Brian Cox wants the Large Hadron Collider to show him ‘the face of the cosmos’. But if that’s what you want, there’s a much better scientific method…
Episode 9 of The Evangelist’s Podcast: Science
A VIDEO of a science talk from last year:
Not just any universe. You’ll need to be particular here. It must be a rationally comprehensible, rationally ordered cosmos. Not a chaos, a cosmos, I must insist on this point.
Next, you’ll need
Some of the boys and girls will claim that you don’t need the laws yet – science will produce them for you later. But that’s just silly, isn’t it children? You might not know the laws yet but you need there to be laws. And you need to trust that they’re out there and that you have ways of approaching them.
Thirdly, you’ll need
This one ought to go without saying, but you’d be surprised how often it gets left out of the ingredients list!
And finally – this is the one you were all waiting for…
Now if you’ve been following us for a while, the good news is you’ll have a scientific method left over from yesterday’s activities. If you haven’t already got a scientific method, please don’t just “borrow” one from the other children. That really isn’t fair. You should go back to the original episodes and build it up from first principles. A scientific method is made from very expensive ingredients, and if you haven’t bought them yourself, then using someone else’s method is stealing.
So there you have it – the four ingredients you need to do science. Now before you all complain… before you all complain – yes I know… I know that none of you can afford the ingredients. I’m sorry about that, but that’s the way it is. When we’re dealing with such valuable things, there’s no way around it.
All I can say to you is this: If you want to do science – and I sincerely hope that you do – you can’t take shortcuts, you must have these ingredients. If you don’t have them – and you don’t – then you’ll have to ask Mum or Dad.
Below you can watch Richard Dawkins speaking in advance of the 2011 KJV celebrations. He makes the case for being steeped ‘to some extent’ in the King James Bible. If we don’t know the KJV we are ‘in some small way barbarian.’ But he ends by saying:
it is important that religion should not be allowed to hijack this cultural resource.
Notch it up as another Dickie Dawkins classic. But before we laugh and point, let’s make sure there aren’t three fingers pointing back.
You see, because he’s talking about the bible the stupidity of his position is obvious. Of course it’s ridiculous to view the bible as first a cultural resource that religion then hijacks. Any fool knows that the bible is originally, purposefully and most meaningfully a religious text (or if you don’t like ‘religious’, say ‘spiritual’ or ‘theological’ or even ‘Christian’). It is evident (but not to Dawkins) that the essence of the bible is appreciated only when it’s treated according to its true theological nature. And that to read it through atheistic lenses is the real hijacking.
But Dawkins’ inability to appreciate the bible according to its true nature is only one more example of his inability to appreciate the world according to its true nature. The whole atheistic project follows exactly the same line. It says that everything is most ultimately a physical, chemical, biological, historical or cultural artefact, let’s not allow ‘religion’ to hijack it. But to pretend you are honouring the world by treating it non-theologically is just as ridiculous as pretending to honour the Word by treating it non-theologically.
The only reason we don’t see its foolishness is because we have, to some extent, bought the double-decker atheistic approach. When it comes to the world around us we pretty much assume along with the atheists that there are brute facts that are perfectly understood in non-theological terms and that we then work with this raw data to make our theological (or atheistical) pronouncements. And even if we do dare to wear some theological lenses to view the world, we have a slight guilty feeling that maybe we are hijacking a properly non-theological reality.
But no. You’ve got to begin by treating the Word theologically. And you’ve got to begin by treating the world theologically. And it’s best you do so in that order.
It’s those who fail to see the world according to its essentially theological character who hijack it.
Have you ever heard this kind of claim from an atheist:
Unlike you theists, I am open to change. All you need to do is show me the evidence and I’ll confess on the spot that I was wrong. If you can prove God I will switch sides. You theists on the other hand obstinately cling on to the God hypothesis no matter what the evidence. You call this irrationality “faith.”
How to respond?
Do we say “No I’m very open to change, I just think the evidence is better on our side”?
That might sound tempting. After all it has the air of intellectual credibility about it (if, ironically, you don’t think about it too long). And it’s the least we could do seeing as the atheist has been so even-handed with “the evidence.” Besides, what hope is there for genuine dialogue if we’re not open to change?
Well let’s slow down a second. What kind of openness is being claimed by the atheist?
Doesn’t their claim amount to:
I, the neutral observer, will accept the God hypothesis if and only if naturalistic evidence meets my criteria. And of course such acceptance will be eternally tentative, since opposing evidence may arise to dis-prove the God hypothesis.
Let me ask some questions about those bolded phrases…
Are you really a neutral observer? Is the scientific community, religious community or indeed the human race collectively a neutral observer? How could you ever know? What tests could you perform to figure out whether, when it comes to God, humanity suppresses the truth?
If you are assessing ‘the God hypothesis’, are your investigations being carried out in a way proper to the object of your study. I.e. is God really a ‘hypothesis’ to be tested? And if you think he is, the question must be asked, Which god are you talking about? Because it doesn’t sound like the God of the Bible. If, on the other hand, God is a Self-Revealing Speaker, doesn’t “scientific investigation” look very different? i.e. Wouldn’t a proper correspondence to this Object of enquiry entail listening to His Word?
Who gets to decide what is “evidence”? Does the Bible count? Does it count on its own terms, or only when filtered through other tests? What about encountering Christ spiritually through Scripture or worship? Wouldn’t that be quite a “knock-down” proof – for some even literally! Is this evidence allowed at the bar?
Even if you are a neutral observer, even if God is a hypothesis that could be tested and even if the evidence you demand is the right kind of evidence – will you really ‘become a believer’ on the basis of this evidence? Surely, to be consistent with your methods, you will merely line up with the God-hypothesis-camp until a better hypothesis comes along? This is nothing like what Christians mean by “faith in God.”
Therefore in what sense are you open to change? Admittedly, you are open to reshaping certain of your views – and that is a very laudable thing. Few ever do it, so such openness is indeed commendable. But the openness of which you speak is set within a tightly de-limited, pre-established epistemological system (i.e. system of gaining knowledge).
And if that’s your definition of “open” then the Christian is at least as open. If you show me convincing evidence about a pre-millennial return of Christ (to choose an intra-mural Christian dispute of secondary importance) then I hope I’m open enough to change. I hope I am. Obviously, people are biased, obstinate, self-justifying fools by nature (the Bible told us that long before science did), so it might be an uphill battle, but allow me to declare my willingness to change.
So there you are. I’m open.
Of course, at this stage, the atheist says: “That’s not openness to change! That’s just redecorating the exact same house.” To which I say, “Pretty much! But then, a tentative assent to the God-hypothesis is also just re-decoration. The foundations and structure of your beliefs would remain exactly the same.”
You might rate yourself as a De-Facto Theist on Richard Dawkins’ scale, but it’s your commitments to a naturalistic method of knowledge that are really God for you.
To inflexibly hold pre-commitments about yourself, your object of enquiry, your method of enquiry and your criteria of judgement is to be “open” in only a very limited sense. But here’s the thing… pre-commitments about Me and God and the World and how I know things are absolutely inescapable! I can’t even begin to think without at least a shadow of an opinion on these things.
Which means none of us are very open. There is no neutral space between the Christian position and the naturalistic position. There is only conversion – i.e. a radical re-ordering of my view of self and God and the world.
Does this shut down all conversation? Absolutely not! This is the beginning of genuine conversation. Now that we know where we all stand (and both Christians and atheists are regularly deluded about this), real interaction can happen. How? I say “Come on over to my house. Let me show you around. For a time, come in on my foundations, my vision of God and self and how to know things. Experience the world from within these commitments. See if life doesn’t make more sense. See if you don’t confess that Jesus really is the deepest Truth” And, by the same token, you can say to me “Come over to my house. Allow me to show you the Magic of Reality as I see it. Experience the world from within these commitments.”
There’s great hope for fruitful engagement (though this is a real statement of faith, I acknowledge!). I believe that there is plenty to be said on the other side of an acknowledgement of our radical differences. But let’s be honest enough to state our differences. It’s not a case of simply assessing mutually agreed-upon evidence with the obvious tools for the job. It’s about show-casing different visions of reality.
This doesn’t mean we cast stones at each other’s “houses” or dig into our entrenched positions. Instead it’s a call to hospitality. Let’s love our neighbours.
I believe the Bible is the word of God because in it God speaks. This is not an unfortunate circularity. At the end of the day nothing could convince me it’s God’s word except that God speaks. You could tell me it’s great history, it’s logically coherent and displays incredible internal consistency as a library of books over many centuries. Great, I believe all those things. But that doesn’t make it God’s word. The only thing that could authenticate the Bible as God’s word is if God personally speaks through it. And at that stage I’m essentially saying that it’s God’s word because it’s God’s word.
Or to shift that argument to christology, I believe that Jesus is the Radiance of the Father’s glory because in Him I’ve met the glorious Father. Yet this Father is met only in the face of the Son. In other words, I know that Jesus is Lord because I see in Him the kind of Lord that only Jesus reveals. There is a self-authenticating majesty to Jesus such that I say, along with Lord Byron, “If God’s not like Jesus, He ought to be.” Jesus is the kind of God that I believe in – the kind of God that Jesus uniquely reveals. He’s IT. And I know He’s IT because, well, look at Him! Jesus is Lord because Jesus is Lord.
At this point you’ll note how inter-related these two circularities are. And also the integral role of the Spirit in both. He brings us God’s written word with divine authority, illuminating Christ so that, in Him, we might see and know the Father.
Now “circular arguments” get a bad name. For one thing it sounds like buying into them will trap you. Actually, if you find yourself in the right Circle, you’ll finally be free. The Circle of Father, Son and Spirit doesn’t limit you. No these ultimate realities (because they really are ultimate) enable you to move out into the world all the wiser for knowing their Lordship. With the Spirit-breathed word, and the Lens of the Father’s Son… then you can really get somewhere. From this knowledge you’ll find all sorts of other things illuminated by God’s Light.
But still, people will cry foul. “You can’t reason in a circle” people will say. But hang on, we all employ circular reasoning whenever we make claims about ultimate reality. Didn’t your mum ever justify her pronouncements with “Because I’m the mummy”?
It’s inevitable that your ultimate ground of authentication must authenticate itself, or it isn’t ultimate.
Now this plays out in all sorts of areas. But think, for instance, of the naturalist assumption that the “natural” realm is best placed to judge any hypothetical “further realm”. If a “further realm” exists, they say, it must play by the rules of naturalism. This, of course, radically limits the kinds of realms the naturalist would be willing to admit and means that the gods they consider can only be superbeings within the world.
Now the naturalist cannot establish such a priority via naturalism. It is, by definition, beyond the ability of the natural sciences to pronounce on the existence of realms beyond their scope. Yet naturalists assume that the “natural” realm is all there is, was, or ever shall be.
Naturalism, they say, is the best explanation of ultimate reality because other explanations fail naturalistic tests. Or, to put it most simply, naturalism is true (or our best bet) because naturalism says so.
Now let’s be clear – belief in naturalism is not a groundless leap of faith. It’s a faith commitment that springs from compelling evidence (true faith always does). The evidence is this: trusting our own powers of perception and reasoning has produced great success in the natural sciences. I.e. it works, it explains things, when we move out into the world on its basis things make sense.
1) The Christian does not deny the explanatory power of the naturalistic sciences. The Christian believes that such sciences have sprung from a broader Christian world-view and rejoice in the fruits of the gospel here. Christians simply deny that such knowledge is the only or surest knowledge.
2) The Christian sees that naturalism is horrifically reductionistic and harmful when seeking to be applied beyond the natural sciences. As the old saying goes, If all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To treat human personhood and relationships, ethics and aesthetics, to say nothing of a relationship with God, as a mere interplay of matter and energy is to misunderstand these things greatly. The explanatory power breaks down here in a catastrophic way. And yet, these things – love, forgiveness, beauty, goodness etc – are the most precious realities in human existence.
In the discussion between Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams the other day, Dawkins said he “believed” we would find naturalistic explanations for consciousness – explanations which we do not now possess. That is a consistent faith position within his world-view. Naturalism has produced the goods in many spheres of enquiry – he trusts that consciousness will be one more success story for the natural sciences.
Yet all the while an explanation for personal reality presents itself to Dawkins. One which does not rule out science but underpins it. And one which accounts for the priority of the personal which is the most blindingly obvious reality which we encounter moment by moment. Nothing else accounts for it like this accounts for it…
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1:1-4)
I honestly don’t know why Dawkins – or anyone – can’t see it. How can there be darkness when the Light of Christ is so dazzlingly obvious? But then I would say that. I’m in the grip of the ultimate Circularity!
Brian Cox – dream-boat physicist, not craggy-faced actor – recently said this:
Our civilization was built on the foundations of reason and rational thinking embodied in the scientific method, and our future depends on the widespread acceptance of science as THE ONLY WAY WE HAVE to meet many, if not all, of the great challenges we face. (here)
Well now. Them there’s fighting words. Therefore, I thought it was time to repost this from two years ago (see how cutting edge CTT is? Discussing Cox two years ago!)
Just watched this documentary on the Large Hadron Collider: “The Big Bang Machine.” (BBC4) presented by Brian Cox.
Here’s an extract from around 4:20 – 7:20.
Physics is stuck and the only thing left to do is recreate the universe as it was a fraction of a second after the big bang. That’s what the LHC is designed to do. To smash bits of matter together at energies never before achieved so that we can stare at the face of creation…
So here’s the aim – to stare at the face of creation.
And this is the means – to smash particles together.
Notice the disjunct between the stated aim and the means! Cox excites us about the scientific quest promising us a ‘face’ to creation. Of course “face” says communicative, conscious. It says personality. It’s no wonder that Cox wants to reach for this kind of language because at bottom it’s personal reality that we long to see. But all Cox can give us is particles. This is the trouble.
What do you say of a person who promises you a face but gives you only particles?
What do you say of an enterprise that can describe a face only in terms of its sub-atomic particles?
…Every civilization has its own creation story. The ancient Chinese, indian mystics and Christian theologians all place a divine creator at the heart of their creation stories. Science too has an elaborate story that describes the universe’s genesis. It tells us how the fundamental constituents of the cosmos took on their form. The difference with this story is that we can test it. We can find out if its true by tearing matter apart and looking at the pieces. All you need is a machine powerful enough to restage the first moments after creation…
This was the sentence that made me sit up and take notice: “Every civilization has its own creation story.” And Cox puts ‘science’ in there among Indian mystics and Christian theologians. Ok good. We’re all telling stories about the world around us – scientists included. But what does Cox say is the difference with science? Answer: “we can test it.” Hmm. How will science be tested? Tearing apart matter and looking at the pieces.
Well now that’s a very sensible test if you think that matter is what explains everything. If you have a story about the world that says everything came about via material means then test matter. Yes indeed that’s testable. But it’s not the only thing that’s testable. What if your story about the world says ‘Everything came about via the Word who was with God in the beginning and then became flesh and dwelt among us.’ Is that testable? You betcha! Every bit as much as the ‘science’ story. It’s just that you test this story in ways appropriate to its nature.
All science works by testing its object of study in accordance with its nature. You don’t do astronomy with a microscope – your means of testing is adapted to the thing tested. So if you think it’s all about matter, you study matter. But if you think it’s all about the Word then you study the Word. Theology in this sense is completely scientific. It is taking its Object of enquiry completely seriously and pursuing thorough investigation according the nature of the Word – ie it is listening obediently to Him. That’s good science. And it’s our only hope of actually seeing the Face that explains our world. Particles won’t get you to the Person – but the Person can help you explain particles…
In the beginning there was nothing. No space, no time just endless nothing. Then 13.7 billion years ago from nothing came everything. The universe exploded into existence. From that fireball of energy emerged the simplest building blocks of matter. Finding experimental evidence of these fundamental entities has become the holy grail of physics.
Notice first that this creation story is just as miraculous as any other. “From nothing came everything”. No explanations are given. None ever could be. This is the astonishing miracle at the heart of our modern creation story. It is not the case that only primitive ‘religion’ believes in miracles. The ‘science’ creation story is equally miraculous.
And again do you how science proceeds? It proceeds like theology. The scientific worldview says there must have been simple building blocks of matter that existed after the big bang. Of course we’ve never observed these. Nonetheless the worldview tells us they must have existed. Therefore science seeks after evidence of what it believes to be true even without the evidence. It has faith (an assurance of things hoped for (Heb 11:1f)) and from this faith it seeks understanding. That is the scientific pursuit and it is no more or less a faith-based enterprise than theology. And that’s no bad thing, it’s just the way things are. It would just be nice if scientists came clean about it!
The point is this – don’t let anyone tell you science is about matter not miracles or fact and not faith. The truth is we all have our creation stories.