Category Archives: Polemics

MIT physicist Alan Lightman on fine-tuning and the multiverse

Christianity 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

The Muratorian fragment, dated 170 A.D., affirms 22 out of 27 New Testament books

The Muratorian fragment / The Muratorian canon
The Muratorian fragment / The Muratorian canon (click for larger image)

I sometimes hear this odd objection that the books that were to be included in the Bible were not decided until the 4th century. I think it comes from some Hollywood movie, or maybe a TV show. Anyway, this post should help fix that myth.

I’m going to quote from New Testament expert Dr. Michael J. Kruger from his blog.

He writes:

One of the key data points in any discussion of canon is something called the Muratorian fragment (also known as the Muratorian canon).  This fragment, named after its discoverer Ludovico Antonio Muratori, contains our earliest list of the books in the New Testament.  While the fragment itself dates from the 7th or 8th century, the list it contains was originally written in Greek and dates back to the end of the second century (c.180).

[…]What is noteworthy for our purposes here is that the Muratorian fragment affirms 22 of the 27 books of the New Testament.  These include the four Gospels, Acts, all 13 epistles of Paul, Jude, 1 John, 2 John (and possibly 3rd John), and Revelation.  This means that at a remarkably early point (end of the second century), the central core of the New Testament canon was already established and in place.

Although there is still dispute about some books, that does not negate the fact that the main books we use (the gospels, Acts, the letters of Paul) are all considered to be canon by 180 A.D., much before any famous church councils ever happened. And those books were decided on because they were in widespread use and respected by everyone.

What about the books that were in dispute? Do they throw any core doctrines into doubt?

Second, if there was a core collection of New Testament books, then the theological trajectory of early Christianity had already been determined prior to the debates about the peripheral books being resolved.  So, regardless of the outcome of discussion over books like 2 Peter or James, Christianity’s core doctrines of the person of Christ, the work of Christ, the means of salvation, etc., were already in place and already established.  The acceptance or rejection of books like 2 Peter would not change that fact.

By the way, I’d actually heard that the date for this fragment was 170 A.D., so it might even be earlier than Dr. Krueger says.

I did search around a bit for something to break the tie between me and Krueger, because I couldn’t remember my source for the date. I found this book “Jesus, Gospel Tradition and Paul in the Context of Jewish and Greco-Roman Antiquity” by David E. Aune, and he writes on p. 22:

The four Gospels are also referred to in the Canon Muratorianus, a seventh or eighth century manuscript originally translated from Greek into a deponent form of Latin and widely regarded as having been produced ca. 170 CE. Though the beginning of this canonical list is fragmentary (though obviously referring to Mark), the first two clear references to New Testament books are to Luke and John (lines 2, 9): tertio euangelii librum secando Lucan guard evangeliorutn lohannis ex decipolis.” (“The third book of the Gospel is that according to Luke … The fourth of the Gospels is that of John, [one) of the disciples”).

So, that’s why the date in the title of this post is 170 A.D., and not the later 180 A.D. he mentions. And that’s why there’s no reason to be skeptical that the Bible we have today is any different than the Bible that everybody in the early church had.

How the presence and quality of fathers affects belief in God

Does government provide incentives for people to get married?
A father in the home helps children to reconcile love and moral boundaries

Here’s an article by Paul Copan which points out how father presence/absence and father quality affects belief and disbelief in God.

Excerpt:

Seventh, the attempt to psychologize believers applies more readily to the hardened atheist.It is interesting that while atheists and skeptics often psychoanalyze the religious believer, they regularly fail to psychoanalyze their ownrejection of God. Why are believers subject to such scrutiny and not atheists? Remember another feature of Freud’s psychoanalysis — namely, an underlying resentment that desires to kill the father figure.

Why presume atheism is the rational, psychologically sound, and default position while theism is somehow psychologically deficient? New York University psychology professor Paul Vitz turns the tables on such thinking. He essentially says, “Let’s look into the lives of leading atheists and skeptics in the past. What do they have in common?” The result is interesting: virtually all of these leading figures lacked a positive fatherly role model — or had no father at all.11

Let’s look at some of them.

  • Voltaire(1694–1778): This biting critic of religion, though not an atheist, strongly rejected his father and rejected his birth name of François-Marie Arouet.
  • David Hume(1711–76): The father of this Scottish skeptic died when Hume was only 2 years old. Hume’s biographers mention no relatives or family friends who could have served as father figures.
  • Baron d’Holbach(1723–89): This French atheist became an orphan at age 13 and lived with his uncle.
  • Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–72): At age 13, his father left his family and took up living with another woman in a different town.
  • Karl Marx(1818–83): Marx’s father, a Jew, converted to being a Lutheran under pressure — not out of any religious conviction. Marx, therefore, did not respect his father.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche(1844–1900): He was 4 when he lost his father.
  • Sigmund Freud(1856–1939): His father, Jacob, was a great disappointment to him; his father was passive and weak. Freud also mentioned that his father was a sexual pervert and that his children suffered for it.
  • Bertrand Russell(1872–1970): His father died when he was 4.
  • Albert Camus(1913–60): His father died when he was 1 year old, and in his autobiographical novel The First Man, his father is the central figure preoccupation of his work.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre(1905–80): The famous existentialist’s father died before he was born.12
  • Madeleine Murray-O’Hair (1919–95): She hated her father and even tried to kill him with a butcher knife.
  • We could throw in a few more prominent contemporary atheists not mentioned by Vitz with similar childhood challenges:
  • Daniel Dennett (1942–): His father died when he was 5 years of age and had little influence on Dennett.13
  • Christopher Hitchens (1949–): His father (“the Commander”) was a good man, according to Hitchens, but he and Hitchens “didn’t hold much converse.” Once having “a respectful distance,” their relationship took on a “definite coolness” with an “occasional thaw.” Hitchens adds: “I am rather barren of paternal recollections.”14
  • Richard Dawkins (1941–): Though encouraged by his parents to study science, he mentions being molested as a child — no insignificant event, though Dawkins dismisses it as merely embarrassing.15

Moreover, Vitz’s study notes how many prominent theists in the past — such as Blaise Pascal, G.K. Chesterton, Karl Barth, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer — have had in common a loving, caring father in their lives.16

Not only is there that anecdotal evidence, but there is also statistical evidence.

Excerpt:

In 1994 the Swiss carried out an extra survey that the researchers for our masters in Europe (I write from England) were happy to record. The question was asked to determine whether a person’s religion carried through to the next generation, and if so, why, or if not, why not. The result is dynamite. There is one critical factor. It is overwhelming, and it is this: It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.

If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all. If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.

If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church.

Let us look at the figures the other way round. What happens if the father is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing? Extraordinarily, the percentage of children becoming regular goesupfrom 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and to 44 percent with the non-practicing, as if loyalty to father’s commitment grows in proportion to mother’s laxity, indifference, or hostility.

[…]In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular). If a father goes but irregularly to church, regardless of his wife’s devotion, between a half and two-thirds of their offspring will find themselves coming to church regularly or occasionally.

A non-practicing mother with a regular father will see a minimum of two-thirds of her children ending up at church. In contrast, a non-practicing father with a regular mother will see two-thirds of his children never darken the church door. If his wife is similarly negligent that figure rises to 80 percent!

The results are shocking, but they should not be surprising. They are about as politically incorrect as it is possible to be; but they simply confirm what psychologists, criminologists, educationalists, and traditional Christians know. You cannot buck the biology of the created order. Father’s influence, from the determination of a child’s sex by the implantation of his seed to the funerary rites surrounding his passing, is out of all proportion to his allotted, and severely diminished role, in Western liberal society.

Basically, anyone who doesn’t have a benevolent, involved father is going to have an more difficult time believing that moral boundaries set by an authority are for the benefit of the person who is being bounded. The best way to make moral boundaries stick is to see that they apply to the person making the boundaries as well – and that these moral boundaries are rational, evidentially-grounded and not arbitrary. It is therefore very important to children to be shepherded by a man who studied moral issues (including evidence from outside the Bible) in order to know how to be persuasive to others. If you want your child to be religious and moral, you have to pick a man who is religious and moral. And it can’t just be a faith commitment that he makes, he can just lie about that. Women ought to check whether men are bound to what they believe by checking what they’ve read. A man usually acts consistently with what he believes, and beliefs only get formed when a man informs himself through things like reading.

My advice to Christian women is this. When you are picking a man, be sure and choose one who is already invested in Christian things and producing results. It’s very unlikely that he’s going to start from nothing after you marry him. If you value your kids, make a man’s interest in developing and acting on a Christian worldview the main thing you are looking for.

How good is Alexander Vilenkin’s no-God explanation for the origin of the universe?

God's Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe
God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe

I’ve been spending some time going over J. Warner Wallace’s splendid book “God’s Crime Scene” with a friend of mine over Skype. Last week we did chapter 1 on the origin of the universe. We were both struck at Wallace’s statement about Alexander Vilenkin, a non-theist who thinks that the universe had a beginning out of nothing.

Wallace writes:

If you’re a bit confused by all the alternatives offered by those who deny the universe had a beginning, perhaps it’s time to call an expert witness. In this case, there’s no one better than Alexander Vilenkin, theoretical physicist, cosmologist, professor of physics, and director of the Institute of Cosmology at Tufts University. Partnering with mathematician Arvind Borde, cosmologist Alan Guth, and graduate researcher Audrey Mithani, Vilenkin has written several papers demonstrating demonstrating any model of the universe in which expansion is occurring, regardless of the early conditions of the cosmos, must have a beginning.[8] Vilenkin’s work addresses all the models we’ve already described, plus any future proposals in which the expansion of the universe is acknowledged. [9]Vilenkin is a critical expert witness because he simplifies and makes sense of the diverse, sometimes-confusing scientific data.’

This week, my friend asked me why Vilenkin was still not ready to become a theist. Well, Dr. William Lane Craig got asked that same question in his question of the week, and his answer was interesting.

Vilenkin’s view affirms the nothing that precedes the universe:

Modern physics can describe the emergence of the universe as a physical process that does not require a cause. Nothing can be created from nothing, says Lucretius, if only because the conservation of energy makes it impossible to create nothing [sic; something?] from nothing. . . .

There is a loophole in this reasoning. The energy of the gravitational field is negative; it is conceivable that this negative energy could compensate for the positive energy of matter, making the total energy of the cosmos equal to zero. In fact, this is precisely what happens in a closed universe, in which the space closes on itself, like the surface of a sphere. It follows from the laws of general relativity that the total energy of such a universe is necessarily equal to zero. . . .

If all the conserved numbers of a closed universe are equal to zero, then there is nothing to prevent such a universe from being spontaneously created out of nothing. And according to quantum mechanics, any process which is not strictly forbidden by the conservation laws will happen with some probability. . . .

What causes the universe to pop out of nothing? No cause is needed.[1]

Dr. Craig replies at length, here is the part I liked best:

Finally, Vilenkin’s inference that because the positive and negative energy in the universe sum to zero, therefore no cause of the universe’s coming into being is needed is hard to take seriously. This is like saying that if your debts balance your assets, then your net worth is zero, and so there is no cause of your financial situation! (Vilenkin would, I hope, not agree with Peter Atkins that because the positive and negative energy of the universe sum to zero, therefore nothing exists now, and so “Nothing did indeed come from nothing.”[2] For as Descartes taught us, I, at least, undeniably exist, and so something exists.) Christopher Isham, Britain’s premier quantum cosmologist, rightly points out that there still needs to be “ontic seeding” to create the positive and negative energy in the first place, even if on balance its sum is naught.[3]

Vilenkin’s interaction with the kalam cosmological argument is, as I say, fascinating because we see here so clearly how philosophical faux pas, not scientific mistakes, invalidate the objections of an eminent scientist to the argument. This should be an object lesson to all those who, like Stephen Hawking or Lawrence Krauss, naïvely think that philosophy is a sterile and irrelevant discipline compared to science. Philosophy can help all of us, including scientists, to avoid the logical mistakes and conceptual confusions that are all too prevalent in discussions taking place on the borderland of physics, metaphysics, and theology.

That’s a very simple refutation of a famous scientist’s speculative cosmology that anyone can understand. Christians are on very good ground when it comes to the science of origins.

You would think that more Christians would be aware of this evidence and the difficulties that naturalists have in accounting for the origin of the universe in their worldview. But, for some reason, it’s not a real hot topic in most churches. Nor is the fine-tuning or the origin of life or the Cambrian explosion. It’s really strange! If you haven’t yet picked up Wallace’s book, I highly recommend it. It’s the best book for blue collar workers who like evidence. The book touches on virtually every piece of evidence relevant to the God question, including some I had never seen before.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

If you accept Jesus and become a Christian, will God make you happy?

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

This is a wonderful, wonderful post from Amy Hall, who writes for the Stand to Reason blog.

She writes:

I had a brief interaction with an atheist on Twitter a couple of weeks ago that unexpectedly turned to the issue of suffering when she said:

You clearly never had a time you were hurt. I don’t mean sick. I don’t mean heart broken. I mean literally a near death experience or rape or abusive relationship…. You can keep floating on a [expletive] cloud thinking Jesus will do everything for you but it’s a lie. What makes you so special?

That surprised me at first because it didn’t seem to have anything to do with the tweet she was responding to, and I was confused as to why she would assume I’d never been through anything traumatic. But then in subsequent tweets, when she revealed she had been raped, it became clear that her trauma had played a central role in her becoming an outspoken, obviously angry “antitheist.” She’s a self-described antitheist now because she thinks Christianity teaches Jesus “will do everything for you” to give you a perfect life, and now she knows that’s a lie. The rape proved her understanding of Christianity false.

So it made sense for her to reason that since I believe Christianity is true, I must still be under the delusion that Jesus is making my life special, which means I obviously never encountered any evil or suffering to shake that delusion.

All right, readers. I don’t want any of you to be thinking that if you become a Christian that these things should be expected to happen:

  • you will feel happy all the time
  • you will be able to sense God’s secret plan for your life through your feelings
  • God’s secret plan for your life will automatically work, even though it’s crazy
  • God will give you a perfect spouse and lots of money without you having to study anything hard, or do any hard work
  • you get permission to do things that that make you happy, even if they are expressly forbidden by the Bible
  • you don’t have to do anything that makes you feel bad (e.g. – talk to non-Christians about Christian truth claims), because God wants you to be happy

No! Where do people get this idea that if they convert to Christianity, then God will become their cosmic butler?

Amy has the answer: (emphasis mine)

Hear me, everyone: This is a failure of the church.

A friend of mine who was deeply suffering once said to me that many Christians are in for “an epic letdown” when they realize their preconceived notions about what God is expected to do for us are false. Pastors who preach a life-improvement Jesus are leading people down this precarious path to disillusionment.

If suffering disproves your Christianity, you’ve missed Christianity. The Bible is filled with the suffering of those whom God loves. The central event of the Bible is one of suffering. Love involves suffering. “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” That means suffering.

It’s the church. It’s the focus on happy things and having of happy feelings and happy songs and preaching designed to make us feel good. I would say the comforting devotional reading doesn’t help to make us any tougher or more practical, either. That happy-clappy stuff just gives you a false sense of safety about your precarious situation. God’s job is not to prevent you from suffering. In fact, even if you make really smart, practical decisions, you can expect to get creamed anyway.

Please take 15 minutes and read the book of 1 Peter in the New Testament.

Here’s a summary from GotQuestions.org:

Purpose of Writing: 1 Peter is a letter from Peter to the believers who had been dispersed throughout the ancient world and were under intense persecution. If anyone understood persecution, it was Peter. He was beaten, threatened, punished and jailed for preaching the Word of God. He knew what it took to endure without bitterness, without losing hope and in great faith living an obedient, victorious life. This knowledge of living hope in Jesus was the message and Christ’s example was the one to follow.

Brief Summary: Though this time of persecution was desperate, Peter reveals that it was actually a time to rejoice. He says to count it a privilege to suffer for the sake of Christ, as their Savior suffered for them. This letter makes reference to Peter’s personal experiences with Jesus and his sermons from the book of Acts. Peter confirms Satan as the great enemy of every Christian but the assurance of Christ’s future return gives the incentive of hope.

Practical Application: The assurance of eternal life is given to all Christians. One way to identify with Christ is to share in His suffering. To us that would be to endure insults and slurs from those who call us “goodie two shoes” or “holier than thou.” This is so minor compared to what Christ suffered for us on the Cross. Stand up for what you know and believe is right and rejoice when the world and Satan aim to hurt you.

Recently, I blogged about how suffering is compatible with an all-powerful God, so you might want to read that too if you missed it.