All scientists are believers

Don’t believe me?  Check out this article which seeks to explain the fine-tuning of the observable universe.  (source: MetaCatholic).

Here’s a representative quotation:

Physicists don’t like coincidences. They like even less the notion that life is somehow central to the universe, and yet recent discoveries are forcing them to confront that very idea. Life, it seems, is not an incidental component of the universe, burped up out of a random chemical brew on a lonely planet to endure for a few fleeting ticks of the cosmic clock. In some strange sense, it appears that we are not adapted to the universe; the universe is adapted to us.

Call it a fluke, a mystery, a miracle. Or call it the biggest problem in physics. Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation: Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multi­verse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life.

The idea is controversial. Critics say it doesn’t even qualify as a scientific theory because the existence of other universes cannot be proved or disproved. Advocates argue that, like it or not, the multiverse may well be the only viable non­religious explanation for what is often called the “fine-tuning problem”—the baffling observation that the laws of the universe seem custom-tailored to favor the emergence of life…

It boils down to this:

“If there is only one universe,” [Physicist Bernard] Carr says, “you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.”

So, we’re told, it’s a choice – either we posit some kind of god or we posit an unobserved and unobservable reality, a multiverse. 

To be honest I don’t think that is the choice.  And I don’t think the Christian position is to deduce from the data ‘some kind of god.’  It’s not as though we’re the brave defenders of ‘The Cosmic Finetuner’!  More on that in the next post.  But first let’s have some fun thinking about the multiverse as a faith commitment

Because above all else, that’s what the multiverse is.  It is not a conclusion suggested by the data.  It is a theory that comes to the rescue of a scientist determined not to accept the alternative.  Don’t let any naturalistic scientist tell you they deal in the realm of objective fact while the Christian runs off to the realm of ‘blind faith.’  Not only have scientists not observed direct evidence of the multiverse, there can be no direct observation of alternate universes – they lie beyond the reach of experimental science.  There’s nothing more ‘intellectually honest’ about postulating a multiverse as opposed to faith in intelligent design.  That’s the minimal point I’m making at the moment.  I don’t actually think the real choice is between fine-tuning and multiple universes (more in the next post) but if the scientific establishment think that those are the options, then both positions should own up to being faith-based.

And that’s ok.  True enquiry is necessarily faith seeking understanding.  This was Anselm’s description of theology, but, as these considerations show, it holds also for science.  Everyone has beliefs about the nature of reality that shape how they enquire into that reality.  On top of this methodological issue, those beliefs further shape how the data is understood.  No-one simply deals with ‘the facts’.  What we believe affects every level of our enquiry.  This is not a lamentable state of affairs, it’s just the way things are.  And it means that all endeavours, science included, are believing endeavours.  This is inescapable.  (Go here for a post on the Large Hadron Collider as a prime example of faith seeking understanding).

All scientists are believers.

Next post we’ll consider this supposed crossroads – either multiverse or Cosmic Fine-tuner.  We’ll see that in spite of what the scientific community thinks (including the Intelligent Design proponents!) we do not follow their methods, forced to choose between absurdity and deism!  We tread a different path.  

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Posted on by Glen in apologetics, culture, revelation, science, theological method

About Glen

I'm a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.

0 Responses to All scientists are believers

  1. Bobby Grow

    Don’t you ever get tired of being so positively Christian ;-)?

    I couldn’t agree more with you, on your conclusion . . . but do you think there is a place for “Christian scientists?” Do you think someone can do “Christian science?” Or do you think that these must remain two separable spheres? I’m sure Torrance believes, at least methodologically, that we can engage the scientific method, theologically.

    It’s interesting, in talking to an agnostic budding scientist (geologist/biologist) at work, I often point his “faith” commitments out to him; he doesn’t like it. But, in the end, and at least he is honest, he can’t deny it. His empiricism betrays him, esp. when we talk about the Hubble telescopes’ scientific discovery of the finitude of the UNI-verse (I’m starting to sound a little too cosmological, eh ;-). He seems to have certain intellectual road-blocks in the way; but the truth is, once we discuss other points, like evil and God (his questions), his real motives are unveiled, it is a moral problem which only Christ can shatter . . . so I pray.

    Look forward to the next one!

  2. Bobby Grow

    Oh yeah, btw, to posit “multiverses,” as you have noted is not scientific (instead it is totally blind “faith”); and in the end never overcomes their desire to explain our universe materialistically. Since all they are doing is pushing the “problem” of “cosmic fine-tuning” back one step; but the problem is, is that once we get to these other so called universes we are still faced with the same problem. And that is, we still have to explain “where” the machines that produce fine-tuning came from. And if the universe, or “multiverses” are finite, and metaphysical materialism is truly true, then in fact we will never get back to the universe that has provided our fine tuning . . . in other words we end up with an “infinite regress.” Anyway . . . :-)

  3. codepoke

    Grrr.

    I’m on edge with this topic of pastors making profound scientific declarations. Please don’t join their ranks, Glen. I would have to disdain your declarations, and that’s no fun.

    I’m an ex-diesel mechanic and current programmer, so I don’t pretend to understand the multiverse, but I keep current on Scientific American and have read the stories of the origin of the multiverse concept. I understand it as a possible mathematical solution to the conundrum of quantum randomness. That is exactly how they started turning things up like heat, the atom and quantum physics in the first place.

    So, how can a non-scientific Christian be so declaratively sure that the mental origin of a mathematical model was hatred of God? As pointed out in the article (which I only skimmed) dark energy is not easily explained without a multiverse.

    The thing is, these scientists are pursuing facts with peer-review. These are really smart, dedicated people who are not playing a game. They’re bound to understand the realty that is, and every scientist watches every other to find non-verifiable publications. Say what you want about the imperfections of these humans and their selection bias in finding evidence, but they beat the crud out of the average Christian leader’s “objectivety.” And we’re typing on a whole network of proof that their methods produce verifiable results.

    Christian leaders are *able* to create any reality they can sell to their congregation. Sure, God’s testimony is true, but you and I both know how often it’s twisted.

    This article presents a wonderful observation, and something to be encouraged about. And it’s wonderful to see physicists following the facts wherever they lead.

    Why not present this article in such a light?

  4. glenscriv

    Hi Bobby, there’s definitely a place for Christian science. I may get to that in my third post. If all enquiry is faith seeking understanding we are avoiding the whole Kantian split between fact and faith. We’re emphatically not leaving the scientific realm to the naturalists while we escape off into the religious!

    On the infinite regress – wouldn’t an atheist say that infinite regress (or for that matter self-existent uni/multiverse) is no less paradoxical than ‘self-existent deity’. We build self-existence into our definition of deity – but way back with Aristotle he had no trouble believing in eternal matter (ie a self-existent universe). At that level (on those natural theology grounds!) the theist doesn’t seem to be on any better ground than the naturalist. But perhaps I’m missing something…

  5. glenscriv

    Hi Code,

    Glad you’re able to express your grrrs!

    And you’re right I should come clean and say I have even less understanding of these issues than I would have if I were a regular reader of Scientific American or any other such journal.

    Let me reiterate that my minimal claim here is that scientists operate according to the same general dynamic that ‘religious’ people do, that of ‘faith seeking understanding’. Scientists are believers. No-one’s neutral. No-one’s just got ‘the facts’ and no-one’s just flying off into the ‘blind faith’ realm. That’s my basic point.

    And in case you’re worried, it is emphatically not my point that the ‘Christian’ alternative to all this is to denounce the multiverse and plump for deistic design! I’ll make that even clearer in my next post.

    But it’s surely worthy of comment if a prominent physicist like Bernard Carr says: “If there is only one universe, you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.”?

    That’s not Christian speculation about a scientist’s motivation – that’s straight from the horses mouth. And therefore noteworthy I think.

  6. codepoke

    So I have reviewed your thoughts on faith seeking understanding.

    You’re definitely not making absurdly definitive statements out of a falsely informed view of scripture as science. Thank you.

    I will challenge your supposition that scientists move on faith, especially as defined in Heb 11. I’m a proponent of informed faith, as opposed to blind faith. I think the rationalists sold us a horrible bill of goods when they convinced us to accept their assertion that faith was only faith when blind.

    God never asks blind faith of His children, or at least not by my definition of faith, “Intentional trust in a promise based upon the previously proven faithfulness of the promiser.”

    We Christians don’t “have faith.” We have faith “in Jesus Christ,” because He’s earned our trust.

    Atheistic scientists have an inbred hatred for God causing a strong selection bias, but that’s not faith. They have multiple hypotheses and hopes, but that’s not faith. They even have strong expectations of the inescapable conclusions of a mathematical exploration, but even that’s not faith.

    I apologize for reading your article with such pre-existing prejudice. I’m sure I’ll agree with your final conclusion.

  7. glenscriv

    you may well disagree with my final conclusion – but I’ll be glad to hear either way!

    And good point on ‘faith’ – defined by its Object

  8. Bobby Grow

    Glen,

    the atheist may well say that . . . but of course we would know that he/she is engaging a category mistake; i.e. “natural” vs. “super-natural, one “observable” and one not—except in Christ, of course.

    And like I just noted, we have SCIENTIFIC proof that the universe is “finite;” I suppose as soon as the naturalist can prove the finitude of god, they might have something.

    The burden of proof is on them, not the theist; I for one am not willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, why should we?

    If all else fails, you can always use the cosmological argument. In other words, I suppose I am a qualified fideist.

    Codepoke,

    These scientists intentions are moot; I could care less if they are motivated by greed or the truth . . . the question is, is if what they are “observing” provides the greatest explanatory power for the state of reality. Stephen Hawking tries to avoid the theistic implication of his “point of singularity” by using “new math” which He himself admits does not correlate to “reality;” i.e. completely theoretical to make his non-theistic model work. Like I said, the multi-universe theory is completely blind faith based; and solves nothing, even if we allow it to be true. And once a “scientist” engages such models they no longer are being scientific, by definition, since there is nothing physically “observable” (which violates the principles of the scientific method) . . . instead they are, if anything, acting as “philosophers,” which professionally aren’t allowed to do. You know “Scientism” is as alive and well as Christian theism . . . we should be careful not to allow scientists to slip “first order metaphysical assumptions” into their “second order observational science” as if there is no distinction.

  9. Bobby Grow

    Oh and Glen,

    on the infinite regress, if the universe is all there is, and materiality is all there is; then positing another universe, or more does nothing to explain the “apparent” fine tuning of our universe, since “scientifically” all we have our the “physical laws” we have in this universe. Thus whether one posits this universe or 1500 such universes, the “scientist” still has the same problem; because the fine tuning that gave us this universe would have to be present in incipient forms to give us other universes . . . thus the circle goes on, and on, and on, and on never to get us outside the loop (i.e. circular). This isn’t science. Oh, and never mind statistics on the “fine-tuning” of our universe ;-).

  10. glenscriv

    Hi Bobby,

    “if the universe is all there is, and materiality is all there is; then positing another universe, or more does nothing to explain the “apparent” fine tuning of our universe, since “scientifically” all we have our the “physical laws” we have in this universe.”

    I think anthropic principle arguments are aimed at this one. They say that the only universe in which there could be observers is one that is fine-tuned to support observers therefore it’s not surprising we observe fine-tuning. Of course the comeback is – what makes you think there are near infinite numbers of possible universes out of which ours is the lucky one? This is simply an assumption – a fantastically wild one, and not one that is at all scientifically verifiable. To do such science relies on something quite beyond the scientific realm.

    And so, wherever an enquirer turns they are forced to acknowledge their finitude. Either we came from a creative force beyond the universe – science has limits! – Or the universe popped into existence out of nothing – contra everything science relies on regarding constancy etc – Or we acknowledge other worlds beyond our grasp that explain how we are simply the one-in-a-billion – again forcing us to go beyond a *scientific* account of reality.

  11. glenscriv

    …I will now take off the philosopher’s cap.

    it burns! it burns!

  12. Bobby Grow

    Sure the anthropic principle would “assert” this, but so what; their response is a non-starter since they must assume what they deny in order to assume it: i.e. a “fine tuned universe,” to posit “non-fine tuned universes”, to conclude with a “fine-tuned universe.” And of course this goes against the cosmological principle of needing something of at least an equal, if not greater “cause” to produce a known effect (such as our “finite” universe represents); which goes to a non-scientific accounting of the universe as you note.

    And if statistics and probability mean anything, a “fine-tuned” universe as ours is so improbable, statistically, that it is impossible w/o a “force” like Yahweh “is.”

    Indeed, everything is “faith-based,” the question is always which faith correlates to reality? I would, of course say it is the faith “of” Christ; of course this is the problem too, how do we “know?” Well I would say, the Spirit . . . which is the problem for naturalist scientists, they rely on geist the human spirit; which well never allow them to have “true” knowledge of God as Creator. Because they have first missed knowledge of God as Redeemer.

    I know we agree here, Glen. Great post! And I think it’s fine for pastors to talk about science; since most scientists, apart from their second order training bring first order metaphysical assumptions into their interpretations of reality—thus they have entered the fray of the theologian and philosopher, and thus should be ready to be critiqued accordingly.

  13. codepoke

    Hello Bobby,

    I don’t doubt any of your specific arguments. I doubt the pristine nature of them. People are not pristine.

    These scientists have the annoying habit of coming up verifiable conclusions based on their wild brainstorming. They wander outside of philosophical boundaries and suddenly they’re noticing that the moons move around Jupiter. Next thing you know a Christian genius with all his philosophies dusted and sorted ends up looking like an idiot for saying the scientist is muddling in esoterica beyond his ken. The moons really do move around Jupiter.

    You call it “new math” that doesn’t correspond to reality. We’ve been doing new math since the 19th century, and we already observably know that spooky, impossible stuff really happens at the quantum level. We just don’t know how. These guys are thinking about these impossible things, and following the math where it leads them.

    Sure they hate Christianity, and so they anger all us who love God. I’m calling for us to quit pretending we understand what they’re doing when we insult them.

    Now maybe you’re qualified to dispute them toe to toe. If so, then slap me down. But if you’re echoing the words of journalists quoting experts who know some scientists who said….

    Here’s an article that expresses my exact frustration:
    http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2008/11/18.html

  14. bobby grow

    Codepoke,

    if you want to “gnosticize” knowledge that’s up to you, I’m not so inclined. When Stephen Hawking says his math does not correspond to reality, I’m not sure what else to say. If you want to believe that attaching “quantam” to everything makes “all things possible,” go ahead . . . not me. If you want to make sweeping generalizations, go ahead. Like I already said to Glen,

    . . . I think it’s fine for pastors to talk about science; since most scientists, apart from their second order training bring first order metaphysical assumptions into their interpretations of reality—thus they have entered the fray of the theologian and philosopher, and thus should be ready to be critiqued accordingly.

    Oh, and which scientists should we listen to, just the ones who “anger all us who love God?” Or maybe it is possible to “critically” listen to the spectrum of all contenders. You do realize that there is a lot of dissent amongst “scientists” today, right? Have you heard of William Dembski, Jonathan Wells, et al. Actually it’s possible to go right to the horses mouth, unmediated by said journalist.

    One more point, you seem to be operating with a double-standard . . . you seem to think that you are objective enough to discern that certain scientists should be listened to (although nobody really understands what they are saying, except other scientists); but then at the same time, you say its really not possible for anyone to understand them. So if they are too brilliant, then on what criteria are you basing their brilliance . . . just the fact that their peers say they are (but who says the peers are)? I’m not denying they are smart, but what I think, just like with any “knowledge,” is that it is public and accessible for anyone willing to put the time in to understand it.

    As far as the article you link to, it reflects a rather nihilistic elitist view of knowledge; and assumes that the “category of expert” makes one an “untouchable” in their field—and that’s simply non-sensical (i.e. there are always dissenting views within a field btw, and we can all learn from such critical dialogue). Again, like I’ve already said, and you conveniently ignored, these “scientists” are treading on philosophical/theological ground (i.e. metaphyscial reality—e.g. physically non-emperical—abstract reality—-immaterial universal conceptuality); so they need to get ready to hear from theologians, i.e. to assume your own argument, they aren’t the experts once they have trailed off here.

    I think you need to recognize the difference between first order disciplines and seconder order ones. First order involves metaphysical, ontological, epistemological concerns; while the second order involves (for science) the hard sciences (empirical data, etc.). If the first is off, which provides the interpretive framework, then the second will be off. Theologians/Philosophers have every right to challenge the first order principles, which then implicates for the second, that these second order scientists operate within.

    Anyway, Codepoke, I’m sorry that you have apparently been taken captive by a faulty epistemological understanding; I hope that you will recognize your trust and distrust of the experts is not all that fruitful or sustainable. peace.

  15. Bobby Grow

    Good one, Glen! I just listened to John Webber on the perils of “negative theology.” He makes the same points that you do here; i.e. that if we try to conceive of God based on “natural” inductions, we make God’s being contingent and defined by the “gaps” of creation. Congdon’s points are well taken . . . it’s “positive theology” or its nothing.

    It’s interesting to follow negative models of knowledge, they always start with negation of the given; and continue on with a parasitic existence from there.

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