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Modern Physics, Ancient Faith: An Interview with Physicist Dr. Stephen Barr

Stephen Barr

Some news hooks are irresistible, even when they're false or at least incomplete. Case in point: the alleged conflict between science and religion. Is science opposed to religion? The answer depends in large measure on what you mean by religion. If your "religion" is, say, astrology, then you could say there's a conflict between science and "religion". The science of astronomy does conflict with the "religion" of astrology.

Probably most people who speak of a conflict between science and religion, though, don't mean the "religion" of astrology—if they think of astrology as a religion at all. They mean Christianity or perhaps Judeo-Christianity. They have before their minds Galileo and his struggle with the Inquisition of the Catholic Church over geocentrism or, more recently, the argument certain Christians have with the theory of evolution. Or perhaps they have only a vague idea that as science progresses religion becomes more and more problematic. Religion, in this view, is simply a way of talking about things science hasn't yet explained. When science gets around to explaining them, no role for religion will remain, and like the State in the Marxist paradise, it will wither away.

Those ideas about science and "religion" suppose an inherent conflict between the two fields. Conflicts, of course, make for more exciting news stories. But does the constant "hook" of a battle between science and religion reflect reality? Are science and religion—specifically Christianity—inevitably at odds with one another?

No, says physicist and Catholic Stephen Barr, author of Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (University of Notre Dame Press). Dr. Barr is professor of physics at the Bartol Research Institute at the University of Delaware. His writings include essays such as "A new Symmetry Breaking Pattern for SO(10) and Proton Decay" and "Electric Dipole Moment of the Electron and of the Neutron." He also contributes essays and reviews in First Things magazine, where he writes on such topics as evolution, Intelligent Design, and naturalism.

Dr. Barr recently agreed to answer some questions regarding science and religion.
 


 
Q: What is your background in science? In religion?

Dr. Barr: I received my Ph.D. in physics from Princeton in 1978. Since 1987 I have been a professor at the University of Delaware. My field of research is theoretical particle physics, and I have worked primarily in the area of "grand unified theories" and the cosmology of the early universe.

I am a lifelong Catholic.

Q: The controversial issue of Intelligent Design involves a basic question: What is science? How would you define science, as opposed to philosophy and theology? And would you call the "design hypothesis" put forward by the Intelligent Design movement science?

Dr. Barr: Science is sometimes divided into the "natural sciences" (astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology, biology) and the "human sciences" (like anthropology and psychology). The goal of the "natural sciences" is to understand the "natural order" of the physical universe. There are, of course, realities beyond the natural order and beyond the physical, but they lie outside the purview of natural science. Philosophy and theology have a much broader scope.

As I understand the "Intelligent Design movement", they are saying that certain biological phenomena can only be explained as miracles. They don't use that language, but that is in effect what they are saying. I firmly believe that miracles do happen. But a miracle, since it is something that contravenes the natural order, lies outside of natural science. I think it is quite legitimate to use scientific arguments and evidence to make out a case that some event is in fact miraculous. But that means that you have run up against the limits of what natural science can explain, and are invoking something beyond those limits. That is why I do not regard the ideas of the Intelligent Design movement as being hypotheses within natural science.

Let me put it this way. Science may show that a person turned water into wine, but that would be a miracle, not a new effect in the science of chemistry. Nor was the parting of the Red Sea a new effect in hydrodynamics. I am not sure that the "design hypothesis" is a part of biological science. That is not to say that it is wrong.

Q: Some scientists write as if they think that science can answer any question capable of being asked and answered. How would you respond?

Dr. Barr: It's absurd, and I wonder if anyone really believes it. I suspect that most of the people who write such things actually have all sorts of firmly held personal convictions that they could not prove by "scientific" demonstration.

There are many important questions about which natural science has nothing to say. Can science say whether murder is wrong? Or whether human beings have free will? Or whom a person should marry? Or whether a nation should go to war? Or what a man should live for or be ready to die for? And yet these are questions that not only can be answered but must be.

Q: What, in your view, is the most significant misunderstanding when it comes to religion and science?

Dr. Barr: Many atheists believe that all religion is at bottom either a pre-scientific attempt to understand natural phenomena through myth or an attempt to obtain worldly benefits through magic. And since they see science as the antithesis of myth and magic they cannot help but see all religion as antiscientific. Of course, such people have little understanding what true religion is all about.

Q: Do you know many scientists who are also religious believers?

Dr. Barr: Yes, quite a few. Indeed, I have about half a dozen friends in my own field who are devout Catholics. In fact, one of the real geniuses in my field (he would be ranked at or near the very top) is a practicing Catholic. However, in my experience most scientists are non-religious. That may have more to do with general cultural attitudes than with them being scientists. I have found as much atheism in humanities departments as in science departments.

Modern Physics and Ancient FaithQ: The science/religion debate operates on a number of levels. One is on the cosmic level—the existence of the universe. What can science tell us of the universe's origins? Are there limits to what science can say? What roles do philosophy and theology play in considering the question of the universe's origin?

Dr. Barr: One has to distinguish the question of the universe's beginning moments from the question of why there is a universe at all. In my view, science will never provide an answer to the latter question. As Stephen Hawking famously noted, all theoretical physics can do is give one a set of rules and equations that correctly describe the universe, but it cannot tell you why there is any universe for those equations to describe. He asked, "What breathes fire into the equations so that there is a universe for them describe?"

As far as the beginning moments of the universe go, science may eventually be able to describe what happened then. That is, when we know the fundamental laws of physics in their entirety—as I hope someday we will—it may well turn out that the opening events of the universe happened in accordance with those laws. In that sense, "the beginning" could have been "natural". However, that would not explain the "origin" of the universe in the deeper sense meant by "Creation".

Let me use an analogy. The first words of a play—say Hamlet—may obey the laws of English grammar. They may also fit into the rest of the plot in a natural way. In that sense, one might be able to give an "internal explanation" of those beginning words. However, that would not explain why there is a play. There is a play because there is a playwright. When we ask about the "origin" of the play, we are not asking about its first words, we are asking who wrote it and why. The origin of the universe is God.

Q: What do you think about efforts to develop a "Theory of Everything"?

Dr. Barr: I prefer to speak about a "Theory of Everything Physical". The goal of fundamental physics is to find the ultimate laws that govern all of physical reality. Most physicists, myself included, are convinced that such ultimate laws exist. There are good reasons to suspect that "superstring theory"—or what is now called "M-theory"—may be that ultimate theory. However, we are very far from being able to test it. In any event, to call any physics theory a "Theory of Everything" is to make the unwarranted—indeed false—assumption that everything is physical.

Q: What about the idea of multiple universes? Can we speak meaningfully of more than one "universe"?

Dr. Barr: As most people use the phrase, "multiple universes" is really a misnomer. What they usually really mean is that there is just one universe that is made up of many "domains" or regions, which are mutually inaccessible in practice—for example, because they are too far apart. The physical conditions in the various domains could be so different that they would appear superficially to have different physical laws. However, in all such scenarios it is assumed that the various domains actually all obey the same fundamental or ultimate laws. This "multiverse" idea is a perfectly sensible one. In fact, there are reasons to suspect that our universe may have such a domain structure.

Q: Stephen Hawking, in A Brief History of Time, talks about God and the mind of God. Yet he also seems to question whether there really is the need for a Creator in order to explain the existence of the cosmos. How do you see the matter? Is God a "necessary hypothesis"? Does science have anything to say about the question?

Dr. Barr: Hawking asked the right question when he wondered why there is a universe at all, but somehow he cannot accept the answer. The old question is, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" Science cannot answer that question, as Hawking (at least sometimes) realizes. I think his problem is that he doesn't see how the existence of God answers that question either. Part of the reason that many scientists are atheists is that they don't really understand what is meant by "God".

Anything whose existence is contingent (i.e. which could exist or not exist) cannot be the explanation of its own existence. It cannot, as it were, pull itself into being by its own bootstraps. As St. Augustine says in his Confessions, all created things cry out to us, "We did not make ourselves." Only God is uncreated, because God is a necessary being: He cannot not exist. It is of His very nature to exist. He said to Moses, "I AM WHO AM. ... Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: 'I AM hath sent me unto you.'"

I think scientists like Hawking would be helped if they could imagine God as an infinite Mind that understands and knows all things and Who, indeed, "thought the world up". If all of reality is "intelligible" (an idea that would appeal to scientists), then it follows really that there is some Intellect capable of understanding it fully. If no such Intellect exists or could exist, in what sense is reality fully intelligible? We need to recover the idea of God as the Logos, i.e. God as Reason itself. I note that Pope Benedict stressed this throughout his papacy, especially in his speech at Regensburg. It is an idea of God that people who devote their lives to rational inquiry can appreciate.

Q: You've written about the creation/evolution/ intelligent design controversy. What is your understanding of the main issues in that debate? Where do you come down?

Dr. Barr: There are really two quite distinct debates going on. One is between so-called "Creationism" and Evolution. The other is between Darwinism and the "Intelligent Design movement".

The so-called Creationists—a specific movement within the broader group of people who simply believe in a Creator—deny that evolution happened. They are charging off an intellectual cliff. There is overwhelming and convergent evidence from many directions for the evolution of species. So it is embarrassing that this "Creationism" versus Evolution battle is still going on. Fortunately, it has never been a Catholic fight. The Catholic Church has never had an objection to the idea of the evolution of species of plants and animals. As far as the evolution of man goes, the Church has always insisted that the human soul, being spiritual, cannot be explained by, or be the product of, merely material processes, whether biological reproduction or biological evolution. The soul of each human being is directly conferred on him or her by God, as taught symbolically in Genesis 2:7. However, the Church never condemned the idea that the human body evolved from pre-existing organisms. The natural origin of the human body by evolution is no more a threat to anything we believe as Catholics than is the natural origin of each human body by sexual reproduction.

Evolution as a biological theory has never bothered the Church, though she has always vigorously rejected radical philosophical ideas that were offshoots of it.

The debate between "Intelligent Design" and Darwinism has to be taken more seriously. The self-styled Intelligent Design (or "ID") movement says that while evolution may have happened the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection acting on random genetic mutations is not adequate to explain it. In particular, the ID people point to the great complexity of life, especially at the cellular level. If they are right, that would be very interesting, as it would almost force one to invoke miraculous intervention by God to explain many of the facts of biology. It would give us a slam-dunk proof for the existence of God. I, for one, would be very happy about that.

But are they right in saying that the Darwinian mechanism is inadequate to explain biological complexity? Most biologists, including most of those who are devout Christian believers, doubt it very strongly. And even if the ID people are right, it will be virtually impossible to prove that they are right because they are asserting a negative. They are saying that no Darwinian explanation of certain complex structures will ever be forthcoming. Well, there may not exist such an explanation now, but there might exist one later. So, in practice, I don't see a slam-dunk proof for miraculous intervention in evolution as coming out of this movement.

Frankly, I don't see this debate as one in which Catholics, as Catholics, have any stake. The traditional arguments for the existence of God are much deeper and more reliable than the ones the ID movement is trying to make. The Catholic Church herself has taken no stance on this controversy. A 2004 document of the International Theological Commission, Communion and Stewardship, issued with the approval of then Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), said it was an interesting dispute that should be left to scientists to decide, since it could not be decided by theological arguments.

Q: Critics of evolution point to statements made by some evolutionists to the effect that life emerged by chance occurrences or "random mutations" and natural selection. The "randomness" thought to be involved critics take as undercutting a claim that life on earth is the result of the creative act of God. What is your view of the matter?

Dr. Barr: The idea that chance plays a role in events is in no way contrary to Catholic doctrine. St. Augustine in The City of God says that no one in this life "can escape being tossed about by chance and accident". St. Thomas Aquinas devoted a whole chapter of his Summa Contra Gentiles (Book 3 chapter 74) to defending the proposition that "Divine Providence does not exclude chance and accident." The Bible itself talks about chance: "Time and chance happen to them all" (Ecclesiastes 9:11).

Things are matters of chance from a certain point of view. From God's point of view everything is known from all eternity. As Proverbs 16:33 says, "The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly from the Lord."

In everyday life we talk about the probabilities of things happening, and we talk about chance events, and such talk in no way implies a denial that God is in charge of everything and foreknows everything.

Scientists use the concepts of chance, probability, and randomness in much the same way. In a reasonably well-defined mathematical sense, the motions of the air molecules in a room are "random". There is nothing necessarily atheistic in saying this.

Q: The SETI project seems predicated on the likelihood of extraterrestrial life. Do we have good scientific grounds for thinking such life exists? Would the existence of extraterrestrial life pose any special problems, in your view, to religion in general or Christianity in particular?

Dr. Barr: There are too many things we don't know for anyone to be able to say that extraterrestrial life "probably exists" or "probably doesn't". For one thing, we don't know how big the universe is. Given what we now know, it is not unlikely that it is infinitely large. (I have found that many people have the false impression that the Big Bang theory implies a universe of finite size. Actually, in the standard Big Bang theory the universe can be either finite in volume or infinite depending on the value of a certain parameter, called Omega, and whether it is bigger or smaller than 1. Present theory suggests that Omega is so close to 1 that it will be very hard, and probably impossible, to determine by observation whether it is larger or smaller than 1.) Even if the universe is of finite size, it is likely to be exponentially larger than the part we can observe with telescopes. In short, we cannot set any limit at present on how many stars and planets exist. It could be 10 to the 20th power, or 10 to the millionth power, or indeed infinite. That is all-important in deciding how likely it is that advanced life exists elsewhere.

However, if there is life elsewhere, there are strong reasons to suspect that it is so far away that we will never make contact with it. So many conditions have to be satisfied for a planet even to be habitable, that it seems probable that we are the only sentient beings in our galaxy.

I don't see why extraterrestrial life raises any problems at all for Catholic theology. God might have created free and rational beings in other parts of the universe. If so, they would have immortal souls. If they fell, Christ could have redeemed them. He could have redeemed them in the same way He redeemed us. If the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity can assume unto Himself a human nature, He can assume unto himself the nature of another kind of rational creature as well.

Q: You've written about the issue of artificial intelligence. Many scientists and technicians seem to think it only a matter of time before a genuinely artificial intelligence, capable of engaging in all the kinds of intellectual activities of human beings is created. What is your view?

Dr. Barr: I think they are wrong. I do not believe that the human intellect and will are reducible to the operations of a machine. There are philosophical arguments going back to Plato and Aristotle for the immateriality of the human intellect. And I think that there are very suggestive indications from both modern physics and mathematics that seem to dovetail with these philosophical arguments. I am thinking in particular of quantum theory in its traditional formulation and Goedel's Theorem in mathematics. There are some great scientists (like Sir Rudolf Peierls and Eugene Wigner) who argued on the basis of quantum theory that the human mind could not be explained by mere physics. And there are several eminent philosophers and mathematicians who believe that Goedel's Theorem shows that the human mind cannot be explained as a mere computer. I explain these arguments in the latter part of my book.

Q: What do you think of Nancey Murphy's non-reductive physicalism? (Assuming you've followed her discussion.)

Dr. Barr: I haven't followed her writings, but I know that there are many people who would argue that "spirit" is an "emergent" property of matter. I look askance at such theories. As far as I am concerned, to say that the spiritual is "physical" is reductive. "Non-reductive physicalism" sounds to me like a contradiction in terms.

While the spiritual can be incarnate in matter, it cannot emerge from matter. The spiritual powers of man (i.e., his intellect and will) cannot be explained as growing out of the natural potentialities of matter, in my view. As I argue in my book, matter cannot understand and the merely physical cannot have freedom. I think Pope John Paul II said the same thing when he claimed that between man and the lower animals there is an "ontological discontinuity". And I think that Pope Pius XII was saying the same thing when he insisted that the human spiritual soul cannot have evolved by material processes. And I think that Genesis 2:7 is saying the same thing in speaking of God "breathing" the soul into Adam.

There are a lot of people nowadays who are made uncomfortable by the idea of a human "spiritual soul". I am not one of them. I am happy to see that we in English-speaking countries now once more say at Mass "and with your spirit" and in the Domine non sum dignus "only say the word and my soul shall be healed". There has been too much embarrassment over the idea of the soul.

Q: Many scientists are outspoken when it comes to social issues. Does science, qua science, provide objective values and an ethical code that is in principle universal? Or do scientists get their ethical principles elsewhere, like the rest of us?

Dr. Barr: Even Richard Dawkins admits that science cannot provide us with the answers to moral questions. I frankly don't see how materialism can ground any objective morality. In fact, I think materialism leads logically to a denial of freedom of the will; and if there is no free will any talk of morality is utterly meaningless.

Q: Obviously, such things are beyond the power of strict prediction, but do you think it likely that we will see another Copernican revolution in thought that affects our worldview, including our theological worldview? If so, in what area of science do you think it likely this will occur?

Dr. Barr: Before answering that, let me say something about the past revolutions in scientific thought. It can be argued that the Copernican Revolution and Newtonian Revolution gave rise to a worldview that was in some tension with traditional Jewish and Christian theology. However, in my view, several of the "revolutions" in twentieth-century science have actually moved us back toward a view of the universe, of human beings, and of our place in the universe that is more consonant with traditional Jewish and Christian ideas than with materialism and atheism. In fact, that is what my book Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, is all about.

If there are future revolutions in thought that come from science, we should not assume that they will move us away from traditional theological positions. I expect them to move us closer.

In physics, the most likely revolution in thought, in my view, would concern our understanding of space and time. I don't think that would have any significant effect on theology, except on naive theologies that are already at odds with what we presently know about space and time (like "process theology"). The greatest blank areas on the map of science are in biology and in the understanding of mind. I don't think those blank areas will ever disappear altogether, since it is unlikely that man is capable of fully understanding himself.
 
 
Originally published at Ignatius Insight. Used with permission.

Brandon Vogt

Written by

Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author, blogger, and speaker. He's also the founder of StrangeNotions.com. Brandon has been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. He converted to Catholicism in 2008, and since then has released several books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011), Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), and RETURN (Numinous Books, 2015). He works as the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their five children in Central Florida. Follow him at BrandonVogt.com or connect through Twitter at @BrandonVogt.

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  • Kevin Aldrich

    Thanks for such an interesting interview, certainly the most in-depth one I've seen here!

  • gwen saul

    I enjoyed the interview, except for this answer, which I find grossly inaccurate and disagree with as an atheist involved in the sciences:

    "Many atheists believe that all religion is at bottom either a
    pre-scientific attempt to understand natural phenomena through myth or
    an attempt to obtain worldly benefits through magic. And since they see
    science as the antithesis of myth and magic they cannot help but see all
    religion as antiscientific. Of course, such people have little
    understanding what true religion is all about."

    • David Nickol

      How, as an atheist involved with science, do you see religion?

    • WhiteRock

      Which part do you disagree with? The fact there are many atheists who do see it this way (you'll find many of them living in the comment section on YouTube and on Reddit) or do you disagree with the latter, that such people have little understanding of what true religion is about?

      • Octavo

        "Of course, such people have little understanding what true religion is all about."

        In real life, lots of atheists have spent great portions of their respective lifetimes as members of various religions. Of course, the rhetorical out is that if we had understood "True Religion" we wouldn't be atheists. It's an annoying, unnecessary line of argument that paints atheists with too broad of a brush.

        ~Jesse Webster

        • Jesse, Dr. Barr wasn't describing *all* atheists that way. He specifically described a subset (cf. "such people").

          His point certainly resonates with my experience, though. The large majority of my offline atheist friends display a remarkable ignorance about Christianity, and Catholicism in particular.

          (That's not true about most my atheist friends on this site.)

          • gwen saul

            I don't think it's fair to expect people-atheists for not-to have a clear understanding of Christianity or Catholicism if they did not grow up with the religion or learn about it in school. Dr. Barr certainly intimated he was describing all atheists and I don't find that accurate at all. Also, a group of atheists on Reddit or in the comment section of this blog or offline atheists you work with still does not, in any way, account for all atheists. Small sample size and random questioning does not make for accuracy.

          • Victoria

            Dr. Barr clearly did NOT "intimate he was describing all atheists". He explicitly said "many atheists". If your understanding of the terms "many" and "all" is such that they have identical meanings, then perhaps your capacity to comment on both religion AND science is too limited to contribute anything to this discussion.

          • zornwil

            Sorry, I did not see your point here when I wrote above: as @Victoria raises, where do you get the idea Dr. Barr "intimated he was describing all atheists"? I got completely the opposite impression.

        • zornwil

          I just don't see the "broad brush" you do. He didn't say "Atheists believe...," he said "Many atheists believe..." I'm a member of many groups that one can easily say "Many..." and it's obvious the statement doesn't mean any particular number, it can be and, when the term "many" is used, usually means a small (but to be noticed, typically vocal) minority.

    • Micha_Elyi

      I am pleased to learn that you have personally met and acquainted yourself all atheists, Gwen.

      I'm also pleased to infer from your remark that there are very few atheists.

      • gwen saul

        So based on your process for deducing truths out of thin air, I can assume that all people named Micha are douchebags? Excellent! I learn something new every day.

      • zornwil

        "Gwen"? I don't see that poster?

        • Michael Murray

          If Gwen has deleted their post then it will be relabelled Guest. That is how Disqus works. Worth remembering if you try to delete one of your posts. Remove all the content first. Well all the content but one character as it doesn't seem to like a completely blank post. Then delete. By they way I think Gwen is one of the many atheists who can no longer post here. Currently this list is.

          Andre B, Andrew G, Argon, Articulett, Ben Posin, BenS, Danny Getchell, Epeeist, Geena Safire, Ignorant Amos, Jonathan West, josh, MichaelNewsham, Mike A, Noah Luck, M. Solange O'Brien, Paul Boillot, Renard Wolfe, Rob Tisinai, staircaseghost, stanz2reason, Stjepan Marusic, Susan, Zen Druid.

    • zornwil

      I don't think it's inaccurate as he simply says "many" believe this, not even anything approaching a majority. I certainly have known many atheists like this, and many of our "famous" ones have said essentially the same statement, that religion is a "pre-scientific attempt to understand natural phenomena through myth or [I would say and/or] an attempt to obtain worldly benefits through magic," and nothing more. They tend to judge religions on the "facts" they purport in their fundamental texts (e.g., God created everything in 6 "days" in the Bible) and not on the broader interpretations among the faithful.

  • David Nickol

    Dr. Stephen Barr is one of the most sensible voices on the issue of the conflict (or absence of conflict) between science and religion. It is very refreshing to read someone on the topic who really understands science at least as well as religion. It seems to me that those who claim there is no conflict between science and religion are more religiously oriented than scientifically oriented.

    Dr. Barr says:

    If the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity can assume unto Himself a
    human nature, He can assume unto himself the nature of another kind of
    rational creature as well.

    Let me tentatively say that I think this is not in conformity with theological understandings about the Incarnation. I put this forward tentatively because not very much has been written about the possibility of alien equivalents of Jesus!

    I think it is considered that the Incarnation could happen only once. It is not difficult to find emphatic statements of that, but they do not explicitly limit the Incarnation to the Second Person of the Trinity becoming a human being and no other life form. I think this is implied, however. And it seems to me if Jesus is one person with two natures (human and divine), it would get very complicated if the Second Person of the Trinity was thought of on Altair IV (from Forbidden Planet) as a person with two natures (Krell and divine). Would it make sense that the Second Person of the Trinity could be a whole group of people, each with a divine nature and the nature of some different intelligent race in the universe?

    Reverend José Gabriel Funes, head of the Vatican Observatory, in 2008 stated his belief that Catholicism has no problem with the hypothesis that there could be other intelligent life forms in the universe. One possibility he raised regarding the need for a savior is that other races might not have needed one, having no equivalent of "the Fall."

    • SJH

      Why would that be problematic? God revealed one one person within the Trinity prior to Jesus' life. Perhaps he can reveal more later. Is it Catholic teaching that only three persons exist or is it that only three have been revealed to us? The only claims that we can make about God are those that he reveals to us. Or has he revealed that there are only three.
      Also, if there are only three persons in the Trinity, then perhaps another solution to your problem is that alien life forms are also saved through Jesus and his grace. Chances are, if there is alien life, then the timing of the development of such lifeforms will not correspond to our own and therefor their need for a savior within their history does not correspond to ours as well.

      • David Nickol

        It seems to me that it cannot be claimed that Jesus is true God and true man and the Second Person of the Trinity if there is also another Second Person of the Trinity who is also true God and "true-member-of-an-alien-race." Suppose the human race, the Krell (Forbidden Planet), and the Pierson's Puppeteers (Larry Niven's Known Space) all had a primordial fall and needed a redeemer. Would the Second Person of the Trinity be one person with four natures, true God and true man, Krell, and Puppeteer? Jesus ascended into heaven as a risen man. Is that not what he is now?

        Is the Incarnation properly thought of as God becoming man, or God becoming a material being? If the Fall affected all of creation, wouldn't the Incarnation and the Resurrection?

        • ColdStanding

          God, specifically the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, did not become man in the sense of changing His nature from God to man. No, He became the principle of elevation (which is what a soul does, and souls are immaterial because they are spiritual and God is a spirit) for a material body that was perfectly suited to Him. In so doing, He was and is acting as the principle of elevation for one specific unique body. That body was completed or perfected and attained all the graces His Father in Heaven wanted to give to Man, including immortality of the material body.

          So, assuming I have properly squared my account, the claim is rather more strong than that the Word of God could have become a being (of the type man is, namely, body and ratiocinating soul) upon any planet. No, it is specifically THIS planet and THIS body, ecce homo, Christ Jesus. It is considered cruel and against reason to suggest that Jesus Christ would have had to have multiple incarnations and deaths upon sundry crosses.

          • MichaelNewsham

            In "Perelandra" C.S. Lewis has the intelligent creatures of the planet (Venus) be human beings, because they came into existence after the Incarnation, and thus must take the same form as Christ; whereas the Malacandrians (Martians) were older non-human races.

            (Ooops, should be reply to Dave Nickol)

          • Louis Tully

            If we consider our rational nature and sentience to be a consequence of our soul (which I believe is Catholic teaching), then it's not absurd to suggest that we are the only sentient creatures in the universe. Other life forms may have arisen through natural processes, but it takes a supernatural act of God to ensoul them.

          • Julia Lengyel

            Without taking sides, sure there is one second person of the trinity. In my opinion the redemption is extempore. By it I mean that dough in this world it happened at a specific time, its effect was on before and after, i.e. for eternity.
            Since in one sense God (Christ) is not tied to dimension, he can be everywhere at the same time, it could be possible, that the one and only act of redemption was independent of time and and space, i.e. could happen in more than one place and time, and only from the human point of view, one place and one time. (In physics the are tensors, describing one thing, but multidimensional)

        • SJH

          Could there not be a fourth person within God? Perhaps not in the form of an alien species? Or perhaps so? If there are three, why can't there be four?
          What if there is a whole other universe that God created with a different set of physical laws that we can't understand?
          These types of questions, although interesting, won't mean much to the question of God's existence.
          As we proceed through the life of our universe, we are brought further into the fullness of truth. As we make more scientific discoveries, additional truths are revealed to us and we are forced to reconcile those with our finite understanding and our current circumstances.

          • David Nickol

            Could there not be a fourth person within God? . . . . If there are three, why can't there
            be four?

            I feel very confident in saying, no, there can't be a fourth person in God (according to the Catholic Church). I don't know enough theology as it pertains to the Trinity, so I can't explain why in any detail, but I think the relationship among the (alleged) three persons is worked out in such a way that the notion of the Trinity is dogma and can't be modified.

            Of course, I don't believe it is dogma that the only way to redeem a fallen race is for a person of the Trinity to be incarnated as a member of that race, suffer, die, and rise from the dead. There are any number of alternate theories of who Jesus was that are heresies on earth, but who is to say God could not, on some other world, choose one exemplary member of the race and adopt him as his son and representative (which is what Adoptionists believe about Jesus), or that one of the three persons of the Trinity could not appear in the guise of a member of an intelligent race without being incarnated.

            The place to explore this kind of thing would be science fiction, and as far as I know, there is scarcely any science fiction that deals with theology. One notable exception is <a href="ce-Del-Rey-Impact/dp/0345438353/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-2&qid=1386112425A Case of Conscience by James Blish, which I read many years ago. Another is Mary Doria Russell's books The Sparrow and Children of God, which I have not read, but which are highly thought of.

  • josh

    I respect Dr. Barr as a physicist and am sorry, but not surprised, to learn that his thinking is so shallow when his religion intrudes upon it. This is all very run-of-the-mill Catholic apologist boilerplate. When we keep hearing about how "Of course, such people have little understanding what true religion is all about." followed by a perfectly familiar litany of the old canards that most of us think religion is about, I can only marvel at the human mind's capacity for self-deception.

    I am curious what 'revolutions' in twentieth-century science he thinks have moved us back towards a 'traditional' Jewish or Christian mindset.

    • Vasco Gama

      «I can only marvel at the human mind's capacity for self-deception»
      indeed (but not me, of course)

      always amusing

    • josh, thanks for the comment.

      I'm assuming Dr. Barr is referring to advances in late-twentieth and early-twenty-first cosmology which remarkably verify classical theism. For example, mainstream contemporary cosmology almost unanimously agrees that the universe had a beginning, something that most cosmologists disagreed with just 50 years ago. For more on this shift, see Robert Spitzer's book, New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy.

      • josh

        Sure, 'beginning' in the sense of 'vastly different conditions at an earlier point in time that gradually transitioned to the current state'. But, as with the beginning of life, the scientific picture is entirely different from the religious one, especially the traditional religious one (in the case of Abrahamic faiths at least). Some scientists favored a more static universe decades ago, but this was never much more than a personal preference (Einstein famously added a cosmological constant to his equations to ensure stability, then dropped it as 'his greatest mistake'). At most you could say it was a tendency among some people, after finding out the universe was so much older and bigger and gradual than the religious picture would have it, to make the working assumption that it was unchanging on the largest measured scales.

        I mean, it would have been interesting if the macro-state of the universe was apparently static, which would also contradict Biblical accounts, but I'm sure the Catholic response would have been that God was still needed to create an eternal static universe in some undefined sense and of course that is what Genesis is meant to tell us. So I don't see how learning that the modern universe can be traced back to a dense, hot state where our equations break down lends any credence to creationism.

        • Now, you're conflating Creationism with Intelligent Design, and they're not the same thing. The former is the idea that Genesis was, verbatim, the way things went down. The latter, while encompassing varying degrees of actual narrative, is essentially the idea that God set down the laws of the universe, and let the universe do it's thing.

          Obviously, this is my very surface-level analysis, point being that Creationism is not Intelligent Design, nor vice versa.

          • Sqrat

            Ummm ... no? According to the Discovery Institute, "Intelligent design (ID) is a scientific theory that employs the methods commonly used by other historical sciences to conclude that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection."

            It's a directed process, not just "letting the universe do its thing" after the laws of the universe came into existence.

          • I've never heard of the Discovery Institute, but it'd be interesting to poll the Catholics on the site and see which definition fits better with Catholic theology.

          • Sqrat

            The Discovery Institute is the main outfit behind trying to get Intelligent Design taught in US public schools.

          • Sqrat

            I should add here that ID purports to be a scientific theory, which would mean that teaching it in public schools would not raise an Establishment Clause issue. In the famous case of Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District , the court rejected that claim, finding that it was not a scientific theory, but a religious one.

            The court noted in its opinion "that John Haught, a [Catholic] theologian who testified as an expert witness for Plaintiffs and who has written extensively on the subject of evolution and religion, succinctly explained to the Court that the argument for ID is not a new scientific argument, but is rather an old religious argument for the existence of God."

          • Thank you for the clarification!

          • Also, isn't setting up all the laws of the universe just-so so that it plays out in a specific way you wanted the same as a directed process? I don't think the two definitions are mutually exclusive.

          • Sqrat

            The outcome might be the same, but it's not the same. The two definitions are, in fact, mutually exclusive.

          • If I made a tunnel, then took people and put them in the tunnel and said go wherever you want, but there wasn't any room for them to turn around or go anywhere but forward, I suppose I'm not directing them.

          • Sqrat

            The obvious difference is that, in the case where God created natural laws and then just let the universe do its thing, the outcome (you say) is inevitable, while in the case of Intelligent Design, as defined by the Discovery Institute, God has intervened after the creation of the universe to reach the desired outcome.

            That said, the Discovery Institute folks might, perhaps, be OK with the idea that there was no post creation divine intervention, but simply an absolutely inevitable outcome.

            Catholics, on the other hand, might be OK with the idea that there was such an intervention, and that God hasn't just let the universe do its thing. Indeed, from what I understand of Catholic theology, God intervenes in the universe everywhere and all the time because, unless he did, everything in the universe would for some unknown reason just go "poof" and wink out of existence.

          • That's a fair point, all around, I think.

          • David Nickol

            Are you implying a tunnel is a good metaphor for evolution? I have seen estimates that 99.9% of species that have ever lived are extinct. If evolution is "guided," most of the guiding has been directing organisms into one-way, dead-end tunnels.

          • Is it a good metaphor? Probably not. My point was that Discovery Institute's definition of Intelligent Design I believe fails to satisfy Brandon's initial indication of classical theism. I'll let Brandon answer for himself though.

          • zornwil

            That ignores that these extinct species have contributed to other species which exist; it also somehow indicates that there's something somehow contradictory or wrong about a guided evolution directing organisms into that one-way dead-end. So what if so, if it is directed? For all we'd know in such a case, the entity doing the directing may be attempting to teach some lesson.

            Not suggesting I believe in such a guided evolution, just saying if it were somehow shown to be the case, I don't see any issue or contradiction with your "one-way dead-end."

          • Julia Lengyel

            For me it is a directed process, but since it is within the law of physics and math, it cannot be proven that it is a directed process. Just as well, it cannot be proven that it is completely random. :-)

          • Andre Boillot

            Daniel,

            What makes you think that josh is conflating the two?

          • "So I don't see how learning that the modern universe can be traced back to a dense, hot state where our equations break down lends any credence to creationism."

            But Dr. Barr was talking about Intelligent Design.

          • Andre Boillot

            I'll let josh respond for himself. However, I will note that Brandon's wording - "advances in late-twentieth and early-twenty-first cosmology which remarkably verify classical theism" - may have muddied the waters in terms of what he was responding to. To my mind, 'classical theism' could easily be taken to mean literal interpretations of Genesis.

          • Ah, I see, but classical theism is a pretty technical term actually, and Creationism is just about it's antithesis. It's much more Thomistic/Aristotelian than that.

          • Andre Boillot

            One wonders why I didn't just google 'classical theism' instead of relying on my mind. Point taken.

          • Edward Feser has a blog, and is the most ready example in my head of a classical theist. He's very articulate as well. Might be worth checking into.

            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/

          • "To my mind, 'classical theism' could easily be taken to mean literal interpretations of Genesis."

            I disagree. First of all, only one subset of theists even accepts the Genesis account. But second, up and down the centuries the most prominent Christian theists have interpreted the Genesis narratives figuratively (i.e., not in a literalistic way). See Origin, Augustine, Aquinas, etc.

          • Andre Boillot
          • Andre Boillot

            "up and down the centuries the most prominent Christian theists have interpreted the Genesis narratives figuratively"

            I think this is somewhat of an over-simplification. Doesn't Augustine's interpretation boil down to 'as long as it doesn't conflict with science/reason, it's literal'?

          • Speaking of over-simplifications...

            But really, Augustine's main point is that God, nor Scripture, would countermand reason, so it's a beautiful figurative narration.

          • Andre Boillot

            "Speaking of over-simplifications..."

            ;)

            "But really, Augustine's main point is that God, nor Scripture, would countermand reason, so it's a beautiful figurative narration."

            Sure, but I'm trying to note that some of these Christian theists were perfectly happy to interpret parts of Genesis (or other parts of the Bible) literally when it didn't seem obviously wrong to do so. So, we end up with Augustine conceding that it's silly to think of creation occurring over a period of 6 days (as we think of them) when part of that creation took place prior to the creation of the sun...but on the other hand he'll reject historical accounts which document events occurring more than 6000 years prior to his time, because they would be contrary to scripture.

            http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf102.iv.XII.10.html

          • Yes, but there's a qualitative difference between rejecting a scientific truth (which he doesn't do) and rejecting a sociological/anthropological truth (which he does). Right?

          • Andre Boillot

            Sure - but that's in keeping with my point. The scientific truth of the age of the earth not yet being established, Augustine felt perfectly comfortable with a literal interpretation of the Bible. He's not saying that all of Genesis / the creation narrative needs to be taken figuratively, just the parts we know to be false.

          • zornwil

            I don't know how one thinks "classical theism" would have something to do with fundamentalism/literalism. I see anyway you looked it up later, and my point is ABSOLUTELY NOT to criticize you, but rather to call attention to how our culture/society somehow conflates the very words "classical theism" with this very different kind of thinking. That any of us would think this - as opposed to either knowing what classical theism is or (much more likely, I do not suggest it's common knowledge at all) simply wondering what classical theism is - indicates just the level of disdain our culture holds for religion (and I also am no great fan of religion, per se, yet I find myself defending it far more often than I'd like).

          • Michael Murray

            You are going to get tired of me saying this but Andre B has been banned so don't expect a reply if you post here. You can find him over here

            htpp://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com

          • josh

            I'm using creationism in the broader sense of the belief that the universe is the product of a creator.

          • Vasco Gama

            is that in the sense of Spinoza or Einstein, or is it just in the Catholic sense.

          • josh

            It's in the sense under which both Catholic and Protestant (and Jewish, and Islamic and etc.) creation beliefs are subsumed. Einstein, from what I know, denied any belief in a creator God, though he did use the term metaphorically and seemed to sympathize with the Spinozan pantheistic sort of notion.

          • Vasco Gama

            Well to the best of my knowledge the God of Spinoza did create the universe (and creation was the only point). And Einstein was a big fan of the idea to the point of denying that he was an atheist (but wait maybe he also qualifies as possessing this tendency to self-deception that worries you so much).

          • josh

            "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."

            -Albert Einstein, 1954

            He seems to have considered himself an agnostic, disliking the "crusading spirit of the professional atheist". But "From the viewpoint of a Jesuit priest I am, of course, and have always been an atheist."

          • Vasco Gama

            Well that is the God of Spinoza

          • fredx2

            Einstiens positions seems to have been: "I have no idea"

            Here is some more on Einstein:

            In an interview published in 1930 in G. S. Viereck's book Glimpses of the Great, Einstein, in response to a question about whether or not he believed in God, explained:

            "Your question [about God] is the most difficult in the world. It is not a question I can answer simply with yes or no. I am not an Atheist. I do not know if I can define myself as a Pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. May I not reply with a parable? The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe. We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order, which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of the human mind, even the greatest and most cultured, toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations. I am fascinated by Spinoza's Pantheism. I admire even more his contributions to modern thought. Spinoza is the greatest of modern philosophers, because he is the first philosopher who deals with the soul and the body as one, not as two separate things.[19]

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_of_Albert_Einstein

          • MichaelNewsham

            It's not generally used that way, at least in the Anglosphere, so that might lead to confusion.

          • zornwil

            :) Very dangerous to do! I am very much opposed to "Creationism" but, as an agnostic, have no real opinion, nothing but ambivalence, as to the question of whether our universe was created consciously by an entity (given what we are suspecting about how easy it is to create "pocket dimensions" and the like, it seems even more likely, though the creating entity seems more likely a scientist "simply" conducting an experiment rather than a God as we see such) or even whether our evolution into humans ("as we know humans to be") was directed by some "God" (or an alien race for that matter) in some means complementary to what we've seen in evolutionary sciences.

          • Michael Murray

            You won't get a reply from josh here. He is one of The Banned.

            Andre B, Andrew G, Argon, Articulett, Ben Posin, BenS, Danny Getchell, Epeeist, Geena Safire, Ignorant Amos, Jonathan West, josh, MichaelNewsham, Mike A, Noah Luck, M. Solange O'Brien, Paul Boillot, Renard Wolfe, Rob Tisinai, staircaseghost, stanz2reason, Stjepan Marusic, Susan, Zen Druid.

            You can find him over here sometimes

            http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com

          • Susan

            Obviously, this is my very surface-level analysis, point being that Creationism is not Intelligent Design, nor vice versa

            Have you watched Eugenie Scott's talk on the "intelligent design" movement and the Dover trial?

            http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Eugenie+scott+dover+trial+

            They are the same thing. It is a political movement with a different name.

          • It may also be a political movement, but Intelligent design is a separate theory/postulation/explanation from Creationism. Intelligent Design as a political movement might be all these parties together, but Creationism and Intelligent Design are not the same thing.

          • zornwil

            Just because there is a political agenda and driver does not preclude the good faith (no pun intended) attempt by some few who do really support Intelligent Design.

          • Michael Murray

            Susan won't reply here she has been banned.

          • zornwil

            Oh, thanks! And just not to make too many replies, thanks re mentioning as well re other bans, and possibly where to find some folks. Very kind of you.

          • Julia Lengyel

            I disagree that Intelligent design necessarily need little miracles. For me it means that the universe, and the creation of life is according to Gods plan. Probability gives God enough leeway to effect what happens, without in most cases needing a miracle. Einstein said God does not play with dice.
            For me God plays with loaded dice. Things still appear to be random, but according to His will.

        • Thanks for the reply, josh. It's refreshing to have a charitable exchange with you every now and then :)

          As others have pointed out, you're conflating Creationism with other cosmological beliefs but I'll leave that aside for now.

          You also wrote:

          "Sure, 'beginning' in the sense of 'vastly different conditions at an earlier point in time that gradually transitioned to the current state'."

          That's an extremely broad definition of "beginning" and it's not what I or most philosopher or scientists mean by the word. By saying the universe had a beginning I mean it hasn't always existed--it doesn't have an infinite past. Would you agree or disagree?

          "But, as with the beginning of life, the scientific picture is entirely different from the religious one, especially the traditional religious one (in the case of Abrahamic faiths at least)."

          You assert this, but then don't defend it. Please explain how the scientific picture is "entirely different" than the religious once. This seems to mean the two are completely at odds, and if that's the case their differences should be clearly evident. Please detail at least some of them.

          "At most you could say it was a tendency among some people, after finding out the universe was so much older and bigger and gradual than the religious picture would have it"

          Which "religious picture" are you referring to? Perhaps that of Fundamentalists or that of Catholics? We're only concerned with the latter on this site. Please explain how old, big, and gradual you think Catholics believe the universe to be.

          "I mean, it would have been interesting if the macro-state of the universe was apparently static, which would also contradict Biblical accounts."

          How would a static universe contradict the Biblical accounts? Again, you assert this without providing any explanation.

          • josh

            "That's an extremely broad definition of "beginning" and it's not what I or most philosopher or scientists mean by the word." It's what scientists mean by the word in this context, which is why I'm pointing out that apologists who wish to use the Big Bang as evidence are making a mistake.

            Per science, we don't know if the universe has an infinite past or not. Extrapolating back 13 some billion years (in a particular frame) we come to a point where our equations break down and we don't understand the relevant physics. If there is really a finite distance in time from here to some singularity point, then there is nothing for the universe to begin in and no causal framework we can point to. We would have found an edge but not a beginning in any clear sense. So, just be aware that when cosmologists talk about the beginning of the universe they are speaking somewhat colloquially.

            "Please explain how the scientific picture is "entirely different" than the religious once." The Abrahamic picture was that God created the universe out of nothing through an act of will or power in essentially a constant state, with the Earth at the center. (The older tradition may be that God gave form to a pre-existing primal chaos.) Humans, plants, animals, stars, the sun and moon (which weren't known to be equivalent to stars and planets respectively) were all created at essentially the same time, give or take a day. Two original humans were created separately from the animals and lived in a paradise, until they disobeyed God, who cursed them to live in a harsher world subject to death, disease, toil, etc. This is revealed by scripture and tradition.

            The scientific picture, arrived at by evidence and subject to revision of course, is that the universe follows an apparent set of underlying, directionless laws which allow us to extrapolate from its state at one point to another. Following this, our observable patch of the universe can be traced back to a very different patch of hot dense matter. As this patch expands it cools and the familiar structures of our universe gradually emerge following said laws, like ice crystals forming. There are no abrupt creations, nor creators, and the earth is a late addition which plays no special role. Life emerges on earth later still through another gradual, undirected, mindless process. Mind, morals and society come about gradually as one particular branch on the tree of evolutionary strategies. Distinctions between humans and other animals emerge gradually and are ultimately arbitrary. At no point have 'we' been immortal, or free of toil, violence and disease. At no point have 'we' been only two.

            "Please explain how old, big, and gradual you think Catholics believe the universe to be." First, Catholics and Fundamentalists aren't exclusive groups. I think you are using the term to mean a certain strain of Protestantism. Anyhow, traditionally Catholics mostly thought the universe was a few thousand years old and big enough to contain the earth on which it was centered but not big enough to ignore stellar parallax (for the few who ever knew what that was). As for gradualism, they tended to view the earth's creation as instantaneous, as also for man's creation, the Fall, etc. Augustine, often trotted out as an early non-literalist, preferred a more instantaneous creation than the seven days of Genesis.

            As you know, many modern Catholics, including the hierarchy, have been forced to a modified view where the universe is old and big as science indicates. (Although, given the Thomist metaphysics they tend to advocate, do they think the universe isn't spatially infinite? I honestly don't know.) They have adopted varying degrees of gradualism where something that looks like evolution has occurred but it was all set up ahead of time by God, but certain events, like the giving of a soul, which is what makes us rational and 'truly' human, were discrete interruptions.

            This seems to me to be almost entirely the religious viewpoint conceding ground to the advance of science, while trying to preserve a claim to some element of truth. I think you want to say that the modern Catholic viewpoint is less conflicted with some specific scientific claims than the traditional one, which is true. But the points not in conflict are just concessions to science, not the religious view per se, and the points in conflict are the religious ones (Adam and Eve, homosexuality, contraception/abortion, history, ensoulment, AT metaphysics, ID sympathies, 'agent' causation, free will, a creator for the universe, etc.) They aren't supported by science, you just think they haven't been ruled out.

            "How would a static universe contradict the Biblical accounts?" Well, it's you who is trying to argue that a 'beginning' for the universe supports the traditional religious account. If it appeared that the universe was in a static state which would have existed infinitely into the past and future, clearly that would contradict the traditional belief that there was a particular moment (or days) or creation. Otherwise, how could a beginning provide any argument for agreement with the Bible?

          • Thanks for the comment, josh. There's too much here for me to respond to right now, but if you'd like a reply to a specific point let me know.

            I'd just like to answer your final question. You ask, "Otherwise, how could a beginning provide any argument for agreement with the Bible?"

            I'd point you to the very first verse in the Bible: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."

          • David Nickol

            I'd point you to the very first verse in the Bible: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."

            As I have pointed out in other threads, Genesis 1:1-3 in The New American Bible (Revised Edition) reads as follows:

            In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth—and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters—Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light.

            According to footnotes:

            Until modern times the first line was always translated, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Several comparable ancient cosmogonies, discovered in recent times, have a “when…then” construction, confirming the translation “when…then” here as well. “When” introduces the pre-creation state and “then” introduces the creative act affecting that state. The traditional translation, “In the beginning,” does not reflect the Hebrew syntax of the clause. . . .

            [1:2] This verse is parenthetical, describing in three phases the pre-creation state symbolized by the chaos out of which God brings order: “earth,” hidden beneath the encompassing cosmic waters, could not be seen, and thus had no “form”; there was only darkness; turbulent wind swept over the waters. Commencing with the last-named elements (darkness and water), vv. 3–10 describe the rearrangement of this chaos: light is made (first day) and the water is divided into water above and water below the earth so that the earth appears and is no longer “without outline.”

            The Jewish Publication Society Study Bible translates the opening of Genesis as follows:

            When God began to create heaven and earth—the earth being unformed and void and a wind from God sweeping over the water—God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

            According to a footnote to verse 2 (the verse beginning and ending with dashes):

            This clause describes things just before the process of creation began. To modern people, the opposite of the created order is “nothing,” that is, a vacuum. To the ancients, the opposite of the created order was much worse than “nothing.” It was an active, malevolent force we can best term “chaos.” In this verse, chaos is envisioned as a dark, undifferentiated mass of water.

            E. A. Speiser, in the Anchor Bible volume Genesis, translates the passage as follows:

            When God set about to create heaven and earth—the world being then in a formless waste, with darkness over the seas and only an awesome wind sweeping over the water—God said, "Let there be light." And there was light.

          • josh

            Okay, so you agree with me now that a static universe would contradict the Bible?

          • Vasco Gama

            Not really. I presume that that would be Brandon's answer, and I would add that the Bible must not be mistaken or confused with a science book (in any way you can imagine, except if you were a creacionist, in that case you would be wrong) at least that is not the Catholic understanding of it.

        • MichaelNewsham

          I thought it was the general assumption of the Newtonian world system that space is both infinite and eternal and unchanging (barring bows to the original Creation). As Dr. Barr points out, this is different from modern views.

          • josh

            Well, Newtonian mechanics by itself doesn't really include a cosmology. It explains the motions of objects around our solar system and can include distant objects like stars orbiting the galactic center of mass up to a point. Since it treats space as flat it doesn't include any obvious finitude in space or time, although one could be imposed with boundary conditions. Nonetheless, it's certainly true that the modern view is different, it just isn't true that the modern view is a return to religiously inspired claims.

        • Julia Lengyel

          Barr clearly stated that it does NOT give credence to creationism.

      • David Nickol

        For example, mainstream contemporary cosmology almost unanimously agrees that the universe had a beginning, something that most cosmologists disagreed with just 50 years ago.

        I remember reading Isaac Asimov about religious implications (or lack thereof) of the big bang theory many decades ago, and he pointed out that there were only two possibilities—it did, or it didn't. So there's a 50-50 chance of guessing correctly. But (as has come up before) the way many people read Genesis, the universe was "created" not ex nihilo, but rather from God bringing order out of (preexisting) chaos. (This is the view of the New American Bible.) But it seems clear to me that those who are intent on claiming that the universe had a beginning can read Genesis to support their view, as can those who claim the universe always existed in some way or another.

        It seems to me cosmologists don't agree that the universe came into existence ex nihilo 13.8 billion years ago. In fact, that does not even qualify as a scientific view, since nothing can come from nothing! It may be generally agreed that the big bang took place 13.8 billion years ago, and in that sense, the observable universe had a beginning. But modern cosmology does not say it was created ex nihilo.

        Also, if I am not mistaken, Aquinas believed that it could not be shown that the "world" (universe) was not eternal, and as has been pointed out here before, his proofs of God as a creator or "uncaused cause" apply whether the universe existed from all eternity or whether it was created 13.8 billion years ago.

        • MichaelNewsham

          Yeah, wasn't that one of the points that Aquinas disagreed with Aristotle on, but said could not be proven but only resolved through revelation?

    • WhiteRock

      Josh, you said, "When we keep hearing about how "Of course, such people have little understanding what true religion is all about.", and then in your follow up with Brandon, you confused intelligent design with creationism (very different things).
      Your comments are a perfect example of the reason these apologists continue to say the same thing because fundamental understandings are being missed or misunderstood. This isn't a criticism of you at all, it's just something I hope you take note of.

      • josh

        Read my reply to Daniel above, he misunderstood me, as apparently have you. Also, it's a side issue but the intelligent design movement isn't that distinct from the capital 'C' protestant Creationists. 'Intelligent design' emerged from the Creationist movement as a strategy to get Creationist-friendly views past the American legal system in schools and to provide a veneer of scientific respectability.

        There are many different types of Creationists and the less conservative among the ID types have given up on some of the hard-core, old guard literalist teachings. E.g., some accept that some evolution happened but that the beginning of life or the origin of intelligence or some alleged complexity must have a miraculous origin. Google 'old earth creationism' to get you started on some of the different branches.

        Also note that the traditional young-earth creationists, are happy to accept a lot of ID arguments (they aren't very new in content anyways), they just don't agree with the occasional ID proponent who accepts an old earth and some evolutionary lineage.

        • MichaelNewsham

          AFAIK the view Dr. Barr and many other Catholics argue for is usually referred to as Theistic Evolution- while evolution happened as revealed through the fossil record, it had a teleological aim in resulting in the appearance of human beings.

          If you think of a Pachinko game, scientific evolution believes the result is a combination of chance and necessity; IDers believe God sticks his finger down to nudge the ball in the desired direction; while theistic evolutionists believe, for at least one special ball, the game is rigged from the beginning.

          • josh

            Yes, the latter two are forms of creationism in the sense I used the term: belief in a creator who rigs our universe to accomplish some specific goal(s). I think your description of two major wings of the movement is reasonable. Although, the current Catholic position seems to be that God sticks his finger down to nudge the ball when giving a 'rational soul' to Adam and Eve. As you can see from the interview, Barr is sympathetic with 'complexity' ID but not committed to it. All these creationist ideas overlap, since they historically derive from the same source, and for my purposes here I don't care about the sectarian infighting about which 'divine truths' it is important to defend and which can be relaxed. There is exactly as much evidence for Barr's version of God as there is for the flood geologist's.

    • His shallow expression on religion is unsurprising for two reasons. First, the interview is rather short, and deep theology seems to require lots of words. Second, Barr is a physics expert, not a God expert.

      I'm an astronomy expert (and only a small part of astronomy at that!) Ask me about distances from stars or cosmic rays and I can give you an in depth analysis. But ask me about evolution, and I can only offer you a popular science description, with very little understanding or answers. That's because I'm an astronomy expert, not an evolution expert.

      Don't expect to get detailed theology from a physics expert, whether from Barr or Krauss or Hawking. Find a God expert and ask her. Also, as we've witnessed several places on this forum, don't expect detailed physics from a God expert.

      That said, Barr may not be a God expert, but it's safe to say he knows quite a bit more about both physics and God than I do.

      • josh

        The problem is that there is no God to be an expert on. It's not that Barr is doing worse than the professional theologians and apologists, it's that they are all pretty equally bad. If I asked you about evolution, I expect you could give me some decent answers without glaring logical holes or dodges. If we got into some detailed question about say, the mathematics of cladistic analysis, you would reasonably say 'I'm not an expert, this is just my understanding of the results' and if I was interested I could go find the in depth stuff.

        If I asked you about astronomy you could give me a decent layman's explanation of how distances are measured. If I pressed you on the details I would find that there is a wealth of subtleties and caveats that you are aware of, and the research and testing that has gone into establishing the finer points, and problems I hadn't thought of that were sorted out long ago, and open questions. I would have the familiar experience of being impressed with the knowledge humans have accumulated and analyzed in fields I'm only peripherally familiar with.

        I don't have that experience with theists. Their arguments fail right out of the gate and they just get shallower and more contrived when you press for the details. It's not that the whole Catholic structure, e.g., isn't complicated, but that it isn't sophisticated. The arguments about subtleties are artificial while the glaring holes are papered over with declarations of faith. It's the difference between a medical expert and a witch doctor.

        • The problem is that there is no God to be an expert on.

          Maybe. Maybe numbers don't exist. There are still mathematicians. I don't think the existence of something is important for determining whether there are experts. I think it's more a sociology question. Are there groups in academia who spend all their time working on answering questions about a subject, where they have publications with some sort of cross-disciplinary standards? If so, then the people who have regularly published and participated in the academic process are experts, regardless of whether the subject matter is interesting to everyone or important or useful or whether it exists. I think that theologians are God experts, regardless of whether God exists.

          I don't have that experience with theists. Their arguments fail right out of the gate

          Maybe because you are asking the wrong questions. I'm not sure what your experiences are, but I could imagine that if mathematicians worked on a proof and someone kept asking "Why these axioms?" and "Do numbers even exist?", they may not get very far with the proof. Or with a Chess expert, if someone kept saying "Why not change how Castling works?" You can get interesting but very subjective answers to these questions. The more objective answers will be within the framework of the field.

          Maybe theology is only a word game. You can spend your time arguing about the rules of the game, and that's alright, but the real meat of theology will come from what people do with the rules. What happens when you play by the rules? What do you end up with? It may be a matter more of personal taste, but I've read some excellent theologians, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Karl Barth, Joseph Ratzinger, among several others, and I find their work very interesting. It's clear that they are genuine experts and think deeply on the issues. Of course, to get that far, and to have fun with theology, you have to just go with the rules (as with any field).

          Asking why the rules are the way that they are involves something else, something not theology.

          • josh

            Numbers are useful, whether or not we wish to speak of them 'existing' as some abstract thing unto themselves. But numbers, as with the rules of a computable game, are rigorous. One can legitimately ask, 'within this framework of axioms, what results are derivable' or 'given these rules, what moves will win or lose the game'? Theology isn't rigorous, they have nothing like the sophistication of mathematics or advanced game playing. It's Calvinball. If, personally, you enjoy reading the blatherskite, well, de gustabis... I'd rather read a cheap novel.

            Now, if theologians admitted that they were just playing a game, that would be one thing. We could argue about who is a good player of the game just as we could argue about who writes better Dr. Who fan fiction. (Or whether the game was at all worth watching.) But that's not what this is about. The claim, which Barr is making and which this site is making and which every theologian of any faith is making, is that they are telling us something about the real world, something important. Asking why we pick a particular axiom in mathematics is incredibly important if we claim that mathematics is supposed to model the real world in some way. If you don't want to call the important questions 'theology', that's your choice, but those are the questions that matter before any others.

          • Since your response didn't have much to do with my comment, am I to assume that you actually do agree with me that there are experts in theology, even if you are sure God is a myth and that the subject of theology is uninteresting to you? And if you don't find theology at all interesting, I wonder why you're here, instead of spending your time better. You could be reading a cheap novel right now!

          • zornwil

            I don't mean this as an insult, but for someone who has little apparent depth in theology, at least as you seem to say above (and I apologize in advance if I misread your statements), I cannot fathom how you feel you are able to well critique Dr. Barr, whose depth is by no means professional but seems at least similar to or better than yours. I certainly see nothing on the face of it that you have presented that at all obviously disproves his beliefs, and while you make and rely on some good arguments, all through the above there's no obvious and clear conclusion in the back-and-forth with those of more depth/knowledge.

            (To be clear, none of this goes to saying you're "wrong" or that Dr. Barr is either correct, necessarily, in saying religion and science are not at odds or that there is a God. That said, I do think science and religion are mostly after entirely different things and it's nonsense to see them as adversarial, inherently (of course there are specific religious belief systems that seem to be at odds, even ranging from non-theological ones like Scientology to more traditional literalist faith systems, but I'm referring to the general nature here). I also do not believe in a metaphysical and conscious entity, specifically, but also do not believe such is impossible.)

            In any case, I think it's beyond unfair to accuse theology and theologists of "playing Calvinball" (though I like the analogy for its colorful and descriptive nature). Theology is - by its definition - a systematic, rational method. As with philosophy. And as with philosophy, of course, we get idiots and frauds, but the history and body of serious theological work is one of rigorous logic, even as one can very easily say "I reject these underlying axioms." Certainly reading Hans Kung's "Does God Exist?" might leave one entirely unconvinced, but I frankly cannot see wholesale rejection of its logic or a claim that Kung "played Calvinball."

            And, just as with any similar field, one can study without believing, and there are a few like that. That is specifically because, within the dominant body of respected work, it is logical. It is similar to, say, my study of Marxism in college, which I found highly logical and interesting, but - again just my opinion - highly flawed, and almost entirely because of its axioms. But even stepping entirely within the system and "believing," I also have an opinion that most "Social Democrat" theory, especially that of Eduard Bernstein, is logically flawed even within an accepted Marxist framework. (Of course, having largely rejected Marxism, I've spent almost no time on this since college, but the work was worthwhile both to appreciate Marxism's strengths and learn from those as well as to understand its weaknesses and learn from those; the system is so highly logical and interesting that I think it's worthwhile and I respect many latter-day Marxists' work even while having an opinion they are simply largely wrong.) All of which goes to the larger point that the study of something, as @Paul Brandon Rimmer indicates, relies on some axiomatic basis and something does not have to be necessarily true or real to be of valuable study.

            All of this said, I think that Dr. Barr does not attempt to persuade to belief in God but rather does attempt to persuade that belief in God is not exclusive of science and its findings. To the latter point, I think he does well enough, but even beyond this interview and his book I simply cannot see how any rational person concludes there is any NECESSARY contradiction between theology and science. Certainly nothing you've indicated above seems to support any necessary contradiction. Even as of course it can well be that God or similar does not exist.

        • fredx2

          No, its the difference between science and religion. The two are different, cover different topics, etc.

    • Julia Lengyel

      Quantum mechanics, string theory. Although not specifically to Jewish or Christian values, but certainly in somewhat more spiritual direction.

  • Danny Getchell

    Very interesting interview, Brandon. I especially appreciated Prof. Barr's take on intelligent design, and look forward to the possibility of hearing more from him.

  • Zxenia Cvenka

    Scientists and religious continue to insist that they are not in opposition of or threatened by the other. Somebody isn't telling the truth.

    • Vasco Gama

      It is not really scientists, but some scientists and some non scientists, the evidence of the fact that there are a larger number of scientists that are religious (belonging to various religious confessions) clearly support a distinct thesis.

    • John Bell

      You can always assume that the religious are not telling the truth.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        This is a bigoted statement, unless you are being ironic.

        • If he is being ironic, it's still bigoted, but ironically so.

        • John Bell

          Call it what you want. It's still a fact.

          • It's an assumption, not a fact.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Now, it is a facturd.

          • WhiteRock

            Fact you say? Then prove it empirically. Considering you used the broad scope of "religious" in your statement, we should expect data that covers every single person in every single religion - including the "Church of the Jedi".
            Either be accurate or keep your bigotry to yourself please.

      • Vasco Gama

        or that they are particularly prone to self-deception (as some find
        rational to consider)

      • John, please review our Commenting Policy which prohibits broad generalizations like this. If it happens again we'll have to remove your comments. Thanks!

      • John, you can always assume anything you like about whomever you like, but doing so often reveals more about you than about them.

    • David Nickol

      Scientists and religious continue to insist that they are not in
      opposition of or threatened by the other. Somebody isn't telling the
      truth.

      It seems to me something like the "nonoverlapping magisteria" of science and religion is possible. Religion can make assertions that science cannot disprove or even contradict, and science can make assertions that religion cannot disprove or even contradict. Religion, for example, can say that every person has human dignity that it would be wrong to violate, consequently torture, forced medical treatments, and deprivation of freedom of thought must not be permitted. Science certainly can't prove human dignity's existence or nonexistence. Science has, however, wandering out of its proper role, tried to justify depriving certain people of human dignity (through racism and eugenics).

      When two people, or two groups of people, do not agree, it is not necessarily the case that one of them is not telling the truth. They may each be wrong, or each be half right, or apparent contradictions may not be real.

      • Vasco Gama

        The insteresting thing would be to explain what do you mean by:

        «and science can make assertions that religion cannot disprove or even contradict»,

        or what is the remote sense (if any) of that.

        • David Nickol

          Water molecules are made up of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen.

          "Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction products."

          Electromagnetic waves with a wavelength of 1 meter exist but are not part of the visible spectrum and will not light a dark room.

          It is not true that all substances are made of varying combinations of earth, air, fire, and water.

          Heavier objects do not fall faster than lighter ones (in a vacuum).

          • Vasco Gama

            Really

            What religion is trying to dismiss scientific claims (that you know of, not exactly what your imagination seems to indicate).

          • David did not say that any particular religion is trying to dismiss those claims. He's saying that religion cannot disprove them (whether anyone is actually trying to is a separate question).

          • Vasco Gama

            the point being that such a claim is empty of meaning.

          • Vasco, I don't understand why you say that.

          • Vasco Gama

            The dismissal (or denial) of science is not the purpose of religion (so of any religion that I know). So saying that religion doesn't contradict science says nothing (otherwise it vaguely suggests that that could be the case, which as no correspondence to reality).

          • David Nickol

            So saying that religion doesn't contradict science says nothing (otherwise it vaguely suggests that that could be the case, which as no correspondence to reality).

            Whether or not religion and science contradict each other is basically the topic of this thread!

            I wrote a message saying science and religion (properly understood) don't contradict each other, and you took issue with me! Apparently you will be critical if I say science and religion do contradict each other or they don't.

            Now, the vast majority of the time, I disagree at least somewhat with what is posted here, but this time I agree with Dr. Barr. Are you sure you are not questioning my position by force of habit rather than because you actually disagree with me?

            There are, of course, many areas in which some religious people mix up the role of religion with the role of science. One, as you have noted, is with creationists. Another is with those who rely on faith healing and will not go to (or take their children to) doctors. Others are those who see hurricanes or diseases as God's punishments rather than natural occurrences. Science mixes itself up with religion by doing such things as experimentally testing prayer, claiming miracles are impossible, and so on. There are hundreds of potential areas where science intrudes into religion or religion intrudes into science. This is why there is an endless debate about the incompatibility of science and religion. Ideally, religion should leave science to the scientists, and scientists should leave religion to the religious. However, wherever one or both sides intrudes on the other, there will be conflict.

          • Vasco Gama

            I didn't disagree with you, it just seemed to me that somewhow you found reasonable to to say it a dubious way (leaving doubts implicit in the way you choose to construct your though), and that was only what I asked you to clarify, which you didn't.

            You keep saying yes but... The point being that you are suspitious of it.

            The endless debate over the incompatibility between science and religion is motivated by either the ignorance of what is science, when ones assumes a view of science that goes well beyond its own nature, possibilities and limites, or ignorance of what is religion (as if religion has to be ultimately irrational).
            This debate is really endless, until people come to understand what they are talking about.

            But then maybe I am hoping for too much.

          • David Nickol

            You keep saying yes but... The point being that you are suspitious of it.

            I suspect that there will always be problems between science and religion, and to be honest, I suspect that it will be because particular religions (as religions) will overstep their proper boundaries and make pronouncements about science. I do not expect science (as science) to overstep its boundaries or individual branches of science (chemistry, physics, astronomy, etc.) to overstep their boundaries, because science and its individual branches do not make pronouncements.

            Of course, I do expect there will always be people who claim that science disproves this or that about religion, but that is not science (as science) making scientific claims. That is people claiming to use the findings of science to discredit religion.

            I agree with Dr. Barr that the Church document Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God can be read as getting the Church out of the evolution vs. creation debate (particularly paragraph 63), but only in part. For example, it says,

            In continuity with previous twentieth century papal teaching on evolution (especially Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Humani Generis ), the Holy Father’s message acknowledges that there are “several theories of evolution” that are “materialist, reductionist and spiritualist” and thus incompatible with the Catholic faith. It follows that the message of Pope John Paul II cannot be read as a blanket approbation of all theories of evolution, including those of a neo-Darwinian provenance which explicitly deny to divine providence any truly causal role in the development of life in the universe.

            Scientific theories are supposed to be "materialist," so to approve the theory of evolution on the one hand and then say materialist theories of evolution are incompatible with the Catholic faith (particularly when citing Humani Generis is to give with one hand and take back with the other.

          • Vasco Gama

            David,

            You say you suspect that religion might oppose to science, without any evidence to support your suspicion. That is a feeling that you have that makes you suspicious, that «particular religions (as religions) will overstep their proper boundaries and make pronouncements about science». This has none (or little, if one considers creationists to be framed under the concept of religion or be what you take as religion) correspondence with reality.

            This suspicion is not a strange thing, although I would say that it is mostly the result of a misconception, which in a simplistic manner thinks that the acceptance of religion is somehow related with the reasonability of the cosmological description, or its statements related with the creation of life in the bible, which was supposed to be accepted as if it was somehow science (that is not the case), and the Catholics were somehow forced to replace, modify and adapt in view of available scientific information that become available after the “enlightenment”. But that is not really the case, the Catholic Church has a long tradition addressing and defending a rational the interpretation of the scriptures and the literal reading of the scriptures was criticised throughout history. This misconception (and the suspicion it carries) is somehow based and reinforced (in a sort of self-sustained circular logic understanding) by another misconception, which is that religion involves in a way or another some delusion or irrationality.

            On the matter of the quotation of Barr:

            “the Holy Father’s message acknowledges that there are “several theories of evolution” that are “materialist, reductionist and spiritualist” and thus incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

            I agree with your following comment, but I have to add that the scientific method forces that science proceeds (acts and informs) in a materialistic reductive way, and requires interpretation, and this interpretation becomes philosophical or metaphysical. On evolution, science by itself sees no purpose or meaning, so it can’t consider teleology. And it is in this sense that states that evolution is random (in the sense of not being directed at anything, and by the time it was proposed we didn’t know how it operated, genetic would take some time to be understood), of course as the Church sees that it operates under the divine providence towards some end (but this is not science, it is metaphysics), and it is on this sense that the Church says that it was not a matter of chance that humans come to exist (again this is not science).

            If there is a disagreement, it is a necessary disagreement that concerns the interpretation of the evidence, again it is not science (it is metaphysics). Science doesn’t detect any sign of divine providence, unless it was able to detected some sort of irrationality in evolution (that could be attributed to a miraculous event), which is not what is expected.

    • zornwil

      It's unfortunate you never explained this comment. I don't understand why you say "somebody isn't telling the truth."

  • Ben Posin

    I'm sure I'm not the only atheist who takes part in such convesations who has been asked point blank if I think Christians are dumb. Obviously, there are Christians much smarter than I am, and Stephen Barr's resume sure makes it look like he's one of those. My usual way to make sense of this is to suspect that these intelligent people, for whatever reason, are not applying their intelligence to their religion in the same way they apply it to certain other aspects of their life. It seems Dr. Barr does give serious thought to religion (I take he has written a book on the subject), but I have to wonder at his statement "The traditional arguments for the existence of God are much deeper and more reliable than the ones the ID movement is trying to make." If the "traditioinal arguments" are akin to those seen on this website, I have a very hard time believing that Dr. Barr has subjected them to the same scrutiny he would a problem in physics...

    • WhiteRock

      I've always been fascinated with the perspective that some atheists have that intelligent believers somehow shut down part of their brains when it comes to their religious belief, that they are unable to apply the same scrutiny to their faith as they do to other parts of their lives. I've certainly been on the other end of it, and the expected comments, "you were brainwashed", "you lack intellectual honesty" and the like soon take over (interestingly by individuals less educated than I). I'm curious to know, Ben, what you think happens when an atheist converts to a religion? Do they suddenly abandon all skepticism?

      • josh

        WhiteRock,

        Ben can provide his own answers, but I'll take a stab if you don't mind. (Or if you do.) There just isn't anything terribly interesting about smart people who hold intellectually unserious ideas. (Even more so with 'educated' people since you can educate someone into believing nonsense under the right circumstances.) I've known lots of very smart people in my life, and I've known them to do or believe very 'dumb' things. For extreme examples (not personally known), take Kurt Goedel, who in addition to revolutionizing formal proof theory, starved himself to death out of paranoia. Or Paul Frampton, a respected physicist who got caught trying to smuggle drugs in South America on behalf of a supposed model girlfriend he had never met. Here's a list of Nobel prize-winners who went on to endorse crank topics: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Nobel_disease

        Generally, atheists don't start as perfectly rational skeptics and abandon some pure state if they convert. Lots of them maintain dubious to outright laughable ideas as atheists. It's also common for people raised religious to drift into a relaxed, non-observant attitude in their teen or college years, then come back to the fold when they settle down, for the same reasons they got married, had kids, bought a house in the suburbs, etc.

        Incidentally, that is all very consistent with a physicalist picture of the mind and not with the idea of a perfect creator God who wants us to love him.

        • Ben Posin

          No, actually, you can provide answers for me if you want. I'm overthinking things lately.

        • fredx2

          Josh - your comment prodded something in me. During my 20's and 30's I really did not care much about religion. However, as I aged I noticed something. My "sense" that there was a God grew. Now this may have been some sort of neurochemical thing. On the other hand I believe it was due to the fact that my mind had accumulated more and more evidence that things were sort of working out as if there were a God. Just what happened in everyday life - living, getting married, kids, parents dying, all of it contributed to a mass of data that eventually started convincing me that religion actually had something. There is, of course, no proof. But one starts suspecting the existence of God more and more. Like a scientist who continues to get data, and he starts seeing hints in the data that lead to an explanation for the data.

        • zornwil

          How is it not consistent with the idea of a perfect creator God who wants us to love him? (Again, I don't believe in such, but I don't see the inconsistency.)

      • Ben Posin

        Both you and David Nickol have fair questions, for which I don't have a snappy come back. It's something for me to think about. But I don't see much value in hiding my true beliefs on the subject.
        While obviously a majority can be wrong, I'd be lying if I denied taking some comfort on this issue from the fact that a larger percentage of scientists are atheists than the percentage of people in total who are atheists--and the fact that while it's not a one way gate, more Christians become atheists than the other way around. But in the spirit of honesty, yes, I do think at least some people who were avowed atheists and then picked up a religion like Catholicism did stop applying their skepticism to religion.

        I think as Josh suggests that there are things we can do to try to be more confident that we're approaching something rationally, and not letting other factors limit how we think about something. Part of that for me is taking part on this forum; it's my hope to be exposed to intelligent people who think differently than I do about religion and reality, and to have such people choose their own A-game arguments to put in front of me, so I'm less likely to suffer from selection bias. But I'm aware that the act of arguing can make a person entrench themselves deeper into their own views.

        Reading this forum, I get the impression that at least some of the atheists here are to some degree familiar with Eliezer Yudkowsky's "Less Wrong" rationality website/materials. I can't claim to be particulalry knowledgeable about that, and don't promote it as some do, but a few things have stuck with me, such as the idea of making sure one's beliefs pay rent in the form of advance predictions, and concepts like"belief in belief." I think there's something to the idea that there are right and wrong ways to think rationally about a subject, whatever the details of that subject might be, and that it's possible to check people's thinking against these proper methods and see not if they're right, but if they're thinking about something properly.

        • fredx2

          "I do think at least some people who were avowed atheists and then picked up a religion like Catholicism did stop applying their skepticism to religion"
          That may be because applying the scientific method to religion is not a fruitful endeavor. Science was invented to explain the physical world. It is great at doing that. But if something else exists, it would be ill suited to dealing with it. It is only designed to make predictions about the physical world. That is the only place it has been tested. It has not been designed to detect the existence of God.

          • Ben Posin

            You don't think one should be skeptical of religious claims? If you've ever been solicited by a scientologist, why aren't you now a scientologist? Maybe you just need more information about scientology.

            You're a supporter of non-overlapping magisteria, and you're not alone. But I'm not convinced it's a meaningful statement to say that God exists (as more than an idea in people's heads) but is not part of the physical world. And even if it is, if God interacts in the world in any way, then there's something to be measured. And when discussing specific religions, there are often testable claims (regarding, for instance, the powers and effects of prayer, the morality of adherents to a religion, prophecies concerning future events, claims concerning factual past events that may turn out to be possible to prove or disprove, and so forth).

            But in fewer words: I don't think there is anything but the physical world. I don't have any conception of what a non-physical world could be, and, at bottom, I doubt that you do either.

          • zornwil

            I think that the point is not "one should not be skeptical of religious claims" but that one can still be rational and logical without necessarily applying the scientific method.

            To your points/questions, I think you'd find it interesting to read, if you haven't already, Hans Kung's "Does God Exist?" But it's a hell of a read, I found it dense, and I admit I didn't get through it! You can't fault it for lack of logic or rationality, even if you disagree, though, I believe (it didn't turn me into a believer, to the extent I read it, but I can't fault the logic).

    • David Nickol

      If people can be deluded into believing something, and they can be unaware that they are deluded, how can either theists or atheists claim that they are the ones who see clearly, and those who disagree with them are deluded?

      If self-delusion is possible, how can you be sure you are avoiding it? If very smart people can be irrational, how can you be sure you are not very smart but irrational, at least when it comes to religion?

      With rare exceptions (as when someone catches me in a factual error), I find I agree with myself 100% of the time! What are the odds that one person is right as much as I think I am?

      There's a great TED Talk by Kathryn Schulz. I recommend watching the whole thing, but if you start at the 10-minute mark, you'll find a great commentary on how we account for the fact that others don't agree with us. Earlier, she also makes an excellent point. She asks members of the audience to tell what it feels like to be wrong. They answer "humiliating," "embarrassing," etc., and she points out that they're answering a different question:"What does it feel like to find out you are wrong." The answer to the question what it feels like to be wrong is that it feels the same as being right!

      • josh

        "The answer to the question what it feels like to be wrong is that it feels the same as being right!" Not necessarily. There is this thing called cognitive dissonance.

        The answer to your earlier questions is of course that anyone in principle can be deluded and unaware, and there is no way to be sure, in an absolute sense, that one is avoiding it oneself. But there are checks and tests that we think can minimize our proneness to error, and that is ultimately where we get science, rigor, and a need for evidence and humility in our claims.

        • zornwil

          Interesting. I don't see that these "checks and tests" provide evidence or any such thing. They are merely rational systems that function well and in which we see the best route towards a common view of reality. But none of it, not a bit of it, goes to proving that we are deluded or unaware; that's simply beyond our ability. We rest, necessarily, on our perceptions, and build from those, though by all means it's not as simple as I say it and there are whole philosophies struggling with such questions.

          But mainly, I think that logic, proof, and the scientific method all have nothing to do with determining "delusion or unawareness" except in the social and conventional sense of how we see each other and see each other's beliefs. They (okay, mostly) do nothing to determine whether, for example, our (human, common) perceptions are entirely wrong.

          By my way of thinking, that's simply an acceptable carrying cost of conducting our lives on a partially-converged sense of something we call "reality." To the degree there may be such a thing as an objective reality, the accepted common philosophical methods appear to function. We have little recourse but to depend on those perceptions and observations. That is, as said, just how I see it; some by all means (logically and rationally) disagree.

      • Geena Safire

        What are the odds that one person is right as much as I think I am?

        This is why LInus Pauling said, "I do unto others as I would have them do unto me, plus 20% to allow for subjective bias."

  • Sqrat

    Dr. Barr: As most people use the phrase, "multiple
    universes" is really a misnomer. What they usually really mean is that
    there is just one universe that is made up of many "domains" or regions,
    which are mutually inaccessible in practice—for example, because they
    are too far apart. The physical conditions in the various domains could
    be so different that they would appear superficially to have different
    physical laws. However, in all such scenarios it is assumed that the
    various domains actually all obey the same fundamental or ultimate laws.
    This "multiverse" idea is a perfectly sensible one. In fact, there are
    reasons to suspect that our universe may have such a domain structure.

    According to Max Tegmark's taxonomy, that is only one type of multiverse, the Level I. There are three other types.

  • Methodological Naturalist

    There are, of course, realities beyond the natural order and beyond the physical, but they lie outside the purview of natural science. Philosophy and theology have a much broader scope.

    Deepak Chopra teaches this too. To both, Deepak and Stephen Barr, I would ask the same question: where do you draw the line between natural order and beyond the physical?

    • Vasco Gama

      are you trying to be funny?

      • Methodological Naturalist

        Can you answer the question?

        • Vasco Gama

          yes (but I won't)

        • mally el

          Can you draw a line between light and sound? Where would you draw a line between love and selfishness? Just asking.

          • Geena Safire

            Of course.

            Light is an electromagnetic phenomenon and, like all electromagnetic phenomena, is carried by photons as gauge particles. Sound is generated as a disruption in air or other media (such as water). They are completely different phenomena. These are both part of the natural order.

            Love is a result of evolutionary changes in the brains of mammals (and, differently, in those of birds) which extends the self-care mechanisms of the brain to also operate for attached others. Selfishness is a social phenomenon whereby an individual chooses to value more highly than the social norm that individual's self care over the care expected by the society for attached others.

            What do either of these have to do with the line between natural order and beyond the physical? Can you answer the question?

          • mally el

            Iy shows that one cannot always draw lines especially when we talk about things that are beyond science.

          • Geena Safire

            The question is (since apparently it was too much effort for you to scroll up) "[W]here do you draw the line between natural order and beyond the physical?"

            (And, you'll note, I answered both of your questions.)

            The dividing line is in the realm of science and the natural order, right at its border, so the dividing line is not 'beyond science.'

          • mally el

            The question was where do you draw the line between the Natural order and beyond the physical.

  • Zxenia Cvenka

    So a fair number of those in the scientific community are religious. To bad a corresponding number of those in the religious hierarchy are are not scientists.

    I wonder what theology of the body would be like if the geneticist Gregor Mendel, instead of dying young, had been pope for 20 or 30 years. Probably different, though I'm betting women's reproductive autonomy still wouldn't be anywhere on the table. For that you would've needed John Stuart Mill as pope.

    • Raphael

      Actually, there has been a good number of Roman Catholic cleric-scientists throughout history. To name a few, there was Nicolaus Copernicus, Gregor Mendel, Georges Lemaître, Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, Pierre Gassendi, Roger Joseph Boscovich, Marin Mersenne, Bernard Bolzano, Francesco Maria Grimaldi, Nicole Oresme, Jean Buridan, Robert Grosseteste, Christopher Clavius, Nicolas Steno, Athanasius Kircher, Giovanni Battista Riccioli, and William of Ockham. The full list can be found at Wikipedia.

  • Geena Safire

    I have several comments on this article. Instead of just having them buried in a sea of text, I'll post each as a 'reply' to this comment.

    • Geena Safire

      Vogt: "Probably most people who speak of a conflict between science and religion ... mean Christianity or perhaps Judeo-Christianity."

      Given the Catholic history of virulent anti-Semitism until after World War II, I'd recommend that Catholics not be so bold as to embrace 'Judeo-Christianity' as theirs for another century or so.

      In addition, when thinking of religion v science, people might also think of Islam.

      • mally el

        In most of the writings people have spoken about the so-called conflict between Christianity and science and this is why he said that.
        Anti-Semitism until after WW11! Pope Pius X11 and his people did a lot to protect the Jews during the War. This fact was revealed quite recently.
        The Israeli PM visited Pope Francis and gave him a book authored by his father in which mention was made of the fact that politics and race played a role in the persecution suffered by Jews - not the Church.

        • Geena Safire

          Look up the vast and horrible history of anti-semitism of the Catholic Church, which Pope John Paul II publicly acknowledged and apologized for.

          (Separately, the Roman numeral for 'one' should be rendered by the letter 'i' (as the Romans did) and not by the Arabic numeral '1'.)

          And just because Netanyahu is making nice now for political reasons, that doesn't excuse all that the church failed to do during WW II.

          • mally el

            Please explain - with real evidence.

          • fredx2

            I am afraid you have been misinformed. Might I suggest the book written by RABBI David Dalin, in which he explains that Pope Pius XiI probably saved about 500,000 to 860,000 Jews.

            http://www.amazon.com/The-Myth-Hitlers-Pope-Against/dp/0895260344

            After World War II, the Israelis felt such gratitude toward Pius that they sent their entire Philharmonic Orchestra to Rome to play a concert in his honor.

            When Pius died in 1958, Golda Meir said "We share the grief of the world over the death of His Holiness Pius XII. During a generation of wars and dissensions, he affirmed the high ideals of peace and compassion. During the 10 years of Nazi terror, when our people went through the
            horrors of martyrdom, the Pope raised his voice to condemn the persecutors and to commiserate with their victims. The life of our time has been enriched by a voice which expressed the great moral truths above the tumults of daily
            conflicts. We grieve over the loss of a great defender of peace.”

            http://www.michaeljournal.org/piusXII.htm

    • Geena Safire

      Q: ...What is science?... Barr: Science is sometimes divided into the 'natural sciences' (astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology, biology) and the 'human sciences' (like anthropology and psychology). The goal of the 'natural science' is to understand the 'natural order' of the physical universe.

      That 'answer' did not answer the question. The answer was to other questions, namely 'What fields are included under the umbrella of science?' and 'What is the goal of the 'natural sciences?'.

      An answer to the question 'What is science?' could be ""Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence."

      Another answer could be ""Science (from Latin scientia, meaning 'knowledge') is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. In an older and closely related meaning, 'science' also refers to a body of knowledge itself, of the type that can be rationally explained and reliably applied."

      I guess it wouldn't be too surprising that a theist would avoid definitions of science that include terms like "evidence," "testable," and "rationally explained," and "reliably applied."

      • mally el

        He is a scientist who relies on building his knowledge based on evidence and reasoning. He just answered a question as it was put to him.

        • Geena Safire

          He did not answer the question that was asked. The question was"What is science?"

          As I wrote "That 'answer' did not answer the question. The answer was to other questions, namely 'What fields are included under the umbrella of science?' and 'What is the goal of the 'natural sciences?' "

          I'm not impugning his credentials, which are impressive. I'm stating a fact: He didn't answer the question. I also indicated a reason why he might have, consciously or unconsciously, avoided answering it.

          • mally el

            He did not avoid anything. He gave an answer that he, at the spur of the moment, considered apt.

          • Geena Safire

            Since he didn't answer the question -- which is a fact -- he avoided answering it. I acknowledge that he might have avoided it unconsciously, which is how answering another question may have seemed apt to him.

          • mally el

            What is science? After identifying different branches he said: The goal of the 'natural science' is to understand the 'natural order' of the physical universe.
            Your anser: "Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence." You answered the "what?" and added the 'How?" - another question,

          • Geena Safire

            Science is a way of thinking and a way of acting with respect to any subject matter that is thus considered and acted upon. The subject matter is not central to the definition.

            The 'How?' is the essential, core, central part of the definition of science. Science is a behavior.

            The goal of something is also not what the thing is. The goal of war is to be victorious. But 'being victorious' is not the definition of what war is.

            After identifying different branches...

            He mentioned just a few branches as examples. He did not identify all the many branches of science, the many fields in which science can be and is done. And, as I noted, science is a behavior; science is a way of doing.

          • mally el

            I agree with you that the 'how' is important but that is different from the 'what'.
            Science is a way of thinking and so is deductive reasoning.

          • Geena Safire

            No, no, no, no.

            Why do you always, always misunderstand what I write? Are you doing it on purpose to be frustrating or are you really that obtuse?

            The 'how' is not merely important. The 'how' is what science is. Thinking is just the first step. Science is a behavior, which starts with thinking in a certain way, including taking into account the state of knowledge in the field and the previous work of others, then does experiments or makes observations, then analyzes the results, then considers whether the data supports or disproves the hypothesis (or whether the data has some problem), and then makes plans for further research.

            Logic and philosophy are just thinking.

          • mally el

            To think, take into account existing knowledge, and rationally analyse the gathered information is deductive reasoning. I call that science; some don't.

          • Geena Safire

            You may call 'deductive reasoning' science. No scientist does.

            One can do some deductive reasoning in the process of doing science. But deductive reasoning, by itself, is specifically the opposite of what science is, which is discovering what is actually true about nature as opposed to what anyone thinks it is.

          • mally el

            Deductive reasoning helps us to appreciate the existence of the nature of time, gravity (we can measure its influence but not the phenomenon itself ), evolution, consciousness and the big bang theory.

          • fredx2

            And therefore are of no value?

          • fredx2

            ANY subject matter? And it currently gives good answers to ANY question that is put to it?
            Wrong, wrong wrong. Science was developed to explain the natural, physical world. It was not developed to divine the existence of a God that would, by definition, exist outside the physical world.
            What question does science give to "Should we let the old and weak die so we can conserve resources for the living?"
            Science does a great job at what it does, but it is not a Swiss Army knife.

          • fredx2

            You did not like his answer. That is about it. You then used the fact that you did not like his answer to cast aspersions. Hmmm.

      • fredx2

        Your definitions specifically say that science is only good at developing explanations of "of the natural and social world"

        Science is a system to explore the natural world. It has absolutely nothing to say on the existence of non existence of God.

    • Geena Safire

      Barr continues: "There are, of course, realities beyond the natural order and beyond the physical, but they lie outside the purview of natural science."

      Really? There are concepts that posit that there are 'realities beyond the natural order and beyond the physical,' or perhaps, 'some philosophies and most theologies propose 'realities' that exist 'beyond the natural order and beyond the physical. But there are no proven realities out there.

      Barr concludes his response with: "Philosophy and theology have a much broader scope."

      Wikipedia defines 'philosophy' as "the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument."

      Wikipedia defines 'theology' as "(from Greek Θεός meaning 'god' and λογία, -logy meaning 'study of') is the systematic and rational study of concepts of deity and of the nature of religious truths."

      I'm not sure I'd consider philosophy to be 'broader' than the universe, but perhaps more fundamental, on a meta level. And theology is a subfield of philosophy.

      • mally el

        philosophy does not only consider the physical world but also the spiritual environment. Science might enable to us to kill a baby in its mother's womb but whether it is carried depends upon the goodness or otherwise of the mother.

        • Geena Safire

          Didn't Pope Francis explicitly tell you to stop doing that, that this obsession is severely hurting the church?

          • mally el

            You are absolutely wrong here. The Pope said that there were a lot of wrongdoings in our world and that we should not focus on only some of them - like abortion. The context in which these comments are made is important. So, when he spoke to a gathering of doctors he said that every child that is unfortunately aborted has the face of Christ. He condemned abortion when the occasion was right.

          • Geena Safire

            I wasn't saying that Francis is not opposed to abortion.

            I was referring to your bringing up the topic during a discussion that has nothing to do with that subject. That's obsession.

          • mally el

            We were talking about reality that exists beyond the physical. What does science say about the choices we make?

          • Geena Safire

            You brought up the topic of abortion in a discussion that had nothing to do with it. There were lots of examples you could have chosen but, due to your obsession, abortion seemed to you (as it usually does) the most apropos.

            It's like Godwin's Law with Catholics.

          • mally el

            Any example I took then could be said to be out of context.

          • Geena Safire

            Why do you always, always miss the point that I am making and respond to things I didn't say and didn't ask? Are you doing it intentionally?

            Please read again what I wrote.

            The issue was not that you brought up an example. The issue was that you brought up abortion as your example.

          • mally el

            And I said that whatever example I would have brought up would have been out of context. The Pope himself condemned abortion several times. He sees the face of Christ in every child that is unfortunately aborted. I did not bring it up for discussion.

          • Geena Safire

            Why do you always, always miss the point that I am making and respond to things I didn't say and didn't ask? Are you doing it intentionally?

            Please stop replying to me. I won't respond to you anymore.

          • fredx2

            You must just read the headlines. Actually, what the Pope said "The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time."

            But you are a science person. Surely you understand that when he says that the church must not talk about abortion ALL THE TIME that does not mean that no one can ever discuss it.

            And by the way, the next day after the interview was published, Francis said "Each child who is unborn, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who, even before he was born, and then as soon as he was born, experienced the rejection of the world....They cannot be discarded, as the "culture of waste" proposes! They cannot be discarded!"

            Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/popes-strong-words-in-defense-of-the-unborn#ixzz2oA2Xy3gD

    • Geena Safire

      In discussing miracles wrt 'intelligent design' claims, Barr says: "Science may show that a person turned water into wine, but that would be a miracle, not a new effect in the science of chemistry. Nor was the parting of the Red Sea a new effect in hydrodynamics.

      The Exodus passage refers not to the Red Sea but to the former shallow, marshy Reed Sea, a lake north of the Red Sea, which at certain times of year could have been passable by humans but not by chariots. In addition, there is an abundant absence of any evidence in any of a number of likely places to indicate that there was ever a Hebrew captivity in Egypt, nor any evidence of a long desert crossing in that time by a large group, nor that any Hebrew was raised by a pharaoh. But one might assume that Barr is speaking metaphorically.

      • mally el

        There is evidence in Jewish and Christian writings. What evidence is there to prove that these accounts are not true?

        • Geena Safire

          First, the time to believe something is when there is sufficient evidence for it. It is not good to believe something simply because there is absence of evidence against it. Otherwise, I could believe that Middle Earth actually exists.

          Second, in cases where there should be evidence to support a claim -- and the Bible stories are the claim, not the proof -- then the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. It there were hundreds of thousand people traveling in the Sinai for forty years, there would be some evidence, and despite extensive archaeological field research has been found. Also, the Egyptians kept excellent records and there is no evidence of a large-scale enslavement of Hebrews such as is claimed in the Bible.

          • mally el

            Because evidence of a certain kind is not now available does not mean that these events did not occur. You have every right to ignore them but you cannot say that they did not happen.

          • Geena Safire

            I have confidence in the scientific experts and they say it is extremely unlikely that it happened, based on decades pf extensive research.

            Please reread what I wrote: "In cases where there should be evidence to support a claim -- and the Bible stories are the claim, not the proof -- then the absence of evidence is evidence of absence."

            One can't say for absolutely sure that it didn't happen, but I can say that it is very unlikely that it happened.

          • mally el

            Bible is history. I believe the authors recorded facts. You are entitled to think otherwise.
            Geena, my father (he died long ago) told me a few things about his past and though there is absolutely no way they can be verified< I believe them to be true. Not everything can be verified by evidence.
            I jus a few seconds enjoying a thought. The thought really existed but there is no way I, or anyone else, prove (or disporove) that I had this thought.

          • Geena Safire

            The Bible is a kind of history, actually several kinds of history. It can be considered one piece of evidence. But if it said, for example, there was a giant mountain in the center of Jerusalem, and geologists were able to prove that there is not now nor was there ever a giant mountain in the center of Jerusalem, then that story is not factually correct.

            You would be welcome to believe that there was a mountain since the Bible says so, that perhaps God miraculously put a mountain there during the lifetime of that writer and then miraculously removed the mountain without any physical trace. But that could also be interpreted as the Temple being referred to as a kind of spiritual mountain, or perhaps that the writer received a vision of Jerusalem while on the top of some mountain far away from Jerusalem. But that doesn't change the fact that, geologically, there was not, historically, a giant mountain in the center of Jerusalem.

            You are also free to believe in an Egyptian captivity and an Exodus and 40 years in the desert and -- despite the physical / archaeological history and the extensive written histories of the civilizations of the time and the genetic evidence and the complete lack of evidence that would certainly exist if the stories were true -- you can continue to believe it. But you cannot validly claim it is factually, historically true.

            Many historians believe that the Exodus story, which was written during the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, was written as an allegory to their actual Babylonian captivity and their faith that their God would lead them out of their current bondage and back to their land. Why the allegory? Because a captive people would not be allowed to speak openly against their current captivity, But they were allowed to practice their religion, so they likely made their hopes part of their religious history.

            Again, you are free to believe whatever you wish. And you are free to believe whatever your father told you.

            If my father had told me he had fought in certain battles during a certain war, but the military history records and other relatives showed that he had not even been in the military and there were school records that he was in college during that period, I would still be free to believe that the records were mistaken and the memories of the other relatives were mistaken memories or intentional lies. On the other hand, I could believe that my father's stories were true in another kind of way, perhaps stories of his hopes, of his intentions, of his love for his country despite his asthma and flat feet, or of his wish for respect and admiration from his children.

          • fredx2

            "I have CONFIDENCE in Scientific experts"...that sounds like "I have faith". Any person of science would say " I have no evidence for or against, therefore I really can't speak on the matter." Yet here you are, blabbing on about what is and what is not, based on some sort of presumption that nomads leave behind detectable signs of their passing through, three or four thousand years later.

          • fredx2

            The Hebrews were nomads and would leave very little evidence of ever having been there, let alone 4000 years later or whatever it is.

    • Geena Safire

      Barr continues "I am not sure that the 'design hypothesis' is a part of biological science. That is not to say that it is wrong."

      The general consensus of the scientific community, and especially that of the biological sciences, is that the 'design hypothesis' is not a scientific hypothesis of any kind and is inherently untestable and, therefore, is not any kind of science.

      One could have hoped that, as a scientist, Barr would have worded his opinion more strongly than "I am not sure."

      The Roman Catholic Church is persuaded by evolution. Pope Benedict XVI wrote: "This antithesis [between evolution and creation] is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything
      start which ultimately led to man?"

      "While he was the Vatican's chief astronomer, Fr. George Coyne issued a statement on 18 November 2005 saying that 'Intelligent design isn't science even though it pretends to be. If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science. ... Kenneth R. Miller is another prominent Catholic scientist widely known for vehemently opposing Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design."

      One could have hoped that, as a Catholic, Barr would have worded his opinion more strongly than "I am not sure."

      On the US legal dimension, in the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the judge opined: "In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that [ID] is not [science], and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."

      • mally el

        There was once a global consensus that the sun went round the earth. That did not make it right.
        There is a consensus that man has caused global warming. This consensus does not make it right.

        • Geena Safire

          'Argumentum ad populum' (argument from popularity) is a fallacy.

          However, it is the purvue of the scientific community to define what science is. This is not, therefore, an 'argumentum ad populum.' ID is not science.

          When there was very little other evidence except looking up at the sky, it would be reasonable to conclude a geocentric universe. But when there is a very large body of scientific information from a wide number do sources, and there is agreement of 97% of the professional scientists throughout the world in the field that climate change is human-caused, this is not an 'argumentum ad populum.' It is not just an opinion held by lots of people.

          • mally el

            I was merely pointing out that just because there is a consensus that ID is not scientific does not necessarily make it so.

          • Geena Safire

            And I was completely disagreeing with your contention that ID can be considered in any way scientific by the scientific community, who are the ones that agree on what is (and isn't) science. ID is not science, not by any stretch of the imagination. Because the scientific community are the ones who define their field, and ID doesn't meet these criteria, this actually does necessarily make it so.

          • fredx2

            Geena. Do you really believe that 97% of scientists would ever agree to anything? Especially something as controversial as global warming? You do realize the study in question was done by a guy (John Cook) who runs a website (skeptical science) seeking to debunk those who disagree with global warming? That the study was done by HIS grad students, going through abstracts of papers and then classifying them according to what the grad students thought about the paper? That several authors who were counted as supporting global warming have said no, their paper said nothing of the sort?
            is that your kind of science? If so, it is not very good science. The Magisterium of the Catholic church is more scientific than that.

    • Geena Safire

      Vogt asks: "Some scientists write as if they think that science can answer any question capable of being asked and answered. How would you respond?"

      I would be interested if Vogt could actually name any scientist that has written anything that could be interpreted as such a claim. Straw man.

      • mally el

        I am glad you agree that science cannot answer every question.

        • Geena Safire

          This is a nonsensical answer. Here's an analogy that may help you understand this dialog. (it may also be helpful for you to look up something about the 'strawman' fallacy.)

          It was as if the interviewer had said, "Some scientists write as if they think that science considers all canids to be dogs." My response was that the interviewers statement was not what any scientist had ever expressed or implied, and thus I claimed that he was committing a "straw man" fallacy.

          Your response was therefore bizarre, as if you were saying how good it is that I agree with something that I just said that everybody everywhere agrees with, including scientists.

          • fredx2

            Her answer was exactly on point and logical.

    • Geena Safire

      Barr responds: "Can science say whether murder is wrong? Or whether human beings have free will? Or whom a person should marry? Or whether a nation should go to war? Or what a man should live for or be ready to die for?"

      (1) Murder is by definition killing a human under conditions that the society considers wrong. Tautological. Also, every culture, with or without a
      god belief, considers many types of homicides to be wrong. A murder taboo is likely due to both natural empathy for fellow humans and the impact of homicide on social harmony. (2) Neuroscience is teaching us that humans do not have free will, at least not as the idea has traditionally been defined. (3) Science can provide valuable evidence regarding the factors important for marital harmony, and whether one or both parties are mature enough to successfully wed. (4) History, one of the above-mentioned human sciences, and military science provide much
      extremely useful information on past conflicts and the factors that should be considered in any situation that might lead to armed conflict. There is also a large body of knowledge regarding conflict resolution, negotiation, and diplomacy. (5) ...what a man [or woman] should live for... Also, psychology has a large body of knowledge, plus testing and training for values clarification.

      I'm not saying that the scientific method and the body of scientific knowledge will answer all the questions. But they can contribute quite significantly and indispensably.

      • mally el

        "Murder is by definition killing a human under conditions that the society considers wrong."
        Of course. This has been our belief right from the start. Remember Cain and Abel? We have the knowledge of good and evil.

        • Geena Safire

          With respect, you completely missed or misunderstood my point.

      • fredx2

        Murder: You say all societies condemn murder. But you just said, a few posts before, that argumentum ad populem was not a good scientific argument.

        "Neuroscience is teaching us that humans do not have free will, at least not as the idea has traditionally been defined"
        No offense but that sounds very naive. Scientists come out with all sorts of things their latest studies show. But these great advances are demolished a few years later. The notion that neuroscience is teaching us much at all, I am afraid, is in the minds of nueroscientists.
        Do you really believe that psychologists should be telling us what to live for? They're the craziest of the lot!
        Please. Respect for science in the abstract is fine, but science has probably killed more people than religion ever thought about killing. Atom Bombs, dynamite, missiles rockets, bullets, nerve gas, the invention of a machine gun, artillery that you have to calculate teh motion of the earth to fire, etc etc. The gas chambers were a clever scientific solution to the problem of how to kill large numbers of people. You get the idea. The idea that science can solve moral problems is more far-fetched than a belief in God, that's for sure.

    • Geena Safire

      Many atheists believe that all religion is at bottom either a pre-scientific attempt to understand natural phenomena through myth or an attempt to obtain worldly benefits through magic. And since they see science as the antithesis of myth and magic they cannot help but see all religion as antiscientific. Of course, such people have little understanding what true religion is all about.

      On the one hand, here are a few definitions of 'religion.'

      "Religion: the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods."

      Religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence. Many religions have narratives, symbols, and sacred histories that are intended to explain the meaning of life and/or to explain the origin of life or the Universe. From their beliefs about the cosmos and human nature, people derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle. According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world."

      On the other hand, apart from that stylish jeans designer, I don't find any definitions for a "true religion." It seems that Barr is presuming that the only religions that atheists are not convinced by are those of myth or magic. How, he may wonder, could atheists be against "true religion"?

      Again, this is a straw man, and a particularly inappropriate straw man for the Strange Notions community. First, the atheists here are relatively versant about Catholicism in addition to Greek mythology and the prosperity gospel. Second, the Roman Catholic Church meets both the above definitions for a religion, so it is 'truly' a religion.

      But is this what Barr means by the slippery phrase "true religion"? Does he mean instead that Catholicism is a "true religion" in the sense that the RCC assertions regarding a deity and this deity's nature, revelation, etc. are actually objectively "true"? Is Barr perhaps implying that, if an atheist truly understood the real truth of the true Catholicism, the atheist must needs recognize it as true? This would mean, of course, that if one doesn't accept it then, by definition, that person doesn't truly understand it – a new definition of the word 'true' of which I was previously unaware.

      Anyway, truthiness aside, how could anyone consider the RCC to be in conflict with science? After all, the pope apologized to Galileo in 1992, a whole 22 years ago, 359 years after his conviction (and 23 years after
      humans landed on the moon), so we're all good now, right? But would this mean that Catholicism was not a true religion for the hundreds of years that it rejected scientific findings that conflicted with its teachings?

    • Geena Safire

      Q: "Do you know many scientists who are also religious believers?"   Dr. Barr: "Yes, quite a few. ... However, in my experience most scientists are non-religious."

      This was a poorly worded question, if not intentionally loaded. It doesn't make any difference what percent of scientists that happen to be known to a single physicist are believers. The important thing, as Barr noted, is that most scientists are non-religious.

      "[T]he percent of 'leading'* scientists who hold religious beliefs has been declining from around 30% in 1914 to less than 10% in 1998." *members of the US National Academy of Sciences (From paper that appeared in the 23 July 1998 issue of Nature by Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham: "Leading Scientists Still Reject God." Nature, 1998; 394, 313.) Biologists were the lowest in god-belief, followed closely by physicists and astronomers.

      • mally el

        Belief in God is declining in Western society and this includes its scientists. Belief in God is not declining elsewhere.

        • Geena Safire

          Actually, it is declining around the world. As just one of several studies, check out the 2012 WIN-Gallup survey, Global Index of Religion and Atheism.

          • mally el

            The questions asked in this study were not well drafted. Chinese view religion and theism differently from westerners. Their concepts are different; It does not mean that they reject the existence of God. And this study show China to be 50% atheistic. This is false. The same applies to Korea, Japan and even parts of India.

          • Geena Safire

            Gallup is one of the leading polling organizations in the world. If you don't like their wording, take it up with them.

          • mally el

            It was not me that complained about the language problem, Geena. I read it on an Asian site.

      • fredx2

        And Pew says that 51% of scientists believe in God or believe in a universal higher power. http://www.pewforum.org/2009/11/05/scientists-and-belief/

        This is unsurprising. First, scientists often hang out at universities or other places where the percentagef of atheists is high. A recent survey found that about half of college professors believe in God. This matches up nicely with what Pew found about scientists.
        Second, Scientists are taught to rigorously exclude belief of anything without proper evidence. So no physical evidence for God, no belief in God.
        The more interesting question would be how many come to believe in God in their later years, after they retire. . Now they are not reinforced in their non-beleif by their peers.

    • Geena Safire

      Barr: "One has to distinguish the question of the universe's beginning moments from the question of why there is a universe at all. In my view, science will never provide an answer to the latter question. ... the 'origin' of the universe in the deeper sense meant by 'Creation'."

      In my view, there may not be an answer to the question of why there is a universe at all.

      Barr: "Anything whose existence is contingent (i.e. which could exist or not exist) cannot be the explanation of its own existence. ... Only God is uncreated, because God is a necessary being: He cannot not exist."

      I'm still not even vaguely interested in the "contingent being / necessary being" dichotomy. In addition, even if it were true that things in the universe are contingent (which I doubt), that doesn't mean that it is true of the universe as a whole – that's a composition fallacy. It may just be true that one (or more) universes were inevitable.

    • Geena Safire

      Barr: "Part of the reason that many scientists are atheists is that they don't really understand what is meant by 'God'.

      Does Barr really think that scientists – and atheists, for that matter – are unaware of this claim inter alia regarding the nature of God?

      Barr: "I think scientists like Hawking would be helped if they could imagine God as an infinite Mind that understands and knows all things and Who, indeed, 'thought the world up'."

      In addition to being unmoved (if you will) by the first cause argument, I am baffled by the concept of a disembodied mind. All the minds of which we are aware are the product of material, physical brains. Until the 20th century, when we learned about neurons and so forth, it could perhaps be more understandable that some folks couldn't fathom how three pounds of grey and white jelly could generate consciousness and function as a mind. Thus, they might be persuaded by the idea of a soul-powered non-material 'mind' that used the brain jelly as a kind of vehicle or conduit to manifest its 'will' in the physical world (subject to the base desires of the body).

      Further, even if there is a 'cause'/'origin' AND even if this 'cause' / 'origin' is an entity (an efficient cause) rather than simply a material cause, that doesn't mean that this entity also understand or knows all things or even anything. Perhaps it was just transcendentally belching.

      • mally el

        Can you explain one's consciousness when having a Near Death Experience?

        • Geena Safire

          Sure. About 12% of people who have been resuscitated after a heart stoppage have one or more of the various experiences described by people who have publicized their near-death experiences. Most of the people interviewed for studies did not believe that their experience was real. Further, most of the described parts of the near-death experience can be induced by brain stimulation and/or drugs and/or oxygen deprivation. Brains are strange and fascinating organs.

          • Hey Geena - Have you read the book "Proof of Heaven" by Dr. Eben Alexander? I normally am very skeptical when it comes to NDEs personally, but Alexander was himself a skeptic and neurosurgeon who underwent a profound and very unique NDE. The book, if nothing else, is a testimony to how a personal experience can make us do a 180 in our thinking about the big questions. (Sam Harris challenged Alexander's account, who promptly responded with an invitation to debate the matter publicly. Unfortunately it never happened.)

          • Ben Posin

            Matthew: I'm a little disconcerted that you think there's anything about Alexander's account that is worthy of having having a debate. Sam Harris' "challenge" is pretty excellent (http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/this-must-be-heaven), and it hardly stands alone in discrediting Alexanders claims. The book, if nothing else, is a testimony to what some people will do to make a buck.

          • Geena Safire

            I'm not sure I'd assume monetary motives on Alexander's part, Ben,, if only because neurosurgery is a very rewarding profession.

            My assumption is that he is completely convinced that his experience put him in touch with a new reality rather than increasing his variety of solo experiences via his brain.

          • Ben Posin

            Fair enough, my apologies to Mr. Alexander.

          • mally el

            Including the so-called debunkers. These people disagree with the doctor but they do not debunk his experience.

          • Ben Posin

            Uh...no one can debunk that he had an "experience." But they debunk all the claims that Dr. Alexander suggests demonstrate his experience was anything other than an "inner" one.

          • Geena Safire

            Have you read the refutation of Alexander's claims , including the differences noted by Alexander's doctor while he was sick?

            No one is disputing the reality of Alexander's experience as an internal experience. What is disputed is to what degree his brain was affected -- and at what point(s) -- during his illness these mental experiences occurred. Even Alexander's own doctor during his illness disputes his account of his illness and recovery process.

            The technical, scientific, neurological details regarding Alexander's experience and the various interpretations of it do not lend themselves to a debate format. Unless the audience were also neuroscientists, and began with a medical history from Alexander's doctor during his illness.

            Alexander is a neurosurgeon, which is no mean feat, but he is not a neuroscientist -- as Sam Harris is. You can read Sam Harris' response here.

            Transcendent, intimate, unitive experiences, whether via illness, injury, drugs, meditation or extreme fatigue, are powerful and profound and unsettling and, often, life-changing. But that doesn't mean that they are not brain states in which consciousness is not normal, and during which often one's sense of the distinction between reality and imagination and the distinction between the self and other are not operating normally.

          • I did try to be evenhanded about it. I read the book, read Sam Harris' response, and Alexander's rebuttal to Harris. I would happily read his doctor's critique too if you could link to it.

            Have you read anything from Dr. Alexander himself? Or is it a foregone conclusion that his disreputable stance can only mean a weak case?

          • Geena Safire

            The main debunking was done in mid-2013 in a long article called "The Prophet" written by an investigative reporter, Luke Dittrick, at Esquire. The article is behind a $1.99 pay wall. It includes reporting on Dittrick's interviews with Alexander's doctor and a number of his colleagues.

            If you want to get a taste of the article before risking your money, you can see a review of the article here, including several Dittrick quotes, which is negative toward Alexander.

            A more positive attitude toward Alexander (and the significance of NDEs generally) -- and a long summary of the much longer article -- can be found here.

            A short follow-up article was written by Dittrick discussing how his neurosurgeon grandfather knew Alexander's neurosurgeon father.

            [I]s it a foregone conclusion that his disreputable conclusion can only mean a weak case?

            I'm inclined to believe that Alexander experienced something dramatic internally. I'm also inclined to be skeptical that it was actually related to any actual 'heaven' outside of his brain.

            On the other hand, I don't think his conclusion / interpretation is "disreputable". It can be tremendously moving to have an experience that indicates very realistically that what you want most to be true is actually true. But that means that you're more likely, during such an event, to 'read' such a message from such an event.

          • Interesting, Geena - thanks. I'll look deeper into these materials tomorrow. I hope you read the book too!

          • Geena Safire

            Are you kidding? I got it the day it came out.

            I have a friend who is quite taken with the idea of heaven, in which she is quite confident. She has more than 20 books on celestial-themed NDEs and spirit journeys. I never disagree with her, but just bask in the joy of her anticipation and her stories.

      • Mike

        The vast majority of my scientist colleagues understand God only as "the God of the gaps". To them God is only invoked in order to account for things that current scientific theory can't explain. The problem with this perception in a scientist's mind is that it makes God an ever shrinking lump of ignorance, not the "I am who am" God of the old testament. As such I think that whenever discussing God with a scientist people stay as far away from the "God of the gaps" argument as possible.

        • Geena Safire

          The other definitions, which posit a supernatural, undetectable, invisible realm and a 'mind' that is not the product of a brain, and that posits an infinitely complex entity when all of cosmic evolution and physics and chemistry has taught us that complexity emerges from much more simple forms (in contrast to the ancient philosophy that taught that nothing could be created with a feature or quality that the creator did not itself possess), and that relies on inner, individual mental experience as well as the debunked 'prime mover' and 'first cause' arguments, and the debunked effect of intercessory prayer, and posit a spirit/mind operating through the brain rather than the mind being a product of the brain, and so forth, are not particularly convincing/appealing to a scientist either.

          • Mike

            You may be correct, but if I may inquire are you a scientist, and how many do you know personally?

            May I also ask a somewhat provocative question, does belief in the Catholic God prohibit one from being a successful scientist?

            I admit that the prime mover isn't my favorite "proof" of God, because I don't believe it actually advances the discussion. I'm relatively new here so I may have missed it, and if so please forgive my ignorance, but how has the "prime mover" argument been debunked?

            Please let me address the following point:
            infinitely complex entity when all of cosmic evolution and physics and chemistry has taught us that complexity emerges from much more simple forms

            I notice that you have read/listened to several of the new atheists, e.g. Dawkins, Krauss, Harris, etc. They've said something similar and every time I hear it, it puzzles me.

            I remember somewhere that one of the classical philosophers (Plato or Aristotle) said one of the attributes of true intelligence is the ability to entertain a point of view without necessarily accepting it. From that perspective and for the sake of argument lets assume that the Catholic understanding of God is valid. Why would you expect God to behave the same way the physical world works? If God (for the sake of argument) is eternal and unchanging, why should God behave like his creation?

            Besides, this only appears true for the present. If we were to observe the universe eons from now, when the expansion of the universe accelerates, and the elementary particles become unstable (which I believe has been speculated to be one outcome as the universe ages) it would appear that more complicated things break down to simpler things. To me this seems like an example where physics and metaphysics are being used interchangably when they shouldn't be.

          • Geena Safire

            May I also ask a somewhat provocative question, does belief in the Catholic God prohibit one from being a successful scientist?

            I'm certainly not the one to make such a proclamation! However, in my humble opinion, certainly a lot of scientists do so and remain good scientists, so it doesn't seem to me to be a show-stopper.

            [H]ow has the "prime mover" argument been debunked?

            Aristotle believed things moved because something was pushing them. They don't because there isn't. Inertia is a property of matter -- Newton's first law of motion. Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll discusses the prime mover argument here.

            One could still argue, I suppose, that the Big Bang had to be banged by something, so that could count as an initial 'move,' but we don't have evidence either way.

            But, in any case, that's not a first mover argument but rather the cosmological argument. As Sean Carroll says, the Big Bang should not be thought of as the beginning of our universe but as the current end of our knowledge.

            [F]or the sake of argument lets assume that the Catholic understanding of God is valid. ... If God (for the sake of argument) is eternal and unchanging, why should God behave like his creation?

            If God exists, God could be any way God is.

            But I'm not disputing how God would be or must be, were God to exist. I'm just saying that he doesn't have to exist.

            I'm refuting the earlier theistic argument that the universe must have had a complex, intelligent, conscious, supernatural, triple omni, eternal, transcendental, etc., mind/entity/being to bring the universe into existence, therefore God. Given what we have learned about the fundamental nature of the physical world, complex things can come from simpler things due to the laws of physics (and, originally, all did: atoms, elements, molecules, ...), and not the other way around, and complexity increases if energy is available.

            Of course, things break down also, and overall entropy increases. And, eventually, heat death likely awaits us ... unless the Higg's field shifts to a new equilibrium.

          • Mike

            I've enjoyed our back and forth the past few days. I find that usually people tend to yell past each other, and I like to think that I am hearing you and you me, and we are discussing things. I hope you have enjoyed the back and forth as well.

            I have seen several of Sean Carroll's videos, including the one above previously. I think today we would argue from contingency, rather than "first mover" but I think the notion is similar. I don't know what your background is, but I don't know enough about the standard model and hardcore particle physics to truly evaluate them.

            For clarity, let me tell you how I understand the argument and you can correct me if we disagree on an important point. It is accepted by particle physicists that quantum fluctuations in the "vacuum" fields produce virtual particles which appear and quickly disappear. It has been speculated that following one such quantum fluctuation cosmic inflation followed resulting in the expansion of the universe as we currently know it. Even if this is a low probability event there is an infinite amount of time for it to occur. So far so good?

            However, to me this is a bait and switch. The "vacuum" states of empty space have small but non-zero values (except the Higgs) which allow for the quantum fluctuations. To a philosopher this isn't noting, but to a scientist it would be. The "prime mover" question then shifts to where the vacuum field came from. Furthermore quantum fluctuations have only the tiniest amount of energy within them, but the universe has seemingly infinite energy. I've heard that negative gravitational fields could account for this, but it seems to violate the "law of conservation of energy", and I'm unsure about this explanation. As far as we are aware space-time was created at the big bang, and to think about space or time beforehand isn't appropriate in a strictly scientific sense. In my mind it seems like the argument has to be that a quantum fluctuation happened in the complete absence of a vacuum field, followed by cosmic inflation, etc.

            Furthermore, in light of some of my previous comments, I would rank these arguments as metaphysics. They may be the best explanations for the origin and evolution of the universe, and may be correct, but we have no way of testing them (to date). As far as we know the "big bang" has only occurred once, and as you said a true hypothesis needs to be verifiable and falsifiable, and this seems to only be falsifiable. I'm not trying to criticize cosmology, but many of the arguments to me are more metaphysical then physical.

            Lastly, I think people put too much stock into this particular argument. Personally I don't see it as all that relevant to the existence of absence of God.

            For the sake of argument lets pretend that at some point science is able to understand the entirety of the physical world. It doesn't prevent me from arguing that there is a God and he has allowed us to understand creation. Just the same if we never are able to understand all of the details of the universe, it doesn't prohibit you from arguing that there isn't a God.

            As I've said before I think this argument leads to "the God of the gaps" too often. Lastly, Sean Carroll starts mixing theology/metaphysics at the end of his presentation. I think all scientists have a vested interest in seeing the "God of the gaps" eliminated, but I don't know what interest they have outside of that. Embracing of science is something I think both believers and non-believers can hold as good, but I worry that stating that belief in God is incompatible with modern science (as for example Dawkins, Harris, Krauss, Carroll have done publicly) undermines their overall efforts and drives religious people away. I think there are other good arguments against God's existence, but they should be divorced from the argument against the "God of the gaps"

          • Geena Safire

            I hope you have enjoyed the back and forth as well.

            Very much so, Mike. I feel heard, and I have been endeavoring to e-hear you.

            I don't know enough about the standard model and hardcore particle physics to truly evaluate them.

            Me neither, Mike. Not a physicist, but intrigued by it.

            For clarity, let me tell you how I understand the argument and you can correct me if we disagree on an important point.

            I'll do my best.

            It is accepted by particle physicists that quantum fluctuations in the "vacuum" fields produce virtual particles which appear and quickly disappear.

            The experimental results with quantum physics have matched predictions to an enormous degree. So it's pretty far beyond just being 'accepted.'

            Also, virtual particles, which you summarize well, are also not just accepted but are are experimentally well verified -- and more common than you might think. A lot more. Ninety percent of the mass of each and every proton in existence is due to virtual particles, even though any one comes and goes very quickly.

            It has been speculated that following one such quantum fluctuation cosmic inflation followed resulting in the expansion of the universe as we currently know it.

            That is one of many ideas. Perhaps there was nothing before. Perhaps there was an efficient cause, like a deity. Perhaps there was only a material cause. Emerging from a multiverse (several types are proposed) is also possible. Sean Carroll described one possibility as a kind of cosmic chicken universe that lays universes like ours that are hot, smooth (low entropy), and dense.

            The Standard Model seems to fit the data, at least up to one Planck time (10^-43 seconds) after the Big Bang expansion began. Then everything goes to infinity, which is a problem.

            The big challenge is quantum gravity -- which is shorthand for the integration of general relativity and quantum mechanics.

            There are probably three or four main ideas about quantum gravity that each have problems but seem to fit much of the data. Sean Carroll has proposed two of the hypotheses in contention, but thinks one of the others has a bit more going for it..

            Even if this is a low probability event there is an infinite amount of time for it to occur. So far so good?

            For that quantum fluctuation idea -- and several other ideas -- this is a premise.

            However, to me this is a bait and switch. The "vacuum" states of empty space have small but non-zero values (except the Higgs) which allow for the quantum fluctuations.

            One related answer. All but one field -- the quark field, the electromagnetic field, the electron field, the strong nuclear force field, etc., -- have a value of zero in empty space. The exception is the Higgs field, which has a non-zero value.

            Another related answer. The emptiest of empty space, as you note above, is not empty. Lawrence Krauss was the theoretical physicist who predicted dark energy, which we know experimentally is present but we don't know what it is.

            Another related answer.

            To a philosopher this isn't noting, but to a scientist it would be.

            Even though you likely find Krauss a bit, um, intense, I highly recommend that you watch his "A Universe from Nothing" video a couple of times. It's very meaty.

            The main thing, for this discussion, is that Krauss proposes three kinds of nothing. He suggests that, as in many other fields that used to be the province of philosophy but are now mainly under the purview of science (although philosophy contributes importantly to all fields), the origin of the universe is primarily a scientific question.

            Krauss says that since physics is the field that tells us what everything/anything/something is in the physical world, physics is also the field to describe the nature of nothing: a state in which no 'something' exists.

            Krauss also posits three plausible definitions of 'nothing' in physics with respect to our universe: (1) No matter or radiation or energy, (2) No matter, radiation, energy, time or space, (3) No matter, radiation, energy, time, space or laws of physics.

            These may not be the "nothing" about which many philosophers have long pondered.

            But given a real universe, to borrow (and twist) an old saying, 'nothing' isn't what it used to not be.

            Philosophers might argue that "nothing" is just "nothing" -- at least physically nothing. But given said physical universe, there are only so many things that can be removed. If you think these are not enough, what less do you want?

            Another variant of which some philosophers are fond is that 'nothing' is that from which nothing comes. But that's just a tautological definition. If you define 'nothing' as that from which nothing can come, then it is merely tautology to say 'from nothing, nothing comes.'

            That may be a fun idea to ponder in philosophy. But with respect to the real universe, 'nothing' is the absence of all that is something. And 'nothing' as you noted could be unstable.

            The "prime mover" question then shifts to where the vacuum field came from.

            Perhaps. Perhaps not. Perhaps the universe's actual 'nothing' included a quantum vacuum for an eternity beyond the expansion, Or perhaps our laws of physics are the only ones that gave rise to a universe that didn't immediately collapse back,

            Furthermore quantum fluctuations have only the tiniest amount of energy within them, but the universe has seemingly infinite energy.

            The universe, actually, seems to have a net of zero energy.

            I've heard that negative gravitational fields could account for this, but it seems to violate the "law of conservation of energy",

            Gravitation can be thought of as the 'negative energy' that balances all the 'positive energy.'

            and I'm unsure about this explanation.

            Me too.

            As far as we are aware space-time was created at the big bang, and to think about space or time beforehand isn't appropriate in a strictly scientific sense.

            Carroll says that, at this point, we should think of the Big Bang not as the beginning of our universe but as the end of our understanding.

            In my mind it seems like the argument has to be that a quantum fluctuation happened in the complete absence of a vacuum field, followed by cosmic inflation, etc.

            As I noted above, several possible ideas are proposed. So it may not 'have to be' the way you describe.

            Furthermore, in light of some of my previous comments, I would rank these arguments as metaphysics.

            Theoretical physics is a thing.

            These guys know much of what we have learned about stuff and how it all fits together (and keep up with new stuff, and discuss stuff amongst themselves). Then they consider ideas and work through their consequences and lots of math. But their ideas are not unbounded posturing. Instead, their options are surprisingly constrained by what we already know in physics and so forth.

            I hope this is helpful.

    • Geena Safire

      Barr: "There are really two quite distinct debates going on. One is between so-called 'Creationism' and Evolution. The other is between Darwinism and the 'Intelligent Design movement'."

      Not true. First, most creationists today have acknowledged that what they call 'micro-evolution' occurs (change within a 'kind') but dispute what they call 'macro-evolution.'

      Second, as shown by mountains of evidence in Kitzmiller v. Dover, 'Intelligent Design' is just a renaming of 'Creation Science' trying to skirt the Lemon law and the Establishment clause. It involves all the same people, lying under oath about it not being the same despite the evidence, using the same baseless arguments.

      Second, nobody uses 'Darwinism' anymore except historically. Back in the 19th century, when there were competing theories such as Lamarckism proposed to explain the obvious fact of evolution, the term 'Darwinism' was relevant. Today, since the theory has 'evolved' (if you will) far beyond Darwin's idea, has been supported by vast amounts of evidence from archaeology, genetics, embryology, and other fields and by experiment, and is almost universally accepted in the field of biology, it is no longer either relevant nor appropriate to call the theory of evolution by adaptive selection 'Darwinism.'

      • Mike

        I tend to agree with you on all of the scientific aspects you point out. However, I'd like to add that to me "Intelligent Design" isn't real science. There is no testable hypothesis. It accepts the tenants of evolution (random genetic mutation and natural selection) and then states that the physical world needs a "magical God" to account for what we see. Even if this were true that evolution (understood to date) is unable to explain the world it doesn't prohibit a more robust theory from explaining it at a later date "Intelligent Design Theory" offends me as both a Catholic and a Scientist. As a Catholic it offends me because it makes God "the God of the gaps", a placeholder variable for things we don't currently understand, not am who am omnipotent God. It also offends me as a scientist because it asserts a claim that can't possibly be studied. "Intelligent Design" might be meta-physics but its not science, and therefore I don't think it should be presented as such.

        To me Creationism is at least real science, let me explain. Creationism has some testable hypothesis, how old is the earth? when did certain types of life emerge? etc. I'm by no means advocating that Creationism is correct, just that we could test to see if it is correct.

        • Geena Safire

          "How old is the Earth?" is not a hypothesis. It's just a question. At the very minimum, a hypothesis is a statement, not a question.

          A scientific hypothesis is a specific, testable, falsifiable proposed explanation for an observed phenomenon. An example: If you drop a ball near the surface of the Earth, it will fall to the ground.

          Many thousands of experiments have been done and repeated in chemistry, physics, cosmology, biology, geology, etc. Most of these experiments were based on millions of experiments on more basic issues such as the nature of various specific chemical reactions under certain conditions. These experimental results in various fields have been brought together to support the hypothesis that the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old.

          Two main interpretations are possible for the mountains of accumulated facts from the millions of experiments: "The Earth is about 4.5 billion years old" or "The Earth, the Sun, the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy with its 400,000,000,000 stars, and all of the 100,000,000,000 galaxies were brought into existence in some other way such that every fact of chemistry, geology, hydrology, physics, etc. points to an age of about 4.5 billion years for the Earth."

          The experiments that could test hypotheses based on the idea of creationism have already been done. Creationists just don't like the results.

          • Mike

            I agree with you, wholeheartedly. I even do these types of experiments daily. My point was not so much to support Creationism, but discount Intelligent Design as science.

          • mally el

            On what grounds do you discount this? What evidence do you have that there is no intelligence behind all the interactions that take place?

          • Mike

            Hi Mally El, thank you for the comment. I'm not saying there isn't intelligence. I'm saying that there I haven't come across any scientific evidence for it. Is there some of which I am unaware?

            As I said above, Intelligent Design could be considered meta-physics, and arguments can me made for and against it, but not scientific ones. At the same time I'm not advocating that our current understanding of the evolution of life, or the origin of the universe prohibits belief in an Intelligence either. I think both of those claims belong properly in metaphysics, not science. Once again, I'm only advocating that we classify things properly, not their validity.

          • mally el

            Hi Mike, thanks for your response. I believe I am being rational about the matter. A computer - hardware and software - when designed by an intelligent human being is capable of performing wonderful functions consistently. It does not rely on chance and is ever reliable. The laws prevailing in all the interactions in our physical environment are ever reliable and this is why we get the results we get over and over again. Change ant factor in the equation and you will get a different result which it is designed to achieve.
            If it takes our intelligence to get a computer working efficiently how much more intelligence does it take to get the natural workings happening - consistently.

          • Geena Safire

            Mally El, please note the difference between "Intelligent Design" which is being advocated by a small group of folks who previously called it Creationism, on the one hand, and the idea that the Christian deity was intimately involved in the process of creation ( which involvement may be so fundamental as to never be detectable by scientific means, on the other hand.

            If God was involved, he was absolutely not involved in the ways claimed by the ID folks. He may have done it, but not that way.

          • mally el

            Not that way? What way, Geena?

          • Geena Safire

            "Irreducible complexity," as just one example. Also "specified complexity."

          • mally el

            There is no evidence to prove or disprove theories of this type.

          • Geena Safire

            First, it's not a theory, not in the scientific sense. At the very most, it is a kind of broad idea of a hypothesis, except without most of the essential elements of a hypothesis, so it is actually better described as a claim. ID is not science and is not a theory.

            Second, actually, yes, there is tons of evidence to dispute the ID claims. Anyone who told you differently is... at the very least uninformed.

            The 'eye' idea was completely refuted before they ever came up with it, if they had bothered to look. The flagellum thing is pretty much refuted also, with more ammunition coming in at a steady rate.

            With respect to the evolution of the immune system, when one of the Discovery Institute's folks was on the stand during the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, the plaintiff's lawyer asked what he had read regarding research into the evolution of the immune system (which he claimed was irreducibly complex), and he said there wasn't any. The lawyer then placed before him at least ten books and a hundred scientific articles on the evolution of the immune system. The witness admitted he had not read a page of any of it.

          • Mike

            Hi Mally. I didn't mean to imply that what you have said is irrational, and sometimes it is hard to detect tone in written word alone. I mean to be civil and discuss this.

            I think above you made very coherent well thought out metaphysical arguments for an intelligence being intimately involved in the physical universe. However, they aren't scientific arguments, rational yes, but it isn't something that can be tested and interrogated in the manner science is dependent upon. At the same time I think that arguments asserting that random chance is entirely responsible for the universe, and therefore no creator/intelligence is present in the universe isn't science either, metaphysics, yes, but science no.

            I think that the argument you made is sufficient for you and perhaps many others to warrant belief in God, but many other won't, and that's ok. I think this is an authentic example of true faith. You have looked at the universe, which is a present in a very specific form (science) and came to the conclusion that an intelligent presence is behind it (metaphysics). I think other people will make a different conclusion looking at the same evidence. We can then have productive metaphysical arguments about which is more correct, but we can't verify them in a scientific framework, logical, yes, rational, yes, but not science. The way I tend to think about issues like these is the "what" is science and the "why" is metaphysics. I think too often contemporary society either blends the two together, or they discount metaphysics. I'm not advocating either, just that we think about which type of argument we are making.

          • mally el

            Thanks Mike. I believe deductive reasoning or logic is a science. Mine was a rational presentation. I appreciate the fact that others might use the same logic and come to another conclusion, however I will challenge anyone to do so - rationally.

    • Geena Safire

      Barr: "The Catholic Church has never had an objection to the idea of the evolution of species of plants and animals."

      It actually did until 1951, nearly 100 years after the publication of 'On the Origin of Species.' In addition, one of the leading proponents of Intelligent Design is a Catholic, Michael Behe. I recognize, though, that he doesn't represent the views of the Catholic Church.

    • Geena Safire

      [T]he Church has always insisted that the human soul, being spiritual, cannot be explained by, or be the product of, merely material processes, whether biological reproduction or biological evolution[.]

      The 'soul' is invisible, immaterial, unproven, not evident, with no known function nor with any way to affect the physical brain and its 80,000,000 neurons that doesn't violate the Standard Model or the conservation of energy. So, okay, yeah, not a product of biology.

      Barr: "The idea that chance plays a role in events is in no way contrary to Catholic doctrine."

      I like this.

      • mally el

        Could anyone give me an example of chance playing a role in events?

    • Geena Safire

      Barr: "Even Richard Dawkins admits that science cannot provide us with the answers to moral questions."

      Dawkins has apparently changed his mind since Barr last checked.

      Richard Dawkins' review in 2010 of Sam Harris' 'The Moral Landscape': "Beautifully written as they were (the elegance of his prose is a distilled blend of honesty and clarity) there was little in Sam Harris's previous books that couldn't have been written by any of his fellow "horsemen" of the "new atheism." This book is different, though every bit as readable as the other two. I was one of those who had unthinkingly bought into the hectoring myth that science can say nothing about morals. To my surprise, The Moral Landscape has changed all that for me. It should change it for philosophers too. Philosophers of mind have already discovered that they can't duck the study of neuroscience, and the best of them have raised their game as a result. Sam Harris shows that the same should be true of moral philosophers, and it will turn their world exhilaratingly upside down. As for religion, and the preposterous idea that we need God to be good, nobody wields a sharper bayonet than Sam Harris."

  • Louis Tully

    Does pantheism provide an escape from the cosmological argument? If you view the universe not as a collection of contingent things but as a single, interconnected system, then we don't have a chain of causes and effects but a massive, fluctuating dynamic (i.e. the carpenter doesn't turn the wood into a table: the single thing that is, which includes the aforementioned things along with the rest of the universe, simply changes shape a little). Doesn't big bang theory suggest such an interconnectedness? If that is true, then the single-thing-that-is-the-universe could be non-contingent, right? Wouldn't that be as logical (even more so applying Occam's Razor) as adding God? To me that just seems like adding a transcendent, non-contingent being superfluously.

    • Geena Safire

      I'm not sure whether pantheism is a defeater for the Kalam, but it is intriguing. To take it further, you'd need to understand the philosophical ideas relating to the various causes for a thing, such as the material cause, efficient cause, final cause, etc.

      My favorite refutations are by Scott Clifton, aka Theoretical Bullshit, who also takes down apologist Matt Slick and his transcendental argument (TAG). Clifton's most recent Kalam debunking is here. This addresses William Lane Craig's approach using his own philosophical logic against him. You can find several other disproofs by just searching at YouTube for 'Kalam.'

  • James Hartic

    It seems to me that most of the discussion, at least here, boils down to the god of the Judeo/Christain variety, rather than the concept of a "generic" god or entity that may have been the causality of the universe. Seems kind of....what shall I say.....shallow?

  • zornwil

    Great interview, thank you!