A Matter of Considerable Gravity: On the Purported Detection of Gravitational Waves and Cosmic Inflation

The world of science was abuzz last week with the report that physicists involved in the BICEP2 project (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization 2) using a telescope at the South Pole to analyze the polarization of light from the early universe had detected the imprint of gravitational waves that had been stretched by the process of cosmic inflation a trillion-trillion-trillionths of a second after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. In view of all the excitement, some reflection on the nature of the alleged discovery, its reliability, and its significance is advisable.

One of the things that bothered Albert Einstein about Newton’s theory of gravity was that gravitational force, in Newtonian conception, acted instantaneously across any distance without any discernible medium that carried the force. Two massive objects on opposite sides of the universe have an instantaneous effect on each other that is proportional to their respective masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. For instance, the motion of planets around the Sun in our solar system redistributes matter in a way that instantly changes the gravitational field on the other side of the universe. Einstein’s 1915 theory of general relativity changed this. In 1905, with his special theory of relativity describing non-accelerated motion, he found that the speed of light was the limiting velocity at which any cause could have a spacetime effect. His theory of general relativity, which extended his analysis to accelerated motion and gave an account of the nature of gravity-induced motion in terms of the curvature of space-time (roughly, matter tells spacetime how to curve and spacetime tells matter how to move), predicted the existence of gravitational waves that propagate at the speed of light. In other words, general relativity eliminated the action-at-a-distance in Newtonian gravity by describing gravitational effects as ripples in spacetime that propagated outward from massive objects at the speed of light.

Now, Big Bang theory has its theoretical basis in general relativity, which predicts that the universe is spatiotemporally expanding in the future direction and thus would be contracting if we were to reverse the direction of time. As Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking showed in the late 1960s, no matter which general-relativistic model of our universe is chosen, this contraction leads to a beginning point in the finite past ‒ a singularity, to use the technical term ‒from which not just matter and energy, but spacetime itself, emerged. This coming into existence of the universe from nothing (no space, no time, no matter, no energy, and hence no physical laws either) is what is known as the Big Bang. It is, as the agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow once observed, startling evidence for the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. He famously put it this way: “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason [editorial aside: Jastrow might better have said “faith in the sufficiency of materialist explanations” because the inference from the ex nihilo generation of the universe to a transcendent intelligent cause is eminently reasonable], the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

This much established, as the physicist George Gamow demonstrated in 1948, one of the predictions of Big Bang theory is the existence of gravitational ripples and cosmic background radiation (CBR) that are an “echo of Creation”, as it were, throughout the whole observable universe. This cosmic background electromagnetic radiation was discovered in 1965 by Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias, a discovery for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize for confirming one of the main predictions of Big Bang cosmology. In this regard, the alleged detection of gravitational waves would serve as further confirmation of the correctness of Einstein’s theory of general relativity and of the nature of the Big Bang itself. If corroborated by the scientific community, it would be a hugely important discovery, not just because of the evidence it provides for gravitational waves, but also because of the way this discovery is linked to another theory, namely, inflationary cosmology.

As implied in the opening paragraph, if gravitational waves have been detected by their effect on the polarization of light from the early universe, it is because this effect has been amplified to detectable size by cosmic inflation in the first 10-37 to 10-35 of a second after the universe exploded into existence. According to the hypothesis of cosmic inflation, during this incredibly small period of time, the universe expanded at a velocity exponentially faster than the speed of light (this would not violate special relativity because it is not describing motion within spacetime but rather the expansion of spacetime itself). I will say more about the justifications and implications of inflationary cosmology presently, but the first thing we need to address is the reliability of these recently reported results, and in this respect there are ample grounds for being tentative. Polarization of the CBR from the Big Bang is regularly observed and attributed to magnetic fields in space produced by intervening galaxies or intergalactic dust. The BICEP2 scientists attempted, to the best of their ability, to get a look at the CMB apart from such known polarizing factors and discovered that, insofar as they succeeded, the polarization was still there. The search for another source of this polarization yielded the suggestion that gravity-wave compression of matter in the early universe could have such a polarizing effect, but in order for it to be large enough to match what was observed, it would require amplification that only something like cosmic inflation could provide. Further study revealed that if the dials on gravity-wave compression and inflationary expansion were tweaked in just the right way, and a reasonable guess at polarizing dust interference was accommodated, a moderately significant polarization signal remained above the noise that could be explained by carefully selected gravitational and inflationary causes. In short, there’s a lot of room for doubt about the proposed explanation of the data and ample room for more conventional explanations to prove adequate to the task (for more on this, see Rob Sheldon’s article referenced in the further reading suggested at the end of this post). Nonetheless, if these results hold up to extended critical scrutiny, some Nobel Prizes will likely be forthcoming.

With the tentativeness of these results firmly in view, we need to examine the reason that cosmic inflation was first proposed. Alan Guth suggested an inflationary mechanism in 1980 to explain why the temperature of the cosmic background radiation was the same throughout the observable universe to one part in a hundred thousand, and why the density of mass-energy resulting from the Big Bang yielded a universe that was flat to at least one part in a quadrillion (explanatory demands known respectively as the “horizon” and “flatness” problems). Inflation is therefore intended to explain away the fine-tuning of certain physical quantities intimately connected to the Big Bang origin of our universe, especially since this thermodynamic connectedness and homogeneity seems necessary if our universe is to be capable of supporting life. In short, inflation was invoked to provide a physical rather than a transcendent metaphysical explanation for our universe’s fine-tuned life-supporting properties.

The irony of the proposal, at least in regard to the sensibilities of those inclined to scientific materialism, is that inflationary processes actually increase rather than decrease the required fine-tuning associated with our universe. For instance, the energy of the inflationary field has to be shut off with tremendous precision in order for a universe like ours to exist, with inflationary models requiring a shut-off energy precision of at least one part in 1053 and perhaps as much as one part in 10123. Furthermore, inflation is an entropy-increasing process (it increases the thermodynamic disorder of the cosmos), yet even without it, as Roger Penrose has shown, the universe’s initial entropy was fine-tuned to one part in 10 to the 10123 power. In other words, adding an inflationary process to the already hyper-exponentially fine-tuned entropy required by the Big Bang exponentially increases its hyper-exponential fine-tuning. What is more, as theoretical cosmologists Sean Carroll and Heywood Tam demonstrated in 2010, the chance of an inflationary process producing a realistic cosmology is only one in 10660,000,000.

Of course, the inflationary mechanism is often regarded as generative of an unending and rapid succession of universes with the idea that, if enough universes are produced by such means, the improbabilities just mentioned don’t matter. Several things need to be said about this “inflationary multiverse” proposal:

(1)   First of all, as pointed out by one of the physicists involved in the BICEP2 project, Kent Irwin at Stanford University, the BICEP2 results do not address the truth or falsity of inflationary multiverse theories.

(2)   Secondly, attempting to swamp the improbabilities intrinsic to inflation by multiplying the number of universes it generates to the point of compensation has consequences that undermine scientific rationality. In a materialist multiverse resting on the hypothesis of an undirected and irreducibly probabilistic quantum inflationary mechanism that lacks any principle of sufficient material causality, anything can happen for no reason at all. What is more, quantum-mechanically speaking, everything that can happen, no matter how improbable, does happen, and it happens with unlimited frequency. In this environment we can have no confidence that the future will resemble the past in a way that legitimates uniformitarian assumptions and the very inductive inferences that make science possible. In short, taken seriously, the inflationary multiverse proposal completely undermines scientific rationality.

(3)   Thirdly, at least two paradoxes result from the inflationary multiverse proposal that suggest our place in such a multiverse must be very special:  the “Boltzmann Brain Paradox” and the “Youngness Paradox”. In brief, if the inflationary mechanism is autonomously operative in a way that generates a multiverse, then with probability indistinguishable from one (i.e., virtual necessity) the typical observer in such a multiverse is an evanescent thermal fluctuation with memories of a past that never existed (a Boltzmann brain) rather than an observer of the sort we take ourselves to be. Alternatively, by a second measure, post-inflationary universes should overwhelmingly have just been formed, which means that our existence in an old universe like our own has a probability that is effectively zero (i.e., it’s nigh impossible). So if our universe existed as part of such a multiverse, it would not be at all typical, but rather infinitely improbable (fine-tuned) with respect to its age and compatibility with stable life-forms.

(4)   Fourthly, a mechanism that generates universes ad infinitum must have stable characteristics that constrain its operation if it is to avoid breaking down and sputtering to a halt. In short, universe-generators have finely-tuned design parameters that themselves require explanation. So postulating a universe-generator to explain away the appearance of first-order design in a single universe does not obviate the inference to design, it merely bumps it up to the next level. Avoiding an infinite regress of explanatory demands leads to the recognition of actual design terminating in an Intelligence that transcends spacetime, matter and energy, and which, existing timelessly logically prior to creating any universe or multiverse, must also therefore exist necessarily, and therefore require no further explanation of its own existence.

(5)   Fifthly and finally, as demonstrated by Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin in 2003 (see further reading suggestions below), any inflationary multiverse has a beginning in the finite past: while inflationary models can, in theory, be eternal into the future, it is mathematically impossible for them to be eternal into the past. This means that the inflationary multiverse entails creation ex nihilo in precisely the same manner as the Big Bang. The universe thus manifests dependence on a transcendent reality in respect of its origin, but what is more, in virtue of the manifest absence of sufficient material causation in many aspects of its persistence as a quantum-mechanical phenomenon, the material universe also manifests dependence on a transcendent reality in respect of its operation (for an extended argument to this effect, see my article on quantum-theoretic challenges to philosophical naturalism referenced in the suggested readings).

What all of this reveals, of course, is that it’s intelligent design all the way through and all the way down and that theophobic scientific materialists, once they get past knee-jerk denials, must come to terms with what is, for them, a worldview-defeating fact.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Barnes, Luke. (2011) “The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life” (arXiv:1112.4647v1).

Barrow, J.D., and Tipler, F.J. (1986) The Anthropic Cosmological Principle.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Borde, A., Guth, A., and Vilenkin, A. (2003) “Inflationary spacetimes are not past-complete” (http://arxiv.org/pdf/grqc/0110012.pdf).

Carroll, S., and Tam, H. (2010) “Unitary Evolution and Cosmological Fine-Tuning” (arXiv:1007.1417v1).

Collins, Robin (1999) “A Scientific Argument for the Existence of God: The Fine-Tuning Design Argument,” in Michael J. Murray, ed. Reason for the Hope Within. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp.47-75.

_______. (2003) “Evidence for Fine-Tuning,” in N. Manson, ed. God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science. New York: Routledge, pp.178–99.

_______. (2009) “The Teleological Argument: An Exploration of the Fine-Tuning of the   Universe,” in William L. Craig and J.P. Moreland, eds. The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. Oxford: Blackwell, pp.202–81.

_______. (2013) “The Fine Tuning Evidence is Convincing,” in J. P. Moreland, Chad Meister, and Khaldoun A Sweis, eds. Debating Christian Theism. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 35-46.

Copan, Paul, and William Lane Craig. (2004) Creation out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Ellis, G.F.R. (2006) “Issues in the Philosophy of Cosmology” (http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0602280)

Gordon, Bruce L. (2010) “Inflationary Cosmology and the String Multiverse,” in Robert J. Spitzer, S.J. New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp.75-103.

_______. (2011a). “A Quantum-Theoretic Argument against Naturalism,” in Bruce L. Gordon and William A. Dembski, eds., The Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science. Wilmington: ISI Books, pp.179-214.

_______. (2011b) “Balloons on a String: A Critique of Multiverse Cosmology,” in Bruce L. Gordon and William A. Dembski, eds., The Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science. Wilmington: ISI Books, pp.558-601.

_______. (2013a) “In Defense of Uniformitarianism,” Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith, vol. 65, no. 2, pp.79-86.

Guth, Alan H. (1997) The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins. Reading: Perseus Books.

Holder, Rodney D. (2004) God, the Multiverse, and Everything: Modern Cosmology and the Argument from Design.Burlington: Ashgate.

Sheldon, Robert B. (2014) “Bang for the Buck: What the BICEP2 Consortium’s Discovery Means,” Evolution News and Views, March 19, 2014. (http://www.evolutionnews.org/2014/03/bang_for_the_bu083451.html)

Steinhardt, Paul. (2011) “The Inflation Debate,” Scientific American, v.34 (4), 36-43.

Darwinism, Secularism, and the Decline of the West – Part 3: The Impact of Darwinism

Darwinism, Secularism, and the Decline of the West – Part 3: The Impact of Darwinism

Through the end of the nineteenth century, the vast majority of scientists were at least deists and more likely Jewish or Christian theists. In fact, in 1872, Charles Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton (1822-1911), one of the founders of quantitative psychology and an outspoken atheist and enthusiastic advocate of eugenics, conducted a survey of “English men of science” to determine whether youthful religion had a deterrent impact on the freedom of their scientific research (Galton 1875). To his dismay, not only did over ninety percent of the respondents—including Charles Darwin himself—respond in the negative, almost every respondent indicated a church affiliation. In 1914, in another effort to establish the irreligiosity of scientists, the American psychologist James Leuba conducted a more rigorous survey (Leuba 1916 [1921]). He found that 41.8 percent of his sample group believed in a God who answered prayer, another 41.5 percent had a more deistic view, and 16.7 percent had no belief in God whatsoever. If Leuba’s results are restricted to “leading scientists,” however, the number holding some substantial form of religious belief dropped to 30 percent. When Leuba’s exact survey was repeated in 1996 the results remained much the same, except that the number of leading scientists—represented by members of the National Academy of Sciences—having strong religious beliefs dropped below 10 percent (Larson and Witham 1997).

A broader survey of religious belief by scholarly field that included 60,028 academics was conducted by the Carnegie Commission in 1969. It indicated levels of religious belief among natural scientists in the 55 to 60 percent range, with about two-thirds of these being orthodox. The percentage of religious believers in the social sciences was much lower, however, averaging around 45 percent, with the worst field being anthropology, where only 29 percent had any manner of religious belief at all, and only 11 percent were orthodox (see Stark 2003: 194). The moral of these surveys seems to be that while religious belief persists among scientists and academics in general, it has declined precipitously since the nineteenth century, especially in its orthodox form, and especially among those regarded as being at the “top” of their field. So what happened to bring this about? What has led to the tremendous changes in the social and cosmic imaginaries that have overtaken Western civilization in the last century, changes that have given rise to the widespread and presumptive acceptance among the intellectual elite of the causal closure and self-subsistence of material reality—what Charles Taylor (2007) calls the “the causal closure of the immanent frame”?

Part of the explanation is no doubt to be found in unwarranted conclusions drawn from the efficacy of the mechanical philosophy; another part undoubtedly lies with the social impact of false narratives alleging a state of “warfare” between science and religion, a misperception given considerable impetus by Andrew Dickson White’s dissembling tomes at the end of the nineteenth century. But we should also not underestimate the impact of Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882) theory of universal common descent, which purports to offer an explanation of speciation and growth in complexity in the history of life solely by means of natural selection acting on random variation in populations. What “random variation” is conventionally taken to mean, of course, is an objectively undirected process without discernible purpose. That this was Darwin’s intent seems clear, for he remarked in 1876 that “there seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings, and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows” (Darwin 1876 [1958], p. 87). Indeed, until Darwin’s theory gained wide acceptance—an eventuality given a boost by the discovery of the genetic basis of inheritance and a neo-Darwinian synthesis in which natural selection sifts random genetic mutations—design was regarded as the formative principle in biology. What Darwin is thought by many to have provided, as Richard Dawkins has gone to great lengths to emphasize, is a way of explaining the appearance of design in organisms without recourse to actual design. In light of this, Dawkins has no compunction about claiming that “although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist” (Dawkins 1986, p. 6). It is for this reason, and others, that Daniel Dennett describes Darwinism as a “universal acid” that “eats through just about every traditional concept, and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view” (Dennett 1995, p. 63). By Dennett’s account, of course, that revolutionized worldview is a radical philosophical naturalism in which traditional religion is preserved only as a curiosity in a “cultural zoo” (1995, p. 520).

This disavowal of design and purpose is, to be sure, fundamentally a philosophical stance. Even if the neo-Darwinian picture were accepted, the assertion that genetic mutation as the basis of variation is ontologically random and that environmental selection is absolutely blind is an unverifiable and gratuitous postulation. The gratuitousness of this assertion has not stopped its appearance in a wide variety of textbooks used in secondary and tertiary education, however, which as an expression of the mindset of the authors of these educational materials, speaks to the pervasive influence of philosophical naturalism in most institutions of higher learning and the broader cultural impact of Darwinism. It is also revelatory of Darwinism’s fundamental transformation of the way that humanity conceives of the universe and our place in it that has been effected in the last century. If we are looking for the historical locus at which formal and final causes were purged from the “scientific” view of reality, it clearly was not with the mechanical philosophy, which retained formal causes in the design plan of the mechanism and final causes in the purposes they were intended to serve; rather, as we have seen, formal intent realized through purposeful implementation was banished by the advent of Darwinism and the evolutionary naturalism it made conceptually possible.

Another factor that has eroded the metaphysical foundations of human freedom and the mindset of classical liberalism in Western culture, of course, is the modern embrace of methodological naturalism as normative for science and scholarship, since it insists that all explanatorily relevant causality is found in the immanent frame. Methodological naturalism has a long history (Numbers 1977; Dilley 2007) throughout which it has gradually acquired a stranglehold on science—even though it was emphatically rejected by Newton, whose presence towers over physics even today. The effect of Darwin’s insertion of it into biology as a catalyst for the spread of irreligion/secularism cannot be underestimated. What especially strengthened its impact was the fact that the presence of discrete intentional design in the biological realm had been one of the mainstays of natural theology (Roberts and Turner 2000, pp. 28-29, 47, 91-92, et passim). Darwin did more than introduce methodological naturalism into biology however; he contended that the exclusion of non-immanent causation was an indispensable criterion for any theory to be regarded as scientific (Darwin 1859 [1964], p. 488; see also the epigraphs opposite the title page). As William North Rice, a professor of geology at Wesleyan University and a Methodist Christian, stated the matter:

The great strength of Darwinian theory lies in its coincidence with the general spirit and tendency of science. It is the aim of science to narrow the domain of the supernatural, by bringing all phenomena within the scope of natural laws and secondary causes (Rice 1867, p. 608).

Rice was not alone among Christians in advancing this conception of science. There were a good many Christian thinkers who regarded methodological naturalism as a principle for discovering the laws by which God governed creation, and this understanding has provided and still provides a context for justifying it within the broad framework of a Christian metaphysics. It is an intellectual stance that is as unnecessary by way of its heuristic restrictions, however, as it has been unfortunate in terms of its broader effects. In conjunction with Darwinism, methodological naturalism had the unintended consequence of screening off the theological basis of natural science from the practice of science in a way that has led to a definitive intellectual “lopping off” of theistic metaphysics. This severance completed the causal closure of the immanent frame in the realm of natural science—which, by the end of the nineteenth century, was regarded as the paradigm intellectual activity and the model for epistemic rigor that represented the standard to which all other academic disciplines should aspire—and it contributed mightily to the current pervasive influence of an evolutionarily-framed philosophical naturalism and concomitant exclusive humanism in the academy. This was particularly manifest in the fledgling human sciences of anthropology, psychology and sociology, which felt bound, in their quest to be truly “scientific,” to emulate the natural sciences and endorse the principle of methodological naturalism (Roberts and Turner 2000). In their desire for scientific “respectability,” anthropologists, psychologists and sociologists so thoroughly naturalized the study of humanity that we became nothing but the material products of our environment—in short, we were denatured—and thus lost our humanity.

Working in concert with the Darwinian drift of science were broader intellectual developments in the academy that drew together the varying shades of evolutionary historicism inherent in the thought of Hegel, Comte, Marx, and Nietzsche (Ceaser 2010; Cohen 1978; Comte 1844, 1853, 1891; Hegel 1807, 1821; Marx 1843; Miller 2009; Nietzsche 1882, 1885, 1886, 1887, 1888; Pestritto and Atto 2008; Singer 1980). These European thinkers had a profound influence on the American academy in the post-Civil War era, and their ideas found intellectual and sociocultural expression in the rise of “progressivism,” a school of thought hostile to the natural right and natural law principles of the American founding enshrined in the Constitution. Progressives have consistently sought to change the conception of the Constitution from a fixed framework of foundational laws that places limits on government by a separation of powers and a system of checks and balances, to an evolving structure of case law amenable to an unbridled expansion of government capable of transforming society in accordance with progressive goals (Goldberg 2007, 2009; Pestritto 2005; Watson 2009, 2010; West 2006, 2007; Wilson 1912).

Nowhere have progressive ideas been more evident and influential than in the philosophy and social policy of John Dewey, whose primary formative intellectual influences were Hegel and Darwin, and whose role, along with William James, in establishing pragmatism as a major school of philosophical thought in America gave rise to the spread of relativism in American universities and its infestation of the broader culture in a variety of guises (Dewey 1916, 1920, 1930, 1934, 1935; Goldberg 2007, 2009; James 1977; McDermott 1973; Miller 2009; Pestritto and Atto 2008; Rorty 1982; 1989, 1998, 1999, 2000; Siegel 2009). As Dewey himself stated:

Darwin was not, of course, the first to question the classic philosophy of nature or knowledge…But prior to Darwin the impact of the new scientific method upon life, mind, and politics, had been arrested, because between these ideal or moral interests and the inorganic world intervened the kingdom of plants and animals. The gates of the garden of life were barred to the new ideas; and only through this garden was there access to mind and politics. The influence of Darwin upon philosophy resides in his having conquered the phenomena of life for the principle of transition, and thereby freed the new logic for application to mind and morals and life (Dewey 1910, pp. 1-19; the title essay was reprinted in McDermott, ed. 1973 [1981], pp. 31-41, see p.35).

When we resume our discussion, it will be reasonable to ask, therefore, what has been wrought by progressivist philosophy through its appropriation and application of Darwinian principles, and begin a dark journey into what C.S. Lewis called “the abolition of man.”

For further reading:

Ceaser, J. (2010). ‘The Roots of Obama Worship: Auguste Comte’s “Religion of Humanity” finds a 21st-Century Savior,’ The Weekly Standard 15 (18), January 25, 18–21.

Cohen, G. A. (1978). Karl Marx’s Theory of History. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Comte, A. (2009) [1844]. A General View of Positivism. Translated by J.H. Bridges. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

_____. (2009) [1853]. The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte, 2 volumes. Translated by H. Martineau. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

_____. (2009) [1891]. The Catechism of Positive Religion. Translated by R. Congrev. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Darwin, C. (1964) [1859]. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (facsimile edition, edited by Ernst Mayr). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Darwin, C. (1958) [1876]. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882. N. Barlow (Ed.). London: Collins.

Dawkins, R. (1986). The Blind Watchmaker: Why the evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Dennett, D. (1995). Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Dewey, J. (1910). The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy: And Other Essays. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc.

_____. (1944) [1916]. Democracy and Education. New York: The Free Press.

_____. (1948) [1920]. Reconstruction in Philosophy. Boston: Beacon Press.

_____. (1999) [1930]. Individualism Old and New. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

_____. (1962) [1934]. A Common Faith. New Haven: Yale University Press.

_____. (2000) [1935]. Liberalism and Social Action. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Dilley, S.C. (2007). Methodological Naturalism, History, and Science. Tempe: Arizona State University, Ph.D. dissertation.

Galton, F. (1875). English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture. New York: D. Appleton and Company.

Goldberg, J. (2007). Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. New York: Doubleday.

__________. (2009). ‘Richard Ely’s Golden Calf,’ National Review, 61 (24), December 31, 33–36.

Hegel, G.W.F. (1977) [1807]. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, translated by A.V. Miller. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

_____. (1952) [1821]. Elements of the Philosophy of Right (translated by T.M. Knox). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

James, W. (1977) [1906]. ‘The Moral Equivalent of War,’ in J.J. McDermott (Ed). The Writings of William James: A Comprehensive Edition (pp. 660-671). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Larson, E.J. & Witham, L. (1997). ‘Scientists Are Still Keeping the Faith,’ Nature, 386 (April 3), 435.

Leuba, J. (1921) [1916]. The Belief in God and Immortality. Chicago: Open Court Publishing Co.

Lewis, C. S. (2001) [1944]). The Abolition of Man. New York: Harper Collins.

Marx, Karl (1977) [1843]. Critique of Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Right’. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McDermott, J.J. (Ed.). (1981) [1973]. The Philosophy of John Dewey (Two Volumes in One). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Miller, T.J. (2009). ‘John Dewey and the Philosophical Refounding of America,’ National Review, 61 (24), December 31, 37–40.

Nietzsche, F. (1974) [1882]. The Gay Science (translated by W. Kaufmann). New York: Vintage Books.

_____. (1967) [1885]. The Will to Power (translated by W. Kauffman & R.J. Hollingdale). New York: Random House.

_____. (1966) [1886]. Beyond Good and Evil (translated by W. Kauffman). New York: Random House.

_____. (1967) [1887, 1888]. On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecco Homo (translated by W. Kaufmann). New York: Vintage Books.

Numbers, R.L. (1977). Creation by Natural Law: Laplace’s Nebular Hypothesis in American Thought. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Pestritto, R.J. (2005). Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Pestritto, R.J. & Atto, W.J. (Eds.). (2008). American Progressivism: A Reader. Lanham: Lexington Books.

Rice, W.N. (1867). ‘The Darwinian Theory of the Origin of the Species,’ New Englander, 26, 603–635.

Roberts, J.H. & Turner, J. (2000). The Sacred and the Secular University. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Rorty, R. (1982). Consequences of Pragmatism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

_____. (1989). Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

_____. (1998). Truth and Progress. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

_____. (1999). Philosophy and Social Hope. New York: Penguin Books.

_____. (2000). ‘Universality and Truth,’ in R.B. Brandom (Ed.), Rorty and His Critics (pp. 1-30). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, Inc.

Siegel, F. (2009). ‘Herbert Croly’s American Bismarcks,’ National Review, 61 (24), December 31, 43–45.

Singer, P. (1980). Marx: A Brief Insight. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stark, R. (2003). For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Taylor, C. (2007). A Secular Age. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Watson, B.C.S. (2009). ‘The Curious Constitution of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.,’ National Review, 61 (24), December 31, 41–42.

_____. (2010). ‘Darwin’s Constitution: Why progressives took it upon themselves to purify our founding charter of its meaning,’ National Review, 62 (9), 28–34.

West, J. (2006). Darwin’s Conservatives: The Misguided Quest. Seattle: Discovery Institute Press.

_____. (2007). Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science. Wilmington: ISI Books.

Wilson, W. (1961) [1912]. The New Freedom (with an introduction and notes by W. Leuchtenberg). Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

On Nobel Prizes, “the God Particle,” and the Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Life

On Nobel Prizes, “the God Particle,” and the Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Life

The discovery of anything nicknamed “the God particle” is bound to arouse the curiosity of Christian believers around the world, especially those who are not familiar with the world of particle physics and have never heard of the Higgs boson, which is the name by which the particle is known in the physics community. What is this particle, how did it acquire its nickname, and is there a real sense in which Christians can see the hand of God in the existence of such an exotic entity?
That such a particle should exist was first proposed by the Scottish physicist Peter Higgs in 1964. Actually, Higgs was one of a handful of physicists in the early 1960s who were trying to explain the origin of mass (resistance to acceleration) in terms of a force field that permeates all of space and produces a resistance to motion proportional to the amount of mass possessed by the objects moving through it. In quantum field theory, such force fields are always mediated by a particle called a boson that conveys the force. As Higgs noted in his original paper, this mass-conferring force-field predicted the existence of a new particle of unknown mass. This particle came to be known among physicists as the Higgs boson. It was finally discovered in experiments at a large particle accelerator near Geneva, Switzerland, in July 2012. Its discovery brought to completion the picture of the atomic and subatomic world associated with the Standard Model of particle physics, a theory that has governed our understanding of the microscopic world since its completion as a theoretical structure in the early 1970s. The discovery of the Higgs boson garnered Peter Higgs and another researcher, the Belgian physicist François Englert, the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics for work they did half a century ago.
But how did the Higgs boson come to be called “the God particle”? The name comes from the title of a 1993 book written by Leon Lederman, erstwhile director of Fermilab, the particle accelerator facility in Batavia, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. As for why he called it “the God particle,” the part of this tale relevant to our purposes rests on the role it plays in modern physics. While Lederman is an atheist and used the term with humorous intent, a closer consideration of the function and properties of the Higgs boson is very enlightening from a theistic perspective.
What the Higgs boson does is give substantiality (push-back, if you like) to the world of our experience. But not only does it do this, thereby explaining how our universe’s laws of motion are possible, it also is necessary for our universe’s habitability. Let me explain. Since Einstein’s special theory of relativity requires massless particles to travel at the speed of light and without the Higgs field no particles would have mass, if there were no Higgs boson, everything would be traveling at the speed of light. Under such conditions no atoms would exist, no chemistry would be possible, and the universe itself would be completely lifeless. In short, along with a handful of other fundamental forces and laws—things like gravity, the nuclear force, electromagnetism, some sort of quantization rule, and the Pauli exclusion principle that enables matter to form structures—the Higgs mechanism is necessary for the existence of life. Without it, we wouldn’t be here.
The necessity of the Higgs mechanism extends beyond its mere existence, however. The mass of the Higgs boson and the strength of the Higgs field also are fine-tuned for the existence of life. If the Higgs did not exist in its predicted mass-energy range, dire consequences would follow. In 1997 it was shown that if the Higgs boson were even five times more massive than the value it is measured to have, it would suppress the formation of all atoms larger than hydrogen, effectively rendering the universe lifeless (http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-ph/9707380v2). Furthermore, experiments at the same facility in Switzerland at which the Higgs was discovered are pointing to the falsity of another conjecture that has played a role in theoretical physics beyond the Standard Model, namely supersymmetry (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=supersymmetry-fails-test-forcing-physics-seek-new-idea). Supersymmetry is essentially the idea that every force particle (boson) has a partner that is a matter particle (fermion) and vice-versa. If supersymmetry is false, and the consensus for its falsity is growing, then in the absence of supersymmetric cancellations between fermions and bosons that solve the so-called “hierarchy problem” by imposing constraints on the strength of the Higgs field, its field strength has to be fine-tuned to about one part in a trillion quintillion (1 followed by 30 zeros) for the Higgs boson to have its observed mass (http://lifshitz.ucdavis.edu/~santopietro/hierarchyproblem.pdf), a mass that could not differ by even a factor of ten if we are to exist.
Of course, where the fine-tuning of the universe for the existence of life is concerned, these observations about the Higgs boson are just the tip of the iceberg. The amount of fine-tuning present in the forms taken by the laws of nature, the conditions governing the beginning of the universe, and the values associated with various universal constants (force-field strengths, particle masses, etc.) is beyond the reach of any undirected process. The specified nature of these forms, conditions and values, combined with their staggering and (mostly) multiplicative improbabilities, leads inexorably to the conclusion that the universe has these properties as the result of an intelligent cause, not an undirected process. Instead of Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg’s remark that “the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless,” the evidence points in exactly the opposite direction: the greater our comprehension of the universe, the more we understand it as the precise product of transcendent design. The proper response is one of doxology—the heavens are telling the glory of God (Psalm 19)—not cynical unbelief: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

Darwinism, Secularism and the Decline of the West – Part 2: Excursus on the Origins of Modern Science

[For those interested in exploring these themes in greater depth, please see the resources listed at the end of this post.]

In much the same manner that the medieval fusion of Judeo-Christian theistic belief with Greco-Roman philosophical resources gave Western civilization its conscience and moral structure, its sense of duty and responsibility, its love of freedom within a respect for the rule of law, its model of self-sacrifice in response to need or in confrontation with evil, its basic principles of decency and its self-confident backbone in world affairs, so too it laid the 400px-Ptolemaic_armillary_sphere_from_1737_in_Putnam_Gallery,_2009-11-24historical foundations for Western science and technological success. The socioeconomic and political developments that were brought to life and nurtured in the cradle of the Judeo-Christian worldview that dominated medieval European society provided fertile metaphysical, epistemic, sociocultural and economic ground for scientific theorizing and experimentation. Advances in land and sea transportation, along with the diversification and specialization in the production of goods taking place at Christian monasteries across Europe, the ensuing transition to a cash economy, and the advent of laws protecting private property from monarchic usurpation, led to the rise of a commercial class and the establishment of banks and insurance companies that freed capital for investment and entrepreneurial use (Baldwin 1959; Gordon 2011b; Noonan 1957; Richards 2009; Stark 2005). This growth in political stability and economic prosperity provided an environment that nurtured scholarly activity and notable advances in scientific knowledge and technology, mostly through the efforts of scholastics in the context of the universities they had established for the advancement of learning and the dissemination of research and scholarship. The medieval invention of the printing press further galvanized literacy and the spread of knowledge, contributing another indispensable condition for the exponential expansion of the sciences and humanities in the sixteenth century. It is therefore reasonable to regard the “Renaissance” and the “Enlightenment” as natural extensions of progress that had been made in the medieval period under the economic, political and creative impetus of Christianity, rather than as a sudden break with medieval modes of thought. Continue reading

Darwinism, Secularism, and the Decline of the West – Part 1

            These propaedeutic remarks are the first installment in a series of multiple reflections based on my essay “Losing Our Religion: Darwinism, Secularism, and the Decline of the West,” which appears in the volume Darwinian Evolution and Classical Liberalism: Theories in Tension, edited by Stephen Dilley (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013: 155-194).

            How is that Western culture, in which it was once virtually impossible not to believe in God, has reached the point where such belief is relativized and privatized among the masses, and discouraged as “anti-intellectual” by the cultural elite? What was the cultural engine that drove this process of secularization? In asking this question, we may, following Charles Taylor, distinguish three senses of “secularization”: (1) the removal of God from public spaces through the sociocultural and political privatization of religion; (2) the decline of private belief in God and regular participation in associated religious practices; and (3) a change in the societal conditions of belief, whereby belief in God is relativized as merely one option among many and thus rendered more difficult to embrace. The relationship between the first two senses of secularization is complex, but both would never have progressed to the point they have without the third. Broadly speaking, there are two factors of relevance to this massive restructuring of the societal conditions of belief: the first relates to what Taylor has called the “cosmic imaginary,” and the second to what he calls the “social imaginary.” In respect of the former, profound changes have taken place in the way that Western cultural elites envisage the universe and our place within it. We have moved from an ordered and personal cosmos in which humanity has a special purpose and place, to an impersonal universe with no special place for humanity and no purposes beyond those that we imagine for ourselves. There has also been a profound change in the way that the modern and post-modern West conceives of its social life and perceives its identity in relationship to other cultures and civilizations. Both of these developments have, on the whole, profoundly undermined the metaphysical foundations and operative principles of classical liberalism, to the detriment of Western civilization as a whole.

            Understanding why this is so requires a clear distinction between classical liberalism and its modern counterpart, which is less confusingly known as progressivism (about which more will be said in due course). The “classical liberalism” I intend to consider is not some minimalist idea of autonomous individuals engaging the world through rational choices—a conception so thin it may be shared by utilitarians, natural rights theorists, libertarians, and so on—but rather the much richer strain of theistic classical liberalism derivative of John Locke, Adam Smith, and the Judeo-Christian natural law tradition that was dominant in the American founding. By “theistic classical liberalism,” therefore, I mean a five-fold doctrine: (1) that human individuals possess natural and inalienable rights derived from God and thus prior to and independent of any government; (2) that foremost among these natural rights are the right to life, liberty, and private property (hence the inherent immorality of theft); (3) that government was created to protect the natural rights of individuals by the rule of law, so it should never supersede or contravene these rights of the individual in any way; (4) that economic freedom and human prosperity, which have their basis in private property and honest individual labor and creativity in the production of wealth, are demonstrably best served by the systemic market order induced by the unconstrained operation of the price mechanism in relation to the laws of supply and demand; and (5) history repeatedly teaches us the fact that our fallen, flawed and humanly imperfectible nature is prone to greed, envy and sloth (among other faults) and that human effort cannot remedy this—the only thing that can is divine redemption and an eschatological Kingdom brought into existence and maintained by God himself. For this very reason, the expansion of government beyond the construction of public works and the protection of negative rights (freedom from harm) into the arena of positive rights (entitlements) is most dangerous because it undermines the behavioral incentives required for productive and charitable participation in civil society, places too much power in the hands of corruptible officials, and leads to an incremental loss of freedoms and a decline in prosperity for all. This is why the only proper role of government is to provide public infrastructure and to ensure equal protection under established laws; it is not the role of government to attempt to force an equal distribution of health and wealth—as if this were even humanly possible or rightly constitutive of justice—by an unequal and tyrannical exercise of power that will inevitably breed corruption, if it is not corrupt from the start. The private goods constituted by personal health and material prosperity are outcomes best left to providence, individual effort, and private charities operating within a stable framework of legal protections. Thus we see that the fixed doctrines characteristic of the rich theistic classical liberalism embodied in the American founding are better known today—at least in America—as the tenets of modern social and economic conservatism.

            We preface a short overview of our argument with another definition: Darwinism is conventionally understood as the idea that the history of life on this planet is best explained by blind selective pressures operating on differential variation in populations that is random and undirected. Our historical, philosophical, and sociological analysis begins with the contention that the rise of Darwinian science so conceived—despite its increasingly glaring deficiencies and the scant evidence that universal common descent is true and that natural selection operating on heritable variation is a sufficient mechanism —has severely undermined and continues to undermine the theistic foundations of natural science. Having said this, it is important to emphasize that it is no part of our purpose here to provide a critique of Darwinian claims in relation to paleontology, genetics, and molecular biology, but rather merely to trace the consequences of “robust” Darwinism in the West. While some may disagree with our contention that Darwinian claims are vastly overblown and— outside of a presumptive materialist metaphysics—not terribly plausible let alone well-grounded as science, our purpose here is to examine the social and moral consequences of the intellectual authority accorded to Darwinism in Western culture, quite independent of the defensibility of Darwinism as a scientific hypothesis. In this vein, then, we will argue that the intellectual rise of Darwinian science provided a necessary condition for the unbridled growth of personal and sociocultural secularity that—to the detriment of us all—has eroded the foundational and operational principles of the theistic classical liberalism that was integral to the American founding and a central catalyst for the free societies of the modern West. An appreciation of how the consequences of Darwinian ideology have historically unfolded begins with an account of how the Judeo-Christian worldview gave birth to Western freedoms, modern science, and technological dominance. From this vantage point, we are equipped to grasp the extent to which this foundation has been compromised by the dehumanizing impact of Darwinism, and why the conceptual destruction of human nature that Darwinism entails has led to a decline in the ideas and institutions that have been the guarantors of our freedoms and the nexus of our global hegemony. To the degree that these ideological consequences have been (and are) socially manifest, we observe the spread of moral nihilism and the growing political specter (and in the historical case of communism and fascism, the horrific political reality) of totalitarianism. Our analysis culminates with a discussion of the transnationalist infatuation of the Western intellectual and political elites and the legitimation crisis this is spawning, along with an exhortation to repudiate false ideologies all the way back to their roots, and to reappropriate and defend the Judeo-Christian principles that gave rise to Western freedoms and global hegemony and can yet preserve them.

How Methodological Naturalism Begs the Question of Nature’s Nature and Blocks the Path of Inquiry

Let’s begin by being clear about our terminology. As we are using it here, “naturalism” is a philosophical term and “naturalists” are not those who study nature, but rather those who hold certain tenets about nature. In particular, metaphysical naturalists maintain that there is no such being as God and there is no realm of being that transcends the physical; all that exists are material substances and processes and things that emerge from them. A methodological naturalist may or may not believe that metaphysical naturalism is true, but maintains that for the purposes of science one cannot appeal to transcendent causes, and therefore scientific research must be pursued as if metaphysical naturalism were true. In other words, a methodological naturalist believes that, for the purposes of doing science, the Universe (all of nature) must be treated as a closed system of physical causes and effects.

Needless to say, Christians reject metaphysical naturalism as false; but why, then, would they be seduced into embracing its methodological handmaiden? The only plausible explanation for their acceptance of the unacceptable is that methodological naturalism has been sold as a foundational principle for the practice of science and that, quite appropriately, they believe that science is an important and productive activity in which Christians should be involved. Indeed it is, but – with all due respect to the district judge in Kitzmiller v. Dover whose philosophical naiveté was exploited by the ACLU – this does not mean that methodological naturalism is a foundational principle for the practice of science.

What is foundational to the practice of science is the assumption of uniformity in the causal structure of nature, that is, uniformitarianism. Some think that uniformitarianism is equivalent to methodological naturalism – after all, they assert, if God “intervened” to change the course of nature this deviation would disrupt natural regularity and destroy the possibility of science – but this assertion is mistaken on multiple levels and it’s easy to see that uniformitarianism and methodological naturalism are distinct ideas. Continue reading

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