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Fear of Science

June 28, 2010     Time: 00:14:58
Fear of Science


Conversation with William Lane Craig.

Transcript Fear of Science


Kevin Harris: Welcome to our Reasonable Faith podcast. Dr. Craig, there are some things in the news that we want to look at. They are always of interest, and when it gets a lot of coverage we especially want to comment on it. By the way, you do this quite often in your Defenders class. You can hear some of your quick commentaries on some of the pertinent things in the news when you go to I love how you do that in your Sunday School class. You will sometimes start off with a snippet of the news. You will hold it to a few minutes. I say this is important because often we can get started talking about the news and never get to the lesson. [laughter]

Dr. Craig: I like to put that in the section on the website called “blog.” It is a sort of audio blog. I don’t write it out but I do think as Christians we want to be engaged with our culture and the current intellectual and cultural movements that are afoot, and when they do impinge upon a Christian worldview to speak to these.

Kevin Harris: One of these stories that I think does that is this contention that science is getting closer to creating life – a synthetic life.

Dr. Craig: Yes, there have been a couple of interesting stories concerning the fine-tuning of the universe for life which seems to be confirmed by some recent discoveries, and also some work by biologists in creating a synthetic cell that have gotten a good deal of news.

Kevin Harris: What is often thrown at people of faith, followers of Christ, is that “See there? If mere humans can come up with this collection of molecules to create life or to simulate it then you don’t need God. It can happen very easily by natural processes.”

Dr. Craig: That is not, of course, what these experiments show, but even if they did I think that that would be troubling only for someone who holds that God created life, or the first living cell, ex nihilo – just out of nothing. That just suddenly there in the pond or in the ocean there appeared a full blown cell. These sort of discoveries might be troubling to someone who believes in that kind of ex nihilo creation. But if you don’t think that that is necessarily what we are committed to by the biblical narratives then why would it be troubling to think, for example, that God has so fine-tuned the laws of nature and the initial conditions of the universe that these materials when coming together could form a living cell. It may have been the way that God brought it about. So I think we can welcome these scientific discoveries as revealing the handiwork of God. I don’t find them troubling at all.

Kevin Harris: Bill, one thing that I know from experience, though, is that there seems to be among people of faith a fear of science – a fear of technology – that I think is unwarranted and unnecessary. But when the headlines scream “Scientist creates synthetic life in the lab” that is what the headline says. You get this feeling that, “Uh oh, boy, we are not going to need God after all.” I can just hear my atheist friends saying “See there?” kind of thing. Well, the first thing that we are missing here is that it took intelligence to even do what they are doing in the lab.

Dr. Craig: Sure. I think it only reinforces, as I said, the kind of fine-tuning that has to go into the initial conditions, the laws of nature, and all the rest of it to enable something like this to take place. In the case of the synthetic cell, as I say, it doesn’t even come close to actually creating a living cell. What they did was they took two bacteria of a different species and they took the DNA of one of these bacteria and made a synthetic replica of it. It has about one million letters in its genome, in its genetic code. They made chemical DNA that would be synthetic that was exactly a replica of the original, natural DNA. In other words, they just copied what nature already had. Then they took the synthetic DNA and they injected it into this other living bacterium and the synthetic DNA, being an exact replica of what exists in nature, began then to replicate and eventually the new cell became characterized by the genetic material that was synthetic and had been injected into it. It is a triumph of genetic engineering, but it is hardly surprising in one sense that if you make an exact duplicate of what nature is, it’s going to do what nature does. [1] In fact, the experiment didn’t work at first because they had one letter wrong; out of the million letters of the DNA code they had one wrong. As a result, the synthetic DNA was utterly inactive. It wouldn’t do anything. Which again sort of reinforces how beautifully and exquisitely fine-tuned nature is to enable the cell to live and replicate and all the rest of it. When they corrected that mistake then the synthetic DNA began to work the way it should.

Kevin Harris: See, you’ve already dispelled the fear. Read the article.

Dr. Craig: So often we fear what we don’t understand. Therefore, I think it is vital that Christians be scientifically informed. Too many Christians have no grasp of a modern scientific view of the world. The author C. P. Snow once wrote a classic article called “The Two Cultures” in which he described one culture which is the scientific culture – the scientific view of the world. The other is the humanities – the arts, literature, and so forth. He said these two cultures just don’t speak to each other. It is as though they are in different worlds or speaking different languages. I think as Christians who have a synoptic view of the whole world under God’s sovereignty need to integrate these two cultures together within the context of a Christian world and life view. When you understand these things you don’t need to fear them because they all fit together into this beautiful, overarching, synoptic Christian world and life view.

Kevin Harris: The article goes on to say that this is going to be tremendous in medical advances. We can even view this as a wider or general grace of God.

Dr. Craig: Yes. And it says as well that this could be important in developing synthetic fuels. They want to be able to develop algae that could be used as fuels. I think the really important thing that is raised in this story is not relevant to the origin of life or creation of life. What I think is really relevant and important that is raised by this discovery are the ethical implications, namely, when you start genetic engineering you could get into situations where you begin to alter things in ways that could lead to unethical behavior or even dangerous behavior. What will happen when scientists develop the ability to synthetically alter the human genome and begin to develop people that are using synthetic DNA? What might they be used for? How could this be handled? This gets into the whole question of human engineering that is fraught with ethical implications. These developments need to be monitored very carefully because science has no ethical component to it that arises naturally out of science. The ethics of science must come externally to science. Science doesn’t have its own ethical code of conduct. If you just allow technology to develop according to natural progress, it will be capable of doing all sorts of things they may be unethical. We need always, I think, to monitor the development of technology by these ethical and moral considerations which come from outside of science.

Kevin Harris: You just answered something that I brought up at the beginning of this podcast, and that is people of faith sometimes tend to fear technology. It is for these reasons. I had church friends who would not use an ATM machine because they thought somehow it was going to be used by the anti-Christ or something. [laughter] Talk about identity theft! I think you just answered it – that is, we monitor our technological progress, not fearing technology but monitoring it for the ethical and moral ramifications of it.

Dr. Craig: Exactly. To make sure that our technology is used in ways that are ethically appropriate and not misused in the way, for example, that Nazi scientists attempted to misuse technology and their work on human prisoners in concentration camps and so forth.

Kevin Harris: This other article deals with fine-tuning of the universe. The headline screams “A New Clue to Explain Existence.” [2] Immediately that is going to get our attention. [3] Oh, wait a minute! Scientists discovered what caused our existence or explains our existence. You got to read the article and you’ll see that actually this goes in the God column in a lot of ways.

Dr. Craig: It really does. The article concerns an experiment that was conducted at the Fermi lab near Chicago about the imbalance between matter and anti-matter in the universe. It has been known for a long time that the standard model of particle physics would predict that there would be exactly equal amounts of matter and anti-matter in the universe which, if they come into contact with each other, will annihilate. Therefore our existence – the existence of our universe – depends upon there being a slight preponderance of matter over anti-matter in the very early universe so that when the matter and anti-matter annihilated, there was enough matter left over to form our universe and form us. So our existence depends upon this slight preponderance of matter over anti-matter. What the scientists at the Fermi lab discovered is that this may be due to the behavior of a certain type of subatomic particle – a B-meson. This would be a tremendous discover that would go toward explaining why there is this slight imbalance upon which our very existence depends. So it goes again to reenforce the remarkable fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe and the constants of nature which make our existence possible.

Kevin Harris: I thought Stephen Hawking said something similar. If the variables were changed in the Big Bang just in the slightest it would have re-collapsed into a hot fireball.

Dr. Craig: This is just one example of that fine-tuning. Others would be the proton-to-neutron mass ratio or the strength of the subatomic weak force and so forth. All of these different constants and quantities of nature fall into an extraordinarily narrow life-permitting range. If they were just to be altered by less than a hair’s breadth the balance would be destroyed and a life-permitting universe could not exist. So this is just one more example, one more confirmation, of this kind of fine-tuning that we are now getting some deeper insight into.

Kevin Harris: It’s an old joke (stop me if you’ve heard it) – a bunch of scientists came up to God and said, “God we can do whatever you can do.” And God said, “Show me.” The scientists said, “We can create life.” God says, “OK, show me.” The scientists say, “Well, first we get a bunch of dirt,” and God says, “Wait a minute! Get your own dirt!”

Dr. Craig: Exactly. [laughter]

Kevin Harris: We still have some things to deal with as to why there are even things that can be manipulated in the lab and the intelligent intervention that it requires to manipulate those things.

Dr. Craig: It will all depend upon those initial conditions that are so finely-tuned for our existence and are not themselves the product of prior evolution because they are initial conditions. I was amused to see that one of the theorists at the Fermi lab commenting on this discovery said, “I would not say that this announcement is the equivalent of seeing the face of God, but it might turn out to be the toe of God.” So he’s reflecting upon a statement made earlier by George Smoot when he discovered the perturbations in the microwave background information that allows galaxies to exist and us to exist and said it was like looking at the face of God. Here Joe Lykken (this theorist) says, well, this isn’t exactly the face of God but it is sort of his toe – we are seeing some indication here of the fine-tuning that God has done in the universe.

Kevin Harris: Might be a much needed glimpse.

Dr. Craig: Very nice. [4]