God and science
Dear Colin Howson,
The philosophical and scientific arguments for the existence of God are now almost overwhelming. Let me explain what I mean, using the canons of philosophical and scientific evaluation. Most theists believe in a “loving ultimate creator”; most rational atheists believe in “quantum uncaused stuff,” tracing everything to the Big Bang (or a quantum seed) but no further. Let us call these views Red and Green respectively, and use accepted standards for testing hypotheses: simplicity of statement; explanatory power; and likelihood of observed facts.
As to simplicity of statement: we all understand the ideas of love and creation, but the quantum world-view depends on abstruse mathematics, the basic interpretation of which is far from agreed. Of course, simply expressed views are often wrong, but between two hypotheses of equal power that both fit the facts, we should prefer the simpler.
Since Red offers explanations of why quantum stuff should exist at all; why the universe is comprehensible; and why there is an objective basis to morality, it has greater explanatory power than Green.
Testing against “observed facts” is more difficult: anything involving love is intensely personal. But there are four areas where we can reach some agreement on the evidence.
The first is that scientists now appreciate that the universe appears to be finely “tuned” to produce life. If the balance between expansion and contraction of the universe, or the ratio of the mass of the electron and proton were minutely different from their present values, intelligent life could not exist. Attempts to explain this away by positing millions of other universes could “explain” anything. Under Red the likelihood of a universe that supports intelligent life is one; under Green it is less than one in a million.
The second area is the extraordinary accuracy of mathematical predictions and the strange fact that our perceptions of mathematical beauty turn out to be a reliable guide to physics. Einstein remarked: “The one incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” Green explains why we might evolve the mathematics needed to hunt and avoid predators, but offers no explanation of why this sort of mathematics can predict the movements of binary pulsars to accuracies of better than one in 1020.
The third area is morality. Is torturing babies for fun always wrong, or is this just a matter of opinion? Only a complete moral…