Origins & Science
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."
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
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.
A response to Amanda Gefter's "Creationists Declare War over the Brain", The New Scientist (October, 22 2008). Cited in "EPS Philosophers Respond to New Scientist Article On 'Creationism' and Materialism" on the Evangelical Philosophical Society Blog (October 23, 2008).
It is possible that a materialistic explanation of consciousness might be found, but that does not make the claim that consciousness is non-physical an argument from ignorance... At any given time, scientists should infer the best current explanation of the available evidence, and right now, the best evidence from both neuroscience and rigorous philosophical analysis is that consciousness is not reducible to the physical. Churchland’s refusal to draw this inference is based not on evidence, but on what Karl Popper called "promissory materialism," a reliance on the mere speculative possibility of a materialistic explanation. Since this attitude can be maintained indefinitely, it means that even if a non-materialist account is correct (and supported by overwhelming evidence), that inconvenient truth can always be ignored. Surely the project of science should be one of following the evidence wherever it leads, not of protecting a preconceived materialist philosophy. Isn’t it that philosophy — the one that constantly changes its shape to avoid engagement with troublesome evidence, either ignoring the data or simply declaring it materialistic — that most resembles a virus?
"Louisiana Confounds the Science Thought Police" in National Review Online (July 8, 2008).
Students need to know about the current scientific consensus on a given issue, but they also need to be able to evaluate critically the evidence on which that consensus rests. They need to learn about competing interpretations of the evidence offered by scientists, as well as anomalies that aren’t well explained by existing theories. Yet in many schools today, instruction about controversial scientific issues is closer to propaganda than education. Teaching about global warming is about as nuanced as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Discussions about human sexuality recycle the junk science of biologist Alfred Kinsey and other ideologically driven researchers. And lessons about evolution present a caricature of modern evolutionary theory that papers over problems and fails to distinguish between fact and speculation. In these areas, the “scientific” view is increasingly offered to students as a neat package of dogmatic assertions that just happens to parallel the political and cultural agenda of the Left. Real science, however, is a lot more messy — and interesting — than a set of ideological talking points. Most conservatives recognize this truth already when it comes to global warming. They know that whatever consensus exists among scientists about global warming, legitimate questions remain about its future impact on the environment, its various causes, and the best policies to combat it. They realize that efforts to suppress conflicting evidence and dissenting interpretations related to global warming actually compromise the cause of good science education rather than promote it. The effort to suppress dissenting views on global warming is a part of a broader campaign to demonize any questioning of the “consensus” view on a whole range of controversial scientific issues — from embryonic stem-cell research to Darwinian evolution — and to brand such interest in healthy debate as a “war on science.”
"Evolution Wars" in Time (Aug 07, 2005)
Darwin's theory has been a hard sell to Americans ever since it was unveiled nearly 150 years ago in The Origin of Species. The intelligent-design movement is just the latest and most sophisticated attempt to discredit the famous theory, which many Americans believe leaves insufficient room for the influence of God. Early efforts to thwart Darwin were pretty crude. Tennessee famously banned the teaching of evolution and convicted schoolteacher John Scopes of violating that ban in the "monkey trial" of 1925. At the time, two other states — Florida and Oklahoma — had laws that interfered with teaching evolution. When such laws were struck down by a Supreme Court decision in 1968, some states shifted gears and instead required that "creation science" be taught alongside evolution. Supreme Court rulings in 1982 and 1987 put an end to that. Offering creationism in public schools, even as a side dish to evolution, the high court held, violated the First Amendment's separation of church and state. ¶ But some anti-Darwinists seized upon Justice Antonin Scalia's dissenting opinion in the 1987 case. Christian fundamentalists, he wrote, "are quite entitled, as a secular matter, to have whatever scientific evidence there may be against evolution presented in their schools." That line of argument — an emphasis on weaknesses and gaps in evolution — is at the heart of the intelligent-design movement, which has as its motto "Teach the controversy." "You have to hand it to the creationists. They have evolved," jokes Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif., which monitors attacks on the teaching of evolution.
From the Scopes Trial
No circle is reserved for man alone... He is, according to the diagram, shut up in the little circle entitled 'Mammals,' with thirty-four hundred and ninety-nine other species of mammals.... What shall we say of the intelligence, not to say religion, of those who are so particular to distinguish between fishes and reptiles and birds, but put a man with an immortal soul in the same circle with the wolf, the hyena, and the skunk? What must be the impression made upon children by such a degradation of man?
Scott D. Sampson on Paleontology said...
The bones were the same, nothing had changed. But people started to look at the dinosaurs differently. Same fossils. New ideas... People keep forgetting that paleontologists are really limited. We have a bunch of bones and teeth — for the most part — to work with. So really it's the ideas that drive the science. The ideas, of course, are driven by the biases of that particular moment. So we went from a lizard bias to a bird bias, and now the pendulum is actually swinging, once again, back to the middle.
The Weekly Wedge Update, Access Research Network, (July 9, 2001).
In this I tend to share the concern of Richard Lewontin, who wrote in the New York Review of Books: "Who am I to believe about quantum physics if not Steven Weinberg, or about the solar system if not Carl Sagan?" What worries me is that they may believe what Dawkins and [Edward O.] Wilson tell them about evolution. What worries me is that so many physicists and geologists seem to think that the peppered moth or finch beak observations illustrate a mighty creative force that produced moths and birds in the first place. I hope that they apply more rigorous standards for evaluating evidence when they are estimating the age of the earth.
"Cruising the Cosmos", in Forbes ASAP, October 2, 2000.
You are not alone in a lack of understanding about the nature of inertia. Physicists do not know why objects resist acceleration — why objects push back when pushed. They do not know for sure why your head snaps back when your car speeds up. Inertia "just is." Also, contrary to popular assumption, scientists don't understand the mechanism that causes matter to attract itself — the force of gravity that makes objects fall to the ground. To be sure, scientists have painstakingly measured the rates of fall and resistance, and so we can build all sorts of technology that work flawlessly within the equations of these everyday forces. But we do not know why these forces work the way they do.