astronomy

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“What’s Behind it All?” Debate Review: Lawrence Krauss vs. Stephen Meyer vs. Denis Lamoureux

The official image for the debate. I use it under fair use.

The official image for the debate. I use it under fair use.

A debate on the topic of God, science, and the universe; “What’s Behind it All?” was had at Wycliffe College in Toronto, Canada. The speakers were physicist Lawrence Krauss, philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, and biologist and theologian Denis Lamoureux. Meyer and Lamoureux are Christians, but differ on evolution. Lamoureux holds to theistic evolution/evolutionary creation, while Meyer advocates Intelligent Design theory. Krauss is an atheist. Here, I will sum up different parts of the debate, then offer some analysis. I skip over the roundtable discussion. It should be noted Meyer was visibly suffering from a migraine and at points had great difficulty throughout the debate due to the impact of this migraine.

Lawrence Krauss Introduction

Krauss took a good amount of time at the beginning of his introduction to “disparage” (his word) Stephen Meyer. He took time to specifically insult Meyer and others who hold to Intelligent Design.

After these remarks, Krauss went over a number of slides showing the evidence for how the universe is laid out, finally asserting that “nothing” makes energy flat. By nothing, he meant dark matter and other forms of nothing (again, according to his ). “Empty space, with nothing in it, can start to produce particles.” According to a slide he showed right after saying this, “Gravity plus quantum mechanics allows space (and possibly time) to appear from nothing.” There were no causal relations before the Big Bang, and so there was nothing to cause anything. “Classical notions of cause and effect may go out the window,” Krauss claims, due to this.

“Life is fine-tuned for the universe” rather than the universe being fine-tuned for life. Life adapts to the universe, and it is natural selection that leads to life being what it is.

Ultimately, “us [sic] and ultimately everything in the universe” is irrelevant, according to Krauss.

Stephen Meyer Introduction

Meyer notes that Krauss didn’t even critique the theory of intelligent design, because he never even explained what it was. To engage with an idea, one has to at least explain what that idea is. Meyer notes that he is defending a theistic view of science rather than a materialistic view of science.

Meyer then presented an overview of the biological argument for intelligent design, noting that DNA is a kind of information conveyance mechanism. The origin of information, then, is the difficulty that materialists are faced with. DNA information provides functional information. From an evolutionary point of view, Meyer argues, this is difficult to explain, because the number of functional arrangements of this information is vastly outweighed by the number of non-functional arrangements.

After this lengthy presentation on ID theory from a biological perspective, presented further positive evidence for ID theory alongside a few papers he cited that critique the theory. He noted that the objections fail, and that the evidence is powerful enough to show that ID theory must be taken seriously as a theory. Information, that is, relies upon mind in order to be generated. Then he surveyed a number of origin of life scenarios and noted significant problems with each.

Denis Lamoureux Introduction

There is a false dichotomy in these discussions, argued Lamoureux. One side is presented as being science, evolution, and atheism; the other is presented as being God, miracles, and the Bible. Lamoureux noted that he walks the line between these, arguing that evidence for biological evolution is overwhelming and that there is no debate whatsoever on it while also believing in the inspiration of the Bible.

The problem of intermediary fossils is often plugged in with a “God of the gaps.” Lamoureux cites the difference between Sharks and boney fish as an area where the transitional fossil was thought to be missing, but then a fish without a jaw was found that would be an intermediary between the two (an earlier fossil that could lead to both). Thus, the gaps that we have, argued Lamoureux, are best explained for evolution as gaps in knowledge, not an area to import God or design. Missing fossils may require us to wait for hundreds of years to find anything, but we keep plugging the gaps.

Lamoureux appealed to the notion of teleology- purpose vs. the notion of dysteleology – that there is no purpose. Culturally, people tend to think of evolution as being dysteleological and creation as teleological, but these present yet another false dichotomy. Instead, teleology with evolution is possible. He argued that natural processes like embryology is still seen as teleology, despite the fact that we know how the development continues through the stages. That is, teleology is not thrown out by knowing how it all works. Therefore, Lamoureux argued that we can hold to evolution and teleology, a view he calls Evolutionary Creation (commonly called theistic evolution). Rather than appealing to specific examples of design, this view sees creation as artistry and all of creation pointing to the creator, despite our capacity to explain it. He continued to cite Charles Darwin quotations from late in life showing that he also agreed that theism is compatible with evolution.

Lamoureux argued that concordism- the notion that the Bible and science correspond specifically- is mistaken. The Bible, he said, reflects an ancient cosmology, and argued that we have to read ancient texts in the context in which they were written.

Meyer Response

ID is not a “god of the gaps” argument. Rather, the form of the argument presented is an inference to the best explanation. We make this kind of inference all the time. Meyer argued that the a priori ruling out of intelligence for certain kinds of causes and effects means that you will miss evidence. Rather than assume it impossible, we ought to follow the evidence where it leads.

Lamoureux Response

Meyer’s theory relies on things that we can ultimately disprove, and he noted one aspect of the Cambrian Explosion that Meyer tries to use, but has been shown to have an evolutionary path.

Krauss’s science is pretty good, but he delves into metaphysics frequently and does so poorly. Krauss’s notion of a universe out of nothing is not really out of nothing, and other physicists note that Krauss is mistaken regarding the definition of “nothing.”

Krauss Response

DNA is not the first form of life, and pointing to the most complex forms possible fails to take science seriously. An RNA world is the most likely origin of life scenario. RNA could be naturally formed, and although we don’t know the answer yet, we could find it.

Lamoureux’s position is untenable because he basically just says the Bible is scientifically garbage and then says we should follow it. The Bible, he argues, is the most immoral document he’s ever seen.

Analysis

First, the decision made by Krauss to start the debate with personal attacks on Meyer is inexcusable. Time and again, Krauss has proven himself incapable of mature conversation. To be fair to him, he did try to help Meyer with his difficulty getting his powerpoint set up later, and also at least acknowledged some of the difficulty Meyer was having with a migraine, but the fact he made the conscious decision to begin a debate with personal attacks shows his character.

Krauss continues to make up whatever definition of “nothing” suits him at the moment. If it is convenient for “nothing” to refer to dark matter, then nothing is dark matter. If “nothing” needs to be used as empty space, then nothing is empty space. He doesn’t just move goal posts, he simply carries them around, dropping them wherever he sees fit. To claim that gravity and quantum mechanics can make a universe come out of nothing is so nonsensical, it hardly warrants comment. After all, what are gravity and quantum mechanics? If Krauss is to be believed, they are nothing. But of course he isn’t using the term in any restrictive sense, because he is just using “nothing” to refer to anything whatever. For Krauss, “nothing” is something. Why? Because he says so.

It’s difficult to analyze the theory of ID in this format, because the debate is ongoing and the reasoning complex. Moreover, Meyer’s difficulty with his migraine at points meant he had to skip over explanations and examples. I believe that Lamoureux in particular offered some strong critique, particularly in his notation of the way that transitional forms continue to be found. Moreover, Lamoureux was able to show that at least one specific example used by Meyer has been shown to be mistaken. However, Meyer’s presentation does raise questions about the origin of information and its use. In the roundtable discussion, Krauss, Meyer, and Lamoureux all got into it regarding whether Meyer’s analysis presents an accurate view of evolution. Lamoureux argued it did not because Meyer approaches the question like an engineer, expecting specific mathematical permutations; but he said that evolution does not work that way. Krauss noted that natural selection removes much of the randomness of evolution, thus undercutting some of the math in Meyer’s view. Ultimately, the debate over ID will almost certainly continue, and I can’t help but feel that Meyer would have made a better showing without the migraine. He did a wonderful job despite it, and largely held his own.

Lamoureux’s position has much to commend it, particularly because he doesn’t demand a kind of reading of the Bible as a science text. However, I wonder whether Krauss’s critique is forceful: that Lamoureux effectively tosses the Bible and what it says about the natural world out, but then expects it to be believed on other aspects. Of course, Krauss quickly demonstrated a complete lack of nuance with reading of the Bible, but his point ought not be dismissed too swiftly. Can Lamoureux offer a way of reading the Bible that reconciles this seeming incongruity? Meyer’s position allows for God to be active in the world, without appealing to the notion of artistry as a way to show God’s activity. Does this show Meyer’s position is superior?

As an aside, I’d like to commend Lamoureux for using gender neutral language repeatedly in his presentation. Even when quoting Darwin at points, where Darwin used the archaic “man” to refer to humans, Lamoureux read the quotes as “men and women.” I believe he did the same in a Billy Graham quote, though I didn’t catch if the original also said “men.”

“The universe doesn’t care about us.” Quoted from Krauss in this debate, this is the summary of his worldview. Of course, his worldview does not matter, if he’s right. If he’s right, then there is no purpose for even having this debate. And that, perhaps, is what we should take away from this debate. On a worldview level, Krauss offers nothing (har har) to go on. The interesting debate, then, is whether Meyer or Lamoureux are correct.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Gregg Davidson vs. Andrew Snelling on the Age of the Earth– I attended a debate between an old earth and young earth creationist (the latter from Answers in Genesis like Ken Ham). Check out my overview of the debate as well as my analysis.

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye- An analysis of a lose-lose debate– In-depth coverage and analysis of the famous debate between young earth creationist Ken Ham and Bill Nye the science guy.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Great Christ Comet” by Colin Nicholl

gcc-nichollThere are few biblical images which capture the imagination as much as the Star of Bethlehem. Its prominent portrayal in films featuring the Nativity, in popular renditions of a Nativity scene, and its place in many Christmas carols demonstrates its continuing popularity. Colin Nicholl’s work, The Great Christ Comet is a significant contribution to scholarship about the nature of the Star of Bethlehem. Nicholl approaches the topic from both the standpoint of theology and astronomy.

Nicholl’s analysis of the biblical data is extensive and interesting. Early in the book, he establishes that the exegetical evidence is important to anyone–including astronomers–who would like to pinpoint what the Star of Bethlehem may have been.

As I read through the theological portions of the book, I found myself opening up my running Bible commentary document to add several notes as Nicholl provide insight into the text and argued for specifics about the narrative. In addition to interpreting the passage, he also sheds light on it from extrabiblical sources, particularly in regards to the Magi and Herod. Regarding the former, he discusses the practice and likely origin of the Magi, noting they were likely astrologer/astronomers from Babylon. Regarding the latter, he shows how the Massacre of the Innocents would not be so out of place for Herod, and why he would have been so willing to go to the depths of evil action that he did. There were many more times I found Nicholl’s exegesis enlightening on various passages–including prophetic ones in Numbers and Isaiah and others in Revelation.

The interpretation offered by Nicholl related to the movement of the Christ Comet is different than any I have read. Nicholl delves into Revelation 12:1-5a in order to argue that this passage describes a literal astronomical phenomenon with the celestial movements of Virgo, a comet, and a meteor storm in view. It was in this section that my confidence in his conclusions wavered. He makes a convincing argument for showing that the comet could have moved and shined in the way he believes is described in this passage, but I am less convinced by the simple connection of Revelation to Matthew in this literal, astronomical way. The infancy narrative of Matthew and the description in Revelation are both referencing the birth of Christ, but I’m not convinced John in Revelation is attempting to give a full explanation of a cosmic event that occurred here. Regardless of my reservations, however, Nicholl does establish that this is a possible, if not probable, reading of the text while also laying out in extensive detail how a comet could have engaged in this “cosmic drama.”

I am not an expert in astronomy, so my comments on that regard are that of an interested lay person. Nicholl gave significant background into astronomy before he delved into some of the data and the competing theories regarding the Star of Bethlehem. This included extensive discussion of the nature of different kinds of comets and how they move throughout. At many points these details are accompanied by historical drawings or artistic renditions of the aspects discussed. Nicholl’s theory is outlined in intricate detail, and it includes a kind of procession of the comet throughout various astrological signs to the point that it reaches Virgo. At this point, the Magi were convinced by the movement of the comet that a significant birth was occurring and they headed west. Nicholl draws upon the words of the Magi as well as Matthew and Luke’s infancy narrative, in addition to Revelation 12 to show that his theory corresponds to literal readings of the various passages and allows a real astronomical event to lie behind the explanation of the comet. This, however, does not mean that the comet is a purely naturalistic phenomenon, as Nicholl argues that the one-of-a-kind, astounding nature of this comet and its performance–down to marking the very location of Jesus’s home in Bethlehem–point to divine intent.

One significant difficulty with the book is the overall feeling of “assured results” found throughout. A search for “certainly” shows up 66 results; 9 for “unquestionably” (each used in context of conclusions drawn). Other words like “undoubtedly” (11 results) show up throughout as well. While it is admirable to have confidence in one’s own position, at times I wondered whether the arguments presented could yield such levels of confidence. The very existence of such continuing debate over the nature of the Star of Bethlehem calls into question any interpretation which comes along and offers certainty across the board, whether it is the refutation of other theories or the interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

So much is invested in the relation of Revelation 12 to the infancy narratives that if one remains unconvinced by his exegesis there, one may not find his overall theory convincing. However, this is not necessarily the case. The argument he presented for a great comet being the origin of the Star of Bethlehem was quite convincing to me, despite my not being fully sold on the Revelation 12 theory. One does not have to accept Nicholl’s view of how the comet played across the sky to accept that the comet is the best explanation.

As far as substantive critique of Nicholl, on the astronomical part I admit I don’t have the knowledge to offer much. Both theologically and astronomically, it seems Nicholl’s proposal is airtight and stunning. Frankly, that is probably where my suspicion comes from: I tend to be a bit suspicious of anything that is such a perfect fit. The Bible is a complex work, and the debate over the Star of Bethlehem is entrenched with many differing positions. Could it really be so simple (in the sense of having this be the answer)? I would like to say yes. I want to. But I’m not sure I can be fully on board. Nicholl has convinced me that the Star was a great comet, and the movement he describes seem possible, but it is perhaps only a personal feeling of reservation that holds me back from embracing the whole picture. This does say something for the strength of Nicholl’s argument, of course, for it suggests that it is really this personal reservation that holds me back rather than significant criticisms.

Nicholl’s concluding thoughts about the Christ Comet deserve to be quoted:

What the Great Christ Comet did… was extraordinary and merits wide telling. People of all disciplines… must come to grips with its story. In an era when science is often viewed as the enemy of religion, the Christ Comet suggests that science may be the best friend of religion. In a period when the claims of Christ are commonly disregarded, the Star callse upon all to give his claims a fresh reappraisal… (Kindle Location 7343).

Whatever one thinks about certain aspects of Nicholl’s argument, the book as a whole presents a comprehensive, deep case for the Star of Bethlehem being a great comet. The Great Christ Comet is a fantastic, deep read that will expose readers to a variety of topics in a fresh way. The amazing intricacy of the movement of the comet and its correspondence to the readings Nicholl presents in the book would be, if true, a monumentally powerful testament to the power of God and the truth of the Gospels. I enjoyed it immensely, even though I may not be fully convinced of every detail.

The Good

+Extensive look at the Biblical data
+Fascinating topic
+Provides background for astronomical analysis
+Massive scope with in-depth discussion

The Bad

-Overstates case at points
-Exegesis of some passages uncertain

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Colin Nicholl, The Great Christ Comet (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other interests site for posts on science fiction, fantasy, television, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 6/20/14- textual criticism, Krauss, and more!

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneI’ve put together what I think is a pretty diverse array of topics for you, dear reader, to peruse. Check them out, and let me know what you thought of them! If you liked their post, let them know, too! Comments keep we bloggers going!

Gospel Truth? 10 Quick Questions– Here’s an interesting way to approach evaluation of rival Scriptural traditions–how might we determine whether one is true? What do you think of this list of questions about revealed truth? While you’re at it, Saints and Sceptics (they’re British!) is a great site that is well worth your time to follow and read on a regular basis.

Lawrence Krauss debates “A Universe From Nothing” with an Astrophysicist– Check out this review and commentary on a debate in which Lawrence Krauss continues to press his redefined version of “nothing” to try to explain the existence of the universe. This time, he debates an astrophysicist. Hint: it doesn’t go well.

Towards a Deeper Theology of Women: 4 Contributions of Women Scholars– Both men and women were created in the image of God. As such, they are each capable of contributing to theology and teaching. Check out this list of four contributions of women scholars, complete with some reading to pick up along the way!

Free Bible Icons– The title isn’t the catchiest, but these digital icons for every book of the Bible (and groupings therein) are fun, free, and a great thing to just print off and use as book markers in your Bible. Moreover, they’re just fun to look at.

Evangelical Textual Criticism– How might evangelicals engage in textual criticism? Here’s a site that explores that while also providing a number of resources like bibliographies for study, conference reminders, and the like. For an example of how this plays out, check out this post on Codex Bezae.

Really Recommended Posts 5/30/14- the Cross, Arminianism, “banned” evangelicals, and more!

postThe Really Recommended Posts this week have some mixed in that are sure to get your noodle going. Can a doctrinal system which emphasizes free human choice in salvation affirm total depravity? Is the Big Bang model wrong? Would evangelicalism label some of its “favorites” heretics? Do skeptics dehumanize Christianity? These, and more, are questions for you to ponder with this week’s reading choices. Let me know what you thought, and if you liked them, be sure to leave them a comment as well. That’s a major reason why we write–to get your feedback!

Skeptics Dehumanizing Christianity– Does the “New Atheism” affirm equality across lines of religion, culture, and the like? How do some skeptics talk about people of faith in ways which may dehumanize them? Check out this thought-provoking article to read some insights on these and other topics.

Do Arminians Believe in Total Depravity?– One constant point of contention between Arminians and Calvinists (and others like Lutherans) is the notion of “total depravity” and the charge that Arminianism denies it. According to this article (following Roger Olson), Arminius himself affirmed the doctrine. It was an interesting read, but I wonder how consistent it would be with the consequences of Arminianism after all. What are your thoughts?

One Very Misleading Article About Six “Heretics” Who Should Be Banned from Evangelicalism– Recently, I saw an article being passed around on how some prominent figures within Christianity often cited by evangelicals would allegedly be labeled as heretics by contemporary evangelicalism for some of their beliefs. I thought it was interesting, but also clearly mistaken on some of the figures mentioned therein. This article took the time I did not by outlining numerous errors in the argument about “consistency” and evangelicalism.

More Than a Piece of Jewelry (Comic)– The cross is more than a piece of jewelry to hang around your neck. Check out this poignant comment which puts that into perspective.

Selection Bias– The universe isn’t expanding after all! So said a lot of headlines around the web of late. Is that really the case? Check out this article from an astrophysicist explaining some difficulties with this supposed problem with Big Bang Cosmology.

A Solar System and Cosmos Filled With Life? – A reflection upon Ben Bova’s “Farside” and “New Earth”

bb-farside

Ben Bova’s contributions to science fiction are monumental. A six-tme Hugo Award winner (!!), he is established as one of the most successful and entertaining authors of our time. I have quite enjoyed a number of his works, though I have at times been critical of his portrayal of religion. Bova’s major series, the “Grand Tour,” follows human exploration of the solar system (and at some points, beyond). The series is constructed in such a way as to not require readers to follow it chronologically. They are interlinked and interrelated, but not interdependent. Here, we’ll look at two recent books in this series which look at the discovery of an Earth-like planet. There will, of course, be major plot SPOILERS for both books in what follows.

Farside

After telescopes on Earth discover an Earth-sized planet relatively local to our own Solar System (ten light years away), the race is on to learn more about this planet. Farside portrays the struggles of a number of people in their efforts to build an observation base on the dark side of the moon. Jason Uhlrich seeks his Nobel Prize in his attempts to be the first to observe and chart the planet.

Life has already been found within the Solar System, and now two rivals rush to be the first to discover it in the great beyond of the stars. What is interesting is to note some of the assumptions that go into Bova’s characterization of life beyond Earth. First, one primary assumption seems to be that where there is water, there must be life. Second, life should be expected in all corners of the universe.

These assumptions are the subjects of much debate within the scientific community around the possibility of life on other planets and the origin of life. Regarding the former, there are those who do believe that life will be found in abundance throughout the universe. After all, given that we exist, life cannot be all that improbable, right? The other primary way of thinking is to argue that life is, in fact, quite rare in the universe and our own existence is a wonderfully improbable jackpot win.

bb-neNew Earth

New Earth picks up some time after the events of Farside. Humanity has sent an expedition to “New Earth.” Upon arrival, there is a great mystery: “New Earth” is eerily like Earth itself. It turns out that a machine known as a “predecessor” has created the planet and grown these human-like aliens as a way to break it to humanity that there is, in fact, more intelligent life “out there.” Moreover, there is a catastrophic event coming towards the whole arm of the Milky Way which will wipe out these intelligent species, and humanity needs to help preserve themselves and the other species.

Though skeptical, ultimately all the members of the expedition are convinced, and the book ends with the message reaching Earth and the gearing up to proceed on this mission given by the Predecessor.

Reflection

There are, of course, any number of things that one could nitpick regarding the plausibility of the scenarios Bova envisions (one would be the rewiring of Uhlrich’s brain to “see” via hearing and touch… how does that work?), but here we’ll focus on two aspects of the work: the plausibility of life outside Earth and the mythos of the benevolent alien.

In Farside, readers who haven’t surveyed the body of Bova’s work discover that the Solar System itself teems with life: life once flourished on Mars, and its vestiges remain; on Jupiter, creatures soar in the skies; life is found elsewhere throughout the System. Bova’s vision of the origin of life seems to be that if there’s water, there may be life. Yet one has to wonder about the plausibility of life forming on a planet like Jupiter. How might biochemical interactions with delicate balances of material be maintained for long? What of the distance to the sun? The origin of life requires all kinds of factors to be “just right” and it simply is not enough to fudge the numbers by saying “It could have happened this way.” To develop a hypothesis around ad hoc assumptions is faulty.

Intelligent life, as explicated in New Earth, is even more problematic. It is easier to have single celled organisms than to have the complexity needed for intelligence. Even granting a naturalistic scenario, the conditions must be even more tuned for life and allow for the nurturing of that life for extremely long periods of time. The universe is indeed huge beyond belief but one has to wonder if even that immensity is enough to repeat the conditions which occur on Earth.

Of course, in the end, one must acknowledge that these are tales of science fiction, not proposals about how science fact might be. There is a certain sense of awe and wonder involved in considering whether life could exist all over the Solar System. It seems to me, however, that if that is the case, it probably got there by means of Earth–blown off the surface of our planet by an asteroid and traveled through space to Mars and possibly beyond.

Another major theme found in both books is what I dubbed the “Myth of the Benevolent Alien.” There is a kind of pervasive battle in science fiction between the notions that aliens want us dead or that aliens are going to be ultimately some kind of saviors of humankind. New Earth brings this benevolence front and center: some unknown life form created these “Predecessors” to find and aid intelligent life. It’s a scenario filled with wonder and hope. But it’s also a scenario which I’ve found time and again in materialistic literature.

The way this story goes: wherever possible, life is certain. It’s a kind of appeal to a fantasy of a godless universe wherein it may be possible to find hope and meaning in the stars. As one character (I believe it is Grant) said in Farside: Ad astra! (To the stars!). Second, the actual inherent implausibility of life both leads to this longing (we don’t want to be alone) and to a search for meaning (how did we get here?). My own answer is that theism provides a more plausible explanation of both the longing for meaning, meaning itself, and the way in which life arose. Interestingly, however, the atheistic accusation that theists are engaged in wishful thinking is perhaps mirrored through various declarations made by naturalists themselves (see the post linked above and in the links below).

Bova’s novels thus serve as a way forward in this discussion. By illustrating our longing and loneliness through the fulfillment of our desires (the discovery of life and the notion that we are not alone), Bova grants readers their wishes. However, we ultimately come to realize that these are indeed just wishes. Perhaps, one day, a “New Earth” will be discovered. But even if that happens, it will not be enough to satisfy our loneliness, nor will it answer our ultimate questions. Theism is the ultimate antidote to loneliness, the ultimate answer for our questions.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Materialists: Where is hope? Look to the stars!– I analyze one aspect of materialism: the way that some look to hope in the “beyond” of the outer limits of the universe. Hope, for materialists, may come from the stars. Our salvation may lay beyond our solar system, in benevolent aliens who will bring great change and advances to us.

Our Spooky Universe: Fine-Tuning and God- The incredible circumstances which allow for life to exist and thrive on Earth are the cause for not merely fictional speculation, but actual reflection upon our place in the universe and how it might relate to the transcendent. Check out this post which surveys the evidence for the existence of God found in “fine-tuning.”

Sources

Ben Bova, Farside (New York: Tor, 2013).

Ben Bova, New Earth (New York: Tor, 2013).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Cosmos: Episode I Recap and Review

cosmos-foxThe Cosmos is all there is or was or ever will be. – Carl Sagan

I will be watching the “Cosmos” TV series and providing recaps and responses as we go. I’ll evaluate the ideas presented for accuracy and give critical responses where I see necessary. Future “Recaps” will likely be shorter, with more length dedicated to the response.*

Episode I: Recap

The episode started off with the above quote from Sagan. Then, we took a trip in a spaceship with the “imagination” to see what the Earth looked like millions of years ago, followed by a picture of what it might look like in the future (apparently like the Borg invasion in “Star Trek: First Contact,” so watch out!).

Then, we got a pretty sweet CG-heavy tour of the solar system via fake spaceship that looks like Eve from Wall-E. I mean it, it was awesome! I was reminded of the majesty of a Ben Bova novel (if you haven’t read him, I would recommend it, but be aware of some rather simplistic discussion of religion). Finally, we zoomed in on Voyager I which had sound travelling from it in vacuum. I’m pretty sure that can’t happen, but I could easily be mistaken about that, so I’d be happy to be corrected.

An unimanginably awesome picture of the Milky Way through infrared really put us in perspective: there are seemingly infinite stars to be seen merely in our galaxy, which is one of an untold panoply of galaxies. As we zoomed out through the gigantic extremes of the universe (the Supercluster), we find that that supercluster is but one among untold billions of galaxies and the observable universe.

But what is meant by “observable universe”? The universe is actually so huge that we can’t actually observe the entire thing because there is more beyond what we can see. But “many… suspect” that our universe is but one in an extremely huge number of actual individual universes (here shown as little bubbles spreading out continually over the screen).

Let’s also not forget the church is a big destroyer and persecutor of science. Galileo proves that science and religion are forever enemies, right? Galileo’s story is preceded by Giordano Bruno, who is portrayed as a kind of anime graphic novel hero maverick because he went along with Copernicus. I’ll just narrate along. He “dared to read the books banned by the church… and that was his undoing.” No really, that’s what they said about him. Interestingly, they also say that Bruno reasoned that because God was infinite, creation couldn’t be anything less. But the evil church threw him out into the cold and he had to sleep on the ground and freeze at night! Then, he had a vision of science dreamland wherein he broke the universe with his finger and lifted the veil of knowledge that the idiots surrounding him had put in place. He floated around the universe and was the first person to figure out that there was vacuum and also the first person to fly in space and land on the moon and sun. (Again, I’m not making this up: this is what he does in the animated sequence in the dream.)

If Bruno was right, according to “Cosmos,” then not only is church authority overthrown, but the Bible can be brought into question *cue religious people gasping in shock.* Bruno was condemned by the church and burned at the stake but magically had powers to float throughout the universe so that’s pretty cool: throw off the chains of church oppression and what you’ll get is genius and the ability to fly in space.

The episode then walked through the history of the universe by paralleling a single year. The Big Bang: we are all made of “star stuff” which was produced through various processes during and after the Big Bang. Earth formed through a number of collisions with various asteroids and the like. The origin of life “evolved” through biochemical evolution. These “pioneering microbes” invented sex, so that’s pretty cool. December 30th (in the cosmic year) brought about the desolation of the dinosaurs with an asteroid. Humans only evolved “the last hour of the last day of the cosmic year.”

Dark_matter_halo2Evaluation

I love space. I love astronomy–my wife can attest to this as I randomly bought an astronomy textbook to read when I was in college. Yeah… I’m a nerd. I don’t claim to have science training or be a scientist, but there is something I can spot: unfounded metaphysical statements. That’s something I honestly expect to see quite a bit of when it comes to this TV series. It actually began with one from Carl Sagan: “The cosmos is all there is or was or ever will be.” Is that a scientific fact about the cosmos? Could you demonstrate that one for me? No. In short, the show begins with an ungrounded metaphysical statement.

Another issue I have is the personification and reification of science. “Science” does x; “Science” gives us y. I’m not at all convinced that “science” is a clearly dilineated entity such that we may speak of it as though it were a reified, ontologically extant entity. What does it mean to say that “science” does something? Don’t we mean that scientists are really the ones who do this? And are not scientists just as much people as anyone else?

The episode’s portrayal of history was very unbalanced. They depicted Giordano Bruno as a kind of hero against the church full of blundering idiots. When he was finally excommunicated, the quotes they put into the church’s mouth were interesting because they portrayed some of the actual issues happening, such as a strict adherence to Aristotelian science. At the time academia really was fully behind Aristotle, and it helped that the church had bought into his cosmology as well. However, for every minimal effort they made at showing some of the historical background, there was some significant effort made to show that the stupid church and its evil Inquisition had a “sole purpose to… torment anyone” who disagreed with the views of the Church. Bruno thought God was infinite so the universe could be infinite as well. Interesting thoughts, but these are juxtaposed against a depiction of everyone else as a bunch of religious idiots who couldn’t transcend space like Bruno could.

Moreover, what banned books that Bruno read are they referencing? Copernicus’ works weren’t put on the list of banned books until 1616 (thanks to Tim McGrew for this information). Just for reference, Bruno died in 1600. I’m curious as to what this depiction was supposed to suggest. I think they mentioned someone else earlier but the ties to Copernicus were evident throughout this section, and given that it was really the rejection of Aristotelianism which was condemning, there was some historical accuracy to be desired here.

Tim McGrew also points out a number of other historical errors, such as the notion that Bruno was burned at the stake for his astronomical views; the notion that everyone at the time thought the Earth was the center of the universe; the notion that being the “center” of the universe meant Earth had a privileged place; and several more major difficulties. I highly recommend surveying them.

The depiction of the multiverse with little-to-no qualification was alarming, for there is much debate over whether there even is such a multiverse, and if there is, to what extent it may be called a multiverse. The portrayal within this episode was essentially a fictitious account being passed off without qualification as something a lot of people believe. The wording used was that “many… suspect” there is such a universe. Well yes, that may be true, but to what extent can we test for these other universes? What models predict them and why? I am uninterested in how many people hold to a belief; I am interested in whether that belief is true.

The survey of the history of the universe was interesting, but there were some major glosses. As an apologist, let me admit my bias here: I would have loved to see some discussion of the fine-tuning involved for life. But that aside, I have to say that the brief snippet used to explore the origin of life: “biochemical evolution” was astonishingly insufficient. I’m sure we’ll get into that in the next episode, but the origin of life is one of the great unsolved mysteries within science and to just hand wave and say “biochemical evolution” is, well, notable to say the least.

Overall, I have to say I was unimpressed by this episode. The historical difficulties were great, but the metaphysical claims throughout passed off as scientific fact were more disturbing.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Cosmos, Giordano Bruno, and Getting it Right– A brief but incisive critique of a number of major historical errors made throughout the first episode.

Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson: Same Old Product, Bright New Packaging-  In this post, Casey Luskin takes on the notion that science and religion are at war alongside some other errors in the episode.

Is there any science in the new “Cosmos” series, or is it all naturalistic religion?– Wintery Knight takes on the episode for making a bunch of claims without evidence.

Notes

*I may miss an episode or two if I have to work.

The image with the text “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” is from Fox and belongs to them. It came from promotional material and I use it under fair use and make no claims to ownership.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Science: “Thanks, Christianity”

I remember recently I was talking to someone and they asserted that Christianity and science simply don’t mix. Often I run into the idea that somehow Christianity hinders science (and a great many people seem to believe science can hinder Christianity as well!).This is not only wrong, it is historically and demonstrably wrong. Science as it stands today would not exist if it were not for Christianity.

Christian presuppositions allowed science to develop. Science was built on the presupposition that God was rational. Because the universe was created by this rational God, “Christian Philosophers linked rationality with the empirical, inductive method” (Schmidt, 218). These philosophers included such giants as William of Ockham (1285-1347) and Francis Bacon (1561-1626).

Lynn White states that “From the thirteenth century onward to the eighteenth, every major scientist, in effect, explained his motivations in religious terms” (Quoted in Schmidt, 222). But it wasn’t just the motivations that were explained in religious terms. Too often it is the case that people argue, fallaciously, that they were only Christian because of the time these scientists were born into. They were too afraid, it is alleged, to state their true beliefs. Not only is this utterly without evidence, but it could not be farther from the truth. Many of these scientists spent as much time on theology as they did on science. They credited God with their discoveries. They believed that God had set the universe up in such a way as to be explored by His people. These convictions permeated the writings of scientists.

Alvin Schmidt, in his monumental work, How Chistianity Changed the World, outlines how Christianity changed science on every level. Gregor Mendel, Leonardo Da Vinci, Andreas Vesalius, Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Galileo, Isaac Newton, Liebniz, Pascal, Ohm, Andre Ampere, Kelvin, Boyle, and Pasteur are just a few of the almost limitless examples. All of these were Christians. It is wholly fallacious to assert that science and Christianity do not mix.

Some might immediately attack Christianity when names like Galileo are brought up. The problem with this is twofold:

1) In the case of Galileo or Copernicus, Christians were actually supporting these astronomers, just Christians of a different variety (Lutherans backed Copernicus financially and offered encouragement and support, while Roman Catholics, still basing their assumptions on Aristotelian astronomy, persecuted him [Schmidt, 231])

2) These men were, themselves, Christian. It’s easy to argue that Christians were putting down science when one can point to cases of persecution, but these men were Christians!

Perhaps it is now, however, that Christianity is opposed to science. Perhaps in the modern day, Christians are not scientists. This is not true. Take the case of Francis Collins, for example. He is the scientist who was the head of the human genome project. He is also a devout Christian and the author of The Language of God, in which he argues that science has lead him even more into his belief in God.

It is simply not the case that Christianity and science do not mix. Christian presuppositions allowed for the development of the empirical method. Christian philosophers and scientists were the “giants” on whom people like Newton (and modern scientists) built their theories (Newton himself asserts this). Science is just another of the many areas Christianity has helped transform for the better. Science can rightly say, “Thanks, Christianity.”

Sources:

Collins, Francis. The Language of God. 2007.

Schmidt, Alvin. How Christianity Changed the World. Zondervan. 2004.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

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