Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fr Robert Spitzer on the existence of God

A few weeks ago, Ben saw Fr Robert Spitzer on EWTN and described him to me as "scary smart."  I quickly downloaded a series of his talks from the EWTN Audio archives and found that Fr Spitzer is a great example of how the Catholic faith works hand-in-hand with reason.

Reason and logic uncoupled from reality can lead to really silly conclusions, but, even worse, an antagonism to God (militant atheism) can lead you away from where the data leads and therefore away from good science.

For example, the teleological argument for the existence of God as put forth by Fr Spitzer is a fascinating story of how the values of the physical constants of the universe (the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, the electromagnetic force, and gravity) are very fine-tuned to allow the universe to exist as it does (galaxies rather than black holes).  It also tells of how the resonant force within the carbon atom is just strong enough to allow Helium atoms to combine, producing a very efficient production of Carbon, the chemical element of all life.  There is a long list of such constants whose settings are not necessitated, but just happen to be values ideal for the production of our universe with our life.  A small change in any of them would be enough to complete disallow life to have developed.  As an aside, these values are not adjusted or changed over time to accommodate other settings, like a feedback loop.  They were set at the time of the Big Bang, before any interactions were made. They are truly "constant."

The probability of those constants being set to just exactly the values they are that support our universe with our life on it is on the order of 10 raised to 10 raised to the 30th power against.  If that number were written out with each zero the size of a micron, the universe would have a hard time holding just the number.

An amusing response by atheist scientists is to postulate a myriad of other universes, inaccessible to us, all of which have different combinations of those constants.  We are just lucky to be in the one that worked.  That postulate has no evidence (remember science needs data) to back it up, but since it is assumed there is no intelligence turning the dials they have to come up with a way to make that infinitesimal possibility more likely.  That's just circular logic. You can't assume there is no God and then come up with a new, unprovable theory that is based on it in order to show there is no God.  These are the lengths they will go to in order to deny the reasonable conclusion.

It is, in my opinion, disingenuous science to say "you have no evidence for God that we can see, yet we will assume a myriad of unseeable, unknowable universes to allow us to not accept a God."

This is merely a snip of ONE of Fr Spitzer's "New Arguments for the Existence of God."

Scary smart indeed.


  1. This is really bad science and philosophy. Please look up what a scientist has to say about the nonsensical fine tuning argument.

    But here are a couple of things to ponder:
    "We are just lucky to be in the one that worked."
    We couldn't have been in any other one, so what's your point?
    "The probability of those constants being set to just exactly the values they are that support our universe with our life on it is [massive]"
    With a whole host of assumptions that we have no way of knowing - for example it is possible that the constants are fundamentally linked therefore the number of values they could have had is limited, or even only what they are.
    "the chemical element of all life"
    That we know of!
    "[multiverse] has no evidence"
    It does, it's by no means conclusive or even likely, but to say there's NO evidence for it is false. Many of the equations of quantum mechanics point toward a multiverse and the outcome of certain experiments can be explained by a multiverse (e.g. twin slit experiment). Obviously there are other theories and it may turn out they are all wrong, but I'd rather you didn't misrepresent science.
    "a new, unprovable theory"
    By definition a theory (or, more likely you actually mean hypothesis) is unprovable, but has to be disprovable. Multiverse IS disprovable. NO scientific theory or law is provable.

  2. March,
    For the idea that “were are just lucky to be in the one that worked”, I’d like to point out that we all believe things we cannot prove, so we endeavor to move toward what is “more reasonable” and step away from what is “less reasonable”.
    To believe everything is here by accident with no intended purpose may be possible, but I believe even science would call it “statistically impossible”. To say we come from an intelligent uncaused cause (as Aquinas points out) is much more reasonable to many who ponder it.

  3. Hi Ben,

    Given we have a sample size of one it is actually quite impossible to say which is more reasonable or more likely. And the use of the word 'statistical' suggests that you have not considered the sample size.

    "To say we come from an intelligent uncaused cause (as Aquinas points out) is much more reasonable to many who ponder it."
    And to many who pondered how disease happened it was much more reasonable to think that it is caused by evil spirits rather than tiny creatures too small for the eye to see.

    You have to remember we are stupid apes, we think in medium scale and short time-scales. Quantum mechanics makes no sense to us yet it is as well established as any scientific theory. The idea of a universal speed limit (light speed) makes no sense but it appears to be true. Many things you or I consider 'reasonable' would be witchcraft to Aquinas.

    We should not expect the universe to fit in with what we consider to be common sense/reasonable, we know the small scale, extreme temperatures and high speeds all massively affect things in a way that we find unreasonable (time slowing down and mass increasing as we increase speed?) so shouldn't the entirety of the universe be equally strange? But not inscrutable, we can understand without thinking it's reasonable.

  4. March,
    It is certainly not all about reason. Remember too, what an individual considers reasonable or unreasonable depends on his premises (axioms). I have no doubt that Aquinas would find modern science “reasonable”, if he could study the premises first. Thank you for you well thought out comments!

  5. March,

    Your last line makes any attempt at understanding the universe a futile attempt. It MUST be reasonable to be understood. Perhaps you meant it can be perceived but not understood?

    Ben and I are using both good philosophy and good science to understand the universe better.

    Your statement "We couldn't have been in any other one, so what's your point?" is an amusing one. Especially since you say "[the multiverse] does, it's by no means conclusive or even likely, but to say there's NO evidence for it is false." Um, it doesn't have evidence. It's a guess upon which there is no evidence. It doesn't qualify as a hypothesis.

    Let's try a thought experiment. If you found yourself in a terribly painful accident through no fault of your own, would you ask yourself, "Why me?" It's very likely that you would. Would it be reasonable to say to you, "It's the reality there is, so what's your point?" You would rightfully object. Why? Because you know how it COULD have been.

    In the same way, the universe need not be the way it is now. To the best of our knowledge, there are no necessary relationships between those universal constants. To use the data we have and the best conclusions that can be drawn from them is good science.

    The theme of your post seems to be "just because we don't know that there isn't [X], we can't rule it out." I can agree that without any data, that is true. However, how is that different than attributing activity in a black box to leprechauns or fairies? Until there's data, it would be better to categorize it as pure speculation.

  6. Joe, some fundamental errors there.

    The universe only has to be consistent and measurable in order to be understood, not reasonable. (e.g. low temperature physics, high speed changes to time and mass etc. etc.) Perhaps the problem here is what we mean by "reasonable" - I mean something that fits in with our experiences i.e. medium scale, low velocity, short time-scale. I can understand things that are unreasonable: if I cross a street not at a crosswalk I can be fined, I may not think it's reasonable but I understand it.

    I mentioned the twin slit experiment as one that is evidence of the multiverse. It has other possible explanations too, but it certainly fits in the multiverse hypothesis (I suggest you look up the definition of hypothesis since it is a potentially falsifiable explanation for a phenomenon hence a valid hypothesis). It also comes out as a possible solution to various low-level physics equations, a method that led to one of Einstein's famous hypotheses which was tested and shown to hold water during an eclipse in 1919 (

    Poor choice of thought experiment. It's more like asking why are humans on Earth and not Mars or Jupiter - Earth is the only planet (in the solar system) life like ours COULD develop on so the question is meaningless. Show me another Earth-like planet and then the question becomes meaningful.

    "...the universe need not be the way it is now."
    And if it wasn't we wouldn't be here to notice. It has to be as it is for us to be here to notice how unlikely it is that it is the way it is.

    "Until there's data, it would be better to categorize it as pure speculation."
    [Kinda rich coming from a Catholic :) ]
    The multiverse hypothesis fell out of the equations, not out of some need to have a naturalistic explanation to avoid having to believe in a creator. Seriously, it's not about Catholics or Gods, it's about science...

  7. March Hare,

    I see that I am not making myself clear. The thought experiment's aim was to simply suggest that things need not be as they are. Multiverses are an attempt to increase the pool of possibilities. It is apt to that end.

    If there are NO other possibilities then it is really so unlikely for it to be as it is (where we can see and understand, etc) that it is most likely and reasonable to have been ordered that way.

    We can certainly disagree on that but I don't bet on odds that poor.

    Your quip about Catholics indicates that you may not understand how very reasonable the Catholic faith is. Stay tuned!