Are all Cosmologists Atheists? Answering Sean Carroll (1)

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In the previous post I commented on Sean Carroll, astro-physicist and atheist soldier who wave the banner of scientism. He writes an article:Why (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists [1] Actually, he offers no data on the views of cosmologists. I offered reasons in the previous post as to why I think the title here is hyperballe. Good data shows that the majority of scientists believe in God [2]  While it may not be true of cosmologists I have no reason to believe it is not. But this is not the real issue. he real issue is that Carroll's arguments are merely ideological/ all he's doing is imposing a naturalistic ideology upon epistemology and then insisting that he has the mystique of science to back  it up. In other word it's just propaganda.

Let's start with his conclusion:

The question we have addressed is, ”Thinking as good scientists and observing the world in which we live, is it more reasonable to conclude that a materialist or theist picture is most likely to ultimately provide a comprehensive description of the universe?” Although I don’t imagine I have changed many people’s minds, I do hope that my reasoning has been clear. We are looking for a complete, coherent, and simple understanding of reality.
That seems ok so far but here's where he wants to wind up:

 Given what we know about the universe, there seems to be no reason to invoke God as part of this description. In the various ways in which God might have been judged to be a helpful hypothesis — such as explaining the initial conditions for the universe, or the particular set of fields and couplings discovered by particle physics — there are alternative explanations which do not require anything outside a completely formal, materialist description. I am therefore led to conclude that adding God would just make things more complicated, and this hypothesis should be rejected by scientific standards. It’s a venerable conclusion, brought up to date by modern cosmology; but the dialogue between people who feel differently will undoubtedly last a good while longer.

The problem is "what we know" means what we know by the methods that I choose, those methods are chosen because they yield the results I want; other forms of  knowledge I do not have to regard. He argues for a self contained paradigm and true to Thomas Kun's theory he absorbs anomalies into the paradigm so as not to admit that they are contradictions and he defends the paradigm like a political regime. My overall argument is that his rejection of theism is ideological not scientific.

In his abstract to the article he makes his purpose clear, that purpose I to rule out belief in God by moving it of the map as an issue. The way to do that is to assert science's role as the only form of knowlege:
Science and religion both make claims about the fundamental workings of the universe. Although these claims are not a priori incompatible (we could imagine being brought to religious belief through scientific investigation), I will argue that in practice they diverge. If we believe that the methods of science can be used to discriminate between fundamental pictures of reality, we are led to a strictly materialist conception of the universe. While the details of modern cosmology are not a necessary part of this argument, they provide interesting clues as to how an ultimate picture may be constructed. [emphasis mine] [3]
Why would we be led to be led to a meticulously materialist view just because we believe that the methods of science can be used to discriminate between fundamental views? It sounds like he is saying that science can determine the truth between differing views. He actually says ifwe believe that it can He's aware that it can't. He knows all he's really doing is just advocating an ideological view point that blinds itself to other possibilities.

As further evidence of his commitment as a solider of atheism he opposes any sort of peaceful coexistence between science and religion:

One increasingly hears rumors of a reconciliation between science and religion. In major news magazines as well as at academic conferences, the claim is made that that belief in the success of science in describing the workings of the world is no longer thought to be in conflict with faith in God. I would like to argue against this trend, in favor of a more old-fashioned point of view that is still more characteristic of most scientists, who tend to disbelieve in any religious component to the workings of the universe.[4]

He disavows any claim to statistical accuracy in the title saying, "The title ''Why cosmologists are atheists'' was chosen ...simply to bring attention to the fact that I am presenting a common and venerable point of view, not advancing a new and insightful line of reasoning." [5] That's a new one, I can make false claims about support because I don't mean them and somehow the fact that I'm advocating traditional views guarantees it's veracity. Talk about propaganda! This "common and venerable view" is outmoded and has been left behind by many in scientific circles. Stpehen J, Guild with his non overlapping magisteria found peace with religion by recognizing that religion and science have different purposes.[6] The National Science Teachers Association echos the same concept that science and religion cover differing domains of knowledge. “Explanations involving non-naturalistic or supernatural events, whether or not explicit reference is made to a supernatural being, are outside the realm of science and not part of a valid scientific curriculum.” [7]

"Essentially I will be defending a position that has come down to us from the Enlightenment, and which has been sharpened along the way by various advances in scientific understanding. In particular, " No scientific understanding has ruled out God. He's appealing to tradition and the emotional investment he's made in enlightenment thinking. "Since very early on, religion has provided a certain way of making sense of the world -- a reason why things are the way they are." I suspect that what he means by that is that religion offered an explanation of the workings of the physical world, such as the river floods because God is mad at us. I have a hard time thinking that Carroll really has a conception of what religion is about.  part of what I base that upon is the the things he thinks beat it out:
In modern times, scientific explorations have provided their own pictures of how the world works, ones which rarely confirm the pre-existing religious pictures. Roughly speaking, science has worked to apparently undermine religious belief by calling into question the crucial explanatory aspects of that belief; it follows that other aspects (moral, spiritual, cultural) lose the warrants for their validity. I will argue that this disagreement is not a priori necessary, but nevertheless does arise as a consequence of the scientific method,

Of course before one can say "X has overcome Y" she/he must know what Y is about. Since science doesn't talk about existential or phenomenological matters one cam only conclude that he must think religion is about explaining where the sun came from and why it rains. This especially so since view he is juxtaposing is cosmology. So he must think that understanding the nature of reality is jus a matter of understanding the cosmic layout, planets and stars.
The essence of materialism is to model the world as a formal system, which is both unambiguous and complete as a description of reality. A materialist model may be said to consist of four elements. First, we model the world as some formal (mathematical) structure. (General relativity describes the world as a curved manifold with a Lorentzian metric, while quantum mechanics describes the world as a state in some Hilbert space.
Complete as a description of reality? That assumes of course that your methods are up to the task of probing all of reality. He speaks of a complete description and yet look at all that he leaves out/, First I refer the reader to my recent essay "can science prove the basis of modern physics?" [8] How can he claim a complete description when it can't tell us what the basic building blocks are made out of? Materialism has to rule out miracles. It will rule them out as a matter of course. That is an ideological imperative. Then in a move of pure circular reasoning it will appeal to it's own authority in declaring miracles to be scientifically disproved. All that really means is that they conflict with the ideological scheme of things. Miracles are a part of my reality. They are paert of other people's observations and have been documented scientifically.[9] [10]Any description of the universe that rules them out without genuinely disproving them is incomplete. Then of course there are issues of phenomenological and existential import.


[1] Sean M. Carroll, "Why (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists;" On line resource, Prepared for God and Physical Cosmology: Russian-Anglo American Conference on Cosmology and Theology, Notre Dame, January/February 2003. Published in Faith and Philosophy 22, 622 (2005). See also the pdf version. URL:  accessed Feb 12, 2016.

Carroll is at the California Institute of Technology.

[2] Neil Gross and Solon Simmons, “How Religious Are America's College and University Professors.” SSRC, (published feb. 2007), PDF URL, accessed 9/4/15 The Author 2009. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Association for the Sociology of Religion.

They present a bar graph that show about 35% professor's ar elite research universities believe in God with no doubt. About 27% believe but sometimes have doubts. About 38% are atheists. That actually means that 60% are not atheists. True that's not cosmologists but there is good reason to think the majority of cosmologists are not atheists. The most atheistic groups in the study were psychologists (61%), biologists (about 61%), and mechanical engineers (50%), not physicists (among whose ranks cosmologists number). Contrary to popular Opinion, atheists and agnostics do not comprise a majority of professors..."

[3] Carroll, op. cit.

[4] Ibid. "Introduction."

[5] Ibid. all further quotes by Carroll are from this article.

[6]  Stephen Jay Gould. Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life. New York: Ballantine Books. ,2002,

[7] Statement on Teaching Evolution, National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT). Adopted by the NABT Board of Directors on March 15, 1995. no page given, in Three Statememts in Support of Teaching Evolution From Science and Science Education Organizations, A National Science Teachers Association Position Statement (see fn 4) online URL (accesed 1/26/2016)

[8] Joe Hinman, Can Science prove the basis of modern Physics?" Metacrock's blog, Feb. 1, 2016, URL: accessed 2/14/16.
[9] Bernard Francis et al, “The Lourdes Medical Cures Re-visited,” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Oxford: Oxford University Press. (10.1093/jhmas/jrs041) 2012 pdf downloaded SMU page 1-28  all the page numbers given are from pdf

Bernard Francis is former professor Emeritus of medicine, Unversite Claude Bernard Lyon. Elisabeth Sternberg taught at National Institute of Mental Health and The National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland. Elisabeth Fee was at National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.

[10] Jacalyn Duffin, Medical Miracles: Doctors, Saints and Healing: Medical Miracles in the Modern World. Oxford University Press; 1 edition (November 21, 2008

from Bio on
 Jacalyn Duffin, M.D. (Toronto 1974), FRCP(C) (1979), Ph.D. (Sorbonne 1985), is Professor in the Hannah Chair of the History of Medicine at Queen's University in Kingston where she has taught in medicine, philosophy, history, and law for more than twenty years. A practicing hematologist, a historian, a mother and grandmother, she has served as President of both the American Association for the History of Medicine and the Canadian Society for the History of Medicine. She holds a number of awards and honours for research, writing, service, and teaching. She is the author of five books, editor of two anthologies, and has published many research articles. Her most recent book is an analysis of the medical aspects of canonization, Medical Miracles; Doctors, Saints, and Healing in the Modern World, Oxford University Press, 2009. It was awarded the Hannah Medal of the Royal Society of Canada...

See also Doxa. miracles pages


Joe Hinman said…
ok let's get some discussion
Don McIntosh said…
There's a lot of good information and insights here, Joe. I had heard of Carroll's essay, but I had never seen the study on the prevalence of religious belief among university professors, nor Carroll's admission that the title was somewhat misleading. I would want to challenge one bit from Carroll in particular:

"In the various ways in which God might have been judged to be a helpful hypothesis — such as explaining the initial conditions for the universe, or the particular set of fields and couplings discovered by particle physics — there are alternative explanations which do not require anything outside a completely formal, materialist description. I am therefore led to conclude that adding God would just make things more complicated, and this hypothesis should be rejected by scientific standards."

The idea there is that God is always an extraneous element, added "on top of" any given naturalistic theory, and therefore naturalistic theories are more parsimonious. This appeal to Occam's Razor fails in practice. Witness the near-infinite complexity of the multiverse hypothesis devised to explain fine-tuning, for example.

Given that the contingency of nature itself calls for an explanation, nature clearly cannot provide it – "additional" (explanatory) elements notwithstanding. Occam's insight suggests that we should never multiply entities unnecessarily, not that explanations are unnecessary. Also it should be noted that Occam himself postulated that God is the only self-existent, hence necessary being. Everything else – nature included – calls for multiplying explanatory entities. So theism is actually more parsimonious than naturalism.
Joe Hinman said…
yes that's an excellent point. I have a couple of things on OR maybe I'll put them up next week.
Joe Hinman said…
there is a thing he did but is not it where he had data for cosmologists but it was 2005 so my study updates his. 2012

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