Monday, October 16, 2017

How a Scientist Can Believe in God, Part 2

Continuing from my previous post, I address more of Albrecht Moritz' 15 objections from atheists against the compatibility between science and religious belief.  These objections are discussed in his paper How can a scientist believe in God?  Moritz is a scientist who believes in God, and defends that belief with sometimes unscientific explanations.  It seems clear that when he is outside his field of expertise, he often falls back on traditional theistic notions.  Without further ado, here is the next set of atheists' objections.

6. It was always believers whose worldviews were confounded by scientific discoveries, never naturalists
By 'confounded', Moritz is referring to the need to revise one's understanding of things in light of new scientific information.  He discusses how emerging cosmological views in the 20th century (the Big Bang) forced reluctant atheists to abandon their older unscientific steady-state theory, in which time had no beginning, while theistic beliefs held all along that time did have a beginning.  And now atheists are desperately trying to modify the Big Bang theory to restore the notion that time has no beginning, because their worldview supposedly demands it.  But Moritz is really revealing his ignorance of cosmological theory here.  First, let's get straight what is scientific and what isn't.  Steady state theory was based on observation of the expanding universe.  It wasn't just an attempt by atheists to justify a worldview that presupposes no beginning to time.  Theistic creation, on the other hand is based on a biblical myth.  But science, unlike religion, not only accommodates changing theories, it drives those changes, based on our observation of the world.  Moritz wants us to believe that atheists can't stand the idea that time has a beginning, and that's the reason for the newer inflation theory, which implies that the big bang is not the beginning of time, and that there is some eternal existence that probably gives rise to many universes (which is an idea that theists can't stand).  He doesn't understand that this theory is now dominant because it does a better job of explaining reality, not because atheists need to refute theistic creation.  In fact, it is religionists like Moritz who are confounded by a scientific theory that disputes their own unscientific beliefs.  For the record, real scientific theories are based on what best explains observed reality, not predicated on an imagined worldview that Moritz attributes to atheists.

7. Evolution is an inefficient way of creation
Moritz rightly notes that since God is eternal, he doesn't have to wait billions of years to see the results of his evolutionary process, when all of time is accessible to him in an instant.  But still, why create such a huge cosmos, and go through all that evolution when he could just create the world he wants?  The only answer Moritz has to offer is that God is an artist, not an engineer.
I prefer to see God as an artist, who apparently found it much more satisfying to let everything develop within a grandiose structure, a vast universe, instead of tinkering around with solar systems and RNA polymerases. A term like ‘efficiency’ does not apply, it only make sense in judging the work of someone who has limited resources at his/her disposal.
A rather hand-waving explanation, I must say.  And this is consistent with many theists who have no satisfactory explanation for why God would do things the way he does.  They just make up an answer that sounds pleasing to them.

8. The vastness of the universe argues against the God of religion
Moritz gives a simple answer to this:
The revelation by science how vast our universe, God’s creation, really is (and it may be even much larger than what we can observe) gives a limited glimpse to the believer what God’s infinity really may mean.
This strikes me as strange, because it merely reflects the changing concept of God in light of scientific discovery.  Before the 20th century, it was always assumed that mankind was the crowning achievement in God's creation.  See, for example The Grounds of Theistic and Christian Belief, from 1885.  Before the advent of modern astronomy, the universe was thought to be much smaller, with the earth at its center, in accordance with this belief.  Only when science destroys the old theistic conceptions does the theist modify his conception of the world.  So the cosmos has now been morphed from the cradle of mankind into a showcase of God's grandeur, and Moritz pretends that's the way it always was.  But if God wanted to reveal his grandeur, why not show it more directly, so that it could be seen by all generations of men, without modern technology?

9. The parochial God
This is the idea, as expressed by Richard Dawkins, that our anthropomorphic concepts of God and Jesus don't express the true grandeur of an infinite and incomprehensible God.  Moritz harkens to the previous objection, noting that there is nothing parochial about a God who creates the vast universe.  But he seems to miss the point that Dawkins makes - specifically about anthropomorphic Gods, and especially Jesus dying on the cross.  Instead, Moritz declares that it is Dawkins whose idea of God is parochial.  He never explains how the Christian view of Jesus as a man rises above Dawkins' objection.

10. The size of humans makes them insignificant, pointing to a godless universe
Moritz breaks this down into four points.  First, he notes that theists have long asked the same question.  He refers to Psalm 8:4, which asks "What is man, that thou art mindful of him?".  The problem here is that the following verses actually aggrandize mankind: "For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet".  The traditional biblical view is that man is the pinnacle of creation, and holds dominion over all of nature, but modern science casts serious doubt upon that view.  The vast universe is mostly hostile to man's survival, and certainly not under his dominion.  So Moritz fails to answer this objection.

Second, Moritz denies the traditional theistic belief that the world was made for man, and cites newer Catholic doctrine that says "the world was made for the glory of God".  But once again, this flies in the face of scripture and the traditional dogma that the world was indeed made for man.  That dogma has gone by the wayside purely as a result of modern science.  And it also flies in the face of the Catholic belief that God is perfect and whole in his own right.  Why would such a God need to be glorified?  Moritz doesn't say.

Third, Moritz asserts that it really makes no difference how big or small we are if our purpose is to be fulfilled according to some Christian ideal of life.  Good point, but the real objection is not about the size of humans.  It is rather that the universe is so much larger than it would need to be in order for us to fulfill that purpose.  Which is what makes us seem insignificant by comparison.  And Moritz still doesn't address that question.  Interestingly, he makes a case for humans being "just the right size" for living in this world, but he ignores the scientific reality that we are a product of the physical world and the laws of physics, which is the real reason we are the size we are.  We are adapted to our world, not the other way around.

Fourth, he ponders whether the universe could be smaller in order to "raise our significance", and then rejects that notion on the basis of physics.  And that is in keeping with modern science, but it is based on the notion that God prefers to work in this manner rather than just creating what he wants in an instant.  But that raises the question of why an omnipotent God would want to limit himself to work within the laws of physics.  Again, Moritz provides no insight to the answer of that question.  Instead, he raises the specter of God's design, and the assumed "fine tuning" of the laws of physics to enable this creation, and even goes so far as to speculate whether the earth really is at the center of the universe "in terms of complexity".  And while he is quick to point out that he rejects Intelligent Design in biological science (which is his own field of expertise), he readily accedes to pseudo-scientific notions that a designer had to precisely set the laws of physics in such a way as to make our world possible.  But this is outside his area of scientific expertise, and most physicists don't share those notions.  Nor do they see evidence of purposeful design in the universe.  To repeat the issue that Moritz has failed to answer, if God is so powerful as to establish the laws of physics and create a whole universe in accordance with those laws, what is the point of choosing a method that isn't more focused on the direct creation of man, but instead has all the appearances of something that is completely natural, and but for any number of random events along the way, might easily have failed to produce mankind at all?  Even if the laws of physics were fine-tuned, the evolutionary development of man is still accidental.  God would still have to guide events every step of the way, at microscopic and macroscopic scales, to assure the evolutionary outcome.  And the free will of man would certainly throw a monkey wrench into that plan.

In my next post, I will finish my review of Moritz' How can a scientist believe in God?.


  1. Neither you Simon, nor the fifty thousand
    Nor the Romans, nor the Jews
    Nor Judas, nor the twelve
    Nor the priests, nor the scribes
    Nor doomed Jerusalem itself
    Understand what power is
    Understand what glory is
    Understand at all

    "JC Superstar"

    So, along these lines, since, according to the dominant theory (as difficult as it is to grasp), "size" doesn't even exist at the smallest and most intrinsic level of reality - ie the quantum universe is non-local - perhaps humans may also utterly misapprehend what "powerfulness" really means? When it comes to our comprehension of God's "power?" In fact, in view of the crucifixion narratives, the painful, humiliating death of Christ, etc, I can't see how any honest Xian thinker could really think otherwise....

    Also, on multiverse theories.... theological multiverses have certainly been around for centuries - cf Nicholas of Cusa and his infinitely variable creation - and not all of them were repudiated by RCC authorities either, so they are not (officially at least) outside church dogma. The concerns,therefore expressed in P's 94 could quite comfortably be read by a Cath as only from a localized (ie human) perspective. ...besides, after all, it's a freakin Psalm- a song of praise,c& not a treatise on physics. (Caths are generally NOT encouraged by their hierarchy to read the Bible in that fundie-literalist manner, either, btw. That's a Prot thing.....)

    1. perhaps humans may also utterly misapprehend what "powerfulness" really means?
      - That may be the case, but it doesn't seem to be the point that Moritz is making.

      Also, on multiverse theories.... theological multiverses have certainly been around for centuries - cf Nicholas of Cusa and his infinitely variable creation - and not all of them were repudiated by RCC authorities either
      - Be that as it may (and Cusa is certainly an interesting figure), the general feeling among Christians today is that the idea of a multiverse is just an atheist's way of evading the notion of God's creation of the world, as can be seen here. Moritz definitely subscribes to this trope.

    2. God would still have to guide events every step of the way, at microscopic and macroscopic scales, to assure the evolutionary outcome. And the free will of man would certainly throw a monkey wrench into that plan.

      I dunno that God would have to do more than maybe intervene a little, perhaps even only at a quantum level, here and there? God is reputedly pretty smart too, you know?

      But I think also that God in trad Xian doctrine does intervene quite a lot? The whole Christian take on redemption is really based on God intervening, largely AGAINST the will of humans...(or essentially completely so in a Calvinist's perspective)!

    3. I dunno that God would have to do more than maybe intervene a little, perhaps even only at a quantum level, here and there?

      - Evolution is a long series of accidents. In fact every single thing that happens over the course of evolutionary history could have an impact, and any one event along the way could make the difference between humans evolving or not. Maybe a cosmic ray struck a DNA molecule one time, and made a mutation that was critical. Maybe some furry little critter was lucky enough to escape being eaten by a predator millions of years ago, and that creature was the ancestor of humans. And millions of other events likewise contributed to our evolution, but if any one of them had not happened, we would not be here, or we would not be what we are. And it's not only those accidental events. It's also the environment we live in, changing in just the right way over millions of years. In fact, it's the whole world that contributes to the process.

      To say that God could might only intervene a little, here and there, is very naive. Either he's in control of what happens, or he can't control the evolutionary outcome. It may be possible that he set it up at the beginning and let it play out deterministically, or he had to manage the process all the way. In either case, there is no room for allowing unpredictable outcomes, as in free will, because that would alter the course and change the results.

    4. skep, think it over, our little acts of "free will" would be trivial to any of the infinitely powerful, infinitely knowledgeable being .... & so would any finite amount of randomness?

      "A child playing with a couple of blocks"? No, that's still a completely insufficient comparison with any being capable of complrehending any sort of "infinity".

      It like Wittgenstein once said, people all too often confuse "infinity" with just really big numbers.

    5. our little acts of "free will" would be trivial to any of the infinitely powerful, infinitely knowledgeable being .... & so would any finite amount of randomness?

      - I have given this considerable thought. Unfortunately, many who believe in free will haven't. It doesn't matter that it can all be handled by the super-being who is in control. The real point is that he must be in control. Every step of the way, if you place any credence in scientific reality, where the laws of physics apply. Now, you might take the view that God can just change what he wants in response to events that he has not dictated as part of his plan. That's fine, but then you have to abandon any pretense of scientific naturalism in favor of the supernatural, where the laws of physics can be abrogated routinely. And that MUST be the case in such a reality, because God would still have to control the outcome, no matter what your free-will choices are. This goes far beyond a well-placed "random" quantum event every now and then. And I would challenge anyone to explain in detail how their concept of minimal intervention would actually work.

      "A child playing with a couple of blocks"? No, that's still a completely insufficient comparison with any being capable of complrehending any sort of "infinity".

      - I don't know where the quote came from, so I don't really know what point you are trying to make here. Bit Wittgenstein's comment should surely apply to WL Craig, who makes atrocious arguments involving the infinite, which he definitely doesn't understand from a mathematical or logical perspective.

  2. The "child" thing was mine. W's quote about infinities, which I paraphrased, was remembered from his response to Godel's proof of Formal Undecidability. (Hopefully, iirc.) I was trying to point out that, for an infinite mind, no amount of complexity - eg vast numbers of particles in however complex kinds of co-relationships - would ever seem to pose any problem at all.

    So God could conceivably control many things, whenever he of she wished to, on a quantum level. Or via small Newtonian actions, eg controlling the weather by making a butterfly's wings in Brazil vibrate just thusly a la chaos theory. Without "God" ever being too obvious....

    Sim'ly with our free will choices.. WE are influenceable too! ...

    (PS not much of a WLC fan myself. Saw him debate here once and thought he basically just got killed.)

    1. eg controlling the weather by making a butterfly's wings in Brazil vibrate just thusly a la chaos theory

      - Interesting you should say that. I know this is an idea that many theists like to cling to, the notion that God can make all these little tweaks. But what you're doing is juxtaposing determinism with indeterminism. "Chaos theory" is really a poor term to describe deterministc but unpredictable behavior. The butterfly effect means that a small (but natural) action can ripple through a causal matrix to eventually produce a large-scale result that might be unexpected. It is the unexpected aspect that makes it seem chaotic. But it all unfolds in keeping with the laws of physics.

      So it is striking to me that you postulate a tiny miracle that would then work deterministically with the laws of physics to produce a large-scale expected result (expected, at least on the part of God). This is diametrically opposite to chaos theory.

      Of course, to someone who has any real understanding of physics, the latter scenario is completely incoherent. If God wants to control how everything turns out in this manner, it would require much more than a few little well-placed miracles.

    2. well, I only meant God might wish to control SOME things, in order to to influence evolution and such, just enough to "lean" events the way God wanted. (Tho, here, "a few" might be relative to the mind of the perceiver? After all, any finite amount of tweaks would only be "a few" to the mind of an all-knowing, all-powerful God, no?) But it doesn't matter. I'm just assuming, unlike us, God CAN acquire and do calculations with infinite amounts of information, so, for God, there would be no "chaos" (in the current scenario)in this sense of mathematical "chaos".

      The effects would be, if the influence is delivered in subtle enough ways, undetectable to us.... even tho still deterministic theoretically. But how does that help your case?

    3. But how does that help your case?

      - My case is that the matrix of causality is so intricately interwoven that it would be impossible to effect one outcome without changing all others at the same time, and not in the ways that you desire. The only way to make everything come out the way you want is to control everything.

    4. Well, I'm not sure that any finite result isn't trivial for an infinite intelligence, but, at the worst, wouldn't that just leave God having to make choices? Like everyone else...having to accept some less desired results and/or some that are indifferent to his or her plans in order to get the ones he or she really wants?

    5. And here we get back to the problem of juxtaposition of the determinate with the indeterminate. If God is making the choices, then there is no free will. Christians want to have it both ways. They say God is in control, and all is according to his plan, but at the same time, they say there is free will, which implies no plan, and God is not really in control. And they blithely ignore the contradiction between those two things. Their position is incoherent. It isn't enough to assert without any further explanation that God can cause a quantum event once in a while to get everything back on track. As a matter of fact, If there even was a "track", doesn't that imply that even "free will" goes according to his plan?

    6. Seems like to be a more effective critic, you need to learn more theology .... The classical formulation is that God is in control of all the important stuff, ie all the forms of redemption .... We, however, are in control" of the "sin" by using our free will for willfully disobeying God.

      Why is that incoherent?

    7. Oh yeah, the indeterminism thing.....well, when I was talking about quantum stuff, I had in mind the ”quantum multiverse" kind of hypothesis in which every quantum leap creates a whole new universe, a whole new set of relations with every other particle, which is also sorta another "universe." In this scenario, everything possible happens "somewhere" - sorta - so , if we think about all those patterns as potential not actual universes, we could imagine an omniscient God being able to bring about exact states of affairs that he or she prefers despite "free will" choices or other forms of randomness, since there will always be multiple paths thru the web of causality to the same particular universal "pattern" in the end....

    8. The classical formulation is that God is in control of all the important stuff, ie all the forms of redemption .... We, however, are in control" of the "sin" by using our free will for willfully disobeying God.

      Why is that incoherent?

      - Because it isn't consistent with how things work in our world, nor is it consistent with logic. Either there is determinism, or there isn't. You can't have it both ways. That may be the classical view, but the classical view isn't coherent.

      I had in mind the ”quantum multiverse" kind of hypothesis in which every quantum leap creates a whole new universe
      - OK. I see how that relates to quantum physics. Kind of. But there are a couple of problems. First, the mechanical function of a quantum particle is described in terms of a summation over the domain of possibilities, each with its own place in the probability distribution. It's not really a matter of splitting off into an infinite number of possible universes. Second, the wave functions for quantum particles are valid in the quantum domain - that is to say in that sub-microscopic scale. They do not apply at a macroscopic scale, where we see aggregate effects that are essentially deterministic.

    9. What specifically is inconsistent about it, skep? (I think it's kinda a "rescue" concept, like, if a child is playing In traffic, you don't worry too much about their free will?)

      (What i was referring to above is usually called the "many worlds" interpretation of QM, btw, so you can look it up if you need to. But that issue seems pretty much tangent at best to the theological point here... ?)

    10. I earlier asked if you could explain in detail how this would work. The problem with all these hand-waving explanations is that they are not consistent with reality. Just saying "God can make it happen" doesn't cut it. Given the inter-relatedness of everything, how can you control the causal matrix to fix all important outcomes and still allow indeterminate events? It doesn't make sense, and you have offered no explanation of how it might actually work.

    11. Sorry, I don't understand what "this" refers to in your question?

      How there could be "many worlds"?

    12. Yeah, no. I wasn't talking about many worlds. I was talking about a realistic view of macro-level causality. It's not at all what many people think, when they speak of "causal chains". Everything has some effect on everything else. That's how we can have something like the butterfly effect.

      To make an imperfect analogy, think of a series of digits, and a complex mathematical function that produces a hash code from that series. The hash code is the outcome, and even though it is completely determinate, it is entirely unpredictable. If you change even a single digit in the series, then the whole hash code is radically changed. Now, if you want to make a desired outcome, and you're God, then you can set the series of digits needed to produce the correct hash code. But you have to have control over the entire series to make it come out the way you want. It doesn't make sense to control 90% of the digits, and leave the rest up to "free will".

    13. Well, the problem is an infinite mind should have no trouble handling ANY finite amont of complexity ( as long as it's only finite, I'm not so sure about infinite amounts.)

      I'll try to be concrete here....The biggest number I can imagine (with any grounding in reality) might be, well, something like, 10^80 ( ~number of particles in the known universe) times 10^500 (~number of ways matter could be combined according to some cosmologists). So, if we used every particle in the known universe to make a symbol of that number and made the relation between each of them exponential, we might get, well, something like....

      ~10^580 ^ ~10^580 ^ ~10^ 580 ^.....(repeated ~10^580 times).

      A very great number....but still only finite.

      ....SO, it still seems to me like "juggling" this many balls (or hash codes) would only the same level of difficulty as a child playing a single balll for any INFINITELY smart, infinitely powerful, "hyper-being". In our physical reality, he or she WOULD doubtlessly, then, be able to find some pretty efficient shortcuts when it comes to negotiating any desired path thru your maze of causality? That just doesn't seem problematic for such a version of God to me. Now, God could just have preset everything as you suggest, but I'm dealing with the "Open Future" divine scenario here, as it's the more difficult one in that it maximizes freedom in relation to omnipotence...

    14. You know, it's funny how people say God is infinite, and an infinite God can do unimaginable things. I get it. But at the same time, they tell us their infinite God can't do what is logically impossible. Now maybe it's the case that when you constrain some of the possibilities in that series of digits, there is no logical possibility that the has function will produce the desired result. Or even if it could be achieved in some hypothetical configuration, the reality is that (as you pointed out) there is only a finite number of ways to configure the universe, and that's not sufficient to get what he wants.

      OK, so he can then start configuring a very large set of universes. But you see the problem? It's not just a little tweak here and there, is it? If God has to reconfigure the whole universe, and countless other ones as well to get the desired result? All this is an argument that he has to be in control to a much greater degree than what you have postulated.

    15. But does that depend on how much randomness God is willing to unleash along with his or her especially intended results?

      I don't know that the cosmology is solid enough to rely on about the number of configurations, but most classical theists believe God created it all "ex nihilio" - from nothing- anyway, so it will be, in those views, however s/he made it. And with God's infinite brain, it could also have been made easy to configure and tweak things (by God). .... Hehe! ... See? .... Infinities are infinitely vast & powerful and hard to get around.

      As an aside, however, it doesn't seem like "Ex nihilo" is all that consistent with Genesis 1, anyway, where there appears to be some pre-existing material already in place (called tehom' in Hebrew & translated in the KJV as 'the deep').

      When in the beginning Elohim created heaven and earth, the earth was tohu va bohu, darkness was upon the face of tehom, and the ruach elohim vibrating upon the face of the waters

      ....which does seem odd in the face of classical Xian interps here. But, as I said before, Cath theologians have never been all that concerned with making literal interpretations of scriptures anyway.

    16. The real point I was raising is that even a God who can do anything is still constrained by what is logically possible.

      But to get off into a different topic of discussion ...

      This is related to item 6. It was generally assumed in ancient times that there was no creation ex nihilo. That's not what Aristotle thought, and the mosaic story was that the "waters" existed eternally. The big bang theory was eagerly received by Christians, because it confirmed creation, and they could easily set aside the part about the waters, saying you can't take it literally. But the newer inflation theory is of great concern to them, as you can see in the words of Moritz. Rarther than understanding it from the perspective of a scientist, he chooses to denigrate it as atheists trying to refute theism.

    17. Xianity actually mostly set aside the part about the waters way before that - in the early church fathers era - which is why I made that remark about Cath theologians above...

    18. It occurs to me that if they wanted to keep pace with science, they could embrace inflation theory as being consistent with both creation and the waters from which the universe emerges (and possibly other universes as well).

    19. Well, an ex nihilio creation always implies a more omnipotent-type creator.....

    20. Either that or quamtum mechanics.

    21. By the way, I have said this before, but This is an issue that I find quite curious. When I speak about creation from "the waters", I don't mean transformation of matter. I mean what many people call the quantum vacuum. I actually consider that to be equivalent to "ex nihilo", because it consists of nothing. I understand that that is a matter of contention.

      Lots of people insist that is actually is something, because nothing comes from nothing. That's a philosophical distinction that really doesn't matter to a physicist, even if it matters to philosophers. Some like to point out that there is a vacuum energy, but they don't understand that that is the energy of the stuff that comes from the vacuum, not the vacuum itself. Others say the "quantum field" is a real thing. No, it's a conceptual mathematical contrivance that has no more reality than a number. But the thing I find most intriguing is that Christians still like to claim creation ex nihilo, while denying that a skeptic can make the same claim, because it is metaphysically impossible.