Famous physicists appear in film using cosmology to prove God

UPDATE: I’ve heard from Dr. Randall, who objected to my characterization of her as an “atheist.” I apologize for that and add the correction she wishes to make:

“. . . I rarely say I’m an atheist–I say I’m a nonbeliever. I actually think it’s a stupid word.
(Do we have a word for non-most things? It’s not an active process.)

I’d like that corrected.”

_______________

 

Last year a film came out that I just became aware of (h/t to Mike M.): “Cosmic Origins: The Scientific Evidence of Creation“.  It’s pretty much a put-up job for God, narrated by Fr. Robert Spitzer, religious philosopher, Jesuit priest,  former president of Gonzaga University, and author of New Proofs for the Existence of God. The synopsis and video clips (see below) suggest that it’s the standard boilerplate argument for “fine tuning” of the universe as evidence for God. It also throws in the cosmological argument: the universe could not have created itself, so goddidit.  Do these people even know physics? Here’s part of the blurb:

Picture 1

And this clip, a trailer for the movie, makes the God connection palpably clear:

The genial Fr. Spitzer (aren’t these Catholic accommodationists always the most affable priests around?) says this (be prepared to cringe):

If from nothing only nothing comes, and the universe came into existence, the universe, when it was nothing, could NOT have created itself—because it was nothing. Something else—not the universe—something else would have had to have done that. And that something else would have to transcend the universe.

I wonder what that “something else” is? And who created the “something else”?

I love the confident pronouncement that the universe could not have created itself. And these people are asking scientists to be humble?

What struck me, though, was this list of people appearing in the film:

Picture 2

Well,  Polkinghorne and Heller are Templeton flaks, Owen Gingerich is well known as a religious apologist, and Jennifer Wiseman is an evangelical Christian who heads the Templeton-funded Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion (DoSER) at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  (Many of you subscribe to Science, the AAAS magazine, so be aware that your organization is afflicted by this religious cancer, which, among other things, sponsored a “holiday lecture” by Denis Alexander, physicist, evangelical Christian, and head of Cambridge’s odious Faraday institute, also funded by Templeton. Sense some commonality to all this?)

But Arno Penzias and Lisa Randall? I had to look up Penzias’s views, and it turns out that he’s not only a religious Jew, but has suggested that the elegance of the universe bespeaks the glory of God. A report/interview from Ceio (link above) says this:

In connection with the Big Bang theory and the issue of the origin of our highly ordered universe, on March 12, 1978, Dr. Penzias stated to the New York Times:

“The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted, had I had nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole.” (Penzias, as cited in Bergman 1994, 183; see also Brian 1995, 163).

Arno Penzias’ research into astrophysics has caused him to see “evidence of a plan of divine creation” (Penzias, as cited in Bergman 1994, 183).

In an interview published in the scientific anthology The Voice of Genius (1995), Dr. Penzias says:

“Penzias: The Bible talks of purposeful creation. What we have, however, is an amazing amount of order; and when we see order, in our experience it normally reflects purpose.

Brian: And this order is reflected in the Bible?

Penzias: Well, if we read the Bible as a whole we would expect order in the world. Purpose would imply order, and what we actually find is order.

Brian: So we can assume there might be purpose?

Penzias: Exactly. …This world is most consistent with purposeful creation.” (Penzias, as cited in Brian 1995, 163-165).

Randall is an avowed atheist, but has gone back and forth on accommodationism.  In a 2009 comment comment on the Edge website, when several public intellectuals were asked to react to my New Republic piece on the incompatibility of science and faith, Randall was an explicit accommodationist.  After describing how she met a science-friendly actor on a plane who nevertheless rejected evolution, Randall said this:

This reinforced for me why we won’t ever answer the question that’s been posed. Empirically-based logic-derived science and faith are entirely different methods for trying to approach truth. You can derive a contradiction only if your rules are logic. If you believe in revelatory truth you’ve abandoned the rules. There is no contradiction to be had.

Randall’s defense of a NOMA hypothesis was handily eviscerated by Sam Harris in a subsequent comment:

I am confident that Randall’s airplane adventure will mark a turning point in our intellectual discourse. Not only has she resolved all the contradictions between science and religion (and magic, voodoo, UFO cults, astrology, Tarot, palmistry, etc.), she has reconciled apparently conflicting religions with one another. Hindus worship a multiplicity of gods; Muslims acknowledge the existence of only one, and believe that polytheism is a killing offense. Do Hinduism and Islam conflict? Only “if your rules are logic.” Just as paths ascending a mountain slope can seem discrepant at the mountain’s base, and yet once we stand upon the summit, we find that all routes have led to the same destination—so it will be with every exercise of the human intellect! The Summit of Truth awaits, my friends. Simply pick your path…

On the other hand, reader Bob Carlson notes that, in Randall’s latest book, Knocking on Heaven’s Door, she takes a completely opposite stance:

[A]ny religious scientist has to face daily the scientific challenge to his belief. The religious part of your brain cannot act at the same time as the scientific one. They are simply incompatible.

And yet she appears in a movie that explicitly uses scientific “evidence” to prove God. I presume she wasn’t aware of this movie’s aim when she was approached to help with it, but, given her atheism and latest statement on incompatibility, I’d suggest that she might want to publicly disclaim the film.

At any rate, this humorous blurb appears on the film’s website.

Picture 1

51 Comments

  1. Matt Bowman
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    It is too bad that when they asked random people in cars about nothingness that they came across a confused woman and not Lawrence Krauss. They might have gained a more thoughtful response. But of course that would have ruined the movie.

  2. Veroxitatis
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    The precise value of Spitzer’s views is 0 or zero, or to use language with which he appears familiar, nothing.

  3. gbjames
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    sub

  4. Marcoli
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    *Sigh* For anyone interesting in learning about the origins and various arguments behind the old ‘fine-tuning’ debate, I highly recommend the book ‘The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning’ by Victor Stenger. He explains the arguments of the various fine-tuners, which was an interesting idea that I think did get some mainstream attention many years ago. He also does a thorough job in explaining how cosmologists later showed why it was simply wrong. The fine-tuning arguments were based on some assumptions that turned out to be in error, and when those errors were removed when modeling events at the Big Bang it was found that we are in an average universe among a wide range of possible universes, many (MANY) of which could also have atoms, long-lived stars, and so could have life.
    The book has some math in it, which I just bleeped over when I read it. I found the argument for why the universe is NOT finely tuned to be quite understandable without the math since Stenger is an excellent writer, and key points are illustrated by drawings.

    • Tulse
      Posted February 24, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      when modeling events at the Big Bang it was found that we are in an average universe among a wide range of possible universes, many (MANY) of which could also have atoms, long-lived stars, and so could have life.

      Right, so isn’t it a sign of amazing providence that the universe was designed so the outcome was so likely to produce life?

      There’s really no way to whack this mole without some other argument being made, often using precisely the opposite claims.

      • Marcoli
        Posted February 24, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

        Well, the mole has been whacked. As I understand it the best current models about the Big Bang is where the universe emerges through laws of physics that are currently exotic, to say the least, but nevertheless would still be ‘lawful’. Over a very short period of time a singular form of energy, perhaps an inflating bubble of dark energy, was converted by an energy transfer into our early inflating universe. This energy was parsed out into the different parameters of the elementary particles and forces we have in our universe today. The key point, as I recall from Stengers’ book, was that if one changes one parameter, such as the rest mass of the ‘down’ quark, then other parameters must also change accordingly because energy must be conserved. If one parameter is increased, then at least one other parameter must be decreased. The error of the original fine-tuners was that they did not take energy conservation into account — they changed one parameter only, and always found an evolving universe that could not lead to life

        When the more lawful understanding of how the universe would form is taken into account we find that there are lots of possible universes with different initial conditions that can still produce life.

        We can consider this mole has been whacked. But theistically oriented people will never admit this particular mole is whacked as they do not admit to moles being whacked in evolution.

  5. Sigmund
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Lisa Randall was interviewed on the Think Atheist podcast at the end of 2011, where she talked about her then opinions on NOMA.

    http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thinkatheist/2011/11/28/episode-36-dr-lisa-randall-nov-27-2011

    I got the impression that she saw major flaws with Gould’s NOMA. She came across, in that interview at least, as distinctly non-accomodationist.

    • Malo Juevo
      Posted February 24, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      Lisa Randall generally says whatever will get Lisa Randall the most attention.

  6. Posted February 24, 2013 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Spitzer’s whole thesis depends on there being some sense to describing the Universe as “everything” on the one hand, and then doing a bait-and-switch and describing it as “everything but Jesus” on the other hand.

    Either Jesus is part of everything and therefore has the same problem of creating himself that everything else does…or Jesus isn’t part of everything — and, therefore, obviously, simply doesn’t exist.

    Purest doublethink, and shamelessly so.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Tulse
      Posted February 24, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Nothing can come from nothing — except the Christian god, of course.

      • Posted February 25, 2013 at 7:37 am | Permalink

        Oh, the Christian gods come from something, all right. Mostly, from various bodily orifices of Christians themselves….

        b&

  7. Posted February 24, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    No good can ever come by people taking Billy Preston’s lyrics too seriously.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 24, 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Only if they choose That’s the Way God Planned It over Nothing From Nothing. Though beware Will It Go Round In Circles — therein lies recursive madness.

      (Billy Preston — Was he the third or fourth “Fifth Beatle”? Always had trouble keeping track of which “Fifth Beatle” was which.)

  8. NewEnglandBob
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, Something…God.

    What a powerful argument! Why didn’t I think of that! I coulda had me a Templeton!

    • Notagod
      Posted February 24, 2013 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      That’s what had me laughing out loud through the whole clip. If the christians can’t see the fallacy of the ‘nothing’ argument then I get to laugh at them without apology.

      I think Fr. Spitzer missed his destiny which would have him be a comedian, the man is hilariously funny.

  9. phosphoros99
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Because we humans have limited information we are all forced to make reasoned assumptions about the origins of the physical universe and its non-physical components such as ethics/morality.

    We are faced with two possibilities:
    1.Atheism : matter the first cause producing life, intelligence and personality

    or

    2. Theism : Personality and intelligence the first cause producing matter and other intelligence.

    I would argue that in no field of analysis is atheism a more coherent assumption than theism.

    One does not have to know the origin / source of a thing to know what it does.

    The earth and the life forms on it is a complex information driven system in which material extracted from the earth’s crust provides the resources used by programmed physical entities to build their bodies.It is the ultimate information driven re-cycling system

    All of this takes place in a physical environment (like a green house) within which physical parameters such and temperature, humidity, gravity are finely tuned.

    The more we learn the worse its going to get for atheism.

    • Posted February 24, 2013 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      Until some brilliant theologian can explain where the super-duper god came from that created the super god that created the god that created the (rest of the) Universe, the First Cause argument (and all creator gods along with it) is such a non-starter it ain’t even funny.

      Cheers,

      b&

    • Posted February 24, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      Ho hum

    • gbjames
      Posted February 24, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      Perfectly logical. And demonstrates precicely how we know that Naba Zid-Wendé first made the chameleon and only later the snake and elephant. And then made people black to distinguish them from the sun.

      • gbjames
        Posted February 24, 2013 at 10:12 am | Permalink

        aargh… “precisely” not “precicely”.

    • Tulse
      Posted February 24, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      The earth and the life forms on it is a complex information driven system

      Isn’t a god also a complex information driven system? So something has to create a god, right?

      • phosphoros99
        Posted February 24, 2013 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

        You are introducing an infinite regress.

        One does not have to know the cause of a cause or even if that cause is uncaused for it to be an appropriate explanation for observed phenomenon.

        • Notagod
          Posted February 24, 2013 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, and You are so going to H E Double Toothpicks for worshiping the false prophet Jebus.

          Cause cause cause where have I hear that before? Oh yes, nothing nothing nothing.

        • Posted February 25, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

          What’s that line about motes and beams?

          You’re the one insisting that intelligence can only come from intelligence.

          Never mind that that’s palpable nonsense; we’ll take it as a given for the sake of the argument.

          The inevitable conclusion is that either your god is intelligent and itself needs an intelligent creator…or that your god is dumber than a wet sack of hammers.

          So, again. Which hyper-intelligent shade of the color blue created Jesus, or was Jesus not intelligent?

          Cheers,

          b&

        • Tulse
          Posted February 25, 2013 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

          You are introducing an infinite regress.

          Yep, got it in one. Well done.

          One does not have to know the cause of a cause or even if that cause is uncaused for it to be an appropriate explanation for observed phenomenon.

          But one can’t use an argument that all information requires an intelligent creator without either courting that infinite regress, or arguing that your god isn’t intelligent.

  10. Posted February 24, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    OK. I’ll grant them that a god started the universe (even though I think Lawrence Krauss shows there’s no need for a creator).

    Now what?

    So a god did that and there’s no reason to believe it’s done anything else since.
    Some god.

  11. Bob Carlson
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    The Lisa Randall quote was from Knocking on Heaven’s Door, which was published in 2011. In the ebook about the Higgs, I think religion was discussed only in connection with her distaste for the term “God particle.”

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted February 24, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      Oh, sorry. I fixed it in the post above.

  12. Posted February 24, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    “If from nothing only nothing comes,” .. then (condensed form of the rest of the argument: nothing comes from nothing!

    Circular reasoning anyone?

    • Marella
      Posted February 24, 2013 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, they have to establish that only nothing comes from nothing, and they haven’t and can’t.

      • sailor1031
        Posted February 25, 2013 at 7:28 am | Permalink

        Of course the Universe came from the singularity (if you accept that cosmological thesis) – and the singularity was not ‘nothing’, it was the incipient universe i.e. it was ‘everything’.

        I prefer, however, the thesis that the universe is cyclic and has always been so.

        • gbjames
          Posted February 25, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

          Sadly, the universe has little interest in our preferences.

  13. Posted February 24, 2013 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    What I find ironic is that the fine-tuning argument is one of the best arguments for atheism. Or, at least is one of the best arguments against an all-powerful god.

    • Tulse
      Posted February 24, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      I don’t see how one can consider nearly infinite vacuum at 2.7C to be “fine tuned”.

      If we found a single bacterium in a vial of penicillin, we wouldn’t say that the vial was fine tuned for bacterial life. If we found an ant clinging to a cork bobbing in the Atlantic, we wouldn’t say the ocean was fine tuned to produce ants. The universe that we know is completely inimical to human life apart from a thin tepid layer on an infinitesimal speck of dust. Heck, the very stuff we’re made of composes only 5% of the universe. So how is a universe that is so deadly to us, and to whom our existence is so unnecessary, nonetheless “fine tuned” for us?

      The fine tuning argument is nothing but profound hubris.

      • Diane G.
        Posted February 24, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

        Wonderfully put!

      • Posted February 24, 2013 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

        The hubris take on it is awesome, but that’s not what I had in mind. Rather, the fine-tuning argument is an argument against an all powerful god because given that an all powerful god created the universe, it’s much more likely that he would have created a universe with some other universal constants than the constants of this one. If you compare that with the universal constants given some other explanation, the other explanation is more likely, because an all powerful god has no restriction on what type of universe he would create to make humans (e.g. he could have had us live on Mercury and used perpetual miracles to keep us alive outside of the Habitable Zone).

      • RoyLT
        Posted August 30, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink

        Sorry, I’m super late to this thread, but thank you @Tulse!!!

        The ‘ant in the ocean’ analogy is hands-down the best one I’ve ever heard regarding fine-tuning. Brilliantly put.

  14. neil
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    In truth, Penzias (and Wilson) did not discover the CMB. They detected radio noise with their NJ horn antenna which they could not attribute to a terrestrial source and published as such. Neither had the insight to attribute it to the CMB–Robert Dicke did that. This was a case of luck rather than discovery favoring the prepared mind.

    • neil
      Posted February 24, 2013 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      One could say I “discovered” the CMB back in the 60s watching my tv screen after the station had gone off the air. I just didn’t go to the trouble of eliminating the non-CMB sources. :)

    • peter
      Posted February 24, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I think the Penzias/Wilson Nobel Prize for that is the archetype of one thing that can go ‘wrong’ with that sort of award—way too much emphasis on discovering something a few weeks before someone else does, and not enough on just what the discovery constituted in the particular case. IIRC, they phoned up Dicke to see if he understood what was going wrong with their observations, and he explained to them right away what it was they discovered. It has always puzzled me why no one (like him), who knew what to look for, had not done so first.

      There is far too much emphasis on contests and prizes anyway, but it seems like the Fields and other more lucrative recent ones in math are far less controversial, despite not taking nearly so long after the discovery before being awarded. I guess it helps to be a field where correctness has a lot more permanence than empirical science sometimes does.

      A different example is Einstein, in this case with a deserved prize for what it was awarded for, but probably would have been even much more deserved for a couple of other things he did. Again I think in math it is much easier to ‘rank’ discoveries fairly accurately in order of importance.

      Godel is probably the best example in math of someone with a deserved huge reputation in the field (but no prize!), but whose apparent opinions on some more philosophical sorts of things shouldn’t be given too much weight just because of that reputation. (Those opinions I’d been unaware of, but have dug into a bit because of some stimulation from Ben Goren and others here, for which I am grateful.) Formal versions of the Ontological Argument are full of holes as soon as they make any attempt to interpret the (correct) logical formalities.

      • madscientist
        Posted February 24, 2013 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

        The Nobel Prize for the CMB was also shared with P. Kapitza as the Wikipedia puts it “for unrelated work”. I guess the committee felt bad about Kapitza not being given credit for his work almost 40 years earlier.

        • neil
          Posted February 24, 2013 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

          Yes, the 1978 prize was truly bizarre, combining Kapitza’s work on liquid helium with the discovery of the CMB, perhaps one of the most important discoveries of the twentieth century. Gamov, Alpher and Herman all predicted the CMB in the 1940s. A and H were still alive in 1978 and should have been recognized.

  15. Diane G.
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    LOL! Harris in fine form!

  16. Vaal
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Watching Spitzer talk is a perfect illustration of the impotence of theology, and appeal to metaphysical analysis, at least in the service of finding the theological in reality.

    You have on one hand the astounding facts, knowledge practical and otherwise that we’ve learned by physicists/cosmologists who actually roll up their sleeves and test their hypotheses in reality.

    And in contrast you have Spitzer’s inert, arm-chair analysis and theorizing about the origins of the universe. He is speaking in no more enlightening terms or methods than the theologians/philosophers doing the same thing in ignorance thousands of years ago.

    An exercise in pure wheel-spinning. Like watching Homer Simpson’s explaining his hunch concerning a Unified Theory of physics, sitting on the sofa, scratching his belly, just trying to think up what makes sense to him.

    Vaal

  17. Vaal
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Ugh.

    ““The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted, had I had nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole.” (Penzias, as cited in Bergman 1994, 183; see also Brian 1995, 163).”

    Except the little inconvenient fact that Christians had the bible for thousands of years and it allowed none of them any such special insight into predicting the data. It has to come from hard scientific work – and not a little work discarding the countless WRONG inferences about nature and the universe that people drew from the bible.

    Penzias’ comments reminds me of that photo of the closed down, boarded up “Psychic and Palm Reading Center.” On the boards covering the doors was painted: “We saw this coming!”

    One is tempted to think that cream pies were made expressly for the faces of people who try to get away with such nonsense.

    Vaal

  18. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Let me see if I’ve got this “Fine-Tuning” argument straight: In creating the universe, God jiggered certain “fundamental numbers,” including The Constants, some of them to within one per billion or more, so that some infinitesimally small fraction of the vast universe He was creating would eventually be amenable to the existence of life (including, eventually, intelligent life).

    Then, some 10-plus billion years after setting this universe in motion, after having gone way out to the right-hand side of the decimal point in setting those fundamental numbers, God elected to plop the ball of life down on a rocky planet in the Milky Way, one with a molten iron core and land masses floating on plates that continually bump-and-grind against each other, one that is subject to regular bombardment from space debris – where species after species after species would go extinct (despite His having 100 billion other galaxies, most with more than a 100 billion stars, the majority of which have more than one planet, to choose from, and despite having the omnipotence to poof an unlimited number of additional, more-life-amenable planets into existence).

    Then, after three and a half billion years of earthbound life churning away, evolving, and species after species going extinct, God introduced onto this planet his most-beloved creation, Man, giving him a middling spot in a food chain based on predation and parasitism – under circumstances that ensured that countless innocent members of His favored species (including pregnant women and their innocent unborn children) would necessarily suffer and die horribly.

    Is that pretty much the “Fine-Tuning” Argument that these Sophisticated-Theology types find so persuasive in support of an omni-benevolent God?

    • madscientist
      Posted February 24, 2013 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      Yeah – see how he precisely timed everything exactly as claimed in the bible. :)

  19. madscientist
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    I like Randall’s “defense” – she’s essentially saying “religious belief is nonsense, so it’s all OK and we shouldn’t criticize it.”

    I wonder what Wilson has to say about the cosmic microwave background and gods. As for Penzias, I’d like to see his calculations showing how everything fits in ‘exactly’ with the bible. It’s funny how things always match ‘exactly’ as described in the bible but always in the most cryptic and delusional fashion.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted February 26, 2013 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

      This seems like the best place to point out that Penzias is not only deluded, but illogical:

      “Penzias: Well, if we read the Bible as a whole we would expect order in the world. Purpose would imply order, and what we actually find is order.

      Brian: So we can assume there might be purpose?

      Penzias: Exactly. …This world is most consistent with purposeful creation.”

      Reduced to logical form, this is as follows:
      A –> B
      B
      Therefore, A (where A is purpose, and B is order)

      This is now recognizable as the fallacy of “assuming the consequent.”

  20. Posted February 24, 2013 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    About Randall’s comment on logic: what she says is true, of course. But religious types are quite happy to use logic to “refute” the claims of other religions.

  21. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    “And yet she appears in a movie that explicitly uses scientific “evidence” to prove God. I presume she wasn’t aware of this movie’s aim when she was approached to help with it,”

    Wouldn’t be the first time that has happened. The notorious and loathsome ‘Expelled’ comes to mind…


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