Sunday, March 01, 2015

The trail went cold

Dr. Craig: He is saying what is the situation now is that we’ve reached the limits that are humanly possible for having any higher energy experiments or for probing more deeply into outer space. He is saying that there is a kind of in-principle reason for thinking that we’ve pretty much got the full physical story. That is really remarkable. 
Kevin Harris: You don’t hear that very often. 
Dr. Craig: No! No! It is astonishing! It is highly significant, I think, because what do skeptics so often say when confronted with evidence for the beginning of the universe or the fine-tuning of the universe? They say, “Future scientific discoveries will explain this.” They appeal to a naturalism-of-the-gaps and say just because we haven’t answered it yet, someday physics will explain the origin of the universe or the fine-tuning. I think what Ellis is implying is that that is not going to happen. He thinks that we have pretty much reached the limits, and therefore the worldview that contemporary science delivers to us right now is fundamentally correct. The rest will simply be ironing out the details. That means you can’t escape things like the finitude of the past or the fine-tuning of the universe by just punting to the future discoveries of science.

I think that's a seriously flawed inference. The fact that physics and cosmology may have hit an evidentiary wall doesn't mean "we're pretty much got the full physical story" and "the worldview that contemporary science delivers to us right now is fundamentally correct." Rather, we may not have anything like the full story. It's like saying "Nothing exists beyond what I can see through my binoculars. That's where the world ends." But, of course, that reflects the range of the binoculars, not the range of reality. 
If physics and cosmology have hit an evidentiary wall, then their quest for ultimate answers will be forever frustrated. They never will discover the ultimate explanation, because that depends on having additional empirical evidence which is forever inaccessible. Hence, for all we know, worldview which contemporary cosmology and physics delivers to us might be fundamentally misleading, but we're in no position to correct it. 
We haven't reached the logical terminus of the explanatory process. Rather, we've reached an arbitrary stopping-point, short of the goal, due to technical limitations in what we are able to detect. Physics and cosmology will remain essentially incomplete. The destination is out of reach. 
To take a comparison, a homicide detective asks the medical examiner how the decedent died. He's told the decedent died from a heart attack. Was he poisoned? No. He had heart disease. Death by natural causes. For purposes of ruling out foul play, that's an ultimate explanation. 
Conversely, suppose it is a case of homicide. But he doesn't have enough good leads to track down the killer. So the trail goes cold. He knows how the victim was killed, but how who killed him. It's an unsolved crime. 
If Ellis is right, then that's the predicament of contemporary cosmology and physics. That's a serious problem for physics and cosmology. It's permanently provisional. Frozen in midstream. 
That also disarms one side in the "warfare" between science and Christianity–at least in reference to the origin of the universe. The cosmologists and physicists ran out of ammo. They never found the answer they were looking for, because they ran out of evidence. Or, put another way, the evidence outran them. They have more questions than answers. And the answers are unavailable. 

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