By Jameson Parker | 2 January 2015
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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