Science as true worship, Part I

Part I: The Christian roots of the philosophy of science

When I was a grad student, I had a brief conversation with a biology grad at another university. We talked about evolution, and when I brought up some criticisms of Darwinism, I expected him to push back. Instead, he told me that biologists were well aware of its deficiencies. I was taken aback by this, because we certainly don’t hear about them in the popular news, let alone in classrooms. I asked him why biologists weren’t publicly acknowledging these deficiencies, and he said, “We don’t want to hand a victory to Christians.” I was floored by this response, because it was one of the most unscientific things I’d ever heard anyone say.

Unfortunately, this sort of dogmatic and unscientific approach to science is becoming more prevalent the more science becomes divorced from its Christian roots. It also trickles down to the popular level, especially with the “I f—ing love science” crowd. These are the people who neither understand how science works nor respect its limitations. You can often recognize them by the way they declare “evolution is a fact” or say that the science of climate change is “settled” or refer to anyone who is skeptical of popular opinion as a “denier.”

But it’s not just the science fetishizers; many people, even some who practice science, fail to understand that science is not merely a body of facts and explanations, but that it’s a system of knowledge held together by a particular worldview. This is what’s referred to as the philosophy of science. From Wikipedia:

Philosophy of science is a branch of philosophy concerned with the foundations, methods, and implications of science. The central questions concern what counts as science, the reliability of scientific theories, and the purpose of science.

However, we can express it more simply:

  • The purpose of science is the search for truth about our material universe.
  • Any discipline or process that follows all of the available evidence counts as science.
  • The scientific pursuit of truth is based on the faith that our universe (including our own minds) operates according to natural laws.
  • Everything else is elaboration and details.

Recently, I discussed the Christian foundation of modern science, which consists of three core principles:

  1. Christian belief: the utterly counterintuitive biblical notion of linear time.
  2. Christian faith: faith in a deliberately ordered and knowable universe created by a rational being.
  3. Christian purpose: the obligation to test every claim; an obligation to understand God through study of the natural world.

There would be no modern science without #1 and #2. I said in a previous post that it could perhaps be argued, in principle, that while #3 did in fact play a significant role in the development of modern science, it was not absolutely necessary. In practice, however, I believe #3 is as essential as the first two.


It is an undeniable fact that the great pioneers of modern science were Christians who wanted to know the mind of God. From Mitch Stokes’ biography of Isaac Newton:

For Newton, “To be constantly engaged in studying and probing into God’s actions was true worship.” This idea defined the seventeenth-century scientist, and in many cases, the scientists doubled as theologians.

I am not saying a person has to be Christian in order to be a good scientist. Just as you can have moral individuals who aren’t religious, you can have good scientists who aren’t Christians. But by the same token, just as you can’t have a moral society without religion, you can’t have a thriving scientific culture without Christianity.

As with any institution, the continued survival of science depends, not on the beliefs and conduct of a few individuals, but rather on the overall vigor of its culture. Science that is mostly practiced by people who believe what they are doing is a form of true worship is less susceptible to corruption than science that is mostly practiced by people who are motivated by other considerations.

There are many reasons science can go off the rails, but history and human nature tell us that the two greatest corrupting influences on science are:

  1. the desire for approval. Sometimes this is to gain social acceptance or accolades, but it is also sometimes necessary to maintain employment or funding.
  2. the desire to cling to a cherished idea or worldview.

Christians are not immune to these corrupting influences. We are all fallen and we live in a fallen world, after all. But the point is, a sincere desire to understand the mind of God is far less likely to lead to corruption than a desire to win someone’s approval or to get a lot of money. Christianity is necessary to resist this corrupting influence, not because Christians are inherently better people, but because the struggle against the desire for worldly things is coded into the Christian way of life.

But how do Christians guard themselves against the desire to cling to a cherished idea? No matter how principled you might be, it is still possible to fall into the trap of ignoring uncomfortable facts and conclusions because they seem to contradict your favorite interpretation of scripture. However, not surprisingly, all it takes is faith to avoid this trap.

In Part II, we’ll look at a lesson on good science from an unlikely source, some of the great Christian revolutionaries in science, and where science is falling into corruption.

Why do scientists believe in untestable theories?


That is the question being asked by philosophers of science.

Physicists have long relied on a notion advanced by philosopher Karl Popper, that a theory is scientifically valid if it is falsifiable. But in recent years, many serious physicists seem to have abandoned this model. String theory, for example, is one of the most exciting ideas in modern physics. But it’s not testable—so how can physicists be confident that it’s sound?

Physical science is increasingly moving in the direction of accepting ideas that are practically or fundamentally untestable, but, contrary to popular sentiment, the reasons for it are not arbitrary.

According to philosophy of science researcher, Richard Dawid, there are three reasons a physicist will believe in an untestable theory:

  1. the theory is the only game in town; there are no other viable theories.
  2. the theoretical research program has produced successes in the past.
  3. the theory turns out to have even more explanatory power than originally thought.

Any of these arguments by themselves is not enough to convince a physicist that an untested theory has merit, but all three together are pretty powerful. That said, this powerful combination still doesn’t replace empiricism as the gold standard for determining scientific truth. It’s as though we’re circling back to the protoscientific methodology of the ancient Greeks, who relied on thought experiments, because they mistrusted experience. While it’s true that our perceptions can be subjective, the history of science clearly points to the superiority of thought + empiricism over thought alone.

My personal opinion as to why a lack of empirical support in science seems to matter less and less is that the empirical nature of physical science is rooted in Christianity, and science is increasingly divorced from its Christian roots. I’ll discuss this more next week.

Image credit: String Theory II by Digital Blasphemy 3d Wallpaper

Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

In which we discuss an atheist’s not-so-clever attempt to dismiss the Argument from Contingency and the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

JB is arguing science and faith with an atheist friend and asked for help with the science. JB’s friend sent him a link to “Arizona Atheist,” who attempts to refute two of William Lane Craig’s arguments for God’s existence. Despite AA’s bold claim to have “demolished” Craig’s arguments, it’s such a weak and muddled attempt that it hardly seems worth commenting on. However, since it’s frequently cited by those seeking to refute Craig’s arguments, I’ll get into it.

Arizona Atheist comments first on Craig’s Argument from Contingency:

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
3. The universe exists.
4. Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence (from 1, 3).
5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God (from 2, 4).

Now this is a logically airtight argument. That is to say, if the premises are true, then the conclusion is unavoidable. It doesn’t matter if we don’t like the conclusion. It doesn’t matter if we have other objections to God’s existence. So long as we grant the three premises, we have to accept the conclusion. So the question is this: Which is more plausible–that those premises are true or that they are false?

Since the logic is airtight, the only way to attack the argument is to show that any of its premises are wrong. AA goes after Premise 1:

According to modern physics, however things can seemingly happen without cause. There are several things we observe that appear to have no cause. For example, “[w]hen an atom in an excited energy level drops to a lower level and emits a photon, a particle of light, we find no cause of that event. Similarly, no cause is evident in the decay of a radioactive nucleus.”

This is a very weak attack on Premise 1, for two reasons:

  1. Just because we find no cause doesn’t mean there is no cause. AA tacitly acknowledges this with hedge words like “seemingly” and “evident.”
  2. AA has misunderstood the argument. The Argument from Contingency doesn’t address events, it addresses existence. The photon exists, and it has a cause — an electron in an atom dropping from a higher energy level to a lower energy level. The products of radioactive decay exist, and they also have a cause — radioactive decay of a nucleus.

Next, AA goes after the Kalam Cosmological Argument:

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument is similar to the Argument from Contingency, but differs in that it rests on the “controversial” nature of Premise 2. It’s only controversial in the sense that you can sort of dispute the standard interpretation of big bang cosmology if you accept some strange assumptions. AA therefore mostly goes after Premise 2, but not before first dismissing Premise 1, again on the false basis that “things can seem to happen without cause.” Note the weasel words “can seem to.”

AA then goes on to attack Premise 2 in one of the most desperately feeble attempts to dismiss reason and evidence I have ever seen. (Why are atheists constantly held up as champions of reason? I have seen no evidence that this stereotype is warranted.)

Craig supports the validity of Premise 2 with both philosophical and scientific arguments against an infinitely old universe. For the latter, he cites work by theoretical physicist Alexander Vilenkin, who figures prominently in AA’s refutation.

AA awkwardly begins his refutation by stating,

Again, as I’ve said already, just because Craig can’t imagine an infinite universe doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Simply arguing that it’s impossible without any proof is no argument.

Craig rejects an infinitely old universe, not because of a lack of imagination, but because it’s ruled out by physics. At this point, AA needed to show in what way Craig’s philosophical argument for Premise 2 is flawed, or to provide evidence contradicting it, but he doesn’t do this. Instead, he supplies an irrelevant quote from Vilenkin and dismisses the interpretation that Premise 3 implies the cause is necessarily God*.

Now for the part where AA completely abandons any reasonable standard for evidence and reason. The prevailing paradigm of modern physics is that the universe began to exist between 11 and 17 billion years ago in a sudden event called the big bang. There is loads of evidence for the big bang, which is why virtually no one believes the steady-state cosmological model anymore. Now, even though the standard interpretation has been that the big bang represents the creation of the universe from complete and total nothing, there’s a wrinkle: in actuality, it’s not entirely clear what sort of a beginning the big bang represents. In spite of the evidence supporting the big bang, there is a limit to what we can know about it. As physicist Alan Guth put it, the big bang theory “gives not even a clue about what banged, what caused it to bang, or what happened before it banged.”

AA rests his entire case against the Kalam Cosmological Argument on this wrinkle, even after Vilenkin’s commentary should have convinced him otherwise.

Vilenkin is an author of a physical theorem that rules out past-infinite universes. We have every reason to believe the universe has a finite age. But does this necessarily imply a beginning? In a correspondence AA initiated between Vilenkin and the late atheist physicist, Victor Stenger, Vilenkin comments that his theorem does not prove that the universe must have had a beginning, however…

…it proves that the expansion of the universe must have had a beginning. You can evade the theorem by postulating that the universe was contracting prior to some time.

First of all, it doesn’t disprove that the universe had a beginning. Second, what this essentially means is that the big bang could represent, not the beginning, but one of many “beginnings.” If the universe is cyclical, that is, if it bangs and expands and then contracts and crunches, and does this over and over for eternity, then the universe is effectively eternal, and this is what supposedly negates Premise 2.

That could kind of, sort of, maybe present a very weak argument against Premise 2 — its chief drawback being that not only is there no evidence for it, there is no known way to test it — except that AA inexplicably goes on to quote Vilenkin stating that it also happens to be theoretically impossible given what we assume about the nature of time, and that even if we grant that something very weird happens at time = 0 to allow a contracting universe, it still effectively supports Premise 2:

This sounds as if there is nothing wrong with having contraction prior to expansion. But the problem is that a contracting universe is highly unstable. Small perturbations would cause it to develop all sorts of messy singularities, so it would never make it to the expanding phase. That is why Aguirre & Gratton and Carroll & Chen had to assume that the arrow of time changes at t = 0. This makes the moment t = 0 rather special. I would say no less special than a true beginning of the universe.

So, AA’s refutation of Premise 2, his “demolishment” of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, rests not on the standard, accepted interpretation of modern cosmology — that the universe began to exist billions of years ago — but on the untested, unproved possibility that Vilenkin’s theory is wrong, that you can somehow get around a beginning, but at the cost of accepting something that is “no less special than a true beginning of the universe.”

I’m genuinely confused by AA’s response to Vilenkin’s comments. How much do you have to hate evidence and reason to read Vilenkin’s responses to these questions about his theorem and still conclude that it supports your case?

Having gone through this exercise, the absolute worst you can say about the Kalam Cosmological Argument is that Premise 2 is not 100% proven. But we already knew that. If you know anything at all about how science works, you know that nothing in science is a done deal — you can’t ever prove beyond doubt that any scientific theory is true — which is why Craig says “that for an argument to be a good one the premises need to be probably true in light of the evidence.” That is the standard by which all of modern science has operated for centuries. For something to be considered “true,” it only needs to be probably true based on a preponderance of evidence to support it and with no evidence to seriously contradict it. By this standard, it is true that our universe began to exist 13.8 billion years ago — which means we are reasonably assured Premise 2 is true, and therefore the Kalam Cosmological Argument is a legitimate argument. Given the weight of evidence and reason, it is far more supported than an untested — and untestable — theoretical exercise in exploring alternatives.

AA says he does not think philosophy is the best way to get at the truth; it’s reasonable to assume that he thinks science is, and yet he does his best to ignore it to avoid accepting the conclusions of two very powerful arguments in favor of God.

Incidentally, two years after AA posted his attempted refutation of Craig’s arguments, Vilenkin announced, at Stephen Hawking’s 70th birthday celebration, that there is just no getting around a beginning for the universe.


* I don’t know what Vilenkin’s arguments are against Premise 3 implying the cause is necessarily God, but there is a case, however weak, to be made on the basis of an eternally expanding and contracting model of the universe. If it’s correct, it renders God superfluous. However, not only is this model theoretically unlikely, it’s physically untestable.

There is no modern science without Christianity

How often do you hear that Christianity is not compatible with science? The next time you hear that claim, refer the critic to this list of Christians in science and technology and ask how it’s possible that so many Christians were able to make significant contributions to science and tech in spite of that incompatibility:

John Philoponus
Bede the Venerable
Rabanus Maurus
Leo the Mathematician
Hunayn ibn Ishaq
Pope Sylvester II
Hermann of Reichenau
Hugh of Saint Victor
William of Conches
Hildegard of Bingen
Robert Grosseteste
Pope John XXI
Albertus Magnus
Roger Bacon
Theodoric of Freiberg
Thomas Bradwardine
William of Ockham
Jean Buridan
Nicephorus Gregoras
Nicole Oresme
Nicholas of Cusa
Otto Brunfels
Nicolaus Copernicus
Michael Servetus
Michael Stifel
William Turner
Ignazio Danti
Giordano Bruno
Bartholomaeus Pitiscus
John Napier
Johannes Kepler
Galileo Galilei
Laurentius Gothus
Marin Mersenne
René Descartes
Pierre Gassendi
Anton Maria of Rheita
Blaise Pascal
Isaac Barrow
Juan Lobkowitz
Seth Ward
Robert Boyle
John Wallis
John Ray
Gottfried Leibniz
Isaac Newton
Colin Maclaurin
Stephen Hales
Thomas Bayes
Firmin Abauzit
Emanuel Swedenborg
Carolus Linnaeus
Leonhard Euler
Maria Gaetana Agnesi
Joseph Priestley
Isaac Milner
Samuel Vince
Linthus Gregory
Bernhard Bolzano
William Buckland
Agustin-Louis Cauchy
Lars Levi Læstadius
George Boole
Edward Hitchcock
William Whewell
Michael Faraday
Charles Babbage
Adam Sedgwick
Temple Chevallier
John Bachman
Robert Main
James Clerk Maxwell
Andrew Pritchard
Arnold Henry Guyot
Gregor Mendel
Philip Henry Gosse
Asa Gray
Francesco Faà di Bruno
Julian Tenison Woods
James Prescott Joule
Heinrich Hertz
James Dwight Dana
Louis Pasteur
George Jackson Mivart
Armand David
George Stokes
George Salmon
Henry Baker Tristram
Lord Kelvin
Pierre Duhem
Georg Cantor
Henrietta Swan Leavitt
Dmitri Egorov
Mihajlo Idvorski Pupin
Pavel Florensky
Agnes Giberne
J. J. Thomson
John Ambrose Fleming
Max Planck
Edward Arthur Milne
Robert Millikan
Charles Stine
E. T. Whittaker
Arthur Compton
Ronald Fisher
Georges Lemaître
Otto Hahn
David Lack
Charles Coulson
George R. Price
Theodosius Dobzhansky
Werner Heisenberg
Michael Polanyi
Henry Eyring
Sewall Wright
William G. Pollard
Aldert van der Ziel
Mary Celine Fasenmyer
John Eccles
Carlos Chagas Filho
Sir Robert Boyd
Richard Smalley
Mariano Artigas
Arthur Peacocke
C. F. von Weizsäcker
Stanley Jaki
Allan Sandage
Charles Hard Townes
Ian Barbour
Freeman Dyson
Richard H. Bube
Antonino Zichichi
John Polkinghorne
Owen Gingerich
John T. Houghton
Russell Stannard
R. J. Berry
Gerhard Ertl
Michał Heller
Robert Griffiths
Ghilean Prance
Donald Knuth
George Frances Rayner Ellis
Colin Humphreys
John Suppe
Eric Priest
Christopher Isham
Henry F. Schaefer, III
Joel Primack
Robert T. Bakker
Joan Roughgarden
William D. Philips
Kenneth R. Miller
Francis Collins
Noella Marcillino
Simon Conway Morris
John D. Barrow
Denis Alexander
Don Page
Stephen Barr
Brian Kobilka
Karl W. Giberson
Martin Nowak
John Lennox
Jennifer Wiseman
Ard Louis
Larry Wall
Justin L. Barrett

Nobel laureates are highlighted in red.


Be sure to emphasize that it was Roger Bacon, a Franciscan monk, who originated the scientific method, and was thus the first modern scientist.

If the critic has any response to this at all, it will likely be to wave his hand and respond that it is in spite of their professed Christian faith that they made their contributions. This is simply untrue; and while it’s not surprising that a critic of Christianity would be ignorant of both this list and of Christianity’s part in the development of modern science, it’s very surprising — to me, anyway — that Christians likewise tend to be ignorant of these facts.

The first time I showed this list to a Christian audience during one of my lectures, there was an audible gasp. Most Christians are not only unaware that the claim of incompatibility is flatly false, but that the long list of Christians in science and technology is a testament to the fact that modern science is a direct product of the Christian faith.

I’ll say it again: Not only is science fully compatible with Christianity, it is extremely doubtful that we would have modern science without Christianity.

Entire volumes have been written on this topic, but the claim essentially rests on two beliefs. There could never be modern science without:

1. the counterintuitive notion of linear time, which was inferred from the Bible by St. Augustine in the 4th century.

2. belief in a deliberately ordered and knowable creation by a rational being (Genesis 1; Psalm 19; Proverbs 8:22-24; Romans 1:20; many more). C. S. Lewis, in his critique of atheist rationality in The Case for Christianity, explained it this way:

Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. … Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought…

In contemporary terms, this is called the Boltzmann brain idea, which effectively says, in the absence of a conscious creative force, it is statistically much more probable that we are simply “brains in vats” hallucinating these experiences than that we actually inhabit a highly ordered universe. In other words, you have to have faith that even your perceptions and thoughts are accurately reflecting a reality that operates according to non-arbitrary and knowable rules. That’s a given in Christianity, but there is no reason to believe otherwise if you don’t believe in a rational conscious creative force behind the universe.

While it could be argued, in principle, that perhaps the following point is not absolutely necessary for the development of modern science, it nevertheless played a significant role:

3. belief that we must test everything (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and that we must study the natural world to better understand the character and purpose of God (Psalm 19; Romans 1:20). Mitch Stokes, in his biography of Isaac Newton, observed the following about Newton and his contemporaries:

For Newton, “To be constantly engaged in studying and probing into God’s actions was true worship.” This idea defined the seventeenth-century scientist, and in many cases, the scientists doubled as theologians.

Personally, I think it’s extremely doubtful that modern science could have emerged without this third principle, but I’ll save this for a later post.

One of the greatest achievements of modern atheism has been to divorce Christians from their scientific legacy. Modern science is one of the crowning achievements of Western civilization, built upon the foundation of Christian faith, belief, and purpose. But how many Christians are aware of this? Instead of questioning the source, many Christians have willingly accepted the lie that Christianity and science are mutually incompatible. This is the classic mistake of accepting an adversary’s frame. Christians must reject it by educating themselves on the history of their faith and the great part it played in the development of modern science.

The path to delusion — redux

Several readers have asked me about the purported new evidence for multiple universes, and what truth there is in the claim:

Have scientists discovered a parallel universe? Bright spots from after Big Bang may be another universe bumping into our own

In response, I’m reposting this article from last year. It links to a must-read interview with physicist, George F. R. Ellis, who offers sobering commentary on a growing tendency to mistake good theory for reality.

Update: A friend of mine encapsulates the goofiness this way:

Yesterday I was eating my Wheaties, and I noticed that my cereal pieces were smaller on average than than the Wheaties I’d eaten the day before. Now, there are alternative explanations that some have given, like maybe my Wheaties box is almost empty now so I’m getting down to the crumbs at the bottom, but my experience is also consistent with the possibility that my Wheaties box switched places with a Wheaties box from a parallel universe where Wheaties are smaller. If so, this would be the first time we’ve directly observed Wheaties from another universe. We can’t rule this out at this time.

In this excellent interview, eminent physicist George F. R. Ellis discusses the ill-advised direction in which some scientists are going:

Horgan: Physicist Sean Carroll has argued that falsifiability is overrated as a criterion for judging whether theories should be taken seriously. Do you agree?

Ellis: This is a major step backwards to before the evidence-based scientific revolution initiated by Galileo and Newton. The basic idea is that our speculative theories, extrapolating into the unknown and into untestable areas from well-tested areas of physics, are so good they have to be true. History proves that is the path to delusion: just because you have a good theory does not prove it is true. The other defence is that there is no other game in town. But there may not be any such game.

Scientists should strongly resist such an attack on the very foundations of its own success. Luckily it is a very small subset of scientists who are making this proposal.

It is indeed a very small subset, but it is also a very vocal and visible subset–many of these scientists are in the popular media as representatives of science. Ellis also takes them to task for formally rejecting philosophy while unwittingly engaging in a weak form of it.

The great irony here is that any atheists who claim to champion evidence and reason are abandoning both if they claim that the multiverse hypothesis, or any other fundamentally untestable idea put forth by scientists, is very likely true, because it’s elegant or the math is convincing or it’s beautifully consistent with what we believe, and so on. I have to check myself here, too, because I find some of these untestable ideas compelling for the same reasons. But, in terms of the irony, as Ellis points out, it was Galileo and Newton—both Christians—who revolutionized science by making it primarily an experimental, evidence-based endeavor, and now this is being dismissed by those who also ostensibly dismiss faith; they have abandoned evidence and reason in favor of what may only be a beautiful delusion.

I strongly encourage you to read the entire interview with Ellis (who is himself a Christian, incidentally) for an engaging discussion of what’s going awry on the modern scientific landscape.

Is the universe nothing?


Last time, we learned you can’t trust the pop media to report on science accurately. The article in question concerned physicists ‘PROVING’ God DIDN’T create the universe. The headline was, of course, a total lie.

Today we’ll discuss why the article’s claim was bogus. In the third part of this series, we’ll talk about why none of the science involved is a problem for biblical belief, anyway. 

The science in the article involves two things: cosmic inflation and something called doubly special relativity. It’s really just an interesting bit of mathematics to figure out what’s going on in the early universe, since plain old relativity tells us nothing.

Our current understanding of physics allows us to describe the history of the universe back to an early time, when the universe was small in scale; but it doesn’t allow us to describe the universe at the very beginning, when things were extremely small in scale. That irritates physicists, who want to know exactly how the universe began. But what can be done about it?

Since the universe probably began at the quantum scale, we need a better understanding of relativity at the quantum level. It turns out to be a difficult thing to do. But every now and then a bunch of physicists, like the professors at the Canadian university, find a mathematical solution that seems to work.

So far, this isn’t anything terribly controversial, right?

And the findings are so conclusive they even challenge the need for religion, or at least an omnipotent creator – the basis of all world religions.


Only that doesn’t seem to be what the physicists were intending at all. I emailed one of them to ask about the news article, and he seemed dismayed by the way the discussion had turned from science to God.

So, why the insanely provocative headline and the silly claim in the article? As we discussed last time, it generates a lot of clicks and more ad revenue. What better way to provoke people than to say that scientists have given God the heave-ho?

Now, only an utterly stupid person would claim there’s such a thing as proof of God’s nonexistence, and since most people (excluding tabloid editors) aren’t that stupid, the next best thing is to make God irrelevant. That’s why we have articles claiming the universe never had a beginning, implying that God isn’t necessary to create it.

Another way to make God irrelevant is to say there is nothing that needs explaining in the first place. The prevailing belief in Christianity is that God created the universe from nothing, what’s referred to as creatio ex nihilo. Whether or not that’s precisely what the Bible says, we’ll discuss next time. But for now, the point is, a universe from nothing requires the miraculous intervention of God. Or does it?

According to the extraordinary findings, the question is irrelevant because the universe STILL is nothing. … the negative gravitational energy of the universe and the positive matter energy of the universe basically balanced out and created a zero sum.

Stephen Hawking has used this argument before, and there has yet to be a word invented to describe how silly it is. It’s like your child asking you where money comes from, and you answer by claiming that because your income balances your debts, there is no money. Most children would recognize that answer as a pathetic cop-out.

Nevertheless, I’ve heard quite a few materialist atheists parrot it as a rebuttal to the idea that God is necessary to explain a universe from nothing.

It’s kind of astounding to behold a supposedly rational materialist so pretzel-bent by his philosophy that he denies the existence of the ONE THING he’s supposed to believe exists. I don’t much respect the philosophy of Ayn Rand anymore, but one thing I do respect about Objectivism is its first tenet: existence exists. As a teenager enamored with Rand’s philosophy, I couldn’t understand the need to state this, but apparently there are people who believe the universe is effectively nothing. Hence, the need to establish the existence of existence as the beginning of all materialist wisdom.

Anyway, what’s going on here is that Hawking and others like him are playing fast and loose with the definition of nothing. The great mathematician Gottfried Leibniz once asked, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” He meant, why is there anything at all (the universe) rather than nothing at all? By nothing, he meant NOTHING. No space, no matter, no positive or negative energy. Zilch. Nada. Zip. The complete and total absence of anything. Yet, quite clearly, Hawking and the Canadian physicists are spending a lot of time studying something—the universe—therefore, “How can it exist?” requires a better answer than the one we’re getting.

Next time, we’ll conclude this discussion and talk about how these new findings are, in fact, consistent with biblical wisdom.

Planck’s logical argument for God


Modern atheists like to paint a picture of Christianity as inherently anti-intellectual. It’s a powerful way to dissuade people from faith, particularly young people, and I’m sorry to say it worked on me when I was a young atheist. However, once I started to emerge from the intellectual fog of atheism, all it took was a little research to discover that this view of Christianity simply isn’t true. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

The list of Christian intellectuals throughout history is impressively long and populated by people who were giants in their respective fields. For instance, it was Isaac Newton, and his predecessor Galileo, who transformed the field of physics from a quasi-scientific undertaking into a powerful evidence-based enterprise that depends on observation and experiment.

Another revolutionary in science, German physicist, Max Planck, is widely regarded as the father of quantum mechanics. Planck was also a committed and passionate Christian who commented on his faith in the context of his scientific work. Some of his better known quotes have graced the pages of this blog, but some of the lesser known quotes remain obscured from the English-speaking world. The following quote, from a lecture delivered to his fellow scientists, is inexplicably one of the latter.

Gentlemen, as a physicist, the whole of whose life is one of sober science, the dedicated research of matter, surely I am free from any suspicion of holding any illusions.

And so I say this after my explorations of the atom: there is no matter as such.

All matter evolves and there is only one force, which causes everything from the oscillation of atoms, up to the smallest solar system of the universe [the atom] to hold together. Since there exists in the whole universe neither an intelligent force nor an eternal force, and humanity has not succeeded in discovering any long-awaited cause of perpetual motion—so we must hypothesize a deliberate intelligent spirit behind this force. This spirit is the foundation of all matter. A visible but not corruptible matter is real, true, authentic, because matter without the spirit cannot be—but the invisible, immortal Spirit is the reality! Also since a spirit cannot exist by itself, but every spirit belongs to an entity, we are forced to assume that there exist spiritual beings. However, since spirit beings cannot come into being by themselves, but must be created, so I am not shy to designate this mysterious creator, as him, whom all civilizations of the earth have called in earlier millennia: God! In this, the physicist, in dealing with the subject matter of the will, must travel from the kingdom of the substance to the realm of the Spirit. And so that is our task in the end, and we must place our research in the hands of philosophy.

Planck methodically deduced from his work on the nature of matter that God exists. Decades later, scientists realized that the logical inference from the big bang is that the realm of the supernatural must exist. It is not the Christian who believes, but the atheist who denies this, who is anti-intellectual.

The original quote can be found in the journal, Lebendige Erde, No 3/84 p 133. I gratefully acknowledge G.P. Orris, who translated this passage by request.

Image credit: Jonas Schmöle, Vienna Quantum Group.

Newton’s magic vs. Hawking’s science

Stephen Hawking is back in the news making a fool out of himself. In an interview with a Spanish newspaper, Hawking is quoted as saying, “The laws of science are sufficient to explain the origin of the universe. It is not necessary to invoke God.”

Hawking could only be referring to the multiverse as this explanation, as there are no other “scientific” explanations for the origin of the universe. The problem is, as eminent physicist George F. R. Ellis puts it, the multiverse is just “scientifically based philosophical speculation.” Or, as I like to say, the multiverse isn’t science, it’s merely science flavored.

Surak dismantled Hawking’s specious argument the last time he claimed science had usurped God, so I won’t rehash that. What I want to do, is take this opportunity to contrast the modern, secular scientism so evident in Hawking’s claim with the classical, Newtonian view of science. Consider the following, written by John Maynard Keynes in his essay, “Newton, the Man”:

Because he [Isaac Newton] looked on the whole universe and all that is in it as a riddle, as a secret which could be read by applying pure thought to certain evidence, certain mystic clues which God had laid about the world to allow a sort of philosopher’s treasure hunt to the esoteric brotherhood. He believed that these clues were to be found partly in the evidence of the heavens and in the constitution of elements … but also partly in certain papers and traditions handed down by the brethren in an unbroken chain back to the original cryptic revelation in Babylonia. He regarded the universe as a cryptogram set by the Almighty—just as he himself wrapt the discovery of the calculus in a cryptogram when he communicated with Leibniz. By pure thought, by concentration of mind, the riddle, he believed, would be revealed to the initiate.

In his biography of Newton, Mitch Stokes commented further:

Most modern scientists pride themselves on having purged themselves of thoughts of mystery and magic, while unwittingly using theories that are as mystical as they are “scientific.” Newton, believing that the world is full of magic, found that it *is* full of magic. He, in turn, revealed some of his discoveries to us.

If you take the particular atheistic view of the universe that there is no God and that only science can reveal the true nature of the universe, then it is one of the great ironies of the world that a classical mystic who thought he was working magic ended up being the greatest practitioner of science who ever lived, while a modern secular hero of science who thinks he’s practicing science is really just working magic.

Accolades for renegades

My department will welcome a prestigious visitor this year: a person who received the Nobel Prize in physics in 2011. I looked back at the Nobel laureates for that year, and realized something remarkable — the physical sciences appreciate renegades.

Let’s face it, we’re all resistant to having our cherished ideas upended. But that’s what makes the physical sciences so remarkable — they are dynamic and willing to go where the data lead.

It was only a decade and a half ago that physicists believed the expansion of the universe might be slowing down. They tested that idea, and when evidence was found to the contrary, the physics community went where the data led. Physicists also had enough faith in their own laws and theories to largely accept the implication — an unknown force must be driving the accelerated expansion of the universe. A decade and half after overturning what seemed to be the obvious, the discoverers — Brian Schmidt, Adam Riess, and Saul Perlmutter — received the highest accolade possible in the physical sciences.

(It was only fifty years ago that many in the physics community believed the universe was eternal. Yet a relatively short time after the discovery by Penzias and Wilson of the “echo” of the big bang, physicists largely accepted the conclusion that the universe had a beginning in time. The big bang, once derided by some of the greatest minds in science, quickly became the prevailing paradigm for all of physics.)

In the 1980s, chemist Dan Schechtman made the startling discovery that atoms in solids could arrange themselves in a peculiar way not thought possible given the known laws of nature. He was criticized, ridiculed, and shunned by his colleagues. He persevered under these conditions, and within three decades experienced a complete reversal. He was the recipient of the greatest honor there is for a scientist when he received a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2011. His discovery of quasicrystals, once derided by some of the greatest minds in science, led the International Union of Crystallography to change the definition of a crystal to incorporate Schechtman’s discovery.

Physics and chemistry are dynamic fields, willing to adopt new paradigms. There may be some initial resistance — which is actually necessary rigor — but they eventually go where the data and logic lead them. And the renegades are rewarded. I can think of few other fields of human study that are like that.


Darwin’s junk science

One of our readers, Russell, is studying Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and finding it less than compelling:

I’m halfway through “On the Origin of Species” So far, it’s been junk science. I’m serious, multiple times now he’s said something along of the lines of “I totally have super-solid proof, but I don’t have room in the book to share it. Any of it. Ever. But believe me, it’s totes awesome.” And “Let’s say evolution could possibly do X.” Then a few sentences later, “Since evolution does X, it does Y.” No proof offered, nothing but assertions and denial of actual data.

So far, he’s done one experiment with bees, gave up in the middle of it, and then declared it was a success!

How this became as popular as it did baffles me. How it became a cornerstone of scientific thought confuses me to no end.

If people, especially scientists, actually read his book with the same skepticism they use for just about anything else, I’m sure they’d toss out Darwin’s evolution and start over.

For me, as a believing Christian, Darwin’s book has only strengthen my conviction that the Bible’s account of creation is more accurate in description than the theory of evolution.

This is why you should always go to the source, and not take anyone’s word for what an author said or meant.

As for why the book became so popular, my guess is that it’s mostly to do with Thomas Huxley, aka Darwin’s Bulldog. Huxley latched onto Darwinian evolution as a way to undermine Christianity, even though he was aware of its scientific shortcomings. It’d be difficult to quantify, but he was at least modestly successful in that regard. Huxley’s most profound achievement, however, was to undermine scientific advancement in the field of biology and to erode public trust in science in general. If he had known that this would be the cost of attacking Christianity, I wonder if he still would have promoted Darwin’s idea.