Posts Tagged ‘science’

Physics can’t answer metaphysical questions. Why is that so hard?

September 9, 2010

Kevin Hargaden explains it all in this post.. Yours truly wrote about this a while back right here. Why are so many scientist-types so confused about this?

(I read somewhere that Einstein was as dumb as the rest of us in every other area of life besides physics. Maybe it’s the nature of genius? They’re not well-rounded.)

Regardless, here’s an excerpt from Mr. Zoomtard:

It is utterly conceivable (which is not equivalent with likely) that a universe might be generated through forces of gravity. But the question of God is not a question that is only meaningful if it turns out that he left some fingerprints behind for us to detect. Hawking and all of new-atheism (and indeed much of contemporary Christianity) misses the point when it thinks the deep question of existence is about how things came to be. Existence itself is the issue.

Why anything?

Thank you.

Everyone lives by faith

August 2, 2010

In the philosophy section of today’s New York Times, Notre Dame philosophy professor Gary Gutting nicely clears a path for belief in God by telling us, first, that all rigorous philosophical “proofs” for God’s existence (or non-existence) fail. (That doesn’t sound very encouraging, does it?) This is, by the way, precisely where my introductory philosophy class at Georgia Tech stopped: We can’t prove that God exists in a way that would satisfy philosophers or scientists; it’s all a matter of faith; so let’s just leave that discussion to a church, synagogue, temple, or mosque of your choice.

Or—as my philosophy class tacitly endorsed—sit on the sidelines as an agnostic. As Gutting rightly acknowledges, the field of contemporary philosophy often seems to vindicate agnosticism. Read the rest of this entry »

Two gods we Christians don’t believe in

May 20, 2010

On the heels of the New York Times article I refer to in my previous post, I came across this Times blog entry yesterday. The blogger writes with polite incredulity that, according to a recent survey, 82 percent of Americans believe that God is intimately involved in their lives. She used as a case in point a recent contestant on American Idol. After Simon Cowell predicted that this person would soon be voted off, the contestant pointed upward and said, “I know God,” indicating, I suppose, that God would take care of him. Even after getting voted off a couple of episodes later, the contestant maintained, despite his setback, that God had something good in store for him.

The vast majority of comments in the comments section predictably scoff at all these ignorant Americans for being deluded, superstitious, and childishly naive. How can we believe that, A) there is a God, and, B) even if there were such a being, it personally cares about us—given so much evidence (i.e., science and human suffering) to the contrary?1 Even some of the God-believing commenters complained about athletes’ and celebrities’ public displays of piety: Why should God care about trivial events like ballgames and other mundane details of a person’s life?

The comments were about 95 percent anti-faith, which does not mean that Times readers are necessarily godless heathens (as so many of its critics surely believe!); it probably means that the people who are most passionately worked up about the issue are the ones who disagree with the article’s findings and feel most compelled to chime in. Read the rest of this entry »

A “new clue” to explain existence… Spare me!

May 18, 2010

The New York Times has an ambitious-sounding headline this morning: “A New Clue to Explain Existence.” How disappointing to learn, then, that the article is not about metaphysics, the only branch of philosophy equipped to answer questions related to “existence,” but just plain old physics.

It turns out that physicists have used the particle accelerator at Fermilab to potentially explain why a young universe contained more matter than antimatter.

According to the basic precepts of Einsteinian relativity and quantum mechanics, equal amounts of matter and antimatter should have been created in the Big Bang and then immediately annihilated each other in a blaze of lethal energy, leaving a big fat goose egg with which to make to make stars, galaxies and us.

We learn from the article that the reason this annihilation didn’t happen is related to the matter-antimatter oscillations of a strange particle called a “neutral B-meson.” The details aren’t important to my point. But here’s the potential payoff:

Whether this is enough to explain our existence is a question that cannot be answered until the cause of the still-mysterious behavior of the B-mesons is directly observed, said Dr. Brooijmans, who called the situation “fairly encouraging.”

If Dr. Brooijmans (or the writer of the article) thinks that this discovery has anything to do with the question of existence, he is guilty of a category mistake—which is very common when skeptics and atheists talk about how science disproves God. Why was there a big bang to begin with? Why was there matter (and antimatter) to begin with? Why were there these strange particles known as B-mesons or muons or electrons to begin with?

The question of existence comes down to a question of why something and not nothing. The article purports to say that these physicists are on the verge of answering that question, but they will do no such thing. Even a universe that had annihilated itself (and all matter within it based on the existence of a big bang and all these particles, etc.) and now appears to be nothing (if there were someone to observe it) is something—metaphysically speaking. In other words, even if these physicists are correct, there would only be nothing because there was first something. Again, why?

At its best, this potential new discovery can only answer why this something and not some other something. And even that answer is only a partial explanation. Reality has multiple, mutually non-competitive explanations, as I’ve discussed earlier.

The elusive “ought”

February 23, 2010

I said in my sermon on Sunday that the skeptics who feel morally indignant toward God for tragedies like Haiti  (“How can you believe in a good God when 100,000 die in one fell swoop?”) have the luxury of feeling that way in part because their sense of right and wrong comes to them from God, “without whom justice has no meaning.” That’s obviously true. If there is no transcendent reality beyond the world of time and space, the realm of scientifically observable facts, then there is no foundation for ethics. Evolutionary biology provides no “ought” that is scientifically justifiable. (Pay attention to how often New Atheists like Richard Dawkins engage in wild, unscientific speculation about why we are the way we are socially, culturally, psychologically, religiously, ethically, etc.) Apart from God, there is no “ought” that can’t be refuted with the clever argument, “I disagree.”

Stanley Fish, writing in yesterday’s New York Times, draws attention to a book that makes the same point about our secular and pluralistic culture. We only agree on concepts like “freedom” and “liberty” because we’ve imported them from religion (and Christianity in particular). Strip away the religion and there’s nothing there. The idea that we can set public policy without resorting to the religious realm is ridiculous. The only reason our country has gotten along as well as it has thus far, under the guise of strictly “secular” decision-making, is that the vast majority of its population buys into Christian ethics, whether it has known it was doing so or not.

“God is a part of reality, always, everywhere.”

December 12, 2009

John Cobb is a world-renown theologian of the “process theology” persuasion. I don’t know from process theology, except that inasmuch as it’s trendy and new, I am suspicious. Still, Cobb is that rare world-renown theologian who is also United Methodist (yay, team!), and he wrote the best book I’ve read on Wesleyan theology, Grace and Responsibility, which I recommend to anyone interested in what it means to be a Wesleyan Christian.

In this short YouTube video, Cobb takes aim at the fundamental problem, from my perspective, of both evolution and its well-intentioned critics of the Intelligent Design camp: they both share, to some extent, what Cobb calls a “materialistic, reductionistic metaphysics,” i.e., a universe (or multiverse or whatever) operating on its own, independent of a Creator. Immersed in this metaphysics (or way of understanding reality), evolutionary biologist and best-selling author Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion can therefore complain that even if there were a God, he would be very lazy, since Darwinian processes can account for so much of our world.

Read the rest of this entry »

Freedom, love, and… physics?

November 11, 2009

In my sermon on the Parable of the Rich Fool, Luke 12:13-21, I explored the theme that we are not ultimately in control of our lives. We are especially reminded of our lack of control when natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes strike. Insurance companies even use special language to emphasize this point: these events are called “acts of God.” I have theological problems with that description, but I get why they’re called that.

Read the rest of this entry »

More thoughts on Genesis and Creation

October 21, 2009

I had much more I wanted to say in my “Tough Texts Part 5” sermon than time allowed. If you read Genesis chapters 1 and 2 together, you’ll notice that there is not one but two Creation stories, each communicating a different aspect of God’s creation and its relationship to the Creator. The Adam and Eve story of Genesis 2:5 and following was likely composed before the more cosmic and poetic Creation story of Genesis 1:1-2:4. In fact, according to Walter Brueggeman at Columbia Seminary in Decatur, Genesis 1:1-2:4 was likely written down during the time of the Exile, when many Israelites of the Southern Kingdom were forcibly relocated to Babylon—far from home, from the Promised Land, from God’s Temple (which had been destroyed). What does it mean to be God’s people now, when so much of one’s faith was tied to land and Temple, which were now taken away. Did Israel’s God, Yahweh, still love them? Had Yahweh abandoned them? Had the gods of Babylon proven more powerful than Yahweh?

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Tough Texts Part 5: Genesis 1 and Science

October 21, 2009

Sermon Text: Genesis 1:1-2:3

Lisa and I went to Paris in the late-’90s. We toured the Louvre, of course, and saw the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa. We also went to its sister museum, the d’Orsay, which features Impressionist paintings by artists like Monet, Manet, and Degas. This is a painting by Monet that we saw. monet-irises-monets-gardenI really like Impressionism, but if I were going to be a total hick from the sticks I might be tempted to wonder why there would be this nice museum devoted to artists who painted blurry pictures. Consider this post-Impressionist piece: Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” starry_nightThis doesn’t look much like any night sky I’ve ever seen. The sky doesn’t swirl around like that! And look at that crazy moon! This does not reflect reality at all! Wouldn’t it be better to look at a photograph?

Of course, I’m being ridiculous. The intention of artists like Van Gogh and Monet is to communicate something far more than just, “Here’s what a starry night looks like… Here’s what a garden looks like.” If that’s what we want these artists to communicate to us, we will be sorely disappointed. By not giving us a straightforward depiction of reality, however, they end up communicating far more truth about the world than they otherwise would.

And so it is with the artist or artists who, under the inspiration of the Spirit, crafted today’s scripture. It is literally a poem. In the same way that we don’t look to Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar” to give us the literal history of a particular world leader who was assassinated in 44 B.C., we ought not to look to this poem in Genesis chapter 1 to gain any kind of scientific or historical understanding of Creation. Unfortunately, for the past few hundred years, in response to the challenge of modern science and the Enlightenment, well-intentioned Christians have often tried to understand or defend it as literal truth. This way of reading this text is not only unnecessary, it misses the point entirely. We’ll get to the point a little later, but in order to get to the point, we’ll first have to clear a path of a few hundred years’ worth of overgrown weeds.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tough Texts Part 5: Genesis 1 and Science

October 14, 2009

vinebranchlogoJoin us this Sunday, October 18, as we continue our “Tough Texts” sermon series with Genesis 1:1-2:3. How do we reconcile this biblical account of Creation with a scientific or evolutionary account? What about Intelligent Design or other ideas that involve a Creator? Are we Christians naive or irrational to still believe that “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”?

What questions do you have? Let me know by commenting below.