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big bangI, like you, was born in the Kali Yuga, the Dark Age of Hindu mythology, when all the great faiths of the world are on the wane. The secular faith in the Nation-State, in grand schemes to institute Paradise on Earth, and in placing transcendent hope in human institutions has been destroyed by history. No theoretical arguments are necessary to show that the goal of a heavenly future on earth is perverse and that the pursuit of such a goal leads to untold death and destruction, to a Hell on Earth for tens of millions.[1] The sight of the rubble of Hiroshima, the smell of burning bodies in Auschwitz, and the sound of frozen corpses thrown on sledges in the Gulag destroyed secular faith. A technological utopia, a Master Race, and a classless society are nightmares from the past, only believable to a handful of science-fiction writers, to a few crazy ideologues blind to history, and perhaps to one or two drunks in bars near M.I.T and Harvard.

Secular faith is dead, and religious faith is stumbling toward the graveyard. Pope Benedict XVI, in the first year of his pontificate, lamented the weakening of churches in Europe, Australia, and the United States. “There’s no longer evidence for a need of God, even less of Christ,” he told a meeting of clergy in the Italian Alps. “The so-called traditional churches look like they are dying.”[2] Capitalism focused attention on material prosperity, on the good life in this world, away from eternal salvation, so that few Christians today see themselves as pilgrims journeying through this Earthly life, shunning the attachment to worldly things and avoiding the snares set by the Devil.

For the vast majority of scientists and for many laypersons, science is a new religion founded on faith in the philosophy of materialism, on the belief that “the universe, including our own existence, can be explained by the interactions of little bits of matter.”[3] Virtually every beginning physics student has a killer argument for atheism and the non-existence of the transcendent; I know I did. With my two Catholic fellow students, I argued as follows: 1) Only matter and void exist; 2) God is a nonmaterial being; and 3) therefore, God does not exist. However, in the Kali Yuga, the faith of science has been destroyed too—although true believers refuse to acknowledge that our daily experiences of perceiving, feeling, imagining, thinking, and willing cannot be explained in terms of the interactions of neurons.[4] Thus, the killer argument for atheism based on materialism is false, for its first premise is not true.

To see if biologists, astronomers, and physicists disbelieve in the existence of God for reasons other than materialism, I picked up a copy of The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever with the expectation of finding many killer arguments against the existence of a deity. Surely, scientists who pride themselves on rational evidence must have produced scores of justifications for their belief.

What a surprise! I found emotional polemics against the ill effects of religion, an irrelevant and mundane observation given the dismal record of human-run institutions; men and women are finite and almost always act from a narrow cultural perspective. To me, the essays that contended that human suffering and death mean a compassionate God does not exist seemed to be a quarrel with God about the world He created, not a reasoned denial of His existence. Only Richard Dawkins, an evangelical atheist and the author of The God Delusion, claimed an “unanswerable” argument in the chapter “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God,” an argument that stumped every theologian who encountered it, or so he said.[5]

Dawkins calls his argument the “Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit.” The name comes from a metaphor of Fred Hoyle, the same maverick astrophysicist who coined the term “Big Bang.” Hoyle claimed life on Earth must have originated some other place, because the probability of life arising from a chemical soup on primordial Earth is vanishingly small, smaller than the probability of a tornado sweeping through a junkyard resulting in a working Boeing 747 airliner.[6]

Although Dawkins spreads his argument out over ten pages, it can be presented in two paragraphs. He observes that evolutionists, like himself, and creationists agree that complex things, like plants and animals, came about by chance alone is improbable. However, unlike creationists, Dawkins sees that natural selection provides an elegant solution to this problem of improbability. Each small step in natural selection is improbable but not prohibitively so. The accumulation of a large number of these small, slightly improbable steps add up to a very, very improbable result: an outcome unfathomable to the non-scientific mind. Dawkins jeers that doofuses like creationists just do not get it. They rightly believe that plants and animals did not come about by chance, but wrongly conclude that organisms must therefore have been designed by God.

Dawkins asserts that any God capable of designing a universe must be supremely complex. Just as the blacksmith is more complex than the horseshoe he fashioned, God is more complex than his creation. But complex things are improbable. Therefore, God is more improbable than that the universe came about by chance alone.

At a loss by what he meant by “complex,” I searched about and discovered that using natural selection as a guide, Dawkins in his book The Blind Watchmaker defines a complex object as “something whose parts are arranged in a way that is unlikely to have arisen by chance;”[7] this definition is implicitly assumed in his “unanswerable” argument for atheism. Therefore, hidden in Dawkins’ killer argument is that God has parts; that is, he is a material being. The legitimate conclusion Dawkins should have drawn is that God cannot have a body, a trivial result with which every theist would concur. In the thirteenth century, St. Thomas Aquinas formally presented the case that “God is nowise composite, but is altogether simple,” meaning he is without quantitative parts, nor composed of matter and form.[8]

The other error in the “unanswerable” argument is that complex things are improbable. Three possibilities exist for the production of complex things: 1) chance alone (highly improbable), 2) natural selection (very improbable, but possible, as Dawkins correctly argued), and 3) mind (very probable in certain circumstances). An example of the third possibility is last week I went hiking near Santa Fe, New Mexico, my hometown, and in the wilds came across an inch-square piece of hard clay with black, narrow stripes. I knew the probability of such a piece being formed by geological activity is vanishingly small; however, if the piece were a pottery shard, then it was certainly the result of a human mind. Any place where humans have been present, I and every other scientist expects to find complex objects not formed by nature. The probability of finding artifacts where ancient peoples once lived is a near certainty. If, indeed, the universe were created by a Divine Mind, then the probability of finding somewhere in it entities more complex than desert sand and crystals would probably be a near certainty.

Dawkins with his Boeing 747 Gambit avoids the central question of whether in some mysterious way Divine Mind could be behind the complex order in nature. From Dawkins’ failed attempt, I concluded there is no killer argument for atheism, and that left open the possibility of a conviction-carrying argument for theism.

I decided to test the three killer arguments of medieval theology against modern science; for I, a seeker trained in theoretical physics, would not be persuaded by arguments that rely on an Aristotelian understanding of nature.

The ontological argument came to St. Anselm in 1078. In the third person, he describes the intellectual ecstasy the discovery gave him. “Behold, one night during Matins, the grace of God shone in his heart and the matter became clear to his understanding, filling his whole heart with immense joy and jubilation.”[9]

Eight hundred years later, Bertrand Russell, as a young philosopher, experienced the same enthusiastic, although brief, acceptance of the ontological argument. In his essay “My Mental Development,” Russell recorded his epiphany: “I remember the precise moment, one day in 1894, as I was walking along Trinity Lane, when I saw in a flash (or I thought I saw) that the ontological argument is valid. I had gone out to buy a tin of tobacco; on my way back, I suddenly threw it up in the air, and exclaimed as I caught it: ‘Great Scott, the ontological argument is sound.’”[10]

The Ontological Argument in Modern Form

  1. By definition, God is the greatest possible being that can be conceived.
  2. God exists as an idea in the mind.
  3. A being that exists as an idea in the mind and in reality is greater than a being that exists only as an idea in the mind.
  4. Thus, if God exists only as an idea in the mind, then we can conceive something that is greater than God.
  5. But that we can conceive a being greater than the greatest possible being that can be conceived is a contradiction.
  6. Therefore, God exists.

When I first heard the ontological argument, I was immensely disappointed by this supposedly killer argument for the existence of God. My first thought was the argument had to be wrong, for how can the existence of anything follow from a definition. Always in mathematics when a definition is given, an example must be shown; otherwise, an elaborate theory may be constructed about nothing. Consider a married bachelor. He lives by himself and yet everyday he is nagged by his wife.

Still, I could not find a flaw in the logic of the ontological argument. Later in life, Russell confessed, “It is easier to feel convinced that the ontological argument must be fallacious than to find out precisely where the fallacy lies.”[11] A philosopher friend of mine pointed out the difficulty with this abstract proof—what philosophers call an a priori demonstration—of God’s existence. He told me that Russell had refined Immanuel Kant’s refutation of the ontological argument. “Being” or “existence” is not a property that can be attributed to objects. I said, “Huh?” and he went on to explain that existence is what an object must have in order to have a property. For example, in the sentence “the table is clean,” the table must exist to have the property clean. Existence is not a real property like clean and cannot be predicated of any object. In the sentence, “the table is” the predication is adds nothing. Formally, to predicate the property Y of X means there exists some X, such that X has the property Y.

My friend told me that Kurt Gődel, perhaps the greatest logician ever and deified by ordinary philosophers, constructed a contemporary version of the ontological argument using modal logic, whatever that is. But no ordinary mortal, myself included, would be persuaded God exists from an arrangement of symbols on a page. Tragically, Kurt Gődel starved himself to death; he had convinced himself that someone was trying to poison him, so he refused all food. The attempt to grasp the world, or even one’s self, by logic alone without experience or fundamental principles of nature leads to madness.

The failure of the ontological argument is a victory for the atheists.

The two other killer arguments for God rely on observations of nature. They are the cosmological argument and the argument from design.

The Cosmological Argument in Modern Form

The cosmological argument may appear abstract and contrived, but it is rooted in a universal experience. Every child asks, “Where did I come from?,” and receives the answer “from mommy and daddy.” Further questioning from the child leads to a long chain of ancestors. In virtually every culture, the chain of ancestors terminates with the first parents of humanity. For instance, in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, humanity begins with Adam and Eve, in Australian Aboriginal mythology with Wurugag and Waramurungundi, and in Norse folklore with Ask and Embla.

The cosmological argument is a philosophical story about the origin of the cosmos. Nothing in the world is the cause of its own being. Everything that comes into existence has a cause outside of itself for its existence. But every cause in the world has a cause and that cause has a cause and so on. To avoid an infinite number of causes, every chain of causes must eventually terminate with the First Cause.

Until the twentieth century, science could not tell a story about the origin of the universe. Newtonian physics, when applied to the universe as a whole, led to contradictions and paradoxes. The Newtonian Cosmos must be infinite with the matter perfectly balanced; otherwise, the universe under gravitational attraction would collapse. Such a universe is inherently unstable; the slightest perturbation would cause an implosion. In 1823, German astronomer Heinrich Olbers correctly argued that an infinite, static universe contradicts the most basic observation of astronomy—the night sky is black. In the Newtonian Cosmos, everywhere the eye looks it would see a star, and thus the night sky would be bright, in fact, infinitely bright.

singularityIn the twentieth century, Einstein’s theory of general relativity stepped beyond Newtonian physics to in­tegrate gravity, space, and time. For the first time, physicists had a theory to investigate in detail the structure, the origin, and the destiny of the whole universe. Cosmologists now know that our universe is the aftermath of a gigantic expansion of matter. Present size and rate of expansion indicate that the universe began about 13.8 billion years ago. See illustration for the expansion of a two-dimensional universe after a Big Bang (Singularity).

The scientific discovery of the birth of the universe posed to cosmologists what physicist Steven Weinberg called the “problem of Genesis.”[12] Our universe—including matter, energy, space, and time—is almost certainly a one-time event that had a definite beginning. The physical universe is not eternal. But something must have always existed; for if ever absolutely nothing existed, then nothing would exist now, since nothing comes from nothing. The material universe cannot be the thing that always existed, because matter had a beginning some thirteen billion years ago. Therefore, whatever has always existed is nonmaterial. The only nonmaterial reality seems to be mind. If mind is what has always existed, then matter must have been brought into existence by a mind that always was, by an intelligent, eternal being who created all things ex nihilo. Such a being is what theologians mean by God.

From the standpoint of science, the most sophisticated way to avoid the theological consequences of the Big Bang is to invoke quantum physics, where the everyday rules of cause and effect do not apply. Polonium-210, supposedly used by former KGB agents to poison enemies of the Russia state, is a very rare, unstable element. Given a sample of Polonium-210, after 138 days, only half remains. Polonium-210 nuclei decay spontaneously; quantum physicists, in the 1920s, discovered that no cause exists for why a particular nucleus decays at a particular time. All nuclear decay is governed by chance; only a probability can be assigned to the decay of a particular nucleus.

Quantum effects must have been once important on a cosmic scale because shortly after the Big Bang the universe was smaller than a proton. Accordingly, the universe may have just happened, just popped into existence, the way that elementary particles are now thought to pop into existence and then disappear. Thus, there is no cause for the universe, either natural or supernatural.

This rebuttal of the cosmological argument, of course, does not end conclusively. Opponents point out that whether quantum physics, a theory of atoms and elementary particles, can be applied to the universe as a whole is, to say the least, problematical, because such fundamental concepts as probability and the wave function are then meaningless. The modern cosmological argument does not terminate with a victory for either the atheists or the theists.

The Argument from Design

In both manmade and natural objects, design is apparent. Matter by itself cannot produce microchips, digital cameras, or Boeing 747s; human minds are needed. Analogously, matter on its own cannot bring into being petunias or Siberian tigers; a mind is needed, and the only candidate is a Divine Mind.

Natural selection, supposedly, crushed the argument from design. Darwin showed unequivocally that a small series of improbable, small blind steps could result in apparent design, without the guidance of a designer. The fundamentalist revolt against teaching evolution in the Bible Belt and the invention of “creation science” may be an historical aberration connected to a brand of Protestantism wedded to a literal interpretation of the Bible. Oddly, Augustine in a lengthy work entitled The Literal Meaning of Genesis (don’t let the title fool you) argued that in the beginning God created all living things not immediately as actual individuals, but “invisibly, potentially, in their causes, as things that will be in the future;” that is, the fullness of nature would unfold in time, a fifth-century, theological statement of evolution.[13]

The most recent argument for design comes from physics, not biology. Abundant evidence from the physical sciences reveals that our universe is bio-friendly. For instance, if the strong nuclear force that binds protons and neutrons together in the nuclei of atoms were slightly stronger, the diproton would exist, making ordinary hydrogen catastrophically explosive. Hydrogen would be rare, and stars like the Sun that live a long time by burning hydrogen could not exist. If the strong force were half its present strength, hydrogen would not burn at all and there would be no heavy elements. If, as seems likely, life requires a star like the Sun, supplying energy at a constant rate for billions of years, then for life to be possible, the strength of the strong force must be within a narrow range. If the strong force were slightly stronger, no hydrogen; if less than half its present strength, no heavy elements. Either way life is impossible.

The same pattern recurs with many other fundamental constants of nature. Hoyle discovered a nuclear resonance that makes possible the synthesis of carbon nuclei in stars. Two helium nuclei join together to form the un­stable nucleus of beryllium 8, which sometimes before fissioning absorbs another helium nucleus, forming carbon 12 in an excited state. If the energy of this excited state of carbon 12 were just slightly higher, almost all the beryllium 8 nuclei would fission into helium nuclei before carbon could be formed and nuclei heavier than boron would not exist. The universe, then, would consist almost entirely of hydrogen and helium—and, life would be impossible. Years later, Hoyle concluded that the precise details of nuclear physics that resulted in a bio-friendly universe were a “put-up job.” Abandoning his earlier and vehement anti-God stance, he said: “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.”[14]

The list of strangely fortunate physical properties that make life possible goes on and on. Without the “put-up job” in atomic physics, water would not exist as a liquid, chains of carbon atoms would not form complex organic molecules, and hydrogen atoms would not form breakable bridges between molecules.

The most striking “put-up job” is the fine-tuning of the expansion of the universe. If the universe were expanding too slowly, it would re-collapse into oblivion. If the universe were expanding too fast, matter would become isolated and galaxies would not form. In reality, the expansion of the universe is exquisitely tuned to insure the formation of galaxies, stars, and planets.

The discovery, in the 1990s, that the expansion of the universe is accelerating revealed how incredible this fine-tuning is. Previously, Einstein added the cosmological constant to the field equations of general relativity to insure the universe is stationary. Shortly after Hubble discovered the universe is expanding, Einstein called the introduction of the cosmological constant the “biggest blunder of my career,” and to account for an expanding universe he set the cosmological constant equal to zero. Today, with the expansion of the universe accelerating, the cosmological constant must be nonzero, but small. Weinberg pointed out that a nonzero cosmological constant could result from quantum fluctuations of the vacuum.[15] He calculated that particle physics gives a cosmological constant 10120 larger than the observed value, which has been called “the worst theoretical prediction in the history of physics!”[16] If the cosmological constant were slightly larger than what it actually is, then the early universe would have expanded so rapidly that stars and galaxies would not have formed and life would never have emerged. If the cosmological constant were slightly smaller, then the early universe would have contracted so rapidly that the simplest atoms could not form. The obvious explanation for the observed value of the cosmological constant is the universe is to an astonishing degree designed for life.

The evidence that the universe is uniquely suited for life is undeniable, no physicist doubts this. The strong anthropic principle states that the universe must have those properties that allow intelligent life to appear at some stage in its history. After the Big Bang, the universe appears to be aiming at life and at intelligent observers. Physicist John Archibald Wheeler asks: “What possible sense it could make to speak of ‘the universe’ unless there was someone around to be aware of it.”[17]

A universe aiming at the production of intelligent observers implies a mind directing it; for matter on its own cannot aim at anything. A mind that directs the whole universe, all the laws of nature, and all the properties of matter to a goal is called God by theologians. The anthropic principle points to both Divine Mind and human mind.

The majority of physicists hate the anthropic principle because of the obvious implication that God exists. The latest way to accept the evidence that the universe is uniquely suited for life and deny the existence of God is to appeal to a multiverse, an appeal that can be rooted in either cosmology or particle physics. Some cosmologists adhere to the theory of eternal inflation, where our Big Bang is just one of an infinite number that have taken place in an infinite universe. According to string theorists, our universe is one of billions and billions of universes—10500 to be more or less exact.[18] The number 10500 is mind-bogglingly large. The number of grains of sand that could be densely packed into the visible universe is infinitesimal compare to 10500.

In the 10500 universes of string theory or the infinite number of universes of eternal inflation, physical properties are assumed to occur by chance, so that a universe like ours “fine-tuned” for life is bound to appear. In this way, chance replaces God. Furthermore, string theorists and cosmologists agree that we are trapped forever in our own Big Bang, and presumably no observational evidence can ever confirm the existence of other universes.

The adoption of the multiverse strategy in order to avoid the Hand of God in our universe forces theoretical physicists to give up their dream of explaining all the properties of our universe in terms of a few fundamental natural laws and several physical constants. Before the multiverse, particle physicists hoped to derive all the elementary particle masses in terms of one or two fundamental masses and to understand the four fundamental forces of nature in terms of a single force. But in the multiverse strategy to avoid the existence of God, each universe has its own physical constants that occurred by chance and thus can never be derived from any theory. Physics, then, is an environment science that depends upon the particular universe scientific observers happen to inhabit.

In addition, some physicists maintain the laws of physics are merely local bylaws that vary from universe to universe, for there is no reason to assume otherwise. Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss argues that the idea of eternal, elegant laws that rule nature, the laws sought by Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and all subsequent physicists, rests upon the Creator-God of Judeo-Christianity, Who commands nature through nonmaterial laws. For Krauss, the choice is stark: Either the laws of physics are determined by a Creator-God or result from random, physical processes. For scientists to rid themselves once and for all of a Creator-God, they must accept that physical laws “could be almost anything,”[19] and that no fundamental theory of matter exists, for each universe in the multiverse has its own physical laws, although quantum fluctuations probably occur in each universe. “If this is true,” a dejected Weinberg concludes, “then the hope of finding a rational explanation for the precise values of quark masses and other constants of the standard model that we observe in our big bang is doomed, for their values would be an accident of the particular part of the multiverse in which we live.”[20] With this view, at the most fundamental level, every universe is irrational, outside the domain of any future science. The desire, then, to explain our universe’s features in terms of fundamental causes and principles must be squelched.

In summary, the multiverse strategy to avoid the existence of God requires the suspension of scientific argument, demands a belief in the existence of at least a nearly infinite number of unobservable universes, and makes hopeless the desire to understand the most fundamental aspects of the our physical universe in terms of experiment, mathematics, and logic.

To a theist, an atheist who believes in a multiverse will believe anything, even in an infinite number of invisible objects with 50 billion galaxies or more. In the past, physicists made fun of medieval theologians arguing about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Now, these modern devotees of reason invoke with a straight face billions and billions and billions of unobservable universes to explain the astounding properties of one—ours—a clear violation of Ockham’s razor, the stricture that entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity. Although dressed up in scientific language, the multiverse theory requires a similar leap of faith as a belief in God.

Surprisingly, the underpinnings of the multiverse—eternal inflation and string theory—lack experimental verification. Physicist Paul Steinhardt co-authored seminal papers on inflationary cosmology, yet later argued that if eternal inflation were true, then “everything that can physically happen does happen an infinite number of times. No experiment can rule out a theory that allows of all possible outcomes. Hence, the paradigm of inflation is unfalsifiable.”[21]

In addition, the implications of an infinite number of Big Bangs in a multiverse governed by deterministic laws borders on the absurd. In such a multiverse, every finite system with a finite number of states occurs an infinite number of times. Thus, innumerable planets like Earth occur. On countless Earths the Nazis lost World War II and on the same number of planets they won.

In a 1987 interview, Feynman pointed to a fundamental problem with the work of string theorists: “I don’t like that they’re not calculating anything. I don’t like that they don’t check their ideas. I don’t like that for anything that disagrees with an experiment, they cook up an explanation—a fix up to say ‘Well, it still might be true.’”[22] For more than twenty-five years after Feynman’s criticisms, at least 3,500 high-energy theorists have struggled with string theory, creating elegant mathematics and a better understanding of quantum field theory, but not one of these theorists have come up with an experimental test of string theory. No wonder Sheldon Glashow, one of the principal architects of the standard model of particle physics, asks ironically: “Are string thoughts more appropriate to departments of mathematics, or even to schools of divinity, than to physics departments?”[23]

Biologist Richard Lewontin makes explicit the underlying faith that leads scientists to accept a universe that is at heart irrational and thus unknowable rather than acknowledge that the Hand of God shaped nature: “We have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes…. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”[24]

Lewontin and most scientists are true believers in materialism, possessing an absolute faith that matter and its workings will eventually explain everything in the universe. But such a faith has already failed at the most basic level; brain function alone cannot account for the simple experience of seeing, hearing, tasting, or smelling.[25] All human beings, scientists and laypersons, live in the nonmaterial world of the smell of lavender, the deep resonance of a cello, the beauty of a sunset over an ocean, the wonder evoked by the night sky, the elegance of Euclid’s demonstration of the infinitude of prime numbers, the very world that materialism cannot explain. If only matter existed, then we would have no interior life; we would be mindless things like rocks and volcanoes.

Like every ideology—political, religious, or intellectual—materialism at some point is closed to reason, so that eminently intelligent adherents must make exceedingly idiotic pronouncements: “All of us human beings and all the objects with which we deal are essentially bundles of simple quarks and electrons;”[26] “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons;”[27] and “You’re a gigantic lumbering robot manipulated by genes.”[28]

For me, materialism is far from absolute because it has failed again and again. No one can doubt we live in a bio-friendly universe. The multiverse strategy to avoid the existence of God borders on the absurd and furthermore declares the core of the physical world is irrational and thus unknowable. Giving up the ideology of my youth and following reason, I had no choice but to “allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

Notes:

[1] A partial, conservative catalogue of the political murders of the twentieth century is mind-boggling, unbelievable, but sadly undeniable. Deaths: World War I (military only): 9,700,000; Russian Revolution and Civil War: 9,000,000; forced col­lectivization: 3,000,000 Ukrainian peasants; Russian gulag: 1,000,000 political prisoners; Spanish Civil War: 1,200,000; World War II (military and civilian): 51,000,000; Nazi camps: 6,000,000 Jews and 6,000,000 Slavs, Gypsies, and political prisoners; Japanese Rape of Nanking: 300,000 Chinese; Allied bombing of Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne, and Dresden: 500,000 German civilians; Hiroshima and Nagasaki: 140,000 Japanese civilians; Vietnam War (military and civilian): 5,000,000; Chinese Great Leap Forward: 30,000,000. These numbers are low estimates. For the difficulty of estimating mass political murders see Lewis M. Simons, “Genocide and the Science of Proof,” National Geographic Magazine (January, 2006): 28-35 and Timothy Snyder, “Holocaust: The Ignored Reality,” The New York Review of Books (July 16, 2009).

[2] Benedict XVI, reported by L’Osservatore Romano (July 2005).

[3]H. Allen Orr, “Awaiting a New Darwin,” The New York Review of Books, vol. 60, Number 2 (February 7, 2013).

[4] For a detailed discussion of why materialism is wrong, see George Stanciu, “Materialism: The False God of Modern Science.”

[5] “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God” is the central argument of Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston; Houghton Mifflin, 2006), pp. 111-159.

[6] Fred Hoyle, The Intelligent Universe: A New View of Creation and Evolution (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1984), p. 19.

[7] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design (New York: Norton, 1986), p. 7.

[8] Aquinas, Summa Theologica, First Part, Question 3.

[9] St. Anselm, quoted by R. W. Southern, St. Anslem: A Portrait in a Landscape (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p.128.

[10] Bertrand Russell, “My Mental Development,” in P. A. Schilpp, The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), vol. 1, p. 10.

[11] Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy (New York: Touchstone, 1967), p. 586.

[12] Weinberg, The First Three Minutes, p.154.

[13] Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, trans. John Hammond Taylor (New York: Newman press, 1982), I, p. 185.

[14] Hoyle, “The Universe: Past and Present Reflections,” p. 16.

[15] See Steven Weinberg, “The Cosmological Constant Problems.”

[16] M. P. Hobson, G. P. Efstathiou, and A. N. Lasenby, General Relativity: An Introduction for Physicists (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007). p. 187.

[17] John A. Wheeler, “Genesis and Observership,” in Foundational Problems in the Special Sciences, ed. Robert E. Butts and Jaakko Hintikka (Dor­drecht, Holland: Reidel, 1977), p. 18.

[18]See Leonard Susskind, Interview, Amanda Gefter, “Is string theory in trouble?”, New Scientist (17 December 2005). Also see Steven Weinberg, “Living in the Multiverse.” .

[19] Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing (New York: Free Press, 2012), p. 176.

[20] Steven Weinberg, “Physics: What We Do and Don’t Know,” The New York Review of Books (November 7, 2013).

[21] Paul Steinhardt, Nature 510 (5 June 2014): 9.

[22] Richard Feynman, Interview, in P. C. Davies and Julian Brown, eds. Superstrings: A Theory of Everything (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 194.

[23] Sheldon Glashow, with Ben Bova, Interactions: A Journey through the Mind of a Particle Physicist (New York, NY: Warner Books, 1988), p. 25.

[24] Richard C. Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review of Books (January 1997): 37. Italics added.

[25] See George Stanciu, “Materialism: The False God of Modern Science.”

[26] See Gell-Mann, “Let’s Call It Plectics,” Complexity 1 (1995/1996), no. 5.

[27] Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis, p. 3.

[28] See Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, p. 21.

 

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11 replies to this post
  1. I’m not so sure the cosmological argument is defeated by an appeal to quantum physics (though I might well be wrong). The refutation depends on particles coming “from nothing” but the “nothing” here is, as far as I understand it, being produced by an energy fluctuation (something) in a vacuum (another something). “Nothing” is thus used in an equivocal sense when referring to the “nothing” before the Big Bang and the “nothing” referred to in quantum physics. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding the objection, though.

  2. Dawkins’ and his Boeing 747 argument brings to mind a Chestertonian quote:
    “A head can be beaten small enough until it fits the hat.”

  3. I second the comment of Dante and not that particles are hypothesized to arise from fluctuations in a quantum field. But, a quantum field is something, not nothing. When philosophers ask why something exists rather than nothing, a quantum field falls into the category of “something” and we could specifically ask, “Why does a quantum field exist rather than an absolute void with no quantum field?” Because a quantum field is invisible, it permits the false association of invisibility and nothingness.

    However, I disagree that a vacuum is something. I think that the word “void” would be preferred over the word “vacuum” and the word “void” would be defined for cosmological origin discussions to be absolutely nothing: no matter, no energy, no quantum field, etc.

  4. I enjoyed reading this and also the title “Atheism: Disproved by Science?” I like the title because it is asked as a question and not stated as a conclusion.

    I’m not an atheist but I would like to make some comments on your arguments. First off you never really define atheism but imply that it is materialism. More on that later. Atheism is merely the claim that there is no sufficient demonstrable proof for the existence of God or gods. To prove atheism false you have to provide such proof – the burden of proof is on the theist.

    This is important to keep in mind when you discuss the cosmological argument. Your conclusion that “The modern cosmological argument does not terminate with a victory for either the atheists or the theists.” is incorrect. As you present the argument and your conclusion it is a victory for the atheists since the theists have not met their burden of proof.

    The only other comment I’ll make about your discussion of the cosmological argument is your slipping in of mind-body dualism and assumption of the mind as immaterial. Whether the mind can be accounted for materially or not is only an argument about materialism and not about atheism. Since you don’t present an argument for mind-body dualism I won’t address it, other to point out you leave it as a bread crumb, an assumption, for your later argument against materialism.

    I will address your argument from design and discussion of materialism in a later post. I have enjoyed reading your article though, and thank you.

    • “To prove atheism false you have to provide such proof – the burden of proof is on the theist.”

      No it isn’t. That assumes atheism is the default state of things, which it obviously is not.

      • I’m not sure what you mean by the “default state”. If you mean that most people believe in theism I would agree. But the discussion here is whether or not those beliefs are true.

        The cosmological argument, or other similar arguments, are attempts to prove theism true. If the argument fails it hasn’t met the burden of proof.

        • Religious belief is the norm, it is atheism that is abnormal. Therefore, it is atheism, not religion, that has the burden of proof.

      • You, sir, take the words out of my mouth. But you don’t have go so far as to say it is an abnormal state (which I would agree it is to some degree): the fact they place the burden of proof on solely the religious folks at all is damning and childish (and also abnormal when you think about it).

  5. I agree with Dante’s and Clark’s observation that we are using the word ‘nothing’ in an equivocal sense. The definition of ‘nothing’ as a quantum field is vastly different than the philosophical definition of ‘nothing’. This ambiguity is likely to get us tangled up in language.

    But the real question here is how the universe came into to being. The quantum field may be a possible explanation if the quantum field can be said to satisfy these 2 (there might be more) conditions:

    1) can a universe arise from the quantum field (I avoid using the word cause here), and
    2) is the quantum field timeless (meaning it is un-caused or requires no other cause, thus avoiding infinite regress)

    If it meets those conditions than it might be a candidate for the origin of the universe.

  6. You are right. There is a great deal that strict materialism does not explain. But the incompleteness of materialism in no way implies that some conscious supernatural Creator exists. Even if there is a Real God or Real Gods (why stop at one?), it (or they) is (are) nothing like the God described in the Bible, Q’ran or other Holy Books. The God preached by the Priests, Prophets, Rabbis, Imams and Gurus is a cartoon God, a tale fit for children.

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