Heart of Stupid

From a Facebook posting

From a Facebook posting

“‘ The horror! The horror!’ (Conrad, Joseph (2012-05-17). Heart of Darkness (p. 101). . Kindle Edition.)

I wanted to title this post “Heart of Darkness,” but I noticed the title was already taken. In the mean time, here’s what it’s all about:

Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God

The odds of life existing on another planet grow ever longer. Intelligent design, anyone?

In 1966 Time magazine ran a cover story asking: Is God Dead? Many have accepted the cultural narrative that he’s obsolete—that as science progresses, there is less need for a “God” to explain the universe. Yet it turns out that the rumors of God’s death were premature. More amazing is that the relatively recent case for his existence comes from a surprising place—science itself.

What an astounding statement, especially coming from a reliable source such as The Wall Street Journal. If that item curls your hair, then you should take a seat. I have even more astounding news.

JULY 20, 2011
The Wall Street Journal under Rupert Murdoch

Although the scandal enveloping Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has focused on his British properties, it has also put News Corp’s. U.S. outlets under a brighter spotlight—particularly the prestigious Wall Street Journal he acquired by purchasing Dow Jones for $5 billion in 2007.

Meanwhile, all of us over here at Skeptical Analysis are thinking maybe this is just a bunch of hullabaloo over little. It could be that additional Skeptical Analysis is in order. Let’s start by taking a peek at the remainder of what scientific authority Eric Metaxas has to say on the topic:

Here’s the story: The same year Time featured the now-famous headline, the astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion—1 followed by 24 zeros—planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion—1 followed by 21 zeros—planets capable of supporting life.

With such spectacular odds, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, a large, expensive collection of private and publicly funded projects launched in the 1960s, was sure to turn up something soon. Scientists listened with a vast radio telescopic network for signals that resembled coded intelligence and were not merely random. But as years passed, the silence from the rest of the universe was deafening. Congress defunded SETI in 1993, but the search continues with private funds. As of 2014, researches have discovered precisely bubkis—0 followed by nothing.

And that’s about it. The remainder seems to be The Privileged Planet revisited. Here’s what Eric Metaxas wants you to know:

Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.

From The Privileged Planet, page 114:

Once more, those features of our environment that are congenial to scientific discovery also promote Earth’s habitability. We’ve briefly discussed the role of the Moon and the giant planets in all this. Jupiter and Saturn are probably the most significant planetary protection, since they shield the inner Solar System from excessive comet bombardment.28

[The footnote links to: 28. See J.I. Lunine, “The Occurrence of Jovian Planets and the Habitability of Planetary Systems,” Publications of the National Academy of Sciences 89, no. 3 (2001); 809-814. The classic study on the relation between Jupiter and Earth’s habitability is G.W. Wetherill, “Possible Consequences of Absence of Jupiters in Planetary Systems,” Astrophysics and Space Science 212 (1994); 23-32.]

More from Metaxas:

There’s more. The fine-tuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the fine-tuning required for the universe to exist at all. For example, astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces—were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction—by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000—then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp.

This part appears to be a recapitulation of Chapter 10 of The Privileged Planet: “A Universe Fine-Tuned for Life and Discovery.”

Of particular concern is Metaxas’ interest in the fortunate (for us) circumstances relating to the formation of the Universe. He concludes with:

The greatest miracle of all time, without any close seconds, is the universe. It is the miracle of all miracles, one that ineluctably points with the combined brightness of every star to something—or Someone—beyond itself.”

“Someone” is looking out for us. Someone? Who? Let me guess.

Got it! That Someone (with a capital S) would be a Special Person. Not just any person who might happen to have the ability to pull this off, but one special Someone. That Someone who has a name. And that name would be Yahweh. Jehovah. The God of Abraham. Not any of the other stories about the creation of the Earth and the Universe, but this particular one. This particular one that has the Earth and the Universe being created 6000 years ago. This particular story that has the Earth and the Universe being created 6000 years ago, at a time when there were already people around who should have noticed all this going on. This particular creation story.

And the reason we know it was this particular Someone who created the Earth and the Universe is that the story about the creation of the Earth and the Universe by this particular Someone is the only story that matches what science says about the creation of the Earth and the Universe. At this point I am going to retell the actual story of how this particular Someone created the Earth and the Universe. Here it is:

In the beginning Someone created the heavens and the earth.

2 But first, someone had to get the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces—just right to a fine tuning, and this had to be accomplished in less than one millionth of a second after the Big Bang, which was Someone’s special name for the creation of the Earth and the Universe.

3 And that was just in the First Day.

No wait. I’ve pulled up the wrong story from the Internet. That is the story of how a different Someone created the Earth and the Universe. Here’s the story I was looking for:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God calledthe light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.”And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds:the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number;fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Yes, this is the correct story of how Someone got the “values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces” just right within “less than one millionth of a second after the big bang.” Because we know that you “[a]lter any one value and the universe could not exist.” Also, “For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction—by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000—then no stars could have ever formed at all.” And it’s all described, as I have shown, in the recorded history of how Someone created the Earth and the Universe.

That is so remarkable. And what is more remarkable is that this story is supported by real science. With some exceptions.

Those exceptions might be some scientists who make it their life’s work to figure out how the Earth and the Universe actually came about. One of those scientists might be Lawrence Krauss, who is ” Foundation Professor of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University and director of its Origins Project.” He’s also author of the book A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing.

Larry Krauss has developed into one of those national treasures for which all civilization can be grateful. He thinks, he speaks and he acts. It’s a welcome combination.

Not surprising, Larry Krauss has stepped forward to bring some sense to Eric Metaxas’ wondering notions. Immediately following the publication of Metaxas’ op-ed piece, Krauss penned a rebuttal, which failed to make it into the WSJ pages. Lacking exposure on the pages of The Wall Street Journal, this response was picked up by others. It appears in its entirety on the Richard Dawkins Foundation site. Here it is:

To the editor:

I was rather surprised to read the unfortunate oped piece “Science Increasingly makes the case for God”, written not by a scientist but a religious writer with an agenda.  The piece was rife with inappropriate scientific misrepresentations.  For example:

  1. We currently DO NOT know the factors that allow the evolution of life in the Universe.  We know the many factors that were important here on Earth, but we do not know what set of other factors might allow a different evolutionary history elsewhere.  The mistake made by the author is akin to saying that if one looks at all the factors in my life that led directly to my sitting at my computer to write this, one would obtain a probability so small as to conclude that it is impossible that anyone else could ever sit down to compose a letter to the WSJ.
  2. We have discovered many more planets around stars in our galaxy than we previously imagined, and many more forms of life existing in extreme environments in our planet than were known when early estimates of the frequency of life in the universe were first made.  If anything, the odds have increased, not decreased.
  3. The Universe would certainly continue to exist even if the strength of the four known forces was different.  It is true that if the forces had slighty different strengths ( but nowhere near as tiny as the fine-scale variation asserted by the writer) then life as we know it would probably not have evolved.  This is more likely an example of life being fine-tuned for the universe in which it evolved, rather than the other way around.
  4. My ASU colleague Paul Davies may have said that “the appearance of design is overwhelming”, but his statement should not be misinterpreted.  The appearance of design of life on Earth is also overwhelming, but we now understand, thanks to Charles Darwin that the appearance of design is not the same as design, it is in fact a remnant of the remarkable efficiency of natural selection.

Religious arguments for the existence of God thinly veiled as scientific arguments do a disservice to both science and religion, and by allowing a Christian apologist to masquerade as a scientist WSJ did a disservice to its readers.

You will note there is no mention of what happened on the Seventh Day.

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Heart of Stupid

  1. Pingback: Heart of Stupid | Skeptical Analysis

  2. Pingback: Heart of Stupid | Skeptical Analysis

  3. Pingback: Heart of Stupid | Skeptical Analysis

  4. Pingback: Heart of Stupid | Skeptical Analysis

  5. Pingback: Heart of Stupid | North Texas Skeptics

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s