Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Four ways that the progress of science conflicts with naturalistic speculations

When people ask me whether the progress of science is more compatible with theism or atheism, I offer the follow four basic pieces of scientific evidence that are more compatible with theism than atheism.

Here are the four pieces of evidence best explained by a Creator/Designer:

  1. the kalam argument from the origin of the universe
  2. the cosmic fine-tuning (habitability) argument
  3. the biological information in the first replicator (origin of life)
  4. the sudden origin of all of the different body plans in the fossil record (Cambrian explosion)

And I point to specific examples of recent discoveries that confirm those four arguments. Here are just a few of them:

  1. An explanation of 3 of the 6 experimental evidences for the Big Bang cosmology (From an article from Caltech)
  2. Examples of cosmic fine-tuning (there at least 40 examples of cosmic fine-tuning), (From the New Scientist)
  3. Evidence that functional protein sequences are beyond the reach of chance, (from Doug Axe’s JMB article)
  4. Evidence showing that Ediacaran fauna are not precursors to the Cambrian fossils, (from the journal Nature)

Atheists will typically reply to the recent scientific discoveries that overturned their speculations like this:

  1. Maybe the Big Bang cosmology will be overturned by the Big Crunch/Bounce so that the universe is eternal and has no cause
  2. Maybe there is a multiverse: an infinite number of unobservable, untestable universes which makes our finely-tuned one more probable
  3. Maybe the origin of life could be the result of chance and natural processes
  4. Maybe we will find a seamless chain of fossils that explain how the Cambrian explosion occurred slowly, over a long period time

Ever heard any of these responses?

Below I list some resources to help you to respond to the four responses of atheists to the experimental data.

1) The Big Crunch/Bounce has been disproved theoretically and experimentally.

Theoretically:

Nature 302, 505 – 506 (07 April 1983); doi:10.1038/302505a0

The impossibility of a bouncing universe

ALAN H. GUTH* & MARC SHER†

*Center for Theoretical Physics, Laboratory for Nuclear Science and Department of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

†Department of Physics, University of California, Irvine, California 92717, USA

Petrosian1 has recently discussed the possibility that the restoration of symmetry at grand unification in a closed contracting Robertson–Walker universe could slow down and halt the contraction, causing the universe to bounce. He then went on to discuss the possibility that our universe has undergone a series of such bounces. We disagree with this analysis. One of us (M.S.) has already shown2 that if a contracting universe is dominated by radiation, then a bounce is impossible. We will show here two further results: (1) entropy considerations imply that the quantity S (defined in ref. 1 and below), which must decrease by ~1075 to allow the present Universe to bounce, can in fact decrease by no more than a factor of ~2; (2) if the true vacuum state has zero energy density, then a universe which is contracting in its low temperature phase can never complete a phase transition soon enough to cause a bounce.

Experimentally:

The universe is not only expanding, but that expansion appears to be speeding up. And as if that discovery alone weren’t strange enough, it implies that most of the energy in the cosmos is contained in empty space — a concept that Albert Einstein considered but discarded as his “biggest blunder.” The new findings have been recognized as 1998’s top scientific breakthrough by Science magazine.

[...]The flood of findings about the universe’s expansion rate is the result of about 10 years of study, said Saul Perlmutter, team leader of the Supernova Cosmology Project at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Perlmutter and others found such a yardstick in a particular kind of exploding star known as a Type 1A supernova. Over the course of several years, the astronomers developed a model to predict how bright such a supernova would appear at any given distance. Astronomers recorded dozens of Type 1A supernovae and anxiously matched them up with redshifts to find out how much the universe’s expansion was slowing down.

To their surprise, the redshift readings indicated that the expansion rate for distant supernovae was lower than the expansion rate for closer supernovae, Perlmutter said. On the largest scale imaginable, the universe’s galaxies appear to be flying away from each other faster and faster as time goes on.

“What we have found is that there is a ‘dark force’ that permeates the universe and that has overcome the force of gravity,” said Nicholas Suntzeff of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, who is the co-founder of another group called the High-z Supernova Search Team. “This result is so strange and unexpected that it perhaps is only believable because two independent international groups have found the same effect in their data.”

There has only been one creation of the universe, and the universe will never reverse its expansion, so that it could oscillate eternally. That view is popular, perhaps in part because many people watched videos of Carl Sagan speculating about it in public school classrooms, but all it was was idle naturalistic speculation, (Sagan was a naturalist, and held out hope that science would vindicate naturalism), and has been contradicted by good experimental science. You should be familiar with the 3 evidences for the Big Bang (redshift, light element abundances (helium/hydrogen) and the cosmic microwave background radiation. There are others, (radioactive element abundances, second law of thermodynamics, stellar lifecycle), but those are the big three. Point out how the experimental evidence for the Big Bang has piled up, making the problem even worse for the eternal-universe naturalists. Leave no doubt.

2) The multiverse has not been tested experimentally, it’s pure speculation.

Speculation:

Multiverse thinking or the belief in the existence of parallel universes is more philosophy or science fiction than science. ”Cosmology must seem odd to scientists in other fields”.

George Ellis, a well-known mathematician and cosmologist, who for instance has written a book with Stephen Hawking, is sceptical of the idea that our universe is just another universe among many others.

A few weeks ago, Ellis, professor emeritus of applied mathematics at the University of Cape Town, reviewed Brian Greene’s book The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos (Knopf/Allen Lane, 2011) in the journal Nature. He is not at all convinced that the multiverse hypothesis is credible: ”Greene is not presenting aspects of a known reality; he is telling of unproven theoretical possibilities.”

According to professor Ellis, there is no evidence of multiverses, they cannot be tested and they are not science.

Ellis is not the only multiverse sceptic in this universe. A few months ago, science writer John Horgan wrote a column in Scientific American, expressing his doubt in multiverses.

When you get into a debate, you must never ever let the other side get away with asserting something they have no evidence for. Call them on it – point out that they have no evidence, and then hammer them with evidence for your point. Pile up cases of fine-tuning on top of each other and continuously point out that they have no experimental evidence for their speculations. Point out that more evidence we get, the more cases of fine-tuning we find, and the tougher the problem gets for naturalists. Leave no doubt.

3) Naturalistic theories for the origin of life have two problems: can’t make the amino acids in an oxydized atmosphere and can’t make protein and DNA sequences by chance in the time available.

Building blocks:

The oxidation state of Hadean magmas and implications for early Earth’s atmosphere

Dustin Trail, E. Bruce Watson & Nicholas D. Tailby

Nature 480, 79–82 (01 December 2011) doi:10.1038/nature10655

[...]These results suggest that outgassing of Earth’s interior later than ~200?Myr into the history of Solar System formation would not have resulted in a reducing atmosphere.

Functional protein sequences:

J Mol Biol. 2004 Aug 27;341(5):1295-315.

Estimating the prevalence of protein sequences adopting functional enzyme folds.

Axe DD.

The Babraham Institute, Structural Biology Unit, Babraham Research Campus, Cambridge CB2 4AT, UK. doug.axe@bbsrc.ac.uk

Proteins employ a wide variety of folds to perform their biological functions. How are these folds first acquired? An important step toward answering this is to obtain an estimate of the overall prevalence of sequences adopting functional folds.

[...]Starting with a weakly functional sequence carrying this signature, clusters of ten side-chains within the fold are replaced randomly, within the boundaries of the signature, and tested for function. The prevalence of low-level function in four such experiments indicates that roughly one in 10(64) signature-consistent sequences forms a working domain. Combined with the estimated prevalence of plausible hydropathic patterns (for any fold) and of relevant folds for particular functions, this implies the overall prevalence of sequences performing a specific function by any domain-sized fold may be as low as 1 in 10(77), adding to the body of evidence that functional folds require highly extraordinary sequences.

So atheists are in double jeopardy here. They don’t have a way to build the Scrabble letters needed for life, and they don’t have a way to form the Scrabble letters into words and sentences. Point out that the more research we do, the tougher the problem gets to solve for naturalists, and the more it looks like an effect of intelligence. Write out the calculations for them. Leave no doubt.

4) The best candidate to explain the sudden origin of the Cambrian era fossils was the Ediacaran fauna, but those are now recognized as not being precursors to the Cambrian fossils.

Science Daily reports on a paper from the peer-reviewed journal Science:

Evidence of the single-celled ancestors of animals, dating from the interval in Earth’s history just before multicellular animals appeared, has been discovered in 570 million-year-old rocks from South China by researchers from the University of Bristol, the Swedish Museum of Natural History, the Paul Scherrer Institut and the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences.

[...]This X-ray microscopy revealed that the fossils had features that multicellular embryos do not, and this led the researchers to the conclusion that the fossils were neither animals nor embryos but rather the reproductive spore bodies of single-celled ancestors of animals.

Professor Philip Donoghue said: “We were very surprised by our results — we’ve been convinced for so long that these fossils represented the embryos of the earliest animals — much of what has been written about the fossils for the last ten years is flat wrong. Our colleagues are not going to like the result.”

Professor Stefan Bengtson said: “These fossils force us to rethink our ideas of how animals learned to make large bodies out of cells.”

The trend is that there is no evolutionary explanation for the body plans that emerged in the Cambrian era. If you want to make the claim that “evolution did it”, then you have to produce the data today. Not speculations about the future. The data we have today says no to naturalism. The only way to affirm naturalistic explanations for the evidence we have is by faith. We need to minimize our leaps of faith, though, and go with the simplest and most reasonable explanation – an intelligence is the best explanation responsible for rapid generation of biological information.

Conclusion

I do think it’s important for Christians to focus more on scientific apologetics and to focus their academic careers in scientific fields. So often I look at Christian blogs, and I see way too much G. K. Chesterton, Francis Chan and other untestable, ineffective jibber-jabber. We need to bring the hard science, and stop making excuses about not being able to understand it because it’s too hard. It’s not too hard. Everyone can understand “Who Made God?” by Edgar Andrews – start with that! Then get Lee Strobel’s “The Case for a Creator“. That’s more than enough for the average Christian on science apologetics. We all have to do our best to learn what works. You don’t want to be anti-science like atheists are. I recommend reading Uncommon Descent and Evolution News every day for a start.

UPDATE: Jeffery Jay Lowder (a naturalist) replies here.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

29 Responses

  1. Great post Wintery!

    This an excellent overview and summary.

    Thanks,

    –Bill

    Forest, VA

  2. John Moore says:

    Atheists have no problem with Big Bang theory. You’re wasting your time discussing it, because it’s just not an issue.

    • Well, I admit, atheism has no problem with any knowledge, because they just don’t care about truth. Atheism is largely a rebellion against morality, so why would they let science stop them?

      In any case, you’re wrong about atheism being compatible with the Big Bang. According to the Secular Humanist Manifesto, atheism is committed to an eternally existing universe:

      http://www.americanhumanist.org/Who_We_Are/About_Humanism/Humanist_Manifesto_I

      (See the first item: “Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.”). If something non-material brought all existing matter into being, that would be a supernatural cause, and atheists deny that anything supernatural exists. The standard Big Bang theory requires that all the matter in the universe come into being out of nothing.

      Here’s a typical reaction by an atheist (Arthur Eddington) to the notion of a cosmic beginning:

      In the introduction to his book “The First Three Minutes” [Weinberg 1977] Steven Weinberg wrote: “How then did we come to the ‘standard model’? And how has it supplanted other theories, like the steady state model? It is a tribute to the essential objectivity of modern astrophysics that this consensus has been brought about, not by shifts in philosophical preference or by the influence of astrophysical mandarins, but by the pressure of empirical data.” To say that rejection of the steady state model in favor of the big bang theory was not due to shifts in philosophical preference is an understatement, because many scientists would agree with Weinberg that the steady state model is “philosophically far more attractive.” Einstein introduced an arbitrary additional term into his equations of general relativity in an attempt (which he later regretted) to avoid the expanding universe solution. Robert Jastrow [Jastrow 1978] writes that: “Some prominent scientists began to feel the same irritation over the expanding universe that Einstein had expressed earlier. Eddington wrote in 1931, ‘I have no ax to grind in this discussion, but the notion of a beginning is repugnant to me. The expanding universe is preposterous. . . incredible, it leaves me cold.’ The German chemist Walter Nernst wrote ‘To deny the infinite duration of time would be to betray the very foundation of science.'” The reason that many scientists were reluctant to accept the big bang is obvious: it points out the incompleteness of science. If the goal of science is, as Joseph Le Conte [Le Conte 1888] put it, to explain how “each state or condition grew naturally out of the immediately preceding”, then this pursuit meets a dead end in the big bang, for the chain of causality must end with the beginning of time. The implications of the discovery that the entire universe-matter, energy, space and time-had a true beginning are enormous. . .Scientists still tend to think of religions as systems of beliefs which have no root in science, and of atheism as the absence of any such unprovable beliefs. The truth is that now all theories of origins, theistic or atheistic, involve speculation as to the nature of the supernatural forces which created our universe out of nothingness, because there were no “natural” causes before Nature came into existence. The question is only, was it an intelligent or an unintelligent supernatural force that created time, space, matter and energy out of nothingness?

      Source:

      http://ai.stanford.edu/~csewell/essays/index.html

      Sure atheists have no problem with the entire physical universe coming into being out of nothing. No problem at all. LOL!

      • joecoder7 says:

        In fairness the humanists are currently on version 3 of the manifesto:

        http://americanhumanist.org/Humanism/Humanist_Manifesto_III

        It looks like the part about the eternal universe has been scrubbed.

      • I have to correct my comment above and say that I don’t mean that atheists are always driven to atheism by immorality. I think they are driven to it by a general rebellion against anything that constrains their autonomy to seek their own happiness in the way they see fit. That is often morality, but it could be truth of any kind. They don’t like the idea that someone made the universe and that the Someone can hold them accountable for preferring pleasure above obedience.

        Look at how many people are resorting to speculations to get away from the scientific evidence. People positing aliens as an explanation for the origin of life, or the multiverse as an explanation for the fine-tuning, or the bouncing cosmology as an explanation for the Big Bang, or as yet undiscovered fossils that explain the sudden origin of the Cambrian fossils. It’s not rational. There is something else going on there. They are fighting to not to be constrained by objective truth and objective morality. Not being fair with the data for a specific reason – so that they don’t have to have any limits set on their own desire to live as they please and feel good about themselves using their own standard of what’s good.

  3. John Moore says:

    I’m not saying atheism is compatible with the Big Bang; just that no atheists have serious doubts about the theory anymore. You don’t have to explain the scientific findings, because your atheist readers already know and agree.

    So you can focus all your barbs at the real point of contention, which is indeed that atheists seem to think the entire physical universe came from nothing.

  4. Water Rat says:

    Hey Wintery, nice to see all of this in one place.

    I think one link needs some fixing though – the one labeled “write out the calculations for them” points to pictures of normal and neglected children’s brains.

    Thanks again!

  5. The fact that atheist physicists (like Krauss) are trying desperately to find (or create) evidence for a “nature before nature,” to the point of blatantly redefining philosophical terms to fit their biases, tells me that they are still trying to get around the notion of an empirically-proven absolute beginning to space, time, matter and energy. Atheists are far from comfortable, or even accepting, what science seems to be proving with every new wave of data from measurements and probes.

  6. Best post of the day in the Christian blogosphere!

  7. […] For more reading on the matter I highly suggest Wintery Knight’s post, “Four ways that the progress of science conflicts with naturalistic speculations.” […]

  8. Marc Newman says:

    I’m not sure why you are speaking of Chesterton as “ineffective jibber-jabber.” Science only goes so far, it has absolutely nothing to say for example about moral philosophy. Science, as a discipline, is limited to those things which are physical, and the cosmological claims you are making here are philosophical claims based on conclusions drawn from the scientific data. Beyond that, science is rhetorical — and it is okay to admit that. Once you get beyond the raw data and craft a “story” out of it to indicate what it all “means” we are out of the realm of experimental science and into the realm of rhetoric and philosophy. To be clear, I am not arguing that science is bad, and I am certainly not anti-science. I am simply arguing that it is one seat at a longer table which includes philosophy and theology. For an analysis of the limits of science, see A.F. Chalmers _What is this thing called science?_, for a look at some of the rhetorical elements of science see Thomas Lessl, “The Priestly Voice” Quarterly Journal of Speech, v75 n2 p183-97 May 1989. He discusses it here: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles5/LesslRhetoric.php. Also, see my student Curtis Perry Otto’s dissertation: _Rhetoric, Science, and Global Climate Change_.

    • Because Chesterton has no evidence for anything, and I am an evidentialist. I believe that you prove claims to know things with arguments supported by evidence. I regard Chesterton’s writings as art, like the Narnia novels. But they don’t refer to anything that’s been proved scientifically or historically, so they have limited appeal to those who are not already Christians. What is persuasive is science, history and other hard data. I do respect philosophy, but evidence is what works today.

    • Neil Shenvi says:

      Jeff, I posted this at your blog, but I wanted to add it here so that WK sees it:

      Jeff,
      Your objections are interesting, and I’ll have to chew on them for a bit. However, your main objection seems heavily predicated upon the idea that theism cannot be an ‘explanation’ at all unless it provides a mechanism. But can you explain (no pun intended) what you mean by a ‘mechanism’? You seem to assume that any ‘mechanism’ must involve a naturalistic description of causation (hence your objection to the Antarctic markings example used by Meyer in his book). But, in the case of theism, such a mechanism is impossible since theistic intervention would necessitate non-natural causation.

      Moreover, I would question whether a mechanism really is a necessary condition for any explanation. For example, in my own field of quantum mechanics, scientists will routinely invoke ‘decoherence’ or ‘wavefunction collapse’ as explanations for observed phenomena even when the mechanism for these processes is not known either empirically or even philosophically. Yet it hardly seems appropriate to dismiss these inferences as ‘non-explanatory’ simply because the mechanism of the interaction is unknown.
      -Neil

    • I think we have direct experience of non-physical minds causing effects on physical systems (our bodies) as well as creating specified complexity (e.g. – computer code). So I wouldn’t classify the causes of these effects as “unknown”.

      First, I had recently posted about the research of Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz on mindfulness and mental effort here:

      http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2013/09/01/jeffrey-m-schwartz-and-the-confirmation-of-free-will-in-research-on-mindfulness/

      So there you have a mind causing effects on brain chemistry – mind affecting matter. This is similar to what God does in creating the universe.

      For the design arguments, you just need to consider the work of intelligent design theorists like William Dembski and Stephen Meyer. They characterize information as specified complexity and they argue that the best explanation of this specified complexity is intelligent causation / selection by a mind. And again, this is not unknown because we have experience with our own minds creating information in blog posts and computer programs.

      So I’m not sure that these things are unknown. We have to go with the best explanation and the best explanation is based on causes that we know about through our own experience. No need to resort to speculative theories that match naturalistic assumptions. Let’s just throw out the naturalistic assumption in these particular cases – that’s a better solution.

      • Thanks for the link to your post about Schwartz’s work. I wasn’t familiar with it, but it sounds interesting. I’ll add it to my hopelessly long “to read” list.

        I am familiar with the work of Dembski and Meyer. I’ve been reading Meyer’s last two books, Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt. Meyer is clearly a gifted writer. I am shocked, however, by his approach to the logical form of his arguments. It’s not that his approach is necessarily wrong; rather, the problem is that he doesn’t even seem to discuss the well-known controversies with his approach. If I were going to argue for intelligent design, I wouldn’t use his approach: I think there’s a stronger one at his disposal. Regardless, given his Ph.D. from Cambridge, I expected more. Maybe someday I will write a post summarizing what I am talking about. :)

        I do want to comment on this, however.

        And again, this is not unknown because we have experience with our own minds creating information in blog posts and computer programs.

        Minds creating information in blog posts and computer programs don’t involve a radical metaphysical dualism. Such minds are still dependent upon a physical brain. The interaction of such minds with their brains is not mysterious. Supernatural persons (like God) and “souls,” on the other hand, DO involve a radical metaphysical dualism. The interaction between God and matter (or souls and brains) is mysterious.

        The key takeaway is this. Proponents of ID make analogies between mundane examples of intelligent design (such as blog posts, computer software), on the one hand, and metaphysically-loaded examples of intelligent design (such as the origin of biological information, Cambrian animal forms, irreducible complexity, etc.), on the other hand. Proponents of ID seem to be cherry-picking the features of the mundane examples which support theism (e.g., a mind was involved) while ignoring the features which undermine theism (e.g., the mundane examples involve minds working within space and time, with established laws of physics, on pre-existing matter, with a mind that is dependent upon a physical brain).

        This is logically (inductively) incorrect. All inductively strong arguments must satisfy the Requirement of Total Evidence in order to be cogent; that is, the premises of an inductively strong argument must state the total information relevant to the conclusion. An argument from analogy, such as the ID analogy with human minds writing blog posts and computer software, is inductively incorrect when the disanalogies between two things outweigh the analogies between two things.

  9. […] going to offer some comments on a recent post by Wintery Knight. He […]

  10. […] Any attempt by theists to give scientific data (a peer reviewed document or book) can be just cast off as a “God of the Gaps” argument. Granted, I think we have answered the problem with the “God of the gaps” charge, but it still comes up quite a bit. And in return, the atheist just punts to a ‘nature and chance” of the gaps argument. In other words, whatever Design or God explanation is given, some atheists assume over time, science (which is not a search for natural/material causes alone) will be able to show that time, nature, chance and some sort of evolutionary explanation will eventually provide a naturalistic explanation. The same goes for historical arguments. For some, any resurrection claim about Jesus will always have a naturalistIC hypothesis. I think this has problems (as I talk more about here). But I won’t be addressing the resurrection issue in this post. […]

  11. […] />Purpose</b> in Life?</li></ol><p><a href=”http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2013/08/29/four-ways-that-the-progress-of-science-conflicts-with-&#8230; attempt by theists to give scientific data (a peer reviewed document or book</a>) can be just […]

  12. […] In regards to these questions, any attempt by theists to give scientific data (a peer reviewed docu…) is cast off as a “God of the Gaps” argument. Granted, I think we have provided answers to the “God of the Gaps” charge. And in return, the atheist just punts to a “nature and chance of the gaps” argument. In other words, whatever God explanation is given, some atheists assume that science (which is not a search for natural/material causes alone) will be able to show that eventually we will arrive at naturalistic explanation. The same goes for historical arguments. For some, any resurrection claim about Jesus will always have a naturalistic hypothesis. I think this has problems (as we discuss in some of our resources here). But I won’t be addressing the resurrection issue in this post. […]

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