Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Is Evolution Scientific (Part Two)

Ray's problem in dealing with the Big Bang is that to him, the Big Bang simply means "nothing created everything."  You will seek in vain, in chapter 3, for any mention of galactic redshifts, or the cosmic microwave background, or relative cosmic abundances of hydrogen and helium, or the expansion of space.    Ray has, in short, no interest in the evidence the Big Bang was actually devised to explain.   Note that Ray is not interested in arguing (as old earth creationists do) that God initiated the Big Bang; to Ray, the Big Bang is simply an atheistic creation story, not a reconstruction of the history of the universe.

The only question that matters to Ray is what came before the beginning, "nothing" or "God."  That there was no "before the beginning" -- that the universe might have existed, if not forever, then at least for all the time that has ever existed and hence not need a cause or explanation -- Ray does not consider.  He does insist that science has shown that the universe cannot have existed forever, though he does not say how science has shown this.  One might suppose that a science that cannot distinguish between a universe 13.8 billion years old and one 6000 years old (Ray has insisted that he has no idea how old the universe is, implying that science really has no idea either) might not be able to tell the difference between a finitely-old universe and an infinitely-old one, and might have missed some means of constantly cleaning up the accumulated entropy of an infinitely old universe (e.g. some variant of Hoyle and Gold's "steady state" universe).

Likewise, Ray does not consider the idea of some other universe as a precursor to or cause of our own: he does not consider even to mock or reject such ideas as a cyclic universe or some meta-universe giving rise to this one.    And of course he does not consider the possibility that we don't know, that the question is scientifically unanswerable, and that "it must have been a supernatural Creator" is one of the possibilities that science cannot demonstrate and that we cannot know.  He may have, here, a fairly large gap, but this falls short of "scientific proof" that only God could fill it.

Ray briefly mentions fine-tuning (the point that if dozens of physical constants did not have values falling within, apparently, a very narrow range of possible values, stars and galaxies and worlds could not form naturalistically and life could not evolve) but does not mention, even to mock, the idea of a multiverse where all possible combinations of physical constants exist and we simply find ourselves in the one where life like our own is possible.  Granted that in infinite number of variant universes is a rather extravagant hypothesis founded on a mere possibility suggested by inflationary Big Bang theories, when your alternative explanation for something is an infinite-personal Creator of unlimited power, pretty much any explanation looks at least as parsimonious.

And it does seem to me that if you're arguing that life and worlds did not form naturalistically -- that everything was specially created, quite possibly only several thousand years ago -- then the universe you're positing doesn't need fine-tuning, and its existence is something of a paradox: why should a Creator endow the universe with properties it needs for abiogenesis and evolution that, you claim, could never happen?


  1. Victor Stenger has, imho, destroyed the fine tuning argument with things like his monkey-verse and pointing out the bias of life as we know it. His next book coming out is called "The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed for Us" and I plan to own a copy of it.

  2. BeamStalk,

    Victor Stenger is way out of the scientific mainstream when it comes to his views on fine-tuning. The only person who even comes close is Steven Weinberg, who acknowledges the fine-tuning of the cosmological constant in the same article where he disputes the fine-tuning. And the cosmological constant is:


    So even if Weinberg is right about the other laws and constants, he essentially admits to the fine-tuning.

    Atheist physicist Luke Barnes says the following about Stenger's take on fine-tuning:

    "Stenger attempts to show that our universe isn’t really fine-tuned by showing that long-lived stars are not unusual. He fails for five reasons. 1.) He gets his formula wrong, and in so doing ignores an important case of fine-tuning. 2.) He fails to consider the effect of altering the strength of gravity. 3.) He “cherry-picks” a very favourable fine-tuning example to suit his purposes. 4.) His probability claims are vacuous, following trivially from his unjustified hidden assumptions. 5.) He rightly exhorts us to consider varying multiple parameters at once, but commits the opposite mistake: he fails to consider multiple life-permitting criteria. Even if he were right about long-lived stars, it doesn’t follow that life-permitting universes do not need to be fine-tuned. I conclude that Stenger’s claims are worse than mistaken; they are misleading."

    He further says:

    "I’ve previously indicted Hugh Ross for often assuming the appearance of a “true-believer”: desperately searching for and uncritically accepting any “evidence” for fine tuning. Stenger’s feeble, evasive response to the fine-tuning of the universe evokes the opposite stereotype: the condescending “true-unbeliever” who refuses to engage the evidence, who is not searching for truth at all costs, but is instead rummaging for any excuse to explain it away. And it seems that others have followed him into condescension.

    "I’m being harsh because I expected more from Stenger. He has produced some excellent, original, thoughtful work on the laws of nature in a naturalistic worldview. One can only hope for better things in his forthcoming book."

  3. By the way, nice blog, Steven. You are sure working through Ray's book quickly and giving thorough reviews. Thanks!

  4. This very well may destroy any and every fine tuning argument.

    Or it might be a measuring error.

    We'll see.

  5. Ray starts Chapter 3; The foundation of atheism is a belief in the theory of evolution. If evolution can prove that we got here by purely naturalistic means, then belief in a Creator would be unnecessary. So in their desire to eliminate God, many people readily choose to believe that evolution is true...

    Typical Comfort, redefining common terms. Atheism is the lack of belief in god(s). Period. There were atheists before Darwin published his theory. What evolution does eliminate is the Genesis creation myth as a factual account of human origins. Comfort ignores the fact that many thousands of scientists who profess belief in the Abrahamic deity also thoroughly accept ToE. His real foe in this chapter isn't the atheist but the theist who accepts evolution. Ray moderates the comments at Atheist Central so I don't know if any theists have challenged Ray on his assertions. I don't recall reading any comments by pro-evolution Christians in the past two years.

    Steven, thanks for starting this blog. I barely made it through high school science but thanks to your comments at AC I have begun reading more about evolution and the science in general. It will be interesting to see if Ray responds to your review.