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.

Ex Nihilo

AUniverseFromNothing

The term has some history:

Creation out of nothing, or creation ex nihilo, is the belief that God created this world out of nothing, ex nihilo being Latin for “from nothing.” The Bible is clear that God is the creator of this world (Gen 1:1; Job 38:1-42:6 among many others), but the issue of how he created this world is what is in question. Typically there are two main answers: (1) either God created this world from nothing, or (2) he created this world from pre-existing matter. In the second view God would be the organizer or the one who “ordered the chaos” of this world.

It’s a chain of argument frequently employed by creationists. Henry M Morris was a founder of the Institute for Creation Research, an organization promoting young-Earth creationism and now headquartered in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Morris had this to say in 1984 in the ICR publication Acts and Facts:

Evolutionists have frequently criticized creationism as unscientific because of its basic commitment to the doctrine of creation ex nihilo —that is, “creation out of nothing.” The idea that God simply called the universe into existence by His own power, without using any pre-existing materials, is rejected out of hand by evolutionists, since this would involve supernatural action, which is unscientific by definition (that is, by their definition).

Yet now we hear evolutionary cosmogonists maintaining that the universe evolved itself out of nothing! Creationists at least postulate an adequate Cause to produce the universe—that is, an infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, transcendent, self-existing, personal, Creator God. For those who believe in God, creation ex nihilo is plausible and reasonable. But even if people refuse to acknowledge a real Creator, they should realize that a universe evolving out of nothing would contradict the law of cause-and-effect, the principle of conservation of mass/energy, the law of increasing entropy, and the very nature of reason itself. How can they say such things?

The hard fact is, from all appearances the universe really was created out of nothing.

Earlier this year I acquired the Kindle edition of A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence Krauss. I will get into the book shortly, but first it may be helpful to take a quick look back.

Larry Krauss began popping up in the creation/evolution controversy over a decade ago when the Ohio school board was asked to entertain aspects of creationism, or at least doubts about Darwin, in the science curriculum. Krauss was there to weigh in on the matter, and Richard Ostling reported in the Washington Post in the March 14, 2002 edition an item that has been picked up and preserved by creationism sympathizers. The following is cached on the Discovery Institute’s site:

Whatever the board decides, the Ohio discussion has brought new attention to the fledgling ID movement, a small academic faction but one that flexes considerable brainpower.

Proponents say evolution is typically taught to mean life emerged on Earth spontaneously, and that only undirected natural selection produced the varied life forms. But, they contend, the best evidence indicates that scenario is fantastically unlikely.

Intelligent design arguments touch on everything from the fine-tuned structure of the universe described by modern physics to the information encoded in DNA to make their point.

But “intelligent design isn’t science,” the board was told by Lawrence Krauss, physics chairman at Case Western Reserve University.

Krauss has been involved in the issue ever since and has since added his name to the list of prominent scientists standing up for real science against attacks on diverse fronts. Like many in the field of hard science, Krauss makes no reliance on a religious faith and accepts no truck from religious arguments. So what does he, a researcher in cosmogony, have to say about the supposed origin of the universe? He has his say in this most recent book.

NoGod

Maybe the second thing you notice about this book is its subtitle, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” That’s a nice question, and it’s question that has some history. Nothing I ever did involved the study of origins, cosmogony, but I did get to it in a round about way. There is a chain of reasoning:

  • How did the Earth get here? That was answered by figuring out the Earth and the other planets in the Solar System formed from the accretion of matter near a star, in our case the Sun.
  • Where did all this matter that makes up the Earth and the other planets come from? Scientists figured out that, as well. When a large star forms it’s mostly hydrogen gas, and gravitational attraction pulls the ball of gas ever tighter into a ball. As the gas compresses the effects of gravity become stronger, because the hydrogen atoms are now closer to the center of gravitational attraction. That’s positive feed back. The tighter the ball, the greater the gravity, the tighter the ball, and so on. Eventually this stabilizes, because the hydrogen will fit into only so small a space. The compression of the hydrogen causes hydrogen atoms in the core, where the pressure is greatest, to fuse together. This fusion produces helium and releases energy. The star gets hot. Eventually the hydrogen is all used up, and mostly helium remains, and that fuses to produce heavier elements and so on. the process continues as heavier and heavier elements are produced at an ever increasing rate until finally iron is produced. When iron is fused no extra energy is produced. More energy is required to fuse iron than would be produced by the fusion process. The sequence of element fusion stops, and the remainder of the star collapses catastrophically, within minutes and ultimately within a fraction of a second. The wave of collapsing material rebounds, and the energy of the collapse is expended in the fusion of elements heaver than iron, producing all the elements in the periodic table beyond number 26 (iron). The star blows up, spewing all these heavy elements into space. That stuff eventually goes into making planets and such.
  • How do stars form? If you start with a large cloud of gas, and if the gas is not very evenly distributed throughout all of space, then the distribution is unstable. Any region that is denser will manifest a greater gravity and will attract gas from other regions. It’s positive feed back again. Stars eventually form. Some big, some not so. The very massive stars burn their hydrogen more rapidly and are the first to collapse and explode.
  • Where does all this hydrogen gas come from? That was not the easiest of questions. The answer has not been so obvious. Ultimately it came to be called the Big Bang. A point in space unzipped (my term) and all existing matter, plus much more, expanded from that point. There was a rapid and continuing expansion. Do not for a moment get the idea that all of this expansion was into the surrounding empty space, because there was no space. No matter, no space existed prior to the Big Bang.

And that’s the theme of this book. The principal theme, that is. Why did a point in non-space unzip to form the universe?

In chapter 9 of this book I mention a fact that I now want to introduce first here. Whenever one asks “Why?” in science, one actually means “How?”.“Why?” is not really a sensible question in science because it usually implies purpose and, as anyone who has been the parent of a small child knows, one can keep on asking “Why?” forever , no matter what the answer to the previous question. Ultimately , the only way to end the conversation seems to be to say “Because!”

Krauss, Lawrence (2012-01-10). A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing . Atria Books. Kindle Edition.

This is a critical divergence from creationist thinking. Creationism in all forms eventually falls back onto a “why.” Creationists can be picked out from a crowd as those who need to see a purpose in everything. Creationists, and a few others, can only view the world from a human standpoint. They have not broken out of the mental cage that is human ego. People do things for a purpose. Other things must happen for a purpose. Everything does happen for a purpose. Nothing happens without a purpose.

Creationists are unable to step back and to see that purpose is a human feature. There is more. Other living organisms besides humans possess purpose. Foxes chase rabbits for a purpose. Foxes need to eat rabbits. If foxes do not catch and eat rabbits they will die. There will be no more foxes. The only foxes that still exist today are those that possess the purpose of catching and eating something. Purpose is something that has developed biologically by the process of evolution through natural selection. Outside this realm of things the concept of purpose does not exist.

I’m not going to detail the findings of the book. You can read the book, it’s only $8.06 in the Kindle edition. The book presents what is the most recent and most likely the best reasoning about why there is something rather than nothing. For free you can read most of these ideas on-line. The book makes it all human by way of a person who has lived these recent developments.

I previously did a review of the creationist video Expelled. This documentary, produced by Premise Media, features a number of people supposedly “expelled” for promoting creationism (Intelligent Design) or at least for disparaging Darwinism. One of these was cosmologist Guillermo Gonzalez.

Gonzalez’ main claim to fame is a book he published and a video on the same subject. The book is The Privileged Planet, with the subtitle How Our Place In The Cosmos Was Designed For Discovery. I have the book and the video, and I promise a review in the future. When the video first came out I did a short review for The North Texas Skeptic, which I will repost here:

One thing Krauss does in his book is to put the kibosh on Gonzalez’ appeal for fine tuning:

Our idea was crazy by any standards . In order to result in a value for the cosmological constant consistent with our claim, the estimated value for this quantity described in the last chapter would have to be reduced somehow by 120 orders of magnitude and still not be precisely zero. This would involve the most severe fine-tuning of any physical quantity known in nature, without the slightest idea how to adjust it.

This was one of the reasons that, as I lectured at various universities about the quandary of a flat universe, I evoked mostly smiles and no more. I don’t think many people took our proposal seriously, and I am not even sure Turner and I did. Our point in raising eyebrows with our paper was to illustrate graphically a fact that was beginning to dawn not just on us , but also on several of our theorist colleagues around the world : something looked wrong with the by-then “standard” picture of our universe, in which almost all the energy required by general relativity to produce a flat universe today was assumed to reside in exotic dark matter (with a pinch of baryons— i.e., us Earthlings, stars, visible galaxies— to salt the mix).

Krauss, Lawrence (2012-01-10). A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing (pp. 75 – 76). Atria Books. Kindle Edition.

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.

Krauss is an atheist activist and self-described antitheist. Krauss has participated in many debates with theologians and apologists, including Hamza Tzortzis and William Lane Craig. The debate with Tzortzis (The Big Debates organised by iERA) resulted in controversy when Krauss complained to the Muslim organisers about the gender segregation of the audience; he only stayed when men and women were allowed to sit together. Later, the audience protested at his comment that it’s “not clear” to him that incest is objectively wrong, saying that he wouldn’t recommend it but may listen to rational arguments concerning the objective morality of such acts.

Krauss also featured in a full-length documentary entitled The Unbelievers, in which he and Richard Dawkins travel across the globe speaking publicly about the importance of science and reason as opposed to religion and superstition. They also interview prominent figures such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Cameron Diaz, Sam Harris, and Stephen Hawking.

In his book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing (2012), Krauss discusses the premise that something cannot come from nothing, which has often been used as an argument for the existence of an uncaused cause, or creator. He has since argued in a debate with John Ellis and Don Cupitt that the laws of physics allow for the universe to be created from nothing. “What would be the characteristics of a universe that was created from nothing, just with the laws of physics and without any supernatural shenanigans? The characteristics of the universe would be precisely those of the ones we live in.” In an interview with The Atlantic, however, he states that he has never claimed that “questions about origins are over.” According to Krauss, “I don’t ever claim to resolve that infinite regress of why-why-why-why-why; as far as I’m concerned it’s turtles all the way down.”

[Some links deleted]

There is one thing not answered in this book, and maybe that is the ultimate why? Krauss discusses how the Universe could have and more so why it should have erupted from a point singularity. That’s a plausible explanation of our existence, given that something (or nothing if you will) existed to begin with. The ultimate question may be how (not why) the postulated conditions, or anything, existed. And the answer to this is definitely not “God.”