IMG_0569
Blog powered by Typepad

« Paper trades | Main | Quantum tuna »

Comments

"Theoretical physicist Paul Davies tells us that, if the ratio of the nuclear strong force to the electromagnetic force had been different by one part in 10 16, no stars could have been formed."

Michael, I have to say that these fine-tuning arguments have never made the slightest bit of sense to me.

As I understand it, all that's being said is that biological life *as we know it* can only exist in a universe that's similar to the one we know.

Now if I were a materialist I would say: but of course! Biology has evolved within this universe, so naturally the universe fits it like a glove. And if the universe didn't contain stars, carbon, a certain temperature range, or any of the other items that we think of as essential for life, a different form of biology would have evolved, and then we'd all be amazed at how the universe was fine-tuned for *that* kind of life.

So where's the miracle?

Now I suppose someone might say to me: well Bruce, you're assuming that a carbon-free form of life *could* have evolved. That's a big assumption. And I would answer that it's no stranger than the opposite viewpoint, the one that insists that life does require carbon.

We really have no way of knowing either way. And 50/50 doesn't seem to me like a strong basis for claiming that intelligent design is real.

Now as you know, I'm not a materialist, and I am indeed confident that the universe is indeed rooted in intelligence. But the fine-tuning argument? I don't get it.

Am I missing something here?

(By the way, as the non-materialist that I am, I *know* that carbon is not required for life. Since life exists in spiritual as well as physical forms, it's clear to me that our kind of biology is only one way that life manifests. There are likely an endless variety of life-forms across all dimensions of reality, and stars and carbon may be required for relatively few.)

I sent the link to your essay to our preacher, shared it on my retire early motely fool board, and now I think I'm going to put it on my Facebook page. What a great synopsis of cosmic coincidences. Really excellent, thank you.

"As I understand it, all that's being said is that biological life *as we know it* can only exist in a universe that's similar to the one we know."

No, the claim is much stronger than that. For instance, take another look at this passage:

"It is argued that an alteration in the ratio of the expansion and contraction forces by as little as one part in 10 [to the power of 55] at the Planck time (just 10 [to the power of -43] seconds after the origin of the universe), would have led either to too rapid an expansion of the universe with no galaxies forming or to too slow an expansion with consequent rapid collapse."

So we're not just talking about life as we know it, but about whether there could be any sort of stable, complex cosmos at all.

But even the carbon argument is pretty strong, because carbon has unique properties that make it ideally suited for life. The only other element that comes close is silicon, but it's a distant second. See this discussion:

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/lab-rat/2012/11/11/shine-on-you-crazy-diamond-why-humans-are-carbon-based-lifeforms/

" .. if the universe didn't contain stars ..." If there were no stars, there would be no elements other than hydrogen and helium, since the rest of the periodic table is manufactured in the thermonuclear furnaces of stars. Could life exist in a universe consisting only of those elements? I suppose one might speculate about anything, but there's no known or presently imaginable basis for thinking so, and we don't find hydrogen and helium forming life on earth, even though both elements are abundant here.

"What a great synopsis of cosmic coincidences. Really excellent, thank you."

Glad you liked it, Art. Of course, it's John Lennox's work, not mine. You might enjoy his book.

Your blog is much quicker and easier to read! {grin!} It's interesting because there is an article in the Wall Street Journal about this same subject; exactly the same day your blog came out. If you go to Google and paste in the name of the article and then click on the link it will let you read it for free. I don't know why it works that way but it does.

Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God

http://www.wsj.com/articles/eric-metaxas-science-increasingly-makes-the-case-for-god-1419544568

I thought it brilliant too. But, like all truths, only heard by those who want to hear it.

Bruce Siegel: ||(By the way, as the non-materialist that I am, I *know* that carbon is not required for life. Since life exists in spiritual as well as physical forms, it's clear to me that our kind of biology is only one way that life manifests. There are likely an endless variety of life-forms across all dimensions of reality, and stars and carbon may be required for relatively few.)||

We don't know much about non-physical states of reality, but as far as physical matter and energy-based reality, fine tuning for life is unimaginably precise, as pointed out in Michael's excellent essay.

From exobiologist Francois Forget, at http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1212/1212.0113.pdf :

"It is difficult to imagine any alternative chemistry approaching the combination of diversity, versatility and rapidity afforded by liquid water (and carbon) -based biochemistry. This results from the unique ability of carbon to form complex species, and the unique characteristics of water as a liquid solvent (a large dipole moment, the capability to form hydrogen bonds, to stabilize macromolecules, to orient hydrophobic-hydrophilic molecules, etc.)."

From Daniel Bakken, at http://www.evolutionnews.org/2014/11/one_thing_comet091091.html :

"Silicon is chemically similar to carbon, another abundant element in the universe, and by far the best option besides carbon to build complex molecules life requires. It fails, however, when compared to carbon. Silicon forms very strong bonds with oxygen, as exemplified in granite, for example. Carbon's bonds to oxygen are gentler, making it much more bio-friendly. Silicon molecules don't hold together well enough to form long molecules analogous to proteins. For these and other reasons, most serious origin-of-life researchers do not feel silicon could work. Besides, carbon is common in the galaxy, more so than silicon, its closest competitor."

The idea of God which selects a real universe of all possible for the existence of life assumes that the other possible universes are not real, but the multiverse hypothesis states that these possible universes are real, so that by chance there are a undetermined number of universes whose values for the universal constants are suitable for living beings as we know it.

Thus the multiverse hypothesis eliminates the need for an intelligent designer. The problem with this hypothesis is that it does not explain why there is a multiverse in the first place or why there is a random generation of universal constants values for all universes.

Why the fine tuning that seems to certainly exist? Four main possibilities with different pros and cons and degrees of plausibility occur to me. Of course there must be many more.

1. It is an anthropic phenomenon. Existence is a Multiverse of an infinity of separate isolated subuniverses all with varying properties, with no beginning and no ending in time. In order for us to exist we happen to inhabit one having just the right characteristics. Of course this just kicks the origin problem down the road, since the multiverse still incorporates information including formative principles of a high order (in fact infinite information) that still seems logically to need some sort of creative source. The old problem of why there is something not absolutely nothing.

2. The physical universe is a virtual reality simulation being conducted by higher beings in a higher reality. This would make multiverse concepts pointless since there would be no way we could know real "physical reality". The only things we really could know or be sure of would be the laws of logic and mathematics and that we somehow exist as sentient entities. "Fine tuning" would simply be the choice of parameters of the programmers. Of course with this option there would be no end to it -
the higher reality could be a yet higher level simulation created by yet higher level beings, on ad infinitum. 

3. A, uncreated Creator had us in mind.

4. Another version of 3. "Mind" is the uncreated Creator of all things. Physical reality is therefore a virtual creation of higher Consciousness, there is no external reality, and the physical world with all its improbable fine tuned coincidences is just one of a multitude of different modes of expression. Consequently, Mind has intentionality (desire to express itself) and very great or infinite intelligence (in order to design the universe with us in it).

Of course, since even a whiff of teleology is taboo everything but various versions of option 1 are vehemently scoffed at by atheist materialists.

" ... fine tuning for life is unimaginably precise, as pointed out in Michael's excellent essay."

Again, I just want to make clear that the essay consists almost entirely of John C. Lennox's words. All I did was quote him.

Bruce wrote, "Since life exists in spiritual as well as physical forms, it's clear to me that our kind of biology is only one way that life manifests."

Okay, but the fine-tuning argument specifically concerns the physical universe and biological life. "Our kind of biology" (carbon-based life) may very well be the only kind of biology that can work, because of carbon's unique properties. Of course, this says nothing about forms of life that might exist in nonphysical (or non-spacetime) dimensions. But as doubter says, we don't know much about nonphysical states.

In terms of teleology I posit that we are not passive participants in our own reality per Phillip K. Dick's view of our world. That makes the mystery of existence wonderful and frightening at the same time. We are not just observers but creators (as game players and collapsers of the wave function) of our own reality. We are 5-D entities on a 6-D Brane in the Bulk.

Michael, an excellent summation of Lennox's major argument.

I'm always inclined to move one step further down the "origin" ladder" and ask the mechanist/naturalist anti-supernaturalist to simply explain the origin of the prima materia.

I've yet to see any compelling arguments or even logically consistent concepts that counter ex nihilo, nihil fit.

Without an eternal, self-existent (that is, uncreated, possessing the attribute of aseity) Source.

Outstanding.

Does this mathematical argument for the existence of a creator stop here in the same way that theological arguments for a creator always stop?

A creator of the universe must surely be many orders of magnitude more complex than its creation, which means its own existence must be perhaps infinitely more unlikely than the creation of the universe itself by chance alone.

If Lennox’s argument is true, then was the creator also created? Will he accept his own argument? If the universe’s parameters could not have happened by chance, then what of its supposed creator?

By the same logic employed by Lennox, the alleged (even more highly complex) creator must also have been created. And that creator must have been created. Each creator posited must be ever more complex, and therefore by the original argument, if this universe must have a creator then there must be an infinite number of creators, each more unlikely than the previous one.

If, as I suspect, it is the Christian God being proposed (and it must be, since Lennox is a Christian apologist), who does God worship as His creator? And then that creator? Etc.

The usual apologetic is that God is “eternal” whatever that means; He also exists “outside of time and space” according to the believers (and what does that even mean?). Has Lennox provided a mathematical or logical proof that this is the case? So far he seems to be saying, “The universe as it is, is complicated; therefore, God.”

I can, however, see why believers who have no knowledge of probability theory will fall for it. The question of who created the creator is not new, nor is the fact that neither Lennox nor any other believer will even allow the question to be asked. Well, maybe it can be asked, but no one will supply a satisfactory answer. Despite the fancy mathematics, belief in a supernatural creator is a matter of faith, not mathematics, logic or anything else grounded in reality.

Then again, I’m an atheist and a sceptic – I can change my mind and my beliefs if compelling and, especially, testable evidence can be presented to me.

Where is it? Any takers?

As far as I know, there is not and has never been a way of understanding the zero entropy at the beginning of everything, but the prior mystery is why there should be anything at all. Yet there is an even greater mystery.

Christians believe that God Himself enters the world which He has created, as a creature not creator, and He does so out of compassion.

As a Christian, this entering because of compassion is the dogma I find most difficult to comprehend, and the true object of faith. I can accept creation as God's artifact, but His compassion for us is the ultimate mystery.

Although from Lennox's book, this information has been known for some time. I find it interesting though, the critical measures.

I see your point though Bruce re- "Our kind of biology" (carbon-based life) may very well be the only kind of biology that can work, because of carbon's unique properties".

Life itself at a microscopic level has a breath -taking dynamic. Another good book I am reading-

What a Wonderful World, Life, the Universe, and Everything in a Nutshell- by Marcus Chown.

Looks at single cell formations to multi cells and how humans may have formed, respiration, the brain, evolution (how we work). Electricity, computers (putting matter to work). Atoms, general relativity, quantum theory, quantum physics (deep workings) to cosmology etc .

A very good book for understanding life at a physical or quantum level.

e.g. humans may have formed from a bag of gloop found in fossils, 3.8 billion years old ( known as Prokaryotes) - or micro-universes. These are tiny, and so to possibly grow big, an easy method may have been cannibalism. Bacteria are prokaryotes, and about 1.8 billion years ago an archaea bacteria may have swallowed another (they survive in hot pools) and became a eukaryotic cell. These organelles divy up chores in a cell and have more energy i.e. have mitochondria, DNA in each cell etc.

Colonies of eukaryotic cells probably became multi-cells( co-operated). There are 10,000 alien cells in humans and we are only really 2.5 % human. Micro-organisms found on the body have 8 million genes- each of which codes a gene in the body for a specific purpose, and are largely prokaryotes. We have only 23,000 genes.

We are truly made from our universe.

Anyway enjoyed the book, if anyone interested.

Way off topic, but I love these girls - here are some psychics working to solve a cold crime. This is a program shown in New Zealand and Australia, and demonstrates how accurate and beneficial psychics can be in solving crimes. Warning- over an hour long, psychic input begins at 28 minutes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8Wq_wl0SDk

Cheers Lyn.

I should add in the video, the crime involves children and the content is not pleasant. Lyn x.

"Does this mathematical argument for the existence of a creator stop here in the same way that theological arguments for a creator always stop?"

The usual argument involves necessary vs. contingent truths. Since everything in the cosmos is contingent on some other thing, we can avoid an infinite regress only by positing a necessary (non-contingent) starting point. This would be something outside the spacetime universe that is capable of originating the whole system.

In this case, there would be no creator of God, since God would be a necessary fact not contingent on anything.

Lennox approaches this issue a little differently. He simply says one must assume a starting point somewhere, so the choice is a) physical reality or b) God. Materialism naturally chooses "a," but Lennox feels there is no a priori reason why one cannot choose "b."

I would frame it in slightly different terms, as the choice between a) physical reality and b) consciousness. After all, we all have direct personal experience of consciousness. If we posit consciousness as the ground of being, then it becomes possible to see the cosmos as the product of intelligent causation, even if the nature of the intelligent agent remains obscure to us.

"If, as I suspect, it is the Christian God being proposed ..."

For Lennox, yes. But I wasn't quoting his arguments with that in mind.

"I can, however, see why believers who have no knowledge of probability theory will fall for it."

For the fine-tuning of the cosmos, probability theory would come into play only if we assume a near-infinity of universes, each with its own starting conditions. Even then, probability theory does not explain the emergence of specified complexity (information) in any given universe.

Statistically, the origin of even a single protein by chance combinations of amino acids is vastly unlikely. This fact is widely recognized, which is why there are attempts to explain the origin of proteins (and life) in terms of self-organiziing systems. So far those attempts haven't been successful, and from a logical standpoint, I don't see how they can be, inasmuch as a living cell requires information (encoded instructions) in order to function. Neither chance nor natural laws would seem capable of producing information - chance, for obvious reasons, and natural laws because such laws reduce to algorithms (formulas), which produce predictable or repetitive results, unlike the nonrepetitive, unpredictable nature of information.

For instance, an algorithm can produce a string like this: 000111000111000111... That is repetitive and predictable; we can predict that 000 will come next. An algorithm can also produce this string: 2 4 8 16 32 64 ... That one is not obviously repetitive, but it is predictable once you see that the formula is to multiply the most recent product by 2.

But an algorithm cannot produce a string of information: "To be or not to be, that is the question ..." In this case there is no repetition and no way to predict what comes next. So we are dealing with a qualitatively different kind of thing.

Actually, I should amend that last statement. An algorithm could produce "To be or not to be ..." but only if the formula were as long as (if not longer than) the string of words itself. Information is not algorithmically compressible.

If space is infinite, and time a matter of perspective, then surely there was no beginning and there can be no end . . . . . . . or have I missed something vital in the permutation?

The arguments I see with the probability of consciousness, although extremely unlikely, it can still happen. Not only that, probability is based on a constant, i.e. if there are these conditions, then this will occur. But conditions may simply change, or are not constant e.g. a mutation, or though they say these bring minor changes not major, still there are ways that may increase probability.

I find it interesting that fossils show for example, even basic cells such as bacteria are made from Prokaryotes that may have evolved to eukaryotic cells, so simple to more complex cells with DNA etc. So there seems evidence of a process of development from simple forms to that of more complex forms already in evidence.

Perhaps "All that is" formed the same, evolved in to the complexity that it is.

I have read about the probability theories, some say more, some say less. Who knows. Lyn x.

Juan
"Thus the multiverse hypothesis eliminates the need for an intelligent designer".

Well yes it does, but the multiverse was only hypothesised in the first place to eliminate the need for a creator wasn't it. Or are there any other independent reasons for supposing there exists a multiverse?

Bruce Siegel yes you definitely are missing something! It seems the only possible hypotheses are a creator (although such a creator may not correspond to what we would think of as God), or a multiverse. But the notion of a multiverse with a ~googolplex of Universes, where all these values vary, is fanciful in the extreme.

"If space is infinite, and time a matter of perspective, then surely there was no beginning and there can be no end . . . ."

Physical space isn't infinite. The universe is believed to be about 14 billion light years in extent. Not coincidentally, it's also 14 billion years old (having expanded at the speed of light). The beginning was the Big Bang. Or so the current thinking has it. There are a few mavericks who insist that the universe has always existed and that the Big Bang theory is wrong, but so much evidence has been gathered to support the Big Bang that it's pretty well established now.

" ... so simple to more complex cells with DNA etc." It's true that there is evidence of development, but even prokaryotes aren't really simple. And they do have DNA; it's just packaged differently.

Swiftsure, the concept of complexity only applies to that which has parts. How could some conscious agent, particularly God, have parts?

Why would a creator need to be created? If you retort why does the Universe need to be created, it's because of the fine tuning argument. So what would be the argument for a creator needing to be created?

Even leaving this aside you're ignoring the arguments of Aquinas. See this blog entry by Edward Feser:
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/so-you-think-you-understand.html

A creator certainly does not entail a Christian God, or indeed any God. Why would you think this? For example the Universe could be a simulation created by aliens existing "outside" our physical reality.

If the Big Bang is/was the center of activity then might it not simply represent a pulse in an energy system rather than a beginning? It seems to me that, whichever way one looks at it, thinking in terms of 'beginning and end' are merely concepts tied to three-dimensional existence.

"Bruce Siegel yes you definitely are missing something! It seems the only possible hypotheses are a creator (although such a creator may not correspond to what we would think of as God), or a multiverse."

Ian, if you read my original comment again you'll see that I wasn't arguing against a creator, just the attempt to prove the existence of one through fine-tuning. I posted again on this subject Friday in response to Michael and doubter, but somehow my comment never got published, and I can't find a copy of it.

Also, I believe in both a creator *and* a multiverse, in the sense that our physical universe is not the only metaphysical domain in existence. The fact that there's what we call a spiritual realm seems proof of that. My guess is that "the spirit world" is but our shorthand for all planes of existence not situated within our big-bang-impacted reality.

I believe the Big Bang is consistent with the notion that space is infinite. So even though the Universe is expanding it might still be infinite. Extraordinarily weird to think space is infinite though.

Sorry your long post got lost, Bruce. It's not in my spam folder or my unpublished posts folder (both are empty). TypePad must've eaten it.

It can be a good idea to save long posts to a text file as a backup, in case they go missing.

"I believe the Big Bang is consistent with the notion that space is infinite." Not physical space in this spacetime universe. It's finite but unbounded. The usual comparison is to a balloon that's slowly expanding. Galaxies correspond to dots on the inside of the balloon. There is nothing outside the balloon. Hard to wrap your mind around that, but there it is.

Of course, it's possible that the spacetime universe we know is only one wrinkle in a larger "space" that also wrinkles into other universes. This is not "space" as we understand it, though.

A Mobius strip can be a useful analogy, since it has only one side, despite appearing to be two-sided. With a Mobius strip, there is no inside or outside. Finite but unbounded.

 Michael: || Even then, probability theory does not explain the emergence of specified complexity (information) in any given universe. ||

I think that logically , the multiverse hypothesis in extreme forms can explain mostly anything, including apparent design. That is just one more way it is unfalsifiable and unscientific. It seems that random chance can come up with any given complex configuration of matter given a virtually unlimited number of random choices, permutations, and combinations over enough time or over extended enough space.

The DNA code mechanism for all its evident intelligent design, semantic intent, etc. exists in cells as a complex configuration of matter. Therefore, logically (but not reasonably or plausibly) the DNA code mechanism could be the result of a random process that just happened to happen at the origin of life in our particular universe, IF there is an infinite multiverse for our anthropic self-selection to have occurred in. The same reasoning would apply to the origin of apparently designed protein molecules. This particular universe is the particular one which has certain random mutations that just happen to have coded for certain specific protein molecules.

It seems to me the only real issue with this is the plausibility or rather extreme implausibility of such a multiverse really existing.

Other examples include for instance sequential random shuffles of a deck of cards, which have a certain, if exceedingly small, probability of coming up with a perfectly ordered deck sorted into suits and values. It's a certainty it will happen in an infinite number of shuffles. Any book could be the result of a process of random selection of letters, although this would be vanishingly improbable. But the book appearing from nothing, with no author, would be certain in an infinity of such random selections.

In principle, it seems that patterns and structures appearing to have order, meaning and purpose that in our experience can only result from intelligence (i.e. complex specified complexity) actually can appear from nothing, given the very unreasonable premise of having literally unlimited random combinatorial resources. The extreme example of an alphabet soup random selection of letters eventually in some universe some time forming a book without an author, seems to be the logical consequence. The real problem with this thinking is in supposing that such an existence of unlimited resources can really be.

"Sorry your long post got lost, Bruce."

Thanks, Michael. No problem.

I probably should have stayed out of this one anyway, since I do believe in an intelligence-rooted universe, though for reasons having nothing to do with so-called fine-tuning.

I also we think this shows what "Seth" intimates- that we create ourselves and our environment.

Therefore just as "gloop" possibly formed a cellular wall to protect and define itself from its inner and outer environment ( creating a cell). Early man developed a bigger brain when he became bi-pedal etc.

Research on birds also shows how our environment in simple ways creates brain development across generations. Research on robins I think ( couldn't find it on the net), shows that those living in snow areas were better problem solvers ( i.e. had to be creative to survive) than those that live in temperate climates. When given a treat under a lid, the robins from colder area simply picked up the lid to get the treat, whilst the other robin could not do the task at all.

The analogies seem different, but I feel they show how all species adapt and are formed in conjunction with their outer world. Lyn x.

"Well yes it does, but the multiverse was only hypothesised in the first place to eliminate the need for a creator wasn't it. Or are there any other independent reasons for supposing there exists a multiverse?"

Well, I've found this article which states that some scientists have found evidence of the existence of the multiverse:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2326869/Is-universe-merely-billions-Evidence-existence-multiverse-revealed-time-cosmic-map.html

What I do not understand is how the other universes are going to pull our universe, assuming that a universe is a self-content space-time that does not interact with others.

"Also, I believe in both a creator *and* a multiverse, in the sense that our physical universe is not the only metaphysical domain in existence. The fact that there's what we call a spiritual realm seems proof of that. My guess is that "the spirit world" is but our shorthand for all planes of existence not situated within our big-bang-impacted reality."

I would distinguish between the idea that there are multiple universes in horizontal hierarchy (multiverse) and the idea that there are multiple universes in vertical hierarchy (planes of existence). I would like to see physical evidence that points to other planes of existence.

I think it's probably the other way around. No matter what path energy had taken to dissipate down through the observable universe, it would have inevitably caused the formation of increasingly complex physics inevitably giving way to intelligent life. Something other than carbon would have had a different resonance frequency to something different from helium, but the feedback loop of escalating pattern would have developed regardless.

|| I think it's probably the other way around. No matter what path energy had taken to dissipate down through the observable universe, it would have inevitably caused the formation of increasingly complex physics inevitably giving way to intelligent life. Something other than carbon would have had a different resonance frequency to something different from helium, but the feedback loop of escalating pattern would have developed regardless. ||

Is this comment related to Smolin's cosmological Darwinism? The modern dogma - the bottom-up Darwinistic creation hypothesis that all the apparent design of life (extended to the universe) really came from nothing related to mind and intelligence. The unsubstantiated claim that everything from the laws of physics to the origin of Homo Sapiens can be elegantly explained solely by feedback processes based in random variation plus natural selection. Quite a belief system, but mostly faith.

Michael, thanks for your reply.

As you say, “Since everything in the cosmos is contingent on some other thing, we can avoid an infinite regress only by positing a necessary (non-contingent) starting point. This would be something outside the spacetime universe that is capable of originating the whole system.”

But there’s the problem. “Positing” a creator outside of time and space just stops further investigation – unless someone can put this external agent into a test tube or under a microscope, as it were. Replacing one problem with an “explanation” that can’t be tested is no explanation at all.

Lennox “feels” he can choose God as his starting point. That’s not scientific, and not a convincing reason for choosing that option.

It is, of course, “possible to see the cosmos as the product of intelligent causation,” but it is possible to imagine anything. Can it be tested, though?

A multiverse is not implausible. This universe came into existence 13.82 billion years ago; maybe that can (and maybe it does) happen regularly. I’m no expert in quantum physics, but even quantum physicists will say that anyone who claims to understand it, doesn’t understand it – including quantum physicists. It’s weird stuff that is still being investigated, but without invoking supernatural intervention.

“Specified Complexity” is a term coined by the Discovery Institute. Science doesn’t take them seriously; despite what they say, they do not do science, they do theology – which was amply exposed at the Kitzmiller vs Dover trial in 2005. “Information” in this context might not be what most people think it is.

A protein – or a single cell – is unlikely to come into existence by chance, and I agree. But science does not argue that that is what happens. Some people say that science claims to know everything, but science claims almost the exact opposite – that science itself is aware that what it knows is miniscule compared to what there is out there that is still not known, and also most of what is known is not fully understood anyway. The people who make the biggest claims about what science supposedly says it knows are not themselves scientists.

What Lennox is claiming is the old god of the gaps argument. OK, he says, the universal constants are so finely tuned, therefore God. But before germ theory had even been thought of, cholera was obviously God’s punishment for sin of some sort – maybe like HIV is now deemed by some to be God’s punishment for homosexuality. It’s strange, don’t you think, that science is now defeating that very modern day “plague,” just as cholera was defeated just by recognising that a supply of clean water could thwart God’s divine punishments? God’s punishments seem easy to beat nowadays. I can’t help wondering, for example: if the Catholic church is correct in its assertion that IVF treatment for childless couples is a sin and therefore against the will of God, why does it work? If God does not want IVF to work, then he needs to do nothing, i.e., simply not bother to infuse the combined sperm and egg in a petri dish with life itself. But I’ll leave that for the apologists to find some excuse for God’s impotence. The gaps in our knowledge are slowly being filled, and the need for any gods to fill them is diminishing.

I’ll go along with what you say about algorithms and their limitations, but I think that’s getting into another, very different, area that could turn into a never ending discussion, however interesting it would be.

Great post and open-minded discussion. Although it may not be on the very topic of the post, I would like to mention this interesting article by two physicists , George Ellis and Joe Silk, in Nature, this is about the “culture war” (quotation marks are mine) conducted by dogmatic scientists to push some highly unprovable speculative theories, avoiding these theories being tested with scientific methodology.
http://www.nature.com/news/scientific-method-defend-the-integrity-of-physics-1.16535
The article illustrates how some scientists try now to move the goalposts for “conventional science”, this method being already well known for paranormal studies (and these are often the same people who are doing both)

Swiftsure wrote, "Can it be tested, though?"

I don't see any way of testing ontological claims, but this applies to materialism as well. How can one test the claim that matter and energy are all that exist?

" ...unless someone can put this external agent into a test tube or under a microscope, as it were." This argument begs the question by assuming that only physical instrumentalities can yield valid results. But if materialism is false, then this assumption is false.

"Lennox 'feels' he can choose God as his starting point. That’s not scientific, and not a convincing reason for choosing that option." Okay, but Dawkins "feels" he can choose matter and energy as his starting point. That's not scientific either (unless one takes science as equivalent to materialism - which, again, is begging the question). For one thing, it leaves out consciousness, which probably ought to be our real starting point, since everything we perceive and know is mediated by consciousness.

"What Lennox is claiming is the old god of the gaps argument." Not necessarily. His position is that the more we learn about the narrow parameters required for the initial conditions, the less satisfactory the materialist explanations become. Thus he says he is arguing on the basis of knowledge, not ignorance (gaps). He addresses this objection at length.

"It’s strange, don’t you think, that science is now defeating that very modern day 'plague' ..." Straw man. No one here is arguing for the Christian position you're attacking; this isn't a Christian blog. No one here (I hope) denies that science is extraordinarily powerful and effective in dealing with problems that are within its scope. The error, IMO, is "scientism" - the idea that *everything* is within the scope of science - coupled with the idea that materialism and science are equivalent. Science is a methodology and materialism is an ontology; equating the two is a category error, though a very common one.

"Some people say that science claims to know everything, but science claims almost the exact opposite – that science itself is aware that what it knows is miniscule compared to what there is out there that is still not known, and also most of what is known is not fully understood anyway. The people who make the biggest claims about what science supposedly says it knows are not themselves scientists."

! And there was I thinking it was Stephen Hawking who said, 'We are very close to knowing all there is to know about the universe'.

I don't think Stephen Hawking has ever said that. At least I couldn't find that quote anywhere...

Geez I fixed those pesky mistakes and its somehow sent the old version. I blame the internet Ha ha. Lyn x.

It was a very famously controversial comment he made in an interview sometime in the late nineties, as I recall. He might have recanted now, as he has with several other comments. But I'm astonished that you have remained unaware of that most arrogant assertion. But, whatever. Like every one else, he's entitled to his opinion. :)

Ok looks like the version with pesky mistakes didn't send. Here goes..

I mean no disrespect to Air Asia passengers or crew here with regard to airline travel. So sad, may god bless each and everyone of them.

With probability for example, people often say airline travel is safer than driving a car. But science is very good at isolating variables out, and disregarding the rest.

So I say on what year/month was that based, and what about factors such as an airlines maintenance, weather, a pilots experience etc. So each car, plane, train, boat has its own set of variables for each trip. So probability is a guide line at best, as variables can and do frequently change.

Not only that, in the beginning the universe was changing so rapidly and in such a way I don't think we could possibly understand. Even now we are unlikely to comprehend all the variables that may factor into universal quantum probability.

I think some years ago Roger Penrose the physicist was trying to demonstrate this with regard to quantum theory and how small particles come apart and larger masses don't. He said large masses have more gravity than smaller particles which hold them together, and although this sounds simple, I think he is probably right.

In other words he was saying, when taking a theory into account you must factors every other force in the universe at the same time, acting on it. Lyn x.

Lynn wrote, "With probability for example, people often say airline travel is safer than driving a car. But science is very good at isolating variables out, and disregarding the rest. So I say on what year/month was that based, and what about factors such as an airlines maintenance, weather, a pilots experience etc. So each car, plane, train, boat has its own set of variables for each trip."

I don't think this is quite correct. Any given plane crash is statistically improbable, but the fact that there are (say) one or two plane crashes in a given year is not improbable; in fact, it's right in line with what probability theory would predict.

All the contributing factors - "airlines maintenance, weather, a pilots experience etc." - are implicit in the annual statistics recording the number of crashes. It's understood that these and other factors will tend to produce a certain number of crashes per year, even though we cannot predict which planes will crash or which factors will contribute to any given crash.

When we talk about the fine-tuning of the universe or the origin of life, we're talking about developments that would not be predicted on the basis of chance alone. For instance, the formation of a single protein by chance would appear to be statistically impossible, given that it would take longer than the age of the universe. The encoded information in DNA also seems to defy any probabilistic explanation.

Someone has compared the creation of a living cell by chance to a tornado sweeping through a junkyard and assembling the debris into a fully functional 747. This is a qualitatively different thing from the occasional air disaster, which, however tragic, is fully in line with our (statistical) expectations.

In his most recent book, 'the grand design', Hawking did come out with the outrageous statement that 'philosophy is dead'. He doesn't seem to realise that he's conflated the methodology of science with the philosophical ontology of materialism!


Julie, I wonder if you're thinking of this famous Hawking quote from 1988's A Brief History of Time:

"If we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we would know the mind of God."

Hawking has since made it clear that he was speaking poetically and doesn't believe there is a God. His statement doesn't make much sense to me - a "complete theory" of the physical universe would not help us to understand "why ... we and the universe exist," any more than having a complete understanding of the chemical composition of a book would help us to understand why the book was written.

No, it was a bald statement, Michael. He stated that we are close to knowing everything there is to know about the universe. It was at that point that I put him into my room 101.

Michael said:

"Hawking has since made it clear that he was speaking poetically and doesn't believe there is a God. His statement doesn't make much sense to me - a "complete theory" of the physical universe would not help us to understand "why ... we and the universe exist,"

More than a nonsensical statement, I see it as a Freudian slip. Because some part of him -- a part he'd rather not acknowledge -- knows full well that it's impossible to make sense of ultimate origins without resorting to a pre-existing god-like entity of some kind.

Which reminds me: Sheldrake says that mainstream science may claim to have abandoned reliance on the divine, but actually holds on to it by assigning god-like qualities to the laws of nature, considering them to be eternal and the true creators of the universe.

But what is the origin of those laws? If they're eternal and creative, then that would seem to make them collectively a god of some sort, wouldn't it?

To complete my last comment, I've come to agree with Sheldrake that the laws of nature are *not* eternal. He calls them habits which evolve over vast scales of time. And while that may seem a silly notion at first, he makes a strong case for it.

Probably those so-called laws pertain only to this space-time universe we inhabit, which itself is but one neighborhood in the larger multi-dimensional reality, all of which collectively is to be found in that "mind of God" to which Hawking refers.

I can't help thinking that if I was infirm in the way that Stephen Hawking is then I might well be emotionally biased against the possibility of a God creator.

The comments to this entry are closed.