Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Physicist Michael Strauss discusses Christianity and science at Stanford University

This is one of my favorite lectures, by one of the people I admire the most for his scientific work and robust, evangelical Christian faith.

About Michael Strauss:

His full biography is here. (I removed his links from my excerpt text below)


I had an interest in science and theology, so in 1977 I chose to go to Biola University where I could study both subjects in detail. I thoroughly enjoyed college and participated in intramural sports, was elected to student government, served as a resident assistant, competed in forensics, and studied a lot. As I neared college graduation my dual interest continued so I applied to seminary and to graduate school. After graduating summa cum laude from Biola, I decided to pursue a graduate degree in physics at UCLA.

During my first few years of graduate school, I developed an increased interest in quantum mechanics and subatomic physics and decided to do research in a field that dealt with these subjects. I joined a High Energy Physics experimental group doing research at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to actively participate in research at SLAC. I graduated in 1988 with my Ph.D in High Energy Physics (a.k.a. Elementary Particle Physics). If you would like to know more about High Energy Physics, the Particle Data Group at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory has a very nice interactive adventure that teaches you all about the subject. My research advisor was professor Charles Buchanan and my disertation was titled “A Study of Lambda Polarization and Phi Spin Alignment in Electron-Positron Annihilation at 29 GeV as a Probe of Color Field Behavior.”

After graduation, I accepted a post-doctoral research position with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I continued to do research at SLAC where I joined the SLD experiment. My research interests centered on the SLD silicon pixel vertex detector. I wrote most of the offline software for this device, and did physics analysis which used the vertex detector, including tagging b quark events for flavor specific QCD (Quantum Chromodynamics) analysis. In the seven years I was employed by UMASS, I only spent 3 days on the Amherst campus. The rest of the time was spent in California.

[...]In August 1995, I accepted a job as an Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of Oklahoma (OU) in Norman, Oklahoma. The University of Oklahoma has a vibrant high energy physics research group involved in experiments at the Fermi National Accelerator Center (Fermilab), and CERN. I joined the DØ experiment at Fermilab where I continue to do research in elementary particle physics. As a member of the DØ collaboration I have made contributions to the testing of silicon sensors for the upgraded vertex detector, to the track finding algorithms, to a measurement of the photon production cross section which probes the gluon content of protons, and to other QCD measurements. I am currently studying properties of B mesons that contain a b-quark, the production cross section of jets coming from quarks and gluons, and other QCD analyses. At CERN, I am a collaborator on the ATLAS detector.

I received tenure in 2001 and was promoted to the rank of Professor in the summer of 2010. Most of the time at OU I have taught introductory physics classes to physics majors, engineers, and life science majors. In these classes I have used a number of interactive techniques to facilitate student participation and learning. I have been privileged to win a few awards for my teaching. In 1999, the Associated Students selected me as the Outstanding Professor in the College of Arts and Science, and in 2000 I was awarded the BP AMOCO Foundation Good Teaching Award. In 2002, I was given the Regents Award for Superior Teaching. I received the Carlisle Mabrey and Lurine Mabrey Presidential Professorship in 2006 which is given to “faculty members who excel in all their professional activities and who relate those activities to the students they teach and mentor.”

He seems to have done a fine job of integrating his faith with a solid career in physics research. It would be nice if we were churning out more like him, but that would require the church to get serious about the integration between science and faith.

The lecture:

Dr. Strauss delivered this lecture at Stanford University in 1999. It is fairly easy to understand, and it even includes useful dating tips, one of which I was able to try out recently at IHOP, and it worked.

Here is a clip:

The full video can be watched on Vimeo:

UPDATE: I pulled the MP3 audio from the lecture in case anyone wants just the audio.


What does science tell us about God?
– the discoveries of Copernicus made humans less significant in the universe
– the discoveries of Darwin should that humans are an accident
– but this all pre-modern science
– what do the latest findings of science say about God?

Evidence #1: the origin of the universe
– the steady state model supports atheism, but was disproved by the latest discoveries
– the oscillating model supports atheism, but was disproved by the latest discoveries
– the big bang model supports theism, and it is supported by multiple recent discoveries
– the quantum gravity model supports atheism, but it pure theory and has never been tested or confirmed by experiment and observation

Evidence #2: the fine-tuning of physical constants for life
– there are over 100 examples of constants that must be selected within a narrow range in order for the universe to support the minimal requirements for life
– example: mass density
– example: strong nuclear force (what he studies)
– example: carbon formation

Evidence #3: the fine-tuning of our planet for habitability
– the type of galaxy and our location in it
– our solar system and our star
– our planet
– our moon

It’s a good lecture explaining basic arguments for a cosmic Creator and Designer. If you add the origin of life and the Cambrian explosion (Stephen C. Meyer’s arguments), then you will be solid on science apologetics. That’s everything a rank-and-file Christian needs.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

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Cosmologist Luke Barnes answers 11 objections to the fine-tuning argument

This is from the blog Common Sense Atheism. (H/T Allen Hainline)

Atheist Luke Muehlhauser interviews well-respect cosmologist Luke Barnes about the fine-tuning argument, and the naturalistic response to it.

Luke M. did a good job explaining what was in the podcast. (I wish more people who put out podcasts would do that).


In one of my funniest and most useful episodes yet, I interview astronomer Luke Barnes about the plausibility of 11 responses to the fine-tuning of the universe. Frankly, once you listen to this episode you will be better equipped to discuss fine-tuning than 90% of the people who discuss it on the internet. This episode will help clarify the thinking of anyone – including and perhaps especially professional philosophers – about the fine-tuning of the universe.

The 11 responses to fine-tuning we discuss are:

  1. “It’s just a coincidence.”
  2. “We’ve only observed one universe, and it’s got life. So as far as we know, the probability that a universe will support life is one out of one!”
  3. “However the universe was configured, evolution would have eventually found a way.”
  4. “There could be other forms of life.”
  5. “It’s impossible for life to observe a universe not fine-tuned for life.”
  6. “Maybe there are deeper laws; the universe must be this way, even though it looks like it could be other ways.”
  7. “Maybe there are bajillions of universes, and we happen to be in one of the few that supports life.”
  8. “Maybe a physics student in another universe created our universe in an attempt to design a universe that would evolve intelligent life.”
  9. “This universe with intelligent life is just as unlikely as any other universe, so what’s the big deal?”
  10. “The universe doesn’t look like it was designed for life, but rather for empty space or maybe black holes.”
  11. “Fine-tuning shows there must be an intelligent designer beyond physical reality that tuned the universe so it would produce intelligent life.”

Download CPBD episode 040 with Luke Barnes. Total time is 1:16:31.

I’m going to put the list of resources for the podcast that Luke M. mentioned in his post, but without the actual hyperlinks. It saves me having to type up a summary. If you want to click the links that I removed, go over to Common Sense Atheism and the links are there.

Links for things we discussed:

  • Fine-tuned universe
  • Cosmological constant
  • Miss Marple
  • Other forms of life and Daleks
  • Elliot Sober
  • Cosmic inflation
  • The graceful exit problem
  • Carr and Rees, “The Anthropic Cosmological Principle and the Structure of the Physical World” (1979)
  • David Lewis’ modal realism
  • Boltzmann’s multiverse
  • Roger Penrose argues that some modern multiverse theories face the same problem that Boltzmann’s multiverse faces in The Road to Reality.
  • Everett’s multiverse
  • Wheeler – At Home in the Universe
  • Thorne-Hawking-Preskill bet
  • Edward Robert Harrison
  • Luke responds to PZ Myers
  • You can find some good talks by Polkinghorne and Ellis on fine-tuning at the Faraday Institute’s multimedia page.
  • William Lane Craig, “Design and the Anthropic Fine-Tuning of the Universe“
  • Robin Collins, “The Teleological Argument“
  • Good stuff: Davies – The Goldilocks Enigma; Rees – Just Six Numbers; Barrow – The Constants of Nature; Barrow & Tipler – The Anthropic Cosmological Principle; Leslie – Universes; George Ellis articles.
  • Fred Adams and Luke’s critique
  • Luke’s critique of Hector Avalos
  • Luke’s critique of Victor Stenger: part 1 and part 2
  • Luke’s critique of Hugh Ross
  • Luke’s critique of William Lane Craig: part 1 and part 2

I thought the funniest part was the Natalie Portman part. Boy, do I wish more atheists would listen to this podcast and understand what the fine-tuning argument is actually about. Luke M. gave Luke B. a ton of time to talk. There is a very good explanation of some of the cases of fine-tuning that I talk about most on this blog – the force of gravity, the strong force, etc. as well as many other examples. Dr. Barnes is an expert, but he is also very very easy to listen to even when talking about difficult issues. Luke M. is very likeable as the interviewer.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , ,

William Lane Craig debates Peter Atkins: Does God Exist?

Apologetics 315 posted the video of a debate from the Reasonable Faith speaking tour in the UK:

This is a must-see debate. It was extremely fun to watch.


On Wednesday 26th October 2011 William Lane Craig debated Peter Atkins on the topic: Does God Exist? This debate took place at the University of Manchester  as part of the UK Reasonable Faith Tour with William Lane Craig. The debate was chaired by Christopher Whitehead, Head of Chemistry School at the University. Post-debate discussion was moderated by Peter S Williams, Philosopher in Residence at the Damaris Trust, UK.

Dr. William Lane Craig:

William Lane Craig (born August 23, 1949) is an American analytic philosopher, philosophical theologian, and Christian apologist. He is known for his work on the philosophy of time and the philosophy of religion, specifically the existence of God and the defense of Christian theism. He has authored or edited over 30 books including The Kalam Cosmological Argument (1979), Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology(co-authored with Quentin Smith, 1993), Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time (2001), and Einstein, Relativity and Absolute Simultaneity (co-edited with Quentin Smith, 2007).

Craig received a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications from Wheaton College, Illinois, in 1971 and two summa cum laudemaster’s degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, in 1975, in philosophy of religion and ecclesiastical history. He earned a Ph.D. in philosophy under John Hick at the University of Birmingham, England in 1977 and a Th.D. underWolfhart Pannenberg at the University of Munich in 1984.

Dr. Peter Atkins:

Peter William Atkins (born 10 August 1940) is a British chemist and former Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Lincoln College. He is a prolific writer of popular chemistry textbooks, including Physical ChemistryInorganic Chemistry, and Molecular Quantum Mechanics. Atkins is also the author of a number of science books for the general public, including Atkins’ Molecules and Galileo’s Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science.

Atkins studied chemistry at the University of Leicester, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, and – in 1964 – a PhD for research into electron spin resonance spectroscopy, and other aspects of theoretical chemistry. Atkins then took a postdoctoral position at the UCLA as aHarkness Fellow of the Commonwealth fund. He returned to Oxford in 1965 as fellow and tutor of Lincoln College, and lecturer in physical chemistry (later, professor of physical chemistry).

You can get the audio of the debate here, along with links to their previous debate from 1998. This debate is accessible and understandable to novice-level Christians.

I am happy when debates like this come out. I have friends who are Christians who doubt the importance of apologetics in evangelism, because they don’t think that apologists can prove anything or win arguments. I have friends who are skeptical of using arguments that assume a 14-billion year old universe, because they think that the Big Bang is compatible with atheism (!). I have friends who think that philosophical arguments have no persuasive force. I have friends who think that nothing can be proven from history, beyond a reasonable doubt. I have co-workers who ask me whether anyone wins these debates. I think that this debate answers all of those questions.

This debate clearly shows why Christians should not shy away from studying science, philosophy and history. We will not discover anything that harms Christian theism by thinking logically and by looking at the evidence. To the contrary, it is the atheist who makes war on the progress of science, and who is forced to resist the clear experimental evidence, and to resort to baseless speculations and blind faith. If you want to see a good debate with an intelligent atheist, I recommend watching the debate between William Lane Craig and Peter Millican instead. But if you want to see a really, really overwhelming defeat for atheism, watch this debate. It is very clear at the end of this debate why Richard Dawkins refused to debate William Lane Craig at Oxford.


I only had time to summarize the first two speeches. Keep in mind that Dr. Craig always shines in his rebuttals, and this debate is no different. So you’ll want to watch those rebuttals. Dr. Atkins literally says in this debate in his first rebuttal “There was nothing here originally. There is nothing here now. But it is an interesting form of nothing which seems to be something.” And the audience laughs nervously. This debate is like that. You will see a clear winner and clear loser in this debate. This fight is decided by knockout.

William Lane Craig opening speech:

1. the origin of the universe
2. the moral argument
3. the resurrection of Jesus

Peter Atkins opening speech:

1. Dr. Craig is stupid, lazy and evil:
– Dr. Craig’s arguments are old: from the 11th century! Old arguments can’t be true
– Dr. Craig is just asserting that “God did it” because he is lazy
– Dr. Craig feels pressured to agree with the theistic majority
– Dr. Craig needs a psychological crutch to comfort him
– Dr. Craig is fearful of death
– Dr. Craig is just wishing for an eternal life of bliss
– Dr. Craig is driven by his heart, and not by his head

2. Origin of the universe:
– Maybe the universe is eternal and has no beginning – we don’t know
– Maybe mommy universes can give birth to daughter universes
– It is naive to think that a cause is needed to cause the creation of the universe from nothing
– Science is just about to show how it is possible that something appears out of nothing without cause
– Some scientists have already begun to speculate about about how something can come into being out of nothing
– Maybe nothing is not really nothing, but it is actually something
– It would be admitting defeat to say that God created the universe out of nothing

3. Fine-Tuning:
– It could be the case that the fundamental constants are not variable
– It could be the case that the fine-tuning of the cosmic constants is a happy accident
– It could be the case that there are billions of billions of unobservable universes that are not fine tuned
– It could be the case that the cosmic constants in these billions and billions of unobservable universes are all random so that some are fine-tuned
– Anyone who infers that an intelligence is the best explanation of a finely-tuned set of life-permitting cosmic constants is lazy

4. Purpose:
– Philosophers and theologians are stupid
– I don’t think that there is purpose in the universe
– I think that the universe is more grand if there is no purpose, so there is no purpose

5. Miracles:
– I don’t think that miracles happen
– The resurrection is a fabrication
– It could be the case that Jesus didn’t exist
– It could be the case that Jesus wasn’t really crucified
– It could be the case that Jesus didn’t  really die after being crucified
– It could be the case that the disciples stole his body
– It could be the case that the women went to the wrong hole in the ground
– the gospels are political propaganda written long after the events they are reporting on

6. Theodicy:
– God has no morally sufficient reason for allowing humans to perform actions that result in suffering
– God has no morally sufficient reason for allowing nature to cause suffering

7. Morality:
–  customs and conventions emerges arbitrarily in different times and places based on an awareness of the consequences of actions, as well as various anecdotes and experiences
–  these customs and conventions are decided based on the goal for survival, in much the same way as politeness and manners emerge for decorum and to avoid offense
– it is childish to presume that there is an umpire God who decides moral values and duties

8. Religious believers are stupid, lazy and evil:
– the notion of God has arisen because people are stupid and want to be comforted
– there are no arguments or evidences for belief in God
– people who believe in God do not think, but instead take refuge in incomprehensible nonsense

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What are Boltzmann brains, and what challenge do they post to the multiverse hypothesis?

I thought I would turn to the atheist theoretical physicist Sean Carroll, who has previously debated William Lane Craig, to explain to us what a Boltzmann brain is, and what threat it posts to the multiverse hypothesis.

Here is Sean Caroll, quoted by

Ludwig Boltzmann was one of the founders of the field of thermodynamics in the nineteenth century. One of the key concepts was the second law of thermodynamics, which says that the entropy of a closed system always increases. Since the universe is a closed system, we would expect the entropy to decrease over time. This means that, given enough time, the most likely state of the universe is one where everything is the in thermodynamic equilibrium … but we clearly don’t exist in a universe of this type since, after all, there is order all around us in various forms, not the least of which is the fact that we exist.

With this in mind, we can apply the anthropic principle to inform our reasoning by taking into account that we do, in fact, exist. Here the logic gets a little confusing, so I’m going to borrow the words from a couple of more detailed looks at the situation. As described by cosmologist Sean Carroll in From Eternity to Here:

Boltzmann invoked the anthropic principle (although he didn’t call it that) to explain why we wouldn’t find ourselves in one of the very common equilibrium phases: In equilibrium, life cannot exist. Clearly, what we want to do is find the most common conditions within such a universe that are hospitable to life. Or, if we want to be more careful, perhaps we should look for conditions that are not only hospitable to life, but hospitable to the particular kind of intelligent and self-aware life that we like to think we are….

We can take this logic to its ultimate conclusion. If what we want is a single planet, we certainly don’t need a hundred billion galaxies with a hundred billion stars each. And if what we want is a single person, we certainly don’t need an entire planet. But if in fact what we want is a single intelligence, able to think about the world, we don’t even need an entire person–we just need his or her brain.

So the reductio ad absurdum of this scenario is that the overwhelming majority of intelligences in this multiverse will be lonely, disembodied brains, who fluctuate gradually out of the surrounding chaos and then gradually dissolve back into it. Such sad creatures have been dubbed “Boltzmann brains” by Andreas Albrecht and Lorenzo Sorbo….

In a 2004 paper, Albrecht and Sorbo discussed “Boltzmann brains” in their essay:

A century ago Boltzmann considered a “cosmology” where the observed universe should be regarded as a rare fluctuation out of some equilibrium state. The prediction of this point of view, quite generically, is that we live in a universe which maximizes the total entropy of the system consistent with existing observations. Other universes simply occur as much more rare fluctuations. This means as much as possible of the system should be found in equilibrium as often as possible.

From this point of view, it is very surprising that we find the universe around us in such a low entropy state. In fact, the logical conclusion of this line of reasoning is utterly solipsistic. The most likely fluctuation consistent with everything you know is simply your brain (complete with “memories” of the Hubble Deep fields, WMAP data, etc) fluctuating briefly out of chaos and then immediately equilibrating back into chaos again. This is sometimes called the “Boltzmann’s Brain” paradox.

[...]Now that you understand Boltzmann brains as a concept, though, you have to proceed a bit to understanding the “Boltzmann brain paradox” that is caused by applying this thinking to this absurd degree. Again, as formulated by Carroll:

Why do we find ourselves in a universe evolving gradually from a state of incredibly low entropy, rather than being isolated creatures that recently fluctuated from the surrounding chaos?

Unfortunately, there is no clear explanation to resolve this … thus why it’s still classified as a paradox.

Naturalists like to propose the multiverse as a way of explaining away the fine-tuning that we see, and explaining why complex, embodied intelligent beings like ourselves exist. But even if the multiverse hypothesis were true, we still would not expect to observe stars, planets, and conscious embodied intelligent beings. It is far more likely on a multiverse scenario that any observers we had would be “Boltzmann” brains in an empty universe. The multiverse hypothesis doesn’t explain the universe we have, which contains “a hundred billion galaxies with a hundred billion stars each” – not to mention our bodies which are composed of heavy elements, all of which require fine-tuning piled on fine-tuning piled on fine-tuning.

William Lane Craig answered a question about Boltzmann brains a while back, so let’s look at his answer since we saw what his debate opponent said above.

He writes:

Incredible as it may sound, today the principal–almost the only–alternative to a Cosmic Designer to explain the incomprehensibly precise fine tuning of nature’s constants and fundamental quantities is the postulate of a World Ensemble of (a preferably infinite number of) randomly ordered universes. By thus multiplying one’s probabilistic resources, one ensures that by chance alone somewhere in this infinite ensemble finely tuned universes like ours will appear.

Now comes the key move: since observers can exist only in worlds fine-tuned for their existence, OF COURSE we observe our world to be fine-tuned! The worlds which aren’t finely tuned have no observers in them and so cannot be observed! Hence, our observing the universe to be fine-tuned for our existence is no surprise: if it weren’t, we wouldn’t be here to be surprised. So this explanation of fine tuning relies on (i) the hypothesis of a World Ensemble and (ii) an observer self-selection effect.

Now apart from objections to (i) of a direct sort, this alternative faces a very formidable objection to (ii), namely, if we were just a random member of a World Ensemble, then we ought to be observing a very different universe. Roger Penrose has calculated that the odds of our solar system’s forming instantaneously through the random collision of particles is incomprehensibly more probable that the universe’s being fine-tuned, as it is. So if we were a random member of a World Ensemble, we should be observing a patch of order no larger than our solar system in a sea of chaos. Worlds like that are simply incomprehensibly more plentiful in the World Ensemble than worlds like ours and so ought to be observed by us if we were but a random member of such an ensemble.

Here’s where the Boltzmann Brains come into the picture. In order to be observable the patch of order needn’t be even as large as the solar system. The most probable observable world would be one in which a single brain fluctuates into existence out of the quantum vacuum and observes its otherwise empty world. The idea isn’t that the brain is the whole universe, but just a patch of order in the midst of disorder. Don’t worry that the brain couldn’t persist long: it just has to exist long enough to have an observation, and the improbability of the quantum fluctuations necessary for it to exist that long will be trivial in comparison to the improbability of fine tuning.

In other words, the observer self-selection effect is explanatorily vacuous. It does not suffice to show that only finely tuned worlds are observable. As Robin Collins has noted, what needs to be explained is not just intelligent life, but embodied, interactive, intelligent agents like ourselves. Appeal to an observer self-selection effect accomplishes nothing because there is no reason whatever to think that most observable worlds are worlds in which that kind of observer exists. Indeed, the opposite appears to be true: most observable worlds will be Boltzmann Brain worlds.

Allen Hainline explained some of the OTHER problems with the multiverse in a post on Cross Examined’s blog. I recommend taking a look at those as well, because I feel funny even talking about Boltzmann brains. I would rather just say that there is no experimental evidence for the multiverse hypothesis, as I blogged before, and leave it at that. But if the person you are talking to fights you on it, you can disprove the multiverse with the Boltzmann brains.

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Robin Collins lectures on the fine-tuning argument at Pepperdine University


Dr. Robin Collins is a Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Messiah College. Collins is the foremost defender of what is known as the teleological argument for the existence of God. He has a background in both physics and philosophy and will be discussing how the specific physical constants and conditions in the universe are finely-tuned for intelligent life and how this “fine-tuning” gives us reason to believe in a Creator.

Here is the video:


  • the constants and quantities set at the origin of the universe is fine-tuned for conscious, embodied intelligences like us
  • three kinds of fine-tuning: 1) laws of nature, 2) constants, 3) quantities
  • examples of 1): gravity, electromagnetism, strong force, quantization, Pauli exclusion principle
  • examples of 2): gravitational constant, cosmological constant,
  • examples of 3):  initial distribution of mass-energy
  • in addition to fine-tuning for life, there is also fine-tuning for discoverability
  • Naturalistic response to the evidence: the multiverse hypothesis
  • problems with the multiverse hypothesis
  • additional topics

I put the ones I am ready to speak on in bold. I recommend you learn those as well in order to illustrate the fine-tuning with evidence when you present it. The evidence is important because I’ve never found a single atheist who I discussed this with who could properly state the argument or understand the evidence. They talk about it without really understanding it, which is why we need to be ready to explain it to them.

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