Now there is an ever so slight glimmer of hope and change. In this week’s Sunday Book Review two philosophers began to talk some sense. Not that either one is disavowing evolutionist claims that all the proteins, every molecule, the laws of genetics, all of biology on Earth, and for that matter all of Earth, arose spontaneously from a cloud of gas. But expectations are so very low these days that any faint glimmer will do.
That may be short-selling David Albert’s review of Lawrence Krauss’s latest book, A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, where the Columbia philosopher hits it out of the park:
Lawrence M. Krauss, a well-known cosmologist and prolific popular-science writer, apparently means to announce to the world, in this new book, that the laws of quantum mechanics have in them the makings of a thoroughly scientific and adamantly secular explanation of why there is something rather than nothing. Period. Case closed. End of story. I kid you not.
“I kid you not” is the appropriate response to jaw-dropping, evolutionary absurdity. For instance, from where did natural laws arise, and from where did the stuff of the universe arise?
Where, for starters, are the laws of quantum mechanics themselves supposed to have come from? Krauss is more or less upfront, as it turns out, about not having a clue about that. He acknowledges (albeit in a parenthesis, and just a few pages before the end of the book) that everything he has been talking about simply takes the basic principles of quantum mechanics for granted. … But the laws have no bearing whatsoever on questions of where the elementary stuff came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular elementary stuff it does, as opposed to something else, or to nothing at all. … they have nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of where those fields came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular kinds of fields it does, or of why it should have consisted of fields at all, or of why there should have been a world in the first place. Period. Case closed. End of story.
Krauss has heard all this before, but fails to reckon with the problem:
And he has an argument — or thinks he does — that the laws of relativistic quantum field theories entail that vacuum states are unstable. And that, in a nutshell, is the account he proposes of why there should be something rather than nothing. But that’s just not right. Relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states — no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems — are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff. The true relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical equivalent to there not being any physical stuff at all isn’t this or that particular arrangement of the fields — what it is (obviously, and ineluctably, and on the contrary) is the simple absence of the fields!
Albert’s level-headed views are refreshing, and he finishes his review with a great summary of the vacuity of Krauss’ arguments:
And I guess it ought to be mentioned, quite apart from the question of whether anything Krauss says turns out to be true or false, that the whole business of approaching the struggle with religion as if it were a card game, or a horse race, or some kind of battle of wits, just feels all wrong — or it does, at any rate, to me. When I was growing up, where I was growing up, there was a critique of religion according to which religion was cruel, and a lie, and a mechanism of enslavement, and something full of loathing and contempt for everything essentially human. Maybe that was true and maybe it wasn’t, but it had to do with important things — it had to do, that is, with history, and with suffering, and with the hope of a better world — and it seems like a pity, and more than a pity, and worse than a pity, with all that in the back of one’s head, to think that all that gets offered to us now, by guys like these, in books like this, is the pale, small, silly, nerdy accusation that religion is, I don’t know, dumb.
Another philosopher, Philip Kitcher, also had some cogent criticism for vacuous thought in this week’s Sunday Book Review. His target was Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions. Again, the problem is that common sense is nowhere to be found:
Since atheism is thought to be territory already secured, the targets now in view are the Big Questions, questions about morality, purpose and consciousness that puzzle softheaded people who muddle over them. … Morality, purpose and the quaint conceit of an enduring self all have to go.
Rosenberg’s cheerful Darwinizing is no more convincing than his imperialist physics, and his tales about the evolutionary origins of everything from our penchant for narratives to our supposed dispositions to be nice to one another are throwbacks to the sociobiology of an earlier era, unfettered by methodological cautions that students of human evolution have learned: much of Rosenberg’s book is evolutionary psychology on stilts. Similarly, the neuroscientific discussions serenely extrapolate from what has been carefully demonstrated for the sea slug to conclusions about Homo sapiens.
The evolutionist Kitcher, who once abused science in his book Abusing Science when he parroted the evolutionary falsehood that “Variation is not directed toward advantageous characteristics. The rigors of the environment do not induce variations designed to cope with them,” now goes so far as to advocate open-mindedness:
Instead of forcing the present-day natural sciences to supply All the Answers, you might value other forms of investigation — at least until physics, biology and neuroscience have advanced. Or you might be agnostic, wondering whether a future scientific treatment of, say, ethical behavior is possible even in principle.
You might be agnostic? That would be an astonishing concession for evolutionists. Too bad Kitcher doesn’t take some of his own medicine when it comes to the spontaneous origin of everything on Earth. But at least Kitcher is exercising common sense when it comes to all out scientism:
Storytelling might be seen as a cultural universal with biological roots, without indulging Darwinian speculations about a human yearning for tidy plots. Respect for science, and an enthusiasm for learning from it, are fully compatible with rejecting scientism. Scientism, whether Rosenberg’s today or E. O. Wilson’s a generation ago, is impatient with history (“The Atheist’s Guide” declares it to be “bunk”)
Kitcher makes a reasonable call for avoiding false dichotomies. We need not ditch all of science just because we don’t think it can be applied to all of reality at this very moment.
Unfortunately Kitcher is no stranger to false dichotomies. In his anti-creationist book Abusing Science he promoted the mother of all false dichotomies—that the origins debate is between fixity of species and evolution:
The main thesis of evolution is that species are not fixed and immutable.
No, Darwin’s main thesis was that independent creation is untenable and so natural law must explain the origin of species. Darwin’s argument specifically against the fixity of species was one of dozens against creationism, not his “main thesis.” Perhaps Kitcher was using the fixity of species as a proxy for all of creationism. But Kitcher continues to present a misleading version of evolution:
Evolutionary biologists believe that the birds are all descendants of a particular kind of reptile and that both cats and dogs have come from a common mammalian stock.
Cats and dogs come from a common mammalian stock? Sure, but evolutionists also believe that cats and dogs both come from the same microbe, along with all other life for that matter. Why leave that out? This is not a minor omission. They believe that biological complexities we cannot fathom or even recreate arose spontaneously. Evolutionists have a long way to go, but at least there is a glimmer.