Monday, February 2, 2015

Seeing God in Science (or Not)

Writer and TV personality Eric Metaxas recently penned an essay for the Wall Street Journal arguing that science "increasingly makes the case for God." The argument boils down to saying that since a trillion things had to happen in exactly the right way for us to be here, we are too unlikely to be the product of mere chance. Astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss fired back in the New Yorker, dismissing all of Metaxas' claims as backward reasoning:
It is true that a small change in the strength of the four known forces would imply that stable protons and neutrons, the basis of atomic nuclei, might not exist. (The universe, however, would—a rather large error in the Metaxas piece.) This is old news and, while it’s an interesting fact, it certainly does not require a deity.

Once again, Metaxas confuses cause and effect. The constants of the universe indeed allow the existence of life as we know it. However, it is much more likely that life is tuned to the universe rather than the other way around. We survive on Earth in part because Earth’s gravity keeps us from floating off. But the strength of gravity selects a planet like Earth, among the variety of planets, to be habitable for life forms like us. Reversing the sense of cause and effect in this statement, as Metaxas does in cosmology, is like saying that it’s a miracle that everyone’s legs are exactly long enough to reach the ground.
Whenever I think about these claims that this or that is so unlikely that God must have intervened, I remind myself that whatever the odds, something had to happen. After all, the odds against you sitting in your chair right now reading this would require a page of zeroes to express, even in scientific notation. (Your parents' genes could have combined in trillions of different ways; and their parents'; and their parents' before them . . . ) And yet, here you are. Pleased to meet you. Do you prove the existence of God?

Another thing I notice about arguments like Metaxas' is that he never asks what are the odds against the existence of a God who decides to create a universe exactly like this one, with us in it. He would probably respond that my question is absurd. And I agree.

Some things are mysteries, and likely always will be.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

Personally I place a lot of blame for this sort of thinking on cultural emphasis of "the sublime". Things beyond our understanding leave us without proper response, and it is from this state of confusion and stupefaction that we derive many kinds of faith.

But we've pushed back the boundaries of the sublime over time - we're now chipping away at the mysteries of the universe, slowly building a working understanding of this huge, complex, and often bizarre existence of ours. But because we spent so long with no better explanation of things than "faith", we've got the lingering effects of those millenia of sublime ignorance.

The net effect is that when someone such as Metaxas comes along and doesn't understand something, instead of working to build an actual understanding of things, they simply try to rationalize it based on comfortable and familiar notions they've already accepted.

Simply put: many people fear the unknown, but instead of learning more about the unknown they simply pretend they already know what it is. By accepting a convenient lie they can avoid feeling afraid (so long as they don't think too hard about things) without all the difficulty of learning the truth.