On December 13, an episode of the Stossel show titled “Science vs. God” aired on the Fox Business Channel. John Stossel opens the show asking questions and making statements about the origin of the universe, the origin of life, evolution vs. intelligent design, and whether or not God is involved. Three segments of interest to Christian apologists would be the opening panel discussion, Stossel’s interview with science teacher Bill Nye, and Stossel’s interview with Christian apologist Larry Taunton. In this post, I wanted to zero in on the first and longest one that started as a three-man dialogue and then morphed into a larger panel discussion. There were many discussion points, many of them undeveloped like a side discussion of the Trinity and what salvation really is, and then there were interruptions and red herrings preventing deeper discussion. Below I give five main topics I gleaned from this episode’s first segment.
1. God is an Invention to Explain Things not Understood.
MS: Well I can’t be certain there’s no God, but can be reasonably certain as a social scientist that the sociology of religion and the anthropology of religion show that people invent gods to explain causality in the world. Humans construct gods to explain things. These are different gods, different religions. Now we are down to monotheism, but what are the chances that the 999 other gods are false gods, and this one God is the one true God that most people happen to believe in today? Or that they are all socially constructed, psychologically constructed?
Essentially this is the “god of the gaps” argument that basically says that in areas we do not scientifically understand now, that is where believers smuggle God in. The argument also assumes the more science explains the less God and religion are needed to explain things. In other words, as science advances, God retreats. As Brett Kunkle has talked about in various places, this is actually a straw man argument of what Christians really believe. What Christians really do is infer to the best explanation. We and atheists are both looking at the same evidences, but we infer a different, and we would say a more rational conclusion. For instance, when we see order and information in creation (which atheistic scientists also assume is the case) then we infer a Mind is behind it. D’Souza does mention “inference to an explanation” in his response, but the idea was undeveloped largely because the spent too much time chasing the multiple religions red herring.
2. The Material Universe is All There Is.
After engaging Shermer on the multiple religions comment, which I thought diverted from the main point of the argument, D’Souza gets to the heart of Shermer’s assumptions of the universe, which I thought was probably D’Souza’s strongest point in the show segment:
DD: So you can take Michael’s explanation here that material things are all there are, there’s nothing else. But that actually is also a leap of faith. He is assuming there are only material things and there is nothing else.
MS: It is not a leap of faith, it is a level of confidence gained from 500 years of science, consistently and reliably finding causes of effects and displacing religion as the mechanism to explain things.
DD: Michael, isn’t it an assumption of modern science that material reality is all there is?
MS: It is an assumption because it works.
IH: What convinces me most about the truth of Christianity is the person, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That, seems to me, to be evidence. It is not scientific evidence, but if scientific evidence is the only kind of evidence you are willing to listen to, then yes you will rule out religion, but you will also rule out a whole host of other types of human knowledge like history or philosophy.
And he is correct. Materialism rules out all other avenues to knowledge and tries to make science the ultimate source of knowledge, while making other ways of knowledge like history, philosophy, and religion irrelevant at worst, or subservient at best to science.
D’Souza is also right to point out in the quote above, as well as later in the show, that materialism rests on assumptions. He could have explained that further on what a lot of those assumptions are. Additionally, he could have pointed out that materialism does not meet its own test for knowledge, for to say material is all there is cannot be tested by scientific means since it is a philosophical assumption, so it falls under the weight of its own assumptions and therefore is self-defeating. Plus there exist entities in our created order that are not material like laws, minds, will, volition, numbers, etc.
3. What is Apologetics?
Near the halfway point in the segment, Stossel mentions how he had Shermer on the show before with a priest to debate him, and how he got a lot of email about how he should have gotten an apologist on the program instead. Stossel then introduces D’Souza again as an apologist and D’Souza defines apologetics in this way:
DD: Well, [Christian apologetics] comes from the Greek word apologia, which means to give a defense. It has nothing to do with making an apology, or a kind of repenting for something. And I want to emphasize that apologetics is done on the basis of reason alone. It doesn’t appeal to Scripture, it doesn’t appeal to revelation, it is based on the same language of reason, and that leaves room for a skeptical attitude toward the world.
This quote actually bothered me in the same way that strict presuppositionalists do when they say the only valid argument for God is from God’s word. I understand that D’Souza is speaking to a skeptical crowd and is trying to come across as rational, but he throws the baby out with the bath water here. The Bible itself teaches us to do apologetics (1 Peter 3.15, Jude 3). Furthermore, the Bible gives matter of fact defenses of miracles like Jesus’ resurrection (1 Corinthians 15.3-8, 2 Peter 1.16-21). As an integrated approach proponent, I believe we should use whatever is necessary, whether it be Scripture, natural theology and the classical arguments, the existence of moral, physical, and logical laws, our testimony and personal experience with God, and finally evidences for Christianity.
4. Physical Laws Replace God.
In the second half of the segment, Stossel brings on Dr. Ian Hutchinson and Dr. Lawrence Krauss, professor of Physics at Arizona State University. Krauss makes an astounding claim about physical laws, essentially using them to replace God:
Stossel: Lawrence Krauss, the universe came from nothing?
LK: Absolutely. The key question when you have this kind of debate is do you need a God, is God necessary? Is there evidence for God and is it rational to believe in God? And the answers are no, no, no, and no. You don’t need God to create something from nothing, natural laws do it all the time. The ancient differences between something and nothing have now been changed and thrown out by science. There’s absolutely no evidence there is any purpose to the universe, and it is clearly not rational, it is more rational to force your beliefs to conform to the evidence of reality instead of the other way around.
In response Hutchinson states:
IH: I am and I want to respond to what Lawrence just said. His book doesn’t offer us a universe free of God. It doesn’t offer us a universe from nothing. What it offers us is a universe from the laws of physics and I would hope as a fellow physicist he would agree that the laws of physics aren’t nothing.
I agree with Hutchinson and I would add the materials upon which the physical laws are acting would need exist first, and laws by themselves do not create anything. Now Dr. Krauss would likely appeal to some sort of primordial vacuum, but this is not a vacuum of nothingness, there is at least some particles and energy there that is behaving according to physical laws, and matter and energy is contingent upon something (or Someone) else, and it is traditionally understood they are contingent upon a necessary being, namely God. Again, this argument could have been more developed, but I understand the show constraints and the fact that some editing also took place.
5. Miracles are Irrational.
Later on in the segment Krauss in response to Hutchinson brings up miracles and the discussion begins to focus on supernatural existence generally:
LK: Let me jump in for a second, so you are convinced by the resurrection…generally rising from the dead not being consistent with biology or physics, and then you are convinced by it but what evidence do you have that it happened?
DD: Essentially this is an argument about whether or not miracles are possible because the resurrection is a miracle…. The key question is can we say based on anything we know that the scientific laws are true always and everywhere and there are no exceptions to them. Notice that even Lawrence doesn’t say that, he slipped in the word probably because it was the philosopher Hume 200 years ago pointed out that from no amount of empirical generalizations, however large, can you draw a conclusion that is true as a matter of logic.
Shermer later asks about the Trinity and how salvation works, then proceeds to say it is all “barking mad,” in addition to Krauss saying repeatedly such beliefs are irrational. It seems when discussing the ideas of miracles and the supernatural often leads to one being called names, but it goes with the territory. These are attempts to shut down the debate and Hutchinson astutely mentions that later on. For a more complete rational defense of miracles I would highly recommend yesterday’s CAA post on miracles by my friend Jim Shultz. While Shultz largely avoids engaging the probability angle, I will make a brief point on it here. It is precisely because miracles are improbable that make them miracles. If miracles strictly operated on natural laws, or were the norm, or were common, or were the expected outcome, they would cease to be miracles as defined. It is because miracles are rare that is a defining characteristic that a miracle has occurred.
In short, I think the show format did not lend itself to a decent handling of the topics discussed. I also had concerns with D’Souza’ invitation to the show given recent developments with his behavior in his personal relationships. As mentioned above, I think D’Souza’s responses were lacking, undeveloped, and sometimes disturbing, especially on apologetics’ definition. I hope the next time Stossel does a similar show he will invite a more reputable apologist as he did in a later segment of this same episode with Larry Taunton of the Fixed Point Foundation who did a great job explaining what Christians really believe and the benefits of Christianity for society.
Furthermore, it was never cleared up that there is really no apparent conflict between Christianity and Science. I appreciated that Stossel brought up examples of scientists who believed in God, like Galileo Galilei, Issac Newton, and Johannes Kepler, being that modern science arose in the backdrop of Christianity. The problem that arises is when science becomes an all-encompassing philosophy as it has become in the worldviews of materialism, naturalism, empiricism, scientism, and to a degree secularism generally. When this happens, science tries to replace philosophy and religion as sources of knowledge, instead of science working alongside them as was historically the case. I had really hoped this would have entered the discussion as a conclusion.