I’ve been catching up on my podcasts and I recently listened to a dialogue between an atheist, Lawrence Krauss, and a theist, John Lennox on questions about science and faith. It was on the Unbelievable? program (something I strongly suggest you listen to weekly) [listen here]. Thus, it was less a debate than it was a moderated discussion. Here, I’ll only focus on a couple questions that came up in their dialogue.
How and Why
According to Lawrence Krauss, science cannot answer “Why” questions but only “how” questions. Lennox brought up the example of a Ford motor car sitting on a driveway [I added this last bit for clarity]. He argued that one can explain the “how” it got there but there still remains the question of “why” it was made. Thus, the “why” questions remain “real” questions whether or not science is capable of investigating them. Interestingly, Krauss took a different tact than I expected in his rebuttal: he argued that the “why” question (at least in the Lennox case) is reducible to a “how” question. That is, one could explain how Henry Ford designed it, had it built, and then someone bought it and drove it to where it is sitting.
But of course redefining terms does little to address the actual questions at hand. Lennox was keen to show that questions about “why” are indeed meaningful. It seems that Krauss’ only response is to either say “no they’re not” or redefine actual “why” questions into “how” questions and argue there still are no “why” questions. The move is not very subtle, nor is it successful.
Purpose in the Universe?
Krauss made several comments regarding purpose in the universe. First, he seemed to suggest that in order to assert the universe has purpose, one must know what that purpose is. Second, he argued that the universe is indeed quite wasteful if it were intelligent designed with purpose. Third–in response to Lennox’s statement that Krauss and other cosmologists admit that for life to exist there would have had to be several generations of stars (to produce enough carbon for carbon-based life)–he alleged that there could be all sorts of other life forms we don’t know about. I’ll address these each briefly in turn.
First, it seems clear that if one wants to suggest the universe has a purpose, one does not have to know what the purpose is. We can see this all the time in our own interactions with the world. Suppose I see a pile of blocks on the floor in an office building stacked in piles of various heights and arranged by color. I can immediately recognize that there must have been some purpose behind it–for the arrangement by color is quite telling–but I may not be able to pinpoint the exact reason. Perhaps some five-year-old was amusing herself by stacking blocks by color. Perhaps an adult was making art by stacking them in that way–a kind of reminiscence on childhood. There could be any number of other reasons. But the fact that I don’t know the reason doesn’t mean there is no reason. Similarly, I may claim the universe has a purpose even without claiming to know what said purpose is.
Second, Krauss seems to make the error that if the universe were designed for humans, that would have to be the only purpose involved in the entire universe. I’ve addressed this claim in some detail elsewhere, so for now I’ll just say that Krauss’ mistake lies in assuming that if there is a purpose behind the universe it must be the only purpose.
Third, Krauss missed the point of Lennox’s rebuttal. For the life we are dealing with is clearly carbon based. For Krauss to stretch the question to possible scenarios of non-carbon based life is to miss the thrust of his own argument. He was asking for purpose in this universe; he was not asking for purpose in any possible universe. Thus, his statement is off base. Moreover, I tend to agree with scientists like Iris Fry and the like who agree that it is implausible to suggest life could be based on silicon or other things apart from carbon. That is a debate that would take us far afield, so I’ll leave it at that.
Science Doesn’t Care About Philosophy
Lennox, towards the end of the discussion, pointed out that Krauss’ claim to define nothing as something is nonsense. Krauss’ response? He jettisoned philosophy immediately: “Science doesn’t care about philosophy,” he said [he may have said “Scientists don’t…” but after listening to it a few times, I couldn’t tell which he said]. If you don’t see a problem with this, you should. First, the statement itself is philosophical. Second, any number of claims he made throughout his discussion with Lennox were philosophically grounded. Third, science depends upon philosophy to operate. Fourth, as I’ve demonstrated elsewhere, Krauss’ own work is directly dependent upon philosophy.
Documents Aren’t Evidence
Krauss said that documents don’t count as evidence. His assertion was based upon the notion that a book like The Great Gatsby is a document, but it is not taken as factually true. Apart from purely begging the question regarding the genre of the Bible alongside The Great Gatsby, Krauss is also severely mistaken in his claim that documents aren’t evidence. According to Krauss’ claim, we should essentially dissolve our government, because our system of government is based upon a document: the Constitution. But the Constitution cannot count as evidence for anything! So this begs the question: why should we go to it to see whether or not Lawrence Krauss should have freedom to express his vitriol against religious people?
The problem is that Krauss is just wrong here. Documents do count as evidence. One needs to acknowledge the genre, intent, etc. regarding a document, but for Krauss to utterly dismiss documents as evidence is absurd. One may ask whether Krauss wrote any books. He could, presumably, produce documents to show that he did indeed write books. But on his own standard of proof, he hasn’t presented any evidence whatsoever. Thus, on Krauss’ definition of evidence, I conclude that Krauss has never written anything.
There is much more that I could interact with in regards to this conversation between Krauss and Lennox, but I’ll leave it for now with the comments I have. I suggest readers go listen to the dialogue themselves. It seems to me clear that Krauss continues to flounder in areas outside his expertise. He misused the notion of an “appeal to authority” when he applied it regarding Lennox’s citation of Nagel, he continued to make errors regarding non sequitors, he dismissed his own books as evidence that he wrote anything, and his comments on purpose betray a lack of reflection on the topic. Krauss continues to show that he is basically ignorant of even the implications of his own claims.
Shoulders of Giants? -Philosophy and Science in Context, or “Krauss Jumps off!”– I argue that Krauss is mistaken to claim that philosophers know nothing. I further argue that Krauss’ own work is dependent upon philosophy, so he ironically (ignorantly?) dismisses the very basis for his work.
William Lane Craig vs. Lawrence Krauss- Thoughts and links– I summarize and analyze a debate between Lawrence Krauss and the Christian philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig. I think this debate was devastating to Krauss’ positions regarding his atheism.
Follow this link to access the audio for the dialogue between Lennox and Krauss.
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