Atheist Desperation

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The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, is an image of a ...

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, is an image of a small region of space in the constellation Fornax, composited from Hubble Space Telescope data accumulated over a period from September 3, 2003 through January 16, 2004. The patch of sky in which the galaxies reside was chosen because it had a low density of bright stars in the near-field. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The number of new articles and books coming out that assert that the universe literally arose from nothingness without any deity reveal the desperation of atheists. They behave like individuals that assert an absurdity, thinking that if they repeat it enough people will believe it. No matter how much atheists repeat the mantra, “The universe popped into existence out of nothingness,” it will not make that claim any less incoherent. Atheists still play games with the “quantum vacuum,” even though theists have pointed out time and time again that a quantum vacuum is not mere nothingness. When Hawking speaks of a true vacuum causing the existence of a false vacuum, he is spouting nonsense. “Ex nihil, nihil fit” (from nothing, nothing comes to be”) is true today as it was in the past. Pure nothingness is just nonexistence–since it is literally no-thing, not matter, not energy–it cannot have any powers including causal powers. If the atheist tries to bring in another factor into the “true vacuum,” that brings back “something.” The atheist would be more consistent to accept the ancient idea of the everlastingness of the universe as do some “multiverse” theories. In the end, I do not think they save atheism, but at least they are not obviously self-contradictory.

Atheistic scientists often accuse theists of believing in the fantastic, in something so absurd that it cannot exist. Such claims are often salted with terms such as “Santa Claus” and “The Tooth Fairy,” as if that has anything to do with the issue of the existence of God. It is far more fantastic to believe that something arose from sheer nothingness. It is also far more fantastic to believe in an infinite number of universes in which all logical possibilities are actualized (If the traditional conception of God is logically possible, involving no contradiction, which it surely is, then I suppose the atheist would accept one logical possibility that is not actualized–but then the atheist is all about making exceptions when it suits him).

Atheism is primarily about rebellion rather than reality–some people refuse to accept a God who calls their behavior to account. Atheism is a matter of human pride–the refusal to accept any mind higher than one’s own or any truths that go beyond the purview of physical science (especially physics). Some atheists, such as the late Antony Flew, were honest seekers of the truth, and he became a believer in a deistic God. Atheists who are really God-haters may also change their minds if they can overcome their hatred. There is a subset of atheists who are hard core, such as the majority of the members of the National Academy of Sciences as well as those who deign to assert that something can come from nothing. These individuals could see God face to face and deny His existence. They are like the dwarfs in C. S. Lewis‘s The Last Battle, who perceive the gold and jewels Aslan offers them as horse waste and straw. Anyone who asserts a clear contradiction in defense of atheism must be willfully blind. These same scientists will use logic and reason to attack the coherence of a theory they do not accept–yet they assert a blatant contradiction as being true. The only way I can explain that is that the scientists’ beliefs are an act of the will rather than primarily an act of the intellect. They have willed to reject God, and their assertion of contradiction follows. If asserting that something comes from nothingness is the only “argument” that an atheist gives for his position, then that atheist truly is desperate. Atheists who accuse theists of irrationality ought to look at themselves in a mirror first.

Multiple Universes, God, and Faith

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Level II Multiverse, Every disk is a bubble un...

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Since Hugh Everett proposed his “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics, physicists and cosmologists have speculated about the existence of multiple universes. In Everett’s theory, whenever there was an event of quantum uncertainty, the universe splits. Thus, in the famous story of Schoedenger’s Cat, in which a subatomic particle is fired at a batch of poison, there is a period of uncertainty in which is seems the cat is neither alive nor dead. This is the view according to the standard Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. But Everett said that what actually happens is that the universe splits into one universe in which the cat stay alive, and into another universe in which the bottle of poison breaks, the cat drinks it, and the cat dies. Since such events occur a near-infinity of times, there are an uncountable number of different universes.

Since then various theories of multiple universes have been proposed. In some theories all possible states of affairs take place, so that there is no contingency in nature–the “multiverse” is a metaphysically necessary being, and there is no need for the existence of God as a necessary being. In fact, multiverse theories seem to be a convenient way to avoid the existence of God.

Empirically, since other universes are said to be causally closed to one another, we could not detect another universe. Thus, what we really have in these theories are mathematical constructs that may explain some of the data. How to decide between the various multiverse theories or between them and m-theory or supergravity or some other global cosmological theory is the rub.

Theists, those who believe in a transcendent God, are often mocked by scientists because of the role of faith in theism. Yet what takes the stronger faith: to believe that the universe is created and sustained by an infinite mind or to believe that there are an infinite number of universes in which all possible states of affairs take place? Both views take faith. It seems to me that rather than believing an a near replica of me living in some other universe or on many universes, it makes more sense to affirm that this universe is the only one that exists, that it is by nature contingent–it does not have to exist–and thus it requires a necessary being to create and sustain it. If scientists wish to say otherwise through their multiverse theories, they have a right to do so, but they are not within their intellectual rights to deceive and claim that their positions require no faith.

Stephen Hawking on God’s Existence

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NASA StarChild image of Stephen Hawking.

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Suppose you’re walking in a park one day when you are startled by a man standing right in front of you. After jumping higher than you ever have in your life, you force out the words, “Where did you come from?” The man answers, “I just created myself.”

Would you believe him? I wouldn’t. For a man to create himself before he exists is impossible, for if he doesn’t exist, he wouldn’t be there to create himself in the first place! Yet it is this rabbit out of the hat trick that Stephen Hawking uses to explain how God is not necessary for the creation of the universe.

Stephen Hawking is a brilliant man–I give him credit for doing wonderful work in physics and astronomy, especially in the area of black holes. I also admire his brave fight against ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), from which he has suffered for over forty years, making him by far the longest-lived survivor of that debilitating disease. Despite his handcap, he has continued to write and lecture, and he is a fine popularizer of complex ideas in physics for people without training in the field.

However, in  accepting the view that there is no God because the universe created itself from nothing, he is contradicting himself. If he said that the universe is everlasting, that it has always existed, then he would at least be holding a coherent position. But in saying that the universe “spontaneously created itself from nothing,” he falls into incoherence. If the universe created itself from nothing, then it would already have to exist to do so.  Nothing can be prior to itself. Nothing can exist before it exists. If this what Hawking actually believes, his belief is just as much false as believing in a square circle. If Hawking replies that a quantum vacuum, even a “true vacuum,” produces particles and antiparticles all the time that then annihilate one another, then what he calls a “true vacuum” isn’t. His quantum vacuum is NOT nothing. Even a sea of quantum events is something. Pure nothingness is just what the word implies–no particles, antiparticles, no annihilation of particles and antiparticles, no space, no time–sheer, absolute nothingness. If Hawking’s concept of “nothing” includes more, then he is manipulating words to mean what he wants them to mean. Since his notion of “nothing” isn’t really no-thing, he does not believe that the universe created itself; in a sense, some kind of energy has always existed. I have always been suspicious of arguments such as Hawking’s, whether they posit true and false vacuums, zero-point fields, or some other pseudo-nothingness to argue that the universe arose from nothing. It may be that true and false vacuums exist, and there is good evidence for the existence of a zero-point field, but all of these items exist in some sense. The universe could not have arisen from literal non-being–and this is what Hawking would have to say to justify his claim of a spontaneous universe arising from nothing.

Does Hawking’s view explain the existence of a quatum foam of particles and antiparticles in a “vacuum”? Does it explain why enough energy arose for the universe to have arisen? Or does he say explanation stops at that point–if so, why? If he is saying that the universe is some kind of necessary being, this seems inconsistent with stellar life cycles–eventually the formation of new stars will stop, and the universe will consist of white and black dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes–and even these will evaporate. All these items are contingent–they do not have to be. Thus a necessary being is required to explain the existence of contingent things, whether those things be the universe, a zero-point field, or a “true vacuum” that really isn’t a true vacuum. Once atheists get to the point of saying that the universe created itself, they are holding a view so irrational that it would be best to halt discussion, go to a bar, have some drinks, and talk about the upcoming NFL season.

The Arrogance of Scientism

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The late American philosopher Paul Feyerabend once said that scientists were arrogant and need to be put in their place. I agree–with one caveat–I would say “many scientists” instead of “scientists.” Universal affirmative claims are very hard to justify.

No one would deny, outside of nutty postmodern relativists, that science has contributed greatly to our knowledge of the natural world. Science has also given us the wonders of modern technology, from electric lights to super-fast computers and the Internet. Science has also given us the atom and hydrogen bombs and other weapons of mass destruction, but even those terrible inventions reflected the knowledge physicists had gained about the atomic and subatomic worlds. Aside from the ethics of technology, then, what is the problem with many scientists?

The problem, especially in the United States and to a lesser extent in the United Kingdom, is that many scientists accept the doctrine of scientism. Scientism is the view that science is the only reliable source of knowledge about the world. So introductory science textbooks often downplay alternate sources of knowledge (although in my experiences there is a welcome improvement in this area) and portray scientists almost as a “new priesthood” (Feyerabend has made the same point). The claims of philosophy, theology, art, and literature to give us insight into the way the world words are dismissed, and only those who follow the “scientific method” can, it is claimed, gain knowledge of the world.

There are a number of flaws in the philosophy of scientism. First, the idea that there is only one effective scientific method is a myth. A study of the history of science reveals different methods at work, from primarily inductive methods before Newton, to primarily deductive methods after Newton, to experimental methods, to field study methods (used in anthropology and to some extent in sociology). The naive method of (1) collecting facts, (2) noting relations between those facts, (3) forming a hypothesis, (4) testing the hypothesis by a well-designed experiment(s), resulting in (5) either a confirmation or disconfirmation of the hypothesis is inaccurate in its very first claim. No scientist collects facts without some idea of what he is looking for. Usually a scientist already has a theory in mind he wants to test in order to know what facts to find. Any idiot can sit down and write thousands of facts about trees; but a scientist needs more than a collection of “bare” facts. And there are no “bare facts”–all facts are theory-laden; thus, if I identify an object as a “table,” I must have at least implicitly some low-level theory of what a table is in order to be able to identify it. This does not imply that there is no such thing as “facts” or that facts are arbitrary. The real world does constrain our selection of facts–and theories. But there is no sharp separation between theory and facts.

Those who espouse scientism frequently claim that empirical testability is what makes scientific knowledge the only valid form of knowledge. But what about string theory, which cannot be tested by current technology–the ability to adequately test high-level theories in physics, especially Grand Unified Theories, may be centuries away. How, then, do physicists decide between theories? They usually appeal to “epistemic values” such as simplicity, elegance, and beauty to make their decision.

But if someone who espouses the philosophy of scientism sticks to his guns and says that only scientific claims are empirically testable, what about his claim that science is the only reliable source of knowledge? Is that a scientific claim? Or, rather, is it a philosophical claim that has to be justified or refuted by the tools of philosophy? It is the latter; scientists are free to make philosophical claims as long as they admit they are such; but they have no right to call them scientific claims. In any case, philosophy does appeal to both experience and reason in its attempt to answer questions. Even theology, though authority-based to some extent, can appeal to experience and reason in order to better understand its faith commitments. To deny these fields their claim to give insight into the world without argument is an arrogant claim–and scientists who espouse scientism are arrogant–and wrong.