Saturday, October 18, 2014

Sean Carroll's Sleight-of-Hand Evasion of the Creator Part IV


Sean Carroll’s third sleight-of-hand ploy involves his ultimate failure not only to provide positive grounds in favor of the position that he so confidently asserted, but as we shall see, to overtly acknowledge at the conclusion of the debate that the beginning of the universe out of nothing remains altogether unexplained according to naturalistic means.  Notice, for example, that near the end of his presentation he conceded that the universe had a beginning in time, that the newly-existent universe obeys laws, and that he offers not even the slightest hinting of a rational accounting of this reality.  Take not my word for this.  I invite you to read it for yourself. 

Near the very end of the debate a questioner from the audience asked him why we should be forbidden from considering a personal agent (God) as the cause of the universe.  Carroll replied as follows (2:22):

This is the kind of issue that tugs at our ability to make sense of these large cosmic questions given our everyday experience with reality.  But I will give you a frustrating answer to it by denying your premise.  I do not think that if a universe has a first moment in time that means there is any sort of eternal or preexisting conditions or rules or laws or anything like that.  It simply means that our best and maybe the correct description of the cosmos is one that had a first moment in time.  The question is, can that be self-contained in the sense that I am using it? … Which is that if I write down the equations and the conditions and so forth that describe the universe at its earliest moment, am I done?  Are there questions that I might have about that universe that cannot be answered by that formalism?  I think there is no obstacle whatsoever to coming up with such models.  So I would simply un-ask the question.  I would say that, no there aren’t preexisting or eternal rules.  There is the universe and the universe has a first moment.  And the universe obeys rules during those moments when the universe exists.  During those moments when the universe does not exist there are no moments, there is no time, and there are no rules.”

 

 

 

Sean Carroll's Sleight-of-Hand Evasion of the Creator Part III


I first of all must apologize for my absence from posting on my blog.  I am a student in the “Masters of Science and Religion” degree program which, in addition to my position as a fully-time pastor, takes an enormous amount of my time.

Carroll’s second sleight-of-hand ploy involved his categorical rejection of personal agent causation (God as creator) in favor of scientific causality on the grounds that only natural causes “play by the rules” of science.  For example, he charged that deity-like causes (Genesis 1:1) belong to the “artist” category instead of the category of physical laws which conform to consistent and predictable patterns of a kind that scientists can study by means of their investigational tools.  The problem with this line of argument, however, is that it fundamentally changes the goal of the investigation (“How did the universe come to be?”).  Instead of seeking after the actual truth of that matter it instead limits the investigation to the question: “What are the tools in my ‘kit’ (such as a screwdriver) capable of accomplishing?”  When it comes to the question of the origin of the universe it becomes all the more important to broaden the range of investigational tools to employ in search of the answer to that question.  Prejudice in the form of refusal to consider a potential answer (God) because of personal naturalistic preferences disqualifies the investigator from claiming adherence to either the scientific spirit or its methods.  Imagine a forensic scientist refusing to consider murder as the potential cause of a dead man bleeding at the end of an alley from a knife wound because the former was committed to a naturalistic-causes view of events.

Not one of the reasons that Carrol cited in the debate for his disdain of personal agent causation stands up to the scrutiny of logic unless one is completely committed to a mechanistic world view.  Aligning himself with that position, Carrol indeed claimed that he (i.e. we all) has no free will.  Yet for a host of reasons, that philosophical position results in an array of self-contradictory absurdities.  For example, if it were really true that he (and we) have no free will, that proposition undermines all logical reason why even his arguments should carry any weight.  Scientific explanation rests on the validity of at least four assumptions.  The human investigator must be capable of ascertaining the truth about the natural order, must understand the ramifications of that data, must purpose to communicate to others the concepts which rationally follow, and have an audience capable of processing such truths for themselves.  The naturalistic view of reality that he espouses effectively underlines every last one of these assumptions. 

Now let me be clear, nothing I have said so far demonstrates that Carrol’s naturalistic view is false or that my theistic view is true.  What I am specifically challenging is a prejudice on his part which philosophically inhibits a proper openness to the entire array of options on the question of origins.  When all is said and done, a personal agent cause of the universe is at the very least a live option.  That became the view of former atheist (he died believing in God), Antony Flew when, as he described it, he embraced Socrates’ dictum to “follow the evidence where it leads(­There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed his Mind. (Harper One, 2007), p.89).  Indeed, so persuaded was Flew by the evidence for a beginning of the universe out of nothing, he conceded that it overthrew the premise of his famous essay, “The Presumption of Atheism” (Ibid, ch. 8).    
To be continued...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sean Carroll’s Sleight-of-Hand Evasion of the Creator Part II

Like Craig, I too found many things to dispute in Carroll’s arguments.  Yet for the purpose of this posting I will take agonizing pains to limit my attention to three critical objections.  Summarized in a single statement, the tactic Carroll employed in attempting to de-legitimize arguments for a Creator involved, as my title describes, a philosophical sleight of hand.  How so?  Firstly, in spite of both his own credentials as a physicist, and the reservoir of authority from his alleged near-unanimous roster of cosmologists (whom he claims refuse consideration of the “god hypothesis”), he failed to present actual raw data of a kind which he had stated alone qualifies as scientific.  So Carroll never produced such relevant facts as would demonstrate his god-dismissive programme.  Rather, in his reference to the existence of numerous “plausible self-contained models,” he neglected altogether to delve into their actual details (37:00).  But hypothetical models, especially under the vague conditions elaborated on below, are not empirical evidence.  Consequently they do not constitute damaging facts.
 

For example, Dr. Carroll’s reference to the existence of seventeen separate “plausible” theoretical models (41:30) which, he stated, support an eternal universe without a beginning, falls far short of demonstration for several reasons.  For one, while Carroll lauds these models because they are self-contained so as to involve no intervention from a supernatural realm (37:00), ironically, neither do they significantly connect with the natural world either!  Following naturally into the second reason, it is central to my purpose to highlight Carroll’s hastily added concession: “I don’t claim that any of these models is the right answermaybe none are” (42:27).  Indeed not once did he ever produce an unambiguous model that withstood Craig’s scrutiny.  In reply, Craig brought heightened clarity to the bleakness and consequent impotency of Carroll’s list of models (44:00) by pointing out that in fact none of them were actually successful in supporting his own contention, not even in theory.  Instead, Craig noted of every single one of them that they are “not successful” (55:10).  Indeed, he judged them to be either “untenable” or to “fail to avert a beginning” (57:00).  Thirdly, Craig noted that mere “logical possibility” is never sufficient in itself for raising any model to the level of plausibility (2:06).  He further stated the obvious that absolute nothingness has neither properties nor potentiality to accomplish anything at all.  Near the close of the debate (2:15) Craig summarized the whole stark reality by stating categorically, “There is no evidence at all that the universe is beginning-less.”  Ironically, Carroll’s bold initial challenge to the biblical concept of a beginning, becomes severely moderated by the closing minutes of the event, as will be made clear at the close of my blog.  So, in summary, Carroll first of all committed the logical fallacy of the bait and switch on the audience by presenting less than a bone fide scientific case for the sufficiency of natural causes to account for the existence of the universe.

To be continued...

Sean Carroll’s Sleight-of-Hand Evasion of the Creator Part I

“See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy or empty deceit…” (Colossians 2:8)

Christian philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig recently went head-to-head with theoretical physicist, Dr. Sean Carroll of Cal Tech in a public debate over the question, “Is God’s Existence More Probable Given Cosmology Data?”  This data broadly pertains to the expansion of the universe from its very first moment of time.  The 2 1/2 hour contest can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-H6hdjpRRw.  Craig, of course argued the affirmative position while Carroll correspondingly challenged it.  However a more surprising and, I will argue dubious, aspect of Carroll’s presentation was his bolder contention that the “evidence” employed by Christians is worse than false or weak; it is, as he says, entirely irrelevant to the scientific data because religion uses the wrong vocabulary and naively seeks to address the wrong questions.

This posting does not challenge Carroll’s level of knowledge within his own field (though I hasten to add that the question at hand required his crossover from science into the other intellectual fields of philosophy and theology).  He posed a vigorous and thought-provoking challenge to Craig.  My atheist friend, Jim (we two, too, have dueled each other twice in a similar debate) recently goaded me over coffee by suggesting this video would be painful for me to watch because, as he cautioned, “Carroll demolishes your favorite apologist!”  The contest is anonymously labelled, “Sean Carroll Completely Dominates Billionaire William Lane Craig in Lopsided Debate.” Let us first of all dispose as garbage the poster’s ludicrous assertion that Craig is wealthy.  Now, turning to serious matters, over the course of my having watched the debate several times I have noticed that the list of related videos featured along the right hand border on my screen all parade the same propagandistic theme in their titles, as though Craig routinely gets beat up every time he debates.  Oh, to the contrary!  I wonder what lies behind such a pathetic level of insecurity that compels people to post such nonsense.  I advise every reader (on either side) who is interested in this topic to witness this exchange and critically analyze the arguments yourself.  In undertaking this assessment it is important to consider two matters:  First it is necessary to distinguish between the three fields of inquiry (referenced above) in the context of this exchange.  Second, it is crucial to ask whether each contestant’s treatment of these respective fields was managed correctly according to the rules of logic (e.g. scientific assertions supported by scientifically-valid evidence, with the expectation that philosophical and theological issues will be cogently framed).



By what authority, readers may ask, do I as a non-scientist pastor presume to challenge a Cal Tec scientist on these matters?  I do so by noting discrepancies between the scientific claims Carroll alleged against creation, and the faulty logical status of that battery of “evidence” that he offered in support of them (a philosophical matter).  I also highlight incidents where his theological objections (a religious matter) against the claim that the God of the Bible made the heavens and the earth fail to achieve their intended goal of dethroning God as the creative agent.  To cite here one example in service of that aim, Carroll spent considerable time (1:15) hypothesizing on how a truly reasonable god, if such were to actually exist, would have created a more “successful” product than what scientists find in the natural order.  His consequent pitting of the actuality of nature against the witness of the God of the Bible, in a manner similar to Charles Darwin (On the Origin of Species, 1st ed. (Harvard, 1859), p.435)), leaves the field of scientific discourse behind by entering into realm of religious matters.  Hence the necessity of a pastor/theologian competently applying religious insight in a critique of Carroll’s anti-theological case.


To be continued...    

Monday, August 4, 2014

We Weren't There. And it Matters Not Part II

Some people judge this delimiting reality (of only being able to see into the past) to be either a hindrance to overcome, or a nuisance that must be explained away.  There are those for example who believe the 13.7 billion year age of the universe that is implied by these light-travel times conflicts with the teaching of Genesis 1.  In order to maintain their conviction that the cosmos is really just a few thousand years old, they believe that God must have created the very beams of light in passage from all the galaxies that are radiating across the cosmos.  This proposal by certain Christians (in contradiction to Romans 1:18-20) suggests that God is deceptive with nature’s testimony as to the actual age of His creation.  Yet in fact such an ad hoc interpretation is utterly unnecessary.  In my essay, “The Biblical Demand to Take Another Look” (found at www.christianityontheoffense.com) I make the case that Genesis makes no such demand on readers to believe that the universe is 6,000 +/- years young.

Yet the point of this posting is to make a very different point from the attempt to reconcile astronomical realities with Genesis 1.  I argue to the contrary that light-travel distances and the history that that reality implies, provide us with a privileged and exciting opportunity for confidently observing the unfolding wonders of God’s creation in a manner that is entirely compatible with a very high view of the opening verse (and chapter) of the Holy Bible.

I love fireworks (except after 11 pm when I’m struggling to sleep)!  I prefer experiencing them live as opposed to looking at still photographs of them.  I enjoy feeling and hearing the booming and, for a few days, the lingering smell of the gunpowder.  But what I enjoy most is the visual experience of the entire process from the initial launch all the way to its ultimate expansive display of light against the dark sky.
 
The implications following from paragraphs 2 and 3, above, are tremendous with respect to the reality of humanity’s non-presence at creation’s beginning.  Precisely because light photons take time to cross distances, radiation from objects much farther away from us (the HEDF above) take much longer to reach the lenses of our telescopes than did nearby objects such as Polaris (the North Star) or Jupiter.  This means that as modern scientific instruments detect the range of celestial objects in between the oldest objects visible (HEDF) and our own moon, we are observing the history of the universe all the way back to its beginning.  “Observing” is the key word to this posting.  Unlike the Darwinian claim alleging to tell the history of the development of life (which demands surmising on the basis of very imperfect evidence), when we look out across the entire universe we are able to document its entire history.  We are like historians who chronicle the development of the cosmos from its birth (a very imperfect term) and infancy all the way to the present moment.  So agrees the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) publication of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, The Natural Knowledge of God in Christian Confession and Christian Witness­, (April 2013): “Advances in astronomy during the twentieth century…led to the discovery that the universe is not static, but is expanding.  This and related discoveries thus suggest (by projecting backwards) the now generally accepted conclusion that the universe of space and time had a beginning in the finite past” (p.59, note 215).

God could freely have chosen to create the universe any way He wished.  He has the power to have brought it into being in an instant if He so desired.  Yet even young-earth (6,000 years old) Christians understand Genesis to state that creation involved time (6 days).  But following the Apostle Paul’s injunction that we read nature for what it tells us (Romans 1:18-20) we encounter the kind of data that tells us that following its absolute beginning out of nothing in the Big Bang, it has taken 13.7 +/- billion years to reach its present stage.  By the way, nothing in this data affirms Darwinism and its atheistic agenda.  Christians, in my studied opinion, make a serious mistake by resisting the time frame high-lighted by cosmology.  We ought instead to thank God deeply for such a powerful “visual” demonstration of His creative handiwork that has its analogy in the beauty we observe from the display of a firework.  Though we weren’t present for His “launching,” we can still see the entire unfolding of His artistry from our present vantage point.  Indeed, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1f).    

Friday, August 1, 2014

We Weren’t There. And it Matters Not.

“[God] stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in.” (Isaiah 40:22, and ten other similar passages)

In his article, “What About Atheism & Agnosticism?” (The Lutheran Layman, (July-August 2014), p.3), Rev. Peter Kirby wrote with respect to the details of God’s creation, “No one was around at the beginning of the universe…to report on what happened.”  Kirby’s entire article can be read online at http://www.lhm.org/ layman/default.asp.  The implication of his statement is that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod interpretation of Genesis need not be reconsidered because science has nothing to say about beginnings.  Yet for not only biblical reasons, but also scientific ones, he is wrong.  Although his statement is obviously true, that fact is utterly irrelevant to his assertion that modern science is ignorant about the history of the cosmos.  As we shall see, God has so constructed the laws of His universe (specifically light-travel speed) that we have the capacity to view virtually the entire history of the cosmos from the vantage point of our time.  Consequently, we don’t need to have been present at its very beginning in order to observe what happened then.  For example, although I have never actually crossed the border from Israel into Syria, a few decades ago I had a broad unrestricted view across miles of its territory as I looked out from its boundary with Israel at the Golan Heights.  Similarly, the finite aspect of the speed of light makes it possible for us to look beyond the boundary of the present time, out into the past.  I invite your initial skepticism on this matter provided you follow me on these things.  I assure you that this is no trick.
 
We can only see the moon as it was; never as it actually is.  That is how our perceptions must always be except when we are viewing local objects.  For example, when we see either a friend sitting across the table or Mount Rainier on the horizon, we effectively observe these two objects in the present moment for the reason that they are nearby.  On the other hand, when we look upwards into the heavens we are always looking into the past.  The reason for this is that light does not travel at infinite speed.  Instead, it races away at 186,000 miles per second (which seems like infinite speed compared to a Corvette)!  Indeed such a velocity is the equivalent of 7 times around the world every second.  But, again, that journey is not instantaneous.  With respect to our view of planets, stars, and galaxies, light-travel realities mean we are only able to see these individual celestial objects after light from their surfaces has traveled the entire distance between us in order to finally reach our eyes.  Except from within our solar system, astronomical distances in “light years” are the measured lapse of TIME in years taken for the light to complete the respective journeys because, again, light travel takes time.
 

According to the above considerations, in round figures (pun intended) we see our moon as it was 1.25 seconds back in time, the Sun is likewise 8 minutes so, Jupiter 40 minutes, and our image of every star in the Big Dipper involves seeing them between 80 and 100 years back in the past (before most of us were born).  Peering out to the edge of our own galaxy (we are half-way out from the center) entails looking back to 25 thousand years ago, while the view of our nearest neighboring galaxy (Andromeda) involves seeing it as it was 2.3 million years ago, and so forth and so on.  Indeed the Hubble Extreme Deep Field photo (henceforth HEDF) reveals the primitive state of those galaxies at a much, much, younger universe 13.2 billion years back into the past (take a gaze at the image at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubble_ Extreme_Deep_Field).
 

To be continued...    

Thursday, May 1, 2014

How Noah's Flood Covered the "Whole World" Part III


When we today encounter terms such as, “all the world” in Scripture, it is easy to interpret that language through our contemporary experiences of the same on the basis not only of intercontinental transportation but of satellite photography of both of our own globe (google “Earthrise”) and across the expanse of the heavens (google “Hubble Deep Field”).  By contrast, the relevant (therefore “real”) world of ancient peoples was far smaller than our own, though equally difficult to cross.  The question of properly interpreting the Genesis Flood story therefore calls for our stepping into modes of perspective and expression used in the course of daily business in biblical times.  It is crucial here to remember that the manners of speaking we are here considering are not directly related to degrees of scientific understanding.  We often today speak in the same kind of terms as they.  When for example Boston (packed as it is with prestigious universities) relished in the most recent “World Series” title, not one Red Sox fan expected Parisians across the Atlantic to care one whit about that milestone (“World,” Whose’ kidding whom?”).  John Frame (who embraces both biblical inerrancy while happening to disagree with views I espouse here) argues in his book, The Doctrine of the Word of God (P&R Publishing, 2010), chapter 26, that the God-breathed words of Holy Scripture consistently employ modes of expression and common standards of imprecision that were universally used in daily speech (e.g. “How far is it from Galilee to Jerusalem?  A three day walk.”—“How far is it from here to Spokane?  An hour by plane.”) as opposed to the kind of phraseology found in academic textbook (E=mc2).  In Moses’ day, images of a globe as we understand it today would have been irrelevant to all then concerned.  On the other hand, “the term, “all of humanity,” would have driven the point of that flood event all the way to their doorstep.

It is one thing, however, to claim that limiting the geographical extent of the flood of Noah to the parameters of the inhabited world can be reconciled with both the text of Genesis and also the geological evidence.  Are there actual positive indications of a more localized flood (as opposed to total global)?  First of all, it is important to understand that the text of Genesis does not say that the Ark of Noah came to rest on Mount Ararat itself, but instead on the mountains (note the plural) of Ararat.  This would imply a much lower elevation as opposed to the 17,000 foot elevation of the upper slopes of the “Big One.”  Furthermore, the waters that some argue once covered the highest mountains would have had to return to somewhere, yet there is no place for that substantial amount of water to be hiding today.  As for the text itself, though this is an argument from silence, the amount of upheaval that would have resulted from such an enormous volume of water as is alleged to account for the formation of sedimentary rock found today as high as the upper slopes of Mount Everest in the Himalayan Mountains, would wave been utterly fatal to Noah and his family by orders of magnitude.  Some will reply that God could have made provisions for these people to survive under such conditions.  The answer to that challenge is “Yes…but!”  Because God can do whatever He wishes, He could have kept his people through such conditions as I just described.  Had He chosen to do so, the Flood would have been an act of providence that interwove numerous independent miracles.  However, the challenge facing this assertion is that God’s revealed Word is utterly silent on the kinds of conditions I just described.   On the one hand it speaks of a catastrophe of a such a magnitude as would destroy an entire race of sinful human beings, excepting Noah and his family.  But it gives no indication of events within the time frame of a single year that would account for the topography of our entire planet!  By means of satellite images, Dr. Hugh Ross indicates the potential location of the Flood of Noah as the Bible describes the event.  In Navigating Genesis, p.158, (see part 2 of this series), he convincingly shows how the Ark of Noah may well have floated beyond the sight of land in what is now called “The Fertile crescent.”  The remainder of the “earthling” population, yet to disperse until the Tower of Babel incident (see Genesis 11), perished in the floodwaters beneath them.  When the waters subsided, Noah and his three sons and their wives stepped off the ark and began to repopulate a world that would continue to resist dispersing until “the LORD confused the languages of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over all the face of the earth” (Genesis 11:9).