Collins begins chapter 3 with a remembrance of Immanuel Kant, who saw reasons for belief in God in both the starry heavens and the Moral Law. Neither of these are among the reason I have for belief in God – quite the opposite. Not only do I find the moral law coming from the very logic of life itself but I see order and “designoid” features of the universe arising quite spontaneously from mathematical/mechanistic processes. Since I mention my reasons for belief frequently in this commentary here is a link to them.
The Big Bang
Instead of being a challenge to the theistic worldview, the demonstrable fact that the measurable physical universe had a beginning is the clearest significant “I told you so” and cause for smugness on the part of theists. To be sure atheists can choose to believe that the universe didn’t begin there but since that goes beyond what is measurable they are on level ground with theist claims for a creator, resorting to the fact that it cannot be proven that the universe actually began at that point. But science is founded on testing hypotheses and in this case the test is in favor of the theist worldview, and it is the atheists who have to scramble for justifications and alternate interpretations of the data.
But I must say that what I remember from the end of the copy of “A Brief History of Time” (or maybe it was “A Briefer History of Time”) which I read, is Hawking’s triumphant declaration that because of quantum fluctuations we now no longer need God to explain the existence of the universe.
What came before the Big Bang?
The Big Bang does not beg the question of what came before because we have every reason to believe that time came into existence at the Big Bang along with everything else. One of the things that modern physics has made perfectly clear is that the old idea of absolute time as a singular measure applying to everything is simply wrong. So it is incorrect that we have to answer the question of what came before the Big Bang, any more than we have to answer that question with regards to God, whether to ask what came before God or before God created the universe. This doesn’t require a timeless God, but only one that uses time (in making a temporal sequence of thoughts and actions) as He sees fit rather than being under the dominion of any measure of time outside of Himself.
But even if the question of what came temporally before the beginning of the universe can be dispensed with, I suppose there is still the question of what came before it in the causal sense. But since this lies outside what we can measure, I cannot see how science could ever answer such a question. It may be that many people feel that the Big Bang or the universe cries out for divine explanation, but this is a subjective feeling and not one that I share. I believe in God for quite different reasons than this.
Formation of our Solar System and Planet Earth
Considering all that had to happen in order to bring the earth into existence (the formation of the elements in stellar explosions in additions to the 5 billion years of its formation), the 13.8 billion year age of the universe does not seem like such a very long time to me at all. For that reason, life might be somewhat more rare in the universe than we might otherwise have supposed. As a demonstration of how speculative Drake’s calculation is, there is one of those numbers that we how have an answer to. What fraction of stars have planets around them? Nearly all the stars in this region of space apparently have planets. There may be other regions of the universe where heavier elements are not so abundant so we cannot say this about all stars in the universe. Regions with a lot of old red dwarfs might be an example of a place where the stars have no planets. In any case, I certainly agree with Collins that the existence of life elsewhere has no bearing on the likelihood of the existence of a creator.
Here Collins makes an argument that the most likely explanation is that the universe was designed by a creator to support the existence of intelligent life. But at a key part of the argument He observes that we really have no way to calculate any of these probabilities and that is quite correct. The unavoidable conclusion of this observation, however, is that this argument is ultimately as subjective as seeing the shape of rabbits in the clouds. To be sure I see the same rabbit – God designing the universe to support life looks like the most reasonable explanation to me. But I will never claim that this is anything but a subjective judgement on my part… so much so that I do not give this as one of my reasons for belief. I will at most simply defend the rationality of this explanation. It is a reasonable way to think, even if we cannot reasonably expect others to accept this explanation.
Quantum Mechanics and the Uncertainty Principle
And here we come to one of the reasons I do give for belief. Collins does not say very much on this subject except to point out the collapse of the Laplace demon deterministic naturalist worldview in which the mathematical laws of nature are a perfect explanation of everything. Perhaps it because I am a physicist that the cognitive dissonance which physicists experience because of this is so much more significant to me. And thus I have given this as one of my reasons for belief, also admittedly completely subjective. But the existence of a creator who wants to continue to interact with the universe, altering the course events, does make sense of what we have found in quantum physics to me.
Cosmology and the God Hypothesis
I must begin with an objection to the phrase “God hypothesis” because it makes it sound like this is a scientific hypothesis and it is not and never will be. It fails the most basic requirements for such a thing because there is no measurements we can make to test it. As marvelously honest and objective as the scientific method is, with all of its epistemological superiority, it has some definite limits. Ideas which are unfalsifiable by physical measurements must be rejected as hypotheses in a scientific inquiry. This is my principle objection to Richard Dawkins’ book, “The God Delusion.” And as a scientist he really should know better. If you treat it like a scientific hypothesis just to shoot it down with a lot of subjective reasons, then you not only indulge in pseudo-scientific rhetoric but you make yourself a hypocrite for excluding creationism from the science classroom.
So as long as we are clear that it is only an idea which we are putting forward for philosophical consideration, what are we to make of the argument Collins makes here? Well it seems rather odd to me because he argues like a determinist and a Deist. There is no need for God to predict the outcome of Earth’s development if He has a hand in that development – if as theists believe God interacts with His creation. But I suppose the main thrust of this conclusion to chapter 3 is that there is really isn’t much reason to think that Christianity is incompatible with science, which is certainly something I agree with completely.