A Place for Science in Religuous Debate?

(Apologies for the scientific nature of this OP)

Let’s look at some evidence :

  1. Orbital energies in Helium
    If the escape energies for electrons in a Helium atom to leave were slightly higher, then the electrons wouldn’t be able to escape the pull of the nucleus from the energy provided from Hydrogen fusion in stars. Then it would be impossible for Helium to fuse to form any other elements – not too good for Carbon based life forms, on in fact anything else!

  2. Fish!
    On a lighter note, look at what happens to fish when water freezes over them. Since ice has a lower density than water, any molecules that freeze are on the surface, and the fish get to survive underneath! My old chemistry teacher used this as an argument of the existence of God, but he was always a bit nutty :).

  3. Fundamental Constants
    Planck’s constant = 6.6260755 x 10^-34 Joule-seconds, and a fundamental physical constant. It generally dictates the behaviour of particles and waves on the atomic level. So if something goes wrong here we’ve got major problems.
    There are many other fundamental constants (the speed of light in a vacuum, c, Newton’s constant of gravitation, G, the magnetic constant mu zero and the electric constant epsilon zero are but a few), each of which determines the behaviour of what we can observe, macroscopic and microscopic.

If any of these constants were different even on a relatively small level (say 10^-35 say for Planck), would we be in existence today? Probably not I’d guess. Indeed that’s a comedy answer to a lot of Physics exam questions

  • if that wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t be here to answer, so its a stupid question… :stuck_out_tongue:

Looking at the above, it is possible to come to the conclusion that there must be something special (ie supernatural forces) at work here for everything to fit into place for our existence so nicely? I’ve never met anyone who actually uses it as the framework of their beliefs, but it’d be good to see what dopers think about this. I’d also like to induce some debate about whether there is a place in religious arguments for scientific evidence like this and if so, how legitimate is it?

You are arguing the Anthropic Principle, which is a fancy way of saying “Obviously the universe was designed for us. Look how everything has to be just so in order to allow us to exist.”

Unfortunately, while this argument might be persuasive on the face of it, it’s not evidence of anything. If you posit any kind of life in any kind of weird universe you end up the same way. Whatever kind of life evolves to fit the particular parameters of the environment can look around and say “Gee, if characteristic X weren’t just so, we wouldn’t be here. Obviously the universe was designed to produce us!”

I’ve used that sort of thing, but more frequently it’s something more accessible to the average joe/jane. Like, look at your hand, really examine it. Or a Butterfly, Or a baby (any species) or almost any of the wonders of nature that we simply accept every day.

Can you realy, truely look and believe deep in your heart that there isn’t some higher power out there?

Of course, then you can keep those eyes open and see some of the less wonderful things around us, man made or natural, and I for one have to guess the level of involvement of that higher power isn’t quite what any organized religion I’ve heard of thinks it is.



Pointing to the complexity of living things as evidence of supernatural involvement, is the strategy at the heart of the “intelligent design” movement’s attempts to move creationism into mainstream education.

Baylor University even started up the Polanyi Center on campus to “investigate” this stuff, building on the U. president’s fascination with a statistician/theologian named William Dembski*. The faculty raised hell about it and Dembski’s in-your-face attitude eventually got him demoted from center Director, but the “research” continues.

The whole enterprise is the usual creationist line dressed up in pseudo-scientific babble, but it obviously impresses some folks.

*whose website is sponsored by the Christian Leadership Ministries, make of that what you will.

An infidels.org author just released another short article on the subject. :slight_smile:
fine tuning argument

There was neat applet I saw online once, maybe someone can find it again, which allowed you to roll random constants for which it would calculate the derived universes.

The ice thing is just too silly (obviously the fish are taking advantage of a niche - just as we would have evolved to do if oxygen was, say, liquid at STP), but there is an SDMB thread on why ice floats that I remembered. Took me a while to dig it up, but here ya go.

**Wyborowa wrote:

If the escape energies for electrons in a Helium atom to leave were slightly higher, then the electrons wouldn’t be able to escape the pull of the nucleus from the energy provided from Hydrogen fusion in stars. Then it would be impossible for Helium to fuse to form any other elements – not too good for Carbon based life forms, on in fact anything else!**

HONK HONK HONK Physics Illiterate Alert!!! Physics Illiterate Alert!!!

At the temperature necessary for helium nucleui to fuse into carbon or oxygen, etc, matter can only exist in a plasma state, where there are NO electrons orbiting their respective nucleui. This temperature (where helium fuses into carbon, etc) is a couple orders of magnitude ABOVE the “escape energies” level you quote. I don’t have the exact figure, I’m at work, not at home with my library.

In other words, the “escape energies for electrons in a Helium atom” are irrelevant to its ability to fuse into other types of atoms.


Thanks for the official term! At first glance through a few search results, it appears that there are lots of differing opinion on this one, but not many scientists are convinced by the argument. There’s definitely lots of interesting stuff though. Cheers Kyberneticist! I’ll be back once I’ve read through a few pages…


True. But matter can only exist in plasma form at this temperature because the energy for an electron at that temperature is greater than the escape energy required. It would be more precise to quote the energy required for the reaction

4He + 4He + 4He ==> 12C + g

to take place, I grant, but the escape of the electrons is a necessary condition for this, so is sufficient here. “Slightly higher” may need to be replaced by “majorly higher” (!) but there’s no reason why that can’t happen if we assume random constants (Kyberneticist).

I’ll leave my beliefs on the side for this one, because they aren’t based on the Anthropic Principle, just in case anyone thought :slight_smile:

The “Anthropic Principle” seems unjustifiably biased towards human life as being the “obvious” center of the Universe. (Why not the Bacterial Principle, or the Coleopteran Principle?) At the very least, shouldn’t it be the “Biotic” Principle?

Even the Biotic Principle is still flawed, though. It assumes that things like brown dwarfs and neutron stars and gas giants and quartz crystals are mere epiphenomena, whereas life (and of course, people) are the point of it all. But as far as I know, brown dwards and neutron stars et al. would also be impossible if the physical constants of the Universe weren’t “fine tuned” to produce them. Maybe life (and therefore people) is just the unimportant by-product of something else.

I kicked this idea around a little back in this thread:

First, just a definition check. The Anthropic Principle starts with the obervation about physical constants and concludes, “Isn’t it surprising we’re here!”. This is more biased towards the observer, rather than human life I reckon.
The Designer argument, cited (unknowingly) in the OP starts where the AP finishes, and concludes “There is evidence of the intervention of a supernatural Designer”. This does seem to be biased towards human life, excellently described by MEBuckner and indeed Douglas Adams in “So Long and Thanks for all the Fish”… :smiley:

Two quotes from Theodore M. Drange’s essay on The fine tuning argument (link above) :

It seems that the Designer-ists (?) are losing the argument at the current state of play. Certainly, better informed, I’m now swinging that way.

Any comments?

We must have been created. How else do you explain the nose? It’s the perfect shape and in the perfect spot to hold my glasses…if people’s noses were anywhere else, their glasses would fall of their face.

Incidentally, Wyborowa, the subject of this thread is backwards. What you are really trying to do is put religion into a scientific debate, not the other way around.

But when you put atheism in scientific debate all bets are off.

Good thing that doesn’t happen then, eh?

If that were true, Navin Johnson would not have had to invent the Opti-Grab. Which is why I am, to this day, a devout Navinist.

The thing the Anthropic Principle proves is not the Intelligent Design ((c)2000 The Pizza Parlor) but the resourcefulness of the human mind.

On Mars, there are canali. Schapiarelli said so first, based on his observations, and Percival Lowell spent most of his career observing and mapping them, and drawing conclusions from their existence and patterning.

The problem, of course, is that the linear features they saw just aren’t there. What is the following?

. . . . .

I’ll bet virtually everyone answered that in their minds with “a row of five dots.”

It ain’t. It’s five dots.

The row is the arbitrary construct your mind puts on it from its pattern-forming ability. That’s what Schapiarelli and Lowell did: took approximately straight rows of craters and other markings and interpreted them as connected lines, canali.

I believe in God. I believe He created a universe in which human beings could live. But I don’t derive my beliefs from the Anthropic Principle; I derive the Principle from my beliefs. As, I think, do all the other people who accept it.

Seeing this thread and who had responded, I was confident that Gaudere, David B., and pldennison would come up with witty rejoinders to it. I was right. Therefore, of course, God exists. :wink:

The thread title, as opposed to the OP, probably deserves comment, too. Certainly the evidence of science should be taken into account in religious belief. A belief contrary to the data of science, or contrary to the conclusions drawn from it, does not deserve credence. A belief that fits with them, I think, does. I would observe, however, that the assumptions of science are not so protected. While it is reasonable to assume that the Cosmological Principle (If X follows from Y here and now, then, all other things being equal, X followed from Y there and then) is quite valid for all times and places, it is, at rock bottom, an assumption, not a proven conclusion. And the whole idea of singularities, points at which drastic phase changes occur, suggests that we don’t have all the answers yet. As David B. has noted, it is impossible to disprove every possible god and god-story which the fertile human imagination can generate. Which means that some small fraction of them may indeed be valid, dependent on a singularity change not yet accounted for in as-yet-formulated theory.

We know the AP was thought to be one of the strongest scientific arguments for the existence of intelligent design. We also know Descartes “proved” existence of God in Meditations III, but this was a very dubious philosophical argument. With proof what need is there for faith?

I agree that science cannot disprove every single god or god-story possible, and this may mean that some small fraction of them may be valid. Beliefs which fit in with the data of science and solid conclusions drawn certainly have more credence those which contradict such conclusions. So does science (and/or logic) have any further role to play in this debate, or is belief in any God only based on faith and spirituality?

In my experience faith and spirituality are at least as strong as science and logic when forming beliefs, but being trained as a scientific thinker, I have to ask the question.

I think this is likely to be a question each decides for himself. There is no shortfall of people who will obstinately believe propositions that science has demonstrated to be conclusively without support or merit, like the Young-Earthers. Most people, however, will factor science into their world-views, as evidenced by the vast majority of people who have no problem reconciling the Bible with Darwin. Some, like myself, place very little stock in faith as a determiner of reality, and end up atheistic. I don’t think that this spectrum is likely to change much over time.

Where to begin, oh where to begin!

First off, you aren’t sticking to the title of your post, you seem to be adding religion to science, not science to religion.

Science in religion would be asking things like “How much energy is released during ascension”, or “what is the mechanism of reversal of biological death in the case of Lazarus”, or more to the point, “what is the mechanism of converting river water into a good pinotage without a fermentation process”.

Get the picture?

Next up, you are misrepresenting science quite grossly.

We don’t go from “inexplicable phenomenon” to “metaphysical and supernatural explanation” in science. We propose why a certain mechanism would necessarily explain a phenomenon, then we seek verification, then we seek predictions made by the proposed model, and then we seek a necessary mode of falsification.(1)
By that time there are often rival explanations and alternative models vying for acceptance, and we then use Occams razor (2) to trim away the more complex in favour of the more simple. We do this because a more parsimonious explanation is easier to refute by means of falsification than a more complex one.

So it is not likely to go from “inexplicable” to “metaphysical” unless one has exhausted all other avenues of likelihood.

You have basically formed the foundation of an “argument from design” (3) stating effectively that such an outcome is so unlikely to have occurred by random events that it must necessarily imply intelligent design.

Lets look at the probability first.

In certain lotto games lightweight numbered balls are floated around on airstreams before finally a full precision is selected and the resultant sequence is given as the winning number. Is this random?

The probability of any given sequence or “outcome” is given beforehand as say 1:250,000,000 for arguments sake. What was the probability of the winning number after it won?
100% is what it was.

Well it is 100% because we assume that the balls movements were the result of collisions, imperfections, airflow, spin, gravity, and the like, and that if we were able to exactly duplicate the circumstances, we would get exactly the same outcome.
We say this because of some basic concerns in science, we assume that there are no truly random events, we assume that all effects had causes, and that there really is an objectively true reality out there which our senses report on as best they can. We further assume that there are regularities in the way the cosmos functions and that these can be described by what we call principals, laws, and constants, etc.

Are these laws and constants necessarily right?
Well we simply don’t know, in fact we suspect pretty much that they are at best only reasonably accurate approximations.
We hope that if we are wrong, that further evidence will show us this.
We may be wrong, but we have chosen to let what we call “internal evidence” guide us.

And here lies the rub, science holds all things, even these, as tentative and conditional, even the laws are held conditionally on no evidence coming to light which contradicts them.

What you are proposing is that we take one property of a system or thing, namely order or regularity and assume that it implies design.
The problem is that you would have an empty syllogism unless you can show why a shared property means that two things have the same cause. This has been tried many times before by all kinds of folks (3) and it has up to now always resolved to either a bald assertion, or a tautology or circular argument.
This isn’t how we “do” science though, and hence it has no place in science. To add religion to science would mean that we assume that things can be random, and that we assume that some given principal is true regardless of what evidence contradicts it.
Can you imagine if you proposed that the reason an OR gate in a circuit failed was because it was a mystery of Gods will rather than (a) the chip blew, or (b) the output was pulled down, or © the power was unstable. How could you proceed if you considered that it was simply Gods will or something metaphysical or supernatural?
Your proposal would completely unravel science and make it something quite unlike science, and perhaps a return to regarding “authority” and “purpose” as metrics rather than “properties” and “internal evidence” (4)

It is indeed remarkable that things came together in the way they did, but it only shows the same effect as the lotto example You are looking at the end result where the final outcome of a sequence is thought to be known. At this point the bubble of probability collapses and the outcome is thought to be the only way things could have happened while obeying what we conceive as being the regular laws of the cosmos.

  1. Popper, Karl http://www.philosophypages.com/dy/p7.htm#popp
  2. Occam, William of http://www.philosophypages.com/dy/o.htm#ockh
  3. Paley Bishop, Various, http://www.philosophypages.com/dy/t.htm#telg
  4. see Hacking, Ian “Emergence of Probability” 1984 ISBN: 0521318033