Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Universal Arguments...again

By Gary Berg-Cross


The Washington Post had a book review by MIT physicist  & novelist Alan Lightman (latest book is “The Accidental Universe.”) on Amir D. Aczel‘s book  “Why Science Does Not Disprove God.”  You can get a sense of the differences between these 2 thinkers from their book titles and Lightman takes Aczel to task on several topics.

One of the first is the claims about Albert Einstein's religious views. It’s been extensively discussed and Aczel selectively repeats several on Einstein early pronouncements that gesture towards a Deity using religious vocabulary:


“Subtle is the Lord, but malicious he is not” and

“I want to know God’s thoughts — the rest are details.”

I put more store in the case that Einstein channeled Spinoza pantheistic notions that identifies the god idea with nature and not a personal god seen in Jewish scripture.


"It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere. My views are near those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly. I believe that we have to content ourselves with our imperfect knowledge and understanding and treat values and moral obligations as a purely human problem—the most important of all human problems."

From  Hoffmann, Banesh (1972). Albert Einstein Creator and Rebel. New York: New American 

Library, p. 95  cited in Wikipedia on E’s religious views see also Jammer’s, Einstein and Religion (Princeton 1999) and more recently Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe (Simon & Schuster 2007).

You can see this humble rather than doctrinaire stance in later pronouncements by E preferring agnostic sounding formulations (sometimes alluding to mysteries) as he said:   

"an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”

It is always interesting to see defenders of the creator hypothesis present E’s idea without his penumbra of humbleness on the whole issue.  Having harnessed a dogmatic style Einstein Aczel, as reported by Lightman, sets out to “debunk the arguments of the New Atheists but also to gently suggest that the findings of science actually point to the existence of God.” And so we pass some arguments about weaknesses of evolutionary explanations but arrive at the more contentious point of argued in L. Krauss’s bestseller “A Universe From Nothing. Aczel is willing to follow this physical argument about quantum foam effect fluxuations producing something from nothing physical, but can ask where the quantum laws come from.


Lawrence Krauss has misused the idea of “empty space” to argue that the universe itself came out of sheer “emptiness.” But we know that the space in which pairs of particles can form is never empty, it is not a “nothing”—it always contains energy, and it always becomes permeated by lines of force representing fields (electromagnetic, gravitational, and other); and it is the energy supplied by these fields that leads to the creation of pairs of particles. The creation of such particles is therefore never “out of nothing”—it is out of a preexisting space that is filled with energy. That space, that energy, and the fields that permeate it all have to come from somewhere. But there are many problems even here that have not been addressed by this theory. [ p. 127]


The Krauss point however, going back to Einstein and pantheism, is to see natural explanations such as pre-existing nature as preferred to theo-religious ones – existence depending on a god. Such natural explanations seem not only more likely and celebrate the wonder of our natural universe. They have, if you
wish, a degree of faith in what provides the best explanation. But the detailed, empirical one seems the more logical to put growing faith in. Every day we hear of something that adds to our understanding of the history of a 13.7/13.8 billion year universe. Less frequently we confirm bigger insights such as a basis for gravity with the Higgs boson, detection of gravity waves or support for Alan Guth’s 1980 inflationary theory of the early universe period of exponential growth, what was labeled earlier the Big Bang.

The long-sought observations, taken from Antarctica, strongly support the cosmological theory of "inflation," which explains how the early universe smoothly expanded to unimaginable vastness in the first fractional second of its existence.

 There seems no comparable advance on the theological side to things as foundational and explanatory as the cosmic background radiation.


See also Forbes article on the Sci-Phil arguments that arise from an Aczel style book.

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