Much to the surprise of many, there was a recent article over on the Wall Street Journal entitled. “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God.” (sorry, but the WSJ article is behind a paywall, but a summary of it can be found here). This of course is not the only instance of such a claim, but rather is one I have also seen popping up in my personal interactions with folks on several occasions recently.
So what is this case for God?
The author, Eric Metaxas, writes within the article as follows…
Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life — every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart… The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.
Yet here we are, not only existing, but talking about existing. What can account for it? Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident? At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?
He is not a scientist, but rather is a religious guy (which is fine), so if we asked a professional cosmologist to comment on this, what would we find?
Lawrence M. Krauss replies
Lawrence M. Krauss is Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Directors of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, attempted to reply, but the WSJ did not publish it, and so the Richard Dawkins foundation published it instead. Here is that letter in full …
To the editor:
I was rather surprised to read the unfortunate oped piece “Science Increasingly makes the case for God”, written not by a scientist but a religious writer with an agenda. The piece was rife with inappropriate scientific misrepresentations. For example:
- We currently DO NOT know the factors that allow the evolution of life in the Universe. We know the many factors that were important here on Earth, but we do not know what set of other factors might allow a different evolutionary history elsewhere. The mistake made by the author is akin to saying that if one looks at all the factors in my life that led directly to my sitting at my computer to write this, one would obtain a probability so small as to conclude that it is impossible that anyone else could ever sit down to compose a letter to the WSJ.
- We have discovered many more planets around stars in our galaxy than we previously imagined, and many more forms of life existing in extreme environments in our planet than were known when early estimates of the frequency of life in the universe were first made. If anything, the odds have increased, not decreased.
- The Universe would certainly continue to exist even if the strength of the four known forces was different. It is true that if the forces had slighty different strengths ( but nowhere near as tiny as the fine-scale variation asserted by the writer) then life as we know it would probably not have evolved. This is more likely an example of life being fine-tuned for the universe in which it evolved, rather than the other way around.
- My ASU colleague Paul Davies may have said that “the appearance of design is overwhelming”, but his statement should not be misinterpreted. The appearance of design of life on Earth is also overwhelming, but we now understand, thanks to Charles Darwin that the appearance of design is not the same as design, it is in fact a remnant of the remarkable efficiency of natural selection.
Religious arguments for the existence of God thinly veiled as scientific arguments do a disservice to both science and religion, and by allowing a Christian apologist to masquerade as a scientist WSJ did a disservice to its readers.
My own additional thoughts
Whenever faced with such claims, I cannot help be feel that every time it basically boils down to, “Here is an observation of the way things are, I have no idea how it could have happened naturally, therefore God”, and so if you ask the key question, “Do you have any credible objective independently verifiable evidence that confirms that there is a god?” then the only factual answer has always been, “no”, and so it is indeed odd that so many struggle to prove something that has not evidence at all is real.
Why is it like this?
As humans we have always been prone to pointing at things we do not understand and attributing them to be the actions of a god. Historically our ancestors looks at the stars, the moon, the sun, weather, thunder and lightening, and concluded that these were manifestations of a god. What is rather apparent to us all now, is that they were mistaken and simply did not understand why such things are the way they are, and so we do now understand that these are all quite natural and no supernaturalism is required to explain them … and yet this pattern of human behaviour still persists, some still point beyond our barrier of knowledge out into the void of the unknown and declare “God did it” on the sole basis that we see some apparent order or pattern and so they naturally attribute this to be god, while happily ignoring the observation that every single historical example of applying this mode of thinking turned out to be wrong.
Douglas Adams nailed it
I confess that I am rather fond of the writings of Douglas Adams, he nailed it as follows…
“This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.”
― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt
Here he is explaining this …
For a more detailed look at the fine-tuning argument, the Wikipedia article is a nice summary of the arguments and counter-arguments.