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The God Blog
An examination of contemporary views toward God from church & science

This blog began with my interest in following the so called 'Scopes II' trials when I began collecting media reports, commentary, cartoons, defences & attacks published, here & there, by some of our leading scientists & religious leaders but it eventually came to hold much more than just the trials.

I collected everything I thought interesting that science & Church had to say about morality, philosophy, etymology, politics plus poetry & even parody, like the clever & funny web-site called the Spaghetti Monster. Also a bit of history, historical quotes on the subject & transcriptions of interviews & debates with Richard Dawkins & the like.

Unfortunately the trials weren’t as amusing as they might have been if the Intelligent Design camp had better arguments & more credible support but in the end I think I have compiled a fascinating & entertaining document.

It covers both sides thoroughly &, I hope, with a minimum of repetition (& includes links to further reference).

I have added my two cents here & there in red. It is chronological with dates noted. The 11 pages contain more than 100,000 words & vary between 13 & 130 KBs each

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Figure 1. Distribution of stellar lifetimes for 100 random universes in which four basic physics constants (the proton and electron masses and the strengths of the electromagnetic and strong forces) are varied by ten orders of magnitude around their existing values in our universe. Otherwise, the laws of physics are unchanged. Note that in well over half the universes, stars live at least a billion years. From Stenger 1995.

Every shuffle of a deck of cards leads to a 52-card sequence that has low a priori probability, but has unit probability once the cards are all on the table. Similarly, the "fine-tuning" of the constants of physics, said to be so unlikely, could very well have been random; we just happen to be in the universe that turned up in that particular deal of the cards.

Note that my thesis does not require more than one universe to exist, although some cosmological theories propose this. Even if ours is the only universe, and that universe happened by chance, we have no basis to conclude that a universe without some form of life was so unlikely as to have required a miracle.

Simplicity and Physical Law
So the argument from probability fails. Many sets of physical constants could have produced a universe with life, albeit life very unlike our own. But what about the laws of physics themselves? Can we take their mere existence as evidence for intelligent design?

Let me begin by addressing two commonsense notions: (1) you cannot get something from nothing, and (2) the order of the universe requires the pre-existence of an active intelligence to do the ordering. I will leave it to the theologians to explain how the postulate of a creator God solves the problem of creation ex nihilo, since God is something that, itself, must have come, uncreated, from nothing. Instead I will address the physics issues implied by the creation of the universe from nothing. In physics terms, creation ex nihilo appears to violate both the first and second laws of thermodynamics.

The first law of thermodynamics is equivalent to the principle of conservation of energy: the total energy of a closed system is constant; any energy change must be compensated by a corresponding inflow or outflow from the system.

Einstein showed that mass and energy are equivalent, by E=mc2. So, if the universe started from "nothing," energy conservation would seem to have been violated by the creation of matter. Some energy from outside is apparently required.

However, our best estimate today is that the total energy of the universe is zero (within a small zero point energy that results from quantum fluctuations), with the positive energy of matter balanced by the negative potential energy of gravity. Since the total energy is zero, no energy was needed to produce the universe and the first law was not violated.

The second law of thermodynamics requires that the entropy, or disorder, of the universe must increase or at least stay constant with time. This would seem to imply that the universe started out in a greater state of order than it has today, and so must have been designed.

However, this argument holds only for a universe of constant volume. The maximum entropy of any object is that of a black hole of the same volume. In an expanding universe, the maximum allowable entropy of the universe is continually increasing, allowing more and more room for order to form as time goes by. If we extrapolate the big bang back to the earliest definable time, the so-called Planck time (10-43 second), we find that universe started out in a condition of maximum entropy -- total chaos. The universe had no order at the earliest definable instant. If there was a creator, it had nothing to create.

Note also that one cannot ask, much less answer, "What happened before the big bang?" Since no time earlier than the Planck time can be logically defined, the whole notion of time before the big bang is meaningless.

Furthermore, within the framework of Einstein's relativity, time is the fourth dimension of spacetime. Defining this fourth dimension as ict, where t is what you read on a clock, i = sqrt(-1), and c is the speed of light, the coordinates of time and space are interchangeable. In short, time is inextricably intertwined with space and came into being "when" or "where" (language is inadequate to mathematics here) spacetime came into being.

Spontaneous Order
So, where did the order of the universe come from, if it did not exist at the "beginning"? Where did the laws of physics come from, if not from some great lawgiver? We are now beginning to grasp how the laws of physics could have come about naturally, as the universe spontaneously exploded in the big bang.
To understand this, we first have to recognize the prejudice that is built into the whole concept of physical law. When Newton developed mechanics and gravity, the Judeo-Christian notion of God-given law was already deeply engraved in his thinking, by his culture. Even today, science is interpreted by public, media, and scientists alike as the process of learning the "mind of God."

However, the laws of physics, at least in their formal expressions, are no less human inventions than the laws by which we govern ourselves. They represent our imperfect attempts at economical and useful descriptions of the observations we make with our senses and instruments. This is not to say we subjectively determine how the universe behaves, or that it has no orderly behavior. Few scientists deny that an objective, ordered reality exists that is independent of human life and experience. We simply have to recognize that the concept of "natural law" carries with it certain metaphysical baggage that is tied to our traditional, pre-scientific modes of thought. We are going a step beyond logic to conclude that the existence in the universe of order, which we conventionally label as the laws of nature, implies a cosmic lawgiver.
 It seems to me an argument could be made for the logical point of view that as mind-bogglingly sophisticated & complex as the universe seems to us, it might appear hopelessly chaotic & barbarically simple to some higher form of life.  This ‘higher’ form may not even be defined by cognitive abilities beyond our ken, but might be as ordinary as some sense perception that we cannot imagine since we do not possess it…

We are gradually learning that several of the laws of physics, those that seem the most universal and profound, are in fact little more than statements about the simplicity of nature that can almost go unsaid. The "laws" of energy, momentum, and angular momentum conservation have been shown to be statements about the homogeneity of space and time. The first law of thermodynamics, conservation of energy, results from there being no unique moment in time.

Conservation of momentum follows from the Copernican principle that there is no preferred position in space. Other conservation laws, such as charge and nucleon number, also arise from analogous assumptions of simplicity.

For the mathematically inclined, the conserved quantities are generators of the symmetry transformations involved. A homogeneous universe, one with a high level of symmetry, is the simplest of all possible universes, just the kind we would expect to happen by accident. In such a universe, many conservation laws will automatically exist.

In general, the conservation laws need no explanation beyond the mathematical symbols used to represent the corresponding symmetry. On the other hand, an observed violation of a conservation law would demand an explanation, for then we would have evidence for a deviation from simplicity and homogeneity. To explain this deviation, we have to go beyond the assumptions that require the fewest parameters, that is, are the most economical.

By an equally simple but somewhat different argument, the second law of thermodynamics is found not to be some underlying principle of the universe, but rather an arbitrary convention we humans make in defining the direction of time. Nothing in known fundamental physics forbids the violation of the second law. No mechanical principle prevents the air emptying from a room when you open the door, killing everyone inside. Physics does not forbid a human from growing younger or the dead rising! All that has to happen for these "miraculous" events is that the molecules involved are accidentally moving in the right direction at the right instant. Of course these miracles are not observed to happen except in fantasies, but only because they are so highly unlikely.

We introduce the second "law" to codify what all of human experience testifies, that air does not empty from a room, people do not grow younger, and the dead do not rise. But these events are not impossible, just highly improbable. Influenced, like Newton, by our culture, we falsely state that these unlikely events cannot happen because the second law "forbids" them from doing so.

The second law of thermodynamics, along with the arrow of time and the notions of causality and determinism, arise as statistical statements about the likelihood of events that emerge as principles we invent to describe the world of everyday experiences.

Other, more complex and less universal laws of physics appear to arise from spontaneously broken symmetries. When a quantity such as momentum is observed not to be conserved, we introduce the notion of a "force" to break the corresponding spatial symmetry. By this means, the force laws and other principles that give structure to the universe arise as spontaneously broken symmetries--accidental, uncaused events that occurred in the first fraction of a second of the big bang as the expanding universe cooled. The process can be likened to the formation of structure in a snowflake from water vapor, or the magnetizing of a bar of iron cooled below the Curie temperature.

The Appearance of Structure
While the details of the symmetry-breaking mechanism referred to here are not fully developed, and further work may negate this picture, (again, an example of open-mindedness to new evidence ID does not share…) we have at least one highly successful example of how the process of spontaneous structure formation from underlying symmetry and chaos can have come about. The current theory of elementary particles, the so-called Standard Model of quarks and leptons (the electron and neutrino are examples of leptons), agrees with all existing observations about the material world.  In two decades since its inception, no violation of the Standard Model has been observed.

Within the framework of this model, electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces are viewed as low-energy manifestations of a single, unified electroweak force that applies at higher energies and smaller distances. At the level of most observations, these forces are vastly different. The electromagnetic force acts over macroscopic distances, while the electroweak force is confined to the atomic nucleus. The two forces differ enormously in strength. Yet the Standard Model treats them in a unified fashion at high energies, and explains their differing structure by means of spontaneous symmetry breaking that occurs at lower energies. Just the fact that gravity holds no sway at sub-cellular level, makes it easy for me to imagine that other physical laws change at the sub-atomic level…

Further progress in understanding these fundamental mechanisms has been slowed by the canceling of the Superconducting Supercollider that would have probed beyond the Standard Model.  A less ambitious (although still gigantic) project is going ahead in Europe, but it will be a new millennium before physicists have the data they will need to determine whether spontaneous symmetry breaking is indeed the process by which the laws of physics evolved in the first fraction of a second of the big bang. Currently, all we can say is that we have one firm example, and many theoretical suggestions, that will not be tested experimentally for another decade. Even if they all fail these tests, it seems highly unlikely that the process will yield evidence for the creator of Judeo-Christian-Islamic theology.

Implications for Education
In critically examining evidence for or against intelligent design to the universe, it must be understood that we are following the traditional practice of science, seeking a scientific explanation for observations about the universe that have been previously attributed to the action of supernatural deity. Believers will call us nasty names, like "atheist" and "secular humanist," Only nasty if you agree with their POV and accuse us of undermining faith and morality. These issues of truth versus social & psychological well-being were argued thoroughly by great minds back in the appropriately named Age of Enlightenment.

Certainly we cannot be dogmatic in our approach, or appear to be preaching a religion of "scientism." If we do, then we have no more right to a piece of the science curriculum than the religionists.

As in any scientific investigation, we must emphasize our commitment to the scientific process and agree to accept whatever the conclusion of that process may be. If that conclusion is evidence for supernatural intelligent design, then so be it. But if we cannot find such evidence, then we should not feel compelled to soothe the sensitivities of believers by leaving unchallenged the assertion that their sectarian prejudices have scientific merit. We must speak out forcefully whenever anyone claims scientific authority for beliefs that fail the objective tests of scientific method.

I realize that the ideas I have covered in this essay will be very difficult to explain in the classroom, even at the university level where few students study physics at anything more than a minimal, descriptive level--if they study it at all.  Nevertheless, we should not leave the field open to those who demonstrate no commitment to scientific truth.

If teachers cannot understand or explain the developments in modern physics I have outlined above, they can at least emphasize the need to pursue these issues in an open, objective, and rational fashion. They should point out the logical flaws in the anthropic probability argument, that we must count all the possible ways that life may have developed. And they can question the claim that creation ex nihilo violates the laws of physics, that science requires a miracle to produce the universe.

At the least, teachers should be made aware of the fact that modern physics and cosmology provide no compulsion to introduce the uneconomical hypothesis of a biblical creator.  They must resist those who would attempt to force their personal beliefs into the classroom through the back door of "intelligent design."
The process in which we are engaged is the search for rational evidence for or against intelligent design. It does not suffice to say that intelligent design is possible, and proponents of intelligent design have no right to re-cast the question as one in which the non-existence of intelligent design must be proven. Within the framework of Occam's razor, intelligent design is an added hypothesis and the proponent's burden is to demonstrate why it is necessary to make this hypothesis. I have argued that no evidence or rational argument for intelligent design can be found in either the data or the theories of modern physics and cosmology.  If the hypothesis of intelligent design is to be discussed in science classrooms, then good science methodology demands that we make clear that this is an uneconomical hypothesis that is not required by existing scientific knowledge.

The author is grateful to Taner Edis and John Forester for their comments on this essay.
Victor J. Stenger is professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii and the author of Not By Design: The Origin of the Universe (Prometheus Books, 1988) and Physics and Psychics: The Search for a World Beyond the Senses (Prometheus Books, 1990). This article is based on a chapter from his latest book: The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology (Prometheus Books, 1995).

Barrow, John D. and Frank J. Tipler 1986.
Begley, Sharon 1994. "Science and the Sacred" Newsweek November 28: 56.
Cole, John 1995. NCSE Reports 15, 1:2
Davies, Paul 1992. The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Davis, Percival and Dean H. Keaton 1993. Of Pandas and People. Haughton.
Hawking, Stephen 1988. A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes. New York: Bantam.
Hoyle, F. and C. Wickramasinghe 1981. Evolution from Space. J. M. Dent.
Matsumura, Molleen 1995. NCSE Reports 15, 1: 7.
Penrose, Roger 1989. The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Rolston III, Holmes 1986. "Shaken Atheism: A Look at the Fine-Tuned Universe." The Christian Century, December 3.
Stenger, Victor J. 1995. The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology. Amherst, N. Y.: Prometheus Books.
Wright, Robert 1992. "What Does Science Tell Us About God?" Time December 28: 38.

[1] The "mind of God" were the final words of Stephen Hawking's remarkable best-seller, A Brief History of Time (Hawking, 1988). This catchy phrase was absconded by Paul Davies for the title his book, The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World (Davies, 1992). Physicist Davies has won a million dollar prize for his writings on religion and science.
[2] Admittedly, the first moment of the universe was unique, but the implied violation of conservation of energy is exactly what gives us the zero point energy mentioned earlier in the text.


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