[The following commentary is provided by a friend of this blog who wishes to remain anonymous. He has stated flatly that were his views on religion made public, it would harm his business with the locals. The workshop he critiques took place on October 14-15, 2011.]
I man-up and make a 8:45am lecture of “What is Stephen Hawking Thinking?” by renowned cosmologist and astronomer… oh wait this is the Discovery Institute… so the lecture is by Dr. Jay Richards, who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and theology from Princeton Theological Seminary (safety school). Which is not exactly the same as Princeton. So a theological philosopher is going to critically examine the work of a guy who was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge for 30 years. Only in world of Intelligent Design does this make sense.
Work obligations mean I will miss lectures by Dr Paul Nelson and Dr. Jonathan Wells. I wonder if the attendees have Googled the speakers. According to Wikipedia and other sources Wells is a committed Moonie. How will he play in crowd of Baptists? Do they realize this “expert” also believes the Rev. Moon is the Messiah and the Second Coming of Christ and is fulfilling Jesus’ unfinished mission? Can they be OK with that? Does that call into question Wells’s grasp of reality or science? Will he have a tambourine?… wait… maybe that’s Hare Krishna, I always get them confused.
Speaking of confused. Evidently Dr. Hawking is confused and Dr. Richards and philosophers in general are going to straighten out poor old Stephen. It goes like this, from Hawking’s quote “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.” Wells’s says, “…this is a category error. Confusing gravity as a sufficient explanation for the universe. Gravity is a description of the properties of matter in the universe. It’s gravity that needs to be explained, not one of the things that does the explaining. It’s so simple.”
It’s really hard not make an argument from authority here. Hawking is an authority, and Wells is not. But if you follow this stuff at all you can conclude there seems to be a consensus building that it is possible to get something from nothing especially on the quantum level. I believe you can start splitting hairs on what nothing really means. But calling it a category error seems way off base.
Wells then moves on to why there had to be a creator. He breaks it into three points.
1. The universe had a beginning so there must have been a beginner dude. (Note: I have always wondered what proves the creator ever lived beyond his creation. Based on the evidence couldn’t the creator just have burned himself out at the Big Bang? Isn’t that just as likely as him checking up on me to see if I was naughty or nice. How can you extrapolate a specific Christian god from a Big Bang beginning. I could go on…)
2. The fine tuning argument. Please… this has been so picked over, and apart. Wells does address some of the problems with it and realizes it can’t stand on it own, and so he has…
3. Correlation between life and discovery. He wrote a book on this “theory” so we get to hear all about it… YEA!
No, not YEA! The gist of it seems to be that the earth is in a particular position in space and time that allows us to make various observations. Being able to make those observations is so improbable it can only be God’s plan. Hence God. I never would have thought of that.
When he took us down this rat hole he did give a great overview of how the age of the universe is determined. A well done pitch, description of the Doppler effect, red shift, how Hubble worked out that the universe was expanding, and what lead to our current understanding of the Big Bang. Very nicely done except… no mention of HOW OLD the universe or earth was. Like he forgot the number.
That information seemed conspicuous by it’s absence.
During Question time Wells responds to a question about the age of the universe:
“I generally believe the standard estimates for the age of the universe. The fact that the universe has age is much more significant theologically than what the age is, I know Christians disagree with that… There is more evidence for the age of the universe than there is for the age of the earth.”
Eventually, Well admits the age of the universe is understood to be 14.3 billion years.
A schism develops–you can feel it in the room. Old earth vs. young earth. The YECer’s flock to the offstage microphone ready with questions.
What does he think about the new theory that the speed of light is slower than it was say, 5,000 years ago? (YEC’s would like that to help get the math right for a young earth.) To Wells’ credit he shoots it down. Ironically during the shoot-down he says “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Sagan revolves in his grave.
Another question about the possible slowing of the expansion of the universe. The Young Earthers are not going down without a fight.
A Young Earther tries the “background radiation makes it look like the universe was not there and <snap of finger> there it was.” Wells explains why that dog won’t hunt. There continued to be some bleating about Adam and Eve and the fall. “So how does that work if the earth is older than 6000 years?” The answer was some sort of word salad and a promise that they cover that later in the day. It’s obvious the Discovery Institute is trying to walk a very fine line. For any kind of scientific credibility they need to keep YEC at arm’s length, but don’t want to alienate their Conservative base while doing it.
Wells did well, defending some real science while keeping the crazy at bay.
A ray of hope.
A man in the row in front of me turns around to talk to a student sitting next to me, he says, “Did you see what happened? Once they bring up the age of the universe the Young Earth Creationists get all worked up.” I interjected that I noticed that Wells went as long as he could not mentioning the age of the universe and only did so when forced with a question. We both chuckled. He got it. Turns out he was a high school biology teacher, obviously Christian and working the the science vs. faith thing.
I asked him a simple question: “Why can’t we say, ‘I don’t know?'” He replied he did that all the time, when he didn’t know something he checked it out, he didn’t guess at the answer. I said, “Great, but what about these questions today, about how the universe started? What was there before time? Why are scientists okay with saying ‘I don’t know’ but these guys from the Discovery Institute have to answer every question with God did it?”
He seemed confused, so I pressed.
“Why do we need an answer now? Can’t you live with the fact that we don’t know some things, and it’s better, much more scientific to say, ‘I don’t know. Let’s do some research,’ rather than just say God did it.” His eyes flickered. I went on. “Why insert God as the answer to all the things we don’t understand? Let’s allow science time to do its job.”
He really seem startled, as if he had never considered that possibility, and maybe ready to consider what I said, or… I was stark raving mad.