"Does God Exist?" Debate in NFB
Re: Why A Scientist Believes In God
It is amusing, to say the least, to find such a document as A. Cressy Morrison’s “Seven Reasons Why a Scientist Believes in God,” still in circulation over a half century after it was first written and discredited. It has long been understood for what it is, the medieval “Argument From Design” clothed with technical jargon in a failed attempt to make it sound scientific when it is not.
Let’s take a look at Morrison’s “Seven Reasons” and spend a little time uncovering the dogmatic illogic that underpins its heartfelt, if ultimately erroneous contentions.
First: “By unwavering mathematical law we can prove that our universe was designed and executed by a great engineering Intelligence.”
Comment: This would all be well and good if Morrison actually went on to do that. Astoundingly, he really doesn’t even make an attempt. The only “unwavering mathematical law” he presents turns out to be a gross misuse of probability and statistics when he calculates the odds of pulling ten coins out of a pocket in perfect order.
How is this a misuse? Well, in actual [probability theory, you can only calculate the odds for future events, but not for past ones. It is certainly true that the odds of pulling the coins out of a pocket in perfect order are one in ten billion. Unfortunately, these are also the odds of pulling the coins out of your pocket in ANY order. Yet, when all is said and done, there are still ten coins out of the pocket.
So, were we to pull the coins out in a completely random order, no matter how they came out it would be accurate to say the odds of coming up with that particular combination were one in ten billion. But that’s not the right question anymore.
For once the coins have been pulled, and once the process is past, the odds are now 100% that they were pulled in that order. There is no longer any probability of them having been pulled in any different order. It’s done. Experiments over. We have the results and they are what they are.
So it is with the world we live in. There is no meaningful calculation of the odds of the moon being farther from or closer to the earth than it is. It is where it is. The odds are 100%. There is no meaningful calculation of the odds of the Earth being tilted differently than it is now. It’s already tilted 23 degrees. The probability of that is 100%.
There are billions of galaxies, and trillions of stars, and certainly trillions of planets as well. Many if not most of them cannot support life. At least one can. What are the odds of that?
100%. We know this because it did happen. Something HAD to happen, and it just so happened that this one could support life. You can’t tell if it was an accident or not, because the probability remains the same.
Second: “The resourcefulness of life to accomplish its purpose is a manifestation of all-pervading Intelligence.”
Comment: Morrison waxes eloquently about the “force” of life, the “art” of life, or the “music” of life. All of this is well and good, except it really doesn’t say anything. In fact Morrison’s “second reason” boils down to the simple, unsupported, bald assertion that “Nature did not create life.” But he gives no reason to believe this other than the fact that he thinks living things are pretty.
In truth, the “resourcefulness of life” is quite adequately explained by natural selection, and requires no theoretical “pervading intelligence” whatsoever. Further, many of the choices made by resourceful living organisms speak of complete opportunism rather than thoughtful planning.
But this “second reason” is not a reason at all. It is simply an opinion.
Third: “Animal wisdom speaks irresistibly of a good Creator who infused instinct into otherwise helpless little creatures.”
Comment: This “third reason” has not aged very well in the more than half century since Morrison wrote this piece. What might have been mysteries then are now better understood, and not quite as astounding as they appeared. Salmon and eels don’t use “wisdom” to return to their spawning grounds, they use smell.
And Morrison’s definition of a “good Creator” could use a little revision as well. The maternal instincts of an ichneumon wasp may sound quite delightful from the wasp’s point of view. But from the perspective of the grasshopper or caterpillar that is eaten alive from the inside out, the “goodness” of the creator is bit more problematic.
In fact nature demonstrates a range of realities that do not speak of unambiguous good. Tennyson’s “Nature, red in tooth and claw” is quite an awful place, as might be expected from the amoral, unguided operation of natural selection, but not from a “good Creator” operating in a moral context. It speaks of solutions achieved after trial and error, experimentation of the most ruthless and cruel kind.
And contrary to Morrison’s unsupported conclusion, “such techniques” are easily explained by adaptation, rather than divine bestowment.
Fourth: “Man has something more than animal instinct - the power of reason.”
Comment: This is another of Morrison’s points that must have sounded more convincing in 1940 than it does in 2002. For there turns ou t to be no qualitative capacity of humanity that is not also demonstrated by other, non-human animals. Attempts to draw a distinction between the human and animal mind have failed repeatedly, from tool use to problem solving to self-awareness. In fact, even invertebrate animals such as the octopus have shown themselves capable of quite sophisticated reasoning and problem solving.
At this point, Morrison’s claims of human qualitative superiority have begun to sound a lot more like prejudice than scientific conclusion, and few real scientists would make such a claim today.
Fifth: “Provision for all living is revealed in phenomena which we know today but which Darwin did not know - such as the wonders of genes.”
Comment: This is absolutely among the most bizarre of Morrison’s arguments. For while it is true that Darwin did not know about genes, it was their discovery and the resulting field of population genetics that was responsible for the triumph of Darwinism among modern biologists. Darwin’s theory of natural selection didn’t really have a mechanism to drive the process of inherited advantage until genes were discovered and explained. So even though biologists accepted Darwin’s demonstration of the fact of evolution, they withheld agreement over his proposed mechanism (natural selection) for almost a century.
What made biologists finally accept natural selection as true? Why, the discovery of genes that were necessary to complete the explanation.
Yet again, Morrison completes his “discussion” with a bald unsupported assertion. He claims that genes “could emanate only from a Creative Intelligence - no other hypothesis will serve.” Unfortunately, other hypotheses are serving quite well, and no practicing geneticist or biologist would agree with him.
Sixth: “By the economy of nature, we are forced to realize that only infinite wisdom could have foreseen and prepared with such astute husbandry.”
Comment: This “reason” devolves from being a reason at all, to an exercise in science fiction. Morrison speaks of hornets “as big as lions” in an alternate universe ruled by insects, and gives thanks that it is humans and not bugs that rule the earth.
Strangely, he ignores that insects actually do rule the earth, at least among the metazoans. There are more species of beetle than any other type of animal, and more biomass wrapped up in ants than any other living organism. Insects eat far more humans than humans eat insects, so it can be argued they are higher on the food chain than we are. And those that don’t eat us directly often carry diseases and parasites that kill us by the multiple millions.
They seem to have done quite well “dominating” the earth, in spite of their allegedly inferior breathing apparati.
Perhaps if Morrison were able to decouple his own hubris from his warped understanding of nature, he would draw fewer erroneous conclusions. But his is unable even to define the relationship between cacti and cacti eating insects except how it affects man.
But you know what? Nature couldn’t care less about how transported cactus affected human villages and farms. Given the opportunity to spread without predators, the cactus did just that. And once predators were introduced, the cactus stopped spreading. Different organisms result in different balances, but overtime, everything ends up balancing anyway, even without intelligent intervention. And any balance is as good as any other, as far as nature in concerned.
The inconvenience to humans is not a “natural” issue. It is a human issue.
Seventh (and lastly): “The fact that man can conceive the idea of God is in itself a unique proof.”
With this final point, Morrison abandons even the pretense of science and retreats to illogical mysticism. For certainly, man is capable of conceiving many things that do not in fact exist. There are no forty-ton eggplants, bicycles that travel faster than light, or trees that have dollar bills for their leaves. Yet I am a man, and I just conceived all three of these. I suspect that last one has been conceived of by MANY men and women through the years, and yet it still does not exist.
This final point gives the lie to Morrison’s entire article. These are not “Seven Reasons a Scientist Believes in God.” They are seven restatements of an act of blind unsupported faith. The claim that they are logical conclusions from science is simply false.
And like most falsehoods, they have not improved with age.
Can Science Prove God?
The article of Mr A. Cressy Morrison posted under the title
"Why A Scientist Believes In God" in NFB Feature column, Nov 1 (http://www.bangladesh-web.com/news/nov/01/f01112002.htm#A2), is nothing but the same old argument from design (Rather intelligent design, "ID" in short) for the exitence of God. That article was written in 1948, a time when scientific maturity was certainly not anywhere near that we witness today, thanks to the wealth of scientific breakthroughs in Cosmology, Molecular Biology and Evolution, and of course more refined mathematical literacy.
The use of "A scientist" was appropriate, because Scientists never felt compelled by science to prove or believe in God, even les so now. Today a more appropriate article should be "Can Science be used to find God?". The short answer is NO.
Although there are still some scientists who believe in some abstract creator God (but very few in the traditional God of revelations), no scientist today worth their reputation, can with a straight face claim to be able to prove the existence of God through science. What some can do and have done is to suggest "intelligent" design. But that also has now been shown to be an illusion in the way one looks and interprets scientific facts, not an assertion of an actual fact of observation.
The argument for an intelligent design to prove the existence of a creator(God) is very old one. This is an intuitive argument that most humans, of any level of intellect come up with. This reflects a naive attempt to answer a very profound question that is really unanswerable. Saying that something which LOOKS designed IS designed is stating a conclusion (That "LOOKS" = "IS") without a proof.
Secondly to say "is designed" implicitly assumes that there already exists a designer, because "looks designed", "doesn’t look designed" can only make sense with respect to a pre-existing designer. But that is assuming what one intended to prove in the first place!
Thirdly "looks designed" itself is a biased interpretation of human mind based on familiarity with previous experience. For example we know a watch is designed by a human from our previous knowledge of another watch being desined by a human, or by observing the cogs and springs in the watch which are known to be designed by humans etc. So being "designed" is a perception based on context and experience from similar instances. Hence "LOOKS = IS" is an inductive statement of generalization from familiar human experience.
We encounter objects in the world, which we categorize into two classes, those that look designed due to our previous knowledge of many other similar things known to be designed by humans to serve human purpose, and things that look random (to humans) as they are known to be not designed by humans, found in nature.
So according to our mental map, our world consists of a set of both orderly and random objects which enables us to inductively conclude if anything arbitrary we come across is designed or not. But such inductive generalization does not make sense when we push it to the extreme case of the entire creation and and call it designed, because, we don’t have such similar experiences of many other universes that were designed by known designers. The whole universe we live in is just one instance. No inductive generalization can make any logical sense when applied to universe as a whole, because there is nothing similar to generalize inductively from ! So the statement LOOKS(Designed) = IS(Designed) is flawed if applied to the entire universe.
Not only that, the entire universe contains both designed and undesigned objects. So we cannot strictly say that the universe is designed because it contains undesigned (perceived) objects too. The fact that humans and animals look like designed objects again is rooted in bias from knowledge about manufactured objects which are known to have a designer. Besides evolution can provide a much simpler explanation of emergence of complex organs of animals by selective mutation.
At the heart of all evolution is simple incremental steps dictated by laws of Physics. So Laws of Physics can be said to be the designer of all living and non-living objects, in the entire universe, and behind the evolution (But not it’s existence) of the entire universe. Do the Laws of Physics then need a designer? A law giver?
Again we don’t have any precedence at the cosmic level to inductively generalize from to arrive at this conclusion. A belief in an uncaused, eternal God as the law giver is no more logically appealing than an uncaused eternally existing Laws of Physics governing the universe. The former is explaining the known by an unknown, the latter is expalining a known by a known, obviously a simpler one. And simpler explanation is always preferred. Not that there is any absolute way to prove one or another.
The perception of something being designed or not designed is not a scientific decision, but inherently a subjective one, and thus not guaranteed to be accurate. For example some abstract piece of art, if we were not told that it was by a famous artist, may have been mistaken as due to accidental splash of colors.
On the other hand, an artist may have spilled some color by mistake, but it may appear to be an impressive work of by him to someone unaware of that fact of spilling! In other words, there can be objects which look designed but have no designer, and there can be objects which doesn’t look designed but indeed have a designer. As Noble Laureate
Steven Weinberg says:
"Even a universe that is completely chaotic, without any laws or regularities at all, could be supposed to have been designed by an idiot"
(p-232, "Facing UP")
So non-randomness or regularity is no guarantee of any conscious designer.
Finally the perception that there are indeed eternal laws governing our universe itself is debatable. Many scientists have argued that the laws of science in its most elegant form is nothing but an intelligent construct of humamn mind starting from some very basic and simple, almost common sensical set of "rules". For example Physicist and author Victor Stenger makes that point in his article at:
He also shows how the design in the universe can also be explained naturally without invoking a deity at:
which is part of his book "Has science found God?"
The second problem is in the "logic" that God created this universe because everything not random needs a creator, thus the universe must need a creator(God). The logic above also contains an assertion of faith that God does not need a creator. That is s case of mixing faith and logic. The first part is applying a logic (inductive generalization). The second part (That God does not need a creator) is an article of pure faith, it is not dictated by logic. By mixing faith and logic one can make anything possible or impossible.
By the same logic that one insists that universe has to have a creator because it is not random, one must also insist that God (Surely not a random entity either) also has to have a creator too. So only an additional clause of faith can resolve this fallacy. But then that clause of faith is beyond rationalism and totally arbitrary. Arbitrary and irrational article of fiath can make anything possible or impossible as mentioned earlier.
Furthermore, in the very word creator, the "-or" implies a conscious being, something again derived from an inductive generalization based on human experiences, because all the objects we call designed in the world are known to be designed by human, a conscious being.
But we don’t call a snowflake designed although it certainly is not a random or irregular object. Although the advocates of design argument may call it an object of intelligent design of God also. So when ID advocates cannot identify a human designer of an object that looks designed(by human perception) they will postulate an invisible (conscious) humanlike designer.
This is called argument from ignorance and is a fallacy. Moreover such an inductive generalization of a conscious designer is also a flawed extension of ordinary logic to uncharted territory where ordinary intuition and human logic is not guaranteed to be meaningful, let alone applicable. We already know that in the Quantum world ordinary causality does not hold. Events at the microscopic level do not have distinct cause-effect links, they only satisfy certain fundamental laws which are completely time-symmetric. Causality is an emergent phenomena at the macroscopic level.
Now let us turn to the so called fine tuning argument which is often cited as the proof for God. So many parameters in the universe seemed to be so finely tuned just so that life can flourish and evolve, which would not have been possible had any of those parameters been slightly different. This argument is also scientifically flawed.
The fact is that such finetuning is viewed as having a supernatural (i.e beyond physics) implication is due to (a) improper understanding of statistics (b) relying on our intuitive notion of causality from day to day experience and extending it to the extreme. To illustrate (a) for example, if we roll ten dice the likelihood of getting the sequence 6526553214 is the same as the sequence 6666666666, both of which are equally likely and are also each very unlikely to occur in one trial 1/6x1/6x1/6x1/6x1/6x1/6x1/6x1/6x1/6x1/6).
But the former will not catch anyone’s attention, the latter will. When one is dealt a bridge hand of thirteen cards, the probability of being dealt that particular hand is less than one in 600 billion. Still, it would be absurd to conclude that he must not have been dealt that very hand because it is so very improbable or that there must have been a divine connection for him to get this rare hand!
Another important aspect of probability that is not appreciated by many that time and numbers play a bery important role in statistics. A very unlikely event will eventually occur guven enough time. Or equivalently if many trials are conducted for an unlikely event simultaneously, one of the trial will materialize the very unlikely.
Those who have studied statistical Physics will recognize this in the ergodic hypothesis, a very important concept, which basically says that a system will traverse all possible phase trajectories given enough time. The more common example of this is illustrated by the proverbial case of million monkeys hammering at the piano when one of them will end up composing Bethoven’s fifth symphony after millions of years.
If someone at that moment only witnessed that particular monkey, not aware of the other millions hammering away for millions of years would find it a miracle. The same is the case of the fact of our witnessing life innthe universe. We are amazed that out the billions of known stars and their planets only Sun harbours wonderful life forms and only in the planet earth. Is that a surprise. Life requires a sensitive range of conditions of temperature, gravity, density of atmosphere, right distance from star, right tilt of the axis etc for life to evolve.
Only earth satisifes this condition. Its like 6X6X6X6X6X6X6X6X6X6 people rolling ten dice at once. One of them will certainly roll 6666666666. Any surprise? All the billions of planets are like ten rolled dice. Only one(earth) is 666666666 (ie. has conditions suitable for life forms). So here we are, on planet earth wondering about life. If planet "X" instead satisfied the conditions of life instead of earth then we would be on planet "X". But then we would call "X" earth.
Its only a matter of label. Going a step further, it may appear that our universe with so many fine tuned parameters conspiring together to allow life to evolve in our universe must be special, an act of intelligent design. But there are two fallacies in such thinking. There is no logical or scientific evidence that the APRIORI probability for those parameters to assume any other values are the same.
We cannot rule out the possibilty that the ultimate laws of nature (Theory of Everything, when it is discovered) requre that the parameters take on the fine tuned values, allowing no other values. Then it would not be a contingency, but a necessity of the laws of nature. Secondly we cannot rule out the new Quantum Cosmological view of infinite number of independent chaotic universes continuously being born and evolving with all different values of the Physical parameters, and where the universes which do not have the required values will not evolve to contain intelligent lives, or may not even have stars and die out soon.
And there will be some which will lead to star formation and even life, which have the parameters within that narrow range, like the universe we happen to be in. It is analogous to the situation where among all the known planets and stars only Sun and Earth are suitablle for life form. And as we saw above, that is a tautological fact. So the design can be ultimately traced to the laws of Physics, and it is the laws of Physics that will remain unaccounted for. But then causality is a human construct.
The laws of Physics can simply "BE". It need not be subject to the same laws of causality that other emergent phenomena in nature are seen to follow. To be conservative and honest, we have to say we don’t even know what to ask, believe or theorize beyond a certain limit (which is always moving further), when it comes to ultimate reality of the very existence of the universe (or universes). There is no valid scientific argument to prove the existence of a conscious creator or an intelligent designer. All such arguments at some point have to make an arbitrary assertion of faith and using some ill-defined non-scientific notion.
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