Astrophysicist Writes Brutal Response To WSJ Article Claiming Science Has Proven God Exists

By Jameson Parker | 2 January 2015
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(Image credit: Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel ceiling, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Recently – Christmas Day, in fact – the Wall Street Journal published an article by a Christian apologist who boldly declared that science was “increasingly” making the case for God, year-after-year.

Eric Metaxas is best known as a biographical writer, but he is also lauded (in conservative circles) for his work promoting the pro-life movement and making sweeping, outrageous conclusions about the existence of God based on whatever tenuous evidence seems handy at the time. If sweeping, outrageous conclusions be Metaxas bread-and-butter, than his Wall Street Journal article is perhaps his magnum opus. It’s a doozy.

After subtitling his work “The odds of life existing on another planet grow ever longer. Intelligent design, anyone?”, what followed was a meandering journey into the mind of a creationist playing at scientific literacy – but only when it suited his predetermined conclusions.

The arguments aren’t new. If you’ve ever walked into a Christian bookshop and picked up a book “debunking” evolution, you’d find similar jabs. Paragraphs like these abound:

Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.

Yet here we are, not only existing, but talking about existing. What can account for it? Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident? At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?

One person who is clearly fed up with this kind of pseudoscientific contrived nonsense is Lawrence Krauss, a world-renown theoretical physicist and cosmologist. His actual job, unlike Metaxas’, is to study the Universe – and he doesn’t share Metaxas’ optimism about his discoveries justifying intelligent design.

In a letter to the editor, Krauss systematically dismantles Metaxas’ shallow science and demonstrates that, not only has science not proven God’s existence (or disproven!), but most of the assumptions Metaxas makes are flat-out wrong.

To the editor:

I was rather surprised to read the unfortunate oped piece “Science Increasingly makes the case for God”, written not by a scientist but a religious writer with an agenda.  The piece was rife with inappropriate scientific misrepresentations.  For example:

  1. We currently DO NOT know the factors that allow the evolution of life in the Universe.  We know the many factors that were important here on Earth, but we do not know what set of other factors might allow a different evolutionary history elsewhere.  The mistake made by the author is akin to saying that if one looks at all the factors in my life that led directly to my sitting at my computer to write this, one would obtain a probability so small as to conclude that it is impossible that anyone else could ever sit down to compose a letter to the WSJ.
  2. We have discovered many more planets around stars in our galaxy than we previously imagined, and many more forms of life existing in extreme environments in our planet than were known when early estimates of the frequency of life in the universe were first made.  If anything, the odds have increased, not decreased.
  3. The Universe would certainly continue to exist even if the strength of the four known forces was different.  It is true that if the forces had vastly different strengths (nowhere near as tiny as the fine-scale variation asserted by the writer) then life as we know it would probably not evolved.  This is more likely an example of life being fine-tuned for the universe in which it evolved, rather than the other way around.
  4. My ASU colleague Paul Davies may have said that “the appearance of design is overwhelming”, but his statement should not be misinterpreted.  The appearance of design of life on Earth is also overwhelming, but we now understand, thanks to Charles Darwin that the appearance of design is not the same as design, it is in fact a remnant of the remarkable efficiency of natural selection.

Religious arguments for the existence of God thinly veiled as scientific arguments do a disservice to both science and religion, and by allowing a Christian apologist to masquerade as a scientist WSJ did a disservice to its readers.

And anticipating Metaxas’ response of “bias” from a secular scientist, Krauss isn’t the only one – on either side of the debate – that has found the Metaxas’ premises to be absurd. Writing for the Huffington Post, Geoffrey A. Mitelman, a rabbi, found the article equally troubling.

So, as tempting as it might be for someone like Metaxas to believe it, science doesn’t prove God exists any more than it has for the last several hundred years.

Ironically, contrary to the Wall Street Journal’s opinion, with more and more data coming in from various NASA experiments (including the historic comet landing in 2014), scientists are now growing increasingly convinced that life – or at least the ingredients to make it – are incredibly abundant throughout the Universe. If we haven’t heard from any little green men yet, it may be as simple as this: the Universe is a very, very large place and we’ve only just started looking.

Jameson Parker covers US politics, social justice issues, and other current events which aren’t getting the attention they deserve. Feel free to follow or drop him a line on twitter.

Lawrence Krauss – Science & Skepticism

Lawrence Krauss (2014) “There’s More To Nothing Than We Knew”

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38 COMMENTS

  1. From a relatively micro point of view, let me just quote a scenario. From where I live, the carparks are designed in such a way that when the car is parked in a reverse vertical manner, the exhaust pipes face the grass. Most of the cars are parked this way. What I notice that is incredible is that the land facing the exhaust pipe will be bare of any grass at all. Obviously, from this example, we can see that it is the conditions of the environment which leads to life. As long as the conditions are right, the seeds will germinate and grow into plants. If the environmental conditions are not right, lifeform will not take place. Natural selection allows for certain species to strive in suitable environments and over time making evolutionary modifications to their body anatomy to make them adaptable to the environment. If the book of genesis is true and that the world is created in 6 days, how do we explain the existence of dinosaur fossils which existed millions of yeara ago. Put it quite simply, religious views are a social construct with an agenda by those in power to control the masses. It is this tolerance for anyone that makes religion widely accepted by society. Can we say that religions have created societies through its authoritative laws or would it be more sensible to say that societies have created religions which have over countless civilisations have played a substantial role in governance?

  2. It is very difficult to mantain a straight face when arguing the probabilistic nonsense the intelligent design camp. Contra- arguments are not that complicated: my favorite is the probability of any one player winning the lottery. The probability are exceedingly low, and yet most often there is a winner. Mireover there are hundreds of lotteries and thousands of poker games and roullette games being playrd and won every day. Improbable events aren’t the same a rare events!

  3. The prevalence of organic compounds in the universe is absolutely unsurprising given the remarkable fecundity of the carbon atom.

  4. I find it amusing how this argument continues to take place. You see, it's predicated on one assumption: a tribal Jewish deity invented in the Bronze Age is the creator of the entire Universe. Nothing more absurd can possibly be assumed.

  5. if the universe is truly infinite, that is, without limit, then so are the possibilities for life to exist. But it might not be carbon-based life as we know it, Jim. In fact, it might not be detectable by our rather limited senses at all. That doesn't mean it isn't there. Or even here already.

    • I agree with you completely. Also proving causation itself is impossible. And without causation, ID theory falls apart.

      Hume proposed that we cannot prove that striking a match causes it to produce fire, it may just be a trick of association created by our senses; we cannot know what is really there beyond them. It could be that outside of our epistemological limits what produces us and our perceptions of virtually *anything* might be so foreign that we would/could never imagine it. The film "The Matrix" comes to mind. It is impossible to prove that the ideas in that film are not true.

      Maybe computers harnessed the power of infinity through hyper-dimensional mathematics and produced an infinite number of programs that permutated into an infinite number of worlds and realities. Maybe they were created at the same moment that this happened. We really do not know….

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