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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lawrence Krauss, Astrobiology, and God

Lawrence Krauss, Astrobiology, and God


The other day Eric Metaxas wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal entitled "Science Increasingly Makes The Case For God." Anti-theist astrophysicist Dr. Lawrence Krauss took notice and wrote a response "No, Astrobiology Has Not Made The Case For God" that attempts to undermine Metaxas' conclusions. Today I will address several of Dr. Krauss' arguments in his piece from scientific, philosophical, and theological perspectives.

Krauss takes issue with the teleological argument- the fine-tuning of environmental conditions and the fundamental constants of the universe for the origin of life. His issue is with the probabilities. He summarizes the argument as multiplying independent probabilities of every necessary event to reach a probability so low that it is indistinguishable from zero, thus chance is eliminated (from the three options of chance, necessity, or design to explain life's existence). Krauss argues that the probabilities of each event that leads to life's origin that are calculated are not independent of one another. His concern is that each event is calculated independent of all necessarily preceding events. Meaning that any event in the chain leading to the origin of life will increase the probability that the next necessary event will take place. Thus the probability is not as small as one may think.

Looking for Probable not Possible

First, before this could have any reasonable effect on the teleological argument, the probability of the final event in a line of events (the origin of life) happening needs to be more probable than its not happening, meaning that it must be greater than 50% (.5). Just for reference, 100% (1) means that the event is necessary (no possibility that it will not happen), and 0% (0) is impossible (no possibility that it will happen). Probabilities of final events are calculated by multiplying the probabilities of the necessary, preceding events. We know from elementary school that 1*1=1; no matter how many times 1 is multiplied by 1 it will always end up with 1, so if the probability of all previous events is 1 (100%), then the final event is necessary (100%); it cannot not happen. However, as we learned in later classes, multiplying fractions (or decimals) result in lower and lower numbers. .5*.5=.25; .25*.5=.125 and so on. If variability exists at all for the first two necessary events in the chain (or really any two events in the chain), the probability is already too low to be considered more probable than not (less than .5 or 50%).

None of the conditions leading to the events in the chain of events for the origin of life have been discovered to have only one option. There are a minimum of at least 2. Most people immediately know that there is a 50/50 chance of one or the other being chosen. That is equal to .5 in terms of probability. Let us go back to the elementary math above. If just two events have two possibilities each (.5*.5) then the probability is too low for the right conditions to be favorable by chance. That is only two events into the chain, not the 200 steps that Krauss mentions and does not deny (or the other 700+ that have been discovered: Click here and here). Krauss tries to overcome this staggering problem in a few different ways.

Purpose-Driven Nature? 

First he attempts to demonstrate that the test of probability is the wrong way to be investigating the evidence. He claims that we are not really talking about chance; that natural selection is, in a sense, goal driven (survival) and does not work off pure odds. If it is, then there are guiding forces, such as the environment, that direct which of the possible options are selected. This would effectively further reduce the number of possibilities and could potentially make the processes a necessary process with the probability of 1 (100%). Unfortunately, natural selection is a mechanism that works on living organisms...already living organisms. Without the origin of these living organisms, natural selection has nothing to work on. Natural selection is not in play at any point in the history of the universe prior to the origin of life. So, unless Krauss wishes to propose another mechanism for directing the selection of the conditions for each event, his appeal to the directedness of nature does not apply, and the conclusion that chance drives the events leading to the origin of life in a naturalistic universe still stands.

Improbable Events Happen All The Time!

Second, Krauss tries to show that insanely improbable events take place all the time (such as his writing that article) that are also due to insanely improbable events. He explains that if the probabilities of the necessary events leading to his writing that article were multiplied together, that the probability would be similar to that of the probability for the origin of life. His conclusion is that we cannot just jump to the conclusion that an event was designed to happen because of the incredibly low probability; if one event of low probability happened by chance, why can we not believe that another event with a similar probability happened by chance?

This is a very intriguing way to argue, and I propose that his conclusion simply does not follow by necessity. I am not denying that improbable events take place, what I do deny is that we can depend upon an event that is known to take place by chance to necessarily justify, on its own, that another improbable event is the result of chance too. If that were the case, then I could argue that Krauss should except that no "invention" was ever actually designed. I could simply take his accepted belief that the origin of life took place by chance and insist that that belief necessitated that he believe that the personal computer that he used to write his article is the result of natural processes (chance) and that no minds had anything to do with its appearance in history (design). Of course, most people realize that that is as false as it is ridiculous. And that is precisely my point: the conclusion that Krauss attempts to argue (that the universe is not the result of design) with his appeal to his writing the article on the plane is as false and ridiculous as concluding that his PC was not designed from the same basic anecdote. At best, Krauss' attempt with this could be used to say that design is not the necessary conclusion and that chance was still a possibility; improbable events are compatible with an unguided universe. But the probability problem still exists, and this attempt to undermine it does nothing to address that hurdle logically.

Why Isn't The Universe MORE Hospitable For Life?

Third, Krauss attempts to undermine the fact that the fundamental constants of the universe were fined-tuned. He explains that if the cosmological constant were different than it is (exactly 0), then the universe would be more hospitable for life than it currently is. He argues from that that the universe is not as fine-tuned as it could be (thus not perfectly fine-tuned), thus the fine-tuning could not be the done by an intelligent Agent who knew what he was doing: God. I actually have three responses to this.

First, it is almost as if Krauss has conceded that the universe is actually fine-tuned but he is still trying to say that God is not responsible because God could have been done it better. He seems to want to attribute the fine-tuning to a different agent or force, which would be consistent with his proposal of natural selection, but we've already seen why that does not work. So, this particular challenge further demonstrates his desire to find a guiding mechanism for the conditions of the events that led to the origin of life. It also further demonstrates his need to propose one; something that his naturalistic model is missing since natural selection cannot be it.

But perhaps I am taking too much liberty with what Krauss may be conceding. This brings me to my second response to this challenge: Krauss seems to want to conclude the lack of design from the lack of perfect design. Let us go back to the personal computer that he used to write his article. Anyone who has purchased a personal computing device knows to expect that it will be considered out-of-date within months of the purchase because another personal computing device that is faster, smaller, lighter, more reliable, etc. will be released. The fact that another "better" device will be released is evidence that the current device is not perfectly designed. If we are to reject design altogether because the design is not perfect, then we, once again, must reject that the personal computing devices that we are using to read my and Krauss' articles are not designed.

Third, Krauss likes to judge "goodness" by determining a device's ability to accomplish a particular purpose. So, a design can only be perfect if it can accomplish the purpose perfectly. Anyone who has designed anything usually has multiple purposes in mind. They start with a design, test it, fine-tune it, test it again, fine-tune more, test more, etc. until they are satisfied that the final product will accomplish all their purposes. Now, for someone who is not the designer to judge the "goodness" of a design, all the purposes of the designer must be known. For if we judge a design "imperfect" we may not be taking into consideration another purpose that would necessitate the feature (or lack thereof) of the design that caused us to judge it as "imperfect." Krauss, by claiming that the cosmological constant is not perfectly fine-tuned to make the universe more hospitable for life, is assuming to know all God's purposes, which just happens to be only one purpose (on his view): that the universe be hospitable for life. If that were the case (that God had that as his only purpose for the universe) then I would have to concede that the universe is not perfectly designed. But that is simply not the case.

The Bible gives many purposes for why the universe exists. Dr. Hugh Ross explains several of them in his book "Why The Universe Is The Way It Is." More purposes can be discovered in any book that describes the biblical purposes for humans as Christians (that knowledge is part of discipleship; I've found The Purpose-Driven Life,  The Grand Weaver, and Master Life to be helpful in this respect). And we can even read the book that God supposedly gave to us (the Bible) with the explicit focus on the universe's purposes. Now it is impossible to know all of God's purposes; however, we can reasonably conclude from the purposes that He has revealed, and with the knowledge that some of the purposes could not be accomplished if certain fundamental constants or environmental conditions were different (due to the implications of their differences through time), that this universe, with its constants and conditions, is designed perfectly the way it is to accomplish all the purposes (not just one) that its Designer intended for it. This is not an argument from ignorance (an appeal to mystery- what we do not know), but rather from what we do know about the way the universe is and the purposes that it supposedly has. If these two align, then that is positive evidence that the revelation that contains the purposes is what it claims to be: from the Designer of the universe. Of course, that alignment could be judged as another result of chance, but then again, we are looking for probability not merely possibility.

Still More

Krauss also addresses several other possibilities regarding naturalistic origins-of-life scenarios, complains that theists only argue from what we do not know, and demands a scientifically rigorous model from the opposition. A couple weeks ago I finished reading and reviewed the book Origins of Life by biochemist Dr. Fazale Rana and astrophysicist Dr. Hugh Ross. Each one of Krauss' scientific challenges (plus many more) are addressed from a biochemical and astrophysical perspective in that work. They provide a powerful, positive case for the Creator based on science that we do know. The model that they provide is complete with predictions and an assessment of the predictions compared to parallel predictions from naturalistic models. If their origins-of-life model stands the scientific test, then Krauss has yet another alignment to explain by chance: how did such an ancient book (the Bible) get so many conditions of the early earth right when the human authors could not have possibly known, if it were not revealed from the Designer of the universe, Himself? Origins of Life is not the only book by Drs. Ross and Rana that explain and scientifically test their biblical creation model. If you are interested in more, please see the links below.


Dr. Lawrence Krauss' piece attacking the teleological argument for God's existence depends on misconceptions, logical fallacies, over-statements, and lack of knowledge on his part to draw his conclusion. He concludes his piece by saying that this kind of biased argumentation is lazy, disingenuous and does not belong in the market place of ideas. I agree with him wholeheartedly. That is why I believe that he needs to address the philosophical, theological, and scientific challenges offered against his views with intellectual rigor.

For more on science/faith issues, check out these posts:

I have interacted with more of Krauss' views in the past:

For more about Dr. Ross' and Dr. Rana's testable model:

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