Friday, April 25, 2008

Why science without God destroys itself

Recently, a commenter asked me if I would post my recent ChristianWeek column, "Why science without God destroys itself," and here it is (with a couple of links):

Why science without God destroys itself

by Denyse O’Leary

In recent columns, I have looked at the big promotion campaign for materialist atheism, based in part on the claim that atheism is supported by science. The claim is without substance, so far as I can see. On the contrary, the fine tuning of the universe in which we live so much testifies to a divine Mind that great scientists who conspicuously lacked orthodox piety have been compelled to admit that. Yes, many deplore the obvious inference, and try to find a genuine loophole (Arthur Eddington’s term). But admit the problem they must, for they can hardly deny it.

Besides, as University of Waterloo chair of physics Robb Mann recently pointed out to my adult night school class at the University of Toronto, discoveries about the nature of our universe made during the last few decades have only confirmed and strengthened the case for the Creator. Not only that, but the most promising candidate for emptying the universe of God - string theory - is in crisis, if not in ruins. And its companion theory - cosmic inflation - if it were to succeed, would demolish science.

We’ve hardly space here to unpack a complex debate, enlivened by public squabbles between prominent scientists. But here are a couple of key points:

One good candidate to replace God was string theory. Briefly, it pictures the elementary particles of our universe as similar to notes resonating on a guitar string. These strings - if they exist - originated in weird, exotic events that occurred before the Big Bang. And how does that dispense with God? Because string theorists hope to show that there was never really any beginning to the universe, such as the Big Bang. Think about that: It means that, even if God exists, God is superfluous to the existence of the universe. You can still believe in God if you want, but God is not part of the explanation of how the universe came to exist. The universe originated in perhaps unknowable prior events. However, the mathematics underlying string theory has come under severe criticism recently, for generating all possible values (like the results you get when you try dividing by zero).

Many scientists have been working hard to find evidence for an infinite number of universes (a multiverse). Their bottom line argument: Our universe happens to look fine-tuned or designed. But infinitely many others look different. So our universe could be the way it is randomly. The movie What the Bleep Do We Know? introduces one version of the multiverse.

Cosmic inflation theory is an increasingly popular multiverse theory. It holds that our observed universe (which is currently expanding only slowly) is a tiny part of a much more rapidly expanding structure. That structure's existence and its different rates of inflation (rather than God) explains both the Big Bang and fine tuning of our universe. In fact, our universe is simply one of an arbitrarily large number of tiny parts that happen to expand more slowly than the whole. The other parts are infinite additional universes. Welcome to the multiverse!

Many arguments against the multiverse involve complex physics reasoning, but Dr. Mann offered my students one that is much more basic: In a multiverse, everything that we can self-consistently imagine - objects appearing by magic, for example - can actually happen. We can no longer rule out events as impossible. Remember, “impossible” means “not possible according to the laws of this universe.” But there are no longer any limits to that. You don’t believe in magic? But how do you know that another universe, where magic exists, has not overlapped ours and thus created magic? Getting rid of God by arguing for a multiverse - far from advancing science - destroys science!

The older philosophers knew this, I think. That is why even thinkers who imagined that they had “seen through” popular piety still believed in the “God of the philosophers”. Their remote God’s self-consistent reality and unvarying laws underwrite the possibility that we can come to understand our universe. A multiverse is incomprehensible by definition.

And - will this become a trend? - just this month, philosopher Antony Flew, who abandoned a half century of atheism on account of design in the universe, published There IS a God (Harper One 2007). I'll have more to say about Flew’s book in my next column.

Journalist Denyse O’Leary ( is the author of By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy and co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).

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