Science as true worship, Part II


Part II: The truth will set you free

In Part I, we talked about the Christian influence on the philosophy of science and the increasing corruption of science the further it moves from its Christian roots. I identified the two significant corruptors of science as

  1. the desire for worldly approval.
  2. the desire to cling to a cherished idea or worldview.

Christianity acts as a brake on these corruptors, because encoded in the Christian way of life is the struggle to resist worldly things and to embrace the truth (John 8:32), however difficult it might seem.

As we discussed before, this does not mean Christians are immune to these corrupting influences, and particularly have to guard against dismissing uncomfortable truths because they go against a cherished interpretation of scripture. I promised Christians a way to avoid this trap, and here it is.

Have faith and go where the evidence leads.

Do not be afraid of the truth, because the truth will set you free. That’s how you avoid falling into trap #2. If you truly believe God is the sovereign creator of the universe, then honest scientific inquiry can only reveal truths about God’s character.

So, have faith and go where the evidence leads.

How that works in practical terms is up to you. You can take the approach of Georges Lemaître, and compartmentalize your religious and scientific views, or you can take the approach of Gerald Schroeder or Hugh Ross and attempt to reconcile the two. It will astonish no one that I favor the latter, since that’s what this blog and ministry is all about.

In my last few posts, I repeatedly hammered on the importance of evidence in science, and how that standard is gradually being eroded. Mostly I have criticized atheists for this, but Christians are guilty of it, as well. As Christians, we must not abandon that standard out of a misguided sense of devotion to scripture, but rather uphold that standard as being fully according to God’s will.

Here is a lesson in the importance of empiricism from an unlikely source:

While experience tells us plainly that the earth is standing still, if there were a real proof that the sun is in the center of the universe … and that the sun does not go round the earth but the earth round the sun, then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and rather admit that we did not understand them than declare an opinion to be false which is proved to be true. But this is not a thing to be done in haste, and as for myself, I shall not believe that there are such proofs until they are shown to me.

These words were spoken by Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, who was head of the Inquisition that prosecuted Galileo. As Dinesh D’Souza commented in his book, What’s So Great About Christianity, this is a model of sensible procedure. D’Souza goes on to say:

Bellarmine assumed that there could be no real conflict between science and scripture, which is what Christianity has always taught. Consequently, he argued, if we have been reading scripture one way and the natural evidence shows that we are wrong, then we need to revise our interpretation of scripture and acknowledge our mistake. But first let us make sure that there is in fact conclusive scientific proof before we start changing scriptural interpretations that have been taught for a very long time.

It’s unfortunate that Galileo’s arguments in favor of heliocentrism were flawed, otherwise Bellarmine might well have been convinced. (If you want to read more about Galileo’s run-in with the church, go here.)

History treats the Church rather unfairly with regard to the Galileo affair, because we know in hindsight that Galileo was right (albeit for the wrong reasons), and we now have no difficulty reconciling scripture with the notion that the Earth moves around the Sun. In Bellarmine’s time, there was no conclusive scientific proof of heliocentrism, so he and others like him should be forgiven. We, however, are at the point where there is “conclusive scientific proof” of the very old age of the universe and the Earth, among other things. It is time for Christians to revise our interpretation of scripture, and understand how an old universe is consistent with a literal interpretation of Genesis.

Have faith and go where the evidence leads. And here is why you should not be afraid to do so.

Science does not progress in timid little steps, but in courageous leaps. The history of science is full of revolutionaries who had the courage and perseverance to go where the evidence led, and as a result overturned old, incomplete ideas and replaced them with new ones that have given us astounding insights into the workings of the universe and the character of its Creator.

Here are just a few scientists who had the faith to go where the evidence leads:

  • Copernicus: Overturned the almost 2,000 year-old Earth-centered model of the universe with a model in which the Earth goes around the Sun. The heliocentric model represented the beginning of the scientific revolution.
  • Galileo: Demonstrated the importance of observation and experiment in science, and was one of the first scientists to emphasize the mathematical nature of physical laws. He also laid the groundwork for Newton’s laws of motion and Einstein’s relativity.
  • Newton: Though he made many important contributions, he is best known for uniting the heavens and the Earth with his law of universal gravitation. Newton’s work represented the closing book end of the scientific revolution.
  • Lemaître: Demonstrated mathematically that the universe isn’t necessarily static and eternal, but could be expanding and finite in time. His dedicated work on this idea earned him the informal title of “Father of the big bang.”
  • Planck: Discovered a solution to the so-called “ultraviolet catastrophe” and in the process discovered that energy in particles is quantized. His work kicked off the quantum revolution, and earned him the informal title of “Father of quantum mechanics.”
  • Einstein: With his special and general relativity, he expanded our understanding of gravity and overturned the rigid and distinct concepts of space and time with the concept of a flexible spacetime.

Note that all but one of these men were Christian. Copernicus and Lemaître were both priests, and Newton wrote more about theology than anything else combined. Einstein, though not Christian, characterized his immense curiosity about the natural world as “wanting to know God’s thoughts.”

Science is true worship. The question is, does science worship the world or God? If it abandons empiricism and places anything ahead of the search for truth, it worships the world. If it embraces empiricism and goes where the evidence leads, it worships God.

We will discuss the ways in which science is currently being corrupted in Part III.

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.

A universe of fireworks

The following is a guest post by Dr. Elizabeth Fernandez, who is both a friend and colleague of Dr. Salviander. Dr. Fernandez is a Catholic, an astrophysicist, and a freelance journalist. She is interested how science affects society, interfaith dialog, and the overlap of science with ethics, philosophy, and religion. Dr. Fernandez’s participation in interfaith dialog has included radio and television appearances, and organizing panel discussions, lectures, and field trips. You can follow her on Twitter at @sparkdialog.


Is it possible to be devoted to religion, yet come up with cutting edge science? Georges Lemaître thought so.

Lemaître. Probably the greatest scientist you’ve never heard of. He hung out with the likes of Hoyle, Eddington, and Einstein. And he came up with one of the most controversial ideas of modern cosmology, an idea that fundamentally changed how we looked at the universe.

Oh, yeah. And he was a Catholic priest.

Georges Lemaître always had two passions in life: science and religion. He knew he wanted to be a priest when he was 10 years old. While he served in WWI with the Belgian army, he read the Bible alongside physics textbooks while huddled in the trenches. He earned two bachelor’s degrees — one in math, and one in philosophy. He attended graduate school at the same time he was in the seminary, and is one of those rare, very dedicated people who earned not one but two PhDs — one in math and one in physics. He was one of the first people to suggest that computers could be used to solve complex problems, and was one of the inventors of the Fast Fourier Transform, an often-used tool in mathematics and computing.

At the time Lemaître started his research, around the beginning of the 1920s, the preferred view of the universe was Albert Einstein’s static universe. In this universe, galaxies hang in a fixed constellation with respect to one another, unmoving through the eons. Of course, physics tells us that gravity should draw all of these galaxies towards one another, and, if you wait long enough, everything would come together in a catastrophic collapse. In order to keep this from occurring, Einstein added a “cosmological constant” to counteract gravity: some mysterious outward force that would exactly balance the inward pull of gravity. This universe has no beginning; in fact, it’s ageless — quite possibly always existing in the same configuration we see today.

But Lemaître had a different idea. Since 1912, another astronomer named Vesto Slipher noticed in his observations that many galaxies were receding from Earth quite quickly. This didn’t quite fit into the concept of a static universe. Some scientists thought this was just a fluke, and others thought of it as one of the great cosmological puzzles of the time. It was Lemaître who figured it out. After delving into relativity, he came up with a new model of the universe – a model where space itself was expanding. This expanding space had the ability to whisk galaxies along with it, which explained the recessional velocities measured by Slipher. It was revolutionary. According to Lemaître’s model, the universe could change.

A changing universe… it was an incredible idea, but most scientists didn’t pay much attention. Einstein, even though he respected Lemaître greatly, didn’t believe his hypothesis, saying to Lemaître, Vos calculs sont corrects, mais votre physique est abominable. (“Your calculations are correct, but your physics is abominable.”) Lemaître’s own PhD advisor, Arthur Eddington, left Lemaître’s paper sitting on his desk, either unread or forgotten.

But Lemaître did not stop there. Three years later, he proposed an even more radical idea. He extrapolated the motions of the expanding galaxies backwards, predicting that at some time in the far distant past, all matter was compressed to one single point, what Lemaître called the “primeval atom.” Not only was the universe evolving, but it had a beginning.

Just as when Copernicus proposed that the earth went around the sun rather than the other way around, Lemaître’s idea was not met with accolades. Eddington didn’t like the idea of the primeval atom. Einstein thought it was unphysical. Lemaître’s own friend, astrophysicist Fred Hoyle, was a big opponent of the theory, explaining its shortcomings on public radio.

But, contrary to what most physicists of the day believed, Lemaître ended up being right. A couple of years after Lemaître made his prediction about the expansion of the universe, Edwin Hubble observationally confirmed Slipher’s discovery that galaxies are in fact moving away from one another. (Hubble is commonly credited for discovering the expanding universe because of these observations, even though Lemaître made his prediction years earlier. Oddly enough, when Hubble first observed these galaxies moving away from Earth, he vehemently stated these motions had nothing to do with an expanding universe, but rather should somehow fit into the static universe model.) And shortly before Lemaître died, he heard the final confirmation of his primeval atom hypothesis when astrophysicists, Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson, announced their discovery of the cosmic microwave background — the leftover radiation from the fireball of the universe’s creation. Now, Lemaître’s theory is so well known that it’s a household name — the big bang theory.

I wonder what many people would think if they knew one of the most well known scientific theories of our day was developed by a Catholic priest. Today, there is considerable debate if science and religion are compatible. Lemaître faced some of this controversy, but it did not distract him. To put it simply, he was in search for the truth: a truth that could be accessed through science, but also through religion. In the words of Lemaître:

Man’s highest activity is searching for the truth. It is the factor which distinguishes us from animals, and our specific activity is to grasp the truth in all its forms.

Once you realize that the Bible does not purport to be a textbook of science, the old controversy between religion and science vanishes . . . The doctrine of the Trinity is much more abstruse than anything in relativity or quantum mechanics; but, being necessary for salvation, the doctrine is stated in the Bible. If the theory of relativity had also been necessary for salvation, it would have been revealed to Saint Paul or to Moses . . . As a matter of fact neither Saint Paul nor Moses had the slightest idea of relativity.

The universe is an amazing, complex place. Georges Lemaître, in his quest for the truth, saw past the prevailing theories of the day to discover something fascinating and beautiful, a universe with a beginning, with galaxies constantly in motion, a universe that is, in the words of Lemaître, the “ashes and smoke of bright but very rapid fireworks”.

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.

God is not a magician


A recent pop news article claimed physicists have proved God didn’t create the universe. In response, I explained why you can’t trust the pop media to report on science accurately. In a follow-up post, I discussed why the universe isn’t “nothing,” as the article implied. In this, the third part, we’ll talk about what the Bible says about the creation of the universe and compare this with the current state of scientific thinking.

Let’s first summarize the problem as presented in the pop news article:

The supposed biblical claim: God created the universe from absolute nothing (creatio ex nihilo). Only God could create something from absolute nothing.

The atheist counterclaim: Physicists have discovered a way to create a universe from nothing using only the laws of physics. Therefore, God is irrelevant.

I’ve already explained why the atheist claim is bogus. But is creatio ex nihilo what the Bible says? It’s unclear, because there is nothing in scripture that explicitly says this. Those who believe creatio ex nihilo infer it from Genesis 1:1: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. It’s not an unreasonable inference—the Hebrew word for “create” means to bring something into existence that did not exist before—and it is probably for this reason that the great biblical commentator Nahmanides believed the universe was brought forth by God “from total and absolute nothing.” From my reading of Nahmanides (and my non-expertise in theology), the total and absolute nothing refers to something corporeal. More on this in a moment.

When dealing with argumentative atheists who want to debate science and God, what matters most is not whether science lines up with their particular ideas about God, but whether science is consistent with what we know from scripture. You have to be persistent about this, because atheists almost always present their arguments against a God that resembles nothing like the God of the Bible:

Asked if the remarkable findings and the convincing if complex solution removed the need for a God figure to kick start the universe Dr Mir said: “If by God you mean a supernatural super man who breaks his own laws then yes he’s done for, you just don’t need him.”

I doubt this is the exact question posed to Dr. Mir; and I believe the atheist we’re dealing with is not the physicist, but the reporter and/or his editor. Nevertheless, my interpretation of Mir’s response is, now that we have a plausible physical model for how the universe could arise from nothing but physical laws, we do not need the sort of God who waves his arms and magically conjures up a universe from nothing. In other words, the theory knocks down a strawman God. But it also supports the biblical God who operates in a way that we can relate to on at least a rudimentary level.

Have you ever watched a skilled magician performing tricks? Most people find it enjoyable to watch someone perform something that seems impossible. But it’s only fun, because everyone except for really little kids understands that the tricks are just illusions and the magician isn’t really defying the laws of nature. If we genuinely believed he was defying the laws of nature, the magic show would be more horrifying than entertaining*.

And yet, for reasons I don’t quite understand, a lot of people—including believers—regard God as the ultimate magician who really is defying the laws of nature. Personally, I find this notion of God repellant, because it contradicts what the Bible tells us about his character—he is knowable through nature, he is consistent, and he is reliable. But we needn’t worry, because the biblical account of the creation of the universe doesn’t describe something magical, it describes something miraculous.

It is tempting to think of magical and miraculous as synonymous, but there’s an important distinction between the two. For the purpose of this argument, magical refers to something that lacks a knowable mechanism, something that defies the laws of nature or does the impossible. Contrary to popular misconception, miraculous means none of those things. Rather, a miracle is something that is accomplished through divinely supernatural means; in other words, something that is accomplished by God through means that exist beyond the universe. As Israeli physicist and theologian, Gerald Schroeder, points out, this is exactly what modern science implies for the creation of the universe.

Prof. Mir – who also works on the Large Hardron (sic) Collider at CERN in Switzerland – further explained that by “nothing” he only meant absence of energy, and not the absence of laws of physics.

Schroeder says this is what Genesis has been telling us all along. In his book, The Science of God, he provides what he considers to be the most faithful translation of Genesis 1:1, which is known as the Jerusalem translation: With wisdom as the first cause, God created the universe. In other words, Genesis implies the laws of physics predate the universe, just as physicists claim. It is the supernaturally existing laws of physics—wisdom, the first cause—God uses to create the universe.

Let’s summarize what we’ve discussed:

  • The Bible implies the universe was created from nothing except the laws of physics. Science agrees.
  • The Bible says the laws of physics predate the universe. Science agrees.
  • The Bible says God used the pre-existing laws of physics to create the universe. This is consistent with science.

Logically, we know the universe can’t create itself; it requires something above and beyond. This is what the Bible has been saying all along, and science is finally catching up.


* If you don’t believe me, watch a movie called The Prestige. Even though the ultimate trick in the movie isn’t strictly magic—in the sense that it breaks no laws of nature—the magician goes well beyond simple illusion, and it’s pretty disturbing.

Image credit: ESO.

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.