### Archives For June 2011

The chapter was a little mind-blowing and difficult to summarize.

Chapter 8

How the God Hypothesis predicts Time

According to the God Hypothesis, God invented time.  He was there “before” it and exists outside it; it is part of the created material order.

The fact that God can survey all of time at once implies that all time still exists.  The theory of relativity concludes that the whole of space-time must have a real and continuing existence, regardless of our perception of time as past-present-future.

We can move freely backwards and forwards in any of space’s three dimensions, but we can only move forward in time.  Strictly speaking time is not moving; we are moving through the pre-existing landscape of time.

This unique uni-directional nature of time is called the “arrow of time”.

Almost all the equations and theories of science are symmetrical with respect to time – they hold true whether events are running forward or backward theoretically.  The exception is the second law of thermodynamics, because entropy (disorder) must increase or not change and can never decrease with time’s passage.  The arrow of time is a property of entropy alone.

The more ways there are to arrange the components of a system, the higher its entropy.  You have to work hard to decrease entropy (pumping a tire, stretching a rubber band).

Example:  The Rubber Band

In an unstretched band, the rubber molecules are coiled randomly into balls.  There are a large number of ways the molecules can be arranged in this coil fashion, so entropy is very high.  When the rubber band is stretched, the molecules uncoil and elongate, lining up parallel to one another.  There are only a small number of ways this arrangement of molecules can work, so entropy is low.

There must be an injection of energy to go from the unstretched (high entropy) state to the stretche (low entropy) state.  Not only this, but the energy must have direction and control, because just zapping the rubber band in a microwave won’t do.

In an isolated system like the universe, low entropy (highly ordered state) cannot “just happen” any more than a rubber band can stretch itself.  But, a state of low entropy can “unwind” to high entropy, releasing energy in the process.

The only way science can explain the phenomenon of time is by assuming that the universe began in a highly ordered (low entropy) state.  In order to set the universe in motion, something had to have supplied energy that was not already present.

The Hypothesis of God Predicts This

The scientific scenarios above validate the biblical concept of eternity, because before the universe existed, time could not exist.  Until the universe was there, it could not be in any particular entropy state.

An energetic act of creation must have occurred before time could begin to run.  This fits well with God’s creation.

As entropy began to increase (and time began to exist) the universe changed and evolved.  This progressive development is clearly assumed by the Bible in passages that speak of the unfolding of creation (Genesis) as well as the “wearing out” and “fading away” of the universe.  The Bible also assumes that the universe will have an end; this fits the idea that the universe’s entropy will increase up to a maximum state, and the universe will collapse.

None of this proves the existence of God, but the hypothesis of God does make correct predictions about the findings of science in relation to the origin of time and the universe.

Getting Rid of Time

Some scientists, aware of the theological implications of the beginning of time, have tried to get rid of the concept.  One theory has been an eternal recurrence of expansions and contractions of the universe.  However, if the universe has a net energy total of zero, then the collapse would leave no energy to recreate a low entropy state.  Even if energy is left over, this would cause time and entropy to continue to increase to a maximum state, and time would have stopped.

It is almost taken for granted by many cosmologists that we exist in a “multiverse”.  Some theorize that our universe could be from an eternally prior universe, we could be unbounded by time, if the mathematical concept of “imaginary time” replaces real time.  But we live in real time, so this remains just a mathematical concept not applicable to the real world.

Chapter 7

The Big Bang and Creation Ex Nihilo

Four scientifically inexplicable things:

1)    The origin of the universe

2)    The origin of the laws of nature

3)    The origin of life

4)    The origin of mind and thought

If the God of the Bible exists, the first consequence we would expect is that the ultimate origin of material things would never be explicable in material terms.

Some will object by saying what seems scientifically impossible could be explicable with new discoveries.  But the claim that, given time, science will explain everything is the atheist’s version of “the God of the gaps.”  This faith that science will explain everything is known as promissory materialism.

The Bible consistently identifies God as the one who created the heavens and the earth.

Acts 17: 22-31

Victor Stenger proposes that the natural state of affairs is “something” rather than “nothing”.  An empty universe requires supernatural intervention, not a full one.  (This is an argument against creation ex nihilo).  However, Stenger is confusing the pre-creation “nothing” which lies outside of space-time with the “nothing” of vacuum in space-time.

There was a beginning

The Biblical hypothesis of God predicts that the universe did indeed have a beginning:

1)    It is not eternally old.

2)    Before its beginning, nothing of a material nature existed.

The equations of general relativity require that the universe be expanding or shrinking; it could not be static.  Instead of accepting this, Einstein created a fudge constant called the “cosmological constant” because of his belief in a static universe.  Eventually he discarded it.

The Expanding Universe

1912 – Leavitt finds a way to measure intrinsic luminosity of stars

The distance to a Cepheid variable star could be measured by comparing true luminosity with apparent luminosity.

1915 – Einstein and his equations of relativity (as mentioned above)

1929 – Hubble realizes that red shift of some stars was directly related to their distance from earth.  Not only were the stars moving away from earth, but they were moving away faster the further away they were.  This established the expanding universe.

1948 – Gamow, Alpher, Herman:  developed the Big Bang Theory, the idea that the universe began expanding from an ultra-hot singularity.

1963 – Penzias and R.Wilson found that microwaves were beaming in on us from space equally from all directions.  This “cosmic microwave background” was believed to be the cool-down radiation from an earlier ultra-hot universe; convinced most astronomers that the Big Bang Theory was correct.

Final Notes

The Big Bang is only a scientific model.  It is highly convincing, but it remains a model that might not, in the end, correspond to reality.

The Big Bang was not an explosion in space.  If it was, the universe would have to be expanding away from some central point, that point being Earth itself.  Also, explosions typically don’t blast equally in all directions, yet the Big Bang does.

The expansion of the universe that we observe is not the traveling of galaxies through space, but an expansion of space itself.

Analogy:

Think of a deflated balloon.  The two dimensional surface of the balloon represents three-dimensional space.  Imagine stickers on the balloon.  As the balloon inflates, the distance between the stickers increases, and more rapidly the further away from each other they are.  From the point of view of any sticker, you would see the same expansion taking place equally in all directions.  The universe is expanding in exactly this way.

What lies outside of the universe?  Nothing, in the truest sense of the word.

Genesis 1:1 records the beginning of the universe, with no reference to how long ago this was.

Genesis 1:2 then focuses in on the earth, and describes phenomenologically what would have been seen by an observer of creation.

Chapter 6

Defining God

When employing the “hypothetic” approach, one doesn’t have to be “right” in adopting one definition of God over another.  The validity of the definition adopted (the hypothesis) will depend not on initial assumptions, but on how well the hypothesis fits human experience.

False Definitions of “God”:

The God of the Gaps

God is not simply an explanation that fills gaps in scientific knowledge.  When Kepler discovered the laws of planetary motion, he didn’t exclude God from this realm but claimed that he was discovering the “thoughts” of a transcendent Deity.  This was traditionally and historically how the majority of scientific discoveries were viewed in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

The “complementary” God

Says that science and religion are two totally distinct and self-contained realms that must not be allowed to overlap.  They provide separate and complementary descriptions of reality that are equally true but cannot interact.

Agrees that science cannot make declarations about the existence or nature of God, but also wrongly says that religion and God can tell us nothing about the nature of science.

Example:  Francis Collins and the “theistic evolutionists”;  Pure complementarity is inconsistent with theism because it imprisons and binds God by the natural laws and processes that he has ordained.

The hand-wringing God

God has nothing to do with natural disasters and suffering; God has no more prior warning of such events than we do and can do nothing to stop them.  He wishes these things wouldn’t happen but isn’t powerful enough to stop them.  This is contrary to the God who “works all things according to the counsel of His will.”

The absent-landlord

Deism.  God is the prime mover who created the universe and set it in motion but then withdrew and no longer takes the slightest interest in his handiwork.  Contrary to theism, which says that God is not only creator but also sustainer of a universe in which he is closely involved with everything that goes on.

View matured during the age of enlightenment.  Popular figure was Thomas Paine, American revolutionary, and several other revolutionary figures.  Paine elevated reason above revelation, rejected miracles, and viewed the Bible as ordinary literature.  He argued that the creator could be known through reason alone.

The LCD God (Least Common Denominator)

As long as there is only one God, all who worship him must by definition worship the same God.  Different civilizations, cultures, races, etc. have all formulated their own individualistic perceptions of this singular God, but these cultural accretions have no real substance and are unimportant; rather, they simply contribute to the “grand religious tapestry” enriching human culture and life.

Ignores the fact that even the basic details of various major religions contradict each other profoundly.

The God of the Bible

This is the definition of God that will be adopted throughout the remainder of the book.  As a scientist, the author will seek to demonstrate that this hypothesis explains human observation and experience far better than atheism or even science can ever do.

The claims of Gen 1:1

1)    God exists outside the universe and was prior to it

2)    God was capable of creating the universe out of nothing

3)    God did create the universe out of nothing

Revelation is a key concept in filling in our definition of God.  Because we weren’t in the beginning, God, who was there, must tell us about these things; otherwise, we could never know.  And if there is no God, we shall never know.

The hypothetic approach allows us to embrace revelation in formulating our definition of God because we are simply using it to form a hypothesis, not prove anything.  The Bible presents progressive revelation – a gradual unveiling of the nature and purposes of God.

Throughout the rest of the book, the author will work through the implications of this definition against the background of alternative opinions and pragmatic human experience.

Chapter 5

Responding to the Claim that Science Disproves the God Hypothesis

(Responding specifically to Victor Stenger)

Stenger: The God Hypothesis should be able to be tested through scientific models, measurements, and methods.

Response:

On models:  It’s not surprising that scientists choose not to invoke God when constructing scientific models, because God is not a material entity subject to model building.

On measurements:  Our five physical senses, no matter how much enhanced by scientific instrumentation, remain physical – adapted to explore material and physical objects and processes, not spiritual ones.

On methods:  Stenger assumes that the God Hypothesis must be a scientific hypothesis, and this leads to his first fallacy.

Fallacy 1 – “All hypotheses are scientific”

He claims that every hypothesis is scientific, and so must be the God Hypothesis.

His chain of reasoning is as follows:

1)    The hypothetic approach is applicable to God.

2)    The hypothetic approach is integral to science.

3)    Therefore all hypotheses are scientific hypotheses.

4)    Therefore the hypothesis of God is a scientific hypothesis.

5)    Therefore it can be tested by scientific experiments.

6)    The data gathered by scientific experiments do not reveal God’s existence.

7)    Therefore God does not exist.

Key fallacies in italics.

Fallacy 2 – Biblical assumptions contradict basic science.

Example: The Bible says the earth is flat (the firmament)

Response: The Bible speaks phenomenologically, not scientifically.  It describes the sun in the sky because that is how we as humans observe it.  We can speak this way without being deceptive.

Fallacy 3 – Simplicity produces complexity.

Stenger responds to Michael Behe’s irreducible complexity argument, which says:

Complex functional biological systems cannot evolve by natural selection.

Natural selection can only work by preserving or selecting fortuitous improvements in some functional aspect of an organism.  Behe’s point is that complex biological systems cannot evolve step-by-step as taught by neo-Darwinianism because until they have become functioning systems they serve no purpose and natural selection cannot operate on them.

Example:

Rabbits being caught by foxes may adapt to become faster, as only the faster rabbits survive (natural selection).  Their speed is a functional system.

Cabbages which gain a “flight reflex” by mutation still won’t be able to avoid being eaten by rabbits because they cannot physically run away (natural selection doesn’t operate on this non-functioning system).  Therefore, they won’t be able to evolve.

Stenger’s rebuttal focuses on the argument that evolution is still possible because component parts of the complex system might be “waiting in the wings”  – they might have already evolved for a different purpose, and now various parts come together for a new purpose.

Response: This is just as ridiculous as buying a piece of furniture with parts that fit perfectly together and assuming that it will come together by itself if moved around randomly.

Even if all the component parts are present but are busy fulfilling different roles, the probability that an irreducibly complex biological system will spontaneously self-assemble is comparable to the chance of a whirlwind in a Boeing components warehouse creating a 747.  All the necessary components are there, but it takes something intelligent to put them together.

Chapter 4

The Hypothetic Method and “The God Hypothesis”

A hypothesis is a foundational premise to be built upon.

How science normally precedes:

Observation, Hypothesis, Prediction, Testing, Verification/Modification, Repeat

This is the hypothetic approach.

Potential dangers of hypotheses:

1)    We tend to select evidence that supports our hypotheses and ignore evidence that militates against it.

2)    There is a danger of circularly “proving” what was the foundational assumption already.

Example 1:

1)    A God exists who created the universe

2)    The universe exists.

3)    Therefore it must have had a creator (God exists).

The above example is not a valid use of the hypothetic method, but abandoning the method and going the philosophical route with premise 2 and 3 is the ontological argument, which can be useful.

Example 2:

1)    Science is the study of the physical universe.

2)    Science produces no evidence for the existence of the supernatural.

3)    Therefore supernatural (non-physical) entities do not exist.

The hypothesis above has already excluded non-physical entities before reaching the same idea in the conclusion.

A related hazard is the “hidden hypothesis” whereby an otherwise invalid argument is bolstered by an unstated assumption.

Example:

Hidden:  Nothing has objective reality that cannot be experienced by our natural senses.

2)  Science is the use of our natural senses to study objective reality.

3)  Science produces no evidence for the existence of non-natural entities.

4)  Non-natural entities have no objective reality.

The hidden hypothesis tries to make science the study of the whole of reality, so anything unobservable by science is not reality.

Logical positivism: claims that what cannot be verified by science has no reality, and implies that in studying the material universe science actually encompasses all legitimate knowledge.

The Hypothesis of God

There is nothing to stop us from advancing the “hypothesis of God” in which we assume that God exists and see where it leads.

This is different from historical theology, which contains philosophical arguments:

Ontological argument: The existence of the universe points to God’s existence.

Cosmological argument: (Thomas Aquinas)  Since every effect has a cause, the universe itself must have a cause, and God is that first cause.

Teleological argument: The argument from design.  The universe has the appearance of purposeful design; therefore it must have had a designer.

Moral argument: The existence of human morality points to a transcendent moral source.

One problem:

All of these philosophical arguments, even if successful, end with a “lowest common denominator God” – it doesn’t encompass all that God is.  The God hypothesis allows us to presuppose anything about God that we want to and see where it leads.

In the philosophical approach, God is the endpoint.  In the hypothetic approach, he is the beginning.

No hypothesis can be pronounced a failure unless it is first stated and then tested.  So to consider the God hypothesis is a rational approach.  But what is being meant by “God” must be defined, because different people mean different things when they use the term.

The hypothesis of God means that the assumption “God exists” is a starting point for enquiry of all kinds – historical, theological, scientific, aesthetic, and more.  It can be tested by all kinds of human observations, not just science alone.

The Bible itself begins with the assumption God exists:  Gen 1:1

Extremely condensed; the point is the holy grail of science is a theory that encompasses all observable phenomenon; all types of forces, etc…

Chapter 3

The Scientific Search for a Theory of Everything

The composition of matter was called into question beginning with discoveries in the 50’s relating to the research of cosmic rays, which were discovered by detecting radiation from the earth.

These rays were particles from space hitting the earth.  This led to more particle research in which various other particles which composed the known particles were discovered, showing another layer of physical reality.

String Theory

Says that particles are actually tiny “strings” which can “vibrate” in different ways in order to become different particles.  The theory explains the multitude of various kinds of particles and their ability to change.

Physics hopes that it could be the “theory of everything” that produces a unified concept explaining the wide range of observable phenomena in the various forces of nature.  But one challenge to it is that it requires at least 10 dimensions, which is extremely non-intuitive.

When exploring unobservable phenomenon, hypotheses like String Theory must be made and then tested with observable phenomenon.  The next chapter will put forward the God Hypothesis.

Chapter 2 of Who Made God?  Searching for a Theory of Everything

Just How Much Can Science Explain?

Science actually “explains” nothing.  It “describes” the world and its phenomenology in terms of its own specialized concepts and models.

The further various phenomenon are explored and observed by science, the more non-intuitive reality appears and explanations are found lacking.

When we say science “explains” something, we usually mean that there exists a scientific description of the phenomenon in question.

Example: Gravity.

Science “explains” the force of gravity as:

Force = mass * gravitational constant / distance^2

This doesn’t explain why gravity exists; it only describes it.  Einstein went further by attributing gravitational effects to the curvature of space-time by objects.  But this is still just a “description” – relating a wide range of phenomenon or experiences (falling objects, trajectory, etc..) with a small number of unifying concepts (objects in space-time, etc..)

The sole purpose of scientific research is to discover principles that unify human experience.

The value of science:

1)    Satisfies our curiosity

2)    Increases knowledge that can be applied for our benefit

A true explanation would trace phenomenon back to concepts that need no further explanation.  But instead of becoming simpler, in science these unifying concepts often become even more unexplainable.

Case:  Quantum Mechanics

An example illustrating that scientific explanations often lead to concepts that are more and more non-intuitive

Quantum theory:  energy can only be transferred in discrete packets called “quanta”

(just like our currency can only be transferred in “quanta” like pennies)

In quantum mechanics, a particle can theoretically be in every place at once until it is actually observed.  The actual observation of the particle in a way determines its position.

Analogy:  the Shell game.  After the shells are shuffled, the ball is under a shell and has been the whole time.  But in QM, the ball could really be anywhere until it is observed.

Heisenburg Uncertainty Principle:  once you measure a certain property of a particle, you lose information about other properties so you can never completely know all of the properties of a particular particle.

In experiments where a particle released two photons in opposite directions, when one photon was observed to have a certain “spin”, the other particle always had the opposite as if it “knew” what was being observed.

Science’s “explanations” leave us staring into an incomprehensible abyss; it explains things only in terms of other concepts that we cannot explain or even imagine.

The whole point being that science can’t explain everything or give an ultimate reason for everything.

I’m currently re-reading the excellent book Who Made God by Edgar Andrews (who has more letters after his name than he does in his actual name).  It’s a witty, informative, and readable treatment of the intersection between God and science.  I thought it was so good I wanted to re-read it and take summary notes for each chapter.  I’ll use the blog as a space to share those notes.  Here is Chapter 1 – Who Made God?

Chapter 1

The Existence of God

A favorite question of aggressive atheism is “Who Made God?”

-If God caused everything, what caused God?

God is a mental construction that mankind once needed to explain its existence but this is no longer required because science explains everything instead.

A.   Theologians inadvertently prop this up with the ontological argument.  This says that the existence of the idea of God necessarily implies God’s actual existence.

1)    However, ideas don’t always correspond to reality.  Ex:  I dream of myself as a concert pianist.  Not objectively real.

2)    Ontological argument not a useful proof for God’s existence, but could be evidence or support.

B.  3 Problems with “We Made God”

1)               It still does not solve the “theory of everything” or question of existence.  If we made God, then who made us?  Evolution?  But it’s part of how “everything” works.  Then, who made everything?

2)   It is a smokescreen assertion that is not well supported and does not explain very well the reality of religious experience.

3)  The creator is usually greater than the created thing.  If mankind creates an all-powerful complex God out of imagination, this takes significant explaining.

II.  The Improbability of God

Atheistic assertion:  The universe came into existence by probability.

chemical theory of rate processes: all real-world processes are reversible; they can go backwards as well as forwards.  The net result is the balance between forward and backwards steps.  To go forward, processes need a “payback” of free energy.

Example:  A group of monkeys on computers could never come up with the Works of Shakespeare as a process, because the probability of the next step being an error is so high, unless there was a storage system for any correct text that was typed.  However, a group of monkeys representing each character of the works of Shakespeare, at one stroke, could at some point produce Shakespeare’s works as a matter of probability.

Mathematical Theory of Probability can only be applied to the real world when the real world is built into the scenario – in other words, through the filter of thermodynamics.

Thermodynamics:

The probability that a certain system or state will arise is inversely proportional to the degree of complexity of the state.  For example, dropping a glass on the floor will cause it to shatter.  Dropping it again is an extremely unlikely (negligible) way for it to come back together, but with focused energy and intelligence you can glue it back together.

Anthropic Principle:

The laws and fundamental constants of nature give every appearance of being fine-tuned to support existence of intelligent life on earth in a way that has a negligible probability.

Argument for the Improbability of God:

1)  The universe is highly complex

2)  If God created the universe he must be more complex than it.

3)  Therefore, God is less probable than the world, extremely improbable.

Even if the argument is valid, it still accepts that the improbable universe exists and thus doesn’t have any credibility to say that God doesn’t exist.