Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Does Science point to God? Dinesh D'Souza gets it all wrong again!

Dinesh D'Souza recently wrote:

Contemporary atheism marches behind the banner of science. It is perhaps no surprise that several leading atheists—from biologist Richard Dawkins to cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker to physicist Victor Stenger—are also leading scientists. The central argument of these scientific atheists is that modern science has refuted traditional religious conceptions of a divine creator.

Gee, maybe if Mr. D'Souza actually read what these leading scientists have to say, he'd realize that they say no such thing. Of course, since Mr. D'Souza is not known at all for well-documented research into any of the topics he pontificates about, and he doesn't bother to provide footnotes to back up his claims, we are at a loss to determine how he reached this conclusion. Perhaps he reached it because he's simply got a much bigger brain than you do, and that you should not bother asking him any questions.

The central argument of all of these scientists, and indeed, all of the scientists of the world, is not that science has disproven God, but rather that science is a far better tool for finding the truth than faith is. Wherever traditional religion has intersected science, by asserting certain truths about the physical universe, traditional religion has lost to science. The choice of these scientists to be atheists is a secondary thought. The primary argument of these scientists is simply that the scientific method will always prove to be superior to faith-based methods.

But of late atheism seems to be losing its scientific confidence. One sign of this is the public advertisements that are appearing in billboards from London to Washington DC. Dawkins helped pay for a London campaign to put signs on city buses saying, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Humanist groups in America have launched a similar campaign in the nation’s capital. “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness sake.” And in Colorado atheists are sporting billboards apparently inspired by John Lennon: “Imagine…no religion.”

Hold on a second. If paying for a public advertisement for your beliefs is a sign of a lack of confidence on the part of the believer, then we have to conclude that Christians as a group are seriously lacking confidence in their own faith, as well, since they fund a lot more advertising campaigns to promote Christianity. Remember the God Billboards? Every day, across America, thousands of Christian radio and television channels broadcast advertising for Christian ideas, among which is the paranoid notion that atheists are creeping around every corner, out to get Christians. If the ammount of effort spent on advertising for a specific philosophical belief is indicative of a lack of confidence on the part of the believers, then trully, Christians have a veritable Mount Everest of confidence issues than atheists do.

What is striking about these slogans is the philosophy behind them. There is no claim here that God fails to satisfy some criterion of scientific validation. We hear nothing about how evolution has undermined the traditional “argument from design.” There’s not even a whisper about how science is based on reason while Christianity is based on faith.

Maybe that's because that wasn't the point of the message. I mean, if the message was about how science is better than religion, you'd have a point, but the message was not about science. The message was simply "There's probably no God. Why believe in a god? Imagine no Religion."

Instead, we are given the simple assertion that there is probably no God, followed by the counsel to go ahead and enjoy life.

How horrifying! Those evil atheists are telling people to enjoy life. what a shameful message of utter hatred!

In other words, let’s not let God and his commandments spoil all the fun. “Be good for goodness sake” is true as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far. The question remains: what is the source of these standards of goodness that seem to be shared by religious and non-religious people alike? Finally John Lennon knew how to compose a tune but he could hardly be considered a reliable authority on fundamental questions. His “imagine there’s no heaven” sounds visionary but is, from an intellectual point of view, a complete nullity.

Maybe that's the point. Maybe instead of asking people to pick up a book of fairy tales, and just beleive everything in it, unquestioningly, because it was allegedly written by a supreme being, who will send you to be tortured for eternity if you do not believe it, atheists wanted to be succinct and to the point.

If you want to know why atheists seem to have given up the scientific card,

When did atheists give up on science? As far as I can tell, Dawkins is still a scientist and an atheist. So aren't the others. The fact that they were willing to put money into an ad campaign that promoted their beliefs doesn't negate their confidence in science at all. D'Souza is clearly grasping at straws here to find fault in Americans who are exercising their freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. This is a classic double-standard. Nobody thinks there's anything wrong with a group of religious people spending money on mass-marketing to promote their beleifs. We see dozens of different sects of Christianity peddled on television, the radio, on billboards, and on soap-boxes in public squares every day, but if an atheist comes out and does it once, somehow it's shameful or a sign of weakness. Did Mr. D'Souza ever condemn the lack of confidence that the people behind the God Billboards had in their beliefs? Nope. Not a word. Does he ever condemn all the "War on Christmas" rhetoric and advertising this time of year? Nope. One atheist group pays to put a godless message on buses, and suddenly D'Souza is all over it like it's a new plague.

It amuses me to see Christians and Conservative pundits condemn Americans exercising their free speech and freedom of conscience, merely because they disagree with them. Somehow, advertising that people "get on with their lives... be good for goodness sake... and imagine..." has to be made to look bad, despite the positive messages being conveyed.

I would suggest that the person whose faith is threatened here is your humble conservative attack-weasel, Dinesh D'Souza. Why is Dinesh, and other Christians, afraid or upset at these atheists, who only did on a tiny scale, what Christians have been doing for decades with advertising and mass-media? Is he afraid that the campaign might work, and make a few Christians turn away from the faith? I mean, what's a few casualties when there are literally billions of Christians in the world... well... if Mr. D'Souza doesn't discount all the Christians who follow sects that he considers heretical, that is.

the current issue of Discover magazine provides part of the answer. The magazine has an interesting story by Tim Folger which is titled “Science’s Alternative to an Intelligent Creator.” The article begins by noting “an extraordinary fact about the universe: its basic properties are uncannily suited for life.” As physicist Andrei Linde puts it, “We have a lot of really, really strange coincidences, and all of these coincidences are such that they make life possible.”

Oh, yes, the argument from "Fine Tuning", or the Anthropic Principle. The argument from "Fine Tuning" is essentially an argument from ignorance or personal incredulity. Essentially, the problem with the fine tuning argument is that the actual upper and lower limits of the various fine-tuned factors are not known, and also that the process of evolution has actually tailored life to fit whatever the other forces acting upon the world have made it become. In other words, when the world became colder, life evolved to live in colder conditions. When it became warmer, life adapted to live in warmer conditions, and so on. The biggest flaw with the fine-tuning argument is that nobody has been able to show that a world which turned out differently would be any better or worse. It ends up being a big "what if" speculation, at best.

Too many “coincidences,” however, imply a plot. Folger’s article shows that if the numerical values of the universe, from the speed of light to the strength of gravity, were even slightly different, there would be no universe and no life.

Actually, Mr. D'Souza is misrepresenting Folger's Discover Magazine article. The universe, and life, would merely have developed Differently than what we see. Folger doesn't claim that "The universe and life would be impossible" if certain limits were not just-right -- that is a distortion of what the article says. If you read the article, the fourth paragraph starts out by saying “For me the reality of many universes is a logical possibility." The article actually goes on to say that String Theory and the Multiverse concept are well supported by experimental physics, and that the Anthropic principle, which Mr. D'Sousa and people from the psuedoscientific conservative propaganda factory, The Discovery Institute, doesn't want to let go of, has essentially been discredited, because it's based on flawed assumptions. The article says that "using the anthropic principle to explain the properties of the universe is like saying that ships were created so that barnacles could stick to them."

Recently scientists have discovered that most of the matter and energy in the universe is made up of so-called “dark” matter and “dark” energy. It turns out that the quantity of dark energy seems precisely calibrated to make possible not only our universe but observers like us who can comprehend that universe.

That is a highly unorthodox interpretation of what Dark Matter is all about, and what recent discoveries have determined about it. Of course, since Mr. D'Souza is presenting his unqualified, uneducated polemical opinion on the subject of Dark Matter, and not quoting a specific source, or footnoting it, so we can't determine which recent developments he's referring to. Of course, Dark Matter may be explained by a recent discovery about Einstein's theory of Relativity. Though the discovery confirms that the missing mass of gluons is accounted for by the Einstein's calculation, I doubt that D'Souza was even aware of it.

Even Steven Weinberg, the Nobel laureate in physics and an outspoken atheist, remarks that “this is fine-tuning that seems to be extreme, far beyond what you could imagine just having to accept as a mere accident.”

Of course, Mr. D'Souza isn't really quoting Weinberg, here. Weinberg was re-iterating what ID supporters claim about Fine Tuning. D'Souza cuts off the rest of what Winberg actually said, where he concludes "Looked at more closely, the fine-tuning of the constants of nature here does not seem so fine." Indeed, if you browse through the literature from practicing physicists on just how fine tuned they consider everything to be, they will not echo what the Creationists claim at all.

And physicist Freeman Dyson draws the appropriate conclusion from the scientific evidence to date: “The universe in some sense knew we were coming.”

Yes, but Freeman Dyson is at odds with Weinberg and most other physicists on that topic. It is highly disingenuous of D'Souza to try to misrepresent these two people as agreeing with each other when they clearly do not. This is just one of many examples of how Conservative pundits, and creationists quote-mine to make it appear that experts agree with their position, when they clearly write the opposite.

Folger then admits that this line of reasoning makes a number of scientists very uncomfortable. “Physicists don’t like coincidences.” “They like even less the notion that life is somehow central to the universe, and yet recent discoveries are forcing them to confront that very idea.”

As stated above, the idea that the universe seems fine-tuned for life is discredited, and based on a flawed assumption amounts to saying that ships were invented so that barnacles could stick to them. The fine tuning notion is based on a number of flawed assumptions, namely:

  • That the Theory of Evolution proposes a random process
  • That the Big Bang Theory proposes that the universe evolved from random processes.
  • That life or humanity is somehow the ultimate goal or purpose of the universe.
  • That the only alternative to a divine intelligent creator is "random processes"

Creationists and their conservative bretheren constantly misrepresent current science as a series of proposals that everything that exists is all the result of accidental, random, or chance occurences. This is nowhere near what modern science says about the development of the universe or of how evolution works. For years, creationists, "intelligent design" proponents, and the fools who believe them, have been told by actual scientists that their descriptions of "random" evolution and "random" cosmology are not what secular science claims, and yet, they continue to repeat the claims about "randomness" no matter how often scientists correct them.

There are two hurdles here, one historical and the other methodological. The historical hurdle is that science has for three centuries been showing that man does not occupy a privileged position in the cosmos, and now it seems like he does.

That's interesting, because that is not what the Discover magazine article he is referring to says.

The methodological hurdle is what physicist Stephen Hawking once called “the problem of Genesis.” Science is the search for natural explanations for natural phenomena, and what could be more embarrassing than the finding that a supernatural intelligence transcending all natural laws is behind it all?

Here, D'Souza invokes the name of Stephen Hawking, identifying Hawking as claiming there is a problem with the beginning of the universe. Of course, how D'Souza describes it is not quite what Hawking meant. In his 2007 lecture tour, Hawking said:

one can get rid of the problem of time having a beginning, in a similar way in which we got rid of the edge of the world. Suppose the beginning of the universe, was like the south pole of the Earth , with degrees of latitude, playing the role of time. The universe would start as a point at the South Pole. As one moves north, the circles of constant latitude, representing the size of the universe, would expand. To ask what happened before the beginning of the universe, would become a meaningless question, because there is nothing south of the South Pole.

Time, as measured in degrees of latitude, would have a beginning at the South Pole, but the South Pole is much like any other point, at least so I have been told. I have been to Antarctica, but not to the South Pole.

The same laws of Nature hold at the South Pole, as in other places. This would remove the age-old objection to the universe having a beginning, that it would be a place where the normal laws broke down. The beginning of the universe, would be governed by the laws of science.

-- Stephen Hawking, from the J. Robert Oppenheimer Lecture in Physics, delivered March 13, 2007, at Zellerbach Hall on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.

See, Dinesh D'Souza may have read some quotes about Hawking, but it doesn't appear that he actually read Hawking, or even understood what Hawking's views are. This is a constant theme in creationist literature -- they consistantly quote famous secular scientists, and show a complete lack of comprehension for what those scientists actually say.

Consequently many physicists are exploring an alternative possibility: multiple universes. This is summed up as follows: “Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multiverse.” Folger says that “short of invoking a benevolent creator” this is the best that modern science can do. For contemporary physicists, he writes, this “may well be the only viable nonreligious explanation” for our fine-tuned universe.

Well, that's only if:

  • The concept of fine tuning is based on valid premises (which I showed earlier, is not)
  • Whether modern physicists agree that this fine tuning issue, as presented by creationists, even resembles science.
  • If you completely ignore what Stephen Hawking said about the topic of the beginning of the universe.

In short, unless it can be shown that it's absolutely neccesary for the universe to have a finite ex-nihilo beginning, then the question of how the universe began is irrelevent.

The appeal of multiple universes—perhaps even an infinity of universes—is that when there are billions and billions of possibilities, then even very unlikely outcomes are going to be realized somewhere. Consequently if there was an infinite number of universes, something like our universe is certain to appear at some point. What at first glance seems like incredible coincidence can be explained as the result of a mathematical inevitability.

Yeah, and that proabably irks people like Dinesh D'Souza, because if true, it removes God from the picture once again, as it did with the Flat Earth, The Geogentric Model Of the Universe, and mind-brain duality.

The only difficulty, as Folger makes clear, is that there is no empirical evidence for the existence of any universes other than our own. Moreover, there may never be such evidence. That’s because if there are other universes, they will operate according to different laws of physics than the ones in our universe, and consequently they are permanently and inescapably inaccessible to us. The article in Discover concludes on a somber note. While some physicists are hoping the multiverse will produce empirical predictions that can be tested, “for many physicists, however, the multiverse remains a desperate measure ruled out by the impossibility of confirmation.”

Right, just as there is no empirical evidence for the existence of Supreme being.

No wonder atheists are sporting billboards asking us to “imagine…no religion.” When science, far from disproving God, seems to be pointing with ever-greater precision toward transcendence, imagination and wishful thinking seem all that is left for the atheists to count on.

But as I showed here, modern science is not showing more evidence of transcendence, towards a god, or towards supernatural explanations. The trend for the last 3000 years, which continues to today, is that scientific evidence has consistantly led away from the ideas of the supernatural, away from religion, and away from the divine. The classic misrepresentation of science, which we see all the time from Creationists, and from their conservative allies, is what we are getting from Dinesh D'Souza -- not real science, but a layperson's hack-interpretation of it, full of mined quotes, misunderstood terms and concepts, and misrepresented ideas.

1 comment:

Kold_Kadavr_flatliner, sub/dude said...

Doesn't matter if you believe in the whorizontal, you're still gonna croak and make the flowers grow; then, while your body's eaten by grubsNworms, your indelible soul rises to be judged on what YOU alone have done with your finite existence. Y'better think summore on where you wanna spend eternity, dude. Time’s running out. Here's what I did. I was involved in an severe accident at 15 with my sweetheart, 17 (you can read about it on my profile). Nevertheless, I found what few other human mortals on this swiftly, decaying planet have yet to discover: a Way Home, past this violence and materialism that has so engulfed our populace on this journey to our demise; because you’re ignorant on how to rise above the whorizontal and one-outta-one shall croak sometime, somewhere soon, God has set-up this magnificent feature on the Way either Upstairs or downtown: the Warning. Everyone (me, too) living on this planet will see and feel the Warning lasting about 20ish minutes, showing U.S. a gorgeous picture of Heaven, Purgatory, and dagnasty Hell. Remember, God doesn’t condemn; we condemn ourselves by our sinful lifestyles of unbelief. The Warning’s just a wake-up call. Don’t believe me? You will soon. God bless you with discernment: atheism is cool, isn't it, till you croak...