Dr. Craig on Collins vs Dawkins on Design of Universe

Dr. Craig on Collins vs Dawkins on Design of Universe

Dr. Craig comments on the interaction between Francis Collins and Richard Dawkins on design in the universe. He also evaluates recent statements by Bill Nye "The Science Guy".


Transcript Dr. Craig on Collins vs Dawkins on Design of Universe

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, Francis Collins – he's an outspoken evangelical geneticist, he's the head of The Genome Project – he revealed that combative atheist Richard Dawkins admitted to him during a conversation that the most troubling argument for nonbelievers to counter is the fine-tuning of the universe.

Dr. Craig: Yes, in his book The God Delusion Dawkins discusses this argument at the greatest length and recognizes, as he says, that we don't yet have a satisfactory explanation for the fine-tuning in physics such as he thinks we have in biology for the evolution of biological complexity.

Kevin Harris: Collins is also the director of the National Institutes of Health. During the thirty-first annual Christian Scholars Conference at Pepperdine at Malibu he gave a talk. He talks about the constants of the universe: where they set at a value that was just a tiny bit different, one part in a billion, the whole thing wouldn't work anymore. These constants regarding the behavior of matter and energy, such as strong and weak nuclear forces, gravity, and the speed of light, have to be precisely right during the Big Bang for life as we know it to exist.

Dr. Craig: Yes, describing the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent, interactive life.

Kevin Harris: “It forces a conclusion,” he says. “If you're an atheist it is just a lucky break because the odds are so remote, or you have to go to this multiverse hypothesis which says that there must be almost an infinite number of parallel universes that have different values of those constants. And of course we are here, and so we must have won the lottery. We must be in the one universe among the multiverses that worked.”

Dr. Craig: Right, here I think he correctly characterizes the options. Basically, either you opt for intelligent design, some sort of a transcendent mind beyond the cosmos who designed the universe to be life-permitting, or you go with this multiverse hypothesis. So you have these competing metaphysical hypotheses. It doesn't mention in the article here whether or not he offered any criticisms of the multiverse hypothesis or simply left these alternatives open for his audience to choose from. In my work I've presented arguments against the multiverse hypothesis and for the superiority of the intelligent design hypothesis.

Kevin Harris: He says what many have speculated, Bill, and that is that scientists like physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking believe in multiverse hypotheses, he says, “because the alternative is that you have to see the hands of the creator who set the parameters to be just so because the creator was interested in something a little more complicated than random particles.” If the Big Bang is not going to suffice as your naturalistic hypothesis of how it all began you can always go to the multiverse, but that just kind of puts it back one step.

Dr. Craig: Well, here he takes the rather cheeky position that the reason that they opt for the multiverse is to avoid a creator, which is in fact what Stephen Hawking has actually said in his book The Grand Design, and because they find that hypothesis unacceptable they opt for the multiverse hypothesis no matter how implausible or metaphysical it might be.

Kevin Harris: But people would argue that it's appropriate to go to the multiverse, that the Big Bang doesn't explain everything, it's too problematic and all that. It's appropriate to go to the multiverse rather than God because you want to rule out everything you can naturally before you punt to something supernaturally.

Dr. Craig: I think that's fair, I would agree with that, that you ought to exhaust the naturalistic hypotheses first before opting for a supernaturalistic hypothesis.

Kevin Harris: And even then you can't rule out God because whether God used one big bang or many big bangs, is a philosophical question.

Dr. Craig: True. The multiverse hypothesis is not incompatible with the existence of a creator, but it could be a way of undercutting the fine-tuning argument so that you could no longer infer an intelligent designer, it wouldn't be necessary because you've got the multiverse. And so that's why in my published work I present arguments against the multiverse hypothesis to show that it's not an adequate explanation and that therefore we are justified in inferring intelligent design.

Kevin Harris: He says, “although the Big Bang theory explains how the universe started, it can't explain what happened before that.”

Dr. Craig: I think that's somewhat misleading. Of course this isn't a direct quotation so maybe the reporter has framed it that way. The point is that on the Big Bang theory there isn't anything before that.[1] The initial singularity in the standard model represents the origin of space and time, as well as all matter and energy, it is a boundary to spacetime. So there can't be anything before it. Now, the question is, well, is the standard model correct in predicting such a beginning? And certainly there are non-standard models that don't involve a singularity at its beginning – one thinks of Stephen Hawking's own model, for example – but significantly Hawking's model is also finite in the past, it is not an eternal universe, it also begins to exist just as the standard model does except it doesn't do so at a point of infinite density or singularity. And in fact, as I and Jim Sinclair have tried to show in our article in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, there really isn't any tenable model today of the universe than can be extrapolated to past infinity. The models that are empirically tenable involve a beginning to the universe at sometime in the finite past.

Kevin Harris: How would you characterize Francis Collins? He says he's never struggled between his acceptance of evolution and his Christian faith. When he looks at evolution he thinks it's part of God's elegant way of creation. How would he be categorized?

Dr. Craig: He would be what is called a theistic evolutionist, someone who believes that the evolutionary process was in some way intended or guided by God to arrive at its conclusion. Or as I think they would prefer to be called: evolutionary creationism, is the word that they are starting to use now instead of theistic evolution; they think it has a less threatening ring.

Kevin Harris: Francis Collins is probably the most famous among people who are holding this view right now?

Dr. Craig: Perhaps. Micheal Behe would also be a very, very well known theistic evolutionist – he wrote Darwin's Black Box and The Edge of Evolution – I think probably Behe would be even more well-known than Francis Collins in this area.

Kevin Harris: He says 45% of Americans believe that the earth is less than ten-thousand years old. That is almost half, and so this big percentage of Americans, I don't know how many of them would be Christians, probably a large amount, because some of these Americans might not even be Christians but they just have this biblical understanding that they've heard. The conflict is that's very incompatible, Collins says, with what scientists have learned from physics, chemistry, cosmology, biology, geology.

Dr. Craig: Yes, yes.

Kevin Harris: And so there is kind of a tension between this large portion of the populace and the science, and even a Christian view of how science could possibly be.

Dr. Craig: Yes, I've seen a comparable statistic that says that over 50% of evangelical pastors think that the world is less than ten thousand years old. Now, when you think about that, Kevin, that is just hugely embarrassing; that over half of our ministers really believe that the universe is only around ten thousand years old. This is just scientifically nonsense, and yet this is the view that the majority of our pastors hold. It's really quite shocking when you think about it.

Kevin Harris: The young people in their congregations are not going to buy that.

Dr. Craig: No.

Kevin Harris: A lot of thinking people are just not. And they're going to be more informed than that pastor if they've studied this area.

Dr. Craig: Yes, and because they're convinced that the pastor is right – that the Bible teaches this – but they're convinced by their geology teacher or their earth science teacher that the world is older than that, that means give up the Bible and walk away from the Christian faith. And I think what Francis Collins is challenging is the pastor's interpretation of Genesis 1. He would say, there's no reason to think that the Bible in Genesis, or anywhere else, teaches that the world is only ten thousand years old.

Kevin Harris: To be fair I'd say that so many pastors of that fifty percentage don't want to, in any way, harm or erode the Bible. I think when they realize that it is not harm or an erosion and in fact can be a great defense of the accuracy of the Bible – to see that the earth is not ten thousand years old – that that can be a great boon for their congregation.

Dr. Craig: Well, absolutely. What would hurt the Bible would be if the Bible intends for us to believe the world is only ten thousand years old, and therefore comes into conflict with the best evidence of modern science. That would hurt the Bible. What would not hurt the Bible would be if it could be shown that the Bible doesn't take a position on how long the universe has been around. Then it wouldn't be damaged by scientific evidence or the geological age of the earth, or the age of the universe.[2]

Kevin Harris: As my grandfather used to say, we've got a tough road to hoe on that one; we've got a long ways to go on that. There are people who are just not willing to let go of something that is so unnecessary, it's just really not necessary. Well, he goes on to say that “God is the author of it all; we just learn something more about the how. God is an awesome mathematician and physicist. God's plan included the mechanism of evolution to achieve that, to create this marvelous diversity of living things on our planet.”

Dr. Craig: Right, this shows his commitment to theistic evolution, or evolutionary creationism. He believes that evolution is the mechanism that God used to create life on this planet.

Kevin Harris: He brings up something very controversial; as a theistic evolutionist he says that Adam and Eve may have been in existence as historical personages but that it goes against the science to say that they were the first two humans on the planet earth. And so I guess as a theistic evolutionist he's going to hold to some kind of an evolutionary process that led to Adam and Eve, and then Adam and Eve . . .

Dr. Craig: He seems to think that they were one of many. In fact it says here in the article that there were probably around ten thousand people that existed in order to give us the genetic imprint that we bear today. Quoting from him he says, “scientists have noted that the DNA of several neanderthals are 99% identical to the human genome, and moreover where there's a region with sequence variation in the genome of neanderthals many times geneticists will find the same variation in humans today.” And this is convincing evidence that neanderthals and humans have a relationship and that our founding population, he says, was thousands of individuals and not just one person, that there was interbreeding among neanderthals and homo sapiens. Now what I find odd about that argument, Kevin, is, it seems to me that that would at most support that Adam and Eve were not special creations of God out of nothing but that they had hominid ancestors and therefore human beings bear the imprint of these hominid ancestors, for example, say, these neanderthals, or something like that. But how is that inconsistent with saying that eventually in the course of primate evolution that a single human pair did emerge called Adam and Eve, and that they are then the persons from whom present homo sapiens descended. If Adam and Eve themselves bore the imprint of prior lifeforms it's not clear to me why they couldn't be the progenitors of the human race.

Kevin Harris: Bill, as a Christian leader, when you look out among the many views on this very important question, and you see young-earth creationists, you see progressive creationists, you see theistic evolution or, what they like to be called today evolutionary creationists, and so on, what do you say to this wide range of opinion out there as far as Christian faith and practice in evangelizing the world for Christ?

Dr. Craig: Well, I think with regard to Christian faith and practice I would say you need, first and foremost, to do your biblical hermeneutics responsibly and objectively. You need to not interpret the Bible in light of modern science, but to interpret it according to what its original author and original audience would have understood. That's the first and foremost task, is to interpret the Bible objectively and correctly. Then the second task will be trying to integrate what we learn from the Bible with the worldview of modern science so as to have a sort of synoptic worldview that takes into account all that we've learned, not only from divine revelation but from God's revelation in nature, in the book of nature. And then we will build a synoptic sort of worldview that makes the best sense of the data. In terms of evangelization, then, I would say that this is an in-house project that goes on among Christians, and that we shouldn't focus on these issues when evangelizing nonbelievers. We should not think that in order to become a Christian the nonbeliever has to adopt our particular theory of creation. This is an open question to be explored in-house by Christian believers, and to win nonbelievers I think we simply need to convince them of the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith, such as the existence of God,[3] the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, his death on the cross for our sins, his resurrection from the dead, and so forth, and not demand of the unbeliever that in order to become a Christian he jump through the hoops of adopting particular views of creation.

Kevin Harris: Let's go from this briefly to what Bill Nye the science guy said in a video. He's the star of the television science program Bill Nye the Science Guy, and he says that creationism is not good for kids; creationism is not appropriate for children. He says when you have a portion of the population that doesn't believe in evolution it holds everybody back. You've seen the video.

Dr. Craig: Yes, and I would not disagree with him that we ought not to teach our children that the world is only ten thousand years old. I think that that's not something that the Bible imposes on us and it's not supported by modern science. So I would agree that if that's what he means by creationism that we shouldn't teach that to our children. But we should certainly teach them that there is a creator of the universe who is God and who brought the universe into being, and designed it in such a way so as to support the existence of human life. And with regard to how human life and biological complexity came to be on this planet I think that we need to teach the children the controversy. Teach them the various views that are held today so that they are conversant with the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution and can discuss it even more intelligently than their peers with regard to its pros and cons, and then to teach them a range of alternatives that are available for the objective Bible-believing Christian today. So I think we've got nothing to fear here, and that what we need to do is to be better informed and more equipped than our secular counterparts to dialogue about these issues. You can hold maverick views or views that don't fit in the paradigm without being ignorant of the paradigm and unacquainted with the evidence for and against it. You don't have to tow the line in order to be a good scientist.

Kevin Harris: Bill, when I was coming up in the seventies and learning to defend my faith as a young person in high school, really the only Christian apologetics dealing with creation were young earth creation apologetics; that's all, really, I was privy to. That's what was distributed to me and that's what my leadership gave to me. And so I would read it and look over it and try to learn it, but I never bought it.

Dr. Craig: Oh, really?

Kevin Harris: Yeah, I never did. I thought, okay, I'm not going to do this, I'm not going to learn all this stuff and try to do all this stuff about there ought to be a lot more dust on the moon and all these typical things that were going on at the time. I'm going to look and see what the Bible really says, first, and then I'm going to adjust my apologetics to what the Scriptures say. And that's where I learned that the Bible doesn't impose six twenty-four hour days from the language.

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Kevin Harris: That combined with the fact that I thought that the young-earth science, the attempted science, was so bad, that I said, this is not the option for the thinking believer, and in fact I think it can be real counterproductive, I think it can be a road block to thoughtful people coming to Christ.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, I think, fortunately, today the situation has very much changed. Today there is a wide diversity of views available in the Christian community from young-earth creationism on one hand all the way up through theistic evolution on the other, and a spectrum of beliefs in between. The folks in the intelligent design moment, I think, have done a wonderful job in creating a big tent that includes young-earthers, theistic evolutionists, and people of every stripe in between, in defense of the thesis of intelligent design behind the cosmos. So I think we're living in a day and age in which these multiple options now are much more available to the thinking Christian.[4]



[1] 5:00

[2] 10:05

[3] 15:00

[4] Total Running Time: 19:28 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)