Intelligent Design

“All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists”: Lawrence Krauss’s self-refuting claim

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He’s at it again. Physicist Lawrence Krauss has written an article for the New Yorker titled, All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists (September 8, 2015), in which he asserts that for scientists, “no idea is sacred,” while at the same time declaring: “Scientists have an obligation not to lie about the natural world.” Sorry, Professor Krauss, but if no idea is sacred, then neither is the idea of an obligation. Krauss also argues that scientists should “openly question beliefs,” even if that means offending others, and that they should not be ashamed of being called militant atheists. I am astonished that Krauss cannot perceive the contradiction between his universal skepticism and his absolutist endorsement of Enlightenment values, when he gushes, “Five hundred years of science have liberated humanity from the shackles of enforced ignorance,” or when he lauds Planned Parenthood for providing fetal tissue samples from abortions to scientific researchers. If “no idea is sacred,” then neither is the idea that selling dead fetuses is morally justifiable, so long as it helps scientists cure diseases such as Alzheimer’s or cancer. That idea needs to be questioned too. (I wonder what Krauss would say about this video which shows Planned Parenthood harvesting the brain of an aborted baby who was still alive. I should also mention that while adult stem cell research has helped doctors to treat 100 different diseases in human beings, embryonic research hasn’t even helped treat one human disease.) We should also question the idea that knowledge is always better than ignorance, which Krauss takes for granted. Often it is; but sometimes it isn’t. As the poet Thomas Gray put it: “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.” Krauss doesn’t believe in free will: “Everything I know about the world tells me that there’s no such thing as free will,” he recently declared. Assuming for the moment (hypothetically) that he is right (and he isn’t), it is surely questionable whether scientists should be shouting from the housetops a truth that would not only make lots of people miserable, but would also drive many people insane. Insanity sounds like a high price to pay for knowledge. I might add that several recent studies indicate that inducing disbelief in free will (e.g. by exposing experimental subjects to scientific arguments against free will) tends to make people more aggressive and less altruistic. Krauss is playing with fire here.

Krauss quotes the words of the biologist J.B.S. Haldane: “My practice as a scientist is atheistic. 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” (Fact and Faith, Watts & Company, 1934, Preface). I am quite sure that whenever Haldane set up an experiment, he also assumed that the molecules in the air that he breathed were not going to all rush to one corner of the room, leaving him in a vacuum; however, any physicist will acknowledge that such an outcome is thermodynamically possible, even if it is astronomically unlikely. At most, then, Haldane’s argument merely establishes that Divine intervention in Nature is very rare, if it happens at all. By itself, though, the argument says nothing about the existence of God.

I should also point out that Professor Krauss overlooks a vital philosophical point: science cannot explain what science presupposes. Science presupposes a universe in which things behave according to certain laws, known as laws of Nature. But these laws are totally contingent, and as I have argued previously, they also appear to be fine-tuned. These facts point heavily to the likelihood that they were designed, as Dr. Robin Collins argues in his essay, The Teleological Argument. (Readers who are inclined to think fine-tuning is a fallacy should read cosmologist Luke Barnes’ essay, The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life.) The rival hypothesis of an infinite multiverse, in which our universe happens to be just one of a lucky few universes supporting life, is fatally flawed on five grounds, as I have argued elsewhere.

In his essay, Krauss melodramatically asserts, “The more we learn about the workings of the universe, the more purposeless it seems” – a remark which seems to plagiarize physicist Steve Weinberg’s famous aphorism that statement that “the more comprehensible the universe becomes the more pointless it seems.” But as Dr. Benjamin Wiker of the Discovery Institute has noted, “the case for intrinsic purposefulness is even greater in the cell than in a car,” since “a cell (unlike a car) continually makes and remakes its parts, and there are far more parts of far greater intricacy (by several orders of magnitude) than can be found in any automobile.” Moreover, the cell “is not reducible to its simplest chemical parts but is only fully comprehensible as the result of top-down, hierarchical integration that governs both the structure and activity of its parts.” These facts, coupled with the fine-tuning of the Big Bang itself, indicate that “purpose is not a fiction that we foist on a meaningless swirl of matter and energy but an essential property of nature.”

But the chief weakness of Professor Krauss’s argument is that if we take his assertion that “no idea is sacred” to its logical conclusion, we will end up becoming agnostics, rather than militant atheists. Agnosticism is intellectually modest, whereas atheism is strident and dogmatic. Thomas Henry Huxley, who coined the word “agnostic,” expressed this point very aptly when he wrote:

Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle. That principle is of great antiquity; it is as old as Socrates; as old as the writer who said, ‘Try all things, hold fast by that which is good’; it is the foundation of the Reformation, which simply illustrated the axiom that every man should be able to give a reason for the faith that is in him, it is the great principle of Descartes; it is the fundamental axiom of modern science. Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable. That I take to be the agnostic faith, which if a man keep whole and undefiled, he shall not be ashamed to look the universe in the face, whatever the future may have in store for him.

Huxley’s exhortation, “[F]ollow your reason as far as it will take you,” calls to mind a statement by the late philosopher Antony Flew (1923-2010), who declared, “My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato’s Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads.” Interestingly, Flew, who was arguably the greatest atheist philosopher of the 20th century, ended up becoming a philosophical theist, even if the God he ended up worshiping was “a Spinozistic or Deistic ‘God of Nature’ who or which leaves Nature and its creatures (including its human creatures) entirely to their own devices.”

So by all means, let us question established dogmas. But I would contend that such questioning will not lead us to militant atheism, as Professor Krauss fondly imagines, but to a more refined and well-tested concept of God.

(P.S. In his essay, Professor Krauss holds up the Kim Davis controversy as an example of religious dogmatism invading public life. This strikes me as a very “orthodox” position for a member of the intelligentsia to take; Krauss is not being very adventurous here. For a very different take on the controversy, readers might like to have a look at Dr. Lydia McGrew’s thought-provoking post, Kim Davis, metaphysics, and the public square.)

13 Replies to ““All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists”: Lawrence Krauss’s self-refuting claim

  1. 1
    Jim Smith says:

    Andrew Sims

    Andrew Sims, past president of Royal College of Psychiatrists, has said: “The advantageous effect of religious belief and spirituality on mental and physical health is one of the best kept secrets in psychiatry and medicine generally. If the findings of the huge volume of research on this topic had gone in the opposite direction and it had been found that religion damages your mental health, it would have been front-page news in every newspaper in the land (from Is Faith Delusion).”


    In the majority of studies, religious involvement is correlated with well-being, happiness and life satisfaction; hope and optimism; purpose and meaning in life; higher self-esteem; better adaptation to bereavement; greater social support and less loneliness; lower rates of depression and faster recovery from depression; lower rates of suicide and fewer positive attitudes towards suicide; less anxiety; less psychosis and fewer psychotic tendencies; lower rates of alcohol and drug use and abuse; less delinquency and criminal activity; greater marital stability and satisfaction… We concluded that for the vast majority of people the apparent benefits of devout belief and practice probably outweigh the risks.

    Knowledge of the afterlife deters suicide. Lessons From the Light by Kenneth Ring and Evelyn Elsaesser p.257-258:

    As far as I know, the first clinician to make use of NDE material in this context was a New York psychologist named John McDonagh. In 1979, he presented a paper at a psychological convention that described his success with several suicidal patients using a device he called “NDE bibliotherapy.” His “technique” was actually little more than having his patients read some relevant passages from Raymond Moody’s book, Reflections on Life after Life, after which the therapist and his patient would discuss its implicatins for the latter’s own situation. McDonagh reports that such an approach was generally quite successful not only in reducing suicidal thoughts but also in preventing the deed altogether.

    Since McDonagh’s pioneering efforts, other clinicians knowledgeable about the NDE who have had the opportunity to counsel suicidal patients have also reported similar success. Perhaps the most notable of these therapists is Bruce Greyson, a psychiatrist now at the University of Virginia, whose specialty as a clinician has been suicidology. He is also the author of a classic paper on NDEs and suicide which the specialist may wish to consult for tis therapeutic implications. (14)

    Quite apart form the clinicians who have developed this form of what we might call “NDE-assisted therapy,” I can draw upon my own personal experience here to provide additional evidence of how the NDE has helped to deter suicide. The following case

    Many scientists believed the evidence that the universe was designed. These scientists include Nobel prize winners such as Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, Guglielmo Marconi, Brian Josephson, William Phillips, Richard Smalley, Arno Penzias, Charles Townes Arthur Compton, Antony Hewish, Christian Anfinsen, Walter Kohn, Arthur Schawlow, and other scientists, Charles Darwin, Sir Fred Hoyle, John von Neumann, Wernher von Braun, and Louis Pasteur.

  2. 2
    Axel says:

    How odd! He’s got it round the wrong way. If only militant atheists, any atheists, were scientists. They seem – they are, incapable of scientific thought, and metaphysics is inevitably ‘a closed book’ to them, since they see what they want to see.

    One of their leading lights, Dawkins, actually stated that appearances, the empirical world, is illusory. There’s not a lot you can do to remedy that, as long as the ultimate liars, the large corporations are paying the piper.

  3. 3
    Axel says:

    The atheists’ connatural aversion to adopting rigorous criteria (ergo rigorous thought-processes) in their studies could, surely, scarcely be better exemplified than by their total omission of a probability study in relation to their postulations of large-scale evolution – as was pointed out by Wolfgang Pauli.

    Perhaps the only genuine, rock-solid instance of a major theory purporting to be scientific, but actually a smorgasbord of ideas that might be used to write a book of the Fantasy literary genre of Tolkien and C S Lewis. Perhaps, the book?/film, Jurassic Park, falls within this category.

  4. 4

    I noticed Daniel Dennett, of all people, made a video telling people that denying free will is bad

    He didn’t mention in the video his own idea of changing the meaning of free will so that “I could not do otherwise, so what”–So%20What%20-%20Daniel%20Dennett.pdf

    What precisely atheists are against is subjectivity. To reach a conclusion about what the agency of a decision is, by choosing the answer. (reach a conclusion by expression of emotion with free will) This is why atheists generally all deny free will is real, eventhough they say that being an atheist is solely about not believing in any god. It is because choosing is related to subjectivity that they deny free will, and subjectivity is their real target.

  5. 5

    vjtorley wrote:
    “Science presupposes a universe in which things behave according to certain laws, known as laws of Nature. But these laws are totally contingent, and as I have argued previously, they also appear to be fine-tuned. These facts point heavily to the likelihood that they were designed,”

    It’s not correct I think. The universe has a mathematical ordering to it, some things are free, other things are forced. (although as a whole it is a contingency)

    Objects, such as rocks, consist of the laws of nature, they do not follow laws. The data we get from measurements come from the objects themselves, which, consisting of the laws of nature as they do, compute that data.

    Galilei already said that mathematics describes the universe, meaning mathematics is the theory of everything. Mathematics can be interpreted in terms of being ordered by zero. And mathematics so ordered by zero totality, accurately reflects the ordering of the universe. Which means in principle that one can derive the theory of gravity and universal constants, just by studying mathematics, without having to look at the universe at all.

    Which means as said, that most of the laws of nature reflect a choice between having pretty much nothing, or to have that particular law of nature. There aren’t many possible laws of nature to choose from for the main framework of the universe.

  6. 6
    es58 says:

    1) “All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists”
    2) “no idea is sacred”

    Is statement #1 sacred?

    if yes, then per statement #2, it should be discarded.
    if no, then it should not be binding per definition of sacred.

  7. 7
    Robert Byers says:

    What has this guy accomplished in scientific progress. ? What are his patents on discovery or invention or figuring things out?
    A “scientist” by definition specializes. So why should they know better then anyone about anything other then their subject?
    If one must exalt these folks above others as to knowing truths about God and Christianity etc then why not look at the winners. ? The ones who did things that get their names in lists of scientists who did things?
    I don’t get the equation here.

  8. 8
    Mung says:

    He looks so huggable. Do you think LK dolls will sell at Christmastime?

  9. 9
    DillyGill says:

    I have often wondered are such people as him and Tyson actually just masonic Satanists in disguise!

    Mung @8 yes with a draw string at the back so he can try brain washing our children from an earlier age.

  10. 10
    mike1962 says:

    When Krauss talks he reminds me of a yapping chihuahua.

    His philosophical blatherings aren’t much better.

    He’s just so….well, uninteresting.


  11. 11
    bornagain77 says:

    Lawrence Krauss – Portrait of a Fanatic: A top physicist’s embarrassing tirade – Kevin D. Williamson – September 11, 2015

  12. 12
    tjguy says:

    It’s so hard to be an atheist, avoid philosophical suicide, and live as if what you believe is true! You really have to watch what you say so that you don’t betray your beliefs.

  13. 13
    JDH says:

    LK said , “Scientists have an obligation…”

    JDH asks, “LK, how can something which has no free will have an obligation?”

    LK says ?

    Isn’t a miracle that more people can’t spot simple logical contradiction when it is in the first four words of a sentence.

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