Preposterous Universe

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

I'm spending all day Thursday at DePauw University, as a guest of their Science Research Fellows program. It should be fun, although they're keeping me busy: a lunchtime talk, two seminar class discussions, and a public lecture in the evening. The lunchtime talk will be a reprisal of one I gave at a conference on "God and Physical Cosmology" last year at Notre Dame. The conference consisted primarily of theologians and philosophers, but they invited a couple of cosmologists (Joel Primack and me) along to give some scientific perspective. I didn't really want to give a standard gee-whiz cosmology talk, so they let me talk about Why (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists. As you can read, it's just the standard argument about why scientific reasoning leads to a firm rejection of a supernatural being as an explanation for what we see in nature; the kind of thing you'll find in Richard Dawkins or Steven Weinberg.

I went into the conference having no idea what the response would be; this was, after all, the only conference I had ever been to where there was a prayer to open the banquet. But as it turned out they loved my talk. I didn't change anybody's mind, nor did I expect to (although one participant did say that I had convinced him once and for all that the argument from design wasn't one that theists should rely on). But they were very happy to get a completely different perspective, and I think they were pleased to really hear what a cold-blooded scientific materialist actually thinks, rather than just being humored. I certainly give everyone at the conference credit for being good sports (which academic theologians generally are, in my experience).

Meanwhile, on the drive down from Chicago, I found an evangelical radio program explaining in quite a bit of detail why "old-earth" theories of evolution had been convincingly disproved, and correct scientific analysis had demonstrated that most geological features originated in an hydraulic catastrophe (the Flood) four thousand years ago. (Ed Brayton has an interesting discussion of just this issue.) So the discussion continues, needless to say, on multiple levels.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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