Physics, Earth & Space Icon Physics, Earth & Space

From Scientific American, Another Bedtime Story for Atheists

Photo credit: Katherine Hanlon, via Unsplash.

Bedtime stories are a special genre of fiction. Meant to lull children to sleep, they offer no upsetting or complicated thoughts, only pleasant if slightly dull ones. If you were to formulate such a tale for adults — say, adult atheists — it would fit similar parameters. The venerable journal Scientific American appears to see it as part of its current business model to offer such stories.

Last month they gave us Allison Hopper’s ludicrous article, “Denial of Evolution Is a Form of White Supremacy.” It was ludicrous because Darwinism has a history laden with racist denigration of African-Americans and others. That’s built into the theory, which requires there to be (in Denyse O’Leary’s phrase) “official subhumans.” Admitting this history, summarized in John West’s documentary Human Zoos, would upset the sleep of Scientific American’s target readership. 

Sweet Dreams

Now the editors offer another bedtime story. Science journalist Dan Falk muses on, “Learning to Live in Steven Weinberg’s Pointless Universe.”

Weinberg passed away on July 23. Our colleague Brian Miller reflected on his legacy; see, “Farewell to Steven Weinberg, Visionary Physicist Who Appealed to the Multiverse.” As Dr. Miller commented:

A sad note in Weinberg’s life was that his philosophical framework prevented him from seeing the design behind the physics he studied. He recognized the evidence for the fine-tuning of the laws of physics, but he did not follow the evidence where it naturally leads. Instead, he appealed to the multiverse to rationalize it away.

A Simple Tale

Dan Falk doesn’t see this at all. Or he’s not willing to admit the complications to his readers. Instead he tells a simple tale where physics joins biology to reveal a universe without purpose. Science, in his presentation, has fully vindicated atheism, with little dissent to speak of. As Weinberg put it, “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.”

Do we really have to “learn to live” in such a universe? Taking this for granted, Falk concludes:

Weinberg saw science and religion as having nothing constructive to say to one another, a view shared by many (though certainly not all) of his colleagues. But the history of science could have unfolded differently. We can imagine generations of scientists standing with Newton, investigating nature as a path to understanding the mind of God. To be sure, some scientists think of their work in this way even today. (Guy Consolmagno, a Vatican astronomer, would be one example.)

But they are a minority. As science and religion began to go their separate ways — a process that accelerated with the work of Darwin — science became secular. “The elimination of God-talk from scientific discourse,” writes historian Jon Roberts, “constitutes the defining feature of modern science.” Weinberg would have agreed. As he told an audience in 1999: “One of the great achievements of science has been, if not to make it impossible for intelligent people to be religious, then at least to make it possible for them not to be religious. We should not retreat from that accomplishment.”

Not in cosmology, nor in biology. Thus Falk folds in a highly misleading parenthetical swipe at evolution skeptics: 

It’s hardly a surprise that some people who balk at the teaching of evolution also object to the teaching of big bang cosmology.

He refers to a 2018 story about an Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction who sought to eliminate a reference to the Big Bang in state science standards. If true, that’s bizarre. As Stephen Meyer relates in his recent book, Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries That Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe, the Big Bang when it was first proposed was fought fiercely by atheists because of the theistic implications.

Three Main Arguments

Having been confirmed over theories of an eternal universe, the Big Bang supports one of the three main arguments in Meyer’s book. The universe is not eternal. It began a long but a finite time ago. Its physical laws and constants were ultra-highly fine-tuned from that beginning for our existence. And the history of life on Earth is marked by periodic explosions of biological information — another kind of “Big Bang,” as others have pointed out. That’s very different from Darwinism’s model of continuous, gradual change, but it’s consistent with what we know about creativity by intelligent agents. 

As philosopher Kirk Durston puts it, appeals to a multiverse, favored by Weinberg, are nothing more than an emergency “God of the gaps” move for saving atheism from the scientific evidence. The multiverse, forever beyond detection, fills the gap in understanding that’s left because materialists forbid considering the possibility of design. The discoveries that Meyer brings together have revived the God hypothesis that Dan Falk assures readers has been safely to put bed. Newton’s intelligent design thinking lives again, along with the meaning and purpose in nature that it points to. 

Just One Word

The upshot of the best modern biology and cosmology can be epitomized by changing just one word in Steven Weinberg’s famous comment: “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems purposeful.” All this the folks at Scientific American withhold from their audience, just as they withheld the upsetting complications of evolution’s racist legacy. Why?

I’m not one of those theists who thinks atheists are just fooling themselves. There are some imposingly brilliant atheists and agnostics. I would not want to try matching wits with Thomas Nagel, as one example. Recently we saw a very shrewd “skeptic,” James Croft, debate Meyer on these questions. (See Elizabeth Whatley’s analysis here.)

I can respect the philosophical atheist position, even as I disagree with it. Do the editors at Scientific American, though, respect their readers? It seems they don’t.