Video: ISS Expedition 35 returning to Earth in a Soyuz capsule earlier this week (NASA).
By way of explaining his attitude towards the Templeton Foundation, Sean Carroll resurrects his contention that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible. He writes:
“Different religions make very different claims, but they typically end up saying things like “God made the universe in six days” or “Jesus died and was resurrected” or “Moses parted the red sea” or “dead souls are reincarnated in accordance with their karmic burden.” And science says: none of that is true. So there you go, incompatibility.”
“[T]he progress of science over the last few centuries has increasingly shown these claims to be straightforwardly incorrect. We know more about the natural world now than we did two millennia ago, and we know enough to say that people don’t come back from the dead.”
Of course science shows that the dead do not rise from the grave, but we never really needed science to know that. First-century Jews and Romans knew that the dead stay dead just as well as twenty-first century biologists. The point of the Resurrection is not that it could have naturally occurred, but that it couldn’t have, and so—if it really happened—it must be an instance of God’s extraordinary action. The Resurrection of Christ from the dead was not one possible explanation acceptable in ignorant ancient times, but which has since been ruled out by science. It was known to be just as impossible back then as it is known to be now. But the very claim at issue, then as now, is whether something more than nature can be at work. If a religion claims that a rare, miraculous, supernaturally caused event has occurred, it makes no sense at all to claim that the claim must be wrong simply because supernatural events do not normally occur when science is looking at them. In fact, the more firmly science disproves “resurrection” generally, then granting that it happened, the more certain we can be that the Resurrection must have been a divine event.
“Again, this is not an a priori result; the God hypothesis could have fit the data better than the alternatives, and indeed there are still respected religious people who argue that it does. Those people are just wrong, in precisely analogous ways to how people who cling to the Steady State theory are wrong. Fifty years ago, the Steady State model was a reasonable hypothesis; likewise, a couple of millennia ago God was a reasonable hypothesis. But our understanding (and our data) has improved greatly since then, and these are no longer viable models. The same kind of reasoning would hold for belief in miracles, various creation stories, and so on.”
At least with respect to miracles, though, of course this is a priori. No Christian claims that people normally rise from the dead, or that given enough controlled studies we’ll observe resurrections at statistically significant rates. If it’s a one-off, extraordinary, miraculous event, how can we study it with laboratory science? In fact, if you were to ask a Christian to make a prediction, he’d predict that the data would be exactly as we currently see it. But then, so would an atheist. New data haven’t changed the picture at all. Instead, interpretations developed on the basis of prior commitments are what produce the differing results.
All Carroll seems to be saying is that since the dead don’t normally rise from the grave, and since other arguments for the supernatural fall short, in his estimation, we should conclude that Jesus must not have resurrected either; he would claim, I assume, that it’s more reasonable to conclude that accounts of the Resurrection must have been fabricated or exaggerated. That’s a reasonable argument to make, but it’s largely a historical and philosophical one, and not the sort of claim that can be supported by science’s continued investigations of the biology of death.
The mistake in Carroll’s thinking becomes more evident if we imagine the opposite scenario. If we suppose that science had established that sometimes the dead do spontaneously and naturally reanimate and rise from the grave, then atheists could just as easily write off Jesus’ resurrection as a rare but not impossible natural event. If science shows that an event couldn’t have happened naturally, you can conclude that it therefore didn’t happen; alternatively, if science shows that an event could happen naturally, you can therefore conclude that there is no need for the supernatural explanations of religion—but you’ve rigged the game from the start, and simply defined naturalism as true. All you’ve done is establish a “heads I win, tails you lose” situation. If you claim that supernatural events are impossible and that therefore the resurrection either has a natural explanation or it didn’t happen, you can add all the evidence of physiology you want, and it won’t help or hinder your argument, one way or the other.
If you define naturalism as true, and then define science as only possible within a naturalistic paradigm, then of course you will conclude that science and religion are at odds. But whether science is possible only in a naturalistic paradigm is exactly the point in question, and miracles, those odd exceptions that do not affect the scientist’s daily life in the lab, have little to do with it.
For an interesting weekend read, from Popular Science: Why are there no native monkeys in North America?
“Primates came to the New World (meaning North and South America) from, we think, Africa. As improbable as it sounds, scientists think early primates crossed the Atlantic Ocean and landed on the shores of both continents tens of millions of years ago, probably on some kind of vegetation raft. That’s how most plants and animals get to isolated islands–which the Americas were, at the time. Fossils have been recovered of early primates in Texas a whopping 43 million years ago, the oldest primate fossil ever found in North America. But the continents looked very different then, compared to now; most importantly, North and South America were completely different islands. The Isthmus of Panama, which we now refer to as Central America, didn’t appear until much later, by which time the climate on both Americas was very different from when the primates first landed there.”
Apollo 13‘s lunar lander was named Aquarius, the “water-bearer”, after the constellation. Yet of course the mission famously never landed on the Moon. Nevertheless, geologists examining lunar rocks returned during the Apollo missions have proposed that the Moon’s surface water did in fact come from the Earth. ScienceNews reports:
The team analyzed the rocks’ water by measuring the concentrations of hydrogen and deuterium, a form of hydrogen with an extra neutron. The ratio of these two isotopes reflects the origin of water within the solar system. The water on gas giant planets and most comets that formed in the outer solar system has a high deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio, while Earth’s water has a lower ratio.
To Saal’s surprise, the deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio of his lunar samples is very similar to that of water on Earth and in meteorites, suggesting that water on Earth and the moon originated from the same meteorite impacts billions of years ago. “The reservoir of water for Earth and the moon is the same,” he says.
Of course, the proposal is not uncontroversial. Read more here.
Image: Aquarius, from Uranographia by Johann Elert Bode (1782)
But even as astronomers peer ever deeper into the universe to explore the cosmic frontier, others are finding new realms to explore in our own backyard. Such is the case with Leo P, a dwarf galaxy that astronomers have just discovered in the Milky Way’s vicinity. At a distance of some five million or six million light-years from the Milky Way, Leo P is not quite a next-door neighbor, but on the vast scales of the universe it counts as a neighbor nonetheless.
Image: K. L. Rhode/AJ/AAS/SA.
Over at his Forbes blog, John Farrell is discussing stem cells. A commenter on his post writes:
“Why is it that, “the Vatican cannot sanction embryonic stem cell research, as it involves the destruction of embryos donated from IVF clinics” … but they say nothing about the fact than those same embryos that go unused are destroyed? It appears that they’d rather have the stem cells destroyed, and help no one, than to see them destroyed by helping cure people of terrible diseases and injury. What hypocrisy.”
Those unfamiliar with the Church’s teaching may not realize that the Church’s ethical treatment of frozen embryos fundamentally involves handling them exactly as we would handle any other human being. That is, all of us will eventually be destroyed, and yet that does not make it legitimate to use any of us for deliberately destructive medical experimentation. And if natural death seems to be an imperfect analogy, we could just use a situation like the concentration camps of totalitarian regimes. That the inmates of such camps are destined to be destroyed does not make it legitimate to use them for research in the meantime. The sanest moral response is to object to the fact that they are imprisoned in the first place.
So too with frozen embryos. The quandry is that there is no good solution to the problem of what to do with them once they are created: to actively destroy them is to deliberately destroy human lives; nevertheless, to let them linger on is a dismal prospect. Yet in a bad situation, and knowing full well that the alternative is hardly pleasant, the Church advises that we at the very least refrain from the active commission of an evil act, the destruction of life, even if it is ostensibly justified by the potential for new medical knowledge.
That it is the Church that gets criticized for supposed inattentiveness to human suffering, rather than those who willingly create lives to put them into this nightmare situation, is a sign of just how deranged modern moral analysis has become.
This is the most detailed view yet obtained of the cosmic microwave background, the light that was released after the universe finally settled down enough for the first atoms to form and for light to travel unimpeded through space. This image, released at the end of March, was produced with data from the ESA’s Planck space telescope and shows the most precise map of the slight variations present in the microwave background.
Australopithecus sediba has been in the news lately. This species of early hominin, dating to some 2 million years ago, was first found three years ago after remains from six individuals were discovered in South Africa. Now, Science has just recently published a special collection of studies of the find. Here are two perspectives on A. sediba‘s signficance.
“Human evolution: science’s golden child or spoilt brat?” Darren Curnoe, MercatorNet
“Is Australopithecus sediba the Most Important Human Ancestor Discovery Ever?” Kate Wong, Scientific American
Image: A. sediba skull. Brett Eloff/Lee Berger/Wits University
“An extreme pair of superdense stars orbiting each other has put Einstein’s general theory of relativity to its toughest test yet, and the crazy-haired physicist still comes out on top.
About 7,000 light-years from Earth, an exceptionally massive neutron star that spins around 25 times a second is orbited by a compact, white dwarf star. The gravity of this system is so intense that it offers an unprecedented testing ground for theories of gravity.”
Read the story at Space.com, or in the video above-–you do have to wait through the commercial, though.