Eric Metaxas is best known as a biographical writer, but he is also lauded (in conservative circles) for his work promoting the pro-life movement and making sweeping, outrageous conclusions about the existence of God based on whatever tenuous evidence seems handy at the time. If sweeping, outrageous conclusions be Metaxas bread-and-butter, than his Wall Street Journal article is perhaps his magnum opus. It’s a doozy.
After subtitling his work “The odds of life existing on another planet grow ever longer. Intelligent design, anyone?”, what followed was a meandering journey into the mind of a creationist playing at scientific literacy – but only when it suited his predetermined conclusions.
The arguments aren’t new. If you’ve ever walked into a Christian bookshop and picked up a book “debunking” evolution, you’d find similar jabs. Paragraphs like these abound:
Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.
Yet here we are, not only existing, but talking about existing. What can account for it? Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident? At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?
One person who is clearly fed up with this kind of pseudoscientific contrived nonsense is Lawrence Krauss, a world-renown theoretical physicist and cosmologist. His actual job, unlike Metaxas’, is to study the Universe – and he doesn’t share Metaxas’ optimism about his discoveries justifying intelligent design.
It should be noted that Krauss' response appears in an anti-religious online web-site, and that Krauss, himself, is listed in Wikipedia as someone works to reduce the impact of superstition and religious dogma in pop culture. So, to put it bluntly, neither the web-site, nor the scientist, can be considered anything close to being unbiased. Admittedly, neither is Metaxas. But Krauss accuses Metaxas of having an agenda while not admitting that he, himself, has just such an agenda.
In a letter to the editor, Krauss systematically dismantles Metaxas’ shallow science and demonstrates that, not only has science not proven God’s existence (or disproven!), but most of the assumptions Metaxas makes are flat-out wrong.
This is a perfect example of the bias I mentioned above. The writer uses blatant hyperbole and mis-states the entire premise of Metaxas' article. The article was entitled, Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God. It was not titled 'Science Proves God'. If the writer cannot distinguish the difference perhaps he should give up his day job.
To the editor:
I was rather surprised to read the unfortunate oped piece “Science Increasingly makes the case for God”, written not by a scientist but a religious writer with an agenda. The piece was rife with inappropriate scientific misrepresentations. For example:
We currently DO NOT know the factors that allow the evolution of life in the Universe. We know the many factors that were important here on Earth, but we do not know what set of other factors might allow a different evolutionary history elsewhere.
The mistake made by the author is akin to saying that if one looks at all the factors in my life that led directly to my sitting at my computer to write this, one would obtain a probability so small as to conclude that it is impossible that anyone else could ever sit down to compose a letter to the WSJ. Talk about inappropriate! Comparing the evolution of life to what that life is doing, is a bit absurd.
We have discovered many more planets around stars in our galaxy than we previously imagined, and many more forms of life existing in extreme environments in our planet than were known when early estimates of the frequency of life in the universe were first made. If anything, the odds have increased, not decreased. Sounds a lot more like opinion than fact or science.
The Universe would certainly continue to exist even if the strength of the four known forces was different. It is true that if the forces had vastly different strengths (nowhere near as tiny as the fine-scale variation asserted by the writer) then life as we know it would probably not evolved. This is more likely an example of life being fine-tuned for the universe in which it evolved, rather than the other way around. See above.
My ASU colleague Paul Davies may have said that “the appearance of design is overwhelming”, but his statement should not be misinterpreted. The appearance of design of life on Earth is also overwhelming, but we now understand, thanks to Charles Darwin that the appearance of design is not the same as design, it is in fact a remnant of the remarkable efficiency of natural selection.
Anybody need some snake oil? The overwhelming appearance of design might just possibly be because of design. But a closed-minded scientist would have to invent something to explain away what is so obvious to open-minded people who are willing to pursue truth wherever it leads them.
Fred Hoyle, the distinguished cosmologist, once said it was as if "a super- intellect has monkeyed with physics". Gee, ya think?
Religious arguments for the existence of God thinly veiled as scientific arguments do a disservice to both science and religion, and by allowing a Christian apologist to masquerade as a scientist WSJ did a disservice to its readers.
I didn't read any religious arguments in Metaxas' article. There was no veil; no attempt to deceive; Metaxas never presented himself as a scientist. Your attitude seems to be that no-one but a scientist can write a report on science. You would put a lot of reporters out of work.
And anticipating Metaxas’ response of “bias” from a secular scientist, Krauss isn’t the only one – on either side of the debate – that has found the Metaxas’ premises to be absurd. Writing for the Huffington Post, (another anti-God publication) Geoffrey A. Mitelman, a rabbi, found the article equally troubling. That's it - doesn't say why or how Mitelman found it troubling, just that he did. I'm beginning to suspect the writer has an allergy to facts.
So, as tempting as it might be for someone like Metaxas to believe it, science doesn’t prove God exists any more than it has for the last several hundred years. Certainly not to someone who has made up his mind that man invented God, not the other way about.
Ironically, contrary to the Wall Street Journal’s opinion, with more and more data coming in from various NASA experiments (including the historic comet landing in 2014), scientists are now growing increasingly convinced (fact or opinion - 'just the facts, mam') that life – or at least the ingredients to make it – are incredibly abundant throughout the Universe. If we haven’t heard from any little green men yet, it may be as simple as this: the Universe is a very, very large place and we’ve only just started looking.
There is an enormous difference between 'having the ingredients to make life' and life itself. Do we even know what ingredients it takes to make life? If we do, why haven't we created life? But we not only have to create life, we have to create it with the ability to nourish itself and to multiply.
The Universe is very, very large, but according to science it is also very, very old. Consequently, there should be multiple civilizations far more advanced than we, and, therefore, capable of conquering the vast distances or suspending time needed to travel the Universe. We should be crawling with little green men.
While Krauss makes a lot of statements here, he actually provides no scientific data to support them. There are far more scientific data in Metaxas' article than in this one. Perhaps Krauss expected everyone to believe everything he said, simply because he said it; while at the same time, expecting us to disbelieve everything Metaxes said, just because he said it.