Friday, October 10, 2008

Does God Exist? Sean Carroll Knows the answer is No

A recent conference on origins generated a lot of discussion over on Cosmic Variance. Something Sean Carroll said really caught my eye:

"I look forward to a day when discussions of deep questions concerning the origin of the universe and of life can take place without the concept of God ever arising."

Why would you look forward to that? This comment brings to mind something I've always thought-that atheism is actually a religion in itself. Strict atheism is actually a fanatical religion. Let's admit one fact. Its impossible to know whether or not God exists. Just because a causal chain for physical events can be taken back to the big bang, nobody knows with certainty that the universe wasn't made by a supernatural being. You may believe that the universe "just happened", and that's fine, but a more agnostic point of view is far more defensible.

Wanting a discussion of "deep questions" concerning the origin of the universe without the concept of God ever coming up is intellectually vacuous. The deep questions are not mechanical details, such as is the universe expanding, what is dark energy, is there a cosmic landscape. The fact is none of that matters to most people in a deep sense. What matters to people is meaning. Science will never give people meaning and that's why religious thought is still going strong.

The fact is there are lots of intelligent people, many of whom that are educated in science, that disagree with Sean Carroll. One of them is John Polkinghorne, a man with a PhD in physics that became an Anglican priest. John Polkinghorne is not some wacko, he is a very intelligent and thoughtful man who believes in everything modern science tells us about the universe but also believes that God created it. Polkinghorne has several books out that are thoughtful, interesting reads-not rants by a creationist fanatic.

As mentioned in this post Kenneth Miller attended the origins conference. I don't find Millers arguments very compelling, but he is another example of a scientist that accepts science just fine but he is also a very religious man. Interestingly, in that post Sean Carroll, who is supposed to be an intellectual leader, shows a bit of immaturity by stating that people that don't share his view are "crazy". In fact he uses the exact phrase:

"sheer unadulterated looniness of the remaining speaker, Hugh Ross. "

Describing someone participating in a conference this way is pretty much a "straw man" attack. It would be far more professional to say Hugh Ross is misguided, and I disagree with his views because of .....instead of simply stating he is loony. Ross has views that can be described as more extreme, and his views are not very defensible, but attack his positions instead of just labeling him a crackpot.

Many other professional scientists are believers in God. Francis Collins, who headed the DNA decoding project for NIH, is one of them. So while Richard Dawkins may be especially vocal, there are biologists that disagree with his viewpoint. The nuclear physicist Gerard Schroeder is also a die-hard believer who has been compelled to write several books on the topic.

The arguments of these people may or may not be persuasive, but saying they should be shut out of a debate on something that frankly can't be resolved scientifically is not productive. If you are really interested in the deep questions of the universe then the issue should at least be discussed. It was interesting that in "A Brief History of Time", while Stephen Hawking concluded (at the time anyway) that the universe was self-contained without much role for a creator, the book talks about God on almost every page. The issue can't be discussed without bringing God into the mix, and a mature, thoughtful debate will have views from all perspectives. The kind of discussion Carroll envisions-a bunch of athiestic scientists sitting around discussing what dark energy is, isn't all that deep at all.

Saying you look forward to a day when discussions about the universe will take place without God ever being mentioned is arrogant, immature, and out of touch with 99% of humanity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As you say "Its impossible to know whether or not God exists" and it makes sense if your definition of God is vague enough. However regarding the specific God described in the Bible there is sufficient evidence to say it doesn't exist.