Recently, The Wall Street Journal published an article titled Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God by Eric Metaxas. After reading it, I felt it necessary to respond. Metaxas’ central claim is that the sheer improbability of life on earth is evidence for creation, quoting Paul Davies saying, “the appearance of design if overwhelming.” He writes, if any of the forces that made life possible had been off by even the tiniest fraction of a fraction, the universe, and life as we know it, would cease to exist. This, he claims, is why the universe is “the greatest miracle of all time.” Before I begin, let me state that the science backed in this article is, to the best of my knowledge, true and empirically backed. The fault of Metaxas’ argument is not with the science, but as it always seems to be, with the religion.
The focus of Metaxas’ article is the improbability of life and the universe, and that something so improbable, something so unlikely must be the product of a divine creator. Metaxas says “multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions and the odds against the universe are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all “just happened” defies common sense. To be fair, this is a very rational and understandable argument, but that does not validate its claims. Humans aren’t evolved to understand the vastness of the universe. Our brains have evolved to maintain life for around 100 years, and are just beginning to work retrospectively to comprehend the depths of the universe.
The rationale behind Metaxas’ claim and those like it are rooted in the evolutionary history of our brains—it makes sense, we comprehend creation, but in the world of science, common sense and reality are often bitter rivals. So, Metaxas and those like him can chalk up their faulted understanding of the universe as an evolutionary byproduct, but for those who wish to understand the truth, science has far better answers.
Metaxas goes into great detail about the improbability of life on earth, but what he doesn’t mention is the vastness of space and how with enough space, even the most improbable, can become very probable indeed. To those unfamiliar with large numbers, improbabilities seem like a rational concourse of truth, but the universe is constantly expanding at rates faster than the speed of light (this is a concept known as general relativity), creating infinite possibilities for life. Our Milky Way galaxy is at the fate of the sun; when it explodes it will create one of the brightest lights in the universe, a supernova, which will terminate all life as we know it and send the particles that were once our galaxy, deep into space at speeds faster than the speed of light. Lawrence Krauss (2012) provides further insight into this phenomenon and how it relates to the utter vastness of space and time:
“Go out some night in to the woods or desert where you can see the stars Go out some night into the woods or desert where you can see stars and hold up your hand to the sky, making a tiny circle between your thumb and forefinger about the size of a dime. Hold it up to a dark patch of the sky where there are no visible stars. In that dark patch, with a large enough telescope of the type we now have in service today, you could discern perhaps 100,000 galaxies, each containing billions of stars. Since supernovae explode once per hundred years per, with 100,000 galaxies in view, you should expect to see, on average, about three stars explode on a given night.”
To say that the improbability of life on earth is the evidence for creation is a paradox. A world created for life as we know it wouldn’t be improbable at all, under these circumstances we should expect to measure ourselves as the center of the universe, without much cosmic activity in the background. If God created life on earth intentionally, why would he spend so much time creating the vastness of the universe billions of times larger than us? Why would he worry about neighboring galaxies and “the roughly octillion—1 followed by 24 zeros—planets in the universe” as Metaxas writes, if the world and life on it, was created with purpose? I found it ironic that Metaxas uses Carl Sagan as a reference in his article, when it was Sagan himself who was the first to so beautifully depict the meaningless of earth in his book, Pale Blue Dot.
Aside from the improbability of life, what Metaxas is describing, although he doesn’t explicitly say it, is intelligent design. This concept is best described by theologist William Paley and his watchmaker concept. Paley challenges you to think about a watch, and the intricate details and parts that work together to tell you the time. The watch must be a product of intricate craftsmanship and design in order for it to work properly and because of these facts, the watch was clearly created. Life too, is a product of intricate details and craftsmanship, working together in a process that is so detailed it also must have been created by a creature far more intelligent.
To argue this point by its very nature defeats itself. The argument that the complexity of life is so intricate and improbable that it must have been created yields the necessity of a creation of the creator. If this is the concept by which you understand the world, the very creator and the intricate details of his intelligence must also have a creator. Who is the intelligent designer of God? A greater God? What about the designer of him? At this point the argument breaks down, and so should your reliance on it.
On a related note, if you are comfortable believing that “God was always just there” as a way of closing your mind to the logistics of this argument I challenge you with one question: How is it that you are comfortable accepting the existence of a being so complex that he is capable of creating the world and life as we know it (among hearing your thoughts and helping basketball teams win championships), but you aren’t comfortable accepting the far more likely existence of life by chance and as a product of natural cosmic history? Put simply, how does the complexity of life on earth baffle you, but the complexity of an overarching God responsible for the creation of the universe and everything within it come without question?
Let me make something very clear: putting God in the gaps that limit your understanding does not justify his existence. Neil Degrasse Tyson furthers this claim by commenting “If that’s how you want to invoke your evidence for God, then God is an ever receding pocket of scientific ignorance that gets smaller and smaller and smaller as time goes on.”
Incompatibility between Science and Religion
The article by Eric Metaxas further demonstrates the incompatibility between science and religion. Science answers questions by experimenting, validating and recreating. Religion answers questions by throwing God into the remaining gaps science has left unanswered. A now famous example of this concept is the flying spaghetti monster. If I replace “God” with the “flying spaghetti monster” all of its claims remain valid, yet it takes just changing the name for one to see how ridiculous this notion is. This is further exemplified by Bertrand Russell’s celestial teapot. Russell wrote that if he claims that a celestial teapot is roaming space somewhere between the Earth and Mars, it is nonsensical for him to expect others to believe him based only on the grounds that they cannot prove him wrong. This too, applies to religion and the various gods central to these faiths. The burden of proof lies upon the person making the claims and scientifically unfalsifiable claims should be scrutinized and dismissed with the same ease as Russell’s celestial teapot.
I shall conclude with a famous excerpt from Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot:
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”