Thursday, January 17, 2013

God and Ross Perot

Everybody is gushing about the newly opened Perot Museum of Nature and Science, made possible by a generous $50 million donation by the Perot children in honor of their parents, Ross and Margot Perot.

Q. What is the difference between God and Ross Perot?
A. One is an all powerful being, an object of worship, the source of all that is good, and the other one is God.

See what I did there? Comedy gold. Top shelf. (With apologies to Craig Ferguson.)

Well, not *everyone* us gushing. There's at least one person in north Texas who doesn't worship Ross Perot and that's Jesse Morrell, or at least he doesn't worship the Perot museum. Morrell is a minister dedicated to "open air outreach," that is, a street preacher from Tyler. Morrell recently visited the new Perot Museum and blogged about it.

After the jump, my review of Morrell's review.

Morrell's beef against the Perot museum is that it "propagate[s] the evolutionary and naturalistic worldviews of atheists." What Morrell fails to grasp is that science is, by definition, about finding naturalistic explanations. Once you introduce supernatural explanations, you are no longer doing science. Sorry, but that's just the way it is. A visitor to a science museum should expect naturalistic explanations and only naturalistic explanations. If Morrell wants to find supernatural explanations, he should visit a church instead.

The Perot Museum stated that at one time, billions of years ago, all of the matter in the universe existed in a single molecule. This was their ultimate presupposition, instead of Genesis 1:1, they assumed "In the beginning a single molecule." From that single molecule, everything magically evolved over billions of years.

I haven't been to the Perot Museum, so I can't fact-check what Morrell says the Perot Museum states, but I doubt the museum says it exactly like that. Morrell's account is not scientific. The Big Bang didn't proceed from a "single molecule." Not even from a single atom. In fact, the very early universe was so energetic that no particles could exist, not even protons and electrons. And "evolution" as it's commonly used in science, describes a biological process, not what happened to matter in the early universe. Morrell reveals a fundamental lack of science education in his criticism. This is enough to warn Morrell's audiences to be very skeptical of whatever criticisms Morrell has of science, since he clearly doesn't understand what he's trying to criticize.

The existence of the Perot Museum itself is proof that there is a God. The Perot Museum had a beginning and is therefore finite. The existence of finite cause and effect necessarily implies the first great and infinite cause. Therefore, the existence of the Perot Museum proves the existence of God. In the same way, the existence of an atheist and of any argument presented by an atheist against God, in fact, proves that there is a God.

Morrell argues that logic requires that eventually a chain of cause and effect must get back to a first cause, which Morrell conveniently names God. Morrell's logic is flawed.

First, an infinite regress of finite causes is not logically impossible. Minus two is less than minus one. Minus three is less than minus two. Minus four is less than minus three. Clearly that chain can go on forever. There's nothing about "logic" that rules out infinite regresses. There's nothing about "logic" that requires a chain of causation to stop at a first cause. My point is not that science is claiming an infinite regress; it's that logic doesn't forbid it.

Second, there are newer findings in science that deal severe blows to this whole argument about cause and effect and first causes.

First, Einstein's theory of relativity threw the whole concept of time for a loop. It redefined the notion of simultaneity -- whether two events occur at the same time. Einstein showed that it all depends on the observer's frame of reference. Time is strange, even in today's world. Time is even stranger in extreme cases like the Big Bang. Questions like "What happened before the Big Bang?" assume a certain meaning for concepts like "before" that don't necessarily make sense in situations like the Big Bang.

Second, quantum physics has messed with whole notion of cause and effect. Recently, physicists have shown that, at least theoretically, "in quantum mechanics it is possible to conceive situations in which a single event can be both, a cause and an effect of another one." That is, A causes B causes A.

I don't expect Morrell to understand the subtleties of general relativity and quantum physics. The great Neils Bohr once said, "For those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it." But I do expect Morrell to acquire an understanding of the basic concepts of science before he criticizes a science museum. I'm looking forward to my own visit to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. Unlike Jesse Morrell, I hope to come away having learned a thing or two.

H/t to Brad Pearson of "D Magazine" whose emailed inquiries led to Morrell's blog post.

1 comment:

Mark Steger said...

Today's reading brought to my attention just how puzzling quantum mechanics remains, even among professional physicists. According to a recent survey, there is a striking lack of agreement on what quantum mechanics really means in relation to reality. "The Most Embarrassing Graph in Modern Physics" -- Sean Carroll