Intelligent Designer Inconsistency with Science's Foundations
In all of the discussion of evolution vs intelligent design and related topics, there is a fundamental element that seems to me conspicuous mostly by its absence. Foundational to science is the assumption that the universe is rational and accessible to the human mind. This has a corollary, that there can be no influences upon the physical universe arising from outside that universe, no sources of causation other than those we can in principle contemplate in our theories. If this were not so, the logical connection between theory and experiment would be broken, the experimental result might just be the work of a supernatural agent and so could never be trusted to test the invalidity of a theory. The very center of science and its method would be missing. The Intelligent Designer must be denied by science to avoid inconsistency with science's own foundations. This foundational assumption cannot be derived from something more fundamental; it must be the assumed starting point. Like all the rest of science, it cannot be proven. We can only gain accumulating confidence in its validity as successful scientific predictions of new observations accumulate. The record in the physical sciences is clear, and as understanding of the chemical and physical underpinnings of biology and of life deepens, it becomes clearer there also. The understanding of science in the popular mind seems already to be woefully inadequate. To further confound it by teaching intelligent design in biology classes could be disastrous indeed.
Alan D. Franklin
85 Plum Tree Circle
Newville, PA 17241
(717) 776 - 8419
Letter to Emily
I would like to offer some small solace to Emily Glad and others who struggle with the Role of Faith in modern scientific thought. To me the problem has in fact been solved--not by proving there is no God or declaring that science is invalid--but by having science prove that there is a God. Although not often appreciated by many people, this is what Kurt Gödel did in his famous proof.
If you will indulge me a bit of imprecision, Gödel proved that either all rules in the Universe can be broken or that there are un-provable truths. The first option is equivalent to omnipotence The second, and probably more relevant, option means that there are truths that can only be accessed by faith or something omniscient.
So, there must be something with at least one of two properties associated with God: omniscience or omnipotence. Anthropomorphizing a bit, this means Gödel has proven that there is a God. Less dramatically, the theorem realistically tells us that there is a role for faith that can never be challenged by science.
We do not, however, know which truths are in fact un-provable. It has been and will likely always be that science can prove or disprove things that were considered by some as articles of faith. When such an article is disproven it creates the kind of tension. Either one must give up that tenet or one must believe in the omnipotent God, who mostly lets the Universe look like it follows rules but occasionally tweaks things.
If one chooses to believe in the omnipotent God, there is no contradiction, but rationality is then useless since anything is possible. Gödel tells us we cannot rule this out, but as an article of faith I do not believe it.
Gödel protects those of us who believe in both faith and science--but at cost. On the science side, we must accept that there a role for faith. On the other side we have to accept that just because we (or our religion) claims something is an article of faith, it may be proven wrong (or right) by science and must be given up.
I expect that the literalists Emily Glad talks about will not find this argument very satisfying, but I find it satisfying to know that not only can science and faith coexist, but that science has proven that they must.
Lawrence Berkeley National Lab
Response to "The Role of Faith" by Emily Glad
As a practicing scientist for more than 30 years, I feel compelled to respond to some of the misconceptions raised in the article by Ms. Glad in "Physics and Society" of July 2005. Although the article by Emily Glad is heartfelt, I find it to be incorrect in many of its observations. She begins well by separating science, which deals with what is observable, from religion, which is based on belief. Science is the father of Engineering which has led to all the technological marvels of the modern age like antibiotics, cell phones, open heart surgery and many others. Belief and faith cannot obtain these achievements because there is no understanding of the laws of nature that can be derived from faith, no matter how strongly held. As Ms. Glad points out, faith and science are incommensurate. Unfortunately she falls into the method of argumentation whereby a question is posed in a way that makes the desired answer the only one possible. This technique, called "framing", has been described quite well in the recent book by George Lakoff entitled, "Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values, Frame the Debate (2004)."1
For example in her paragraph describing the limits of science she concludes, " If I were only to believe what men tell me, I would never fail to be disappointed". This statement implies that there are good scientists who believe whatever any scientist tells them. However, the truth is that scientific progress is based on continual testing of hypotheses and theories against experimental evidence. It has little in common with religious belief, which is based on faith and the unknowable. In science, we try to keep assumptions to a minimum and derive the laws of nature by logical thinking and experimentation. In matters of relious belief, there can be appeal neither to reason nor observation. Ms. Glad goes on to say "But if I put my faith in God, acknowledging that His ways and thoughts are higher than my own, how can I ever be troubled by the ever-changing knowledge of man?" Again, she has framed the argument in such a way that implies that scientists are disturbed by the fact that their understanding of nature is imperfect. This is patently untrue. Most scientist are plying their craft for just that reason-that is where the Nobel prizes are!
1. George Lakoff, Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values, Frame the Debate, Chelsea Green Publishing Company (2004), ISBN: 1931498717
Physicist's Addition to the Bible
I just finished reading your lead editorial in Physics &Society, July 25, which I just received today. Your answer to Emily should have been the explanation I recently gave to my minister. The book of Revelations was not the end of the many revelations God has made to man. Furthermore, somewhere in the Bible there is explained that, "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, etc." Thus when the ancient writers and copiers of the Torah wrote in Hebrew the earliest versions of Genesis, they, too, wrote as they understood, some 5,000 years ago, and not as we would today. Even the translators working for King James about1660, when they translated and compared their translations with several sources, as is described in the preface of the King James version of the Bible, translated and compared as they understood, and not as we do today.
A proper addition we would make to the Bible today would be Chapter Zero of Genesis: In the beginning God created the Laws of Logic, Mathematics and Physics. Then He said, "Let there be Light," and there appeared one enormous photon containing all the energy and mass-energy of the Universe. It immediately began to expand and divide into the plasma of the Big Bang. History of the Universe began there.
All religious people, not just those who believe in the Torah and the other books of the Bible, should rejoice that Drs. George Gamow, Alpher, Bethe, Herman, Penzias, Dicke et al have, along with the many astronomical measurements made by the wonderful telescopes, spanning many octaves of the electromagnetic spectrum, shown by actual measurement that the Universe has not been forever, but did, indeed, have a specific, finite beginning we now call the Big Bang. The Universe did, physicists and chemists have shown by actual observation, have a finite beginning, hence a Creator! Furthermore, these physicists and chemists have shown how each and all of the chemical elements and their subatomic constituents were derived from this initial plasma, even including their latter day manufacture within the stars and their violent evolution. Simon Singh, "Big Bang", is reviewed by William Tucker on pp8&9 in Update, New York Academy of Sciences Magazine, April/May, 2005. The review is a good basic explanation any undergraduate should understand. This should cover a sufficient explanation except for the most extreme believers that insist that God himself dictated the Bible to the first writer, and will not admit that the many copiers and translators could in any way misunderstood, mistranslated, or modified the wording. I might add that I, myself, was most impressed along the lines I explained above, when I was a physics undergraduate ten years before Gamow's writings, when I obtained a Hebrew copy of the Old Testament.
Dr. Arthur S. Jensen, P.E.
Chapel Gate 1104, Oak Crest Village
8820 Walther Blvd, Suite 1104
Parkville, MD 21234-9022
2 July 2005
Re: Commentary by A.M. Saperstein in Jan. 2005, P&S
You are right. But it is the fault of the scientific community. We are failing, often completely. Yet no one is doing anything. But much can be done. It is absurd that the controversy over evolution has been allowed to continue. That emphasizes how badly we have failed. And it is so unnecessary. The same is true in many other ways. What is the point of writing articles about how bad it all is. Let us do something.
UCS and Nuclear Power
Professor Richard Wilson, in his July Letter to the Editor, gives an incorrect description of the position of the Union of Concerned Scientists regarding nuclear power. UCS has never, to quote Wilson "[taken] a very public position against nuclear power" in the unqualified sense that Wilson suggests. UCS has never opposed nuclear power in principle. UCS has, for over 30 years, criticized lack of adequate attention to the safety of nuclear power plants by the Atomic Energy Commission, the nuclear power industry and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. While this was a controversial position when first taken by Henry Kendall and Daniel Ford in the early 1970s, it has long since been widely recognized that this criticism has been technically sound, and that it must be properly addressed if nuclear power is to provide a major contribution to meeting our energy needs, and to addressing the greenhouse gas problem.
Chair, Union of Concerned Scientists