The Case for a Creator: Another Non-Authority

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 6

Chapter 6 of Case is about the cosmological fine-tuning argument, but before I get to that, I want to say a few words about Strobel’s next choice of interview subject.

The interviewee in chapter 6 is Robin Collins, another prominent ID advocate. Granted, the areas of Collins’ interest lie mainly in physics and cosmology. But Collins himself is not a physicist, nor a cosmologist, nor even a practicing scientist. His undergraduate major was physics; he began a physics Ph.D program which he did not complete, and ended up getting a Ph.D in philosophy instead. He’s now an associate professor of philosophy at a private Christian university, Messiah College.

Of course, Strobel describes Collins’ background in the most glowing terms possible:

He went on to earn degrees in physics and mathematics at Washington State University (with a grade point average a scant 0.07 points shy of perfection)… Collins delved deeply into the subject and soon found a perfect wedding between his expertise in physics and philosophy… his training in physics equip[ped] him to understand the often-complex mathematical equations in the field… Collins has written about the topic for numerous books, including God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science; The Rationality of Theism; God Matters;… and Reason for the Hope Within. [p.128-129]

My intent isn’t to cast aspersions on Collins’ academic background, nor am I claiming he doesn’t have the ability to speak knowledgeably about cosmology. What I’m doing is pointing out the increasingly wide gap between Strobel’s claimed intentions and the reality of whom he’s interviewing for this book. Remember what he said in chapter 2:

My approach would be to cross-examine authorities in various scientific disciplines about the most current findings in their fields. [p.28]

If the term “authorities” means anything in this context, it must refer to practicing, qualified scientists with a preeminent degree of achievement and expertise recognized as such by other workers in their field. No other definition makes sense. But even by an extremely generous accounting, Strobel is nowhere close to meeting that standard. So far, he’s interviewed:

• Jonathan Wells – holder of a legitimate degree in biology, but spends far more time doing PR for the intelligent-design movement than actual science. Even the Discovery Institute‘s C.V. page lists only one peer-reviewed publication by Wells in the past eighteen years, in an obscure Italian journal called Rivista Biologica (but plenty of press releases and editorials in non-peer-reviewed popular press outlets).

• Stephen Meyer – worked as a geophysicist for a time, holder of a degree in the history and philosophy of science. As far as I know, has written only one scientific paper ever, which was a literature review presenting no new data, and which was only published because an ID-sympathetic editor sidestepped the journal’s normal process of peer review.

• William Lane Craig – professional Christian apologist and theologian. Not a scientist.

• Robin Collins – professional Christian philosopher and theologian. Not a scientist.

I’m not saying that Lee Strobel can’t talk to these people. For a Christian apologetics book, they’d be perfectly understandable choices. But this book isn’t presented as an ordinary, run-of-the-mill apologist tract listing philosophical arguments for Christianity made by theologians. It’s presented as a book about science, one that shows how scientists are making discoveries that support the existence of God. Consider these quotes from the dust jacket:

“Could it be that the world looks designed because it really is designed? Increasing numbers of scientists are coming to that conclusion.”

“…Strobel shares what more and more scientists are saying about the complex, manifestly purposeful order that pervades nature.”

The Case for a Creator shows how science itself is steadily nailing the lid on atheism’s coffin…”

And then there’s the subtitle of the book itself: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Toward God. The vast gulf between this lofty, triumphalist rhetoric and the reality of Strobel’s interview subjects – a motley collection of Christian philosophers, spin doctors, and professional apologists, with no scientific output to speak of – is something that ought to be hammered home at every opportunity.

In the introduction to this chapter, Strobel tries to dazzle us by listing all the scientific luminaries who allegedly find the fine-tuning argument persuasive – Paul Davies, Fred Hoyle, Owen Gingerich, and more, not to mention Allan Sandage from a previous chapter. But this begs the question, why isn’t he interviewing any of these people? Why isn’t he interviewing prestigious scientists working on the cutting edge of their fields, people who’d be happy to explain how their peer-reviewed research gives dramatic support to intelligent design?

In fact, the reality is the opposite: the more outspoken an advocate for ID is, the less they publish and the less real science they do. Strobel does his best to inflate his subjects’ credentials, but to someone who’s not impressed by Templeton fellowships and Washington Times editorials and wants to see actual scientific research and accomplishment, not only are these people far from being “authorities”, their résumés are paper-thin. Real scientists don’t spend all their time writing press releases; real scientists spend their time doing science – running the experiments, writing papers, publishing in peer-reviewed journals. None of the most prominent ID advocates seem to have any interest in those activities.

Other posts in this series:

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  • http://evilburnee.co.uk PaulJ

    I’ll be interested to see what arguments Strobel and Collins have for a “fine-tuned” universe. Fine-tuned for what? Human life? Anyone who has seen the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image knows that the universe is not fine-tuned for human life. Statistically, taking the universe as a whole, human life is non-existent (or as near non-existent for all practical purposes).

    And even if there is a tiny speck of human life in some insignificantly minuscule dot on an invisible dot somewhere or other (such as here), that’s hardly fine-tuning. If anything, the universe seems specifically tuned to be as inhospitable to human life as it’s possible to be.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I will take this opportunity to point out that the fine-tuning argument is philosophically opposed to the biological design argument in everything but the conclusion. Cosmological fine-tuning claims that the universe, as we observe it, is suitable for the naturalistic development of life, therefore God exists. The biological design argument claims that the universe as we observe it cannot explain the naturalistic development of life, therefore God exists. For a person or organization to promote both of these arguments is to play both sides of the fence.

  • Alex, FCD

    If the term “authorities” means anything in this context, it must refer to practicing, qualified scientists with a preeminent degree of achievement and expertise recognized as such by other workers in their field. No other definition makes sense. But even by an extremely generous accounting, Strobel is nowhere close to meeting that standard.

    Well those people didn’t say what he wanted them to say, you see.

    In the introduction to this chapter, Strobel tries to dazzle us by listing all the scientific luminaries who allegedly find the fine-tuning argument persuasive – Paul Davies, Fred Hoyle, Owen Gingerich, and more, not to mention Allan Sandage from a previous chapter. But this begs the question, why isn’t he interviewing any of these people?

    Well he’s not interviewing Fred Hoyle because he’s dead (Hoyle, I mean, not Strobel), but the point stands.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Jonathan Wells – holder of a legitimate degree in biology, but…

    Wells puts his expertise on display:
    Jonathan Wells gets everything wrong, again

  • Justin

    And even if there is a tiny speck of human life in some insignificantly minuscule dot on an invisible dot somewhere or other (such as here), that’s hardly fine-tuning. If anything, the universe seems specifically tuned to be as inhospitable to human life as it’s possible to be.

    I’ve found the fine-tuning argument weird for similar reasons. If the universe is fine-tuned for life, we should expect to find more places in the universe where it exists (the Moon, Mars, gas giants, the Sun’s photosphere, deep space, etc). Instead, this universe has an abundance of stars, which would seem to imply that it was fine-tuned for stars (and stellar remnants) but not us.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    And yet another argument against the supposed fine-tuning of the universe for life on Earth:

    Life on earth has only existed for a little less than 4 billion years, and human life has only existed for a couple hundred thousand… compared to the universe’s 14 billion. And as the sun continues to heat up (no, I’m not talking about global warming, I’m talking about the astronomical process of the sun itself changing), life on earth can only exist for another billion years or so at most, while the universe itself will spin on for quite awhile after we’re all boiled into space. (Plus, the universe itself is going to expand into virtual nothingness eventually.)

    How exactly is that “fine-tuned”?

    It’s like saying that a hurricane is “finely tuned” for the tenth of a second that a picture of Jon Stewart appeared in a puddle in the middle of the deluge. A steady-state universe, in which the sun never burns out, would have been a much more life-friendly design.

    Yet another example of human-centrism. “We exist, therefore the entirety of the unimaginably massive universe must have been designed in order for us to exist.”

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    But this book isn’t presented as an ordinary, run-of-the-mill apologist tract listing philosophical arguments for Christianity made by theologians. It’s presented as a book about science, one that shows how scientists are making discoveries that support the existence of God.

    Oh, you’re so close! You see, pretending at legitimacy is precisely the ordinary, run-of-the-mill apologist tract to which you allude. Remember, these folks think that the One Truth of the Universe can be found in the fairy tales of desert nomads, so of course they’ll pretend at scientific legitimacy. Any smart-sounding so-and-so who can talk pretty and says there’s a wizard in the sky will satisfy their confirmation bias, which is as far as a great many of them feel the need to go.

    The worst part is that they don’t even understand how far off they are. When I was camping with my family a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to lecture my ten-year-old brother and eight-year-old sister on actual science, and I got to use one of my favorite teaching tools ever: spread your arms as wide as you can, and imagine a line cutting your armspan in half, right down your spine. Now cut it into quarters, just shy of your elbow; then into eighths, mid-forearm; and again into sixteenths, about the heel of your palm; now into thirty-seconds, around your knuckles; then into sixty-fourths, about halfway down your middle finger; and again into one-hundred-twenty-eighths, at your middle finger’s first knuckle; now into two-hundred-fifty-sixths, right about at the whorl of your middle fingerprint; penultimately into five-hundred-twelfths, beyond reach of all your other fingertips; and finally into one-thousand-twenty-fourths, the very tip of your middle finger (or fingernail). You’ve just subdivided your armspan into about a thousand equal parts, and most Young-Earth Creationists think that the world is only about five-to-ten-thousand years old.

    Remember how small that thousandth is compared to your entire armspan? Subdivide that thousandth itself into thousandths, and you’ll have millionths. Subdivide every one of those millionths again into thousandths, each as small to a millionth as the tip of your finger is to your entire armspan, and you’ll have billionths. The actual age of the universe is somewhere between ten and twenty billion years. At this point, the kids’ jaws dropped, and they looked at each other wide-eyed in awe. I mean, you’d have to try awful hard to be wronger than YECs are; they’re about as wrong as it’s possible to be. To most people, a billion isn’t a “visceral” number, it’s just an abstract; but calculating the different accounts of the universe’s age in terms of one’s own bodily proportions really helps drive home the sheer enormity of the difference.

    I often fancy that those folks are as small-minded to us non-theists as their account is to ours, but that would be condescending of me. It’s still fun to think, though. What’s not fun to think is that they’re quite possibly just as wrong on matters of morality. ::shudder::

  • Stephen

    Anyone wanting to know how obscure and unconventional Rivista Biologica is should consult John Lynch’s post on it. It’s pretty much a refuge for cranks.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    For those that point out the “fact” that the fine tuning argument “fails” because most of the universe is fundamentally hostile to life I say…that just shows how special we are! You don’t think that God would just go and make life from inanimate matter all willy-nilly, scattered about the universe, would you? How would the rest of the life in the universe then hear about His sacrifice on the cross, hmmm? Would Jesus walk to Mars? Preposterous!
    He did it all for us. Just us! That’s why we’re here on the Earth that’s perfectly made for us in the universe that’s also made for us.
    That 99%+ of the universe is fine tuned to wipe out life just proves how great the parts of the also-fine tuned Earth that aren’t fatal are!
    Now let us bow our heads and thank the Lord for not putting us in the many, many areas of the fine tuned universe that would freeze, fry, compress, burst or irradiate us and also the fine tuned parts of the fine tuned Earth that would do much the same. Amen.

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  • Caiphen

    I must have been mad in once believing in God. After reading this, I’m embarrassed.

    At least I never believed in YEC! Except as a child.

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