Discussing the intersection of science and religion


Krauss Failed in The Debate – Even in Discussing Physics!

Wednesday night’s debate was yet another example of how the world’s most intelligent atheists cannot stand up to the rational arguments of theism. William Lane Craig has for a long time used the same basic arguments for theism, although to his credit he is very current with respect to the latest evidence and objections to these arguments. The debate failures of leading atheist intellectuals suggest that they simply don’t have good counter-arguments. Craig is certainly not winning by surprising his opponents but because he has better arguments. What most surprised me about this debate was that Krauss made several erroneous, inconsistent or misleading statements pertaining to physics, his area of expertise.

For example, Krauss claimed that “less than 1% of the universe is made up things which we can see.” However, other physicists put the percentage of visible matter-energy in the universe at about 4 or 5. While this mistake was not relevant to the debate, many other issues were. Krauss repeatedly made claims such as: “no scientist says that the universe is fine-tuned for human life.” Off the top of my head, I can think of numerous atheistic physicists who acknowledge fine-tuning even though they try to explain it away: Davies, Greenstein, Rees, Barrow, Hawking, Mlodinow, Hoyle, and Susskind. Most have devoted entire books to the topic. The name grows longer if you include ones who converted to supernatural belief by this evidence – such as Tipler and Flew (although Flew was not a physicist, he was a leading intellectual atheist for most of the latter half of the twentieth century.) Krauss kept repeating his skepticism towards fine-tuning but provided very minimal explanation or evidence for his claim. While of course no one is surprised that we find ourselves in a life-permitting universe, other atheists candidly admit their surprise that minuscule perturbations of different constants of nature would have been catastrophic to life. If the laws and constants of physics can vary as Krauss and most physicists believe, then it is vastly more probable that our universe would not have permitted life.

Krauss’s statements about the cosmological constant implied that it was fine-tuned only in one direction. While it is certainly true that a value of 0 would be quite supportive of life, the value of this constant is finely-tuned in both directions. One is left either with a rapidly recollapsed universe or one that expands so rapidly that no stars or planets form. No origin of life theories apply to universes which would either be too young or would lack a stable energy source. The cosmological constant, which represents the energy density of empty space, is based on contributions to the vacuum energy from different types of fields. The fine-tuning is so surprising because the fields we can measure contribute 120 orders of magnitude larger than the composite, finely-tuned value. This near but not exact cancellation requires a mind-boggling level of fine-tuning. Other atheist physicists like Susskind admit that such fine-tuning cannot be taken as merely coincidental – at least apart from a multiverse that could provide the necessary probabilistic resources to overcome the terrible odds. Krauss should have at least explained the issues and admitted that the multiverse is the only potential alternative to avoid the supernatural implications. A truly open and honest discussion of fine-tuning would have also admitted that a number of physicists (e.g. Dine, Smolin) are skeptical of this explanation because our universe doesn’t seem to be consistent with predictions of these multiverse models. Also, no one has yet been able to come up with a plausible multiverse theory that doesn’t itself require fine-tuning. Full disclosure by Krauss would have also admitted that scientists don’t yet even know what causes the inflaton field which is proposed as a mechanism for creating other universes. Prominent scientists have also pointed out how inflationary theory actually worsens fine-tuning problems. (Penrose, Dyson, Susskind, Kleban)

In a more egregious blunder, Krauss also asserted that “all quantum interpretations are deterministic.” One could easily point to numerous peer-reviewed articles that would contradict this claim. Even a lay level resource (Wikipedia) lists 13 different interpretations of quantum mechanics and identifies only 4 as being deterministic. None of Craig’s arguments were actually dependent upon whether or not physics is deterministic. However, Krauss’s deterministic claim and his admission that morality might be objective falls into Craig’s argument for the existence of God based on objective morality. Craig pointed out the flaw in Krauss’s determinism – there is no objective basis in a fully determined world for saying anything is wrong. How can someone be held accountable for something if they had no true “free will” to act otherwise? Krauss’s naturalistic worldview has a problem explaining the world we observe with regard to morality and free will. Under determinism, Krauss’s only rational way to deny theism was to deny objective morality. Most atheists are not willing to do so since most agree that some things are really wrong independent of human opinion (e.g. Holocaust, slavery, harming the environment etc.)

Consider some of Krauss’s other inconsistent statements. Krauss said that “we don’t claim that 90% evidence is good enough” and that “we never claim discovery based on that.” Krauss, however, contradicts himself by accepting the multiverse theory and varying laws of nature despite the lack of any empirical confirmation. Krauss kept appealing to these speculative theories as an attempt to explain away the fine-tuning and the creation of the universe. Some leading physicists even argue that the multiverse theory is “untestable in principle” and therefore unscientific. (e.g., Lee Smolin) Krauss even briefly mentioned that we cannot detect these other universes because they are moving away so rapidly. Is the multiverse theory any less metaphysical than the God hypothesis? It doesn’t seem to be so far anyway. It is even more astonishing and disingenuous for Krauss to claim that quantum physics can bring about space and time from absolutely nothing. If there was once no space, time, matter or energy (as the BVG theorem “proves”), what empirical evidence could Krauss ever point to that could demonstrate what quantum physics could do outside of space and time. It’s pretty hard to build a laboratory to run an experiment outside of space, time, matter and energy!

Although Krauss made unfounded assertions that Craig distorted the universe to match his own preconceptions, Krauss ironically seemed to be the one in denial. He refused to accept what the best scientific evidence really says about the beginning of the universe – namely that it has one! Krauss pointed out that Vilenkin and Guth do not discuss God in their scientific paper. Well, of course not since they are both atheists and they would not be allowed to discuss God in a scientific paper. However, Vilenkin does actually discuss the supernatural implications of the “proof that the beginning is unavoidable” in his Many Worlds in One book saying that “the universe looked too much like divine intervention.” While he tries to discredit this as a “proof of the existence of God,” Vilenkin offers no good reasons for rejecting the God-hypothesis – he only begs the question in saying that no one can explain who made God. The fact that leading atheist cosmologists stumbled across a “proof” for a beginning while trying to find ways to extend the multiverse into the infinite past only serves to more strongly substantiate Craig’s scientific claim. The supernatural implications of a universe coming into existence from nothing are unavoidable since the “who made God” objection is logically fallacious.

Krauss also erred in disparaging logic and philosophy – which must of necessity undergird science. The modern scientific understanding of quantum mechanics is certainly counter-intuitive but does not violate the laws of logic. It seemed a bit bizarre when Krauss stripped down to his “2+2=5” T-shirt. The atheist not the theist appealed to Orwell’s classic example of a false dogma! Imagine the response from atheists if a theist had made such claims.

Also, some of Krauss’s arguments are not at all scientific. For example, he argues that God would not have created a universe that relegated humans to such an isolated location. Not only is this argument non-scientific but it is also a poor theological argument. The Bible elevates God not humans. Who is to say that God would have not created a very large universe to demonstrate his power and to humble humanity? The Bible actually hints at a very large universe by mentioning that the number of stars is beyond what humans could even count. An expanding universe with an uncountable number of stars, and that began to exist out of nothing is exactly the universe described in Biblical writings thousands of years before science knew these 3 facts.

I don’t want to personally attack Krauss – he is obviously an intelligent and highly successful physicist and he knows more about the subject than I ever will. (I merely have a bachelor’s degree in physics). My point is that if an expert like Krauss can argue so poorly or even at times so inaccurately, then perhaps his commitment to philosophical naturalism is getting in the way of his reasoning. He defined evidence for God as consisting only in the detection of miracles and then appealed to Hume in arguing that miracles could never be detected in principle. So much for a “scientific,” open-minded search for truth! If you think that Craig was overstating the case when he claimed that the basis for Hume’s skepticism of miracles was “demonstrably false,” you should read atheist philosopher John Earman’s book aptly entitled Hume’s Abject Failure. Einstein was right – “the man of science is a poor philosopher.” Since philosophy is the foundation of science, starting from incorrect presuppositions can lead to invalid conclusions – even for an intelligent scientist. Bertrand Russell once proved that he was the pope starting from 2+2=5. Perhaps Krauss should admit that 2+2 is always equal to 4 and that the universe should be evaluated with a mind open to the possibility that God exists. After all, he admitted that Deism was plausible – which is equivalent to him admitting that there is evidence for God and therefore that he lost the debate.

Signs in the Heavens

Which of us has not at some point been amazed by the night sky? Years ago, when mountain climbing in Colorado, I was awed by the magnificent heavens. When the ancients peered into skies similarly unobstructed by pollution, they spoke in transcendent terms – “the heavens are telling of the glory of God,” wrote an ancient Hebrew in Psalm 19. Others not influenced by the Judeo-Christian viewpoint, such as Plato and Aristotle, also saw the heavens as strong evidence for design by an intelligent Supreme Being. Skeptics may dismiss this as mere sentimentalism, but as science advances, the case for design grows stronger. In my previous blog, I argued that modern physics requires a supernatural beginning since space and time are now known to have had a beginning. In this blog, I discuss 3 incredible attributes of that beginning which further the case for a transcendent cause.

First, physics provides no mechanism that could account for the exceedingly larger amount of matter in the universe. There are hundreds of billions of galaxies each of which contains an average of hundreds of billions of stars. Physicists theorize that the energy in the early universe existed primarily in the form of photons (light). (Note the correlation with Genesis where God said “let there be light.”) Energy in the early universe would then have been converted into almost equal parts of matter and antimatter. Since matter and antimatter annihilate each other upon contact, the vast amounts of matter are suggestive of divine intervention. Even if some new physics is discovered to account for this bias for matter over antimatter, the asymmetry would still be surprising under a naturalistic worldview since most laws are symmetric.

The second incredible attribute of the Big Bang relates to its finely-tuned density. Physicists estimate that the density in the early universe had to be finely-tuned to one part in 1060 to produce a flat universe. If the density differed even slightly, then the universe would not have expanded so as to form stars and planets. In an attempt to obviate the need for this and other fine-tuning in the early universe, scientists proposed a new type of scalar field that could theoretically produce a rapid early expansion. Its founder, Alan Guth, admits that the theory is “contrived” since there is no known source for this field. Even if true, inflationary theory merely displaces the fine-tuning problem since inflation itself requires an exquisite level of fine-tuning. For example, if inflation did not abruptly end 10-32 seconds after the Big Bang, then a runaway expansion would have prevented star formation. Too bad our monetary inflation is not so brief!

The third and most incredible attribute of the early universe is its extreme orderliness. Roger Penrose, a leading physicist from Oxford University, has computed that the universe’s initial entropy (or disorder) must have been exceedingly small to produce a life-permitting universe. In order to achieve such an ordered state in the early universe, Penrose claims that “the Creator’s aim must have been [accurate to] one part in 1010123”.[1] This huge number is truly mind-boggling – consider that to write it out in standard form would require a much larger number of zeroes than there are subatomic particles in the entire universe. Thus, it is no exaggeration to state that the Big Bang was the most highly ordered event in the history of the universe. A random configuration of particles in the early universe would have been enormously more likely to produce a universe consisting only of black holes. Penrose has also pointed out how inflationary theory actually worsens this fine-tuning problem. So the only solution offered to account for any of these fine-tuning problems not only requires its own fine-tuning but also worsens this most significant fine-tuning challenge.

If you have never studied cosmology, you may be wondering how these fine-tuning arguments are viewed by the physics community. Actually these scientific facts are very widely accepted – but potential supernatural implications are not considered since they are generally considered outside the realm of science. For example, I have yet to find any dissenting opinions with regard to the entropy problem, but I have found affirmation in numerous peer-reviewed articles.

Nevertheless, let’s consider potential objections to these arguments. First, some may claim that this fine-tuning could eventually be explained based on some type of evolutionary process. There is no way, however, to evolve initial conditions since there is no time for evolution to operate. Or some may complain that I am merely arguing from ignorance – a sort of “God of the gaps” argument. In the case of the low entropy argument, there are two factors that make it unlikely to be overturned by new discoveries. First of all, Penrose’s computations are based on very well established physics that has already been shown to be consistent with new speculative theories such as string theory and loop quantum gravity. Also, the argument relates to perhaps the best-established law of physics – the second law of thermodynamics (that entropy increases over time). Speaking of the second law, Einstein asserts that “it is the only physical theory of universal content … [it] will never be overthrown.” Science is, however, always provisional. I argue merely that current scientific knowledge points to the need for a supernatural Creator. It is also worth noting that there has been a continual trend over the last 100 years of cosmology toward strengthening the case for a Creator. In my view God has left signposts of transcendence in the heavens. The vast improbabilities coupled with multiple, independent lines of evidence defy naturalistic explanation. An open-minded skeptic should respond by at least searching for further evidence. I believe that God will reveal Himself to anyone who is seeking Him and willing to respond to the truth. If you already believe in God, I hope that you will gain a greater appreciation for how the heavens are telling the glory of God – at multiple levels!

[1] Roger Penrose. The Emperor’s New Mind. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 445.

A Scientific Argument for the Existence of God

Can science shed any light on whether or not God exists? I would argue that although the supernatural is outside the realm of science, a powerful argument based on science can be made for the necessity of a supernatural agent. William Lane Craig has made famous the following ancient argument known as the “Kalam cosmological argument:”

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe was caused.

If it can be shown that the universe was caused, an argument can then be made that the universe must have been caused by some agent acting outside of the universe. Since the universe by definition includes everything natural, a supernatural agent seems to be logically necessary. In a future blog, I’ll discuss the only other alternative – that the universe could have created itself out of nothing.

We have mounds of empirical evidence from science for the first premise. Thus, the argument hinges on the second premise. For literally over a thousand years scientists and theologians debated whether or not the universe has always existed. Judaism and Christianity asserted that the universe was created by God out of nothing – “creation ex-nihilo.” Many scientists, especially religious skeptics, asserted that the universe was eternal and therefore did not require an explanation. In an analogous manner, Christians asserted that God was eternal and therefore could not be explained.

For centuries, this question was beyond the scope of science but within the last 10 years we have received a scientific answer to this question. Even before this, science seemed to be indicating that the universe began at the Big Bang. The Big Bang became the dominant origins theory once its prediction of the cosmic microwave background radiation was verified in 1964 by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson. These two Bell labs engineers had been trying to determine the source of excess noise in their antenna. Assuming that it was due to a pigeon’s nest, they spent hours looking for and removing dung. As a colleague noted, “they looked for dung but found gold, which is just the opposite of the experience of most of us.” Indeed they won the Nobel Prize for their efforts that detected this remnant radiation from the Big Bang. As Stephen Hawking more recently stated, “today virtually everyone agrees that the universe and time itself had a beginning at the Big Bang.”

According to General Relativity, Hawking and Penrose had shown that space and time itself began at the Big Bang. The supernatural implications of this notion, however, led some scientists to consider various theories for how the Big Bang could have been initiated by some natural process. Since General Relativity may break down at quantum scales in the early universe, there were legitimate speculations that perhaps something preceded the Big Bang. In 2003, an important paper was published by three leading cosmologists who had proposed some of the key speculative theories attempting to circumvent the absolute beginning implied by the Big Bang. Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin wrote this article, entitled “Inflationary spacetimes are not past complete.” Vilenkin summarizes the conclusion of this article in his Many Worlds in One book: “It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.” That they call this a “proof” is astounding given that its only assumption is that the universe has on average expanded. The authors explain how the theorem applies to both inflationary and cyclic models – and thus all theories that have at least some plausibility.

So one can ask – what could cause space and time to begin at some point in the finite past? No known force in physics acts outside of space and time. Of course, someone committed to naturalism/atheism may assume that someday some new principles of science will be found that will somehow make it possible. Such blind faith does nothing to diminish the hypothesis that current scientific knowledge points to the necessity of a supernatural Creator.