legend, when viewed through the lens of contemporary knowledge, cannot be taken as evidence against creation. The crudeness of a myth or legend merely reflects the crudeness of the state of knowledge when the myth or legend arose.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Free Will: A Proof by Example?
A Theory of Everything, Occam’s Razor, and Baseball
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Science, Logic, and God
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
What Is Time?
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
The Tenth Dimension
The Big Bang and Atheism
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Demystifying Science
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
Not-So-Random Thoughts (II) (first item)
Mysteries: Sacred and Profane
Something from Nothing?
Something or Nothing
My Metaphysical Cosmology

My Metaphysical Cosmology

This post is a work in progress. It draws on and extends the posts listed at the bottom.

1. There is necessarily a creator of the universe, which comprises all that exists in “nature.”

2. The creator is not part of nature; that is, he stands apart from his creation and is neither of its substance nor governed by its laws. (I use “he” as a term of convenience, not to suggest that the creator is some kind of human or animate being, as we know such beings.)

3. The creator designed the universe, if not in detail then in its parameters. The parameters are what we know as matter-energy (substance) and its various forms, motions, and combinations (the laws that govern the behavior of matter-energy).

4. The parameters determine everything that is possible in the universe. But they do not necessarily dictate precisely the unfolding of events in the universe. Randomness and free will are evidently part of the creator’s design.

5. The human mind and its ability to “do science” — to comprehend the laws of nature through observation and calculation — are artifacts of the creator’s design.

6. Two things probably cannot be known through science: the creator’s involvement in the unfolding of natural events; the essential character of the substance on which the laws of nature operate.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Free Will: A Proof by Example?
A Theory of Everything, Occam’s Razor, and Baseball
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Science, Logic, and God
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
What Is Time?
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
The Tenth Dimension
The Big Bang and Atheism
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Demystifying Science
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
Not-So-Random Thoughts (II) (first item)
Mysteries: Sacred and Profane
Something from Nothing?
Something or Nothing

Something from Nothing?

I do not know if Lawrence Krauss typifies scientists in his logical obtuseness, but he certainly exemplifies the breed of so-called scientists who proclaim atheism as a scientific necessity.  According to a review by David Albert of Krauss’s recent book, A Universe from Nothing,

the laws of quantum mechanics have in them the makings of a thoroughly scientific and adamantly secular explanation of why there is something rather than nothing.

Albert’s review, which I have quoted extensively elsewhere, comports with Edward Feser’s analysis:

The bulk of the book is devoted to exploring how the energy present in otherwise empty space, together with the laws of physics, might have given rise to the universe as it exists today. This is at first treated as if it were highly relevant to the question of how the universe might have come from nothing—until Krauss acknowledges toward the end of the book that energy, space, and the laws of physics don’t really count as “nothing” after all. Then it is proposed that the laws of physics alone might do the trick—though these too, as he implicitly allows, don’t really count as “nothing” either.

Bill Vallicella puts it this way:

[N]o one can have any objection to a replacement of the old Leibniz question — Why is there something rather than nothing? … — with a physically tractable question, a question of interest to cosmologists and one amenable to a  physics solution. Unfortunately, in the paragraph above, Krauss provides two different replacement questions while stating, absurdly, that the second is a more succinct version of the first:

K1. How can a physical universe arise from an initial condition in which there are no particles, no space and perhaps no time?

K2. Why is there ‘stuff’ instead of empty space?

These are obviously distinct questions.  To answer the first one would have to provide an account of how the universe originated from nothing physical: no particles, no space, and “perhaps” no time.  The second question would be easier to answer because it presupposes the existence of space and does not demand that empty space be itself explained.

Clearly, the questions are distinct.  But Krauss conflates them. Indeed, he waffles between them, reverting to something like the first question after raising the second.  To ask why there is something physical as opposed to nothing physical is quite different from asking why there is physical “stuff” as opposed to empty space.

Several years ago, I explained the futility of attempting to decide the fundamental question of creation and its cause on scientific grounds:

Consider these three categories of knowledge (which long pre-date their use by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld): known knowns, know unknowns, and unknown unknowns. Here’s how that trichotomy might be applied to a specific aspect of scientific knowledge, namely, Earth’s rotation about the Sun:

1. Known knowns — Earth rotates about the Sun, in accordance with Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

2. Known unknowns — Earth, Sun, and the space between them comprise myriad quantum phenomena (e.g., matter and its interactions of matter in, on, and above the Earth and Sun; the transmission of light from Sun to Earth). We don’t know whether and how quantum phenomena influence Earth’s rotation about the Sun; that is, whether Einsteinian gravity is a partial explanation of a more complete theory of gravity that has been dubbed quantum gravity.

3. Unknown unknowns — Other things might influence Earth’s rotation about the Sun, but we don’t know what those other things are, if there are any.

For the sake of argument, suppose that scientists were as certain about the origin of the universe in the Big Bang as they are about the fact of Earth’s rotation about the Sun. Then, I would write:

1. Known knowns — The universe was created in the Big Bang, and the universe — in the large — has since been “unfolding” in accordance with Einsteinian relativity.

2. Known unknowns — The Big Bang can be thought of as a meta-quantum event, but we don’t know if that event was a manifestation of quantum gravity. (Nor do we know how quantum gravity might be implicated in the subsequent unfolding of the universe.)

3. Unknown unknowns — Other things might have caused the Big Bang, but we don’t know if there were such things or what those other things were — or are.

Thus — to a scientist qua scientist — God and Creation are unknown unknowns because, as unfalsifiable hypotheses, they lie outside the scope of scientific inquiry. Any scientist who pronounces, one way or the other, on the existence of God and the reality of Creation has — for the moment, at least — ceased to be scientist.

Which is not to say that the question of creation is immune to logical analysis; thus:

To say that the world as we know it is the product of chance — and that it may exist only because it is one of vastly many different (but unobservable) worlds resulting from chance — is merely to state a theoretical possibility. Further, it is a possibility that is beyond empirical proof or disproof; it is on a par with science fiction, not with science.

If the world as we know it — our universe — is not the product of chance, what is it? A reasonable answer is found in another post of mine, “Existence and Creation.” Here is the succinct version:

  1. In the material universe, cause precedes effect.
  2. Accordingly, the material universe cannot be self-made. It must have a “starting point,” but the “starting point” cannot be in or of the material universe.
  3. The existence of the universe therefore implies a separate, uncaused cause.

There is no reasonable basis — and certainly no empirical one — on which to prefer atheism to deism or theism. Strident atheists merely practice a “religion” of their own. They have neither logic nor science nor evidence on their side — and eons of belief against them.

Another blogger once said this about the final sentence of that quotation, which I lifted from another post of mine:

I would have to disagree with the last sentence. The problem is epistemology — how do we know what we know? Atheists, especially ‘scientistic’ atheists, take the position that the modern scientific methodology of observation, measurement, and extrapolation from observation and measurement, is sufficient to detect anything that Really Exists — and that the burden of proof is on those who propose that something Really Exists that cannot be reliably observed and measured; which is of course impossible within that mental framework. They have plenty of logic and science on their side, and their ‘evidence’ is the commonly-accepted maxim that it is impossible to prove a negative.

I agree that the problem of drawing conclusions about creation from science (as opposed to logic) is epistemological. The truth and nature of creation is an “unknown unknown” or, more accurately, an “unknowable unknown.” With regard to such questions, scientists do not have logic and science on their side when they asset that the existence of the universe is possible without a creator, as a matter of science (as Krauss does, for example). Moreover, it is scientists who are trying to prove a negative: that there is neither a creator nor the logical necessity of one.

“Something from nothing” is possible, but only if there is a creator who is not part of the “something” that is the proper subject of scientific exploration and explanation.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Three Perspectives on Life: A Parable
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Evolution and Religion
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design
Science, Logic, and God
Capitalism, Liberty, and Christianity
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
Science, Axioms, and Economics
The Big Bang and Atheism
The Universe . . . Four Possibilities
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
Evolution as God?
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps

Probability, Existence, and Creation: A Footnote

Mario Livio writes:

[H]umans invent mathematical concepts by way of abstracting elements from the world around them—shapes, lines, sets, groups, and so forth—either for some specific purpose or simply for fun. They then go on to discover the connections among those concepts. Because this process of inventing and discovering is man-made—unlike the kind of discovery to which the Platonists subscribe—our mathematics is ultimately based on our perceptions and the mental pictures we can conjure….

[W]e adopt mathematical tools that apply to our world—a fact that has undoubtedly contributed to the perceived effectiveness of mathematics. Scientists do not choose analytical methods arbitrarily but rather on the basis of how well they predict the results of their experiments….

Not only do scientists cherry-pick solutions, they also tend to select problems that are amenable to mathematical treatment. There exists, however, a whole host of phenomena for which no accurate mathematical predictions are possible, sometimes not even in principle. In economics, for example, many variables—the detailed psychology of the masses, to name one—do not easily lend themselves to quantitative analysis. The predictive value of any theory relies on the constancy of the underlying relations among variables. Our analyses also fail to fully capture systems that develop chaos, in which the tiniest change in the initial conditions may produce entirely different end results, prohibiting any long-term predictions. Mathematicians have developed statistics and probability to deal with such shortcomings, but mathematics itself is limited, as Austrian logician Gödel famously proved….

This careful selection of problems and solutions only partially accounts for mathematics’s success in describing the laws of nature. Such laws must exist in the first place! Luckily for mathematicians and physicists alike, universal laws appear to govern our cosmos: an atom 12 billion light-years away behaves just like an atom on Earth; light in the distant past and light today share the same traits; and the same gravitational forces that shaped the universe’s initial structures hold sway over present-day galaxies. Mathematicians and physicists have invented the concept of symmetry to describe this kind of immunity to change….

I started with two basic, interrelated questions: Is mathematics invented or discovered? And what gives mathematics its explanatory and predictive powers? I believe that we know the answer to the first question. Mathematics is an intricate fusion of inventions and discoveries. Concepts are generally invented, and even though all the correct relations among them existed before their discovery, humans still chose which ones to study. The second question turns out to be even more complex. There is no doubt that the selection of topics we address mathematically has played an important role in math’s perceived effectiveness. But mathematics would not work at all were there no universal features to be discovered. You may now ask: Why are there universal laws of nature at all? Or equivalently: Why is our universe governed by certain symmetries and by locality? I truly do not know the answers, except to note that perhaps in a universe without these properties, complexity and life would have never emerged, and we would not be here to ask the question. (“Why Math Works,” Scientific American, August 2, 2011)

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Three Perspectives on Life: A Parable
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Evolution and Religion
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design
Science, Logic, and God
Capitalism, Liberty, and Christianity
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
Science, Axioms, and Economics
The Big Bang and Atheism
The Universe . . . Four Possibilities
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
Evolution as God?
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation

Probability, Existence, and Creation

A point that I make in “More about Probability and Existence” is made more eloquently and succinctly by Jacques Maritain:

To attempt to demonstrate that the world can be the effect of chance by beginning with the presupposition of this very possibility is to become the victim of a patent sophism or a gross illusion. In order to have the right to apply the calculus of probabilities to the case of the formation of the world, it would be necessary first to have established that the world can be the effect of chance. (Approaches to God, Macmillan paperback edition, pp. 60-1.)

To say that the world as we know it is the product of chance — and that it may exist only because it is one of vastly many different (but unobservable) worlds resulting from chance — is merely to state a theoretical possibility. Further, it is a possibility that is beyond empirical proof or disproof; it is on a par with science fiction, not with science.

If the world as we know it — our universe — is not the product of chance, what is it? A reasonable answer is found in another post of mine, “Existence and Creation.” Here is the succinct version:

  1. In the material universe, cause precedes effect.
  2. Accordingly, the material universe cannot be self-made. It must have a “starting point,” but the “starting point” cannot be in or of the material universe.
  3. The existence of the universe therefore implies a separate, uncaused cause.

There is no reasonable basis — and certainly no empirical one — on which to prefer atheism to deism or theism. Strident atheists merely practice a “religion” of their own. They have neither logic nor science nor evidence on their side — and eons of belief against them.

UPDATE 01/11/16:

Philosopher Gary Gutting writes:

The idea of a cosmological argument is to move from certain known effects to God as their cause. To construct such an argument, we need a principle of causality: a statement of which sorts of things need causes to explain them. The simplest such principle would be: everything has a cause. But this is too strong a claim, since if everything has a cause, then God will have a cause and so be dependent on something else, which would, therefore, have a better claim to be God. A cosmological argument will work only if we have a causal principle that will not apply to God….

A cosmological argument is an effort to carry the search for an explanation as far as it can go, to see if we can discover not just an explanation of some single thing but an explanation of everything—for, we might say, the world (kosmos in Greek) as a whole. Let’s call this an ultimate explanation. We want, therefore, an argument that will show that God is the ultimate explanation. Perhaps, then, the causal principle we need is that there must be an ultimate explanation (provided by an ultimate cause).

Now, however, we need to think more carefully about what an ultimate explanation would explain. We’ve said it’s an explanation of everything, but just what does this mean? Something that needs explanation is, by definition, not self-explanatory. It needs to be explained by something other than itself. As we’ve seen, if we sought an explanation of literally everything, then there would be nothing available to provide the explanation.

If there is to be an ultimate explanation, then, it must be something that itself requires no explanation but explains everything else. The world that the cosmological argument is trying to explain must not be everything but everything that needs an explanation. But what things require explanation?

One plausible answer is that we must explain those things that do exist but might not exist, things that, to use the traditional technical term, are contingent….

Correspondingly, for the cosmological argument to work, the explanation of everything contingent must be something that is not contingent; namely, something that not only exists but also cannot not exist; it must, that is, be necessary. If it weren’t necessary, it would be contingent and so itself in need of explanation. (Notice that what is necessary is not contingent, and vice versa.) Simply put, the God the cosmological argument wants to prove exists has to be a necessary, not a contingent, being.

Here, then, we move to a still better principle of causality: that every contingent thing requires a cause. But we still need to be careful. Most contingent things can be explained by other contingent things. The world (the totality of contingent things) is a complex explanatory system…. If this makes sense, the cosmological argument can’t get off the ground because, as we’ve seen, its God is a necessary being that’s needed to explain what contingent things can’t….

What does this mean for our effort to construct a cosmological argument? It means that our argument must deny that there is an infinite regress of contingent things that explains everything that needs explaining. Otherwise, there’s no need for a necessary God.

This is a crucial stage in our search for a cosmological argument. We have a plausible principle of causality: any contingent being needs a cause. We now see that we need another premise: that an infinite regress of contingent things cannot explain everything that needs explaining….

We can agree that there might be an infinite series of contingent explainers but still maintain that such an infinite series itself needs an explanation. We might, in effect, grant that there could be an infinite series of tortoises, each supporting the other—and the whole chain supporting the Earth—but still insist that there must be some explanation for why all those tortoises exist. That is, our argument will require that an infinite regress of contingent things must itself have an explanation. This gives us the two key premises of our cosmological argument: a principle of causality and a principle for excluding an infinite regress.

Now we can formulate our argument:

  1. There are contingent beings.
  2. The existence of any contingent being has an explanation.
  3. Such an explanation must be provided by either a necessary being or by an infinite regress of contingent beings.
  4. An explanation by means of an infinite regress of contingent beings is itself in need of an explanation by a necessary being.
  5. Therefore, there is a necessary being that explains the existence of contingent beings.

This argument is logically valid; that is, if the premises are true, then the conclusion is true…. [“Can We Prove That God Exists? Richard Dawkins and the Limits of Faith and Atheism,” Salon, November 29, 2015]

That looks like my argument.

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Existence and Creation

Existence and Creation

Logic and facts are puny things when it comes to the question of existence. Human beings do not (and probably cannot) comprehend the essence of matter-energy — the stuff of which the universe and everything in it is made. The following observations are therefore on a conjectural plane with all such musings.

TERMS

Universe = everything that exists anywhere, including other realms (multiverses), unconnected with “our” universe; parallel realities (many worlds); and other discrete assemblages of matter-energy in space-time.

God = hypothetical uncaused cause of the universe — a being or force whose power, knowledge, and degree of involvement in the shape of the universe and its events are matters of faith.

FIVE POSSIBILITIES

1. The universe simply exists without cause, has always existed, and will always exist unless it contains the seeds of its own destruction.

2. The universe simply exists without cause, but came into existence at a specific (if indeterminate) time, and may persist or not (see 1).

3. The universe is coterminous with God (a kind of monism), has always existed, and will always exist, though its essence and form may change.

4. God and the universe are eternal, but God exists apart from the universe and may change the essence and form of the universe.

5. God is eternal and exists apart from the universe; He brought the universe into existence at a finite time, and — in addition to changing its essence and form — may extinguish it at any time.

DISCUSSION OF THE POSSIBILITIES

The idea of an uncaused universe runs counter to human experience, which finds a cause for everything. This is true even for quantum fluctuations, which involve the movement of energy from state to state but do not change the total amount of energy in the universe. Possibilities 1 and 2 are therefore counterintuitive.

Possibility 3 is consistent with some strains of theism and animism, and it is hard to separate from possibility 4. If the universe is coterminous with God, then (presumably) God shapes His own essence and form, but that leaves open the related possibility of a God who can diminish Himself and eliminate His ability to further manipulate the universe. This seems unlikely.

Possibility 4 posits an eternal force or being which stands outside matter-energy-space-time and shapes it (initially and/or continuously, to some degree). The unappealing aspect of possibility 4 is the eternal coexistence of God and universe, which allows the universe to arise without cause.

This leads to possibility 5, which is the most appealing one. It enables causal relationships in the fabric of matter-energy-space-time, while explaining the creation of those things, in the first place, by an uncaused cause. That uncaused cause precedes the universe, which is the proper relationship if God is not “just” the universe or coexistent with it (possibilities 3 and 4). And if God stands apart as Creator, then God (almost certainly) possesses the power to extinguish His creation. Possibility 5, of course, is consistent with the Big Bang, though there may be more than one of them in the past and future of the universe.

For the while, I leave (as an exercise for myself and the reader) the question of God’s role in the initiation and evolution of the universe and its contents.

Related reading:
Existence of God (Wikipedia article, with links to external sources)
Universes, by John Leslie
The Bible (Douay-Rheims):

Book of Genesis
[1] In the beginning God created heaven, and earth. [2] And the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God moved over the waters. [3] And God said: Be light made. And light was made. [4] And God saw the light that it was good; and he divided the light from the darkness. [5] And he called the light Day, and the darkness Night; and there was evening and morning one day.

[6] And God said: Let there be a firmament made amidst the waters: and let it divide the waters from the waters. [7] And God made a firmament, and divided the waters that were under the firmament, from those that were above the firmament, and it was so. [8] And God called the firmament, Heaven; and the evening and morning were the second day. [9] God also said: Let the waters that are under the heaven, be gathered together into one place: and let the dry land appear. And it was so done. [10] And God called the dry land, Earth; and the gathering together of the waters, he called Seas. And God saw that it was good….

Gospel According to Saint John
[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] The same was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. [4] In him was life, and the life was the light of men. [5] And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it….

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Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
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Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
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Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
Evolution as God?
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence

The Improbability of Us

An argument often used against the belief in a Creator who designed the universe runs like this:

The existence of humans is indeed improbable. The laws of nature that govern our existence are but one set out of infinitely many possible sets of laws of nature. Ad had they differed only slightly the universe would be a mere swirl of subatomic particles, free from medium-sized objects like rocks, trees and humans. And even given the actual laws of nature, evolutionary history would have taken different twists and turns and failed to deliver human beings. (Jamie Whyte, Bad Thoughts – A Guide to Clear Thinking, p. 125)

Embedded in that seemingly reasonable statement is an unwarranted — but critical — assumption: that there are infinitely many (or even a large number) of possible sets of laws of nature. But there is no way of knowing such a thing. There is only one observable universe, and one set of observable and (mostly*) consistent laws of nature within it. It is impossible for the human mind to conjure an alternative set of consistent natural laws that could, in fact, coexist in a possible universe. Any such conjuring would be mere speculation, not a falsifiable hypothesis.

Given that, it is impossible to deny that a grand design lies behind the universe. But it is also impossible to prove, by the methods of science, the existence of a grand design. The fact of the universe’s existence is, as I have called it, the greatest mystery.

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Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
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The Big Bang and Atheism
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Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
Evolution as God?
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
__________
* The exception is quantum mechanics, the science of the sub-atomic world. Sub-atomic particles do not seem to behave according to the same physical laws that describe the actions of the visible universe; their behavior is discontinuous (“jumpy”) and described probabilistically, not by the kinds of continuous (“smooth”) mathematical formulae that apply to the macroscopic world.

Landsburg Is Half-Right

*     *     *

God does not play dice with the universe. — Albert Einstein

Einstein, stop telling God what to do. — Niels Bohr

*     *     *

In a post at The Big Questions blog, Steven Landsburg writes:

Richard Dawkins . . . [has] got this God thing all wrong. Here’s some of his latest, from the Wall Street Journal:

Where does [Darwinian evolution] leave God? The kindest thing to say is that it leaves him with nothing to do, and no achievements that might attract our praise, our worship or our fear. Evolution is God’s redundancy notice, his pink slip. But we have to go further. A complex creative intelligence with nothing to do is not just redundant. A divine designer is all but ruled out by the consideration that he must be at least as complex as the entities he was wheeled out to explain. God is not dead. He was never alive in the first place.

But Darwinian evolution can’t replace God, because Darwinian evolution (at best) explains life, and explaining life was never the hard part. The Big Question is not: Why is there life? The Big Question is: Why is there anything?

So far, so good. But Landsburg doesn’t quit when he’s ahead:

Ah, says, Dawkins, but there’s no role for God there either:

Making the universe is the one thing no intelligence, however superhuman, could do, because an intelligence is complex—statistically improbable —and therefore had to emerge, by gradual degrees, from simpler beginnings

That, however, is just wrong. It is not true that all complex things emerge by gradual degrees from simpler beginnings. In fact, the most complex thing I’m aware of is the system of natural numbers (0,1,2,3, and all the rest of them) together with the laws of arithmetic. That system did not emerge, by gradual degrees, from simpler beginnings. . . .

Now I happen to agree with Professor Dawkins that God is unnecessary, but I think he’s got the reason precisely backward. God is unnecessary not because complex things require simple antecedents but because they don’t. That allows the natural numbers to exist with no antecedents at all. . . .

What breathtaking displays of arrogance. Dawkins presumes that the only kind of intelligence that can exist is the kind that comes about through evolution. Landsburg wishes us to believe that complex things can exist on their own, without antecedents, which is why there is no God. (He fudges by saying “God is unnecessary” but we know what he really believes, don’t we?)

Landsburg’s “proof” of the non-existence of God is the existence of natural numbers, a “system [that] did not emerge, by gradual degrees, from simpler beginnings.” Landsburg’s assertion about natural numbers (and the laws of arithmetic) is true only if numbers exist independently of human thought, that is, if they are ideal Platonic forms. But where do ideal Platonic forms come from? And if some complex things don’t require antecedents, how does that rule out the existence of God — who, by definition, embodies all complexity?

Related posts:
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The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
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Science, Logic, and God
The Universe . . . . Four Possibilities
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
A Non-Believer Defends Religion
Evolution as God?
The Greatest Mystery