A popular radio talk show host held his own against a PhD cosmologist who argues the universe came from nothing.
For his weekly Ultimate Issues Hour, Dennis Prager voice-wrestled with Lawrence Krauss about his book, A Universe from Nothing. Krauss, a theoretical physicist and Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, believes that a quantum fluctuation in the multiverse, combined with the laws of physics and natural selection, produced all the beauty and complexity of life. Prager noted that he had researched Krauss at length before the program, watching many of his presentations and reading his book. He quipped that he knew almost as much about Krauss as his mother does.
Prager and Krauss first quibbled about the definition of “nothing.” When Krauss tried to refer to particles (and galaxies) emerging from quantum fluctuations, Prager did not abide that as an adequate description of starting from nothing. “Where did the laws of nature come from?” he asked. When Krauss reverted to the multiverse as a source of multiply realizable probabilistic combinations of laws, Prager responded that such a response is not starting from nothing. Prager also stressed that there is no evidence for a multiverse, so referring to it is not science. Krauss said that same lack of evidence applies to belief in God. Prager denied that, saying there is overwhelming evidence for God.
Over and over, Krauss presented science in opposition to religion, claiming that he, as a scientist, was driven to form his views on the basis of evidence, rather than making up his conclusions in advance. Yet Prager caught Krauss several times defending views in spite of the evidence. Prager denied Krauss’s description of the conflict, claiming that it is atheistic scientists who refuse to consider God, whereas he (and other theologians and God-affirming philosophers) entertain regularly the proposition there is no God.
Prager cited Krauss’s description of humans as “cosmic pollution” in the universe. Krauss did not deny that description, but tried to defend the notion that humans create their own significance on earth by working to preserve our planet and help one another. Prager noted that this does not show any ultimate significance for human life, because as Krauss wrote in his book, the universe is doomed for a heat death. What gives man significance is being created in the image of God, he said.
Prager claimed that science will never answer two fundamental questions, the origin of the universe and the origin of life. While admitting that science does not now know these things, Krauss took umbrage at the suggestion that there are things science can never know. He claimed, in fact that science is finding natural origins for amino acids, so science is perhaps ten years of discovering how life emerged. Prager joked that he would accept that prediction, because it’s better than that of the global warming activists who put their predictions 50 years into the future. Prager stood his ground that there are things science will never know, but did not elaborate why.
Krauss claimed that science does not answer “why” questions but only “how” questions. Without hesitation, Prager engaged that notion, returning immediately to the subject at hand, “OK, how did the universe come about from nothing?” When Krauss tried to present “science” as “different” because of its reliance on evidence, Prager continued pressing the point that atheism is not based on evidence; in fact, it’s a denial of overwhelming evidence for God. Krauss said science does not confirm things but falsifies them, implying that since science has not falsified the multiverse, it can be entertained as a scientific notion. He claimed indirect evidence for the multiverse, saying that it is “well motivated” with suggestions from inflation theory, which he didn’t feel he had time to explain. Prager called such notions unscientific.
Krauss tried to disqualify anyone but cosmologists from speaking with authority about the origin of the universe. When Prager presented a philosopher trained in physics who disagrees with Krauss about the existence of God, Krauss attempted to impugn the credibility of the philosopher by asking if he is “working as” a physicist – also implying by his tone that if he is “just” a “philosopher” he can be dismissed. Krauss also distinguished public notions of “theory” with the way scientists use the term, pointing to quantum theory and universal gravitation as examples of well-tested theories. He did not, however, defend inflation, the multiverse, and the origin of life as evidence-supported theories – only as notions that scientists continue to work on.
The discussion was lively but respectful. At points they were rapidly overtalking each other, but Prager began and ended by thanking Krauss for coming on the program, and Krauss replied in kind. In his concluding remarks, Prager dismissed the multiverse hypothesis as a dodge, as if saying, “On this basketball court, we lost, but there are an infinite number of other basketball courts where we could win.” He noted that Krauss could not explain our universe, thus admitting he had no scientific answer. Prager also chuckled that he loved Krauss’s own description of humans as “cosmic pollution,” remarking that such conclusions follow if there is no God.
On a related subject, the Discovery Institute announced today a new episode of a documentary about C. S. Lewis upon the 50th anniversary of his death. It’s a presentation of John West’s chapter from the book The Magician’s Twin about C. S. Lewis’s views on intelligent design. It can be watched at Evolution News & Views.
Given the time constraints of a radio show, Prager did an admirable job of challenging the pretensions of this atheist cosmologist. This shows that one does not need to be a physicist to find the flaws in the logic of scientists. Prager acknowledged Krauss’s intellect and training. Those attributes alone, however, do not justify foolish beliefs. Any layperson trained in baloney detecting can take on a fast-talking charlatan. If a PhD says something stupid, it is still stupid. The only thing required to see the nakedness of an emperor is working eyes.
It’s clear that Krauss is a relic of the logical positivism or “scientism” that views science as a superior path to all truth. Yet careful listening to his words revealed a great deal of evidence-free speculation motivated by emotional preference, wrapped in the intellectual arrogance of science with its presumptive authority to speak on ultimate issues. It is not the facts of science that drive Krauss to atheism; it is rather his own bias against the evidence for God that drives him to seek possibilities other than God. Notice his claim that the multiverse is “well motivated” – what does that imply? It’s not the evidence that motivates it, because there is none! What motivates it is the desire to escape the implications of clear evidence of design in the universe and life.
Krauss also implied that once life appeared, natural selection would take care of the rest. Prager did not challenge that notion, perhaps because it strayed from the topic at hand. Observers should take note, though, how strongly atheism depends on Darwinism. Without the magic wand of natural selection, atheism is dead. The presumption that natural selection is all powerful, a sufficient creator for sonar, flight and Mozart, must be continually challenged as a myth.
To his credit, Prager did point to Mozart as evidence for God. That was a clever riposte, easily encompassing many points in one short, easily-understood statement. In short, he was saying that he didn’t need to argue Scripture, dogma, or religious tradition. Intelligent design not only explains Mozart’s symphonies, it explains Mozart himself. This statement put the burden on Krauss to explain Mozart from non-intelligent material causes. All that was implied in Prager’s quip, a “word fitly spoken” that didn’t require the long paragraph you are reading. Learn how to cut to the chase like that. Prager also illustrated how to hold a heated discussion as a gentleman, without making personal attacks. His preparation for the guest, and his command of appropriate arguments for the topic, were also admirable.
In the discussion about the definition of “nothing,” Prager did well. He repeatedly nailed Krauss for starting with something – laws of nature, a multiverse, a quantum fluctuation or whatever. Francis Schaeffer’s definition is stronger. Schaeffer argued that to claim the universe came from nothing, one needs to start with what he called “nothing nothing” – not only the absence of matter and energy, but no categories. He likened it to drawing a circle on a blackboard that represents everything that is, then erasing the circle. Any definition short of that starts with something. The next question, therefore, is “where did that something come from?” (Prager pointed that out). A little reflection can assure the thinker that there is no defense, philosophically or scientifically, for getting something out of “nothing nothing.” Krauss’s whole thesis of “a universe from nothing” is thus a bait-and-switch ruse. Theists should be concerned that this ruse has been operating for 5 years as an “Origins Project” at Arizona State in the “science” department (as indeed it does in most secular universities).
All Prager’s points were sound and well stated. He could have undermined Krauss’s entire argument quicker, we think, by pointing out that materialism is self-refuting. If Krauss believes his mind is the result of aimless processes rooted ultimately in chance, he can have no confidence that his beliefs are true – including his belief his mind is the result of aimless processes of chance. “Science” is of no help for any self-refuting proposition; it is necessarily false. It’s actually quite amusing to listen to a materialist use logic and argumentation to defend the idea that those things have no source! It is our hope that readers listening to debates like the one on the radio today will be equipped, even without the assistance of a Dennis Prager or our website. to unmask the arrogance of those who, despite intellect and education, erroneously appropriate the presumptive authority of “science” to proclaim folly.