Tag Archives: Atheism

MIT physicist Alan Lightman on fine-tuning and the multiverse

Apologetics and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

Here’s the article from Harper’s magazine.

The MIT physicist says that the fine-tuning is real, and is best explained by positing the existence of an infinite number of universes that are not fine-tuned – the so-called multiverse.

Excerpt:

While challenging the Platonic dream of theoretical physicists, the multiverse idea does explain one aspect of our universe that has unsettled some scientists for years: according to various calculations, if the values of some of the fundamental parameters of our universe were a little larger or a little smaller, life could not have arisen. For example, if the nuclear force were a few percentage points stronger than it actually is, then all the hydrogen atoms in the infant universe would have fused with other hydrogen atoms to make helium, and there would be no hydrogen left. No hydrogen means no water. Although we are far from certain about what conditions are necessary for life, most biologists believe that water is necessary. On the other hand, if the nuclear force were substantially weaker than what it actually is, then the complex atoms needed for biology could not hold together. As another example, if the relationship between the strengths of the gravitational force and the electromagnetic force were not close to what it is, then the cosmos would not harbor any stars that explode and spew out life-supporting chemical elements into space or any other stars that form planets. Both kinds of stars are required for the emergence of life. The strengths of the basic forces and certain other fundamental parameters in our universe appear to be “fine-tuned” to allow the existence of life. The recognition of this fine-­tuning led British physicist Brandon Carter to articulate what he called the anthropic principle, which states that the universe must have the parameters it does because we are here to observe it. Actually, the word anthropic, from the Greek for “man,” is a misnomer: if these fundamental parameters were much different from what they are, it is not only human beings who would not exist. No life of any kind would exist.

If such conclusions are correct, the great question, of course, is why these fundamental parameters happen to lie within the range needed for life. Does the universe care about life? Intelligent design is one answer. Indeed, a fair number of theologians, philosophers, and even some scientists have used fine-tuning and the anthropic principle as evidence of the existence of God. For example, at the 2011 Christian Scholars’ Conference at Pepperdine University, Francis Collins, a leading geneticist and director of the National Institutes of Health, said, “To get our universe, with all of its potential for complexities or any kind of potential for any kind of life-form, everything has to be precisely defined on this knife edge of improbability…. [Y]ou have to see the hands of a creator who set the parameters to be just so because the creator was interested in something a little more complicated than random particles.”

Intelligent design, however, is an answer to fine-tuning that does not appeal to most scientists. The multiverse offers another explanation. If there are countless different universes with different properties—for example, some with nuclear forces much stronger than in our universe and some with nuclear forces much weaker—then some of those universes will allow the emergence of life and some will not. Some of those universes will be dead, lifeless hulks of matter and energy, and others will permit the emergence of cells, plants and animals, minds. From the huge range of possible universes predicted by the theories, the fraction of universes with life is undoubtedly small. But that doesn’t matter. We live in one of the universes that permits life because otherwise we wouldn’t be here to ask the question.

I thought I was going to have to go outside this article to refute the multiverse, but Lightman is honest enough to refute it himself:

The… conjecture that there are many other worlds… [T]here is no way they can prove this conjecture. That same uncertainty disturbs many physicists who are adjusting to the idea of the multiverse. Not only must we accept that basic properties of our universe are accidental and uncalculable. In addition, we must believe in the existence of many other universes. But we have no conceivable way of observing these other universes and cannot prove their existence. Thus, to explain what we see in the world and in our mental deductions, we must believe in what we cannot prove.

Sound familiar? Theologians are accustomed to taking some beliefs on faith. Scientists are not. All we can do is hope that the same theories that predict the multiverse also produce many other predictions that we can test here in our own universe. But the other universes themselves will almost certainly remain a conjecture.

The multiverse is not pure nonsense, it is theoretically possible. The problem is that the multiverse generator itself would require fine-tuning, so the multiverse doesn’t get rid of the problem. And, as Lightman indicates, we have no independent experimental evidence for the existence of the multiverse in any case. Atheists just have to take it on faith, and hope that their speculations will be proved right. Meanwhile, the fine-tuning is just as easily explained by postulating God, and we have independent evidence for God’s existence, like the the origin of biological information, the sudden appearance of animal body plans, the argument from consciousness, and so on. Even if the naturalists could explain the fine-tuning, they would still have a lot of explaining to do. Theism (intelligent causation) is the simplest explanation for all of the things we learn from the progress of science.

We need to be frank about atheists and their objections to the progress of science. Within the last 100 years, we have discovered that the physical universe came into being out of nothing 15 billion years ago, and we have discovered that this one universe is fine-tuned for intelligent life. I don’t think it’s like that the last 100 years of scientific progress on the origins question are going to be overturned so that science once again affirms what atheists believe about the universe. Things are going the wrong way for atheists – at least with respect to science.

See it in action

To see these arguments examined in a debate with a famous atheist, simply watch the debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens, and judge which debater is willing to form his beliefs on scientific progress, and which debater is forming his beliefs against the science we have today, and hoping that the good science we have today based on experiments will be overturned by speculative theories at some point in the future. When you watch that debate, it becomes very clear that Christian theists are interested in conforming their beliefs to science, and atheists are very interested in speculating against what science has shown in order to maintain their current pre-scientific view. That’s not what rational people ought to do when confronted with evidence.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Are atheists able to perform the greatest moral duty?

Goodness Without God: is it possible?
Goodness Without God: is it possible?

J. Warner Wallace looks at what Jesus says the most important commandment is, and then asks whether atheists can be justified morally if Jesus is right.

He writes:

I was an atheist for the first thirty-five years of my life. While I was a committed (and often aggressive) non-believer, most people who knew me would probably have described me as a “nice guy”. My behavior wasn’t all that different than many of my Christian friends. I worked with many other atheist police officers. We were often suspicious of the Christians in our midst and the people we arrested who claimed to be Christians. Even as atheists we were familiar with Jesus’ directive to “love your neighbor as yourself.” My partner, Tim, used to say, “If there is a good God and a good Heaven, I think I will be there when it’s all over. I’m a good person. I try to ‘do the right thing’. I’m not a bad guy; I put bad people in jail. So I’m not worried about it.” Tim held a “works based” moral worldview and he was sure his good deeds would earn him a spot in Heaven if he was wrong about the existence of God. But Tim (and I) were unfamiliar with Jesus’ teaching in its full context, and now, years later as a Christian, I’ve come to understand why the first part of the “Greatest Command” is even more important than the second.

When approached by a skeptic, Jesus affirmed the greatest commandments of God in the following way:

Matthew 22:35-40
One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Most unbelievers recognize the value of the second half of this command (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”) but deny the value of the first part (“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”) There’s a reason, however, why Jesus listed these two commands in this specific order. The first command (loving God) is the “great and foremost commandment” because it is required to achieve the second command (loving others). You can’t truly do the right thing unless you understand the relationship between these two commands:

Read the rest at Cold Case Christianity.

I’ve made the same point here many times, but I have never been an atheist and I don’t make the point in the same winsome way that Wallace does.

I think his post is worth sending along to any atheists you may know who think themselves justified. I think it is a mistake for people to derive their own version of morality based on the time and place where they are, and then think that picking and choosing the parts they like will justify them with God. Remember, a recent survey of atheists found that 97% of them favor abortion rights. I think this is consistent with the atheist view that there are no human rights, including a right to life. Moreover, in my experience, I have found that most atheists have no problem with the government stomping all over the consciences of Christians when it comes to things like gay rights. It’s important to show them that there is a standard independent of their personal opinions, justifications and rationalizations. And that they don’t measure up to it. You can make up your own morality all you want,

Dan Barker debates Casey Luskin on academic freedom

Two ninjas face off at sundown
Two ninjas face off at sundown

The Michael Medved show is a national radio show broadcast out of Seattle, Washington. According to Talkers magazine, he has the fifth largest radio audience.

The MP3 file is available for download. (38 minutes)

The description is:

On this episode of ID the Future, the CSC’s Casey Luskin and atheist Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation debate academic freedom and free speech on the Medved Show. This debate was inspired by the ongoing case of Professor Eric Hedin, a physicist at Ball State University who is being threatened by the Freedom From Religion Foundation for favorably portraying intelligent design in the classroom.

Topics: (note that I am paraphrasing Dan Barker for the sake of humor, and he will probably sue me, since that is his entire contribution to the search for truth in this debate)

  • Michael Medved: untenured Ball State University professor Eric Hedin is under fire for teaching both sides of intelligent design in a college course
  • Dan Barker: this complaint against professor Hedin came to our attention from Jerry Coyne not from students of Professor Hedin
  • Dan Barker: professors are not allowed to question the presuppositions atheism, materialism, naturalism in the physics classroom
  • Dan Barker: this is a science course and you cannot question the religion of naturalism in class or else it’s teaching religion
  • Dan Barker: we need to use the power of the courts to stifle any dissent from of my religion (naturalism)
  • Dan Barker: the classroom of a university is not the proper place for students to inquire about both sides of scientific disputes
  • Dan Barker: even if students are paying their money and choosing this course of their own free will, they can’t be allowed to hear both sides
  • Casey Luskin: this course is not a science course, it is open to non-science students
  • Casey Luskin: the course evaluations from students of all majors is overwhelmingly positive
  • Casey Luskin: the course features people on both sides
  • Casey Luskin: the course features brilliant scholars like Lennox and Penrose, both from Oxford University
  • Casey Luskin: the course features opponents of intelligent design like Francis Collins and Karl Gilberson
  • Casey Luskin: the course features non-Christians like Lee Spetner, Paul Davies, Roger Penrose and Gerald Schroeder
  • Dan Barker: (taking over the host) you cannot study scientists like Francis Collins who mapped the human genome, that is “creationism”
  • Michael Medved: academic freedom allows professors to put a slant on what they are teaching
  • Dan Barker: if the professor’s slant is against my religion of naturalism, then I have to put them in jail and inquisition them
  • Dan Barker: you cannot teach science like the Big Bang and fine-tuning  as if it is science because it contradicts naturalism
  • Casey Luskin: Even radical atheist PZ Myers says that professors have the right to academic freedom
  • Dan Barker: I’ll burn that creationist at the stake, too! And smash his filthy microscopes and telescopes!
  • Michael Medved: Casey, would you use state power to fire a professor who disagreed with you because you were offended?
  • Casey Luskin: no, I had to take tons of courses from professors who had a slant against my views and I learned a lot from different views
  • Dan Barker: you will address me as the Holy Father, please! Every professor who disagrees with my religion must burn!
  • Casey Luskin: Barker has no idea what is going on in the class, he never attended it
  • Casey Luskin: The atheists students who took his class gave him high ratings and said he graded fairly
  • Dan Barker: I don’t have to look through the telescope to know the Earth is flat – Hedin is a traitor! Off with his head!
  • Dan Barker: Creationist PZ Myers is wrong, and I’ll burn him at the stake for creationist heresy against my Holy Church!
  • Dan Barker: Oxford professors like John Lennox are creationists because his Big Bang religion is grounded on experimental data like the cosmic background radiation, the hydrogen/helium abundances and the redshifting of light from distant galaxies
  • Dan Barker: I have a degree in Religion and I write hymns, which makes me smarter than John Lennox since he is a “creationist”
  • Dan Barker: I haven’t published any scientific research myself, but I have written some atheist praise hymns, so I am qualified to burn the heretics!
  • Michael Medved: The course is taught by someone with a PhD in Physics, and the syllabus says that it investigates science and religion
  • Michael Medved: Why is it wrong to investigate the science that questions philosophical assumptions like naturalism and materialism?
  • Casey Luskin: The syllabus features amazing readings from all the latest science relevant to that question from both sides
  • Michael Medved: What will Ball State U do to the professor?
  • Casey Luskin: So far no action from Ball State U, but people need to sign the petition to protect the professor
  • Michael Medved: Isn’t academic freedom being applied inconsistently here?
  • Casey Luskin: Yes and science is supposed to move forward by disagreement and debate
  • Casey Luskin: How confident can intelligent design censors really be if their contribution to the debate is coercion and intimidation?
  • Michael Luskin: Is Dan Barker right to say that Oxford professor John Lennox is a “creationist”?
  • Casey Luskin: Creationism starts with the Bible, but intelligent design starts with scientific data

And there is a period of questions from the callers. This episode features a debate, so it is not to be missed.

Now Dan Barker sounded pretty confident in that debate, so you might be surprised by his academic background:

Dan became a teenage evangelist at age 15. At 16 he was choir librarian for faith-healer Kathryn Kuhlman’s Los Angeles appearances. He received a degree in Religion from Azusa Pacific University and was ordained to the ministry by the Standard Community Church, California, in 1975.

[…]Dan preached for 19 years. He maintained an ongoing touring musical ministry, including eight years of full-time, cross-country evangelism. An accomplished pianist, record producer, arranger and songwriter, he worked with Christian music companies such as Manna Music and Word Music. For a few years, Dan wrote and produced the annual “Mini Musicale” for Gospel Light Publications’ Vacation Bible School curriculum.

I’m not sure if Dan Barker has the right background for disputing whether intelligent design belongs in a classroom or not. Remember, the bulk of his life was spent writing and singing feel-good, happy-clappy songs. In his debates with Christians, it’s quite clear that he is totally unequipped to assess scientific evidence from the Big Bang, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, or habitability. It’s just not his thing, and I don’t think that musicians have what it takes to understand those arguments enough to feel comfortable using the courts to suppress people with actual PhDs in science.

You can read more about my opinion about how Dan Barker arrived at his atheism through a mistaken view of the Christian life.

I subscribe to the ID the Future podcast, and I really recommend that you do as well!

Zack Kopplin debates Casey Luskin on science education

Two Rams butting heads: may the best ram win!
Two Rams butting heads: may the best ram win!

The Michael Medved show is a national radio show broadcast out of Seattle, Washington. According to Talkers magazine, he has the fifth largest radio audience.

The MP3 file is available for download. (38 minutes)

The description is:

On this episode of ID the Future, the Medved Show hosts the CSC’s Casey Luskin and student Zack Kopplin, a leading activist in the effort to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act. Luskin and Kopplin debate the implications of the Louisiana law for science education standards and whether or not the law promotes the teaching of creationism.

Topics:

  • Medved: Should teachers be forced to teach creationism in public schools?
  • Luskin: The Discovery Institute has never advocated that creationism be taught in public schools
  • Medved: Does the Louisiana law mandate that creationism be taught in public schools
  • Kopplin: Yes, the bill does because Bobby Jindal said that the bill teaches creationism
  • Luskin: (Reads the actual text of the law) the law EXPLICITLY STATES that teaching creationism is forbidden
  • Luskin: Governor Jindal is misinformed about the law, but if you look at the law it says NO CREATIONISM
  • Kopplin: I don’t care about what the law actually says, I’ll just repeat that Bobby Jindal thinks it’s creationism
  • Kopplin: Thirty years ago, there was an attempt to mandate creationism, therefore this law is doing the same thing
  • Medved: Are there any complaints that creationism is being taught in any schools after this law has been passed
  • Kopplin: No, I don’t know of any, but that’s not because there are none! Maybe there are some that I haven’t heard about yet
  • Medved: If you are taught something that you think is stupid, then is that automatically a violation of your rights?
  • Kopplin: Because you cannot allow the progress of science to call the religion of naturalism into question
  • Luskin: About that Jindal quote – he was talking about what he wanted to pass, not the law that actually passed
  • Luskin: (reads the text of the law again) The law explicitly says that teaching creationism in the classroom is prohibited
  • Luskin: Intelligent design is not creationism. Creationism starts with the Bible. Intelligent Design starts with science
  • Luskin: The law only supports teaching both sides of things that are already in the curriculum
  • Luskin: ID is not already in the curriculum, therefore, the law does not allow it to be discussed
  • Medved: Take Stephen C. Meyer’s book on the origin of life, could that be used in the classroom?
  • Kopplin: I am not very familiar with Meyer’s book, but if it is critical of Darwinism and naturalism, then it should not be taught. I don’t need to read it before I can censor it
  • Luskin: Meyer’s book advocates for ID, so it should not be taught in science classrooms
  • Luskin: non-ID science papers that are critical of Darwinism should be allowed in science classroom so students get both sides
  • Medved: Consider this brand new Oxford University Press book that is critical of Darwinian mechanisms, authored by Masatoshi Nei who is at Penn State University professor (written up on Evolution News)
  • Medved: Should this research critical of Darwinism be allowed in science classrooms?
  • Kopplin: I don’t know if this book should be allowed in science classrooms
  • Kopplin: I already know without reading anything though that there will never be evidence that supports intelligent design
  • Kopplin: There is no evidence against Darwinism and there is no controversy and there is no disagreement among scientists
  • Luskin: There are hundreds of papers in mainstream science peer-reviewed publications critical of Darwinism
  • Luskin: (lists a stack of papers critical of core tenets of Darwinian theory from respect science journals in the last few years)
  • Luskin: Masatoshi Nei recently posted a comment critical of the usefulness of the mutation-selection mechanism
  • Luskin: The real issue is whether students are allowed to hear mainstream scientific criticisms of Darwinism in the science classroom
  • Medved: Is it OK for a teacher to admit that on a specific issue in science, that there is no credible naturalistic explanation?
  • Kopplin: I am a history major, so I don’t want to comment on whether it is OK to admit that naturalism doesn’t explain everything
  • Luskin: A Harvard chemist says that the origin of life is an open issue in this peer-reviewed journal article
  • Luskin: Teachers should be allowed to say that there is no accepted naturalistic explanation for the origin of life
  • Luskin: teachers should NOT be teaching religion, or creationism, or even intelligent design in science classrooms
  • Luskin: but teachers should be allowed to say what the Harvard chemist said in that peer-reviewed article in the science classroom
  • Kopplin: there was a creationist woman who sat next to the Discovery Institute person when the law was being debated
  • Kopplin: so based on that there is a scary hidden creationist agenda behind the law which is not reflected in the actual text law
  • Luskin: Um, that woman has no connection to the Discovery Institute
  • Luskin: seating arrangement at the hearings were pre-determined, not selected by those in attendance
  • Luskin: what about people who are pushing Darwinism, who are anti-religious atheists and humanists? should they be disqualified?
  • Luskin: we should not discredit the arguments of either side based on speculations about their motives – what counts is the evidence
  • Kopplin: but I have a letter signed by lots of Nobel-prize winning scientists that opposes the Louisiana science education law
  • Luskin: but that letter never actually quotes from the law, it is critiquing views that have nothing to do with the actual law
  • Medved: Summarize your views
  • Kopplin: Criticism of Darwinism and naturalism using mainstream scientific evidence SHOULD NOT be allowed in the science classroom
  • Luskin: Criticism of Darwinism and naturalism using mainstream scientific evidence SHOULD be allowed in the science classroom

And there is a period of questions from the callers.

This episode features a debate, so it is not to be missed. it is always a good idea to hear both sides. Unfortunately, ID people are the only ones who think that both sides should be heard.

I subscribe to the ID the Future podcast, and I really recommend that you do as well!

Was atheism or Christianity more responsible for the Scientific Revolution?

Apologetics and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

First, here’s an article from the blog of the peer-reviewed journal Nature, probably the best peer-reviewed journal on science in the world.

The article is written by Dr. James Hannam. He has a PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge and is the author of The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution (published in the UK as God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science).

Excerpt:

Few topics are as open to misunderstanding as the relationship between faith and reason. The ongoing clash of creationism with evolution obscures the fact that Christianity has actually had a far more positive role to play in the history of science than commonly believed. Indeed, many of the alleged examples of religion holding back scientific progress turn out to be bogus. For instance, the Church has never taught that the Earth is flat and, in the Middle Ages, no one thought so anyway. Popes haven’t tried to ban zero, human dissection or lightening rods, let alone excommunicate Halley’s Comet. No one, I am pleased to say, was ever burnt at the stake for scientific ideas. Yet, all these stories are still regularly trotted out as examples of clerical intransigence in the face of scientific progress.

Admittedly, Galileo was put on trial for claiming it is a fact that the Earth goes around the sun, rather than just a hypothesis as the Catholic Church demanded. Still, historians have found that even his trial was as much a case of papal egotism as scientific conservatism. It hardly deserves to overshadow all the support that the Church has given to scientific investigation over the centuries.

That support took several forms. One was simply financial. Until the French Revolution, the Catholic Church was the leading sponsor of scientific research. Starting in the Middle Ages, it paid for priests, monks and friars to study at the universities. The church even insisted that science and mathematics should be a compulsory part of the syllabus. And after some debate, it accepted that Greek and Arabic natural philosophy were essential tools for defending the faith. By the seventeenth century, the Jesuit order had become the leading scientific organisation in Europe, publishing thousands of papers and spreading new discoveries around the world. The cathedrals themselves were designed to double up as astronomical observatories to allow ever more accurate determination of the calendar. And of course, modern genetics was founded by a future abbot growing peas in the monastic garden.

But religious support for science took deeper forms as well. It was only during the nineteenth century that science began to have any practical applications. Technology had ploughed its own furrow up until the 1830s when the German chemical industry started to employ their first PhDs. Before then, the only reason to study science was curiosity or religious piety. Christians believed that God created the universe and ordained the laws of nature. To study the natural world was to admire the work of God. This could be a religious duty and inspire science when there were few other reasons to bother with it. It was faith that led Copernicus to reject the ugly Ptolemaic universe; that drove Johannes Kepler to discover the constitution of the solar system; and that convinced James Clerk Maxwell he could reduce electromagnetism to a set of equations so elegant they take the breathe away.

Given that the Church has not been an enemy to science, it is less surprising to find that the era which was most dominated by Christian faith, the Middle Ages, was a time of innovation and progress. Inventions like the mechanical clock, glasses, printing and accountancy all burst onto the scene in the late medieval period. In the field of physics, scholars have now found medieval theories about accelerated motion, the rotation of the earth and inertia embedded in the works of Copernicus and Galileo. Even the so-called “dark ages” from 500AD to 1000AD were actually a time of advance after the trough that followed the fall of Rome. Agricultural productivity soared with the use of heavy ploughs, horse collars, crop rotation and watermills, leading to a rapid increase in population.

I don’t know about you, but the first thing I do when I am trying to find a game to play is ask “is it well designed?” If it’s not well-designed, then I will not take the time to learn the rules and practice playing. That was the situation before science started. The non-scientists thought that the universe was chaotic, that there were no rules, and so there was no point in trying to learn the rules. It was the idea that the universe was made by an intelligent Creator and Designer that made the first scientists start to do science. If there are rules to the game, then it’s worth it to learn them. But that’s a belief that’s more at home in a theistic worldview, not in a pagan or atheistic one.