When theology does cosmology

As intelligent-design-based opposition to science slowly dissolves, its adherents are rushing to find arguments for God in another field—physics.  I hear these arguments all the time when I’m on the road, and encountered them again this week in Maryland.  They boil down to three assertions:

  1. The “fine-tuning” argument. The physical constants of the universe are tightly constrained, for if they varied even a little, life wouldn’t be here.  Ergo Jesus.
  2. The “why there are laws” argument. We have no explanation for why there are laws of physics that hold throughout the universe. Presumably, without God there would be no “laws” at all.  Ergo Jesus.  A variant of this argument, made by people like Kenneth Miller, is the “science works” argument: because the universe is intelligible by human exploration and rationality, it must have been constructed by God.  Note, too, the similarity of this argument to the “moral law” argument that we see frequently: people have an innate morality, and that innateness is evidence for God.  Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, sees this “Moral Law” argument as perhaps the most powerful evidence for God.  (It’s not of course:  “innateness” could reflect evolutionary wiring, universal instruction or a combination of both.)
  3. The Big Bang argument. This is a just a fancy scientific update of the old Cosmological Argument that everything has a cause, and the ultimate cause must be God. In the case of physics, the argument goes like this:  maybe physics can understand how the universe came from the Big Bang, but what was there before the Bang?  How could something come from nothing?

Many of us are familiar with the rebuttals to these arguments, some of which have been published by Victor Stenger and Steven Weinberg. But since these claims keep coming up, and are likely to form the most common science-based support for God, it behooves us to understand why they don’t hold water.

In some discussion with physicist Sean Carroll about these issues, he referred me to a very nice piece he wrote for the upcoming Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity, “Does the universe need God“?  In his characteristically lucid prose, Carroll deals with all three of the arguments given above.  I was especially interested in Big Bang arguments, which is why I wrote Sean in the first place.  Carroll explains some of the theories for the origin of the universe, emphasizing this:

The singularity at the Big Bang doesn’t indicate a beginning to the universe, only an end to our theoretical comprehension.  It may be that this moment does indeed correspond to a beginning, and a complete theory of quantum gravity will eventually explain how the universe started at approximately this time.  But it is equally plausible that what we think of as the Big Bang is merely a phase in the history of the universe, which stretches long before that time – perhaps infinitely far in the past.  The present state of the art is simply insufficient to decide between these alternatives; to do so, we will need to formulate and test a working theory of quantum gravity. . .

. . . There are a number of avenues currently being explored by physicists that hope to provide a complete and self-contained account of the universe, including the Big Bang.  Roughly speaking they can be divided into two types: “beginning” cosmologies, in which there is a first moment of time, and “eternal” cosmologies, where time stretches to the past without limit. . .

. . .A provocative way of characterizing these beginning cosmologies is to say that “the universe was created from nothing.”  Much debate has gone into deciding what this claim is supposed to mean.  Unfortunately, it is a fairly misleading natural-language translation of a concept that is not completely well-defined even at the technical level. Terms that are imprecisely defined include “universe,” “created,” “from,” and “nothing.”  (We can argue about “was.”)

The problem with “creation from nothing” is that it conjures an image of a pre-existing “nothingness” out of which the universe spontaneously appeared – not at all what is actually involved in this idea.  Partly this is because, as human beings embedded in a universe with an arrow of time, we can’t help but try to explain events in terms of earlier events, even when the event we are trying to explain is explicitly stated to be the earliest one.  It would be more accurate to characterize these models by saying “there was a time such that there was no earlier time.”

To make sense of this, it is helpful to think of the present state of the universe and work backwards, rather than succumbing to the temptation to place our imaginations “before” the universe came into being.  The beginning cosmologies posit that our mental journey backwards in time will ultimately reach a point past which the concept of “time” is no longer applicable. Alternatively, imagine a universe that collapsed into a Big Crunch, so that there was a future end point to time.   We aren’t tempted to say that such a universe “transformed into nothing”; it simply has a final moment of its existence.  What actually happens at such a boundary point depends, of course, on the correct quantum theory of gravity.

This is fascinating stuff, taking us to the very edge of modern physics.  And it belies the Jebus-lovers’ assertion—one that I encountered on Monday—that scientists simply have “faith” that the universe came from nothing.  No, we don’t have faith that it did, we have hypotheses about how it did, and some of those hypotheses are or will be testable.  The God explanation, of course, is not testable—it’s just a refuge for nescience.

Carroll goes on to examine the fine-tuning and multiverse arguments, some of which are also testable.  He emphasizes that multiverse theory is not a Hail Mary pass thrown by God-beleaguered physicists, but a natural outcome of modern research:

The multiverse is not a theory; it is a prediction of a theory, namely the combination of inflationary cosmology and a landscape of vacuum states.  Both of these ideas came about for other reasons, having nothing to do with the multiverse.  If they are right, they predict the existence of a multiverse in a wide variety of circumstances.  It’s our job to take the predictions of our theories seriously, not to discount them because we end up with an uncomfortably large number of universes.

But go read the piece.  It ends with a nice discussion of why physicists who are exploring cosmological boundaries aren’t tempted by the God Hypothesis.  A nice snippet:

Ambitious approaches to contemporary cosmological questions, such as quantum cosmology, the multiverse, and the anthropic principle, have not yet been developed into mature scientific theories.  But the advocates of these schemes are working hard to derive testable predictions on the basis of their ideas: for the amplitude of cosmological perturbations,[29] signals of colliding pocket universes in the cosmic microwave background,[30] and the mass of the Higgs boson and other particles.[31] For the God hypothesis, it is unclear where one would start.  Why does God favor three generations of elementary particles, with a wide spectrum of masses?  Would God use supersymmetry or strong dynamics to stabilize the hierarchy between the weak scale and the Planck scale, or simply set it that way by hand?  What would God’s favorite dark matter particle be?

This is a venerable problem, reaching far beyond natural theology.  In numerous ways, the world around us is more like what we would expect from a dysteleological set of uncaring laws of nature than from a higher power with an interest in our welfare. As another thought experiment, imagine a hypothetical world in which there was no evil, people were invariably kind, fewer natural disasters occurred, and virtue was always rewarded.  Would inhabitants of that world consider these features to be evidence against the existence of God?  If not, why don’t we consider the contrary conditions to be such evidence?

Indeed! If, as liberal theologians tell us, the “necessary” evils of this world are exactly what God would produce given his penchant for human free will and for physical “freedom” like the movement of tectonic plates, then would a nicer world disprove the God Hypothesis?  Don’t hold your breath, for the nature of the God Hypothesis is that no observation could ever disprove it. That’s why it’s not scientific at all, and why religion and science will never find an amiable concordat.

177 Comments

  1. Kevin
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Yes, the fact that the proponents of the “god hypothesis” cannot propose a null is quite rightly the most damning evidence against such a thing.

    • sponge bob
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      Things were so much simpler when “God did it.”

  2. Sajanas
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    It does frustrate me to see people using physics terms as a way of explaining their religious or spiritual beliefs (*cough* Chopkra *cough*), especially when they don’t have any idea of what the real physics governing these things is like, since it is vast, complicated mathematical modelling. And that modeling is always subject to changes via observation. Thinking about things as “laws” is a great way to highlight important concepts while teaching them, but to quote the Holy Grail, “its only a model”. They conform to observations and make predictions about others, but the laws could be vastly more simplistic forms of what’s really going on, just like Newtonian Physics is simpler than Relativistic Physics, though it is very accurate in its range of use.

    Besides, none of the unsolved questions in physics imply a weird sky father that can alter reality at a whim.

    • Ant
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      but to quote the Holy Grail, “it’s only a model”

      +1

      But -1 for the reference to a religious relic! ;-)

    • Michael K
      Posted April 2, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      As Julia Sweeney said in her wonderful show _Letting Go of God_, “Deepak Chopra is full of shit.”

  3. Insightful Ape
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Victor Stenger does an excellent debunking of all 3 of these arguments in his 2 books, “The Comprehensible Cosmos” and “God: The Failed Hypothesis”.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      Stenger also touches upon it in “Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness” and in “The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason”.

      • Posted April 1, 2011 at 4:44 am | Permalink

        Stenger also has a new book almost out entitled The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe is not Designed for Us.

    • sasqwatch
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      I also recommend “Timeless Reality”, in which he outlines a workable model of reality where quantum weirdness… non-locality, apparent paradoxes can be resolved by giving up the concept of time’s arrow on the subatomic level. In such a universe, time is an emergent property of the macroscopic (along with entropy).

      There’s a few digs in there against the god botherers, too.

  4. Posted March 31, 2011 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    What I personally find most fascinating is how so many religious people go from an ill-defined, highly-implausible deistic god indistinguishable from the programmers of the Matrix straight to “ergo Jesus” without even pretending to cover any intermediate steps.

    It usually boils down to something along these lines: “Physicists don’t know what came before the Big Bang (or what’s north of the North Pole, but never mind that part). The Bible says that ‘in the Beginning was the Word.’ Jesus is the Word; therefore, Jesus banged the universe and made it big.” Of course, they usually silently omit what follows the first sentence, hoping you won’t notice how silly it all is.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Posted March 31, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      I suppose it comes from an irrational conviction that their religion is sensible and superior, whereas all others are irrational and obviously inferior.

      Using this approach, any (imagined) gap in naturalism is a highway for Jesus and for their particular flavour of Christianity.

      • Scott near Berkeley
        Posted March 31, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

        The “sweeping arm” approach, as in “none of that detail convinces me” and “all those electrons banging up against one another” and “nothing in the science of neurology is convincing.” As in the case of the embarrassing Rabbi, the more thunder one adds to the totally emotional misstatements, the more of their own “truth” they seem to feel is valid.

        I like the way Jerry puts it, “Ergo Jeebus”.

        • Filippo
          Posted March 31, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

          I once circumspectly and congenially offered to a family member for his consideration Martin Gardner’s “The Musings of a Philosophical Scrivener.” His prompt-enough (and I infer coached [by church leaders] and rehearsed) reply was, “That book has nothing to say to me.”

          Has anyone here ever heard this rather peculiar and calculated reply?

          • Veronica
            Posted March 31, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

            I have never “heard this rather peculiar and calculated reply,” but I like it for all various ways it can be used:

            “Religion has nothing to say to me.”

            “The Bible has nothing to say to me.”

            The possibilities are endless.

          • Marella
            Posted March 31, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

            How do you know that if you haven’t read it?

    • Posted March 31, 2011 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      I think this is because apologetics has lowered its ambitions considerably since the start of the scientific era. Instead of giving reasons for believing in God, they’ve settled for seeking reasons not to give up their belief. Most arguments nowadays are of the “but you can’t disprove it, therefore I get to believe it” type.

      • Scott near Berkeley
        Posted March 31, 2011 at 11:36 am | Permalink

        I think you’ve described the current conditions succinctly. “We don’t know…we cannot =possibly= know!! Ergo Jeebus, just to be safe!”

      • truthspeaker
        Posted March 31, 2011 at 11:40 am | Permalink

        Bingo.

      • Ray Thaw
        Posted March 31, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

        This is the observation I have made too…what’s left to believe or how do believes alter(altar) to “accomodate” the latest work???

  5. Posted March 31, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the plug, Jerry. We had a long comment thread on our blog about these issues:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2011/03/21/does-the-universe-need-god/

  6. Wade
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Any theistic explanation fails
    on every criteria for a good explanation. It has zero explanatory success, they are completely untestable, have no predictive/postdictive power, are wholly contradicted by our background knowledge.

    They are always an appeal to god’s properties or attributes, infering a divine purpose from these supposed attributes. The problem is when combined, these properties can result in logically
    contradictory outcomes.

    And if you look at Stenger’s sources, you will find many powerful
    refutations
    of all theistic arguments in their classic & modern forms.

  7. abb3w
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    One answer to the “Why are there laws” question is that it’s only an assumption that there are.

    The usual interpretation of evidence is under the assumption that there is some general pattern. This assumption is made as an axiomatic primary philosophical premise – “on faith”. As such, it does not require any further justification. You do not need to have “because God says” as a justification (and implicit invocation of the meta-axiom “what God says is axiomatically true”).

    As an alternative, it is equally valid to instead assume that there is no general pattern, and that any appearance thereto is simply a local island of order of the sort that Ramsey theory indicates is inevitable in a sufficiently large sea of chaos. This, however, leads to a philosophical dead end, and is thus usually ignored.

    It is also possible to reach the proposition of pattern (P) from some other set of premises (Q) that are taken axiomatically. However, in so far as Q implies P, Q implies (P AND Q). Since (as a Boolean or Heyting theorem) for all P, Q it is the case that (P AND Q) implies Q, the proposition of pattern is at worst equivalent, and potentially more general if (P AND (NOT Q)) is true instead. Thus, any set of premises is potentially subject to testing under the more basic premise of taking pattern directly – that is, consideration of P AND (Q OR (NOT Q)).

    Once the assumption of pattern is made, laws (and the potential for an algorithm akin to science to infer them) follows as a result.

    Of course, as a practical matter, mentioning this out has (in my experience) no effect on the position of a religious adherent, making it at present an idle philosophical point rather than a socially influential philosophical point.

    • TreeRooster
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Ah, an answer appears even before my question (below)! Agreed then, that the assumption of laws and/or a persisting pattern is axiomatic, or taken on faith.

      • Darth Dog
        Posted March 31, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think that the assumption is taken on faith. It is an assumption, which was made and then tested. If it hadn’t matched observation, no one would be insisting that it was true because of faith. We might have lived in a very different universe (for example, one dominated by magic rather than natural law) and we would have come to very different conclusions.

        • Marella
          Posted March 31, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

          I think magic is just a result of slightly different laws. A universe with no laws could hardly exist in the way we know it. If gravity sometimes attratcted and sometimes repelled. If positive and negative were meaningless, quarks sometimes did or sometimes didn’t join together, and photons sometimes had mass, we’d just have a soup of something that really would be chaos. It isn’t easy to really think about. The existence of the universe seems to me to imply rules. That magic (the power of words and human intention) doesn’t work is just one of the rules.

          • GroovyJ
            Posted March 31, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

            On the contrary, a universe with no laws at all could produce absolutely anything, regardless of the preceding conditions. If there are no laws at all, then any result is as possible as any other – gravity might attract, repel, sing, tap dance, or turn into a fish.

            And, indeed, if there are no laws then the universe could easily behave exactly as though there were laws. Why shouldn’t it? There’s no law that says it can’t…

            • Posted April 2, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

              Worse, a theist believes (in part of his brain) that there are no objective patterns, since she thinks that god can suspend them. That’s what miracles are.

        • abb3w
          Posted April 1, 2011 at 11:13 am | Permalink

          What means of testing can distinguish whether a bounded data set is a sample of a general pattern, or merely a happenstance within an infinite and random Ramsey theoretic sea? It is possible for prediction to match observation merely by coincidence or (when there are multiple predictions) by exhaustion.

          Talking about how “We might have lived in a very different universe” is merely addressing which pattern the universe exhibits; EG: whether the pattern of rules is the one well approximated by Halliday and Resnick’s classic text, or well approximated by the Dungeons And Dragons 4th Edition source manuals. In either case, there is still some pattern of rules.

      • abb3w
        Posted April 1, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        Actually, “persisting” is merely a particular relationship of patterns in space over time; this is more general, referring to patterns in space-time (and any other dimensions required).

  8. TreeRooster
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    So what is the response to number 2, the “why are there laws” argument?

    Now there may be laws that can evolve from simpler ones–but this implies metalaws which allow that evolution.

    I’ll be looking at some of the links, but I’m guessing the only response is that “they just are” and that to say so is simpler than to hypothesize an uncaused intelligent power who writes and preserves them.

    • Kevin
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      It’s model-dependent realism.

      There are not really “laws” per se; only our human explanations for the observations we’ve made about how things work.

      Some of them work extremely well everywhere; others work well in “meat space” but not so much when you get down to the very tiny. Then other models take over, and are “real” in that quantum space.

      But they are only observations about how and why things work. To assume that they are inviolable “laws” is basically an artifact of our imperfect language. One that, sadly, has been used to invoke an invisible lawgiver. But even in the 1800s, Laplace discovered that he had no need for that hypothesis. Since then, no one has been able to justify reinserting such a thing into our science.

      I suggest Hawking’s new book for a more-complete discussion of this concept.

      • TreeRooster
        Posted March 31, 2011 at 11:52 am | Permalink

        The Grand Design is very good. The authors do a great job of making lots of physics more understandable.

        I think they still believe in laws, though. The model dependent realism is an admission that we may never know if our equations are somehow in a complete 1-1 relationship with the actual laws of physics. Yet the laws are there, else our models would not model anything.

        Carroll does a better job than Hawking of actually addressing the question of “why are there laws.” He is honest about it, eventually admitting that the the only answer for a physicist might be “that’s just how it is.”

      • Posted March 31, 2011 at 11:52 am | Permalink

        Yes. The “laws” are ultimately descriptive, not prescriptive.

        (As someone twice accused of prescriptivism on this site, I feel I have authority to pronounce on pre/descriptivism :) )

        • Posted March 31, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

          I get beat up about that, too, but I’m far from convinced that there’s even a shred of merit to the argument. Indeed, it seems to me that the argument is as incoherent as most theological arguments

          Is the “law” that one cannot draw a triangle with two right angles on a flat sheet of paper descriptive or prescriptive? Does that question even make sense? If not, why does it make sense to ask if the “law” of Relativity that prohibits faster-than-light communication is descriptive or prescriptive?

          I can’t think of any law of nature that isn’t logically and directly comparable to a “law” of geometry. All the laws of physics fall squarely and unquestionably into this category, and laws of information processing and computation are even more obviously so.

          Granted, we’ve been known to discover cases where the geometry of the universe is more complex than previously understood — Mercury’s orbit springs instantly to mind — but that reflects a limit of our understanding of the universe. One is still left incapable of drawing square triangles.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • TreeRooster
            Posted March 31, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

            The law about triangles with 2 right angles is derived from definitions, of a triangle in a plane and of right angles.

            Contrast that to the law that information cannot be transmitted faster than light. This law is derived from observations which seem to indicate light travels at a speed measured to be the same value no matter what the velocity of the measurer relative to the light!

            Logic does not equal repeated observation. Logic says we’ll never draw that triangle, by definition. But no logic exists to tell us we’ll never suddenly detect a relative difference in the speeds of light beams moving with the earth or against its motion.

            • Posted March 31, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

              Except that you’re looking at it perfectly backwards.

              The speed of light is derived from the Theory of Relativity. That observations have demonstrated that light behaves as predicted by the Theory is a good indication that the Theory is an accurate representation of the geometry of the universe.

              We can, in fact, “draw” triangles in our universe whose angles do not sum to 180°. This is an indication that the geometry of the universe is not Euclidean; indeed, it is Einsteinian. But that fact still won’t let you draw a square triangle on your coffee table.

              If we ever can demonstrate a violation of causality such as you describe, that would mean that the universe not only isn’t Euclidean but it also isn’t Einsteinian. Perhaps it’s a Matrix, after all.

              That would just mean that the reason you’re now suddenly able to draw a square triangle on your coffee table is because, contrary to perception, your coffee table is spherical rather than flat. “True” square triangles (on a flat surface, with three sides, straight lines, all the rest) would remain as perfectly impossible as faster-than-light travel

              Or, if the Sol-Sirius one-hour commuter express ever becomes a reality, then we’ll know that your coffee table isn’t flat.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • steve oberski
                Posted March 31, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

                Ah,the wormhole express.

                I hear it’s a pretty tight fit.

              • TreeRooster
                Posted March 31, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

                Right, by triangle in a plane I intended to imply Euclidean geometry.

                Now the speed of light is not derived from the theory of relativity. It is determined experimentally. Even the fact that it is the same for all inertial observers is determined experimentally, from what I was taught (but I can still be taught differently).

                The theory of relativity takes this observed pattern, and together with the Lorentz transformation, uses it to predict lots of other cool things like E=mc^2 for a resting mass.

            • Posted March 31, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

              Well, the question that begs to be asked, then (see what I did there), is: “whence logic?”

              Surely it’s founded, at its absolute core, on observation? I’d say that nothing can be concluded using 110% a priori reasoning.

              This is why I qualified my original comment. Practically speaking, quite a lot can in fact be prescribed by natural “law.” We simply have to remain open to the possibility of encountering conflicting data.

              • sasqwatch
                Posted March 31, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

                I don’t think that a “question that begs to be asked” means what you think it… waitaminnit.

                Nevermind.

          • abb3w
            Posted April 1, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

            It’s prescriptive… of what you mean by “right angle” and “flat”. In certain non-Euclidean geometries, a paper globe qualifies as “flat”, and it is possible to draw a triangle with three right angles if you want one.

            On the other hand, the “laws of geometry” and “laws of physics” (as you seem to be using the term) are not exactly comparable. The former are axioms (or theorems), true with unary probability because they (or axioms underlying them) are defined true with unary probability; the latter are true as probabilistic inferences about the universe we experience. (Laws of computation, in so far as they are pure mathematical theorems, are in the former category; laws like the conservation of energy, the latter.)

            Of course, drawing square triangles also requires (insofar as square is definitionally quadrangular) setting 3 equal to 4, which is a bit more than non-Euclidean. At that point, you’ve also set zero equal to one, in which case the one truth is zero truth.

        • abb3w
          Posted April 1, 2011 at 11:20 am | Permalink

          More exactly, the human approximations are descriptive of our inference as to the rules the universe has prescribed.

          Which, in perhaps more straightforward sense, means that there are usually two senses of “laws” thrown about: what humans think the rules of the universe’s pattern are, and what the actual rules of the pattern are. The former are easily violated, in that the universe is under no obligation to humor our conceits about it; the latter not, because The Rules are defined by whatever The Universe actually does.

          • Posted April 2, 2011 at 9:44 am | Permalink

            This is what Bunge and Armstrong and others call the distinction between laws and law statements. The confusion over the difference seems to result in the Nancy Cartwright (and perhaps, S. Hawking) confusion over the fact that laws seem to be “spotty” or that they “lie”. *Statements* of such are, but as we know more we can join more and more together and get closer to stating something like the actual pattern.

  9. Posted March 31, 2011 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    What really bugs me about the fine tuning argument is that it implicitly claims that the finely tuned constants could have been something other than what they are, but we have no theory as to why they are what they are. It could be that in the future we discover a deeper reason for them to be that way. (Much like Newton discovered why Kepler’s orbits were (approx) elliptical.) Though in the absence of a deeper theory we are not allowed to assume they could be anything, we just don’t know!

    The other part that really bugs me is that it only applies to life as we know it. Calculating which fundamental physics results in a life-supporting universe is an intractable task, we can’t even simulate quantum mechanical systems on a macroscopic scale, let alone the enormous systems that could all potentially ‘grow’ life.

    To me, these two arguments sink fine-tuning completely.

    • Mike B
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      Actually, I have a bigger gripe about the ‘fine-tuning’ argument. It’s a way of believers having their cake and eating it too.

      Fine-tuning (to most people) means that one can alter the settings – a bit, anyway – yet the same argument insists that the settings have been fixed exactly right to start with.

      Saying the universe is ‘fine-tuned’ manages to encompass both positions at the same time, which is meaningless (but sounds good if you don’t think about it).

      • Posted March 31, 2011 at 11:19 am | Permalink

        It also implicitly assumes that the purpose of the universe is to support human life – which is kind of begging the question, isn’t it?

      • Kevin
        Posted March 31, 2011 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        Plus, it’s fundamentally unsound rationally.

        The universe is fine-tuned for “no life”. If it were fine-tuned for life, then life would literally be everywhere we look. And yet, everywhere we look, there is no life other than there (so far).

        And in the vast majority of places we CAN look, there is absolutely no possibility for life (inside stars, the vacuum of open space, planets surrounding binary stars, black holes, and on and on and on.)

        The fine-tuning argument presupposes that we’re meant to be here, rather than us being a mere cosmological oddity. A 1-in-a-billion shot.

        It’s again a part of our human narcissism. We’re just SOOOOOO special that everything must have been built with us in mind.

        Nonsense.

        • Diane G.
          Posted March 31, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

          Excellent “reframing.”

          • Kevin
            Posted March 31, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

            …said reframing having the added benefit of being factually correct…

            • Diane G.
              Posted March 31, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

              …which is why I used quotes, as I usually associate ‘reframing’ with some ulterior motive…

              Maybe we need a word that means something like “unframing,” since the original theist argument is already carefully framed. A word to mean ‘presented with no attempt to bias one’s POV.’

        • Tulse
          Posted April 1, 2011 at 6:53 am | Permalink

          Exactly. The universe is “fine-tuned” to produce trillions of cubic light years of vacuum at 3K. Anything else is in range of statistical error.

  10. Mike B
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Just last week some Gnus and I snuck into an Anglican blog that had mentioned Hitchens. Argument ensued.

    Re the ‘why there are laws’ point, this is what we got thrown back at us:

    If you don’t assume that the universe is intelligible, then you can’t assume your evidence is either; if evidence only has the appearance of intelligibility – in a similar way that Dawkins claims the universe only has the appearance of being designed – then you can’t rely on it. If you can’t rely on evidence, you have no science: for science to work, you must assume intelligibility…

    I think you [i.e. Gnus] have faith because you do believe in all sorts of things that cannot be demonstrated simply by reason: the intelligibility of the universe; the reliability of logic; the objective reality of everything that isn’t you; that the brain can be relied upon to observe a universe to which it is subject.

    Of course he couldn’t answer the, ‘if god, how do you know it’s Jebus?’ question but if anyone can bat the irritating argument above for six it could be appreciated for the future.

    http://www.anglicansamizdat.net/wordpress/christopher-hitchens/changing-christopher-hitchens-mind/#comment-17154

    • Posted March 31, 2011 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      First, this is equivocation on the word “faith”. We simply have expectations that the universe will behave in a certain regular way, because that’s what experience teaches us. And we also know from experience that the universe will often surprise us too. That’s not “faith” in the religious sense at all.

      Second, why should atheists have to disprove solipsism before they can be atheists, but theists somehow don’t before they can assume God exists?

      • Sajanas
        Posted March 31, 2011 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        Faith is one of those words that gets spread too widely between definitions.

        There is faith in the context of believing something for which their is no evidence, because of some gut feeling. I have faith in the love of Zeus.

        Then there is faith in terms of trust that observations are done properly, and that the experts are correct (or just trust in general). I have faith in the scientists working on these issues.

        The people above are using the fact that it tends to be used for both to conflate trust that science has been done correctly with the blind faith that believers have to the existence of their gods.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      Seems to me this argument is packing a lot of assumptions into the word “intelligible.” It looks like it’s trying to sneak intelligence in upfront, as if only an intelligent cause could create anything we could understand. Just like we see a written note, and know that someone must have written it to communicate.

      But that’s backwards.Our brains evolved to fit the way our environment already was: our environment was not cunningly crafted in order to fit what it knew our brains would be like. Daddy did not write us a note.

      Also, I think there are problems with that claim that “the universe” is intelligible. Really? Is it? The whole, entire universe? Or just the parts we deal with on a day-to-day basis — and then they’re only “intelligible” in a sloppy folk physics sort of way. To really understand what’s going on we have to go beyond our common sense and use science — methods and instruments which reveal that our first impressions weren’t all that intuitive and reliable after all.

      That makes a God that makes things ‘intelligible’ on different levels: one for plain folks to figure out naturally and often get wrong — and then the tough part in a special code for the elite. Which level is the apologist pointing to, so that we can see it was all set up for us to understand so well?

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 31, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        Dark energy, though apparently necessary, hardly seems intelligible at our current level of understanding.

    • TreeRooster
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      Carroll agrees that the existence of laws cannot be explained except by axiom:

      “Most scientists, however, suspect that the search for ultimate explanations eventually terminates in some final theory of the world, along with the phrase ‘and that’s just how it is.'”

      He eventually defends this viewpoint by an argument from simplicity:

      “Indeed, for most scientists, adding on another layer of metaphysical structure in order to purportedly explain these nomological facts is an unnecessary complication.”

      A theistic response might be that proposing a God who not only enforces physical law but also enforces moral law is nice because it replaces two axioms with one.

      In other words, we could replace the statements “the universe just is” and “love just is better than hate” with the one “God is love.”

      • lamacher
        Posted March 31, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

        Define ‘love’.

        • TreeRooster
          Posted March 31, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

          How about “making the well-being of others one’s highest priority.” Buddhists break it down into compassion, altruism, and vicarious joy.

          Of course if I want to say God is love by that definition then I’ll have to deal with evil!

      • Posted April 1, 2011 at 2:05 am | Permalink

        We could also replace both by “shit happens”. How does “God is love” improve our understanding in any way?

        And please show there is such a thing as a moral “law” to begin with.

        • TreeRooster
          Posted April 1, 2011 at 7:15 am | Permalink

          Honestly, it doesn’t typically improve understanding–it complicates things as the price of holding onto a certain kind of hope.

          Moral law isn’t shown to exist, but rather chosen as an axiom. Loving your neighbor can’t be proven right or wrong or better than the alternative. Anyone who decides to live by that axiom has made a choice based on hope, the older wiser sibling of faith.

    • Kevin
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      “Faith”: Most abused word in the language.

      First; rationalists, secularists, scientists, do not demonstrate faith. They demonstrate an appreciation of the uniformity of our model-dependent realism, so that we can make accurate predictions based on observations. I have no “faith” that the sun will rise in the morning. I have an understanding that the laws of physics are not easily violated, and that the Earth is currently operating under a couple of important ones regarding movement/angular momentum.

      Second, what theists demonstrate is NOT “faith”. They do not believe in the unbelievable; they do not accept as seen the unseen.

      Every bit of a theist’s “faith” depends on their acceptance of evidence that has been written out in “holy” books and interpreted by alleged authorities on those books.

      That’s not “faith”. It’s credulity. Accepting as real a set of Bronze Age fairy stories.

      And the more “sophisticated” the theology (aka mythology) becomes, the less those fairy stories are believed or believable.

      So now, “sophisticated” theologians will tell you that the story of the garden and the talking snake and the IQ-raising sin-fruit are mere metaphors. That’s a quaint word for “myth”.

      To me, that’s progress, but only half-hearted progress. You’ve come that far in realizing that SOME of the stories are mythical. How then, can you distinguish whether ANY of them are real?

      Fact is, you can’t – and hence invoke “faith” where your common sense tells you that your beliefs are not justifiable.

      Faith. Bah.

      • Ant
        Posted March 31, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

        I once had an argument on Twitter with Labi Siffre (singer, poet & atheist) about this: he found it odd that I claimed that I had no faith in gravity… and urged me not to take small children on the roofs of skyscrapers! He felt that “faith” had been arrogated by theists and we should be able to use it to express our conviction in real things.

        • Kevin
          Posted March 31, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

          No. I’m quite sure I’m correct.

          Faith is belief in the unbelievable. Not acceptance of scientific realities.

          With all due respect to Siffre, I don’t think he understands the meaning of the word “faith”.

          • Diane G.
            Posted March 31, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

            Aw, c’mon, there’s a widespread acceptance of a colloquial meaning of “faith” that means just what you’re arguing it doesn’t. One may just have to settle for pointing out that “faith” is used in at least two, contradictory ways.

            • Kevin
              Posted March 31, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

              One of which is an appropriate definition and one of which isn’t.

              Sorry, but Orwell died many years ago.

              Black is not white, war is not peace. And faith is not faith if it depends on evidence as written down in holy books.

              • Diane G.
                Posted March 31, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

                Uh, don’t you have that last bit backwards according to your strict definition?

                The point is, holding out for same is going to get you about as far as insisting that ladybugs should be ladybeetles, tomatoes are fruit, and dimestore (boy, is that an anachronism!) parakeets are budgerigars.

                Or, as they say in marching band, “when everyone else is wrong and you’re right, you’re wrong.”

              • Kevin
                Posted March 31, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

                No, I’m quite sure that the definition of “faith” is something along the lines of “belief in something for which there is no evidence”.

                Something that theists — aka, people of “faith” — do not demonstrate.

                They can point to evidence — chapter and verse. The problem is that their evidence is what the rest of us call “superstitious nonsense”. Indeed, they have no other basis for their system of beliefs other than the evidence presented in their dusty books.

                Whatever it is … it ain’t “faith”.

              • Posted March 31, 2011 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

                Where is Tim Martin when you need him?

              • Diane G.
                Posted March 31, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

                I give up. Who, then, has faith?

              • Tim Martin
                Posted March 31, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

                I have heard your calls! :P

                @Kevin: Seriously? You’re going to have this argument without even checking a dictionary? That’s sad, buddy.

                Dictionary.com gives 9 definitions for “faith,” one of which is yours, and it’s not even the first one!

                The first one, “confidence or trust in a person or thing” certainly could be applied to gravity – as in, “I pushed the boulder over the hill and had faith that gravity would do the rest for me.”

                For technical discussions about science and religion, one might one to stay away from this definition. But it’s there, and in common use, and you’re being a curmudgeon.

        • Ken Browning
          Posted April 1, 2011 at 9:12 am | Permalink

          To Christian liberals who like to posit the metaphorical nature of belief stories: Why not take the final step and admit that god stories are metaphors of human longing?

  11. Sastra
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Don’t hold your breath, for the nature of the God Hypothesis is that no observation could ever disprove it. That’s why it’s not scientific at all, and why religion and science will never find an amiable concordat.

    I don’t think this changeability is in the nature of the God hypothesis so much as it’s part of the nature of faith — the methodological commitment to figure out some way to continue to rescue a hypothesis and thereby confirm one’s belief. The existence of God can be falsified in principle, but in practice it never is. Enter the spin-doctoring of faith.

    Rather like claims for dowsing or psychic powers. Are they amenable to scientific scrutiny/testing? Sure. Do their adherents inevitably come up with some reason why the tests didn’t work this time, or can’t work on this after all, and so mean nothing? Yes.

  12. Tim Martin
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    What a great article! Thanks for the link.

  13. SLC
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    This is a just a fancy scientific update of the old Cosmological Argument that everything has a cause, and the ultimate cause must be God.

    Of course, many quantum mechanical phenomena, such as radioactive decay, violate this argument (one of the reason why Einstein didn’t like quantum mechanics). Thus, if the big bang was a quantum mechanical event, then it may not have a “cause” as that word is understood. It could, for instance, be due to a random discontinuity of some kind occurring in the quantum vacuum.

    • Posted April 1, 2011 at 3:47 am | Permalink

      If the origin of the universe was as something very small, as general relativity and a boatload of data indicate must have been the case, then quantum mechanics definitely apply — and as you say, the usual ideas about causality need not apply.

      • Tulse
        Posted April 1, 2011 at 7:05 am | Permalink

        But saying it was caused by quantum mechanics doesn’t explain how quantum mechanics itself arose. One can’t use the physical processes inside the universe to explain how those processes themselves arose.

        Of course, saying “goddidit” is no explanation either, and raises even more questions….

    • Richard C
      Posted April 1, 2011 at 4:12 am | Permalink

      I think a better answer to the cosmological argument is a big “so what?” If causality is true, *something* must have caused the Big Bang. So what? “something” doesn’t mean “someone.”

      We used to think “someone” was causing lightning, because something so unpredictable and awesome had to be caused by someone. “Someone” became “something” back when Benjamin Franklin flew his kite. And here we are today, predicting when and where it’ll strike and shielding against it with steel rods.

      • Tulse
        Posted April 1, 2011 at 7:07 am | Permalink

        Exactly. I’ve never understood why the Uncaused Cause has to be a person, rather than just some sort of unintelligent force.

  14. Kevin
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    I think this is important — the larger and older the universe is, the less likely it is to have been constructed with life in mind in general, or with Earthly life on it more narrowly, or our specific species on Earth to boil it down to the nub.

    For 13.6+ billion years and across 40-some billion light years of vastness, the universe had absolutely no need for humans. One suspects that our time as a species on this planet will be brief — as it has been for just about every species still extant. When we go, the universe will not even yawn. It won’t notice we’re gone, because it never noticed that we’re here in the first place.

    When the Earth was the biggest thing, when the sun was the only source of warmth, and the moon and stars were just other sources of (non-warm) inferior light, then an explanation of our existence as being the product of a “maker” had some coherence. It made sense. It fit with what we could tease out about the world around us.

    Just as soon as we learned that we’re just the third planet from a medium-sized star in a vast collection of other stars, itself only one of a vast collection of other vast collections of stars, the idea that the entire universe was made for us becomes completely untenable. Much less that the universe has been waiting for our arrival across the immenseness of time.

    The bigger and older the universe, the more insignificant our place in it.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      Since we’ve been here, what?…all of 0.000735% of the time?

      • Kevin
        Posted March 31, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

        0.00014% by my calculations, if you say homo sapiens sapiens are about 200,000 years old, according to the most accepted date for “us”.

        Yes, it certainly seems like the universe was built just for us…waiting around all that time…with all of that empty space…with no hope whatsoever of it being filled by us…waiting for the third-generation solar system to form from at least one “regular” star death and one supernova…yep…waiting for us to appear…sure…uh huh…and then waiting a billion years after the formation of our third-generation star for life to appear…and then another 3.7 billion years or so for “us” to appear…yeah…all with us in mind…so Jesus could come…or something…

        • Diane G.
          Posted March 31, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

          Oops, I just used 100,000. My bad!
          :)

  15. Posted March 31, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    In addition to the good rebuttals to the “fine-tuning” argument posted upthread, I take issue with just the name of the argument. The universe wasn’t tuned at all. This is just the way it is. If the universe wasn’t like this, it would be like something else. It’s not amazing that the universe is like it is!

    Also, saying it’s “fine-tuned” implies agency of some kind.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Exactly.

  16. Posted March 31, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I think the simplest, most correct way to address the “fine tuning” argument is that it’s not that the universe is fine-tuned to support life, but that life has been fine-tuned by the process of evolution through random mutation and natural selection to fit the universe.

    That is, the better an organism is tuned to fit the universe, the more likely it is to produce grandchildren. If the universe were different, if it still was capable of supporting life, that life would be fine-tuned to those different parameters. Life as we know it would be as ill-suited to such a universe (and vice-versa) as a fish is ill-suited to the lunar surface.

    Surprisingly enough, a number of a certain fish’s great-great-great-great…great-grandchildren did actually manage to go for a stroll on the lunar surface a few decades ago; take the breakdown of this particular analogy for what you will.

    Cheers,

    b&

  17. whyevolutionistrue
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Re the presence of laws: I’d like to add two things:

    1. If the universe didn’t obey laws, we wouldn’t be here, for evolving organisms demands that regularities be observed for physics and chemistry. How could we have metabolism without them

    2. If there were NOT regularities, or at least sporadic irregularities, that too could be taken as evidence for God, perhaps as signs of its intervention in the universe, or as “miracles.”

    • Kevin
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, the only “evidence” that a theist can point to in order to support the truth claims in the “holy” books are miracles — aka, wholesale violations of the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, medicine.

      Count me not convinced.

      • Posted March 31, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

        And let’s not forget all the natural phenomenon that have been described as miracles in support of theism over the millennia: weather, volcanic eruptions, the changing of the seasons, the orbital motions of the planets, the origin of species….

        Abiogenesis and the nature of the Big Bang are but the latest not-yet-fully-understood phenomenon which theists are insisting we must cling to the ignorance of “goddidit, therefore Jebus” and demanding that we pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. What they hope to gain from the idiocracy that would result if we were to accede to their demands is utterly beyond my ken.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • lamacher
          Posted March 31, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

          Don’t forget the tides! BillO wouldn’t like that!

        • Kevin
          Posted March 31, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

          Well, it’s not that kind of miracle I’m referring to…

          It’s the “water into wine” miracles.

          Really? You’re telling me that the avatar of the originator of the universe could think of no better demonstration of its powers over the very arrangement of protons, neutrons and electrons; changing H2O into something very different from H2O; other than a cheap trick to get people drunk at a wedding????????

          Really???? The unimaginable power inherent in JUST that miracle would be enough to convince ME of the existence of a deity. If only it had left some remnants of the truth of its claims.

          Where’s the WINE!!!!!

          • Posted April 1, 2011 at 3:50 am | Permalink

            Transmuting elements to produce a hydrocarbon derivative (ethanol) from mere water would have nuked everyone present with a lethal dose of radiation. That’s why we don’t hear about the tragic aftermath of the wedding feast at Cana.

            • Posted April 1, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink

              Great. Now I shall forever think of “Nuclear Jesus” whenever someone speaks of him. You know, Zombie Jesus just keeps getting more and more plausible…

              Also, there is plenty of WhINE in theism; in fact, that’s all there is!

    • stvs
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Feynman on the possible source of laws, from The Character of Physical Law (p. 57f):

      I have often made the hypothesis that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement, that in the end the machinery will be revealed, and the laws will turn out to be simple, like the chequer board with all its apparent complexities. But this speculation is of the same nature as those other people make—’I like it’, ‘I don’t like it’,—and it is not good to be too prejudiced about these things.

      Microsoft has recordings of Feyman delivering a series of BBC lectures in their “Project Tuva“. Feynman’s thoughts on this subject appear throughout the series, including the guess that continuous space is wrong. Feynman also gets in some good digs at religious thinking as well.

      • TreeRooster
        Posted March 31, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

        Nice quote! I hadn’t realized the history of this checkerboard idea. Most recently Hawking and Mlodinow spent a chapter wondering whether the fundamental laws might be something like Conway’s game of life (played on a grid). Wolfram’s “new kind of science” says the same sort of thing.

        Basically the simplest sort of rule (such as allowable moves in checkers or the update rule in the game of life) might be good candidates for the foundation of physics.

        However, that does not explain where the laws came from or why they persist in some sense. There still will be that simple ruleset, stated in simple language, that either “just is” or “just was spoken.”

        • Posted March 31, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

          However, that does not explain where the laws came from or why they persist in some sense. There still will be that simple ruleset, stated in simple language, that either “just is” or “just was spoken.”

          Don’t be too sure.

          We already know that Quantum vacuum is highly unstable; that is, once you’ve built things up to the point that you have QM, the rest follows of its own accord. That’s the point that Stephen Hawking recently made.

          In a strikingly similar parallel, after abiogenesis, evolution inevitably results and the rest is unstoppable. We have good reason to believe that biochemistry is the same: create an environment such as was present on Earth a few billion years ago, and abiogenesis will happen whether you want it to or not. And we also know that, given the conditions of the Big Bang, galactic and stellar evolution that leads to terrestrial planets is also inevitable.

          With all the answers to the Big origins questions taking that same shape, it seems to me the smart money is on the answer to the Ultimate origin question looking similar.

          That is, the answer won’t be, “Because I said so,” but rather, “Because nothing else makes sense.”

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Tulse
            Posted April 1, 2011 at 7:15 am | Permalink

            once you’ve built things up to the point that you have QM

            But that doesn’t help, because it doesn’t explain where QM comes from. In general, you can’t explain the origin of rules or laws by invoking the laws themselves (or, phrased as I did earlier, one can’t use the physical processes inside the universe to explain how those processes themselves arose).

            At some point, physics does indeed reach an ontological limit, beyond which explanation isn’t possible.

        • stvs
          Posted March 31, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

          And Fredkin. But you’re not supposed to bring up Fredkin or Wolfram in polite conversation about serious physics. In contrast, Feynman was very clear about speculation and guessing.

    • bad Jim
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences” (Eugene Wigner) is actually evidence against an activist God.

      Newton supposed that God occasionally intervened to keep the planets in their orbits. Had that been so, Laplace would not have found that gravity adequately accounted for orbital mechanics.

    • stvs
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

      A variant of this argument, made by people like Kenneth Miller, is the “science works” argument: because the universe is intelligible by human exploration and rationality, it must have been constructed by God

      The integers are intelligible by human rationality. Does that mean that god made the integers too? That god could make 2 2=5? Miller’s argument fails even without an anthropomorphic principle.

      If the universe didn’t obey laws, we wouldn’t be here

      Yes, but so what? Why does quantum mechanics work? How does that help derive Planck’s constant, or tell us why it’s arbitrary, if it is? Anthropomorphic tautologies like this suggest a universe that’s about us, contrary to all evidence.

    • Posted March 31, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

      Can someone please tell me why #1 isn’t considered a circular argument?

      To me this makes sense but sounds a bit like a theist saying “I believe the bible because the bible says it’s true.”

      Does #1 always need to be seen with something else to not be seen as circular?

    • bad Jim
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

      #1 is just a variation on the anthropic principle: if the universe were much different, we couldn’t exist.

      Natural selection is predicated upon a locally stable environment; if the environment varied radically from one generation to the next, adaptation simply wouldn’t work.

      Complex creatures like us require even greater consistency; how could we walk or fly if gravity wasn’t reasonably dependable?

  18. Dave B.
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    –We can argue about “was.”–

    The “was” used here is an auxiliary verb with which we form the passive voice. As such, it has no actual meaning.

  19. Marshall
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    You are quite right that theistic physics denial is misplaced. We observe the known to deduce the unknown, so physics fits perfectly well inside religion rightly appreciated: the more we learn, the more we know. As we learn more, we must not be afraid to correct ourselves.

    The singularity at the Big Bang doesn’t indicate a beginning to the universe, only an end to our theoretical comprehension

    Just so; your name for what is beyond our comprehension is “Nothing”; mine is “God”.

    If we ever quit asking “Why is it like this and not otherwise?” the Science as well as God will be dead.

    • Marshall
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      …meant to mark “The singularity…” as part of the quote from Sean Carroll.

    • Simon
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      Difference between “we don’t yet understand this” (or indeed “maybe that’s just the way it is!”) and “god” is that your word brings along a lot of extra baggage that is not required (in fact rejected) by the data.

      Or, if you drop all the baggage about “god” being person and gave it as “a force of nature” … No use praying to the law of gravity!

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      That is one of the stupidest strawman arguments I’ve ever seen.
      We don’t call what is beyond our comprehension “nothing”. If true, that would mean we comprehend everything. No one has made that claim.
      Rather, we call what is beyond our comprehension…emmm…beyond our comprehension. We then strive to comprehend it, rather than simply call it “god”. Speaking of which, is there a reason to call it god, and not the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

      • Marshall
        Posted March 31, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

        Did you read the post? Jerry said:

        “This is fascinating stuff, taking us to the very edge of modern physics. And it belies the Jebus-lovers’ assertion—one that I encountered on Monday—that scientists simply have “faith” that the universe came from nothing. No, we don’t have faith that it did, we have hypotheses about how it did…”

        This “nothing” is potent nonstuff!

        I guess you guys don’t ever find “I don’t understand it” stuff intruding into your actual lives. Or you have good ways of shutting it out?

        • Simon
          Posted March 31, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

          Since my profession is to research exactly that sort of thing… Actually the “we don’t understand this yet” is quite a bit part of my life.

          I think you should read Sean’s article before commenting. That’ll give a better impression of the complex ideas expressed incompletely be expressions such as “out of nothing”.

        • Insightful Ape
          Posted March 31, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

          The nothing is as potent “nonstuff” as your posts amount to. Becaus if the Big Bang was a transitional phase, then there really was “something” that the universe came from, only we don’t understand it. Speaking of which, you don’t allow your “I don’t understand it” of Sean Carroll’s post get in the way of your trolling, do you?

    • Darth Dog
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      Marshall – you still haven’t responded to Simon’s point. To say that “we don’t know that yet” and “God” mean the same thing is just a word game. If something is beyond your comprehension, how do you know so much about it? Especially things like it is a person, your personal special friend, and that it created the whole universe just for us humans.

      • Kevin
        Posted March 31, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

        Don’t you find it amazing that after 2500 years or so, theists have still not understood the difference between sophistry and sophistication?

      • Marshall
        Posted April 1, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink

        I don’t know much about God. I don’t think God is a human-like ‘person’ and I think the Universe was created for God, not for humans. I follow Spinoza and say that whatever is-as-it-is-in-itself is God … a matter of definition. The Universe does sustain this machinery that is me quite gratuitously, and in human terms that’s a friendly act. When I want to “find out about things” … refine justified true belief … scientific attitudes are the tool of choice. At other times, I am concerned as to how I, a typically over-emotional human, can relate to a Universe which is beyond my comprehension in any but the most formal and trivial ways … see the Book of Job. I think gratitude and wonder are appropriate, also a sense of finiteness or limitation, and it helps me and my community to express these things explicitly. These aren’t “word games”. You guys seem to think that being psychologically well-adjusted isn’t worthwhile if you have to use tools to do it, and I disagree. If we were to just cease to see religion as making radical truth claims … yes, something many theists as well as many secularists do … the present problem would go away, and we could get back to doing the best science we can, and organizing the most neighbor-loving society we can.

        • Posted April 2, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink

          This move has been tried previously. Problem is that the fundies don’t buy it, and they’re the most vociferous and dangerous. It also fails to explain why even those who adopt this view are (say) Christian (at least as far as they claim) or whatever.

    • Posted April 1, 2011 at 3:53 am | Permalink

      There wasn’t a “singularity” at the start of the Big Bang. That’s one of the things that Hawkins and some other physicists have been trying to correct for some decades now.

      • Simon
        Posted April 1, 2011 at 4:08 am | Permalink

        I think our common language is getting in the way here. Firstly, a singularity isn’t a physical thing in the usual sense. It’s a mathematical term for a point (or set of points) where quantities become infinite, and so physically meaningless or undefined.

        Secondly, I’m not sure it matters too much. As Sean’s other posts have discussed here, even answering this might not make a dent in “deeper” existential questions. But there’s nothing wrong with the answer “that’s just how it is”, while there’s a lot wrong with “god did it”.

      • Posted April 1, 2011 at 4:44 am | Permalink

        Sorry — I should have written “Hawking”, as in Stephen Hawking.

  20. Posted March 31, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Cue vacuous rebuttal by Rosenau in 3..2..1..

  21. Richard C
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    I think the “why there are laws” argument has a hole: there are no laws!

    Two massive bodies don’t consult physics books — or stone tablets — before “deciding” to gravitate towards one another. They just do. The underlying reasons they do aren’t yet understood, but we know that they do and can predict, with varying levels of accuracy, how they will do it.

    The laws of physics are created by people to help us describe the natural behaviors of a Universe that thoroughly ignores them. Our various theories of gravity attempts to predict the precise amounts of acceleration shown by the above-mentioned bodies, but as human-made models they all fail at very specific edge-cases. Even now, imprecisions in the calculated orbit of Mercury, the repulsion of galaxies from one another (dark energy), the failure to account for all the needed mass in a galaxy (dark matter), and our failure to discover its quantum source are challenging our theories of gravity. And even when we do discover quantum gravity and nail down all our current edge cases, if history is any indication we’ll start finding new holes in another century or so.

    That we can predict the movement of planets and falling objects on Earth, that we can launch rockets into space and fly airplanes, is a testament to the amount of time we humans have been working on our physical theories. But never confuse our “laws” with the true behavior of the Universe. The Universe doesn’t care.

    • Posted March 31, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      Yes!

      As I am wont to say, no electrons solve Schrödinger’s equations when they interact!

    • Posted March 31, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      When you sit at your drawing table, tape a sheet of paper to it, and try to draw a triangle with two right angles, does your pen conspire with the paper to read Euclid before stopping you from completing the drawing?

      Or is it perhaps more correct to say that, in that particular context, the Euclidean nature of the universe logically prevents you from physically performing the feat?

      When you remove the paper from the table, stretch it over a globe, and then proceed to draw a triangle with two right angles, have you thereby violated the laws of the universe?

      If you think that my questions are silly, what makes Einsteinean geometry so much less valid than Euclidean geometry that your characterization of physics shouldn’t be viewed as comparably silly?

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Richard C
        Posted March 31, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

        Ben,

        Not sure if you’re agreeing or disagreeing with me, but it sounds like we’re saying the same thing: the “laws of physics” are human-made models designed to describe the Universe, not the other way around. By the way my mom (physics instructor) loves the non-Euclidian three-right-angle triangle example as a way to think outside the box.

        • Posted March 31, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

          Hmmm…let me put it another way.

          At human scales, the universe is unquestionably, demonstrably Euclidean. At non-human scales, it is unquestionably, demonstrably Einsteinian (which, of course, is perfectly consistent with the first statement).

          It no more makes sense to state that the universe ignores the parallel line postulate or that it conspires to prevent you from drawing impossible geometric figures or that it might tomorrow be possible to draw impossible geometric figures than it does to state that all the rest of the laws of the universe are mere human observations.

          One can always suggest that our observations are somehow flawed, as they might be if we are part of a computer simulation or your other brain-in-a-vat variation of choice. However, all that would mean is that the “real” geometry of the universe is as different from everyday experience as Einsteinian geometry is from Euclidean. It would still be impossible to draw square triangles on a flat sheet of paper and it would still be impossible to travel faster than the speed of light, even if it’s possible to draw square triangles on a sphere or to go to Warp speed in the starship Enterprise.

          Yet another example: even if the conservation of mass and energy can be violated, such that one can somehow mix two cups of water and get five cups of water as a result, two plus two would still, always, and forever equal four.

          Cheers,

          b&

        • Posted March 31, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

          Oh — and I do hope your wife knows the Bear Color Riddle?

          An explorer sets up base camp. She walks due south for one mile and spots a bear. She tracks the bear due west for one mile to its lair. She then leaves the bear and returns to her camp by walking due north for one mile.

          What color is the bear?

          Cheers,

          b&

          • bad Jim
            Posted March 31, 2011 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

            What time did she get home?

          • Richard C
            Posted April 1, 2011 at 1:48 am | Permalink

            It’s my mom, not my wife, I was talking about. And yes, I’m pretty sure my mom knows the bear riddle (I think I remember her giving it to me once.)

            In any case, my confusion in the last post is that I’m not sure if you’re agreeing with me or disagreeing with me with your points on Euclidian vs. Einsteinian geometry. :) It sounds like we’re agreeing.

            The fundamental nature of the Universe is not the same as the laws we’ve designed to describe it. The hypotenuse of a right triangle can be calculated as √(a² + b²), but that doesn’t mean the triangle is itself doing that math or that an “intelligent designer” is looking over everything. That’s just where the lines happen to end up. For all we know, the gravitational constant is the result of an equally simple quantum reaction that we just haven’t yet discovered.

          • Richard C
            Posted April 1, 2011 at 1:49 am | Permalink

            By the way, the answer is “white”, because that’s the only color of bear you’re likely to find 1 mile south of the North Pole.

    • Posted April 1, 2011 at 2:21 am | Permalink

      We notice when things behave in a regular way, or interact, and make up “laws” to describe how they do it. When things behave in an irregular way or don’t interact, we don’t notice and don’t make up laws about it. So the number of laws that there are is infinitessimal compared to the number of laws that there are not. The laws that exist, as RD might say, are the lucky ones.

      • Posted April 2, 2011 at 2:17 am | Permalink

        The potential laws that could have been here but who will in fact never affect the flow of the universe outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those undescribed regularities include greater equations than E=mc2, theorems greater than Pythagoras’.

        We know this because the set of laws allowed by the imagination
        so massively exceeds the set of actual laws. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is our handful of laws, in their ordinariness, that are here.

    • Posted April 2, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      There are objective patterns in the universe – say the one approximated by (e.g.) what is called “Newton’s law of gravitation”. A better approximation to that pattern are the Einstein equivalent and so forth. To say that laws have to be understood in idealist terms (i.e. imposed from without on things) rather than being the patterns of being and becoming is to concede too much to the theist, etc.

  22. David
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    These arguments always bug me, not because they are not interesting but because there is always a bait and switch. No we can’t disprove the non interfering totally irrelevant deistic god and no we can’t prove the universe wasn’t made 10 minutes ago with all the evidence suggesting it wasn’t. However we can prove “your” book describing “your” specific god has no basis in reality. The argument is never really about the gods we can’t disprove they are simply stand-ins for the easily dismissed gods.

    • Posted March 31, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      “But,” says the religionist, “you cannot explain everything; you cannot understand everything; and that which you cannot explain, that which you do not comprehend, is my God.”

      We are explaining more every day. We are understanding more every day; consequently your God is growing smaller every day.

      — Robert Green Ingersoll, “The Gods” (1872)

      How much smaller is God now than he was Ingersoll’s day?

      • Posted March 31, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

        Antallan, they use what I call the gap of God, which they call the Primary Cause and the Ultimate Explanation that He is the ultimate answer, but God wills what He wills is a useless tautology, meaning nothing more that the useless God did it! This isn’t the God of the gaps in that they do favor natural explanations but think that He is the reason why they work, but again, that’s what I point out in my previous post- those two arguments-from incredulity and from ignorance.
        Theists reason [sic] like the Azande who know that the wind knocks tiles off roofs but prefer to add the wind spirit or whatever.
        We no more need Him than we do wind spirits or gremlins or demons as that overreaching explanation!
        And I call Malebranche’s Reduction ,Nicholas Malebranche’s unwitting reductio ad absurdum that God is the real actor whenever we strike the eight ball! Again a pseudo-answer for pseudo-questions.
        How could there be nothing? Leibniz makes a colossal blunder with asking why something rather than nothing!
        Yes, scientists do mislead with that notion of nothing, which Stenger himself uses but notes that this nothing is nothing more than the activity of the quantum fields.

  23. Don Goldsmith
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t it true that Hindu cosmology, with its interplay of creators and destroyers, comes much closer than Jewish, Christian, or Islamic cosmology to describing the actual universe? I find this a good interposition with the “big bang . . . ergo Jesus” argument, i.e., to ask whether this argument doesn’t lead straight to Hinduism.

  24. Wayne Robinson
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Someone’s probably already pointed this out, but according to Lee Smolin, if the Universe was designed, it was designed for black holes. There are billions of trillions of black holes in the Universe and as far as we know only one tiny fleck of a planet that has intelligent life. Almost all of the universe is inimical to life but a lot of it is just perfect for producing black holes. As an extension, universes that are good at producing black holes are good at producing new universes (a black hole is just the infinite density of energy before the Big Bang). If the physical constants and laws in the new universe are only able to vary just slightly from the previous then you get a sort of natural selection where universes good at generating black holes get better at generating black holes.

    • Darth Dog
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      Hah! Take that biologists. And all along you thought the universe was designed for beetles.

    • Tulse
      Posted April 1, 2011 at 7:23 am | Permalink

      Actually, the universe was clearly designed to produce trillions of cubic light-years of vacuum at 2.735K. Black holes are simply within statistical error.

  25. Posted March 31, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Theists ever depend on the arguments from incredulity and from ignorance: they incredulously ask why is there something rather than design,arent’ things designed and didn’t the Cosmos have a creator and answer with that fountain of ignorance- that answer from ignorance -God!
    They incredulously cannot fathom that order, regularity and natural laws inhere in the Cosmos. Such scientists as Miller and Ayala, find directed evolution when eons ago Thales and Strato dismissed teleology from science whilst Pa to and Aristotle thought it proper.
    That is the reason for which I find Aristotle less than a naturalist than others. And people falsely followed his science.
    Had people followed my two heroes, Europe probably would have had real science eons ago! Those two made the argument in effect for Lamberth’s teleonomic argument that adduces why teleology would contradict rather than complement science; besides it violates the Ockham
    Elsewhere my moniker is Carneades Thales Strato in honour of my three heroes.
    Yes, dysteleology, as Hume notes, counts against teleological arguments.
    Scientists find dystelology and teleonomy.
    The fine-tuning argument, as with all teleological ones, assumes what it should first establish- that very intent for wanted outcomes, begging the question as theists.
    ” Logic is the bane of theists.” Fr. Griggs
    And Carneades outlines the evisceration of theism!

  26. Mariusz
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    There exists something (matter, universe) and there exist laws in this universe. You can call them physics laws or metalaws. It does not matter really. It is true that we have maybe not discovered the true nature of these laws but they exist because there is something that regulates the interaction between things. The hole experimental physics relies on asking matter and waiting for a reply (e.g. spectroscopy). We discover the truth as we discover the laws that we cannot change in any way – they are untouchable for us. So it means that the laws are inscribed in this universe. If there are laws there must be a lawgiver.

    This something (matter, universe has no power to create anything (create in strict sense – there was nothing and afterwards there is something). Even intelligent beings like we cannot create even a single most simple particle.

    That is why existence of a Being that is not dependent on our universe is a necessity to explain the origin of what we see.

    Eternal existence of matter or universe and the laws (that led to e.g. life) is just an atheistic absurd. In addition, it is the disgraced (atheistic) Marxism.

    • Posted March 31, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

      I’m afraid the absurdity is the theistic one.

      All you did there was add window dressing to the First Cause argument, which is trivially demonstrated absurd with a simple question: what created the creator?

      Either the creator was uncreated, thereby invalidating the premise (that all things require a creator) from which the existence of the creator was derived in the first place, or we have an infinite regress of creators which itself cannot have had an initial creator.

      Both options, you’ll note, leave us without a creator.

      Contrary to popular theistic belief, the First Cause argument isn’t a reason to believe in a First Cause; instead, it’s as simple and elegant a reducto as you’ll find demonstrating that there is no such thing as an “ultimate creator.”

      Those who persist in using it can be safely dismissed as ignorant, incapable of comprehending basic logic, or mendacious. Or some combination thereof, of course.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Kevin
        Posted March 31, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

        …and have been since the mid-1700s at least.

        Honestly, this “argument” was dealt with by Hume, Diderot, and many others during the Enlightenment.

        Can we PLEASE get arguments that haven’t been shopped around since the 1600s? Pretty please?

        • Kevin
          Posted March 31, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

          Oh heck, I just remembered that I forgot Lucretius. So…2000 years.

          No kidding. The argument of “first cause” was eviscerated by Lucretius before the so-called Jesus was allegedly born.

          Can we PLEASE get arguments that weren’t dismissed 2000 years ago or more?

          • Posted April 1, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink

            Kevin, yes, Lucretius. And Carneades does a good job against theism.

      • Kevin
        Posted March 31, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

        Also, don’t forget that the first premise of the First Cause argument is demonstrably false.

        Not everything has a cause. This can be trivially demonstrated in any undergraduate physics lab.

        Get a new argument. Seriously.

        • Posted March 31, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

          Can it? Seriously? How? Are you talking about chaotic systems that transit unpredictibly? (Haven’t they just reached a state that the cause is to small for us to detect?)

          • Tulse
            Posted April 1, 2011 at 7:24 am | Permalink

            There’s this thing called “radioactive decay”…

            • Posted April 2, 2011 at 2:33 am | Permalink

              And that is causeless? If it’s causeless, why does a given isotope have such a constant halflife?

              I thought we knew that there was some kind of intranuclear fluctuation that sooner or later crosses some threshhold.

      • Kamaka
        Posted March 31, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

        Nice takedown.

        The godditit argument is so obviously made-up stuff. I appreciate the need to refute such nonsense, but it gets old. There’s no need to refute the god (non)hypothesis, it’s a bunch of made up crap. The give-away is hell…a completely transparent protection racket. “We wouldn’t, y’know, want anything bad happen to your eternal soul, eternity is a long time to burn in the lake of fire! Now for a 10% cut in your earnings and a little subservience we can fix things for you…”

        Disprove god? Not a problem. The concept is bullshit, and the proponents have nothing, nothing at all to prove otherwise. So it’s bullshit. Meh, the whole idea is so stupid it barely warrants a response.

        • Posted April 1, 2011 at 11:09 am | Permalink

          Kamalka, I had forgotten that I refer to John 3::16 as the divine protection racket! Do refer to this racket!

      • Mariusz
        Posted April 1, 2011 at 12:39 am | Permalink

        I have written that the Creator is independent of the universe. We are not able to say that a Creator has to have a cause because we do not know His nature and how it is to exist outside the universe and time. Time belongs to this universe but it does not mean that it exists everywhere. Even the Big Bang theory says that the time is created with space.
        So my point is that the first cause does not apply to a Creator. Answering your question nobody created the Creator.
        Our brain is limited so we cannot understand everything, especially the nature of a Creator. But as I said opinion that the universe with its laws exists just like that is absurd.

        • Darth Dog
          Posted April 1, 2011 at 1:06 am | Permalink

          Fine. We can’t understand the creator. So couldn’t it just be physical law? Or does that not jive with your understanding of the creator (which you don’t understand by your own statement).

          Yeesh!

          • Mariusz
            Posted April 1, 2011 at 2:01 am | Permalink

            No, because the physics laws do not create anything (they only regulate the interaction between things) (create in strict sense – ex nihilo – out of nothing). So the physical laws do not explain at all the origin of ‘something’ (matter, universe).

            We do not understand the nature of the Creator but we can say that he is needed to give the ‘substance’ (matter with its laws). As I said before matter or physical laws cannot create anything.

            • David
              Posted April 1, 2011 at 5:51 am | Permalink

              My understanding is that the total sum energy of the universe is 0 so the universe = nothing which could easily come from nothing.

              But thats just silly and i’m not a physicist but your argument makes no sense. If “outside” the universe has no time then there was no “before” the universe.

              You also seem to be putting the laws of the universe on the same level as the laws governing parking in New Jersey. they are not related the word law implies a lawgiver but thats just semantics and wordplay. I would be willing to bet you also think the word “theory” means something is “just a guess”.

        • Ken Browning
          Posted April 1, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink

          “…we do not know His nature and how it is to exist outside the universe and time”

          Everything we know about the existence of personalities is dependent on the use of time and space which are structural components of the universe. It is therefore nonsensical to argue about personal existence outside of dimensionality. What is processing outside of time? What is knowledge without data storage?

        • Kiwi Dave
          Posted April 1, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

          For someone who can’t understand the nature of a creator, you seem to have plenty to say about the creator’s nature.

    • stvs
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

      If there are laws there must be a lawgiver

      There is math—must there be a mathgiver? If so, then the mathgiver could declare that 2 plus 2 equals 5. But 2 plus 2 equals 4 no matter what, so math just is, and there isn’t any mathgiver.

      Repeat with physics: There is physics—must there be a physicsgiver? If so, then the physicsgiver could violate QM. But if QM just is in the same way that math just is, then there isn’t any physicsgiver. No lawgiver either.

      Even intelligent beings like we cannot create even a single most simple particle.

      You just created an enormous number of photons by posting your comment, and so did I. Go read about how quantum electrodynamics aka electricity works.

      • Mariusz
        Posted April 1, 2011 at 12:57 am | Permalink

        I explained what I meant by real creation. What we can only do is just converting something into something else. True creation is ex nihilo (out of nothing).

        QM is based on laws. So QM is not independent of this universe and a lawgiver could of course change the rules of QM.

        >But if QM just is in the same way that math just is, then there isn’t any physicsgiver. No lawgiver either.

        I agree that it is much more difficult to understand that there could be (in a universe) e.g. 2+2=5. But with QM I have no difficulty to imagine that the interaction (laws) rules on quantum level could be different (e.g. different forces).

        • stvs
          Posted April 1, 2011 at 4:34 am | Permalink

          QM is based on laws

          Incorrect: QM is based on nothing at all, and is literally a very good guess. We do not have any idea what the basis of QM might be.

          All ex nihilo means in science is assuming the theories we have that best describe the known universe—QM and GR—is it possible that the universe as we know it with all its energy, matter, and space-time could have arisen spontaneously with no non-physical intervention from the vacuum state in which none of these three exist. The answer, now measured against the best cosmological data we have, is a resounding but still tentative YES.

          So we could get a universe out of nothing, even though we don’t know where QM comes from. But people are working on that problem too.

        • Tulse
          Posted April 1, 2011 at 7:29 am | Permalink

          a lawgiver could of course change the rules of QM

          All other lawgivers we know of obey laws that are given to them by something else (for example, a US senator cannot legally murder someone). Does the final lawgiver have to obey any laws (such as the laws of logic, or laws of morality)? If so, where do those laws come from? If not, does that mean that, for example, the lawgiver can produce a square circle, or cause itself to disappear?

    • Patrick
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

      “Laws” of the universe aren’t statutes that punish the universe if it breaks them.

      Laws of physics/reality/logic/whatever are just descriptive statements about the way things behave.

      So to say that there are “laws” of logic or whatnot is really just to say that things have traits.

      It is not obvious that things having traits requires something to make them that way.

    • Posted April 2, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      You beg the question, Mariusz. To a materialist, laws are “just” objective patterns of being and becoming. No law-giver needed – as (perhaps) Laotzu and certainly Democritus saw.

  27. Posted March 31, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Mlodinow and Hawking in ” The Grand Design,’ note how gravity could have produced the present universe.
    In line with that law of physics that of neither creating nor destroying energy, the quantum fields are the source for this present universe in the Multiverse, which I generally call Existence!
    William Lane Craig for once is right- that activity of the fields but is quite wrong in finding that No Explantion as being the cause.
    No gap of God or God of the gaps [ in WLC's silly Kalam argument].

  28. Posted March 31, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Sean M. might elucidate about these matters!
    He and Sean B.,along with PZ and Jerry do yeoman’s work for naturalism and- humanity!

  29. steve oberski
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    The conflict between evolution and religion and physics and religion is going to move into the field of neuroscience.

    This will be the battle ground where the religious concept of an immaterial soul that survives death and purportedly parties with baby jebus (or 72 virgins) for eternity gets relegated to increasingly smaller and smaller gaps until it is excreted from the discussion of human consciousness.

    Expect a lot of traction from the religious in this area.

    • articulett
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

      This is my bet. Once people realize there are no souls, then gods become irrelevant.

      I look forward to a time when only primitive sorts believe in souls –or any other invisible beings.

      • Posted April 1, 2011 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        Articulett, yes, no souls no more than a dismbodied mind! Nerosicentists find no need to posit a soul, and so a sould would have to be immaterial like Him, and thus could not exist!
        I don’t need a soul to have meaning; that is my right as Lamberth’s argument from autonomy notes that by virtue of our level of consciusness, and in line with the UN’s Declaration of Rights and my “cousin Morgan’s Canon, we are then independent beings, that no putative God should ever consider as clay and He as that potter [ Paul that misanthrope notwithstanding]! We owe no putative God anything whilst He’d owe us a better place as Fr. Meslier’s the problem of Heaven pellucidly exhumes.

    • Posted April 1, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      Steve,already neuroscience finds no souls and – no contra causal free will -causelesss free will.

  30. Posted March 31, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry. We’re over a hundred posts in and still nobody else has gone for it, so I’m afraid I’m left with no choice.

    When theology does cosmology, does it do it the same way that Debbie does Dallas?

    There. Now that I’ve gotten that out my system, y’all can get back to the serious discussionating.

    Cheers,

    b&

    P.S. Admit it, Jerry — you were fishing for somebody to snag that bait, no? b&

    • Posted April 1, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      No, it’s how the Three Stooges take after each other and- as nonsensical!

  31. Posted March 31, 2011 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    Sir, you have forgotten to mention the refutation of Gravity as proven by evangelical scientists and as reported here : (Intelligent Falling) http://www.theonion.com/articles/evangelical-scientists-refute-gravity-with-new-int,1778/

  32. Posted April 1, 2011 at 4:47 am | Permalink

    Don’t hold your breath, for the nature of the God Hypothesis is that no observation could ever disprove it. That’s why it’s not scientific at all, and why religion and science will never find an amiable concordat.

    This is the key. This is why there is no accommodation possible between science and religion. Religion is simply not falsifiable in any of its known forms. Listen to Alister McGrath sometimes. He will get involved in scientific noise about science and religion, but he always adds: “But this is not why I believe.” So the attempt at accommodating science and religion is simply window dressing, and those involved in dressing the window know it. It would help if they would be honest about it.

  33. Posted April 1, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Just wanted to say Nice Summary! Thanks very much for this, it’s a keeper.

  34. Posted April 1, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Eric- it self-falsifies as the ignostic-Ockham challenge to theists verifies.
    Why unicorns and such are just products of the imagination, which then have no empirical support, and we justly deny!
    As no horses have genes for horns, any supposed unicorn would be evidence of only itself rather than of a real unicorn. Since theists never will adduce evidence for their Being Itself but merely prattle for it, one knows why Parsons quit atheology as a full time activity!
    We gnus just cannot let the superstitious theists get their way with indefensible definitions for Him and no empirical evidence for Heaven and Hell and contra-causal free will!
    Where mountains of evidence should exist, and none does, then why placate theists by prattling that one cannot disconfirm the supernatural? Why the blatant rhapsody for superstition?
    None have to traverse the Cosmos or – be omniscient to declare no God can possibly exist! Not dogmatism, just analysis!
    We gnus and others take exposing their solecistic arguments as intellectual exercise and -fun!

  35. Posted April 1, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    McGrath declares that first theists have reason for their faith, and use faith then to find it certain. That’s nothing more than James’s wish to believe, and thus means don’t really examine any new thoughts but keep Him in your heart- self-brainwashing! Haughty John prattles that faith envelopes ones whole being,but that is no more than blind faith at work! These jackals expect us more serious gnus to reckon that their superstition just might have merit!
    This prattling is why I’m a gnu atheist,besides of the baneful effects of superstition!

  36. Posted April 1, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    John Haught

  37. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 3:46 am | Permalink

    Ouch, late to the party, and what a party it has been!

    A spontaneous comment before I go enjoying the two threads of Coyne and Carroll, I’ll note that the physics may be a bit one-sided (in a time honored tradition, sadly to say):

    But it is equally plausible that what we think of as the Big Bang is merely a phase in the history of the universe, which stretches long before that time – perhaps infinitely far in the past. The present state of the art is simply insufficient to decide between these alternatives; to do so, we will need to formulate and test a working theory of quantum gravity. . .

    In the last sentence, the first claim is true. But the second may not be; in inflationary cosmologies like our current cosmology many predictions seem to be satisfactorily extracted by the use of “semiclassical worldlines” (approximating so called worldlines of general relativity).

    [For a simple example, the "energy catastrophe" of following particles toward the past, reversing cosmological redshift. That prediction can be made by using semiclassical worldlines, as per Linde.]

    I believe the claim is open. Theoretical physicist would dearly want quantum gravity to be necessary, since it would allow for new and likely more informative brands of physics to be developed and tested.

    In fact, the related idea of one Theory Of Everything and a unique parameter set seems to be an old version of QG (the later which may or may not be unique). However nature may not be obliging to our wishes…


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