Saturday, 21 September 2013

Apologists' Dilemma

Universe's baby pictures suggest a bubbly birth - life - 19 September 2013 - New Scientist

In this week's New Scientist we have another example of how detached modern religious apologetics has become from reality. The above article deals with the science behind the origins of our Universe and never once needs to invoke magic or deities. Instead it offers evidence for an explanation which has been mooted for many years - that our Universe arose by a perfectly natural (albeit difficult to comprehend) process, from a pre-existing metaverse. Nor is intuition invoked or an insistence that the explanation has to be easy to understand by people with little or no understanding of physics or advanced mathematics.

Contrast this with my recent public debate with Christian Apologist, Richard Bushey, who was trying to argue the line William Lane Craig takes that the so-called Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA) leads to only one possible conclusion - that the Universe was created by magic by the locally popular god, who of course just happens to be the Christian one of whatever denomination you had the great good fortune to be born to parents who were believers of.

A great deal of that debate centred around the question of whether, even if we ignore the evidence of quantum mechanics that quantum events, of which the Big Bang is an example, do not require a cause, and that causality is a property of Relativity not of quantum mechanics, we have still not established that the only cause of the Big Bang must be supernatural because nature did not exists prior to it.

In fact this conclusion of the KCA is not only based on the circularity of assuming a priori that the god in the conclusion existed and was the only entity capable of creating a universe, but it also relies on the scientific ignorance of it's target audience. Any reading of the readily available literature will show that science offers several possible, perfectly natural, explanations for what the Big Bang could have occurred in and what could have caused it.

In this New Scientist article compelling evidence from a detailed analysis of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) (the 'echo' of the Big Bang and one of the strongest pieces of evidence for it) suggests our Universe could have arisen by a process termed 'bubble nucleation'.

In this picture, our universe arose from quantum fluctuations in a much bigger cosmos called a metaverse. The quantum effects caused a phase transition in the fabric of the metaverse, and our universe popped into being, like an air bubble forming in boiling water.

Incidentally, I could almost kick myself that in my debate with Richard Bushey I completely forgot Stephen Hawking's 1993 book, Black Holes and Baby Universes, in which the hypothesis that this Universe could have arisen in a non-zero energy field in a black hole in another universe was dealt with at length. It's not as though this hypothesis is new, since Hawking was writing about it twenty years ago. Surely this is enough time for people genuinely interested in scientific truth to have updated their knowledge.

And that's the dilemma for apologists. Do they update their arguments and incorporate the latest science into them, which would be honest but would mean continually abandoning old arguments, admitting they were wrong and having to think up some new ones and find smaller and smaller gaps in which to fit their shrinking god, or do they simply continue to try to fool a shrinking target audience and concentrate on those who know nothing about science and so won't have heard the science that refutes the lie they are being sold?

The contrast between science and religious apologetics is starkly revealed here. The KCA manifestly depends on the state of scientific knowledge and understanding of the Universe as it was when the KCA was first stated in its modern form a thousand years ago. This was a Universe centred on Earth where the debate still raged about whether Earth was flat or spherical and magic spirits and demons were assumed to be influencing things. It was a Universe where another physical realm was assumed to exist above the sky, inhabited by magical beings and operating the Universe as a mechanic operates his machines. It was a Universe where angels were assumed to be pushing the stars and planets on their daily circuit of the heavens.

To maintain this position, religious apologists need to avoid incorporating advances in scientific knowledge which undermine any of the basic assumptions which must have seemed intuitively true to people with that primitive level of knowledge and understanding in the eleventh century. As we saw with Richard Bushey's arguments and as we see with the identical ones put forward by people like William Lane Craig, advances in Quantum Mechanics, Relativity, Astrophysics, Particle Physics and Chaos Theory all have to be assiduously ignored because they never support their apologetic. And so religious apologetics becomes more and more detached from reality, increasingly only working in the scientifically illiterate parts of the world where religion's power-base resides and where an understanding of the world is closer to that of an early medieval camel trader or a Bronze-Age nomad than to someone from a twenty-first century, technological society.

They will happily wave science around when they imagine it supports them, or where they imagine their audience will think it does, yet where it destroys their basic premises and assumptions, and so destroys their apologetic altogether, science can be dismissed with the wave of a hand, can be wished away by pretending it isn't there or, with the arrogance of those who believe their faith is the best measure of reality available, can be rationalised as a conspiracy by evil scientists.

And those few apologists who are able to adjust their knowledge and update their thinking will undoubtedly show they will be unable to let go of the basic intellectual dishonesty which underpins their 'art'. They will still insist the metaverse must have begun to exist and that the god they are promoting was the only thing capable of creating it, so simply shifting their argument up one level. And they will still depend on the circularity of demanding we accept a priori that their cause of the metaverse exists and has the properties they have ascribed to it in order to make their conclusion come out the way they want it to.

None of them will do what science does and start from the premise that we don't know, yet, so let's go look at the evidence and see what we can make of it. For an apologist, their 'knowledge' of what the answer will be is the only evidence required. They call this 'faith' and claim the right to special respect and the power to make rules for us based on it.

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