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Atheists Blast Christianity
‘Testing God: Killing the Creator’
Voice over: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And God said, let there be light”. Genesis.
For millennia, we accepted that our world had been created by God. Then science began to challenge this belief.
This is an ipse dixit (Latin for ‘he himself said it’, meaning an unsupported assertion by someone expecting others to accept it without question). In fact modern experimental science did not ‘challenge’ Christianity, but originated from a Christian framework, as historians of science have long recognized—see the explanation in Creationist contributions to science. We think the failure of the producers of this program to inform the viewers of this is deliberate, and unconscionably deceitful. This biblical foundation of modern science has been well attested to in a new book by sociologist Dr Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts and the End of Slavery:1
‘Even children know that in 1492 Christopher Columbus proved the world is round. They also know that he … [faced] years of opposition from the Roman Catholic Church, which ridiculed all dissent from the biblical teaching that the world is flat. … Andrew Dickson White, founder and first president of Cornell University, and author of the most influential book ever written on the conflict between science and theology, offered this summary: “ … Columbus’ voyage greatly strengthened the theory of the earth’s sphericity [yet] the Church … stumbled and persisted in going astray … But in 1519 science gains a crushing victory. Magellan makes his famous voyage. He proves the earth to be round, for his expedition circumnavigates it … yet even this does not end the war. Many [religious] men oppose the doctrine for two hundred years longer.”
‘Like everyone else, I grew up with this story. It was retold in every account of Columbus’ voyage in my schoolbooks, in many movies, and always on Columbus Day. As for A.D. White’s immense study, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (in two volumes) when I was young, it was required reading … and I cited it in my second published paper.
‘Trouble is that almost every word of White’s account of the Columbus story is a lie. Every educated person of the time, including Roman Catholic prelates, knew the earth was round. … So why didn’t we know they knew? Why do only specialists know now? … White himself admitted that he wrote the book to get even with Christian critics of his plans for Cornell. … many of White’s other accounts are as bogus as his report of the flat earth and Columbus. The reason we didn’t know the truth is that … for more than three centuries [the claim of inevitable and bitter warfare between religion and science] has been the primary polemical device used in the atheist attack on faith. From Thomas Hobbes through Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, false claims about religion and science have been used as weapons in the battle to “free” the human mind from the “fetters of faith”.
‘In this chapter, I argue not only that there is no inherent conflict between religion and science, but that Christian theology was essential for the rise of science. In demonstration of this thesis [I show that] not only did religion not cause the “Dark Ages”; nothing else did either—the story that after the “fall” of Rome a long dark night of ignorance and superstition settled over Europe is as fictional as the Columbus story. In fact this was an era of profound and rapid technological progress … the Scientific Revolution of the sixteenth century was the … result of [Christian scholarship] starting in the eleventh century… Why did real science develop in Europe … and not anywhere else? I find answers to those questions in unique features of Christian theology… The “Enlightenment” [was] conceived initially as a propaganda ploy by militant atheists and humanists [e.g. Voltaire, Diderot and Gibbon] who attempted to claim credit for the rise of science [through promulgating] the falsehood that science required the defeat of religion.’ (pp.121–123, emphases in original).
Voice over: To be fobbed off with a cheap supernatural explanation, it really doesn’t explain anything. I think it actually is mentally degrading.
This sets an aggressively misotheistic tone for the series right from the beginning. In fact, creation by God explains a great deal—where we came from, our purpose, how we should live, and where we are going. And what is really mentally degrading is to think that we are just ‘rearranged pond scum’. Partly this is because a random evolutionary origin provides no basis for the notion of ‘mental’ or ‘degrading’! If our thoughts are just motions of atoms in our brains, then the idea of ‘mind’ is an illusion. And since all thoughts are motions of atoms, how can one thought be more degrading than another?
Atheists have no ultimate basis for believing in the general uniformity of nature that makes science possible. It is impossible to prove that the universe is orderly, because all possible proofs presuppose the very order they are trying to prove. Conversely, Christians do have a basis for expecting to find rationality and order in the universe. That basis is faith in the Creator God of the Bible—since ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8).2
Commentary: But however much science advanced, a complete explanation of creation remained elusive.
Of course, if this ‘science’ dogmatically excludes a Creator!
Physicist (University of Cambridge): If you ask it at a very deep level, if you want to know why is the universe the way it is, we are nowhere near answering that question in science. And we’re no closer now than the Ancient Greeks were.
Yes, this is a profound limitation of science. Science can describe for us the physical laws of the universe, but neither science nor the laws it describes can explain why those laws exist. The complete answers will not be found within the universe, but from without, by revelation from the Creator of the universe.
Commentary: In the days when creation was a mystery, belief in God gave meaning to our struggles, to our lives. But was God real, or just something we had invented to cover our ignorance and ease our pain?
Jocelyn Bell Burnell (Astronomer, The Open University): I can never prove to somebody else the satisfaction that the god that I perceive is not simply a figment of my imagination. But I personally don’t believe that I have invented God.
Indeed not. But what Bell Burnell is expressing is fideism (blind faith), which has little to do with biblical faith, which is rational and reasonable, grounded in historical events and observable reality (see Fallacious Faith: Correcting an All-too-Common Misconception). God has given us so much evidence that ‘all men are without excuse’ (Romans 1:20). However, ‘proof’ is different, because that means deducing a conclusion from a more authoritative premise. If we tried to use ‘science’ to prove the Bible, then we would be placing science in authority over the Bible. But the Bible itself is the authoritative word of God, from which we should be deducing things—see Faith and facts. Conversely, science actually works coherently only under premises derived from the biblical framework.
Commentary: The modern rational world finds fewer of us drawn to church,
This is largely because much of the Church has compromised with false teachings. This is especially so in the UK, the home of uniformitarian geology and its spawn, evolutionary biology (see Darwin, Lyell and billions of years). Alas, many in the church thought that they could appease atheism by conceding large areas of knowledge to it, and naïvely thinking that the atheists might leave them a few crumbs, i.e. leave faith and morality to the domain of ‘religion’.
This is the same mentality of the UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and the influential Cliveden Set, who thought they could appease Hitler by repeatedly giving in to his territorial demands. But Hitler kept on taking and conceded nothing in return, and so too the atheists.
Sadly many churchians never learn, and keep allying with atheists, praising Stephen Jay Gould and NOMA. However, as with Hitler, they should be very wary of agreeing to boundaries when the opponent is drawing them, and keeps on expanding enemy territory and shrinking ours.
There is no end to this slippery slide to unbelief. After all, Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:12): ‘I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?’ If Jesus was wrong about earthly things (like a recent creation (Mark 10:6) and a global Flood (Luke 17:26–27), was He also wrong about a heavenly thing like John 3:16, only four verses later? If not, why not? Scripture becomes a restaurant menu, where one chooses only the parts that suit, while sliding down to total unbelief. Many atheists testify that their rejection of the Bible and Christianity started with compromises on Genesis.
After all, morality and doctrine are inextricably linked to history and science, so that whatever Scripture affirms on scientific or historical matters is also true. For example, Jesus linked the key moral issue of marriage to the creation of Adam and Eve right ‘from the beginning of creation’ (Matthew 19:4 ff., Mark 10:6 ff.). Christ’s chosen apostle Paul linked the key doctrine of the Resurrection to the historical fact that Jesus’ body had vacated the tomb on the third day. The Resurrection also impinges on science, because naturalistic scientists assert that it is impossible for dead men to rise. And Paul tied the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection to the historical accuracy of the event recorded in Genesis (1 Cor. 15:21–22).
… or speaking of god. Yet a yearning for there to be a reason for our existence out there has never gone away.
This yearning is something God put in all men, both from His creation (Romans 1:18 ff.) and conscience (Romans 2:14 ff.).
Jürgen Moltmann (Theologian, University of Tübingen): If you feel the absence of god, you also feel the dark night of your soul. You listen to nothing, you see nothing, you taste nothing, you just close yourself in.
He may well be right, but Moltmann himself refuses to listen to God’s propositional revelation (i.e. facts about things) in the Bible.
Roger Penrose (Mathematician, University of Oxford): If you’re saying has science somehow removed the mystery of that, absolutely not. If you like, the god problem has got pushed from one place to a deeper place.
This idea presupposes that God works only via miraculous creative acts. But the founders of modern operational science correctly saw God upholding His creation (Colossians 1:15–17, Hebrews 1:3) in a regular, repeatable way that they described as ‘laws of nature’. Miracles were God working in an extraordinary way, and these two modes were not mutually exclusive but complementary.
Killing the Creator
Commentary: There are no simple answers on this journey. More than 20 years ago, minister and theologian, Don Cupitt, had a mission to explain the meaning of God in people’s lives. In radio and television he articulated a belief in God that made sense in the modern world.
Don Cupitt (Theologian, University of Oxford): I think until the 1950s and 60s, it was possible to believe that there were certain fixed certainties out there by which one could live. But cultural change, since that time, has gradually eroded the certainties for all of us.
How typical of the Compass program to have a radical ‘god is dead’ (a)theologian as an authority.3
Commentary: But his mission has not ended as he expected. In the last few years he has found it impossible to reconcile his once simple faith with the rational and scientific world around him.
It seems more likely that Cupitt held a simplistic (i.e. doctrinally deficient) faith rather than a simple (i.e. trusting implicitely) faith. It is more often doctrinal deficiency, coupled with gross ignorance of the Christian origins of science, that leads to inability (or rather, unwillingness) to reconcile faith and science. Note that Cupitt is not qualified in science, yet he pontificates about science as if he were a scientific authority.
Don Cupitt: It’s very hard to describe how one’s whole system of thought gradually changes and evolves, but it does. I think many people suddenly wake up one morning and find they no longer believe some belief that’s been very important to them in the past. I used to think there was reality out there, God out there, so I saw life as a kind of dialogue between one’s self and the supremely real, in relation to which one lived. God was the basis on which everything else exists. God was the foundation of everything. That god is dead. That god is dead. That god is dead.
Mantric repetition like this identifies this ‘god is dead’ statement as something the person wants to believe rather than something objectively true. He sounds like he’s desperate to convince himself. Hitler’s favorite philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche also used to say ‘God is dead’, then went insane. Now God can say ‘Nietzsche is dead’.
Commentary: Cupitt stands in a long line of intelligent thinkers who have found traditional religious teaching co-exists uneasily with scientific discovery.
Note here the manipulation—it’s the ‘intelligent thinkers’ who adopt the atheistic religion. Regrettably (and, we think, deliberately), the commentator doesn’t tell their viewers that far more intelligent people discovered modern science and thought it brought glory to God.
Paul Davies (Theoretical Physicist. Macquarie University, formerly of Adelaide U. and before that from UK): I think it’s undeniably true that if you look at the great revolutions in human thought, going back say to Copernicus, and then followed by the work of Newton and Darwin and then Einstein, each of these, in their own way, I think, has shaken the foundations of the Christian religion.
Davies has a long history of making sensationalist claims, apparently craving media attention (see Speed of light slowing down after all? Famous physicist makes headlines). But he should really stick to theoretical physics if he’s going to spout revisionist nonsense about the history of science. It even conflicts with what Davies has said himself, in interview with antitheist Phillip Adams:
‘If you look back at how science originated, it rests upon twin pillars. The first is Greek philosophy, with its emphasis on the ability of human beings to understand their world through the use of rational reasoning. The second is monotheistic religion—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—with its emphasis on a created world that is ordered by a Designer in a rational and intelligible way. Those were the dominant influences that gave rise to science in seventeenth-century Europe.’4
Let’s look at these four scientists he mentions in turn:
Copernicus (1473–1543) was a canon in the Church, and Galileo thought that the much simpler mathematics of the Copernican system compared to the unwieldy Ptolemaic system would best reflect God’s mathematical simplicity (i.e. God is not composed of parts but is Triune).]
Isaac Newton (1643–1727) is often regarded as the greatest scientist who ever lived, because he also formulated the laws of motion and gravity, invented the reflecting telescope and co-invented calculus.5,6 Yet he wrote more on theology than on science!7 He believed that the mathematical beauty of the laws reflected the Creator. He also defended the bible’s timeline against exaggerated timescales of Egyptian dynasties.8 According to Cambridge archaeologist Colin Renfrew, Newton believed:
‘For an educated man in the seventeenth or even eighteenth century, any suggestion that the human past extended back further than 6000 years was a vain and foolish speculation.’9
Charles Darwin (1809–1882): Davies is right about the anti-Christian impact of this ‘scientific’ revolution—see Darwin’s Real Message—Have you Missed It? and Understanding death: Answering the question, ‘Why does God allow bad things to happen?’.
Albert Einstein (1879–1955): we fail to see why Einstein’s theories should be any problem for Christians. It’s true that Einstein didn’t believe in a personal God (see Einstein, the universe, and God). However, his real scientific contributions were solidly grounded in the realm of operational science. The whole approach of modern, operational science was conceived and developed by Christians, and constitutes our description of the way God perpetually upholds His creation—see Naturalism, Origin and Operation Science. Einstein’s Nobel Prize in 1921 was not earned for relativity, but for his 1905 proposal that light energy is bundled into packets called photons. Even his theory of general relativity is an important part of many creationist cosmological models, hinting at a solution to the problem of How can we see distant stars in young universe? Furthermore, Einstein acknowledged his great debt to the electromagnetic equations of scientist James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879), who was a committed Bible-believing Christian.10
There are people like the apostate Bishop Spong, who misuse Einstein for their ends:
‘Albert Einstein (1879-1955) destabilized both time and space by seeing them not as external properties, but as significantly related aspects of existence. He also introduced relativity as something present in all things, including that which human beings had once called ‘eternal and unchanging truth”.’11
If Spong knew the first thing about relativity, he would realise that a key foundation is that the velocity of light is constant for all observers! That is, Einstein replaced absolute space and time with absolute velocity of light. Einstein himself preferred to call his theory the invariance theory, but the name ‘relativity’ stuck.
Paul Davies: I think we’re talking very much of Christian terms in this discussion. I can’t say for other religions, but as far as the Christian religion is concerned, which was the dominant religion in Europe where science began, it has been, historically, a sequence of retreats by religion in the face of scientific advance. I think it’s got to the point where most people probably feel that science has won the battle, that religion has very little to offer when it comes to explaining the natural world.
Once more, we see the repetition of the ‘conflict’ fiction. There has been a retreat, but that is because liberal theologians retreated from believing the Word of God and invented compromise theories which don’t work.
Commentary: Ever since science first looked at the heavens and puzzled at what lay beyond, God’s unquestioned role as Creator has been under attack.
This is demonstrably untrue, as the Church sponsored much of this scientific research. Biblical creationists are the ones who founded most of the world’s great universities, e.g. Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Geneva.
Science historian John Heilbron provides further evidence in his book The Sun in the Church.12 In this book, favourably reviewed by the secular science journals New Scientist13 and Science,14 he shows that far from opposing astronomical research, the church supported astronomers and even allowed the cathedrals themselves to be used as solar observatories—hence the subtitle of Heilbron’s book, Cathedrals as Solar Observatories. These observatories, called meridiane, were ‘reverse sundials’, or gigantic pinhole cameras where the sun’s image was projected from a hole in a window in the cathedral’s lantern onto a meridian line. Analyzing the sun’s motion further weakened the Ptolemaic model, yet the Church supported this research. And Arthur Koestler documented that only 50 years after Galileo, astronomers of the Jesuit Order, ‘the intellectual spearhead of the Catholic Church’, taught geokinetic astronomy in China.15
Jocelyn Bell Burnell: In the Middle Ages in particular, they understood a certain amount of scientific process, and then there was a gap in their understanding, and they understood the next bit. So they said God did this bit that we don’t understand. Then as their scientific knowledge increased, the gap narrowed and God was out of a job.
These statements by Bell Burnell are falsehoods. The leading scientists saw a role for God in upholding His creation by what we describe as natural laws of operational science, as well as a role in intervening with miracles. Bell Burnell misunderstands their view of God’s role.
Commentary: Since the Renaissance, science has pushed God back. But not until the ‘60s did the gaps for which he was needed look like disappearing altogether. The breakthroughs made by astronomers and physicists began to make it seem that scientific inquiry, not the word of God, was the route to absolute truth.
Rather, the ministerial application of science, i.e. where science submits to biblical presuppositions, has answered many questions where the Bible provides only a framework by which to interpret the data. This contrasts with the magisterial use to override what the text plainly teaches. As Francis Schaeffer said, the Bible is ‘true truth’ but not exhaustive truth. Dr Noel Weeks in his book The Sufficiency of Scripture (see review) likewise says that while the Bible is authoritative, it is not exhaustive, otherwise it would be impossible to produce enough paper to write everything!
Jocelyn Bell Burnell: There was a fantastic decade or two in the 1960s, early 70s, where radio astronomy in particular pulled in a number of major discoveries. It was an incredibly exciting time, very heady, and just the kind of circumstances where you might go overboard and think you’d hit ‘Absolute Truth’ with capital A and capital T. There were several things that I can recall happening; one was the discovery of pulsars that I was involved with. When we first stumbled over the pulsar signals, we were quite sure there was something wrong with the equipment.
Indeed, she said elsewhere:
‘One of the ideas that we entertained was that it might be little green men—a civilization outside in space somewhere trying to communicate with us.’6
LGM-1 actually stood for ‘Little Green Men-1’, a name suggestive of a hope or expectation of finding intelligent alien life …
Commentary: The signal they had come across was unlike anything they had ever seen or heard before. These pulsars were stars more massive than the sun, but smaller than the moon. The fantastic density of these exotic objects would provide the first clue to where our universe itself had come from. This, not the word of God, seemed the material of creation now.
So where in the Bible does it say that pulsars can’t exist? In fact variety in stellar bodies would parallel God’s provision of wondrous variety in other areas, such as animal and plant life. It’s silly to use an omission to try to disprove the Bible, when the Bible doesn’t claim to contain every true proposition. Rather, it provides enough true propositions to form an interpretive framework that provides the only rational basis for science and reason.
Pulsars are spinning neutron stars, the result of a star throwing off its outer layers in a stupendous explosion, called a supernova. The gas thrown off is a supernova remnant, and these provide intriguing support for the biblical timescale—see Exploding stars point to a young universe. Where are all the supernova remnants?
The reaction of Bell Burnell and her colleagues to the discovery of the distinctive signals of pulsars reveals their lack of understanding of information theory, from which we know that a regularly repeating signal is not proof of intelligence. Rather than being an indication of alien intelligence, the pulsar signal they detected was merely ordered, like a crystal or ‘ABCABCABCABC’—where a tiny amount of information is repeated, and so is explainable by natural causes. Real proof of intelligence would be a signal with specified complexity, such as a real message—or our proteins and DNA! For more information on the important distinction between order and complexity, see What about crystals?
Jocelyn Bell Burnell: It turned out there was nothing wrong with the equipment, and these pulsars are tiny, tiny stars. They’re compact, they’re very dense, and they opened up a whole new load of physics.
Commentary: It seemed the universe was capable of things even Einstein hadn’t suspected.
Of course—God is far more ingenious than even Einstein and all theoretical physicists combined, being infinitely ingenious!
Commentary: One of the men working at this frontier was Roger Penrose. He was convinced that pulsars were only the beginning, and that there were things in the universe that the known laws of physics couldn’t explain. Singularities of infinite density, known today as black holes.
Indeed so. And the equations of general relativity are reversible, which means white holes are a valid physical solution. This provides the basis for the white hole cosmology of physicist Dr Russell Humphreys, explained in How can we see distant stars in young universe?
Roger Penrose: If you have a situation where there’s enough material falling together, which in the situation we now call a black hole, Einstein’s equations run out, if you like, they’ve come to a place where you can’t continue them. The singularities tell you an end of the very notion of space time geometry, as described by Einstein’s equation. So, in a sense, we’ve got to have something new. That’s the end of the physics that we knew before, if you like.
It certainly shows there are limits to what science can do. But it shouldn’t have been a surprise that there are some things that cannot be proven. In 1931, Kurt Gödel (1906–1978) showed that in any philosophical system as complex as arithmetic or above, there would always be true statements that were not able to be proven within the system. Even Stephen Hawking has finally seen the light that Gödel’s ‘incompleteness proof’ is the death knell to his attempts to formulate a ‘theory of everything’.16
Commentary: Penrose wanted to prove that matter could disappear, but in doing so, he inadvertently came across the back door to creation, because if matter could disappear into nothing, then it was only one bold leap to imagine the reverse, that matter could appear out of nothing: the Big Bang.
It’s most certainly a bold leap, totally lacking in observational, calculable or experimental support. But such ‘futile thinking’ is endemic in those who reject the evidence for creation (Romans 1:18 ff.). For one thing, the matter sucked into a black hole doesn’t disappear, but adds to the black hole’s mass, with its event horizon expanding proportionately. So the reverse of a black hole is a white hole (with matter flowing outward and a shrinking event horizon), not something coming from nothing.
Roger Penrose: The work that I did, and then, subsequently, Stephen Hawking, showed that the same applies when you work your way back to the beginning of time. You find again there is a singular state, and that’s the Big Bang singularity.
Commentary: Penrose and Hawking's work was a revolution. They had proved that theory could explain even the beginning of the universe. Science’s next triumph was to find the physical proof.
At best, they showed that the universe had a beginning. This is a long way from showing that this beginning was uncaused. Quite the opposite—see If God created the universe, then who created God?
Commentary: It came unexpectedly. On a clear spring day in 1965, on a hilltop in New Jersey, came an unbidden whisper. Scientists working here at Bell Labs were the first to hear, lost in the roar of the universe, a whisper of the moment of creation. They found their microwave antenna had a persistent hiss. At first, they thought it was pigeons living in the horn antenna. Then when they saw the frequency of the sound, they realised this ugly hiss was exactly the frequency theory had predicted the radiation from the Big Bang would have.
This nice story is undermined by the fact that in the 1950s, George Gamow (1904–1968) and his students made a number of estimates of the background temperature ranging from 3 to 50 K.
More importantly, spectral analysis before Gamow had previously found a 2.3 K background temperature, so it was not a true ‘prediction’ of the big bang. Back in 1937, spectroscopists had found some absorption lines, which were later identified with interstellar molecules CH, CH+ and CN.17 The CN (cyanide) molecule also had an absorption line from what is called the first rotationally excited state. Rotational quantum states have energy spacings corresponding to microwave radiation.18 Also, the higher the temperature, the more the higher energy states are populated.19 So, in 1940/1, the Canadian astrophysicist and spectroscopist Andrew McKellar (1910–1960) could analyze the data. From the observed ratios of the populations of these energy states, he calculated that the CN molecules were in thermal equilibrium with a temperature of about 2.3 K.20 The source of this temperature was taken to be black body radiation. During transition between the two rotational states, the molecule can emit or absorb microwave radiation at 2.64 mm wavelength, near the peak of a 3 K black body spectrum.
The two other main evidence for the big bang are allegedly the expansion of the universe and the abundance of light elements. For the former, the Steady State theory and the Humphreys White Hole cosmogony also ‘predict’ the expansion of the universe, so it’s hardly a unique prediction of the big bang. For the latter, the observed abundance of helium is supposed to be a major triumph of big bang cosmology. However, this ‘prediction’ was achieved only by making ad hoc assumptions about the baryonic21 density in their models to make sure the observed abundance would arise. Under such conditions, it would be a surprise if the big bang did not fulfill such adjustable ‘predictions’!
Jocelyn Bell Burnell: Yes, discovering that cosmic microwave background, or the heat or hiss left over, certainly made astronomers much, much more confident that they understood the Big Bang and 15 billion years swathe of the universal history. And certainly for those of us who are astronomers and religious, the question promptly comes up, what was god’s role in all this, or even did God have a role in all this.
Of course, these are hard questions only for those who dogmatically reject what God has told us plainly in the Bible!
Commentary: For some, this sound of the background radiation is the sound of god’s absence. The picture it produces on a television, a vision of a creation without a creator.
This accurately reflects the fact that most cosmologists see the big bang as an atheistic theory, ‘the ultimate free lunch’ as Alan Guth put it. So Christians should reject the claims of progressive creationists, such as Hugh Ross, who state that the big bang was God’s means of creating the universe. See The dubious apologetics of Hugh Ross.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell: Did God have a role in all this?
Paul Davies: There’s no need to have a creator god who sits around for all eternity, planning a universe, and then presses a button, makes the big bang go bang. We don’t need that any more, and I think it’s a rotten idea theologically anyway.
Here Davies expresses concern over a particular theological idea, but his concern seems feigned. It would be highly incongruous for an antitheist like Davies to care about whether something is a good or bad idea theologically. Someone who rejects God and the Bible has no basis on which to judge what constitutes good or bad theology.
Paul Davies: I think it’s a good thing we dispose of the god who is there before the universe.
Why should people look to Davies for theological advice. And his comment here shows that he’s driven by emotions more than science, just like Marxist geneticist Richard Lewontin, the agnostic Darwinist philosopher Michael Ruse and immunologist Scott Todd. In any case, as Augustine pointed out, God created time itself, so ‘eternity past’ is a timeless state rather than time before the universe.
Commentary: So in this modern age, physics has become our Satanic tempter. Promising to rid us of God and answer all our questions, asking us, why prefer superstition over knowledge, why blind faith over inquiry. ‘Why but to awe, why but to keep you low and ignorant, his worshippers. He knows that in the day you eat thereof, your eyes which seemed so clear, and yet are dim, shall perfectly be open and cleared. And you shall be as gods.’ Satan, from Paradise Lost’. But have the very certainties of science robbed us of what we most desire, a purpose for our lives, a reason for being here.
It can’t answer a question they will not ask. And, from the outset, they refuse to consider the possibility that God exists. So, don’t expect the ABC to give a fair contrast. Rodney Stark, cited above, earlier wrote a fascinating article in, of all places, the atheist founded and operated Skeptical Inquirer.22 This article showed that Conservative (or ‘traditional’ or ‘fundamentalist’) Christians, the most likely to reject evolution, were also the most likely to reject ‘occult and pseudo-scientific notions’. Conversely, geographical surveys showed that in areas where such Darwin-rejecting churches are the weakest, there is the greatest flourishing of cults, occult activity and various forms of superstition (see Antidote to superstition. Nonsense thrives wherever the Bible is weakened).
Rocky Kolb (Cosmologist, Fermilab): In the past it was just believed that 6,000 years ago, last Tuesday, God created the universe, and that’s the end of it. But we never learned anything there, that’s a dead end.
It was no such thing. As I said, such a belief was the foundation for modern experimental science. And a recent example of the predictive success of this belief is Dr Russell Humphreys’ accurate prediction of the magnetic field strengths of various planets and moons—see Origin of the Earth’s magnetic field. Conversely, Kolb’s own antitheistic religion has provided not the slightest basis for the scientific method.
Rocky Kolb: Every culture has had a cosmology, and it used to be that cosmologists wore robes and were associated with religious things, and now it’s the scientists who are the cosmologists, and there is a different way of understanding nature based upon science, based upon experiment, rather than based upon some sort of revealed truth of scripture.
Here Kolb means only the atheistic scientists! And scientific methods alone are inadequate when it comes to origins. That’s the whole point—these claims about the past are NOT open to experiment, so it makes more sense to trust an eye-witness report. That’s how history is done!
Commentary: The Gospel according to physics left us on the fringes of creation.
Rocky Kolb: We, on the earth, do not occupy any special position in the universe.
This is not based on scientific observation but philosophical decree. Kolb apparently does not realise (or won’t admit it) that he is trumping (overriding) evidence with presuppositions here. The fact that regardless of direction, distant objects are receding from the earth is consistent with the earth’s being near the center of the universe. But this is rejected by Kolb and others for philosophical reasons, not scientific. I.e. big bang cosmology is derived from an assumption, called the cosmological principle—that the observer’s point of view of the universe depends neither on the direction in which he looks nor on his location. In fact, none other than Edwin Hubble (1889–1953), who discovered that distant objects had red shifts approximately proportional to distance from us, made a revealing admission in 1937:
‘Such a condition [these red shifts] would imply that we occupy a unique position in the universe, … But the unwelcome supposition of a favored location must be avoided at all costs … is intolerable … moreover, it represents a discrepancy with the theory because the theory postulates homogeneity.’23
Leading cosmologist George Francis Rayner Ellis honestly admitted the role of philosophical assumptions:
‘People need to be aware that there is a range of models that could explain the observations … For instance, I can construct you a spherically symmetrical universe with Earth at its center, and you cannot disprove it based on observations. … You can only exclude it on philosophical grounds. In my view there is absolutely nothing wrong in that. What I want to bring into the open is the fact that we are using philosophical criteria in choosing our models. A lot of cosmology tries to hide that.’24
Rocky Kolb: We are certainly not at the centre of the solar system, we’re not at the centre of our galaxy,
Why would we want to be? Would Kolb like to be swallowed up in the huge black hole that astronomers think is likely to be in the galactic center? In fact, we are in an ideal location called the co-rotation radius—see The sun: our special star.
Rocky Kolb: … and our galaxy is not at the centre of the universe.
This statement of belief by Kolb is contradicted by much observational data. Astronomer William Tifft found that redshifts (z) were not continuous but were clustered around discrete intervals or quantized. This is a puzzle if the earth is not in a unique position. A non-unique position can explain recession, as can a unique position. But a non-unique position would predict z in a continuous range, not in discrete intervals. But Tifft’s data make sense if our galaxy (not necessarily the earth itself) was at or very near the centre of the universe and surrounded by concentric spherical shells of stars. See Our galaxy is the centre of the universe, ‘quantized’ red shifts show.
Rocky Kolb: The universe exists on the basis of the laws of nature, and we are here riding along in the expansion of the universe, and we’re here for a few billion years until the sun burns out, and I don’t think there’s any meaning to that.
That would suit many people, including Aldous Huxley, who admitted that his antitheism was motivated by a desire for meaninglessness so he could do what he liked—see quote.
Commentary: But do we really have to accept this godless universe, or is science’s claim to victory over God premature?
More false triumphalism. Nothing in real science disproves the Bible. As amply shown, these people decree in advance that theism is not an option, then tell the public that atheism was a conclusion of their research when in reality it was a premise.
Commentary: The great breakthrough of the Big Bang theory of the 1970s had been to show that just as matter can collapse in on itself, until it disappears in to absolutely nothing, so by simply reversing the equations, matter could spring out of nothing. But the theory left unanswered the deeper question, of why there had been a Big Bang at all. All they really had was a theory without a cause.
And that is unscientific.
Paul Davies: It’s important to understand that the Big Bang theory was around for a long time, without any attempt to explain what caused the event itself. So, you know, in the 50s and ‘60s, when the evidence was piling up in favour of the Big Bang theory,
More accurately, evidence was piling up against the only secular rival, the steady state theory. But the big bang has many problems (see What are some of the problems with the ‘big bang’ theory?), while one of the key ‘evidence’, the cosmic microwave background, was known well before, so was not a true prediction. See also Cosmologists Can't Agree and Are Still in Doubt.
… it was considered that the originating event was off limits, that it was simply an event without a cause, so one can say nothing at all about what set the thing off in the first place.
Unless the cause is Personal and chooses to reveal Himself to us! And the method of creation He has revealed is incompatible with the big bang.
Commentary: So, for a while, it seemed the Creator God, like some endangered species, would survive in this last gap in our knowledge.
Despite the repetition, this god-of-the-gaps accusation remains far from the truth of the real history of science.
Paul Davies: So long as the originating event was outside the scope of science, it was always possible to argue that one had to have god to, as it were, light the blue touch paper. I always regarded that as the last refuge of the god of the gaps. If science can’t explain something, you wheel god in to offer an explanation.
That is deism, not Christian theism. But it reflects the views of compromising churchians such as John Polkinghorne, featured later in this series. He ignores what God has revealed in the Bible and basically restricts God’s creative role to lighting the fuse of the big bang.
Commentary: If science was finally going to close that last refuge of the god of the gaps, scientists needed to investigate what the universe was like when it began. To do that, they needed to find a way of looking much further back in time than they could with any telescope, right back to the very first instant of the universe’s existence.
Rocky Kolb: No matter how large of a telescope we build, we can’t look out in space, back in time, earlier than 300,000 years after the Bang, because for the first 300,000 year history of the universe, the universe was so hot and dense, we could not see through it. So we have to find another way of looking at the early universe, and the way we can do it is to re-create what we believe the conditions of the early universe to be, recreate them in the laboratory, and that’s what we do at Atom Smashers, at Particle Accelerators.
They certainly achieve high energy conditions, but it is only their belief that they are approaching conditions like the beginning of the cosmos.
Commentary: At particle accelerators, like Fermilab in America, scientists use immense machines to recreate the conditions of the Big Bang. Deep underground in the massive Tevatron Collider, thousands of supercooled magnets use vast amounts of electricity to accelerate plasma beams of matter and anti-matter to almost the speed of light.
Franco Bedeschi (Physicist): When we’re running the machine, the amount of our electricity bills run around $1 million per month.
Many taxpayers would resent their taxes being used by governments to support such ideologically motivated research.
Commentary: Once the beams have reached the highest energy levels the magnets can stand, they are collided in this vast particle detecting machine.
Catherine Newman Holmes (Project Manager, Fermilab): [name] is the collider detector at Fermilab, that’s what we call this monster detector here. Particles will collide in the centre of this detector, but actually it would be what is in there, you can see the places where the beam comes in.
Commentary: When collisions occur within the detector, it is not fragments of particles that are produced, it is pure energy.
Rocky Kolb: At Fermilab, we can create energies that were present in the universe four pico-seconds after the Bang, four millionth, millionth of a second after the Bang, when the temperature was a gazillion degrees. It’s … the numbers are so large, or so small that it’s sort of beyond our everyday experience.
Commentary: At such extreme temperatures, in line with the strange laws of quantum mechanics, the energy takes on the form of the primordial particles of the Big Bang. In effect, the scientists are forcing in to existence the very first things which existed in our universe.
All the actual experiment shows is that certain particles are produced at very high energies. They assume that these would have been produced at the big bang.
Commentary: If the scientists can recreate conditions like the Big Bang, in which matter appeared out of nothing, what need for a creator?
Scientists using huge energies to generate particles of huge energies does not prove that such particles could have come from nothing. And there are plenty of things a creator is needed for besides creation, such as sustaining. Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig pointed out the errors of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, notorious for a similar question to the one quoted.25
Commentary: In effect, this is an experiment for replacing the blue touchpaper God. What Fermilab does is examine our universe in the instants after the big bang, when the universe was entirely governed by quantum mechanics. But in pushing their understanding all the way back, scientists contributed to a major theoretical breakthrough. They realised the nothing, the very void from which our universe sprang, is itself governed by the same bizarre principles of quantum mechanics.
This is equivocation. Their ‘nothing’ from which they claim the universe sprang is hardly a true nothing, but lots of matter-antimatter potential. Also, quantum gravity is so poorly understood that it’s rash to draw so many grandiose conclusions from it.
Rocky Kolb: A picture of nothing is very different in the 20th Century than the picture of nothing before the advent of quantum mechanics. One of the basic tenets of quantum mechanics is a principle of uncertainty, namely the uncertainty principle by Werner Heisenberg. And because of the uncertainty principle, energy can be violated for a brief instant of time, so at any point in space, it’s possible for a particle and anti-particle to pop out of the vacuum, existing for a brief instant, violating in some sense conservation of energy for an instant, before they annihilate and go back in to the vacuum. So if you could see nature on microscopic scales, you would not see a quiescent space, but what you would see would be a quantum foam, a frothing of particles and anti- particles popping out of the vacuum, and then annihilating again. So before the Big Bang there was nothing. There was no space and not time, no universe. There was no before and no after. Then because of quantum uncertainty, an expanding bubble of vacuum came in to being. This expanding bubble of vacuum grew to enormous size, and that is the entire universe that we see.
Kolb contradicts himself here. As he said, the energy violation can happen only for a brief time. And the more energy involved, the briefer the time. So for something as large as the universe, the time of violation is infinitesimally small. Or vice versa, for a QM stable universe the energy must be zero, it obviously isn’t.
Commentary: What particle accelerators have helped confirm is that the Big Bang did not need a supernatural cause. The void from which our universe sprang is, in fact, made of energy, positive and negative, in perfect balance.
And how exactly did these particle accelerators show that? Where was the negative energy?
Commentary: And why the Big Bang should have violated this balance, is because nature—at the quantum level—can and does suffer the uncertainty of random events.
For a short time. And it’s questionable whether they are truly random and uncaused. The great strength of quantum mechanics (QM) is that it can make predictions and enable us to determine causes. I have plenty of theoretical and practical experience of QM from my doctoral thesis work. For example, Raman spectroscopy is a QM phenomenon, but from the wavenumber and intensity of the spectral bands, we can work out the masses of the atoms and force constants of the bonds causing the bands. To help the atheist position that the universe came into existence without a cause, one would need to find Raman bands appearing without being caused by transitions in vibrational quantum states, or alpha particles appearing without pre-existing nuclei, etc. If QM was as acausal as some people think, then we should not assume that these phenomena have a cause. Then I may as well burn my Ph.D. thesis, and all the spectroscopy journals should quit, as should any nuclear physics research.
Commentary: And more startling still, the scientists said nothing could precede that moment. So the Big Bang, the moment of creation, was just one random event in a timeless nothing.
Paul Davies: The Big Bang was not the explosion of a lump of something in a pre-existing void, it was the origin of space and time as well as matter and energy. When people say, well, what happened before the Big Bang, the answer was nothing, nothing simply because there was no time before the Big Bang. Time itself didn’t exist. Stephen Hawking said it’s a little bit like saying what lies north of the North Pole, again, the answer is nothing, not because there’s some mysterious land of nothing there, but because there ain’t no such place as north of the North Pole, while in the same way there ain’t no such time as before the Big Bang.
This is irrelevant to the issue of whether the big bang or biblical creation is true or false. There is no reason that a cause must be time-bound. Even the agnostic philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) recognized that some causes are simultaneous, such as a weight resting on a cushion simultaneously causing a depression in it. As God is the creator of time, His first creative act was the creation of time simultaneously with ‘the heavens and the earth’ (a Hebrew phrase meaning ‘universe’—see Morning has broken: but when?). Almost 20 years ago, philosopher Dr William Craig showed, in an article published in a secular journal on the philosophy of science,26 that Davies had a deficient grasp of philosophy. Since the above comments by Davies strongly indicates that this is still the case, this suggests that Davies perhaps does not even want to understand correctly those aspects of philosophy that expose the irrationality of his belief in the big bang.
Rocky Kolb: The Big Bang was the emergence of time itself, and when you asked the question what came before, or what came after, you have in the back of your mind some picture of time is smoothly flowing, is smoothly flowing. But if the Big Bang was really the emergence of the universe, a very beginning of the universe, it’s also the very beginning of time itself, the very beginning of time itself … time itself … time itself …
The beginning of the universe would certainly be the beginning of time, but it wasn’t the big bang.
Commentary: As strange encounter intuitive as quantum mechanics is, scientists have subsequently been able to check everything that they predicted with practical observations.
Nothing was needed to set the universe going. No blue touchpaper, no creator God. Is this good news or bad?
Paul Davies: I’m really quite delighted that the originating event of the universe, the Big Bang itself, can now be discussed entirely within the scope of physics, that we don’t need to appeal to anything peculiar about setting the thing off.
Davies’ delight is irrelevant to real science, but reinforces the fact that ideology is paramount in cosmology.
Paul Davies: This is a positive step here, because step number one is let’s get rid of the ultimate god of the gaps, the god who presses the button and makes the Big Bang go bang. We don’t want that sort of god, we don’t want a god who makes the universe as a supernatural act, a time to equal zero.
Who is this ‘we’ Davies claims to speak for?! It’s true that many evolutionists share Davies’ desire that there be no Creator God. Davies is revealing here that the foundational bias underlying his belief in the big bang is his antipathy towards God.
Commentary: So that’s a great step forward. Then the question is, is there any room for god at all?
Traffic Police: If science is trying to prove that there don’t exist a god, that all of a sudden everything that we see and do came about by a big bang theory, so to speak, but how did they get those laws, the laws and the gravity and all that kind of thing, where did those laws come from? I mean, they based their laws on what somebody else gave. So who gave them the law?
Commentary: That was the point. Quantum mechanics might replace the God who rested on the seventh day, but how could a random fluctuation of energy deliver a universe with everything just right to produce human consciousness?
Traffic Police: Who put it together? Can they explain that? I doubt it.
Interviewer: Thank you.
Traffic Police: Take it easy. Have a good day.
Roger Penrose: Well, that’s a good point, in a sense. Yeah. I mean where science has pushed these problems is not so much in the creation, but in the actual nature of the equations, the nature of the laws that we have, the quantum mechanics that we have and so on. It’s all very intricately constructed, and extraordinary. When you look at these things, you come across them, when you finally learn, you know, what it is that makes things behave in one way or another, we find these amazing mathematical laws which govern them. We’d never have thought of them otherwise, they’re just fantastic. Now, that’s where we are now, we don’t know why the laws are of the form they are. Maybe we’ll come to a better understanding later on. So, if you like, the God problem, has got pushed from one place to a deeper place.
That’s debatable. Rather, it is better evidence that the creation shows even more ingenious design than we thought. Biblical Christians should not be surprised that a God of order (1 Corinthians 14:33) sustains His creation via amazing mathematical laws.
Commentary: By the end of the 20th Century, scientists had an almost complete understanding of the fundamental particles and forces, which describe nearly perfectly how a creatorless universe works.
Once more, we have here a jump from real science to ideology. This program has many such jumps.
Commentary: Only then, as they stood back from their victory, did they realise they were facing a far deeper question. Why these forces, why this maths? The intricate laws of physics were built around certain principles the scientists had observed in nature, but couldn’t explain.
The focus now shifted to these parameters. Were they there by chance or by design?
Frank Tipler (Cosmologist, Tulane University): Our set of physical laws have these arbitrary parameters in them. For example, the standard model of particle physics has seventeen, which are just put in by hand, which are determined by experiment. They’re not determined in the standard model by fundamental physics. That could be anything.
Commentary: For many scientists, what they were was all that mattered. What else they might have been was irrelevant.
Paul Davies: I think it was considered, you know, not quite real science because, after all, it is in a very real sense metaphysics, not physics, because we’re looking here not at the consequences of the physical laws, but a sort of meta-universe of different possible laws. In the early days, there was a feeling that this whole subject area was just a little bit dubious.
It should have humbled atheistic physicists into realizing that we need something beyond our universe to explain it, just as Gödel showed that some true mathematical statements could be proven true only outside the system.
Commentary: But a few realised these were precisely the questions physics had to answer. One of the most prominent was Frank Tipler. For Tipler, saying something was fundamental was not enough. He insisted there had to be a deeper theory of how the fundamental or constant parameters of the universe came to be so finely tuned.
Frank Tipler: If you vary such things, like the proton mass, by a factor of two, then all sorts of weird things happen in the structure of stars. We can’t have these long burning stars, like our own sun, if these structure constants are changed very, very much.
Frank Tipler: So, the question that arises, why do the constants have the values they actually do.
Commentary: This deceptively simple question rocked physics. It meant that scientists had to explain why the universe was the particular way it was.
Paul Davies: Now you’re in to much more fertile territory, because you can ask is there anything special or particular about the actual laws of the universe as opposed to other possible laws, other possible universes. And, lo and behold, well, there is rather a long list of rather special things. For example, if gravity was just a little bit stronger, or electro-magnetism a little bit weaker, or if the mass of the electron were just a tiny bit more, or the mass of the proton a little bit less, well, almost certainly the universe we see would be dramatically transformed. There probably wouldn’t be complex structures, there probably wouldn’t be life and observers and people like us sitting around pondering on the significance of it all.
So only in such a universe in which the values are very finely tuned, can intelligent life arise.
No, it is only in such a finely-tuned universe that life can exist. There is no phenomenon within this universe and its laws that can cause life to arise from non-living matter.
Commentary: So the scientists had to explain the fine tuning of an apparently designed universe, without invoking a designer. They realised there were only two other possible explanations.
Frank Tipler: First of all, the over-riding law of physics which we have not yet discovered, which will be called the theory of everything, would say that there is only one logically possible universe, that when you understand this theory of everything, you will see that these apparently arbitrary physical fundamental constants are not fundamental at all, that they have specific values coming from the logical structure of the theory, and there is no other possible physical theory.
Commentary: The theory of everything, if ever it were found, would not need arbitrary assumptions and constants to make it work. Everything would turn out to flow logically from explicable mathematical principles. But in the last few years physicists have discovered the cosmological constant. A number at the heart of the universe that is so strange, even the most hard core theorists feel it will never be explained. And without an explanation, they will never have the theory of everything.
And as I said, Hawking, unlike this program, has finally caught up with Gödel’s famous proof mentioned earlier, that there were some true statements that could not be proven to be true.
Neil Turok (Theoretical Physicist University of Cambridge): When you’re faced with a cosmological constant, which is ridiculously tiny, it will be a powerful argument against theoretical physics ever explaining this number, because it’s hard—simply because it’s hard to imagine ten to the power of 100 – minus 120 ever emerging as a—some number of powers of pi and factors of two and those sort of things that will come out of mathematical formulae. So from a sort of pure physicist’s point of view, when you look at this you just say sort of, ug, this is really ugly. Okay. We’ve got a long way to go. And that is one possible attitude, is that we are nowhere near actually explaining everything in the universe. There are weird coincidences we don’t understand. Now, it could be the observations are wrong, okay, and we will go back to the golden days of physics where we won’t have to explain this terrible fine tuning.
Many would say that ‘the golden days of physics’ was the age from Newton to Faraday and Maxwell, who founded so much of physics, and had no bigotry against a creator as Turok does.
Neil Turok: However, it could be they’re right, and we have to explain the tuning.
Commentary: Instead of a theory of everything, physicists then came up with a new idea to explain away the astronomical odds against this universe being just right. It wasn’t the only universe, there were trillions of them.
If this speculative idea were right then there would no longer be a universe at all but a multiverse. The word ‘universe’ carries the idea of a single set of physical laws and constants operating throughout the whole.
Frank Tipler: The next explanation is that there are many universes out there in which the constants have all sorts of values, but we only see that tiny fraction of reality in which the constants have just the right values to allow beings like ourselves to evolve.
Rocky Kolb: The laws of physics, the laws of nature are one way in the universe we observe, but in some other region, in another universe, the laws of nature may be completely different. So if we would step back and look on scales much larger than we can see in our universe today, we may see many isolated bubbles that are an enormous size, and would be universes in their own right. So it would be a multi-verse.
Commentary: In this multi-verse, there would be every possible universe. So the fact that one of them turns out to be just right to support life, isn’t so remarkable. This is a theory physics currently puts up as its explanation of the designer-free universe.
John Polkinghorne (Physicist and Theologian University of Cambridge): Well, you could say that there are perhaps just lots and lots of universes and there’s just one that by chance will produce carbon based life and, of course, that’s the one that we live in because we couldn’t appear in any other. That’s a very prodigal assumption that there are lots and lots of other universes and there would have to be trillions of them to make the argument plausible. And it doesn’t seem to me to do any other piece of work than simply explaining away the fine tuning of this particular universe.
Polkinghorne is certainly right. These alleged other universes are totally ad hoc. Further, they are not even scientific, since they are not observable even in principle. The only ‘evidence’ for them is better explained by a Creator of one universe. It’s ironic that many materialists exclude God as an explanation for the complexity of the universe because He cannot be directly observed by science; but they are happy to postulate the existence of other universes which are also unobservable, even in principle.
This demonstrates that the exclusion of a designer has nothing to do with any criteria for what counts as ‘science’, but is really the result of materialistic presuppositions. So on the grounds of ‘science’, there is really little procedural difference between postulating unseeable multiverses, and inferring an unseen Creator God. But a multiverse explanation has no hope of improving the amount of knowledge about them, while when it comes to God, we have another means to obtain knowledge apart from scientific observation—revelation.
Commentary: So it’s either a prodigal number of universes or the last and, perhaps, most intuitive solution—God.
On a pragmatic level, the Design explanation makes more sense in another way. Consider if we found a pattern of markings on a beach which spelt your name. Naturally you would conclude that an intelligence had written it. This is more plausible than thinking that wind and wave erosion eroded that pattern by chance, even though there is a definite but extremely tiny probability of this happening.
But under Kolb’s multiverse ‘reasoning’, there are an infinite number of parallel universes containing every possible quantum state, ‘In infinite space, even the most unlikely events must take place somewhere.’27 So if a person had an a priori bias that no one could have written your name, he could argue that we just happen to be in one of the tiny fraction of universes where this improbable erosion pattern arose naturally. If this sounds totally unreasonable, then by the same logic, so is Kolb’s preference for an infinite number of universes over a Creator.
Frank Tipler: A third explanation is that there is only one universe, and these particular constants were fixed by god for a purpose.
Commentary: John Polkinghorne was, for 25 years, Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge, before he was ordained as a minister of the church.
John Polkinghorne: I didn’t leave science because I was disillusioned with it, but, simply, because theology I find even more interesting than physics, because, essentially, it’s asking yet deeper and more comprehensive questions than science itself addresses. It’s asking the questions of meaning and purpose, is there something going on in the history of the universe. Well, science is really describing the process that’s going on.
Exactly! He is so astute in challenging the pseudo-science of multiverses, so it’s a shame he is so slack when it comes to challenging the pseudo-sciences of geological uniformitarianism and biological evolution (he is an outspoken opponent of biblical creation, favoring theistic evolution). And note that neither of these is in his field of expertise, so he is blindly relying on what others tell him.
John Polkinghorne: The fundamental question on which science, I think, gets stuck, and which theology has an answer, is to say where do the laws of nature come from, where do the quantum vacuum come from, where are the laws of quantum mechanics to control it come from, where are the fields that are fluctuating in the vacuum, where did they come from. I think that belief in the world as a creation is a much more economic explanatory argument than simply supposing there are lots and lots of different universes.
As shown by my analogy of how unreasonable it would be to invoke multiverses to explain design in a name written on sand. The same would apply to explaining an archaeological artefact by multiverses, even if we have no trace remaining of a designer, or for that matter for explaining away the massive improbability of life forming by chance.
Commentary: The fine tuned laws of our universe are telling us that one way or another, reality is far larger than just our universe. Whether this ultimate reality is god or a vast multi-verse of universes, we cannot objectively know, unless, of course, we are willing to bring other kinds of evidence to bear.
John Polkinghorne: The question would be then are the laws of nature in themselves sufficiently self-contained, sufficiently easy to accept as brute fact, or do they have features in them which point beyond themselves. It seems to me that their rational beauty and their finely tuned fruitfulness are features that do suggest there is more to learn than simply saying, that’s the way it happens to be. And it seems to me natural to believe that the rational order and beauty is an expression of a divine mind, and the finely tuned fruitfulness is an expression of a divine purpose.
That’s right. But again, the ‘laws of nature’ have no intrinsic reality—they are our descriptions of observed reality. They no more cause reality than the outline of the map causes the shape of the coastline.
Neil Turok: To me that’s not an explanation, that’s just a cop out.
Rather, Turok’s counter is the ‘cop out’, to preserve his atheistic faith as the default option.
Neil Turok: I would say the whole goal of theoretical physics has been to see how much we can understand without invoking someone twiddling the dials.
Yes, some define science exactly that way, as a game by which we try to see how far we can explain things without including God. It is a bad definition, because it unreasonably excludes what may be the correct explanation. This is explained in the article The Rules of the Game: As the ‘rules’ of science are now defined, creation is forbidden as a conclusion—even if true.
Sticking purely to material explanations is fine for operational science, but not necessarily appropriate for origins science. As an analogous example, postulating an intelligent origin for a computer does not preclude using physical testing to find out everything we can about the operation of the semiconductors that comprise the computer.
Neil Turok: To the extent it’s succeeded, and it has succeeded dramatically, all the technology around us is a result of physics at some level, and physical understanding.
Again, this is operational science, largely founded by creationists! Like many evolutionists, Turok hijacks the achievements of real science to give credence to atheistic speculations about the past.
Neil Turok: To the extent it’s succeeded, it’s been a justification of the attitude that we can make progress without thinking about someone twiddling the dials.
Paul Davies: If you ask an atheist why are those laws, and where do the laws come from, I suppose the answer you’ll be given is, well, there is no particular reason for them, they exist reasonlessly. That’s the doctrine of cosmic absurdity. It’s a bit of an inconsistency there, because the whole idea of science is that we’re supposed to give logical and rational explanations for things, and if you trace that down to the starting point, the laws, and say, well, there’s no explanation for those, we just have to sort of accept them as given, as a brute fact, then that means doing a sort of backflip at the final stage. It says that we live in a universe which is rational and logical in every respect, but underpinning it is absurdity. So I find that rather sort of uncongenial. It seems to me that it ought to be rational right the way down.
All true. But Davies himself doesn’t follow the logic to its conclusion because of his anti-Christian bias. He is just the same with the origin of life—recognizing that the origin of information is a huge problem, but invoking a fantasy of quantum computing to ‘solve’ the problem. See Quantum leap of faith and Quantum Bluff.
Commentary: So despite agreeing that our universe is special, and that its special quality needs explaining, science and religion still stand apart. Neither can produce the ultimate proof. Yet each sees the other’s explanation as more irrational than their own.
Paul Davies: What are we trying to get out of ultimate explanations? We’re trying to explain the world in terms of something that we can all agree on. Ultimately, we can say that is a starting point we accept as given. Now, there’s a famous parable, the ‘Tower of Turtles’, which I think goes back to Bertrand Russell, and Stephen Hawking recounts it in his famous book, and just to tell the story, it’s that the lecturer is talking about the nature of the universe, and a woman stands up at the back and interrupts, and this sort of thing’s happened to me, I might say, and she says, you might be very clever, but I know how the world is put together, and the lecturer says, well, do tell us, and she says, well, the earth is standing on the back of an elephant, standing on the back of a turtle, and the lecturer replies, well, what’s the turtle standing on, and the woman says, oh, you can’t trick me, it’s turtles all the way down. Well, I think that actually is a wonderful story. That explains really rather well the dilemma that we’re up against because, you see, if we’re trying to explain the world based upon something else, something supporting it, and then something supporting that and so on, what do we do? We either have an infinite regress, which isn’t very satisfactory,
No it’s not. While an infinite set is possible mathematically, an infinite set of concrete things, as opposed to abstractions such as numbers, makes no sense (except the actual things an omniscient Being knows). Also, while it is possible to break up any time interval into an infinite number of infinitesimally small time units (as in the famous Zeno Paradox), an infinity of concrete time units would be impossible. The church theologian Bonaventure (1221–1274) was the first to use this reasoning to show that the universe had a beginning, and therefore a cause.28 See also Does God exist? from the The Creation Answers Book.
… or we have a sort of levitating super turtle that is something that you just have to accept as given. Its explanation lies within itself, maybe that’s a necessary god, maybe it’s a set of laws that we simply accept as a brute fact. But it’s always sort of unsatisfactory to have this levitating super turtle.
John Polkinghorne: Now, of course, theology doesn’t tell us where god came from, but everybody has to have a non-explained starting point. And my point of contention would be that a divine agent is a more fitting starting—unexplained starting point for a world that contains persons and values, as well as beautiful science, than simply the brute fact of matter itself.
Commentary: So some scientists, like John Polkinghorne, accept that god is an unexplained starting point, but are quite happy with this.
Probably because he realizes that all belief systems start with axioms, or propositions held to be true without proof, and from which other propositions are deduced. These axioms form a framework by which facts are interpreted. As we often emphasise, creationists and evolutionists have the same facts; the difference is how they are interpreted, and the difference is due to the different axioms.
Commentary: Other scientists, like Neil Turok, reject God, but realise their own solution of an infinite number of universes solves the improbability of our universe being just so, but isn’t really an explanation at all.
Neil Turok: We’re, in a way, forced to contemplate these parallel universes of possibility when we think about quantum mechanics.
Interviewer: Why isn’t that a solution then?
Neil Turok: It’s not at all a solution. It’s why … why do all these possibilities exist, you know. That’s an even deeper mystery. Why did somebody set in place all these different possibilities. It’s a much bigger problem than you had in the first place. It doesn’t solve anything, it just makes it harder.
So Turok recognizes the unsatisfactory nature of the multiverse idea, but still refuses to consider God.
Commentary: Proposing an infinite number of universes had a startling consequence. It meant inescapably that our physics was just one chance set of laws in one chance universe. The only reason scientists were studying it, was that it had, by chance, created them. So instead of allowing god to have defined our universe, what those scientists are saying is that the universe is defined by our presence in it, and the implications of this are profound.
Neil Turok: We hoped we would explain everything about the universe, that was the dream. As soon as we start saying that the universe depends on us being there, we have retreated. Okay. And maybe we have to. Maybe that is the way the world works. And unfortunately, we will never have a theory that explains everything, we’ll only explain the universe as containing us.
It just goes to show that we all have to start from somewhere. But starting with God’s revelation gives us a basis for science itself. Starting from ‘the universe’ gives us no basis for science since there is no way within the universe to show that it is orderly.
Commentary: So, in the end, for physics, when asked why this universe is the way it is, the answer, the unexplained first principle of this universe, the name of physics’s levitating super turtle is us, me.
The ultimate folly of these anti-God commentators—they don’t desire merely to eliminate God, but replace Him with themselves. But they are just the latest in a long line following Eve’s seduction by the serpent’s lie: ‘you will be like God’ (Genesis 3:5).
Neil Turok: We hoped we would explain everything.. We hoped we would explain everything about the universe. That was the dream. That was the dream.. We have retreated, and maybe we have to. We have retreated. We hoped we would explain everything. That was the dream, that was the dream, that was the dream. If you like, you give up the chance of explaining the fact that we exist by just assuming it.
Commentary: So the temptation of science has not succeeded. We are not yet as gods with the complete knowledge of why we exist. Physics did kill the old creator by revealing how the universe began without him. But in attempting to explain away the amazing coincidence of its fine tune design, the old physics killed itself too. And in doing so, it opened the door to a new and more subtle understanding of physics and of god.
John Polkinghorne: Give a scientific story in terms of our unfolding of certain consequences of the laws of nature doesn’t mean god didn’t do it. It isn’t either god or nature, it is a god who works through nature, the nature that god creates and holds in being.
As a creationist would say! And we would reject Polkinghorne’s idea that God worked through evolution (explicitly argued elsewhere), because that would mean using ‘the last enemy’ as an integral part of the ‘very good’ creation (1 Corinthians 15:26, Genesis 1:31).
Commentary: So whether by divine creation, or simply by chance, the result is the same, our unlikely and extraordinary universe, poised between order and chaos between the land and the sea, is the narrow strip of restless potential that defines us and our world. A world poised for life, for us.
Roger Penrose: People say, okay, you know, it’s a great advance in understanding to say that we’re not the centre of the universe, and there’s all that universe out there, but it’s not just distance which is important, it’s not just mass that’s important. The important thing is consciousness, this quality which seems to have evolved on this planet.
Commentary: Science itself has put us back where religion always said we were, at the centre of the universe. The miracle of creation is not that the universe exists, but that we are in it to witness it. Science and religion agree on one thing, we are the true measure of this universe.
That would depend on the religion. Certainly the religion of humanism follows the Sophist Protagoras (c. 480–411 BC), ‘Man is the measure of all things.’ But the Christian religion says that while man has dominion over the creation, it is the Creator who gives meaning.
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References and notes
- Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2003, 488 pp; review by Alex Williams, Journal of Creation 18(2):49–52, 2004. Return to text.
- Some may consider faith in uniformity reasonable in light of repeated everyday experience, but philosophically this is an unsound basis. Leading 20th-century logician Bertrand Russell referred to a turkey facing Thanksgiving who could argue that since every day so far had passed without getting its head chopped off, it was safe in presuming that this would never happen. Return to text.
- The Christian philosopher Keith Ward, although a theistic evolutionist, wrote a good refutation of Cupitt’s many errors, Holding Fast to God: A Reply to Don Cupitt, Abingdon Press, 1989. Return to text.
- More Big Questions: In Conversation with Paul Davies and Phillip Adams, www.abc.net.au/science/morebigquestions/stories/s540211.htm, 2002. Return to text.
- Lamont, A., ‘Sir Isaac Newton: A Scientific Genius’, Creation 12(3)48–51, 1990. Return to text.
- See my reply to ‘Newton was a creationist only because there was no alternative.’ Return to text.
- It is common to accuse him of Arianism, i.e. denying Christ’s deity. But it’s more likely he believed something close to the Eastern Orthodox view of the Trinity. See also Pfizenmaier, T.C., Was Isaac Newton an Arian? Journal of the History of Ideas 68(1):57–80, 1997;
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- Newton, I., The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended, published posthumously 1728. Cited in Ref 9, p. 23. Return to text.
- Renfrew, C., Before Civilization, Penguin Books, pp. 22–23, 1976. Return to text.
- Lamont, A., ‘James Clerk Maxwell’, Creation 15(3):45-47, 1993. Return to text.
- Spong, J.S., Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers In Exile, p. 39, HarperSanFrancisco, May 1, 1999. Return to text.
- Heilbron, J.L., The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1999. Return to text.
- New Scientist 164(2214):98, 27 November 1999. Return to text.
- van Helden, A., Cathedrals as astronomical instruments, Science 286(5448):2279–80, 17 December 1999. Return to text.
- Koestler, A., The Sleepwalkers: a history of man's changing vision of the universe, Hutchinson, London, p. 427, 1959. Return to text.
- The Guardian, 23 February 2004, p. 5. Return to text.
- Dunham, T., Jr. and Adams, W.S., Publ. Am. Astron. Soc. 9:5, 1937; cited in Wilson, R.W., The Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, Nobel Lecture, 8 December 1978;
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- From the equation E = hν = hc/λ, where E is energy, h is Planck’s Constant, n = frequency, c = speed of light, ν = frequency and λ = wavelength. Return to text.
- From the Boltzmann distribution, where for a Kelvin temperature T, the ratio of the populations of two states with an energy difference DE is given by N2/N1 = exp(-DE/kT), where k is Boltzmann’s constant. Return to text.
- McKellar, A., Proc. Ast. Soc. Pac. 52:187, 1940; Publ. Dominion Astrophysical Observatory Victoria B.C. 7(15):251, 1941; cited in Wilson, R.W., The Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, Nobel Lecture, 8 December 1978;
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- A baryon (from Greek βαρύς barys/barus = heavy) is a particle comprising three quarks and which participates in the strong nuclear force. Protons and neutrons are the lightest baryons. Return to text.
- Bainbridge and Stark, ‘Superstitions: Old and New’, The Skeptical Inquirer, pp. 18–31, Summer 1980. Return to text.
- Hubble, E.P., The Observational Approach to Cosmology, pp. 50–59, Clarendon, Oxford, 1937. Return to text.
- Gibbs, W. Wayt, 1995. Profile: George F.R. Ellis; Thinking Globally, Acting Universally. Scientific American 273(4):28, 29. Return to text.
- Craig, W.L., ‘What place, then, for a creator?’: Hawking on God and Creation, British Journal of the Philosophy of Science 41 473–91, 1990. Return to text.
- Craig, W.L., God, Creation and Mr Davies. British Journal of the Philosophy of Science 37:163–175, 1986. Return to text.
- Tegmark, M., Parallel universes: Not just a staple of science fiction, other universes are a direct implication of cosmological observations, Scientific American 288(5):30–41, May 2003. Once again, the ‘direct implication of cosmological observations’ is the fine-tuning that’s better explained by Creation. Return to text.
- Copleston , F.C., A History of Medieval Philosophy, Ch. 11, Image Books, 1993. Return to text.