Is This Scientist a Bad Philosopher?

Is This Scientist a Bad Philosopher?

Some scientists continue to deny philosophy! Will this trend continue?


Transcript Is This Scientist a Bad Philosopher?

KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, there is an article in Scientific American. It was just written in November of 2015 by John Horgan, a science writer. The name of the article is “Is Lawrence Krauss a Physicist or Just a Bad Philosopher?”[1] I say the answer to that is “yes.” [laughter] We are going to go through this article, in fact a couple of articles. Lawrence Krauss continues to be talked about and have articles in major publications. “Physicist Lawrence Krauss, who disparages philosophy, acted like a bad philosopher in a recent debate.” He is not talking about your debate which wasn’t so recent. But actually it was with “journalist Robert Wright and physicist Lawrence Krauss on ‘the origins of the universe, quantum weirdness and the limits of scientific knowledge.’” John Horgan says,

Although the event featured lots of witty banter, it ended up being more frustrating than fun. Wright . . . asked Krauss to clarify his positions on religion, philosophy and science, and Krauss kept demanding that Wright define his terms. What does he mean by “New Atheism”? “Scientism”? “Proselytize”? “Imponderable”?

DR. CRAIG: The experience this Robert Wright apparently had with Krauss at Union makes me smile because it is so reminiscent of our three dialogues in Australia. Rather than answer the question, he keeps pressing, Define what you mean by “universe,” or Define your terms. This is a way of avoiding answering the question – by just continuing to demand definition of terms rather than to address the question.

KEVIN HARRIS: Horgan continues,

When Wright sought to summarize the book’s thesis, Krauss interrupted him once again, saying, “You’re making it much more complicated than it has to be.”

Imagine that? Krauss interrupted him!

DR. CRAIG: Interrupted him? My, my!

KEVIN HARRIS:

Krauss then launched into an extremely complicated, rambling disquisition on the meaning of “nothing.” Wright, exasperated, blurted out, “People are going to leave tonight without knowing what the criticism of your book is if you continue to filibuster!”

Since Krauss can’t interrupt me, let me spell out some objections to his book. I’ll start with mine.

Then he starts relating some of the problems that he had with the book from three years ago. When you look over these, they seem to be the same objections that you had.

DR. CRAIG: Yes.

KEVIN HARRIS:

Decades ago, physicists such as the legendary John Wheeler proposed that, according to the probabilistic dictates of quantum field theory, even an apparently perfect vacuum seethes with particles and antiparticles popping into and out of existence.

You’ve said that many times in your published work. You’ve quoted other experts in this field who say the same thing. Here is another expert to add to that, and that is the quantum vacuum is not nothing. It has – what? – rich structure?

DR. CRAIG: Yes. Physical structure and is governed by physical laws. It is not what we mean by the word “nothing” which means “not anything.” The word “nothing” is a term of universal negation. There is a whole series of words in English like this – no one, nobody, nowhere. They are terms of universal negation meaning not anyone, not anywhere, not anything. But Krauss treats the word “nothing,” because it can be the subject of a sentence or the object of a proposition, as a substantive word that refers to something. He will often use it to refer to the quantum vacuum or to quantum fields or some other quantum physical state.

KEVIN HARRIS: John Horgan criticizes Dawkins as well.

Dawkins writes in an afterword to Krauss's book. "If On the Origin of Species was biology's deadliest blow to supernaturalism, we may come to see A Universe From Nothing as the equivalent from cosmology."

Whaaaa…??!! Dawkins is comparing the most enduringly profound scientific treatise in history to a pop-science book that recycles a bunch of stale ideas from physics and cosmology.

He is actually just saying, All this is is Dawkins’ and Krauss’ intense hatred of religion.[2]

So let’s see what David Albert of Columbia said about Krauss’s book in The New York Times.

What it comes down to is all these elementary particles, the fundamental laws of nature, electromagnetic fields, all these things, he says, “the laws have no bearing whatsoever on questions of where the elementary stuff came from.” That is still the question, isn’t it? We can describe laws. We can describe all of these elementary particles. We can get it down to as small as we can. But it still doesn’t talk about where it came from.

DR. CRAIG: Right. It doesn’t answer the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” as Dawkins thinks it does because it is using the word “nothing” in an equivocal way, not meaning “not anything” – why does anything at all exist? – it is using it to refer to quantum states such as quantum fields or quantum vacuum or other physical states. That is the question that Krauss is addressing, and not Leibniz’s question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Physics doesn’t address that kind of metaphysical question.

That is, by the way, why people who respond to Leibniz’s argument by saying that science will solve the problem merely show they haven’t understood the argument. Leibniz’s argument from contingency is a metaphysical argument about why anything at all exists. That is a question which physics cannot answer because physics always presumes some sort of physical state and cannot answer ultimate metaphysical questions which are about physics rather than part of physics.

KEVIN HARRIS: In this debate Wright mentions Albert’s scathing review.

DR. CRAIG: I also quoted Albert’s review in the dialogues in Australia, and Krauss had no response to it.

KEVIN HARRIS: Here, “Krauss dismissed Albert as a philosopher, who was probably upset by Krauss’s jibes about philosophy. Albert is indeed a professor of philosophy, but he has a doctorate in physics.”

DR. CRAIG: And is one of the most eminent philosophers of science today and eminently qualified to address the philosophical issues that Krauss is raising. It is important to understand that these questions that Krauss is addressing are philosophical questions which he, as a physicist, is not especially qualified to address.

KEVIN HARRIS: Horgan says, It gets better. Let’s talk about what South African physicist George Ellis says. He says,

[Has] Krauss’s book answered the question posed by its subtitle. Ellis responded:

Certainly not. He is presenting untested speculative theories of how things came into existence out of a pre-existing complex of entities . . . He does not explain in what way these entities could have pre-existed the coming into being of the universe . . . How indeed can you test what existed before the universe existed? You can’t.

All of this, I think, is to say that identifying the behavior and the nature of some of these elementary particles (even down to the quantum level) says nothing about where they came from or whether they came into being or whether they are eternal or not.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, that is right. I think, as David Albert points out, physics is always a physics of some sort of physical state of affairs even on the quantum physical level such as quantum fields. It doesn’t answer the ultimate question, “Why does anything at all exist? Why is there something rather than nothing?” That is Leibniz’s question, and that is not addressed by equivocating on the meaning of the word “nothing.”

KEVIN HARRIS: John Horgan says, “When I mentioned Ellis’s critique to Krauss, he claimed that Ellis, although once a physicist, is now a ‘theologian.’”

DR. CRAIG: That is just so irresponsible. Here he dismisses David Albert as a philosopher, and now he’ll dismiss George Ellis who is probably the greatest living cosmologist as a theologian.

KEVIN HARRIS: That is so inappropriate.

DR. CRAIG: It really is terribly condescending.

KEVIN HARRIS: It is condescending and it is still not addressing the issue or what the guy is bringing up. To say, Well, he is a race car driver! Yeah, but he just solved the theory of everything! [laughter]

DR. CRAIG: You know what it reminds me of, now that you say it, the contemporary political primaries going on in the United States where rather than discuss the issues they call each other names like whether they were born in the United States or whether they are nasty or things of that sort. This is political speech here – to not address the question but to dismiss your opponent as a philosopher or a theologian.[3]

KEVIN HARRIS: I want to wrap up today by looking briefly at another article by Krauss, since we are talking about Lawrence. He has an article called “All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists.” This has been in several publications. Let’s just get to the gist of what he is saying here. It comes down to the press and the public accusing Lawrence Krauss of being a militant atheist. He says he is proud to be that. He goes into some political things here, but I think it gets down to, on the second page, third paragraph,

“My practice as a scientist is atheistic,” the biologist J.B.S. Haldane wrote, in 1934. “That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career.”

I’ve heard this so much. There can’t be a God because God could interfere with our laboratory results and our field studies. Is he just making a plea here for methodological naturalism?

DR. CRAIG: Yes, that is what Haldane is talking about here. It is methodological naturalism. But that is not to say that metaphysical naturalism is true, or that atheism is true. He is simply saying, As a scientist, I assume and am looking for natural causes of natural phenomena. That is my methodology. That is my assumption when I do science. Many Christians would be wholly in agreement with that. That is the way they do science. That doesn’t imply atheism or the truth of metaphysical naturalism – that the world is a naturalistic place and that there is no such thing as God.

KEVIN HARRIS: I am trying to recall what Rob Koons says about this. I think it boils down to – and I definitely want to get your take on it – he says, We have no reason to think that the God of the Bible, the God of Christianity, would interfere with our lab experiments and our field studies. Why say that?

DR. CRAIG: When you look at the Bible, you find that miracles wrought by God are always accompanied with some sort of prophetic word and the miracle is an attestation of the prophetic word. Think of the miracles of Moses in Egypt around the Exodus. Or think of the miracles of Elijah or Elisha in the Old Testament, or the miracles of Jesus. They are always coupled with an interpretive word that goes to explain what is happening. The miracles occur in a religiously significant context and actually relatively rarely over the centuries that are covered by the biblical narrative. They are primarily grouped around the Exodus and the life of Jesus in the Old and the New Testaments which are events of tremendous revelatory significance where God is bringing a new revelation of himself. It is not as though God is tinkering with laboratory experiments to secretly bring about different results. It is precisely because we can assume that God has created the universe with a rational order that science is possible and you can make inferences about natural causes from natural effects.

KEVIN HARRIS: It has nothing to do with the existence of God. If God broke your test tube then God exists. So it has nothing to do with the question of God’s existence.

DR. CRAIG: The other interesting thing I found about this article is that, again, Krauss is equivocating on terms. What he means by a militant atheist is very different from what that term normally means. It comes out in the last paragraph of this article where he says, “We owe it to ourselves and to our children not to give a free pass to governments . . . that endorse, encourage, enforce, or otherwise legitimize the suppression of open questioning in order to protect ideas that are considered ‘sacred.’” He says if that is what it means to be a militant atheist then no scientist should be ashamed to adopt the label of “militant atheist.”

What Krauss is saying here is that a militant atheist is someone who opposes governmental attempts to suppress open questioning because of religious ideas, which is absurd.[4] That is not what militant atheism means. Moreover, it is not what Christians endorse. No Christian thinks that the government should be involved in suppressing open questioning of ideas because they are religious. This is a ridiculous straw man.

What Krauss is really after here, frankly, is – once again he has gone outside his field of physics and just as he tries to do philosophy in dialogues about why is there something rather than nothing, here he is going into politics and constitutional law. He is arguing, frankly, against the free exercise clause of the Constitution. He doesn’t want there to be accommodations to people because of their religious beliefs. So, for example, if there is a military draft to go to war, and you are a conscientious objector because of your religious beliefs, Krauss is saying don’t accommodate those religious beliefs. If the government says that health care means paying for abortions for your employees and you decline to do that because of your religious beliefs, he says the government should not make accommodation for religious beliefs. I wonder what he would say about tax exemptions for churches and church-owned properties like hospitals and so forth. There again the law, because of the free exercise clause in the Constitution, makes accommodations for religious persons and organizations.

Honestly, I tremble to think what would happen if people like Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins got political power in our country. I think we would see abuses of the free exercise clause on the part of these kinds of politicians who would no longer make accommodations for religious belief in a free society. So far from supporting a free society, I think Krauss is tyrannical. He is someone who would not respect the separation of church and state but use the means of the state in order to inhibit the free exercise of religion, and I find that a terrifying prospect.[5]



[1] See http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/is-lawrence-krauss-a-physicist-or-just-a-bad-philosopher/ (accessed February 15, 2016).

[2] 4:56

[3] 10:11

[4] 15:06

[5] Total Running Time: 17:58 (Copyright © 2016 William Lane Craig)