Michael Battalio

Friday, July 25, 2008

This I Believe (part 3)

This is part three of my “This I Believe” series. I’m going to be spending most of the time delving into my struggles in deciding what it is I actually believe. I have had trouble over the last several years defining exactly what it is I prescribe to as a worldview. I consider myself a man of science, but I also consider myself a man of faith. So, where am I exactly? I intend on defining what is faith, considering non-overlapping magisteria, and many other topics.

This entry into the series will focus on “The Case for a Creator” by Lee Strobel, specifically a critique of some the more ambiguous points. I will go through a list of some of the illogical points he makes, plus comment on a couple of items to his credit.

Strobel and his interviewees use apples to oranges analogies to try to affirm God's existence. For example, in Chapter 6 Robin McGrath asks you to picture this: Suppose when we first send a human to Mars we discover a biosphere constructed with an atmosphere supportive of life. Would we not immediate believe that an intelligence beyond our own created it? The answer is yes obviously, but when you change "biosphere" to "universe" and "intelligence" to "God" in that argument you create an awful logical fallacy. On Mars, it is "obvious" that nature did not create the biosphere. To call it obvious that the universe is not created via natural processes is petitio principii (begging the question). It's what we are trying to answer in the first place. If it were obvious that the universe was created artificially, as the biodome was, then the argument would be valid, but it is not obvious-that is the whole point.
I could come up with many other examples of that, but you get the point. Just be careful if you read this book. Despite Ocham's razor, question the simplest sounding of arguments; they are usually too good to be true.

Here is a more compelling argument: Strobel focuses a chapter, Chapter 5, on the Kalam Cosmological Argument. To summarize: 1.) Whatever begins to exist has a cause. 2.) The Universe began to exist. 3.) The Universe has a cause. That cause is God.
Saying that another physical process caused the Universe simply pushes the argument back a level. What caused the cause? This is an intriguing argument. I find it difficult to easily find a hole in it. (Warning: Physics mumbo jumbo) Saying that quantum fluctuations caused the Universe implies that an energy field had to exist (and something for it to exist in) before hand. What caused that? We're talking about the Universe being created from nothing, absolute nothing. Virtual particles are caused from an energy field, not exactly nothing. There are also p-branes (physicists love their whimsy) in string theory and the aforementioned multiverse. [I’ve already talked about the multiverse (see Part One of this series). P-branes and just about everything dealing with string theory are improvable, just like the multiverse, so it’s a moot point to bother with them in this discussion, but p-branes are a mathematical construct composed of multiple dimensions, any integer from zero up. The thought is that the universe is inside one of these p-branes (the p is just a variable, so that a three dimensional brane would be a 3-brane.), and these p-branes are floating around in something, and every time they collide with one another, they form a new universe. That’s really simplified, mostly because I have a hard time understanding it. If you’re interested, there’s a lot of literature on the internet.] Anyway, the point being, what caused the universe? And granted, just because we don’t have a reason now, doesn’t mean we won’t have a reason eventually.

Next, in Ch. 7, Strobel discusses with Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Wesley Richards evidence of God from Astronomy. The main rebuff I’d like to give is on the rare Earth hypothesis. The theory being that the Earth is so fine tuned, so perfect, so one in a quadrillion that it has to be designed. Here’s my case against that argument: just recently earth sized planets have been discovered around stars. I believe the percentage of planets with stars is about 1 in 10, or at least that is the best estimate so far. With the discovery of earth sized planets orbiting even some of the stars we can see, I can say without a bit of reservation (although there is a chance I’m wrong) that there must be another earth sized planet in the Goldilocks zone. The Goldilocks zone is just a clever way of saying that a planet is in an orbit where is temperature is just right for liquid water to continuously exist.) I also must dismiss the arguments about the rarity of having a molten iron core (the iron core creates the magnetic field around the Earth that protects us from all kinds of high energy particles that could kill life), and a moon of the right size and distance because even with a one in a trillion chance, there are billions or more chances for the exact conditions to exist more than once. I’m afraid astronomy doesn’t support the rare earth hypothesis anymore.
I must say that I don’t know enough about most of the biological evidence presented to make a determination on it one way or the other. It has convinced me I need to spend some time reading up on biology because that’s a subject in which I’m deficient. (But look at Part Two of this series for a discussion of irreducible complexity.)

The biggest problem with the book though is that despite Strobel’s claims to being unbiased, there are no religious skeptics interviewed, and almost all of those interviewed have doctorates in philosophy or theology, not science. This really needs no explanation. It’s difficult to call oneself unbiased when you have no arguments that differ from your own presented.

Confused by my logic? Leave me a comment. Next, a dissection of some of the dubious points made by each of the authors, continuing with Dawkins’s “The God Delusion”.

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