Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Even in the multiverse, our universe is rare

Last time I ended with the cliffhanger, saying the multiverse (the idea there are a vast number of other universes out there) strengthens the design argument for God.  This discussion stems from the widespread realization, from scientific data, that our universe appears "designed".  The constants of physics and structure of the universe are finely-tuned: they must be just-right in order for life to exist.  Even non-theistic scientists acknowledge this.  (See here for a great website that has compiled many quotes to this effect.)  However, what if there are an infinite number of universes, each with their own random laws of physics?  By sheer numbers then, we should expect at least one bio-friendly universe to exist.

And the fact that we exist says that such a universe exists.

This last point is incredibly important.  It is called a "selection effect".  Even though it's rare that a bio-friendly universe exists, the idea is that it is not rare for observers to note they live in a bio-friendly universe.  The very fact that observers exist (and are living) shows they must be in such a universe.

But here's where it gets weird.  It turns out that, of all possible universes with observers, our universe is still rare.  Because of the extreme degree of fine-tuning necessary to make this universe bio-friendly, it is actually far more probable that a universe composed simply of a star and a host of planets (including the life-friendly one) just popped into existence (POOF!) out of the quantum vacuum.  I repeat: it is far, far more probable that an entire life-friendly solar system just popped into existence with no explanation.

It gets weirder.  Considering those types of universes are more probable, and that presumably in some of those universes, life will have evolved to the point of being technologically advanced, it's actually more probable that we are just in a Matrix-like computer simulation from these advanced life-forms.  In that manner, we'd be "intelligently designed" (but also our world would not be "real").

It gets weirder.  Even more probable than the solar-system-out-of-nothing scenario, by far the most common type of universe with an observer(s) is one in which a single brain pops into existence, looks around and notes the nothingness in which it sits, and then pops out of existence.  (This is called the "Boltzmann Brain".)

All of these then beg the question: why do we live in a universe that is so extremely finely-tuned (to such a degree that it is prohibitively rare, even in a multiverse), when it's far more likely that we wouldn't live in such a universe?  The clear-cut answer is that our universe did not arise by chance.  We are not just a lucky accident of the quantum vacuum churning out random universes.  Our universe was supernaturally designed by the One who has the power and care to undertake such a creative event.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Multiverse: science or a cop-out?

Recently, over at, columnist Dennis Prager wrote a piece on "Why Some Scientists Embrace the 'Multiverse'".  The article is a good read; in the first part, Prager describes the incredible scientific evidence for the design of the universe for the benefit of life.  The bio-friendliness of the universe is undeniable, and is admitted by scientists of all stripes.  But the "design" of the universe then begs the question: who designed it?  Or, how did it come to be this way?

However, Prager then transitions into a discussion of the multiverse (the idea that there are many, perhaps infinite, universes out there).  If true, the multiverse could get around the problem of the fine-tuning.  After all, if there are an infinite number of universes out there, all with random laws of physics, there would just have to be one in which the laws were "just right" for life to exist.  No matter how improbable it would be for you to hit that bullseye perfectly, given an infinite number of tries, it's bound to happen.  And that's the universe we live in.

But Prager implies the multiverse is solely proposed by scientists in order to get around the fine-tuning.  This is incorrect.  The multiverse hypothesis is a direct inference from the laws of physics.  If we've got the equations of our own universe right, there is a very good chance there are other universes out there.  Just because it's impossible to detect them doesn't mean they aren't there.  And that certainly doesn't mean the multiverse hypothesis is some concoction by atheists to get around the fine-tuning.

So if the multiverse exists, and I don't think we can discount it, where does that leave the fine-tuning argument?  It does seem to provide a nice refutation of fine-tuning pointing to God as designer.  Perhaps that's why it's so popular, and why it gets so much attention.  (And perhaps that's Prager's actual point: that the multiverse is popular with scientists, even though there is no direct evidence for it, because it seems to satisfy their worldview.)  But the reality is, the multiverse only makes the design argument for God stronger.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Is Dawkins spreading propaganda?

Well, despite the sensationalistic title of this post, I think the answer is probably "no, I wouldn't go that far as to say that."  But I have been amazed at some of the things he keeps on saying, held in tension with some things I know people talk to him about.  For example, he continues to deride all believers as people who do not think, yet he is acquainted with one of the greatest proponents for Christian thinking: fellow Oxford professor (and prolific author) John Lennox.

This all came together for me in an "aha!" moment when I read the first four sentences of this article about William Lane Craig (which by the way is a great article in and of itself and I recommend reading it; the first four sentences are almost irrelevant to the rest of the article) where the author depicts Dawkins as decrying the notion of giving a Christian apologist publicity.

This made me wonder: it is really about the search for truth and advancing science and reason for Dawkins?  Or is it about empty rhetoric, sound bytes, and attempting to control what people hear?  The irony of it all is that Dawkins (and now many others) blames the spread of religion on "memes".  Originally, memes didn't have to be funny images with catchy phrases; they can also be just what your parents taught you, or what your friends like, or what's cool at school.  Any cultural element that gets passed from one person to another could be a meme.  Yet, through the use of sound bytes, etc. (which appeal so much to this generation), it is actually atheism that is now propagating* by meme.  Very interesting.

* - By the way, the word "propaganda" has the same root as the word "propagate".  We now come full circle.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Why am I both a scientist and a Christian?

In this day, it's en vogue to say that if you think rationally, then you give up Christianity.  No doubt this seems true.  In fact, many churches also promote this view (either implicitly or explicitly).  The internet is filled with anecdotes about teenagers who came with the hard questions, yet their pastors/elders/"heroes" in the church just told them to have more faith.

Talk about a recipe for unbelief.

The sad thing is that this is a complete misunderstanding, promoted by both Christians and non-Christians alike.  Last time I professed that I am both a scientist and a Christian, but I didn't say why.  Here it is: Science was birthed out of a Christian world.  It borrows Christian ideas about the world as basic philosophical foundations.  And most importantly (at least for me): scientific, philosophical, and historical evidence undergirds, rather than erodes, the reasonableness of belief in the God of the bible.

But don't take my word for it.  Here are a few sites that would agree (and these are far from exhaustive; they are just the ones that I thought of off the top of my head):

Sunday, June 23, 2013

I am a scientist and a Christian

There is a false dichotomy that most people believe in without even thinking about it: that either science is true, or religion (i.e. Christianity) is true, but not both.  For example, according to reviews of "The Unbelievers," that movie implicitly assumes this false dilemma and rides that assumption throughout.

But that doesn't hold water.  I am a scientist and a Christian, and far from internally being at odds with myself, the scientific (and engineering) knowledge I have strengthens my belief in God.

What's interesting is that oftentimes, atheists maintain their lack of belief in any god not for scientific or logical reasons, but for non-rational (emotional) reasons.  Take the oft-quoted Aldous Huxley on Christian morals: "We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom."

Or infamous atheist Thomas Nagel: "I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope that there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that."

(Incidentally, these quotes support what I was saying a few days ago in regard to Objection 4.)

For more, see this post on the Christian Apologetics Alliance webpage.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A response to "Dear Believer, Why Do You Believe" part 2 of 2

Last time, I began a critique of the popular YouTube clip titled, "Dear Believer, Why Do You Believe".  The thing to keep in mind is that the main premise of this video is that no religious person has adequate reasons to believe.  If this premise were true, then the objections raised in this video actually hold some weight.  However, in that case, the objections would essentially be moot: if no religious person has good reasons for their belief, what is the point of raising more objections.

But instead, religious folk, and Christians in particular, have many reasons to believe!  If you follow my blog, you'll find some of those reasons.

As for the rest of my critique of the video, I have identified six common objections to religion in general, and Christianity in particular, and I offered a response to the first three last time.  Here I will go through the three remaining objections raised in this video.

The problem for the atheist who espouses the views in this video is there are not only many adequate reasons to believe in a god in general, and the Christian God in particular, but these reasons are also immensely compelling.  But even if they were only moderately compelling, the existence of such reasons would totally dismantle this video.  In a way, the narrator is underhandedly delivering a stinging insult to religious people worldwide, saying they live in the dark ages.

Objection 4: “Religions are just crutches to help us feel better.”

I wonder if religions aren’t just ancient constructs, in an attempt to explain unexplained phenomenon.  Though irrational in content, they are not irrational in their emergence.  But we no longer live in the dark; science is ablaze in our world, we no longer live in the cave!  We no longer require comforting stories that make us feel safe, comforted or valued.  Isn’t it time our faith matches our discoveries?  Our ideas our new perspective?  Greater awe in reality rather than in fantasy?
This has many problems, first and foremost that atheists may hold their lack of belief in any gods also as a crutch.  If there is no cosmic being, then who am I held accountable to for my immoral actions?  No one.  OK, not every atheist feels this way, but certainly some do.  In the same vein, not every Christian feels like God is a crutch.  Sometimes, I wish God's influence on my life would just go away so I could be autonomous.  I mean, who doesn't like the idea of being their own master?  Who wants to submit to someone in higher authority than themselves?

On the other hand, again, if there are reasons to believe in God, then crutch or not, it is something to consider.

Objection 5: “It's arrogant to think you have the right religion”

Isn’t it time to stop thinking that we are somehow the reason why this universe was made?  That our culture is somehow better than other cultures?  It’s time to learn how the universe really is, even if that deflates our conceits, and forces us to admit we do not have all the answers.  You must confront these fundamental questions.  
I wonder why this is arrogant?  I've posted on this before, but it bears repeating: ideas aren't arrogant.  If you follow the evidence where it leads, how is that arrogant?  Furthermore, taking the position that the narrator does, how is his position not arrogant? Saying believers live in the dark ages?  The narrator surely thinks he's in a position of privileged knowledge.

Objection 6: “It's arrogant to think we occupy a privileged place in the universe.”

Isn’t it time to stop thinking that we are somehow the reason why this universe was made? That our culture is somehow better than other cultures? It’s time to learn how the universe really is, even if that deflates our conceits, and forces us to admit we do not have all the answers.

Last point, but it's beginning to sound repetitive: this would be valid if there were no evidence that we do indeed occupy a privileged place in the universe (in terms of importance).  But there is evidence.  Perhaps there is still debate going on about that, but the scientific data are fairly clear: there are only a handful of places and times in the universe that intelligent life could exist (and maybe only one unique time and place).  If that is what the data say, then again: how is this arrogant?


Every point made in this video seems nice on the surface, especially if you are already indoctrinated to the ways of the new atheists.  Especially if you accept without question the assumption that science and reason are on one side, and faith (which is blind) on the other.  But just for a moment examine your assumption.  If there are good reasons to believe in Jesus as Lord, then nothing this video says makes any sense.  There are no salient points made.