Tag Archives: Universe

MUST-HEAR: John Lennox and Paul Davies debate about aliens and the origin of life

An amazing debate about the origin of life and the cosmic fine-tuning between a Christian and a materialist agnostic. John Lennox is AWESOME in this debate, and he only talks for a tiny part of the debate. He’s very gracious, and focused the discussion on the areas that we care about. Paul Davies is an EXCELLENT scientist and well aware of what Christians believe. This is a great debate, very easy to listen to. Justin, the moderator, does a great job controlling a fantastic discussion.

The MP3 file is here.

Details

What does it take for life to get going in our universe? Is there intelligence in the stars or right under our nose? Renowned astrophysicist Paul Davies chats to Oxford Professor of Mathematics John Lennox.

A popular science author, Davies is also the Chair of the SETI post detection task force. His latest book “The Eerie Silence” which marks SETI’s 50th anniversary examines the likelihood of the universe producing life elsewhere.

John Lennox is a Christian Mathematician and philosopher. He is the author of “God’s Undertaker: has science buried God?” and has debated Richard Dawkins on several occasions.

Davies’ work on the fine tuning of the universe for life has been sympathetic to theism. In this programme Lennox challenges Davies to look to design not just in cosmology but in the cell. They also chat about what the discovery of ET would mean for Christian theology.

Summary

Justin:

  • Is there meaning in the universe?

Paul:

  • We have no evidence for or against intelligent life elsewhere in the universe
  • The vastness of the universe makes me think there is life elsewhere
  • Humans are capable of observing and understanding the universe
  • It seems the universe has the ability to create observers to understand it
  • If one species has this ability, then we should expect others to do it

John:

  • The fact that we can observe the universe and do science has cosmic significance
  • Our rare habitable planet and our ability to do science is suggestive of purpose
  • So science itself points to an extra-terrestrial intelligence: GOD
  • The complexity of life and consciousness itself points away from atheism
  • Monotheism gave birth to science
  • Human minds capable of doing science are not compatible with atheistic materialism

Justin:

  • Why do you say that either we are the only life or there are many different kinds of life?

Paul:

  • There are lots of factors that have to be met to have a site for simple life
  • These are related to the fine-tuning of cosmic constants, e.g. gravitational force
  • But there are also factors that have to be met for originating intelligent life
  • Things like convergence, self-organization, etc.
  • So the cosmic requirements and evolutionary requirements are different
  • Darwinian evolution doesn’t solve the problem of the origin of life
  • 50 years ago, skepticism about alien life existing anywhere was excessive
  • Today, credulity about alien life exiting everywhere is excessive
  • The naturalist is searching for a process that creates life easily

John:

  • Paul agrees that there is no theory for a naturalistic origin of life
  • This is fatal for the idea that life can emerge elsewhere in the universe
  • We have not discovered any law that produces life without an intelligence
  • Consider the method used by SETI used to detect an alien intelligence
  • Why can’t this method be applied to the origin of life on Earth?
  • Why can’t an intelligence created specified complexity (functional information)?
  • Why can’t an intelligence created epigenetics and protein folding?

Paul:

  • Darwinian evolution can add new biological information after life begins

John:

  • Darwinian evolution assumes a mutating replicating life form to act on

Paul:

  • You can’t generate specified complexity by using physical laws
  • You can’t generate specified complexity by chance
  • At this point we are guessing as to how life might have formed

John:

  • Why do we have to rule out an intelligent cause a priori
  • If you can recognize an intelligence in outer space, why not in living systems?

Paul:

  • I don’t mind the word “intelligence”, it’s the word “signal”
  • I oppose the idea that God or aliens manipulated physical stuff to create life
  • It’s an “ugly explanation and very unappealing both theologically and scientifically”
  • I prefer the idea that the universe has processes to self-organize and create complexity
  • When it comes to supernatural meddling by God, “I don’t want that”
  • If I were God, I would create the universe so that I would not have to intervene
  • I think God would be more clever if he did not have to intervene
  • My preferences about what is “clever” determines what scientific conclusions are allowed

John:

  • Humans already have experience with their non-material minds to move atoms (matter)
  • If God is a mind, then there is no reason why he cannot move atoms (matter)

Paul:

  • My mind is physical, so are you saying that God is physical?
  • If God intervenes in the universe, then what is he doing now?

John:

  • There is a distinction between acts of creation and providential upholding the universe
  • God is also speaking to people and drawing humans toward him
  • God is spirit, not material

Paul:

  • How can a non-physical entity cause effects on the physical world?

John:

  • What science reveals that there is information needed for the origin of life
  • Information requires an intelligence to create it, just as with human who write books
  • That’s not God of the gaps – it’s an inference based on what we know today

Paul:

  • We may be able to explain the origin of life later, using matter, law and chance
  • What you’re saying is that God tinkers with the genome
  • If you say that God intervened once, then he intervenes all the time, everywhere!
  • I don’t want a God who tinkers in the genome
  • if God could intervene in the universe that would remove its intelligibility

John:

  • Look at the cover of this book – when I read words, I infer an intelligence
  • There are bad gaps that the progress of science closes
  • There are good gaps that science opens, showing the need for intelligence
  • On the one hand, you say we have no theory of the origin of life
  • On the other hand, you know that an intelligent designer wasn’t involved
  • If we don’t know how life began, why do you rule God out a priori?

Paul:

  • What scientists want to do is to explain the universe without involving God
  • naturalists want to use science to discover only materialist explanations
  • The purpose of SETI is to prove that there is other life in the universe
  • This would then show that there is a naturalistic way of making life
  • I agree that information in living systems is real hard to explain materialistically
  • I believe in the power of emergence
  • We might discover laws that prove that complexity can emerge without intelligence
  • The discovery of alien life would help to show that no intelligence is needed to make life

Justin:

  • What sort of cosmic fine-tuning is needed at the Big Bang for life to occur?

Paul:

  • It’s true that the universe appears extremely fine-tuned for life to exist
  • The typical answer from naturalists is that there is a multiverse
  • But the multiverse “falls far short” of providing a good answer to the fine-tuning
  • It’s irrational to appeal to massive numbers of unseen universes to explain fine-tuning
  • The design and purpose seen in the universe may be due to God or it may be emergent

John:

  • The fine-tuning is real and the multiverse is a desperate attempt to evade the creator
  • Sir Martin Rees (an atheist) says he “prefers” the multiverse to a designer
  • Scientists are not supposed to prefer anything except what is true

Justin:

  • Would the discovery of aliens hurt Christianity, because of the belief in the uniqueness of humans?

Paul:

  • Christians believe that Jesus came to save HUMANS specifically, not animals or aliens
  • If we were to discover intelligent aliens, it would challenge traditional religions
  • What will God do with alien races? Multiple incarnations? Or just preach the gospel to them?

John:

  • We don’t know if the aliens exist, first of all – it’s speculative
  • The Bible teaches that humans bear the image of God
  • We just don’t know whether alien species are also made in God’s image

Watch two great intelligent design documentaries online for free!

Here’s the first one, all about biological information in DNA and the origin of life.

Part 1 of 12:

The full playlist is here.

Here’s the second one, all about what it takes to have a habitable planet.

Part 1 of 12:

The full playlist here.

These are each about an hour long. The third one in the series is called “Darwin’s Dilemma”, and it covers the origin of new body plans and organ types in the Cambrian explosion. It’s the best of the series.

(H/T Apologetics 315)

Choosing my religion: why I am not a Hindu

I’ve decided to spend some time writing extremely short explanations about why I am an evangelical Protestant Christian instead of anything else.

I have two aims.

First, I want show how an honest person can evaluate rival religions using the laws of logic, scientific evidence and historical evidence. Second, I want people who are not religious to understand that religions are either true or it is false. Religions should not be chosen based where you were born, what your parents believed, or what resonates with you. A religion should be embraced for the same reason as the theory of gravity is embraced: because it reflects the way the world really is.

Why I am not a Hindu

  1. Hindu cosmology teaches that the universe cycles between creation and destruction, through infinite time.
  2. The closest cosmological model conforming to Hindu Scriptures is the eternally “oscillating” model of the universe.
  3. The “oscillating” model requires that the universe exist eternally into the past.
  4. But the evidence today shows the the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the big bang.
  5. The “oscillating” model requires that the expansion of the universe reverse into a collapse, (= crunch).
  6. In 1998, the discovery of the year was that the universe would expand forever. There will be no crunch.
  7. Therefore, the oscillating model is disconfirmed by observations.
  8. The oscillating model also faces theoretical problems with the “bounce” mechanism.

So that’s one reason why I am not a Hindu.

(The absolute origin of the universe out of nothing is also incompatible with Buddhism, Mormonism, etc. because they also require an eternally existing universe)

New Scientist: the force of gravity is fine-tuned to permit life

The article from the New Scientist is here. (H/T ECM)

Excerpt:

The feebleness of gravity is something we should be grateful for. If it were a tiny bit stronger, none of us would be here to scoff at its puny nature.

The moment of the universe‘s birth created both matter and an expanding space-time in which this matter could exist. While gravity pulled the matter together, the expansion of space drew particles of matter apart – and the further apart they drifted, the weaker their mutual attraction became.

It turns out that the struggle between these two was balanced on a knife-edge. If the expansion of space had overwhelmed the pull of gravity in the newborn universe, stars, galaxies and humans would never have been able to form. If, on the other hand, gravity had been much stronger, stars and galaxies might have formed, but they would have quickly collapsed in on themselves and each other. What’s more, the gravitational distortion of space-time would have folded up the universe in a big crunch. Our cosmic history could have been over by now.

Only the middle ground, where the expansion and the gravitational strength balance to within 1 part in 1015 at 1 second after the big bang, allows life to form.

I know you guys look at my big list of objective evidence for Christianity, and you think “Wintery! Those evidences are not admitted by the majority of scientists!” I keep trying to tell you – my goal is to give you arguments and evidence that will work in the public square. These are mainstream evidences accepted by most or all non-Christian scientists as fact, and they used in public academic debates.

When I tell you about evidences from the big bang, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, etc., I am telling you evidence that should compel anyone to deny atheism, so long as they are not irrational and emotional. These are not Christian tricks. They do not address felt needs. They are not there to help you to be happy. They are not optional, depending on how you feel about them.

But there is another way to recommend Christianity to people, which is not rationally compelling, but instead relies on intuitions and experiences.

A different approach to apologetics

Some people offer Christian doctrines to others as a way of interpreting the human condition, etc. And it’s true that the Bible gives you an accurate description of your own inner life, and your rebellious attitude towards God. So these well-meaning Christians try to “persuade” non-Christians to consider whether the words of the Bible “ring true” with their intuitions and experiences.

Consider this quote from G.K. Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy”:

And now we come to the crucial question which truly concludes the whole matter.  A reasonable agnostic, if he has happened to agree with me so far, may justly turn round and say, “You have found a practical philosophy in the doctrine of the Fall; very well…. If you see clearly the kernel of common-sense in the nut of Christian orthodoxy,why cannot you simply take the kernel and leave the nut? Why cannot you (to use that cant phrase of the newspapers which I, as a highly scholarly agnostic, am a little ashamed of using) why cannot you simply take what is good in Christianity, what you can define as valuable, what you can comprehend, and leave all the rest, all the absolute dogmas that are in their nature incomprehensible?” This is the real question; this is the last question; and it is a pleasure to try to answer it.

The first answer is simply to say that I am a rationalist. I like to have some intellectual justification for my intuitions. If I am treating man as a fallen being it is an intellectual convenience to me to believe that he fell; and I find, for some odd psychological reason, that I can deal better with a man’s exercise of freewill if I believe that he has got it.  But I am in this matter yet more definitely a rationalist.  I do not propose to turn this book into one of ordinary Christian apologetics; I should be glad to meet at any other time the enemies of Christianity in that more obvious arena.  Here I am only giving an account of my own growth in spiritual certainty.  But I may pause to remark that the more I saw of the merely abstract arguments against the Christian cosmology the less I thought of them.  I mean that having found the moral atmosphere of the Incarnation to be common sense, I then looked at the established intellectual arguments against the Incarnation and found them to be common nonsense.  In case the argument should be thought to suffer from the absence of the ordinary apologetic I will here very briefly summarise my own arguments and conclusions on the purely objective or scientific truth of the matter.

If I am asked, as a purely intellectual question, why I believe in Christianity, I can only answer, “For the same reason that an intelligent agnostic disbelieves in Christianity.”  I believe in it quite rationally upon the evidence.  But the evidence in my case, as in that of the intelligent agnostic, is not really in this or that alleged demonstration; it is in an enormous accumulation of small but unanimous facts.  The secularist is not to be blamed because his objections to Christianity are miscellaneous and even scrappy; it is precisely such scrappy evidence that does convince the mind. I mean that a man may well be less convinced of a philosophy from four books, than from one book, one battle, one landscape, and one old friend.  The very fact that the things are of different kinds increases the importance of the fact that they all point to one conclusion.  Now, the non-Christianity of the average educated man to-day is almost always, to do him justice, made up of these loose but living experiences.  I can only say that my evidences for Christianity are of the same vivid but varied kind as his evidences against it.  For when I look at these various anti-Christian truths, I simply discover that none of them are true. I discover that the true tide and force of all the facts flows the other way.

The problem with Chesterton’s view is that it is not rationally compelling. It is apprehended in a subjective way, depending on whether the person likes it or not. This pragmatic approach is popular today because people want to have their felt needs met. But this approach doesn’t allow you to demonstrate the truth of Christianity in the public square, using objective evidence, as Chesterton admits.

This rejection of objective apologetics has marginalized Christianity as subjective. I think we need to emphasize hard evidence. We need to have studied science, analytical philosophy, New Testament and history. We need to offer evidence that is objective, not subjective, like the fine-tuning of the gravitational force, so that our opponents are clear that Christianity is objectively true.

I think that Chesterton is a bad example for Christians to follow. In the Bible, I see Jesus constantly providing physical evidence for this claims by employing  miracles. We can do something similar to Jesus today, by leveraging past miracles, such as the fine-tuning of the gravitational force, in our public debates. We don’t need to invent new ways of evangelizing based on intuitions and experiences.

Further study

You can read more about the fine-tuning of the gravitational force from Robin Collins, who is the best we have on the topic. Collins started a Ph.D in Physics at the University of Texas at Austin, but ended up completing a Ph.D in philosophy at Notre Dame, under Alvin Plantinga, the greatest living philosopher today, in my opinion. I heard Collins speak at the Baylor ID conference in 2000.

Here is a textbook on physics and philosophy for high-schoolers written by David Snoke, a professor of Physics at University of Pittsburgh. He homeschools his own 4 children with this very book. The book contains Bible study and philosophy sections.