Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Dr. Robin Collins explains two kinds of cosmic fine-tuning

I was busy working my way through “Debating Christian Theism“, a book published by Oxford University Press in August 2013. It features about 20 different topics from science, to philosophy, to history. For each topic, there is an essay by a world-class scholar in favor, and one opposed. So you get both sides of many interesting issues, at a very advanced level. The section on cosmic fine-tuning features a chapter written by Dr. Robin Collins.

About Robin Collins:

Robin Collins (PhD, University of Notre Dame, 1993), is professor of philosophy at Messiah College, Grantham, PA specializing in the area of science and religion. He has written over twenty-five articles and book chapters on a wide range of topics, such as the fine-tuning of the cosmos as evidence for the existence of God, evolution and original sin, the Doctrine of Atonement, Asian religions and Christianity, and Bohm’s theory of quantum mechanics. Some of his most recent articles/book chapters are “Philosophy of Science and Religion” in The Oxford Handbook of Science and Religion, “Divine Action and Evolution” in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology (2009) “The Multiverse Hypothesis: A Theistic Perspective,” in Universe or Multiverse? (Cambridge University Press), and “God and the Laws of Nature,” in Theism or Naturalism: New Philosophical Perspectives (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). He recently received a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to finish a book that presents the case for design based on physics and cosmology, tentatively entitled The Well-Tempered Universe: God, Cosmic Fine-tuning, and the Laws of Nature.

His specialty is this fine-tuning argument. So let’s see what he says about it.

The fine-tuning argument

Here’s a short article where Collins gives TWO examples of the fine-tuning. He is very modest in his argument, merely asserting that the fine-tuning is more compatible with theism than it is with atheism.

Excerpt:

Science is commonly thought to have undercut belief in God. As Nobel Prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg famously remarked, “the more we find out about the universe, the more meaningless it all seems.” Yet, the discoveries of modern physics and cosmology in the last 50 years have shown that the structure of the universe is set in an extraordinarily precise way for the existence of life; if its structure were slightly different, even by an extraordinarily small degree, life would not be possible. In many people’s minds, the most straightforward explanation of this remarkable fine-tuning is some sort of divine purpose behind our universe.

This fine-tuning falls into three categories: the fine-tuning of the laws of nature, the fine-tuning of the constants of physics, and the fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe. “Fine-tuning of the laws of nature” refers to the fact that if the universe did not have precisely the right combination of laws, complex intelligent life would be impossible. If there were no universal attractive force (law of gravity), for example, matter would be dispersed throughout the universe and the energy sources (such as stars) needed for life would not exist. Without the strong nuclear force that binds protons and neutrons together in the nucleus, there would not be any atoms with an atomic number greater than hydrogen, and hence no complex molecules needed for life. And without the Pauli-exclusion principle, all electrons would fall to the lowest orbital of an atom, undercutting the kind of complex chemistry that life requires.

Some fundamental physical numbers governing the structure of the universe—called the constants of physics—also must fall into an exceedingly narrow range for life to exist. For example, many have estimated that the cosmological constant—a fundamental number that governs the expansion rate of empty space—must be precisely set to one part in 10120 in order for life to occur; if it were too large, the universe would have expanded too rapidly for galaxies and stars to form, and if it were too small, the universe would have collapsed back on itself. As Stephen Hawking wrote in his book A Brief History of Time, “The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers [i.e. the constants of physics] seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.” Finally, the initial distribution of mass energy at the time of the big bang must have an enormously special configuration for life to occur, which Cambridge University mathematical physicist Roger Penrose has calculated to be on the order of one part in 1010123. This is an unimaginably small number.

How widely acknowledged is the fine-tuning of the universe? Here’s an article from the New Scientist that discusses the fine-tuning of the force of gravity. (Link goes to my blog post on the New Scientist article, which is now no longer available)

Excerpt:

The feebleness of gravity is something we should be grateful for. If it were a tiny bit stronger, none of us would be here to scoff at its puny nature.

The moment of the universe‘s birth created both matter and an expanding space-time in which this matter could exist. While gravity pulled the matter together, the expansion of space drew particles of matter apart – and the further apart they drifted, the weaker their mutual attraction became.

It turns out that the struggle between these two was balanced on a knife-edge. If the expansion of space had overwhelmed the pull of gravity in the newborn universe, stars, galaxies and humans would never have been able to form. If, on the other hand, gravity had been much stronger, stars and galaxies might have formed, but they would have quickly collapsed in on themselves and each other. What’s more, the gravitational distortion of space-time would have folded up the universe in a big crunch. Our cosmic history could have been over by now.

Only the middle ground, where the expansion and the gravitational strength balance to within 1 part in 1015 at 1 second after the big bang, allows life to form.

Here’s a very long paper by Collins on the fine-tuning argument, where he answers several objections to the argument, including the multiverse/many-universe hypothesis.

I think if you’re going to bring this argument up with a naturalist/non-theist, you should probably have a couple of examples ready.

In dialog

There’s a PBS TV series called “Closer to Truth” that covers interesting questions about science and religion. It’s moderated by famous scholar Robert Lawrence Kuhn, who has his PhD from UCLA in anatomy and brain research. The series features interviews with many prominent scholars like Alvin Plantinga and Paul Davies.

Robin Collins was also a participant, and here are a couple of clips from his segment on the fine-tuning argument.

Part 1:

Part 2:

If you’re looking for a good introductory book where this argument is explained, Lee Strobel’s “The Case for a Creator” is a good choice.

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

Dr. Robin Collins explains two kinds of cosmic fine-tuning

I was busy working my way through “Debating Christian Theism“, a book published by Oxford University Press in August 2013. It features about 20 different topics from science, to philosophy, to history. For each topic, there is an essay by a world-class scholar in favor, and one opposed. So you get both sides of many interesting issues, at a very advanced level. The section on cosmic fine-tuning features a chapter written by Dr. Robin Collins.

About Robin Collins:

Robin Collins (PhD, University of Notre Dame, 1993), is professor of philosophy at Messiah College, Grantham, PA specializing in the area of science and religion. He has written over twenty-five articles and book chapters on a wide range of topics, such as the fine-tuning of the cosmos as evidence for the existence of God, evolution and original sin, the Doctrine of Atonement, Asian religions and Christianity, and Bohm’s theory of quantum mechanics. Some of his most recent articles/book chapters are “Philosophy of Science and Religion” in The Oxford Handbook of Science and Religion, “Divine Action and Evolution” in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology (2009) “The Multiverse Hypothesis: A Theistic Perspective,” in Universe or Multiverse? (Cambridge University Press), and “God and the Laws of Nature,” in Theism or Naturalism: New Philosophical Perspectives (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). He recently received a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to finish a book that presents the case for design based on physics and cosmology, tentatively entitled The Well-Tempered Universe: God, Cosmic Fine-tuning, and the Laws of Nature.

His specialty is this fine-tuning argument. So let’s see what he says about it.

The fine-tuning argument

Here’s a short article where Collins gives TWO examples of the fine-tuning. He is very modest in his argument, merely asserting that the fine-tuning is more compatible with theism than it is with atheism.

Excerpt:

Science is commonly thought to have undercut belief in God. As Nobel Prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg famously remarked, “the more we find out about the universe, the more meaningless it all seems.” Yet, the discoveries of modern physics and cosmology in the last 50 years have shown that the structure of the universe is set in an extraordinarily precise way for the existence of life; if its structure were slightly different, even by an extraordinarily small degree, life would not be possible. In many people’s minds, the most straightforward explanation of this remarkable fine-tuning is some sort of divine purpose behind our universe.

This fine-tuning falls into three categories: the fine-tuning of the laws of nature, the fine-tuning of the constants of physics, and the fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe. “Fine-tuning of the laws of nature” refers to the fact that if the universe did not have precisely the right combination of laws, complex intelligent life would be impossible. If there were no universal attractive force (law of gravity), for example, matter would be dispersed throughout the universe and the energy sources (such as stars) needed for life would not exist. Without the strong nuclear force that binds protons and neutrons together in the nucleus, there would not be any atoms with an atomic number greater than hydrogen, and hence no complex molecules needed for life. And without the Pauli-exclusion principle, all electrons would fall to the lowest orbital of an atom, undercutting the kind of complex chemistry that life requires.

Some fundamental physical numbers governing the structure of the universe—called the constants of physics—also must fall into an exceedingly narrow range for life to exist. For example, many have estimated that the cosmological constant—a fundamental number that governs the expansion rate of empty space—must be precisely set to one part in 10120 in order for life to occur; if it were too large, the universe would have expanded too rapidly for galaxies and stars to form, and if it were too small, the universe would have collapsed back on itself. As Stephen Hawking wrote in his book A Brief History of Time, “The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers [i.e. the constants of physics] seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.” Finally, the initial distribution of mass energy at the time of the big bang must have an enormously special configuration for life to occur, which Cambridge University mathematical physicist Roger Penrose has calculated to be on the order of one part in 1010123. This is an unimaginably small number.

How widely acknowledged is the fine-tuning of the universe? Here’s an article from the New Scientist that discusses the fine-tuning of the force of gravity. (Link goes to my blog post on the New Scientist article, which is now no longer available)

Excerpt:

The feebleness of gravity is something we should be grateful for. If it were a tiny bit stronger, none of us would be here to scoff at its puny nature.

The moment of the universe‘s birth created both matter and an expanding space-time in which this matter could exist. While gravity pulled the matter together, the expansion of space drew particles of matter apart – and the further apart they drifted, the weaker their mutual attraction became.

It turns out that the struggle between these two was balanced on a knife-edge. If the expansion of space had overwhelmed the pull of gravity in the newborn universe, stars, galaxies and humans would never have been able to form. If, on the other hand, gravity had been much stronger, stars and galaxies might have formed, but they would have quickly collapsed in on themselves and each other. What’s more, the gravitational distortion of space-time would have folded up the universe in a big crunch. Our cosmic history could have been over by now.

Only the middle ground, where the expansion and the gravitational strength balance to within 1 part in 1015 at 1 second after the big bang, allows life to form.

Here’s a very long paper by Collins on the fine-tuning argument, where he answers several objections to the argument, including the multiverse/many-universe hypothesis.

I think if you’re going to bring this argument up with a naturalist/non-theist, you should probably have a couple of examples ready.

In dialog

There’s a PBS TV series called “Closer to Truth” that covers interesting questions about science and religion. It’s moderated by famous scholar Robert Lawrence Kuhn, who has his PhD from UCLA in anatomy and brain research. The series features interviews with many prominent scholars like Alvin Plantinga and Paul Davies.

Robin Collins was also a participant, and here are a couple of clips from his segment on the fine-tuning argument.

Part 1:

Part 2:

If you’re looking for a good introductory book where this argument is explained, Lee Strobel’s “The Case for a Creator” is on sale right now for $2.99 (Kindle edition). Robin Collins is interviewed by Lee Strobel for the chapter on fine-tuning.

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

Do atheists and agnostics have a burden of proof to bear?

My friend William B. shared this Enlightenment Journal post, written by philosopher Paul Copan.

Excerpt:

In conversations with atheists, they may challenge us: “You’re claiming that God exists. Therefore, the burden of proof rests on you, not me. So … where’s your evidence?”

Atheist Michael Scriven insists “we need not have a proof that God does not exist in order to justify atheism. Atheism is obligatory in the absence of any evidence for God’s existence.”1 Or perhaps someone has told you that belief in God is just like belief in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. Where do we begin to respond to such assertions?

Here is his list of advice:

  1. define your terms — especially atheism
  2. the atheist also bears the burden of proof in making the claim, “God does not exist.”
  3. look out for the “atheist’s” slide into agnosticism, from claiming disbelief to mere unbelief.
  4. distinguish between the two types of agnostics — ordinary and ornery.
  5. distinguish between “proof” and “good reasons.”
  6. we have good reasons for belief in the biblical God, but not in mythical beings like mermaids, elves, unicorns, the tooth fairy, or flying spaghetti monsters.
  7. we should distinguish between two types of ignorance — innocence and culpable — and the agnostic would be quite culpable of refusing to seek.

I want to say something about #7, so here’s the detail on that one:

Seventh, we should distinguish between two types of ignorance — innocence and culpable — and the agnostic would be quite culpable of refusing to seek.When a Western tourist travels to Cambodia, she might not be aware that exposing the sole of her foot or bottom of her shoe is insulting and offensive. The tourist may offend someone out of ignorance of this cultural taboo. But this ignorance is innocent.

There’s another kind of ignorance. What if you are driving down a highway and not paying attention to speed limit signs? An officer may stop you and ask why you were speeding. You cannot rightly say, “I didn’t know what the speed limit was — or even how fast I was going. So you shouldn’t give me a ticket.” Obviously, if you are driving, you are responsible for paying attention. Ignorance is no excuse. It is blameworthy rather than innocent.

Likewise, to say “I do not know if God exists” may reveal a failure in my responsibility to seek God (“I do not wantto know”). In this case, I would be at fault. The Christian Geneticist Francis Collins of Human Genome Project fame said he was an agnostic in college. Yet he confesses that his “I don’t know” was more an “I don’t want to know” attitude — a “willful blindness.”11 This agnosticism eventually gave way to outright atheism — although Collins would later come to faith in Christ. He began reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, and Collins realized his own antireligious constructs were “those of a schoolboy.”12

Because the existence of God is a massively important topic, we cannot afford not to pay attention — especially in an age of so many diversions. Philosopher Tom Morris points out that sports, TV, restaurants, concerts, cars, billiards, and a thousand other activities can divert us from the ultimate issues of life. As a result, we don’t “tune into” God. And when a crisis hits (death, hospitalization, natural disaster), we are not really in the best condition to process and make accurate judgments about those deep questions.13 The person who says, “I do not know if God exists,” may have chosen to live by diversions and distractions and thus to ignore God. This is not an innocent ignorance; this ignorance is the result of our neglecting our duty.

So the theist, atheist, and militant (ornery) agnostic all bear a burden of proof; the theist does not have a heavier burden since all claim to know something. Furthermore, even the alleged ordinary agnostic still is not off the hook. For one thing, one cannot remain neutral all his life; he will make commitments or hold beliefs all along the way that reflect either an atheistic or theistic worldview. He is either going to be a practical atheist or practical theist (or a mixture of the two) in some fashion throughout his life. But he can’t straddle the fence for long. Also, the ordinary agnostic may say, “I do not know,” but this often means “I do not care” — the view of an “apatheist.” Refusing to seek out whether God exists or not; refusing to humble oneself to seek whatever light about God is available; living a life of distractions rather than thoughtfully reflecting about one’s meaning, purpose, or destiny leaves one culpable in his ignorance, not innocent.

I had have conversations with people who were not believers, who often tell me flat out that they don’t know whether God exists, or what he is like, but that they live their lives as if he doesn’t exist, and they are not investigating whether they are right. They are very happy operating without any God looking over their shoulder. And God is OK with that, because he doesn’t want to force people who don’t want him into an eternal afterlife with him. He is seeking after and drawing people who will respond to him.

It’s very important to ask questions of atheists and agnostics that will surface this often hidden desire to live life without God. Often, you can get people to show some interest in God’s existence and who Jesus was just by letting them put into words their own decision to avoid God and not investigate God. That is an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to step in. It’s not that you have to be mean, it’s just a good idea to ask questions and then don’t jump on them when they confess. Letting them get the words out there is all you need to do.

Here’s my previous post on whether atheism means a lack of belief in God.

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

Dennis Prager’s report from the recent conference on cosmic fine-tuning

My favorite national radio show host Dennis Prager in the National Review. This is a MUST-READ. (H/T Chris S.)

Full text:

Last week, in Nice, France, I was privileged to participate along with 30 scholars, mostly scientists and mathematicians, in a conference on the question of whether the universe was designed, or at least fine-tuned, to make life, especially intelligent life. Participants — from Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Berkeley, and Columbia, among other American and European universities — included believers in God, agonistics, and atheists.

It was clear that the scientific consensus was that, at the very least, the universe is exquisitely fine-tuned to allow for the possibility of life. It appears that we live in a “Goldilocks universe,” in which both the arrangement of matter at the cosmic beginning and the values of various physical parameters — such as the speed of light, the strength of gravitational attraction, and the expansion rate of the universe — are just right for life. And unless one is frightened of the term, it also appears the universe is designed for biogenesis and human life.

Regarding fine-tuning, one could write a book just citing the arguments for it made by some of the most distinguished scientists in the world. Here is just a tiny sample, collated by physicist Gerald Schroeder, who holds a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he later taught physics.

Michael Turner, astrophysicist at the University of Chicago and Fermilab: “The precision is as if one could throw a dart across the entire universe and hit a bullseye one millimeter in diameter on the other side.”

Paul Davies, professor of theoretical physics at Adelaide University: “The really amazing thing is not that life on Earth is balanced on a knife-edge, but that the entire universe is balanced on a knife-edge, and would be total chaos if any of the natural ‘constants’ were off even slightly.

Roger Penrose, the Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, writes that the likelihood of the universe having usable energy (low entropy) at its creation is “one part out of ten to the power of ten to the power of 123.” That is “a million billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion zeros.

Steven Weinberg, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, and an anti-religious agnostic, notes that “the existence of life of any kind seems to require a cancellation between different contributions to the vacuum energy, accurate to about 120 decimal places.”

Life of any kind. Not just life as we know it, but life of any conceivable kind.

So the fine-tuning is real. It’s mainstream science.

But then how do militant atheists like Weinberg respond to this scientific data?

Unless one is a closed-minded atheist (there are open-minded atheists), it is not valid on a purely scientific basis to deny that the universe is improbably fine-tuned to create life, let alone intelligent life.

Additionally, it is atheistic dogma, not science, to dismiss design as unscientific. The argument that science cannot suggest that intelligence comes from intelligence or design from an intelligent designer is simply a tautology. It is dogma masquerading as science.

And now, many atheist scientists have inadvertently provided logical proof of this.

They have put forward the notion of a multiverse — the idea that there are many, perhaps an infinite number of, other universes. This idea renders meaningless the fine-tuning and, of course, the design arguments. After all, with an infinite number of universes, a universe with parameters friendly to intelligent life is more likely to arise somewhere by chance.

But there is not a shred of evidence of the existence of these other universes — nor could there be, since contact with another universe is impossible.

Therefore, only one conclusion can be drawn: The fact that atheists have resorted to the multiverse argument constitutes a tacit admission that they have lost the argument about design in this universe. The evidence in this universe for design — or, if you will, the fine-tuning that cannot be explained by chance or by “enough time” — is so compelling that the only way around it is to suggest that our universe is only one of an infinite number of universes.

Honest atheists — scientists and lay people — must now acknowledge that science itself argues overwhelmingly for a Designing Intelligence.

This is the same cosmic fine-tuning argument that is used by William Lane Craig in all of his debates. Are you surprised to learn that the top scientists from across the ideological spectrum agree with the fine-tuning? There is a reason why William Lane Craig can stand up in academic debates and make these arguments with confidence. The Big Bang cosmology and the fine-tuning of the Big Bang are two pieces of evidences for God’s existence that are as solid as any piece of science can be. To deny that the universe came into being out of nothing requires a leap of faith. To deny the cosmic fine-tuning also requires a leap of faith.

The simple fact of the matter is that God, in his infinite wisdom, left us this evidence which we have now discovered so that anyone who denies his existence and intelligence is without excuse. If atheists were making the decision about whether to believe in God solely based on science, then they would have to agree that the existence of God is beyond a reasonable doubt. We now know that God exists and created the universe for life for certain. The only reason to persist in unbelief now is because of non-rational concerns, e.g. – the desire to escape from moral obligations, childhood trauma, weak or absent father, etc.

You can read about some of the specific evidence for the origin of the universe out of nothing in this post, and you can read about some of the specific evidence for fine-tuning in this post.

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

Was Hitler a Christian? Is Nazism similar to Christianity?

One of the strangest things I have heard from atheists is the assertion that Christianity is somehow connected to the fascism, such as the fascism that existed under Adolf Hitler. Two posts by Jewish author Jonah Goldberg from National Review supply us with the facts to set the record straight.

Let’s start with the first post.

Here are some of the points:

1) Hitler wanted Christianity removed from the public square

Like the engineers of that proverbial railway bridge, the Nazis worked relentlessly to replace the nuts and bolts of traditional Christianity with a new political religion. The shrewdest way to accomplish this was to co-opt Christianity via the Gleichschaltung while at the same time shrinking traditional religion’s role in civil society.

2) Hitler banned the giving of donations to churches

Hitler banned religious charity, crippling the churches’ role as a counterweight to the state. Clergy were put on government salary, hence subjected to state authority. “The parsons will be made to dig their own graves,” Hitler cackled. “They will betray their God to us. They will betray anything for the sake of their miserable little jobs and incomes.”

3) Hitler replaced Christian celebrations with celebrations of the state

Following the Jacobin example, the Nazis replaced the traditional Christian calendar. The new year began on January 30 with the Day of the Seizure of Power. Each November the streets of central Munich were dedicated to a Nazi Passion play depicting Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch. The martyrdom of Horst Wessel and his “old fighters” replaced Jesus and the apostles. Plays and official histories were rewritten to glorify pagan Aryans bravely fighting against Christianizing foreign armies. Anticipating some feminist pseudo history, witches became martyrs to the bloodthirsty oppression of Christianity.

4) Hitler favored the complete elimination of Christianity

When some Protestant bishops visited the Fuhrer to register complaints, Hitler’s rage got the better of him. “Christianity will disappear from Germany just as it has done in Russia . . . The Germanrace has existed without Christianity for thousands of years . . . and will continue after Christianity has disappeared . . . We must get used to the teachings of blood and race.”

5) Hitler favored the removal of mandatory prayers in schools

In 1935 mandatory prayer in school was abolished…

6) Hitler favored the banning of Christmas carols and nativity plays

…and in 1938 carols and Nativity plays were banned entirely.

7) Hitler abolished religious instruction for children

By 1941 religious instruction for children fourteen years and up had been abolished altogether….

And now the second post.

8) Hitler opposed the ideas of universal truth and objective moral absolutes

…Just as the Nazi attack on Christianity was part of a larger war on the idea of universal truth, whole postmodern cosmologies have been created to prove that traditional religious morality is a scam, that there are no fixed truths or “natural” categories, and that all knowledge is socially constructed.

Practically everything this man believed was 100% anti-Christian. But he fits in fine on the secular left.

Conclusion

Adolf Hitler was a man influenced by two big ideas: evolution and socialism. His party was the national SOCIALIST party. He favored a strong role for the state in interfering with the free market. He was in favor of regulating the family so that the state could have a bigger influence on children. And he favored the idea of survival of the fittest. His ideas are 100% incompatible with Christianity and with capitalism as well. Christians value individual rights and freedoms, small government and the autonomy of the family against the state. The differences are clear and significant.

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

Wintery Tweets

Click to see recent visitors

  Visitors Online Now

Page views since 1/30/09

  • 3,939,543 hits

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,724 other followers

Archives

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,724 other followers

%d bloggers like this: