Science


God of GapsI’ve noticed that many nonbelievers (and even believers) misunderstand what constitutes a “God of the gaps” argument.  They tend to think one is guilty of a God of the gaps argument if they offer God as an explanation for some X rather than some natural phenomenon.  The problem with this definition is that it presumes the only valid explanation is a naturalistic explanation.  God is ruled out as a valid explanation for anything a priori, so anyone who offers God as an explanation for X is thought to do so merely because they are ignorant of the proper naturalistic explanation.  This begs the question in favor of naturalism and against theism.  One could only conclude that every effect has a naturalistic explanation, and that God is not a valid explanation, if one has first demonstrated that God does not exist.  So long as it is even possible that God exists, then it is possible that God may be the cause of X, and thus explain X.

What makes an argument a God of the gaps type of argument is when God is invoked to explain X simply because we do not know what else can explain X.  In other words, God is used to plug a gap in our knowledge of naturalistic explanations: “I don’t know how to explain X, so God must have done X.”  This is not at all the same as arguing that God is the best explanation of X, based on what we know regarding X and the explanatory options available to us.  Here, God is being invoked to explain what we know, not what we don’t know.

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The Scientific Collapse of MaterialismA lot of people think that science has proven that the material world is all that exists – no God, no angels, and no souls.  The problem is that science can never be used to justify the belief that the material world is all that exists (materialism, naturalism).  Science is a tool that examines the workings of the physical world.  Of course, if the material world is the only thing your tool examines, it is the only thing your tool will see.  But it doesn’t follow that what your tool examines is all there is to examine.  Edward Feser compares science to a metal detector.  It would not follow that since the metal detector only finds metal objects in the ground there are no treasure maps buried as well.  A metal detector is not capable of finding paper.  It is only geared toward finding metal objects.  Its success in finding what it is geared to find – metal objects – in no way serves as evidence that non-metal objects do not exist.  Likewise, the success of science in discovering the workings of the physical world in no way serves as evidence that there is no spiritual world.

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Multiverse 2Scientists differ among themselves regarding the scientific status of multiverse theories. Some, such as George Ellis, don’t think multiverse theories are testable, and hence not scientific. Others, think multiverse models are (or could be) testable, and hence are scientific. Many Christian apologists have sided with Ellis et al and rejected the multiverse as a valid scientific theory on the grounds that it is not testable. Some, including myself, have argued that multiverse theories are not based on the evidence, but ad hoc theories invented by cosmologists to get around the theistic implications of fine-tuning in physics.

Jeff Zweerink from Reasons to Believe wrote a short article addressing the scientific nature of and foundation for multiverse theories. He argues that some multiverse models do make testable predictions (even if we are currently unable to test those predictions empirically), and thus should be “included in the realm of scientific investigation (while stopping short of taking a firm position on the demarcation question –whether multiverse theories qualify as scientific).

More importantly, he argues that at least some multiverse theories are based on other scientific findings, and not invented whole-cloth for the purpose of answering the fine-tuning problem:

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Not scienceMany believe science has disproven God.  This is not possible, even in principle.[1]  The truth of the matter is that advances in science are providing more reasons to believe in God, not less.  While scientific discoveries cannot prove God’s existence, they can be used to support premises in arguments that have theistic conclusions/implications. For example, science has discovered that the universe began to exist.  Anything that begins to exist requires an external cause.  Since the universe encompasses all physical reality, the cause of the universe must transcend physical reality.  It cannot be a prior physical event or some natural law, because there was nothing physical prior to the first physical event, and natural laws only come into being once the natural world comes into being.  Whatever caused the universe to come into being must be transcendent, powerful, immaterial, spaceless, eternal, and personal, which is an apt description of God.

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science defies common senseI’ve heard science types like Lawrence Krauss claim that science has shown us over and over again that we can’t trust our common sense, and by extension, philosophical reasoning.  One of the go-to illustrations is our solar system.  It’s said that common sense tells us the sun revolves around the Earth, and yet Copernicus, through science, showed common sense was unreliable as a guide to truth.  Only science can tell us what is true.

I think this is a misconstrual of the issue.  Daniel N. Robinson said it best: “What Copernicus said was not hostile to common sense but was inconsistent with common experience.”[1]  Indeed.  While science has discovered physical phenomenon which is weird, to say the least, it does not defy common sense, but our common experience.  Rationality is not at odds with science, and cannot be disproven by science.  Indeed, the task of science presupposes rationality from start to finish.


[1]Daniel N. Robinson, “Neuroscience and the Soul,” Philosophia Christi, Vol. 15, Number 1, 2013, 17.

EmpiricismThose who subscribe to empiricism believe that we should not believe the truth of some X based on a competent authority.  We are only justified in believing some X if we have empirically verifiable evidence supporting the truth of X.  It goes without notice that this principle itself is not empirically verifiable, and thus empiricism is self-refuting as a complete theory of knowledge.  But let’s ignore the man behind the curtain for a moment, and explore other deficiencies in an empirical epistemology.

In his book, A Universe from Nothing, physicist and empiricist Lawrence Krauss describes the state of the cosmos in the distant future.  Due to cosmic expansion, in two trillion years all of the evidence for the Big Bang (cosmic microwave background, redshift of distant objects/the Hubble expansion, and the measurement of light elements in the cosmos), and all 400 billion galaxies visible to us now, will no longer be detectable via empirical methods.  Worse yet, all of the evidence for the dark energy that caused the cosmic expansion will be gone as well.  For scientists living in that day, all of the empirical evidence will point to a static universe inhabited by a single galaxy that is no more than a trillion years old (based on the ratio of light elements at the time).

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Universe from NothingLast year theoretical physicist and atheist, Lawrence Krauss, wrote a book titled A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing. As the title suggests, Krauss wrote the book to answer the age-old question of why there is something rather than nothing. The book was heralded by many atheists as the definitive answer to theists who claim God is necessary to explain the existence of physical reality. Indeed, in the afterward Richard Dawkins claimed that Krauss’ book devastates theistic arguments based on cosmology just as Darwin’s On the Origin of Species devastated theistic arguments based on design in biology. Other reviewers, however – including scientists, philosophers, and theologians – beg to differ. Having read the book myself (not just once, but two times now), I can see why they were less than impressed with Krauss’ argument.

While my overall assessment of Krauss’ argument is not positive, truth be told, most of the book was quite enjoyable and informative.  That’s because the first 2/3 of the book is a lesson on the historical development of modern cosmology.  Krauss doesn’t make his case for why there is something rather than nothing until the last four chapters.  Unfortunately, that’s where the book falls apart.

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In the Beginning We MisunderstoodMost books dealing with the proper interpretation of Genesis 1 attempt to do one of two things: show how Genesis 1 cannot be reconciled with modern science, or show how Genesis 1 can be reconciled with modern science.  Some try to show that Genesis presents us with a young universe, while others try to show that Genesis presents us with an old universe.  Either way, it is presumed that Genesis 1 intends to present us with a scientific description of how God created (order, duration, etc.). 

In their new book, In the Beginning…We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original Context, coauthors Johnny Miller and John Soden argue that this presumption is false, and concordism is a misguided hermeneutical approach to Genesis 1.  Discussions over the meaning of Genesis should not be driven by scientific questions, but by literary questions.  Our interpretation of Genesis should not be determined by our views about science, but by the text itself.  Why even think that God meant to provide a scientific description of creation?  The most important question to ask is what Moses meant when he wrote the creation account, how his readers would have understood it, and what practical impact it would have for them given their unique historical situation.  How did it prepare them for the theology and religious practices they were familiar with in Egypt, as well as those they would encounter in Canaan? 

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thinking manPhilosohpers David Bourget and David Chalmers recently surveyed 931 philosophy faculty members to determine their views on 30 different issues.  Here were some of the more interesting results:

God: atheism 72.8%; theism 14.6%; other 12.6%.
Metaphilosophy: naturalism 49.8%; non-naturalism 25.9%; other 24.3%.
Mind: physicalism 56.5%; non-physicalism 27.1%; other 16.4%.
Free will: compatibilism 59.1%; libertarianism 13.7%; no free will 12.2%; other 14.9%.
Meta-ethics: moral realism 56.4%; moral anti-realism 27.7%; other 15.9%.
Normative ethics: deontology 25.9%; consequentialism 23.6%; virtue ethics 18.2%; other 32.3%.
Science: scientific realism 75.1%; scientific anti-realism 11.6%; other 13.3%
Time: B-theory 26.3%; A-theory 15.5%; other 58.2%.
Truth: correspondence 50.8%; deflationary 24.8%; epistemic 6.9%; other 17.5%.

Notice that although 72.8% of respondents are atheists, 56.4% are moral realists. This goes to show the strength of our moral intuitions. While atheists do not have a sufficient ontological grounding for objective moral values, they still believe in them nonetheless.

I was surprised that only 13.7% believe in libertarian free will. I would expect it to be much higher.  Perhaps this correlates with the high rates of physicalism.

HT: Scot McKnight

ImperviousThe kalam cosmological argument (KCA) for God’s existence can be stated as follows:

(1) Anything that begins to exist requires a cause
(2) The universe began to exist
(3) Thus, the universe requires a cause

Additional logical inferences allow us to identify this cause as God.  Whatever caused space, time, and matter to begin to exist cannot itself be spatial, temporal, or material.  Furthermore, whatever caused our orderly, life-permitting universe to come into being a finite time ago must be immensely powerful, intelligent, conscious, and hence personal.  These are apt descriptions of a being theists have long identified as God.

Both premises have been challenged on scientific grounds.  Premise one is typically challenged on the basis of quantum mechanics, while premise two is challenged by new cosmological models that seek to restore an eternal universe.  I am going to argue that neither premise of the argument can be undermined by scientific evidence, and thus the argument itself is impervious to scientific refutation.  Only philosophical arguments are capable of undermining either premise of the argument.

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New Scientist published an article last week explaining why the universe must have had a beginning.  While they end the article with speculative physics that try to place that beginning so far back into the past so as to be virtually indistinguishable from an eternity ago, a beginning to the universe remains.  And if physical reality began to exist a finite time ago, then it must have a transcendent, immaterial, eternal, spaceless cause.

Science can only describe; it cannot explain.  Surely this is wrong, you say.  Science explains a lot.  Well, that depends on what you mean by “explain.”  Science can tell us why we don’t float off into space (gravity), and can even tell us what creates gravity (the warping of space-time), but these are not explanations.  They are merely descriptions of physical phenomena.  The deeper questions go unanswered.  For example, why gravity exists in the first place, and why does it assume the value it does?  Scientists can describe the history of the universe all the way back to the Planck time, but they cannot explain why the universe started the way it did, or what caused the universe to come into being.

If science can only describe physical phenomena but cannot explain it, then it is naïve to think science alone is sufficient to answer every question of human inquiry.  Science is an amazing discipline that has been wildly successful in doing what it is intended to do, but it cannot do everything.  The role of science should not be diminished below its usefulness, but neither should it be exalted above its limits.  If you want explanations, you’ll have to look beyond science.

William Lane Craig once recommended physicist Nick Herbert’s book, Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics, as a great introduction to quantum theory.  I picked up a copy to tackle this strange and oft-misunderstood topic.

Quantum mechanics is not for the faint-hearted.  It is difficult to grasp.  Even after reading this book I still can’t say I understand quantum mechanics well enough to explain it with confidence, but at least now I have a better understanding of what I don’t understand.  Apparently I’m in good company.  Richard Feynman once said, “I think it is safe to say that no one understands quantum mechanics.”

One thing I did glean from this book is what the debate is all about.  It’s not about the quantum facts.  We know the facts well.  And it’s not even so much over quantum theory (the mathematics used to describe the quantum facts).  Rather, the debate is about the physical interpretation of quantum theory.  What is the reality of the quantum world?

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New Scientist has a short video discussing the proper understanding of reality.  It’s a 2:30 philosophical mess!  It’s almost as bad as their video on how the universe came from nothing, but I won’t go there.

They present two definitions of reality.  Their first definition is that “reality is everything that would still be here if there was no one around to experience it.”  But they find this view problematic because “as far as we know, we humans actually do exist, and a lot of the things that we can all agree are real, like language, or war, or consciousness, wouldn’t exist without us.”  What?

This objection is irrelevant.  Yes, humans exist, but how does that count against this definition of reality?  The definition doesn’t assume or require that people do not exist.  It merely holds that some X is real if and only if X would still obtain in the absence of a mind to think about it.  While it goes without saying that those things germane to humans would not exist if humans did not exist, what does that have to do with everything else non-human?  The question is whether anything else would exist if we didn’t exist, not whether things unique to humans would exist if humans did not exist.

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Luke A. Barnes, a specialist in astro-physics and researcher at the Sydney Institute for Astronomy, University of Sydney, has an excellent quote responding to those who claim it’s possible that the universe could have come into being from nothing: 

The claim regarding a universe coming from nothing is either nonsensical or a non-explanation. If we use the dictionary definition of ‘nothing’ – not anything – then a universe coming from nothing is as impossible as a universe created by a married bachelor. Nothing is not a type of thing, and thus has no properties. If you’re talking about something from which a universe can come, then you aren’t talking about nothing. ‘Nothing’ has no charge in the same sense that the C-major scale has no charge – it doesn’t have the property at all. Alternatively, one could claim that the universe could have come from nothing by creatively redefining ‘nothing’. ‘Nothing’ must become a type of something, a something with the rather spectacular property of being able to create the entire known universe. It’s an odd thing to call `nothing’ – I wouldn’t complain if I got one for Christmas.[1]

Love it!


[1]Luke A. Barnes, “The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life,” 21 December 2011; available from http://arxiv.org/abs/1112.4647; Internet; accessed 16 April 2012; page 67.

In his new book, atheist Thomas Nagel had some interesting things to say about why scientists are so opposed to Intelligent Design: “Nevertheless, I believe the defenders of intelligent design deserve our gratitude for challenging a scientific world view that owes some of the passion displayed by its adherents precisely to the fact that it is thought to liberate us from religion.” – Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 12.

Astrophysicist Alex Filippenko of the Universityof California, Berkeley took part in a panel discussion on June 23, 2012 at the SETICon 2 conference on the topic “Did the Big Bang Require a Divine Spark?”  Taking a page out of the playbooks of Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss, Filippenko claimed that “the Big Bang could’ve occurred as a result of just the laws of physics being there. With the laws of physics, you can get universes.”[1] If the laws of physics are responsible for churning out universes, then the ultimate question is not the origin of the universe, but the origin of the laws of physics.  Where did they come from?  Filippenko recognizes this problem, saying “The question, then, is, ‘Why are there laws of physics?’  And you could say, ‘Well, that required a divine creator, who created these laws of physics and the spark that led from the laws of physics to these universes, maybe more than one.’”[2] 

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Recently I listened to the debate between Peter Atkins and Callum Miller.  As usual, Atkins was short on arguments and long on ad hominems, although I must admit that he was more civil in this debate than usual.  One of the things Atkins said, however, caught my attention.  He said that one of the advantages of science over religion is that in science, one can be wrong, whereas in religion one is never allowed to be wrong.  I’ve heard other atheists make the same claim.  I find it interesting because whether it’s true or false, it’s irrelevant.  

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“[C.S.] Lewis insists that, because science confines its examination to the universe, it’s natural that science discovers nothing beyond it.” — David Bagget and Jerry Walls in their book, Good God.

Premise one of the kalam cosmological argument (KCA) states that everything which begins to exist has a cause.  It goes on to reason that since the universe began to exist, it too requires a cause.  Given the properties required of such a cause, the KCA is a powerful argument for a personal creator God.  

To avoid the conclusion of the argument many new atheist-types take exception with the causal principle embodied in premise 1.  Quantum physics, they say, has shown that there can be effects without causes.  And if quantum events do not need causes, then perhaps the universe doesn’t either.  

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