Who is the Author of scientific truth?
Materialism 101, Pt. 2
Matthew Connally is a recent graduate of our World Journalism Institute mid-career course, but I first met him in 1992 when he was editor in chief of The Daily Texan, the student newspaper at The University of Texas at Austin. From there he moved on to earn a master’s degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and become a pastor in Princeton and a campus chaplain at Princeton University. From 2012 to 2016 he was a teacher and principal in Nanjing, China, and since 2017 has been a pastor at a Houston-area Chinese church.
So let’s review: a Christian on a highly secularized campus newspaper, an evangelical at theologically liberal Princeton and in neo-Maoist China, and (as this essay shows) a critic of Darwinism. Matt is used to being in a minority, and by taking on Darwinism he’s cementing his position as a smart person who doesn’t believe what the smart set still believes—even though discoveries in recent decades about the complexity of cells, the fine-tuning of the universe, and the information coding in and around us have kicked the legs off materialism’s dining room tables.
This is the second in an occasional series of essays for our Saturday Series. In the first, he asks: What is a human being? In this installment, he asks the very reasonable question: Where does scientific truth come from?—Marvin Olasky
Why is it that everywhere we look in nature we discover rational, creative explanations? Whether scientists look through a telescope or through a microscope or just take a walk in the woods, they discover elegant ideas such as photosynthesis, DNA replication, quantum entanglement, relativity, etc. But how and why can they perceive such things? “The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility,” wrote Albert Einstein in 1936. “The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle.”[i]
Part of the mystery is that even if we can comprehend what such explanations mean, we still do not have the slightest clue what they are. It takes a rational, creative person 10 or 20 years of study before they can begin to comprehend all these sentences and paragraphs in nature, yet they are simply out there, like books sitting on a library shelf waiting to be read. In fact, we could define science as the process of discovering these explanations and then translating them into English (or русский, or 中文, or 01110111 01101111 01110010 01100100 01110011). But what exactly are scientists translating? We have no idea.
For example, James Tour, professor of chemistry at Rice University, says that although scientists have a clear understanding of what a DNA molecule is, they have no idea what the code that DNA carries actually is. We can translate that code from nucleic acid bumps on a DNA molecule into black symbols (like the ones you’re staring at now) or into Braille bumps for the blind or into binary bumps on a DVD. Or we can translate it into electromagnetic waves and shoot across the planet so that other scientists can download it onto a computer, edit it, and then translate it back into nucleic acid bumps in order to provide gene therapy for sickle cell anemia. “What is the code?” Tour asks. “Even if you had the nucleic acids and even if you could hook them up, what’s the code?!”[ii]
If that question sounds odd, perhaps it’s because comprehending meaning, such as the meaning of these black symbols, comes as easily to us as breathing. Yet on closer inspection, it’s “the eternal mystery of the universe”. Manifestations of this mystery saturate nature, and Darwinists have all kinds of ways of talking about them. Philosophers will call them Platonic forms. Neuroscientists will call them qualia. Biologists will call them memes. Physicists will call them emergent entities and human constructs. And yet doesn’t an eternal mystery by any other name remain miraculous?
Let’s take the mystery fathoms deeper. Although we do not know what all these rational explanations are, we do know what they are not: They are not physical. They do not look like black symbols any more than they sound like human language any more than they feel like electromagnetic waves. They are immaterial. Their nonphysical/immaterial nature is an objective, testable, falsifiable fact.
Let’s consider just one small example now. (It really only takes one to breach the dam.) We know that the constants of nature—numbers such as π (3.14…), the natural logarithm e (2.71…), and the golden ratio (1.61…)—have no physical qualities because they are irrational numbers, which means they cannot be written as a ratio of two integers but instead go on infinitely.[iii]
Dr. Richard Muller, professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, says that although scientists know that such numbers exist, they cannot have any physical means of knowing it. By contrast, for example, we can know what sugar tastes like by tasting it, or what snow feels like by touching it. He uses the example of the square root of two—a number which mesmerized the ancient Greeks because they realized that (like the constants of nature) it could not have any physical representation. “The fact that the square root of two is irrational is a truth that is beyond physical measurement,” Muller said in his book, The Physics of Time. “It exists only in the minds of humans. It is nonphysics knowledge.”[iv]
Now Darwinists cannot talk about the immaterial nature of such things. Ever. They simply will not discuss it under any circumstances. That’s why trying to get a grip on the doctrines of materialism feels like trying to catch a fly with a pair of chopsticks. They will talk all day long about what they think things like natural laws and the constants of nature are (Platonic forms, qualia, emergent entities), but they will not tolerate a discussion about what they are not. Otherwise, they will immediately be confronted with catastrophic questions such as, “How could the brain use the five senses to perceive something immaterial?” and, “How do immaterial phenomena evolve?”
So just like they made a collective decision to arbitrarily declare that intelligent design is not scientific and therefore not to be discussed, so also the establishment refuses to allow students to ask such questions.
Let’s ask them anyway. Here’s another one: Who is the Author of it all?
Who is the Author of it all?
To the extent that we know anything at all—to the extent that we know that two plus two equals four or that energy equals mass times the speed of light squared—to that same extent we know that rational words and sentences saturate the universe.
Furthermore, they reveal natural history. For just as any dish is preceded by a recipe, any sports game is preceded by a set of rules, any building is preceded by a blueprint, and just as any organism is preceded by a DNA “blueprint” (“What’s the code?!”), so also every single quantum in the cosmos is preceded by rational words. Physicist John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008), a member of the Manhattan Project and a professor of physics at Princeton University, famously coined the phrase “it from bit” in 1989 to explain how words precede particles.
It from Bit symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom—at a very deep bottom, in most instances—an immaterial source and explanation; that what we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe.[iv]
From at least the early 20th century, physicists realized that their experiments contradicted the presuppositions of materialism. Not only that, they realized that the evidence pointed directly to the presence of free will in the scientists themselves. So from beginning to end this discovery has led to endless speculations about the identity of the divine Author of quantum mechanics in particular and of nature in general. As for Wheeler and his wife, they were founding members of the Unitarian Church of Princeton. And as for Muller, above, he prays to an unknown God and has expressed admiration for the Gnostics.
Nevertheless, many other scientists have persisted in arguing that the evidence does not point to God. For example, Stephen Hawking (1942-2018) said the universe could author itself:
Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing … Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.[vi]
Notice that when Hawking said that the universe could be created from nothing, what he meant by the word nothing was nothing … material or physical. But in the absence of anything physical there was still something: words, sentences, and paragraphs, at least enough to fill a few dozen textbooks. After all, a law such as gravity is only coherent in the context of exceedingly complex systems of mathematics, physics, and chemistry. For example, the sentence “Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared” combines high levels of math (including some of the constants of nature) with a chemist’s understanding of energy and a physicist’s understanding of light. And yet Hawking wanted us to believe that these sentences simply existed prior to the existence of mass or energy or light?
Or … an Author?
Darwinists applauded him for his boldness. Fellow Oxford professor, Richard Dawkins, had already argued that evolution authored our ability to think and reason scientifically. “Human thoughts and emotions emerge from exceedingly complex interconnections of physical entities within the brain.”[vii] He insisted there was nothing paradoxical or mysterious about such emergent entities:
Electronic computers, conceived as calculating machines, emerge as word processors, chess players, encyclopedias, telephone switchboards, even, I regret to say, electronic horoscopes. No fundamental contradictions are there to ring philosophical alarm bells. Nor in the statement that our brains have overtaken, even overreached, their Darwinian provenance.[viii]
Now, speaking of words, Dawkins’ comparison of the emergence of “human thoughts and emotions” with the emergence of computers here is very common, but it is also thoroughly self-contradictory. We talk easily talk about the evolution of lots of things—the computer, the automobile, the assault rifle, the fajita. However, these are all examples of the evolution of design at the hands of rational, creative people. Improvements and developments—such as from calculating machines to telephone switchboards and chess-playing supercomputers—“emerge” as a result of the intentional, competitive mental effort of intelligent designers.
But when Dawkins et al use the term evolution, there is a sudden semantic shift: Rationality, creativity, and intentionality are all explicitly excluded from the emergent process, to be replaced by randomness, chance and “Natural Law”. The Darwinists want to have their intelligently designed cake and eat it, too. “In the case of living machinery,” Dawkins says, “the ‘designer’ is unconscious natural selection, the blind watchmaker.”[ix] That quote comes from a book he wrote all about this cosmic creator, titled The Blind Watchmaker.
Just stop and consider what this brilliant scientist wants students to simply take for granted. For starters, he wants to take Natural Laws for granted—laws that are so deep and profound and complex that the brightest minds, such as Hawking, can spend a lifetime fixating on them. Yet, according to Dawkins, the author, or “designer”, of such laws is a Cosmic Blind Watchmaker.
Next, consider how important the words randomness and chance are to Dawkins’ explanation. Although such words are absolutely essential to comprehending evolutionary theory, they are only coherent in the context of a dictionary of at least, say, 5,000 words, and they only have meaning in a much broader context of non-randomness and precise order—just like the word three only has meaning in the context of a number line, or just like you can only have the chance of drawing a lucky lottery ticket if there are millions of other people contributing to that lottery within a much larger, well-ordered, rational, creative, non-random economy.
But again, the author of this dictionary, the “designer” of all this order, is a Cosmic Blind Watchmaker who is not only blind but also deaf, mute, and as senseless as a block of wood. And the Darwinists are assuming the authority to discover and reveal to the world who this Blind Watchmaker is, and to reveal what the words in his dictionary mean, and to reveal his/her/its explanations for all of existence.
On the one hand, that’s a lot to take for granted. On the other hand, we have seen this many, many times before all throughout human history. For it is exactly like those people who assume the authority to carve a senseless block of wood into a mysterious image, plate it with gold, embed it with jewels, set it high on a pedestal, and then declare unctuously unto mankind, “Behold your creator!”
This is the norm for the modern scientific establishment—whether for physicists like Hawking or for biologists like Dawkins. As the editors of Evolution News & Science Today put it:
A minimal cell packs a ton of functional information. How did it get there? Darwinians, who wish to account for all of life without design, are obligated to believe that information creates itself. In the past they tended to be more reticent about the problem, realizing that it was a tremendous challenge even to get to a theoretical replicator. Lately, some of them are employing a bolder tactic: simply assert that information creates itself.[x]
Textbooks that write themselves?
The coherent alternative
By contrast, many scientists take it as self-evident that the rational, creative explanations which scientists discover in nature all came from a rational, creative Author. As George Washington Carver (1864-1943) put it, “I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.” Astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) said the same thing three centuries earlier:
“I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.” (The Harmonies of the World, 1619)
Now we know that some of the natural laws and equations that we use aren’t 100 percent perfectly accurate, even today. But that makes them no less objective than government treaties that have debatable translations in other languages. Our explanations keep improving and giving us a more accurate understanding of objective scientific truth, just as our telescopes keep improving and giving us a clearer vision of the objective universe. So at the end of the day, one way or another we have to attribute all the intelligent explanations in nature to someone. As Einstein said, “I have no better expression than the term ‘religious’ for this trust in the rational character of reality and in its being accessible, to some extent, to human reason.”[xi]
So if the Author of life were to write “Made by God” somewhere, what medium do you think he would use? Pen and paper? Engraving on stone? Electromagnetic waves? And what language would we expect him to use? Ancient עִברִית? Modern, simplified 中文? Or something else?
[iv] Richard Muller, Now: The Physics of Time, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2016), Kindle Locations 4715.
[v] John Archibald Wheeler, “Information, Physics, Quantum: The Search for Links” in the Japanese journal Proceedings of the 3rd International Symposium on Foundations of Quantum Mechanics in the Light of New Technology, 1989 (309-336). https://philpapers.org/archive...
[vi] Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam, 2010), p. 180.
[vii] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), 34.
[viii] Richard Dawkins, Science in the Soul (New York: Random House, 2017), Kindle Locations 636-644.
[ix] Richard Dawkins. The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design (London: Folio Society, 2007), 38.
[xi] Albert Einstein, quoted in Maurice Solovine, Albert Einstein: Lettres à Maurice Solovine (Gauthier-Villars, Paris, 1956). This quote is reproduced in Arthur Fine, The Shaky Game: Einstein, Realism and the Quantum Theory, 2nd edition (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1986), p. 110. I got it from Quatnum Reality by Jim Baggott (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), Kindle edition.
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