Origins & Science
Alvin Plantinga (Oxford University Press: Dec 9, 2011), 376 pages.
This book is a long-awaited major statement by a pre-eminent analytic philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, on one of our biggest debates — the compatibility of science and religion. The last twenty years has seen a cottage industry of books on this divide, but with little consensus emerging. Plantinga, as a top philosopher but also a proponent of the rationality of religious belief, has a unique contribution to make. His theme in this short book is that the conflict between science and theistic religion is actually superficial, and that at a deeper level they are in concord. Plantinga examines where this conflict is supposed to exist — evolution, evolutionary psychology, analysis of scripture, scientific study of religion — as well as claims by Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Philip Kitcher that evolution and theistic belief cannot co-exist. Plantinga makes a case that their arguments are not only inconclusive but that the supposed conflicts themselves are superficial, due to the methodological naturalism used by science. On the other hand, science can actually offer support to theistic doctrines, and Plantinga uses the notion of biological and cosmological "fine-tuning" in support of this idea. Plantinga argues that we might think about arguments in science and religion in a new way — as different forms of discourse that try to persuade people to look at questions from a perspective such that they can see that something is true. In this way, there is a deep and massive consonance between theism and the scientific enterprise. ~ Book Description
John Lennox (Lion UK: Oct 2011), 248 pages.
Tackling Hawking, Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and a newcomer in the field—the French philosopher Michel Onfray—John Lennox points out some of the most glaring fallacies in the New Atheist approach in this insightful book. Since the twin towers crashed to the ground on September 11, there has been no end to attacks on religion. Claims abound that religion is dangerous, that it kills, and that it poisons everything. And if religion is the problem with the world, say the New Atheists, the answer is simple — get rid of it. Of course, things aren’t quite so straightforward. Arguing that the New Athiests' irrational and unscientific methodology leaves them guilty of the very obstinate foolishness they criticize in dogmatic religious folks, this erudite and wide-ranging guide to religion in the modern age packs some debilitating punches and scores big for religious rationalism. ~ Book Description
John C. Lennox (Lion UK: Sep 1, 2011), 96 pages.
The Grand Design, by eminent scientist Stephen Hawking, is the latest blockbusting contribution to the so-called New Atheist debate, and claims that the laws of physics themselves brought the Universe into being, rather than God. In this swift and forthright reply, John Lennox, Oxford mathematician and author of 'God's Undertaker', exposes the flaws in Hawking's logic. In lively, layman's terms, Lennox guides us through the key points in Hawking's arguments - with clear explanations of the latest scientific and philosophical methods and theories - and demonstrates that far from disproving a Creator God, they make his existence seem all the more probable. ~ Book Description
Jonathan Wells (Discovery Institute Press: May 31, 2011), 150 pages.
According to the modern version of Darwin’s theory, DNA contains a program for embryo development that is passed down from generation to generation; the program is implemented by proteins encoded by the DNA, and accidental DNA mutations introduce changes in those proteins that natural selection then shapes into new species, organs and body plans. When scientists discovered forty years ago that about 98% of our DNA does not encode proteins, the non-protein-coding portion was labeled “junk” and attributed to molecular accidents that have accumulated in the course of evolution. Recent books by Richard Dawkins, Francis Collins and others have used this “junk DNA” as evidence for Darwinian evolution and evidence against intelligent design (since an intelligent designer would presumably not have filled our genome with so much garbage). But recent genome evidence shows that much of our non-protein-coding DNA performs essential biological functions. The Myth of Junk DNA is written for a general audience by biologist Jonathan Wells, author of Icons of Evolution. Citing some of the abundant evidence from recent genome projects, the book shows that “junk DNA” is not science, but myth. ~ Book Description
Time Magazine Interview, cited in Einstein and Religion, Max Jammer (Princeton: 1999) p. 48.
I 'm not an atheist, and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written these books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations. I am fascinated by Spinoza's pantheism because he is the first philosopher to deal with the soul and body as one, not two separate things.
On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium), cited in Western Civilization: A Brief History, Jackson S. Spielvogel (Cengage Learning: 2010; original 1543), p. 344.
For a long time, then, I reflected on this confusion in the astronomical traditions concerning the derivation of the motions of the universe's spheres. I began to be annoyed that the movements of the world machine, created for our sake by the best and most systematic Artisan of all, were not understood with greater certainty by the philosophers, who otherwise examined so precisely the most insignificant trifles of this world. For this reason I undertook the task of rereading the works of all the philosophers which I could obtain to learn whether anyone had ever proposed other motions of the universe's spheres than those expounded by the teachers of astronomy in the schools. And in fact first I found in Cicero that Hicetas supposed the earth to move. Later I also discovered in Plutarch that certain others were of this opinion. I have decided to set his words down here, so that they may be available to everyone: "Some think that the eart remains at rest. But Philolaus the Pythagorean believes that, like the sun and moon, it revolves around the fire in an oblique circle. Heraclides of Pontus and Exphantus the Pythagorean make the earth move, not in a progressive motion, but like a wheel in a rotation from the west to east about its own center."
Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes (Macmillan: 2007), pp. 180, 185.
The concept of a universe materializing out of nothing boggles the mind. What exactly is meant by "nothing"? If this "nothing" could tunnel into something, what could have caused the primary tunneling event? And what about energy conservaton? ... The initial state prior to the tunneling is a universe of vanishing radius, that is, no universe at all. There is no matter and no space in this very peculiar state. Also, there is no time. Time has meaning only if something is happening in the universe. We measure time using periodic processes, like the rotation of the Earth about its axis, or its motion around the Sun. In the absence of space and matter, time is impossible to define. ¶ And yet the state of "nothing" cannot be identified with absolute nothingness. The tunneling is described by the laws of quantum mechanics, and thus "nothing" should be subjected to these laws. The laws must have existed, even though there was no universe. ... A quantum fluctuation of the vacuum assumes that there was a vacuum of some pre-existing space. And we now know that the "vacuum" is very different from "nothing". Vacuum, or empty space, has energy and tension, it can bend a warp, so it is unquestionably something. As Alan Guth wrote, “In this context, a proposal that the universe was created from empty space is no more fundamental than a proposal that the universe was spawned by a piece of rubber. It might be true, but one would still want to ask where the piece of rubber came from."
The Realm of the Nebulae (Yale University Press: 1936), pp. 6, 202.
Research men attempt to satisfy their curiosity, and are accustomed to use any reasonable means that may assist them toward the receding goal. One of the few universal characteristics is a healthy skepticism toward unverified speculations. These are regarded as topics for conversation until tests can be devised. Only then do they attain the dignity of subjects for investigation. ... With increasing distance our knowledge fades and fades rapidly. Eventually we reach the dim boundary, the utmost limits of our telescope. There we measure shadows, and we search among ghostly errors of measurements for landmarks that are scarcely more substantial. The search will continue. Not until the empirical resources are exhausted need we pass on to the dreamy realms of speculation.
Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe (Basic Books: 2000), p. 145.
Cosmologists sometimes claim that the universe can arise "from nothing". But they should watch their language, especially when addressing philosophers. We've realised ever since Einstein that empty space can have a structure such that it can be warped and distorted. Even if shrunk down to a "point", it is latent with particles and forces — still a far richer construct than the philosopher's "nothing". Theorists may, some day, be able to write down fundamental equations governing physical reality. But physics can never explain what "breathes fire" into the equations, and actualised them into a real cosmos. The fundamental question of "Why is there something rather than nothing?" remains the province of philosophers
Bruce L. Gordon and William A. Dembski, eds. (Intercollegiate Studies Institute: February 15, 2011), 900 pages.
The intellectual and cultural battles now raging over theism and atheism, conservatism and secular progressivism, dualism and monism, realism and antirealism, and transcendent reality versus material reality extend even into the scientific disciplines. This stunning new volume captures this titanic clash of worldviews among those who have thought most deeply about the nature of science and of the universe itself. Unmatched in its breadth and scope, The Nature of Nature brings together some of the most influential scientists, scholars, and public intellectuals — including three Nobel laureates — across a wide spectrum of disciplines and schools of thought. Here they grapple with a perennial question that has been made all the more pressing by recent advances in the natural sciences:Is the fundamental explanatory principle of the universe, life, and self-conscious awareness to be found in inanimate matter or immaterial mind? The answers found in this book have profound implications for what it means to do science, what it means to be human, and what the future holds for all of us. ~ Book Description
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (Penguin: 2007), p. 244
If something can be self-caused, why can't the universe as a whole be the thing that is self-caused? This leads in various arcane directions, into the strange precincts of string theory and probability fluctuations and the like, at one extreme, and into ingenious nitpicking about the meaning of "cause" at the other. Unless you have a taste for mathematics and theoretical physics on the one hand, or the niceties of scholastic logic on the other, you are not apt to find any of this compelling, or even fathomable.
Clipped by Nathan Jacobson
With all the hand-wringing about whether Stephen Hawking's The Grand Design changes anything — whether "philosophy is dead" and whether M-theory promises to explain the appearance of our universe in strictly physical terms — Sir Roger Penrose, because of his stature and relationship to Hawking, is one of the most interesting commentators, and he is none too impressed. On the September 25th broadcast of Unbelievable?, Alister McGrath is carrying on in his exceedingly unctuous way, describing M-theory as "slightly tentative", merely "a staging post along the long road of science..." With wonderful British politeness, Penrose interrupts: "I think it's actually stronger than that. What is referred to as M-theory isn't even a theory. It's a collection of ideas, hopes, aspirations. ... I think the book is a bit misleading in that respect. It gives you the impression that here is this new theory which is going to explain everything. It's nothing of the sort. ... I think the book suffers rather more strongly than many. It's not an uncommon thing in popular descriptions of science to latch on to some idea, particularly things to do with string theory, which have absolutely no support from observation. They're just nice ideas that people have tried to explore." On the whole, Penrose is less sanguine about the prospects for a theory of everything in the forseeable future. And so far, a number of Hawking's colleagues seem to agree that The Grand Design is much ado about nothing, even apart from its philosophical infelicities. In his review at The Financial Times, Penrose shares a further concern about the subjectivist turn in Hawking's thinking, illustrated by a, shall we say, atypical conversation in which Hawking proposed that black holes and "white holes" are synonomous. The story underscores the extent to which a layperson like myself is at the mercy of their expertise. I am far from competent to evaluate the merits of such esoteric theoretical physics, to do the math and check the sums. And so, it is incumbent upon the specialists to be forthright about the speculative degree of a given theory. In this case, it looks likely that even with the endorsement of the esteemed Hawking, M-theory, in its current state, is unlikely to put to rest either the teleological argument (in terms of fine-tuning) or the cosmological argument (in its Kalām formulation).
Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love, trans. Albert C. Outler (circa 420 C.E.), chap. 3, sec. 9.
When it is asked what we ought to believe in matters of religion, the answer is not to be sought in the exploration of the nature of things, after the manner of those whom the Greeks called "physicists". Nor should we be dismayed if Christians are ignorant about the properties and the numbers of the basic elements of nature, or about the motion, order, and deviations of the stars, the map of the heavens, the kinds and nature of animals, plants, stones, springs, rivers, and mountains; about the divisions of space and time, about the signs of impending storms, and the myriad other things which these "physicists" have come to understand, or think they have. For even these men, gifted with such superior insight, with their ardor in study and their abundant leisure, exploring some of these matters by human conjecture and others through historical inquiry, have not yet learned everything there is to know. For the Christian it is enough to believe that the cause of all created things, whether in heaven or on earth, whether visible or invisible, is nothing other than the goodness of the Creator, who is the one and the true God.
The Literal Meaning of Genesis 1.19.39, trans. John Hammond Taylor, Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation, ed. Johannes Quasten et al., vols. 41-42 (Newman Press: 1982), 41:42-43.
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds as certain from reason and experience. Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.
Natural Theology, "Lecture One", Gifford Lectures 1891-1893.
In a similar way we may conceive that progress may be made in natural theology in either of two ways: by deducing consequences from what we know or observe, or by assuming for trial the truth of a statement made on whatever authority it may be, and then examining whether the supposition of its truth so falls in with such knowledge as we possess, or such phenomena as we observe, as to lead us to a conviction that the statement does indeed express the truth. It may be that the statement comes from a source which professes to be a revelation made from God to man. But such an employment of it as I have just described is strictly analogous to our procedure in the study of physical science, and does not therefore seem to be precluded by the terms of the foundation of this lectureship.
"Naturalism; Or, Living within One's Means" in Confessions of a Confirmed Extensionalist (Harvard University Press: 2008), p. 462.
In science itself I certainly want to include the farthest flights of physics and cosmology, as well as experimental psychology, history, and the social sciences. Also, mathematics, insofar at least as it is applied, for it is indispensable to natural science. What then am I excluding as "some prior philosophy," and why? Descartes' dualism between mind and body is called metaphysics, but it could as well be reckoned as science, however false. He even had a causal theory of the interaction of mind and body through the pineal gland. If I saw indirect explanatory benefit in positing sensibilia, possibilia, spirits, a Creator, I would joyfully accord them scientific status too, on a par with such avowedly scientific positions as quarks and black holes. What then have I banned under the name of prior philosophy? ¶ Demarcation is not my purpose. My point in the characterization of naturalism ... is just that the most we can reasonably seek in support of an inventory and description of reality is testability of it observable consequences in the time-honored hypothetico-deductive way — whereof more anon. Naturalism need not cast aspersion on irresponsible metaphysics, however deserved, much less on soft sciences or on the speculative reaches of the hard ones, except insofar as a firmer basis is claimed for them than the experimental method itself.
"Cosmological Arguments" in Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, Charles Taliaferro and Paul J. Griffiths, eds. (Wiley-Blackwell: 2003), p. 252.
On the other side, the hypothesis of divine creation is very unlikely. Although if there were a god with the traditional attributes and powers, he would be able and perhaps willing to create such a universe as this, we have to weigh in the scales the likelihood or unlikelihood that there is a god with these attributes and powers. And the key power ... is that of fulfilling intentions directly, without any physical or causal mediation, without materials or instruments. There is nothing in our background knowledge that makes it comprehensible, let alone likely, that anything should have such a power. All our knowledge of intention-fulfillment is of embodied intentions being fulfilled indirectly by way of bodily changes and movements which are causally related to the intended result, and where the ability thus to fulfill intentions itself has a causal history, either of evolutionary development or of learning or of both. Only by ignoring such key features do we get an analogue of the supposed divine action.
Theism and Explanation (Routledge : June 2009), p. 146.
So yes, my arguments might give us reason to prefer natural explanations when these are available, and to seek natural explanations when they are not. It follows that a proposed theistic explanation should be, at best, an explanation of last resort. One might argue that this view — that we should abandon the search for natural explanations only in extremis — represents a kind of "presumption of naturalism." And so it does. ¶ My own view is that the naturalistic research tradition of the sciences has been stunningly successful and must rank as one of the greatest of human achievements. But I think it is poorly served by attempts to define science in such a way as to exclude the supernatural. The debate over intelligent design is instructive in this regard. One might win a legal victory by insisting that this proposed theistic explanation is not what we customarily call "science." And this is true, for contingent historical reasons. But it would be much more effective to show that this particular proposed theistic explanation, with its deliberately vague appeal to an unspecified "designer," is practically vacuous. it lacks the first and most important virtue of any proposed explanation, namely that of testability. It follows that this particular proposed theistic explanation should be rejected. ¶ Could the theist produce a better one? I doubt it, but then it would be most regrettable if we were to forbid him to try. Nothing could be more antithetical to the spirit of free enquiry than this kind of censorship. If proposed theistic explanations are to be defeated, as they have been so often in the past, it will be by way of the free contest of ideas.