Friday, July 27, 2012

Challenges from Atheists: Did the Universe Begin to Exist?

Continuing on in the series Challenges from Atheists, the difference between the theistic view and the atheistic view for the origin of the universe are diametrically opposed to one another.  The former (the theist) believes that the universe was created by an infinite, personal, moral, all powerful Creator, called God.  The latter (the atheist or naturalistic) holds that the universe is either infinite or if it did have a beginning, we cannot know where it came from.  Although I am not a scientist, I do know that those who argue from a naturalistic view for the origin of the universe at a "table talk" level, right where we live day in and day out, are not scientists either.  But they mimic their heroes like Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins or P.Z. Meyers; all of whom neglect the truth and are blinded by their philosophical underpinnings.  The scope of this posting will deal with those f-a-c-t-s (facts) that have to do with what we know from the general scientific perspective.

It was the well known mathematician and physicist, Stephen Hawking who made the statement in his most recent book, The Grand Design, that "philosophy is dead." Anyone believing Hawking in this statement is already in some logical peril in two major ways.  The first is that the statement, "philosophy is dead," is a philosophical statement.   The second, one must do some philosophical inquiry using the scientific method.

What I am going to do here is deal with straight hard cold case facts and then make a philosophical conclusion from those facts.  First some preamble.  Let's deal with what the scientific method is all about.

Scientific method.

I like how the Physics department from the University of California Riverside describes the scientific method on a link from their physics site, as  "the best way yet discovered for winnowing the truth from lies and delusion.[1]   UC Riverside then follows up with a simple version of the scientific method looking something like the following:  The simple version looks something like this: 
  • Observe some aspect of the universe.  [Comment:  One makes this observation how?  Asking questions?  Using one's five senses of sight, taste, tough, smell, and hearing; natural senses. Interpreting all these questions takes them to creating a hypothesis.] 
  • Invent a tentative description, called a hypothesis, that is consistent with what you have observed. [Comment: The scientist needs to ask a question to get the ball rolling.  The problem is whether or not the question come from a sound philosophical framework..By inventing a tentative hypothesis, the one doing the experiment will be using philosophy or allowing their philosophical underpinnings to rule the hypothesis.  Science does not say anything, but scientists do say, and many times their philosophy gets in the way of the empirical facts.]
  • Use the hypothesis to make predictions.  [Comment:  Again, that hypothesis is under-girded by the philosophical underpinnings or world view of the one making the predictions.]
  • Test those predictions by experiments or further observations and modify the hypothesis in the light of your results.  [Comment:  The testing can be through the use of the five senses or by any means of apparatus where the five senses can assist in making the deductions for reporting the experiment.]
  • Repeat steps 3 and 4 until there are no discrepancies between theory and experiment and/or observation.
Much more could be discussed within this part, but we can leave that for a later discussion.

What is the Anthropic Principle?

The word, "anthropic" means relating to human beings or human existence.   The word principle means "law."  The anthropic principle points to and depends upon numerous cosmological constraints and parameters within the laws of physics and the natural sciences whose numerical values must fall within a very narrow (restricted) range of values.  If even a single variable were off even slightly, we would cease to exist.  The extreme improbability that so many variables would align "so auspiciously in our favor merely by chance has led some scientists and philosophers to propose instead that it was God who providentially engineered the universe to our our specific needs" for our survival."[2]

Simply stated, the anthropic principle is the "law" that the universe (cosmos) and the general revelation appears to have been finely tuned for our very existence.  I have added the general revelation to deal with the biological realm within the cosmos.

The Anthropic Principle Manifested in the Scientific Findings
.

Whenever a conversation stirs up with an atheist or someone of the evolutionary bent, one does not need to fear.  Science and religion are not enemies.  Again, science does not say anything but scientists do.  So what have we found from good science that might show some sort of interest for the anthropic evidence?

"Scientists are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth - the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issue concerns the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient "coincidences" and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, and hence conscious beings, to exist. Change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal. Fred Hoyle, the distinguished cosmologist, once said it was as if "a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics."[3]

To see the problem, imagine playing God with the cosmos. Before you is a designer machine that lets you tinker with the basics of physics. Twiddle this knob and you make all electrons a bit lighter, twiddle that one and you make gravity a bit stronger, and so on. It happens that you need to set thirty-something knobs to fully describe the world about us. The crucial point is that some of those metaphorical knobs must be tuned very precisely, or the universe would be sterile.

To give an example of this, scientist, Paul Davies tells us

"that neutrons are just a tad heavier than protons. If it were the other way around, atoms couldn't exist, because all the protons in the universe would have decayed into neutrons shortly after the big bang. No protons, then no atomic nucleuses and no atoms. No atoms, no chemistry, no life. Like Baby Bear's porridge in the story of Goldilocks, the universe seems to be just right for life."

Conclusion
.

So if there is all of this evidence for design in the natural world in which we live, how can one conclude that it was all brought about by random causation?  Is all that we see around us an accident? 

I am not a scientist, but I enjoy science using a sound scientific method.  If you and I look around us, we can see that there is a vast amount of information available to show the design of the cosmos.  At the same time, 
we need not fear scientific data that is pointing to the grand design to the universe in which we live. 

And even though we cannot prove God's existence with indubitable certainty, there is one thing that we do know. That is if we can even delve deep into the biological and examine the many facets of the DNA, the "inner space frontier."   We look to the stars and we look within the biological systems and we see DESIGN and the thumbprints of a Creator.

Folks, faith and science are not enemies. We can use science to point to the evidence that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" by an intelligent Creator, who has given us purpose and the capability to know that He is there and that He is not silent.

Notes.

[1]  http://physics.ucr.edu/~wudka/Physics7/Notes_www/node6.html   Before anyone starts getting excited, as a theist, I like science... good, genuine, bona fide scientific methodology is not harmful to the Christian worldview.

[2]  http://www.gotquestions.org/anthropic-principle.html

[3] Things like the Earth's distance from the Sun (93 million miles), the speed of the rotation of the earth (mid-latitudes of the U.S. and Europe speed along at 700 to 900 mph), the angle of the axis of the Earth (approximately 23.5 but some say it is changing), the speed of the revolutions around the sun (30 kilometers a second or 67,000 mph), that placement of Jupiter to deflect and keep objects from crashing into the Earth, and other factors are all for a reason that is transcendent to accidental random causations.   

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Challenges from Atheists: Is Religion Delusional or Dangerous?

One of the most vocal challenges coming from the "new" atheists and "Nones" (those who profess no religious beliefs or affiliations) is that religion is a delusion.  Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Richard Rorty along with others have all at one time or another pontificated such a statement of some degree or another.  This assumption is also one that attacks and often persuades the impressionable first/second year "born again" college student, sitting in their first university science class being taught by one of 51% of the professors claiming to be an atheist or a hard boiled agnostic.

But is this claim that religion is delusional or dangerous really true?  What can be made of this claim and what should be an intelligent Christian response?

In this posting, I hope to answer these questions and show how a properly understood Christian belief is not delusional.  At the end of this posting, I will point out that the charge of religion being delusional can be turned back to the one making the charge toward the Christian.

Definition:  Delusion.

Many of the skeptics making this objection seem to have the definition correct.  Some will only give part of the definition to fit their rhetoric, almost bulldogging the definition to fit their lack of a defense for their atheism.  (Some atheists who read this post might not think I am being nice.  Really, if they want to push and be antagonistic toward Christianity, consider this my shoving back.)  To be fair to both sides of the belief line, a good definition should come from a reliable source, like a dictionary.  I will use entries 3 and 4 from the dictionary.com delusion entry as our foundation.  It states that a delusion is "a false belief or opinion: as in delusions of grandeur."  From the contextual framework of 'psychiatry', since most atheists make this claim of religious people from this context, a delusion is "a fixed belief that is resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact."  In summation of these two definitions, let's agree that a delusion is about "believing something to be true, despite evidence to the contrary."

What Are These Folks Saying?

Atheists, whether they want to agree with this definition or not, deny the existence of anything supernatural being called "God."  Richard Dawkins during his debate with John Lennox synchronized his atheism to deny that the Christian God exists and that it is unreasonable to believe such a Being exists.  Some of the "new atheists" will say that they do not believe in Zeus, Thor, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, pink unicorns et al.  Well neither do I; and those "deities" are not descriptive of the God that I believe in.  Those gods are created, and anyone that believes in those or believes that a Christian believes in a deity like those is delusional themselves.

The God that I believe in the God that is personal, in that He is a Person. God is infinite, moral, transcendent and yet near, infinitely powerful and at the same time infinitely loving.   This is hardly anything in comparison to the created gods that the "new atheists" and Nones think we believe in.  In fact it is quite laughable that they cannot separate these facts.

At any rate what they are saying is that anyone who believes in a supernatural deity, which cannot be proven by giving "factual" evidence, is delusional.

A Response.

First off, looking at the definition for the word delusion given earlier this challenge from atheists is already riddled with holes.  Let me remark on a few of those holes.

First off,  the objection of calling religious folks delusional is dishonest.  What do I mean?

Richard Dawkins, in his debate with David Quinn stated that "delusion means a falsehood which is widely believed, and I think that is true of religion."[1] Did you notice how Richard defined "delusion" in his statement?  He didnt give a thorough definition.  All he did was give part of the definition.  So let's work with that.

Let's grant that a delusion is "a falsehood which is widely believed." Atheism is growing in popularity.  I saw this at the Reason Rally this past March.  Why can't Richard's definition refer to all those 7000+ at the Rally professing to be non religious?  Why can't that also refer to atheism?   Who is to say that atheism is not a delusion with all the people coming to believe Richard and Co's "preaching."

Second off.  I have neither seen a debate, nor listened to a one, where both participants in the "existence of God debate" had claimed to have absolute certainty on God's existence or nonexistence. While  atheists like to argue as if they have indubitable certainty, they do not.  Christians, who are honest in this debate, are wiling to admit that we do not have absolute certainty.  At the same time, however we do have pretty strong convictions for the existence of God and for the authenticity and historical reliability of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.  When it comes to the debate for God's existence, there are several lines of evidence.[2] 

To say that Christians are delusional for believing in God and the supernatural is not only ignorant but it is really a delusional statement itself.  As Christians we have several lines of evidence for the existence of God.  We have the fact that truth is knowable and can be proven to be absolute.  We have tons and tons of evidence for the reliability of the Bible from the context of history and not just its supernatural nature.  We have an historical crucified Savior who was resurrected from the dead three day and nights later that precedes any (let me say again ANY) record coming from the pagan sources.  We have reliable arguments for the beginning of the universe and its intricate design and fine tuning.  So much more could be said for the reasonable evidences for historical Christianity it isn't funny.

So.  If we have all this evidence that is reasonable; and neither of us on the side of belief can prove that God does or does not exist, but the evidence falls on the side of the positive, I just have one question.

Who is really the delusional one?  Who is ranting all the rhetoric for the non-existence of God?  Sounds to me like those of us on the side of believing God exists and He has made Himself know are not the delusional ones.  Could it be . . . those who are ranting and raving?  Could it be that it is those who have made a "moral" decision not to believe in the existence of God are the delusional ones?

That is why I don't have enough faith to be an atheist!  Just look at the history of the acts by atheist regimes over the last century. In fact, I think it is atheistic ideology that is dangerously delusional.

Notes*

[1] See http://catholiceducation.org/articles/science/sc0086.htm. 

[2] Here is a list of the major arguments:  The Argument from ChangeThe Argument from Efficient CausalityThe Argument from Time and ContingencyThe Argument from Degrees of PerfectionThe Design ArgumentThe Kalam ArgumentThe Argument from ContingencyThe Argument from the World as an Interacting Whole, The Argument from MiraclesThe Argument from ConsciousnessThe Argument from TruthThe Argument from the Origin of the Idea of GodThe Ontological ArgumentThe Moral ArgumentThe Argument from Conscience, The Argument from DesireThe Argument from Aesthetic Experience, The Argument from Religious ExperienceThe Common Consent ArgumentPascal's Wager

* While I am not Catholic, I do appreciate the resources from our friends on the side of Catholic apologetics, of the likes of Peter Kreeft and Paul Tacelli who have written their Handbook of Christian Apologetics. This is one of many great resources that have contributed to the defense of the historical Christian faith.