Can Science Explain Everything Without God?

string theory multiple dimensions

The Elegant Universe” by Brian Greene has got to be one of the most interesting books I have ever picked up.  Greene is a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University who is widely regarded for a number of groundbreaking discoveries in superstring theory.  His book explains and illustrates the fundamental concepts of relativity, both general and special, and quantum mechanics, and then explains how superstring theory is making great strides towards unifying theses models into one all-encompassing theory of everything.

The search for a scientific theory of everything, or T.O.E., has been practically frantic for decades.  In essence, a successful T.O.E. would provide one all-encompassing cohesive framework for explaining the properties and behaviors of all matter, all energy, and all forces in all dimensions.  We’ve already acquired some very intriguing insights into the nature of motion, acceleration, gravity, matter, space, and time among other things through empirically verifiable experiments, and superstring theory may one day be capable of unifying and making sense of these findings.

The search for a T.O.E. is exciting because, as human beings, we have a real hunger to understand the world around us.  We want to know the how and the why, not just the what.  If we could establish a fully cohesive, logically consistent T.O.E. that was supported by experimental evidence, we would finally know the how and the why of everything that goes on in the universe, and would no longer need God to explain anything, right?

Well, not exactly…  Leaving aside the philosophical discussion about whether our minds would even be trustworthy guides in a materialistic universe, here are some other gaps that such a T.O.E. would not close:

1) Observations that can contribute to science are limited to phenomena observable by the 5 sense organs.
Information about reality is only valid for scientific purposes if we become aware of it through the use of our senses provided by our physical bodies.  This is wonderful because it eliminates a huge amount of subjectivism from the scientific process.  But it also rules out the possibility of science describing or explaining anything that cannot be observed this way.  Therefore any phenomena not observable in any way by any of the senses is beyond the realm of science.  Science has no business saying what does or does not exist in this realm.  It is inherently limited to a description of the sensory.

Someone might point out that scientists also use logic and math that has not been confirmed by direct observation, but these concepts do follow directly from mathematical and logical concepts that we have observed at work in the real world, and are confirmed by experiment.

The bottom line is that since science does not have authority in the realm of the subjective, it cannot rule out the existence of realities that are not universally observable in the natural world.  That’s potentially a big hole in a theoretical T.O.E.  Why should we assume that all truths are universally observable in the natural world by the sense organs?

2) Implications of probability waves in quantum mechanics.
The double-slit experiment and other data indicate that all particles exhibit characteristics of both particles and waves, and that the wavelike behavior of a particle, such as an electron for instance, is modeled by the mathematical concept of a probability.

In other words, we absolutely cannot predict where a particle is going to go, we can only give the probability that we will find it at any place at any time.  This is not due to a lack of knowledge on our part, this is literally because particles do not behave in an exactly predictable manner.  There is actually an element of true, mathematical randomness in their behavior.  If the same experiment is carried out the same exact way multiple times, a particle will not behave the same way each time, even with all else equal.

This concept deeply shakes our concept of reality.  And for those interested, Heisenberg uncertainty and quantum tunneling make things even weirder.  These concepts led Richard Feynman to write of quantum mechanics that it “describes nature as absurd from the point of view of common sense.  And it fully agrees with experiment.  So I hope you accept nature as She is–absurd.”  This is one of the most brilliant physicists since Einstein speaking.

But what if the behaviors of particles aren’t actually random?  What if they behave within a certain framework of probabilities so as to maintain order in the cosmos, but leave a certain amount of “randomness” in their behavior for manipulation by a supernatural agent?  This concept essentially provides a scientific means for the occurrence of “miracles” which would be departures from the possibilities allowed by classical, but not contemporary physics.

3) The existence of information, matter, energy, time, space, or anything.
Scientists are uncovering an ever growing body of specific information about the nature, behavior, and natural laws of our universe.  From universal constants to mathematical formulas of incredible complexity to the information encoded in our DNA that they would claim resulted indirectly from these constants and formulas.

But even if we were to identify all of the information that describes physical existence, we wouldn’t have identified where the information came from, or where the matter came from that it acted on, or where anything at all originally came from.  The materialist can choose to assume that it was just always there, and most do believe essentially this.

But notice that not only is the question of why such information and matter “always was” beyond the scope of human science, it also indicates the existence of an eternal, omnipresent, immaterial body of very specific and elegant information that has resulted in fantastic and beautiful complexity, and that this information either already contained or else resulted in consciousness (after all, it has resulted in us.)

Surely even as a cynic, if you know the basic philosophical claims that the Hebrew scriptures make, and you are familiar with contemporary scientific findings, you see that the two are in fact converging rather than moving farther apart.

I hope that in light of these principals, it is clear that while a T.O.E., if it is even possible for us to uncover and uncover reliably with our human minds, would not have authority to speak on matters whose implications are unverifiable by the sense organs, would leave the door open for supernatural agency in our world through probability waves in quantum mechanics, and would explain the behavior of but not the reason for the existence of information or anything else.

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Is the Old Testament Full of Bad Ethics?

Bible

In my interactions with atheists, I typically do not mention Bible verses in my argumentation.  I do not appeal to the circular reasoning (“the Bible is true because it says it is”) that is often used to caricaturize Christian apologetics.  In fact, I’m not sure that I know any Christians who actually appeal to that line of thinking.  But even though I don’t typically mention Bible verses, the Bible is almost always brought into the conversation, by the atheist.

For many, the teachings of the Bible are seen as socially and ethically regressive, not only untenable but unconscionable for the contemporary Westerner.  God’s Word, especially the Old Testament, is branded as promoting polygamy, slavery, rape, homophobia, and male chauvinism.  As Christians, we may not even know how to respond to these claims.

What is so tragic about this view of the Bible is that it is indeed so easily supported by scripture when a holistic approach to interpretation is not taken.  Verses can be picked and chosen without being qualified by the context of the Bible as a whole.  If you are the cynic that I described above, I want you to know that I understand why you would come to the conclusions that you have.  I also want to ask you to consider what I have to say in response with an open mind.

A) Christians are not under the Old Covenant.

The first half of the Bible contains a history of God’s chosen people and includes the law which He gave to them to establish their earthly government.  This portion of the Bible is commonly called the Old Testament, and contains what is usually called the Old Law or the Old Covenant.

Christians are NOT required to live according to the Old Law.  Jesus “ended the system of law with its commandments and regulations.” (Ephesians 2:15.)  The Old Law was nailed to His cross and is no longer binding on us (Colossians 2:14.)  In fact, to make this point especially clear, God commanded Peter to rise, and kill and eat as food animals which were not permitted under the Old Law (Acts 10:12-15.)

It is important to understand that anything written as a commandment in the Old Law cannot be applied to Christians today unless it is repeated in the New Testament.  But here’s a hint, there is no written law code in the New Testament.  There are indeed a few commandments, but the heart of the New Testament is a message of love which overarches all of our actions.

B) The Bible actually teaches against polygamy, cruel forms of slavery, rape, homophobia, and male chauvinism.

I’d like to briefly address each of these issues.

1) A full treatment of the polygamy issue is given here.  The basis of the argument is that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman even from its initial institution (Genesis 2:24,) and that the Bible’s portrayal of polygamy is of a practice overflowing with problems such as jealousy, trickery, and disputes.  If God supported polygamy, why would he paint such a nasty picture of it?

2) The Bible warned those who owned slaves in the 1st century Roman empire to treat their slaves with respect and sincerity of heart, also commanding them “do not threaten them, since you know that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him” (Ephesians 6:9.)  In other words, masters, God is your master and He is taking note of how you treat your servants.

3) Jesus not only condemned rape, but even the look of lust that could eventually lead to it (Matthew 5:28.)  The Old Law as well commanded the Hebrew not covet that which was not his, and this explicitly extended to human beings (Exodus 20:17.)

4) There is no denying that the Bible teaches that engaging in the sexual practice of homosexuality is wrong.  But before we claim that the Bible teaches homophobia, we need to realize that the concept of “being homosexual” is an extremely new concept.  What the Bible condemns is not the experience of same sex attraction, but the actual physical practice of homosexuality.  Do a word study on any of the verses condemning it.

Also, the Bible NEVER teaches that we should not love someone because of who they are or what they do.  Actions may be condemned, but the person should be loved regardless (Romans 5:8.)

5) As for male chauvinism, examine Paul’s instructions to husbands in Ephesians 5.  “Love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”  The love that Christ demonstrated was one that was willing to suffer and die for the good of another, even when wronged.  That is the love that the Bible commands men to have for women, and God warns those who fail to treat their wives with understanding or show them honor that He will not even hear their prayers (1 Peter 3:7.)

To say that the Bible teaches us to mistreat women, hate homosexuals, or practice injustice in general is to ignore a great deal of Biblical teaching to the contrary in order to falsely represent a few select passages.

I know what you are thinking.  Sure, the Bible speaks out against these practices, mostly in the New Testament, but God clearly supports the same practices in His law!  The Bible contradicts itself and therefore can be used to teach whatever anyone wants.  This is what brings us to the crux of the matter.

C) It is a false assumption that when God makes provisions for a behavior in His law, He supports those behaviors.  Here are three examples that clearly demonstrate that this is not the case:

1) God made provisions in the law for divorce for almost any reason (Deuteronomy 24:1-4,) but Jesus taught that God made these provisions because of the hardness of their hearts, “but from the beginning it has not been this way.” (Matthew 19:8.)

2) Deuteronomy 17 is full of commandments concerning the future time when Israel would have a king, yet when they did ask for a king, God said that they were rejecting Him in the process (1 Samuel 8:7.)

3) Even as the Old Law permitted polygamy, God specified that in His New Testament church, He wanted the leaders to be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2.)

The principle is clear: just because God makes provisions for a practice in His law does NOT mean that He wants it to happen.  The law was simply a “guardian” or “tutor” to watch over God’s chosen people until the Messiah came (Galatians 3:24.)  It was not capable of eradicating sin, nor was it intended to do so (Romans 8:3.)  I suspect in fact that if God had indeed outlawed everything that was a sin, we would call Him a dictator.

In closing, I also want to point out that the entire Old Law rested on the two greatest commandments, found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, to love God with all of your hearts and to love your neighbor as yourself.  Upon these two commandments hung the implementation of everything else (Matthew 22:36-40.)

Key to this discussion is that not only can the Old Testament not be honestly used by Christians to support immoral practices under the New Covenant, but even when a practice was provided for under the Old Law, informed theology makes it clear that this did not indicate God’s support of that practice.

Thoughts on the Problem of Evil

world hunger

There seems to be a general consensus in contemporary academia that there is no bigger problem for the Christian apologist than the problem of evil.

It is a problem often presented, unlike most questions in which an objective answer is important, in extremely emotional terms.  This is indeed unusual.  Contemporary psychology indicates that negative emotions in particular cloud our judgment, activating primal circuits in our brains rather than those necessary for higher order thinking.  For this reason, emotions are often purposefully left out of objective discussion.

I will not go so far as to say that an answer to the problem of evil can be satisfying even without providing some degree of emotional comfort, so long as it is logically consistent.  But in light of this psychological principle, I will encourage the questioner to consider, and seek to diminish, any inhibiting effect his emotions might have on his ability to reason as we go forward.

The common version of the problem of evil (or suffering) goes like this:

“If God were real, He would not allow this kind of evil and suffering to exist in the world.  Therefore, there is no God.”

This argument may be emotionally moving, but it is objectively speaking, an unsophisticated argument.

The cynic here is clearly appealing to a universally accessible standard of morality by which to judge good and evil.  If allowing innocent people to suffer is not objectively wrong, then the entire argument is a mere opinion.  If allowing innocent people to suffer is objectively wrong, then the questioner must explain where he gets his objective standard from, a task that is impossible without an appeal to the existence of the supernatural, the very thing he was trying to disprove.

The fact of the matter is that our unshakeable internal sense of morality betrays God’s existence to us.  Without even realizing this, the cynic appeals to that internal belief in an objective morality even in his very arguments against the God who gave it to him.

There is however, a more sophisticated way of stating the question:

“A belief system which states that God is all knowing, all powerful, and all loving, and which also acknowledges that innocent people do suffer according to an objective moral standard, is logically inconsistent and therefore erroneous.”

In the previous argument, the cynic betrays himself by revealing his own hidden belief in the objective supernatural.  In this argument, however, the cynic merely points out an understood inconsistency in the believer’s worldview without making any contradictions of his own.

After all, believer’s are the ones who insist on a universal morality.  If they want to keep both their morality and their God, they need to explain this apparent contradiction.

The obvious hidden assumption in this latter argument is that God’s failure to intervene in situations of the earthly suffering of innocent people violates the morality that He himself establishes.  It is obvious that God is indeed remaining inactive in the prevention of the suffering of innocent people.  But is it possible that this does not violate the morality that He has established?

Remember that in order to refute this argument, we need only to demonstrate that there are no contradictions in our faith.

And there certainly are not.  Christianity clearly ensures that in the end, all will be made right.  Justice will be served, and the wicked will suffer for their heinous crimes against the innocent (Romans 12:19).  And indeed, the righteous will be rewarded to such a degree that the suffering we experienced on earth will not even compare with the glory that is then revealed to those who deserve it (Romans 8:18, 1 Peter 5:10).

Only if we look at death as the end, as atheists are accustomed to doing, is there an apparent contradiction in the believer’s worldview.  But since death is not the end for the believer, and ultimate justice is guaranteed in his belief system, there is no contradiction present in the argument that we are addressing.  The cynic may dismiss such a belief system as silly, but he cannot rightfully claim that it is logically inconsistent and therefore erroneous.  His argument is in shambles.

Christianity actually offers a response to what we see around us.  It has an answer for the rage and despair that we feel in the face of evil.

Atheism does not.  The only answer we have is that all of this suffering is meaningless, happening for no reason, never to be avenged or made right unless some human manages to take his own personal vengeance, or somehow erase the past before he lays down and dies forever.

It is an inescapable conclusion that if our existence is the product of mere chance, then senseless crimes are as reasonable as any other outcome.  English journalist Steve Turner put it so powerfully:

If chance be the Father of all flesh, disaster is his rainbow in the sky, and when you hear “State of Emergency! Sniper Kills Ten! Troops on Rampage! Whites go Looting! Bomb Blasts School!” it is but the sound of man worshipping his maker.

We can choose to believe God when He tells us that all will be made right in the end, or we can choose to believe “science” that our suffering is senseless, never to be made right.  But we cannot appeal to an objective moral law in our insistence that the moral lawgiver does not exist, nor can someone who properly understands the Christian worldview claim that it is inconsistent.