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Physicist Lawrence Krauss has a bee in his bonnet.
Krauss, a "militant atheist" and proud of it, complains that religion is getting too much respect these days. As he sees it, "we have elevated respect for religious sensibilities to an inappropriate level that makes society less free."1
Article originally appeared in
Given the raft of legal actions, fines, civil suits, and bankruptcies experienced by wedding service providers, private businesses, and religious organizations because of their religious beliefs over the last several years, one wonders in what century Krauss believes he's living.
Oblivious to the irony, he brings up Kim Davis (the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of her faith) to ask sympathizers, "To what extent should we allow people to break the law if their religious views are in conflict with it?" Should a "jihadist whose interpretation of the Koran [requires it] be allowed to behead infidels and apostates?"
A passing familiarity with the First Amendment and the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act would serve him well, as neither allows anyone to "break the law." What they do allow is for a conscientious objector to have his day in court to determine whether the state has a "compelling interest" that justifies denying him a religious exemption. For the extreme example that Krauss poses, the "compelling interest" would clearly be the protection of the citizenry, which is the most fundamental function of government.
Notwithstanding, Krauss goes on from there to display an abysmal understanding of religion and those who practice it. He accuses individuals (like Davis) and corporations (like Hobby Lobby) of seeking exemptions from laws that "do not focus on religion" but on "social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage." As I recall, the Bible has a lot to say about "social issues" like the nature of marriage, defense of the defenseless, and welcoming little ones in His name.
Liberating the Ignorant
Krauss then asserts that government has a compelling interest "in insuring that all citizens are treated equally." Well, whatever compelling interest the state may have in a given case, it can burden religious objectors only if doing so is the "least restrictive" means of pursuing that interest. In the case of Hobby Lobby, the High Court ruled that the government had no compelling interest to deny a religious exemption to a private corporation, having previously granted broad exemptions to nonprofit religious organizations.
But what really has the physicist's bee a-buzzing are pro-lifers whose religious objections are threatening the operations of Planned Parenthood. To Krauss's thinking, people who protest the harvesting and marketing of aborted babies' tissue are "anti-science" because those practices "could help save lives." It's a bit like calling those who opposed the harvesting and marketing of tissue "procured" by Josef Mengele as "anti-science."
Anyway, religion is getting too much respect, and something's got to be done about it, so Krauss is calling on his fellow scientists to be militant in liberating "humanity from the shackles of enforced ignorance." As to who really needs to be unshackled, Krauss might want to take a long look in the mirror.
No Sacred Cows?
Ignorance of religion, constitutional law, and even current events might be understandable, if uncomely, in someone whose mind is occupied with the sibylline workings of the quantum world, but when speaking about his own specialty, Krauss should be better informed, or more forthright.
"In science," he asserts, "no ideas, religious or otherwise, get a free pass. The notion that some idea or concept is beyond question or attack is anathema to the entire scientific undertaking."
I wonder if that applies to things like Darwinian evolution and man-made climate change. Actually, I don't, as he has made his opinion quite clear. Taking to the pages of Slate, he proposes that skeptics of man-made climate change be put "on the same footing as those who deny the results of evolutionary biology"—that is, as non-scientists.2 It seems that, for Krauss, there are at least two sacred cows that should be free from question and attack. And he is not alone.
Just ask William Dembski, the Baylor University professor whose intelligent design research program was shut down in 2001, and who was prohibited from teaching on campus for four years, until he left. Or ask other teachers and scientists who, like Caroline Crocker and Richard Steinberg, have been intimidated, harassed, or fired for questioning Darwinian orthodoxy.
But the most scurrilous attempt to "liberate humanity from the shackles of enforced ignorance" is the proposal of twenty climate scientists (and a sitting senator) to subject skeptics of climate change orthodoxy to investigation and possible prosecution under federal racketeering laws.3 Somewhere, Galileo is murmuring a quote from Santayana.4
An Atheistic Enterprise
For all that, Krauss presses on about the openness of science, a feature he attributes to its being "an atheistic enterprise." That would come as a surprise to the geniuses of the Scientific Revolution.
Francis Bacon, Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, and Isaac Newton were all men of faith whose faith gave them hope that scientific knowledge was attainable. Because the universe was the product of an Intelligence that made it intelligible to intelligent beings, they had confidence that man could discover something of the true nature of nature by careful observation and experimentation. Kepler put it this way: "The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God and which he has revealed to us in the language of mathematics."
Similarly, Newton warned people inclined to infer a "Clockwork Universe" from his laws of motion and gravity that "gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done."
God of the Gaps?
Such sentiments were not "God-of-the-Gaps" arguments from ignorance but, rather, design inferences from evidence. It is a deep irony that Newton has been co-opted as the patron saint of scientific (sans God) materialism when, in effect, he was a forerunner of the intelligent design movement.
Scientific advancement continued well into the nineteenth century, thanks to men like John Dalton, Andre Ampere, Georg Ohm, Michael Faraday, Louis Pasteur, William Kelvin, Gregor Mendel, and George Washington Carver—all committed Christians who made foundational contributions in the fields of electro-magnetism, microbiology, medicine, genetics, chemistry, atomic theory, and molecular motion. The distinctly theistic leanings of these pioneers enabled investigative inquiry to progress from alchemy, astrology, and classical natural philosophy to chemistry, astronomy, and modern science.
Quite the Contrary
The claim that science is intrinsically atheistic is but one of the many fictions Krauss must produce to hold his overarching myth together. Take his paradoxical statement, "The more we learn about the workings of the universe, the more purposeless it seems."
Our ability to learn about the universe derives from the fact that it is governed by laws and exhibits a rational order and functional design that reflect purpose. Given our knowledge of the integrated complexity of nature, it would seem that the purpose of the quantum field is the formation and stability of matter; that the purpose of matter is to shape space; that the purpose of space is to accommodate matter; that the purpose of gravity is to form stars and planets; and that the purpose of stars and planets is to support life, particularly human life. As theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson was drawn to conclude, "The more I examine the universe and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming."
Then there's Krauss's biggest whopper, A Universe from Nothing, the title of his 2012 book. Ontologically—not to mention, empirically—the proposition that the universe, or anything else, came from "nothing" is nonsensical.
Even the pre-modern natural philosophers understood that everything that exists was caused by a pre-existent something, and that to avoid the practical absurdity of "something from nothing" and the logical fallacy of infinite regression, there must be a "something" that is primal and uncreated. And Krauss knows it, too. His "nothing" is the quantum field, which, like Stephen Hawking's "nothing"—gravity—is not nothing, but something that requires a prior something. Mir Faisal, a physicist working at the Large Hadron Collider, also knows it. Well, sort of.
In a news article, sensationally titled, "HISTORIC DISCOVERY: Physicists 'Prove' God DIDN'T Create the Universe" (caps in original), Faisal states that while the universe "did not come from nothing," it is nothing, as its negative gravitational energy and positive matter energy balance out to zero, obviating a need for a Creator.5 By the same logic, two locomotives of equal mass traveling in opposite directions at the same speed are nothing, and require no train maker, because their total momentum is zero.
Such logical incoherence notwithstanding, the natural phenomena we observe, the laws we discover, and the equations that describe them are independent of their ultimate cause. Whether the stability of matter is caused by quantum confinement or by the One who "holds all things together," or whether the earth's orbit is the result of gravitational attraction, topographical spacetime, or the guiding hand of God, our observations and mathematical descriptions remain unaffected.
The same goes for our ability to use our discoveries and formulations to grow gardens, build skyscrapers, launch satellites, and explore space. The primal cause we accept, whether natural or supernatural, is not a demonstrable fact; it's a matter of faith.
In fact, the faith of the militant scientist has all the trappings of the religious faith he decries, complete with its:
Prophet ⇥ Charles Darwin
Sacred text ⇥ On the Origin of Species
Holy relics ⇥ humanoid fossils
Martyr ⇥ Galileo
Sacred creed ⇥ "The cosmos is all there is, was, or ever will be."
Statement of faith ⇥ "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."
Televangelists ⇥ Carl Sagan, Neil de Grasse-Tyson
Worship centers ⇥ planetaria, observatories, the Large Hadron Collider
Priests ⇥ scientists
Vestments ⇥ lab coat (or tweed jacket and jeans when addressing the media or public)
And woe betide the unwary critic who calls it, its defenders, and their pronouncements into question. •
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