Accomodationist physicist: Why science can’t disprove God

February 26, 2021 • 1:30 pm

If you read the title below, you’ll probably guess that the answer will be “no”. And you’d be right. Grady, a credentialed physicist, but also a believer, uses her Conversation piece to ponder several questions, one of which is: “If God created the laws of physics, and thus is infinitely powerful, can he break the laws of physics?” (Answer: Yes, of course he could. But we wouldn’t know that.)

Click the screenshots to read:

It’s all a bit of a mess. For example, Grady asks “Can God go faster than the speed of light?” She responds that some phenomena already do, referring to quantum entanglement, but that’s still a mystery and, at any rate, cannot be used to send information faster than the speed of light. Why this is relevant to her question is unclear. Then she asks whether the anthropic principle is evidence for God. She calls our universe “fine tuned for life”, but evokes the multiverse as the reason why this could happen: we just happen to be in one universe where the laws of physics (which may differ among universes) permit life to exist and evolve. Yet according to her God created not just the multiverse, but the different laws of physics that may apply among them.

In the end, Grady admits that science and religion are different, for science uses evidence while religion uses faith. But that itself gets her into a dilemma. For example:

I have this image of God keeping galaxy-sized plates spinning while juggling planet-sized balls – tossing bits of information from one teetering universe to another, to keep everything in motion. Fortunately, God can multitask – keeping the fabric of space and time in operation. All that is required is a little faith.

Has this essay come close to answering the questions posed? I suspect not: if you believe in God (as I do), then the idea of God being bound by the laws of physics is nonsense, because God can do everything, even travel faster than light. If you don’t believe in God, then the question is equally nonsensical, because there isn’t a God and nothing can travel faster than light. Perhaps the question is really one for agnostics, who don’t know whether there is a God.

little faith? But put that aside and look at the bit in bold above (my emphasis). Here’s her admission that God is omnipotent: he/she/it can do anything. Okay, we’ve established that, and we can’t ask Dr. Grady why she knows that God is omnipotent—after all, some religions have gods that aren’t all-powerful—because she takes that on faith. She simply has an intuition or revelation that God can do anything.  But then look at this:

This is indeed where science and religion differ. Science requires proof, religious belief requires faith. Scientists don’t try to prove or disprove God’s existence because they know there isn’t an experiment that can ever detect God. And if you believe in God, it doesn’t matter what scientists discover about the universe – any cosmos can be thought of as being consistent with God.

Well, as the late Victor Stenger said, “Absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence if that evidence should be there in the first place.”  Stenger was referring to the fact that in fact we have evidence against a theistic god since such a god, either on purpose or inadvertently, should have provided evidence since that god interacts with the world. Presumably, Dr. Grady would respond that evidence or lack thereof is irrelevant, for religion is a matter of faith. But remember that her faith has told her that God is omnipotent. 

In that case, since God can do anything, how you deal with the question she raises (but doesn’t answer) at the beginning of her piece:

 “. . . . tragic events, such as pandemics, often cause us to question the existence of God: if there is a merciful God, why is a catastrophe like this happening?”

She never answers that question or even addresses it further. Yet if she knows that God is omnipotent, presumably through faith alone, why can’t faith also tell her why an all-powerful God allows such suffering? Is he malicious, or simply indifferent? You can’t say that you know God’s characteristics from faith, but then plead the Fifth when asked about why God kills so many kids who could not possibly deserve it—especially when he could stop the harm. In other words, if faith tells you that God is omnipotent, then it should also tell you whether God’s a nice being or a callous one.

Such is the selective ignorance of the theist.

h/t: Robert

82 thoughts on “Accomodationist physicist: Why science can’t disprove God

  1. She says that like faith is a good thing. There is no proposition that cannot be believed in based on faith. It it the least reliable way to knowing what is true.

  2. Very disappointing to learn that about Grady – she’s a regular interviewee on BBC radio, especially with the recent Mars landing, and seems to be a good science communicator.

  3. Why should anyone bother trying to disprove the existence of god — he’s already doing a fantastic job of it himself!

  4. …if there is a merciful God, why is a catastrophe like this happening?

    There are three simple answers to that question. 1. God is not merciful. 2. God is ambivalent 3. There is no god. I’ll stick with 3. which is the easiest explanation. Regardless of the answer, the onus is on us humans to solve such catastrophes, and luckily, we’re pretty good at it nowadays.

    1. “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
      Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
      Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
      Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

      – Epicurus (attrib.), ca. 300BCE

      1. Well, I am anything but religious, but theology refutes this argument in a cogent way. God gave humans the choice to decide to prevent evil for themselves. He is omnipotent, but he has decided to let us decide. It’s not about wether he is able to prevent evil (he is, if you believe), because he has left this decision to us. In other words, all the bad things that happen are our own fault. Hello guilt!

    2. Logic like this depends on the premise that life here on earth is the main event, or at least very important. If instead it is but a brief prelude on the way to ten thousand years or more of joy and happiness in heavenly splendor, then God not bothering with what we perceive as evil is more explicable. Not that I believe in any of it, mind you.

    3. There’s also 4. God is not capable of preventing the catastrophe.

      You may say “that wouldn’t be a god”, to which I would argue that creating the Universe doesn’t necessarily imply you have omnipotence in that Universe. It’s a feature of many of the gods invented by humanity that he (or she) has weaknesses.

      For example, the Christian god was unable to prevent the catastrophe of Adam picking and eating certain fruit. He was unable to rescue us from that catastrophe without an elaborate charade in which he engineered his own execution and played dead for a couple of days.

  5. The ‘theodicy’—the problem of how a just, omnipotent and omniscient being can allow evil in the universe—has been debated and argued ad nauseum by centuries of philosophers and theologians, for whom it seems to be a doctrinal itch that they can’t stop scratching. Kant’s assessment at the end of the 18th century was that all attempts to date to solve the problem were flat-out bogus. He’d probably say the same about the efforts to solve the theodicy in the past two centuries.

    In the end, you just can’t have it both ways, is what it comes down to, faith or no faith. But it’s a pretty safe bet that that won’t stop people trying…

    1. Especially if you’re a theist who, like Grady, believes in an omnipotent God, you’ve really backed yourself into a corner. When they say that the problem of physical evil is a mystery, it’s just best to write them off and walk away.

      1. Exactly. Because when you say ‘it’s a mystery’, what you’re really saying is, it’s a problem that I can’t solve and don’t care if anyone ever does, because nothing can alter my belief system. At that point, what more is there to talk about?

  6. If you believe that god is the devil himself, you’ll have the added benefit of having the evidence support your belief.

      1. Reminds me of a couple more pertinent quotations:
        “God is a comedian playing to an audience that is too afraid to laugh.” — Voltaire
        “Imagine the Creator as a low comedian, and at once the world becomes explicable.”–H. L. Mencken

  7. “All that is required is a little faith.”

    This amounts to an admission that her God is purely a mental construct. She admits that believing in God’s existence is a necessary condition for God’s existence. No thanks.

    1. Before a human invented a god there was no god? Is that a sort of Terry Pratchett god? I read Small Gods so long ago I forget, & gave all the Pratchett to Oxfam

      Oops sorry Jerry mistyped blasted email again 😄😩

  8. In the late 90s, I was watching an episode of Star Trek Voyager. One of the crew members achieved the previously unobtainable speed of Warp Ten, ie, infinite velocity. Upon return to Voyager, he reported that he was everywhere in the Universe. The first thing I thought was “So that is how God does that trick ! God is everywhere LOL.

    1. Funny you should mention that. An ace logician at the University of Missouri has examined that problem, and earlier claims about it by other philosophers, and applied some basic modal logic. His interesting conclusion is that if omnipotence is an essential property of God—if being God *entails* being omnipotent—then God does not exist in all possible worlds, i.e., God does not *necessarily* exist—a position which most principled theists would gag on; but the alternative has to be that God is not necessarily omnipotent, *also* pretty catastrophic to someone like Grady. Take a look at the proof; it’s really lovely:

      1. Grady, like many many religionists, still struggles to get past the idea of god as a discrete being, as the ancients clearly conceived it. In the Bible god wrestles Jacob for example. They also struggle to escape the idea of a god not having the same sort of mind as a human. What was the Wittgenstein lion argument?

        I just find the idea of a god beyond incomprehensible.

        1. Yes – for god to travel faster than light, that implies her god has a body, is a being that physically exists in the universe & not outside it as the sophisticated theologians say.

        1. I drive for a living. You do not wanna even know some of the things I have purchased at gas stations and later ate

          1. 😬
            I did get some surprisingly good Indian food at a gas station in the middle of nowhere in Saskatchewan once. The Indian owners had a whole buffet. I went in to use the bathroom while my bf was filling the tank, and came out with two plates of piping hot Indian chow.

    2. Or as that great philosopher Homer Simpson once asked, “Can God microwave a burrito so hot that he cannot eat it ?”

      1. The Epicurean concept of Gods: They too are made of atoms and void (and are therefore fully natural) but as ‘perfect and content’ beings they don’t care to involve themselves in human affairs and so disturb their ataraxia. Since they don’t care about us we need not fear them.

        Now there are arguments that Epicurus didn’t really believe in the Gods but was just dodging accusations of impiety. But not caring about Gods who don’t care about us? No magic needed for a content life.

  9. I find it a bit odd that the article begins by saying that: “I still believed in God (I am now an atheist)”, yet at the end contradicts herself saying: “if you believe in God (as I do)”.

    1. The first quote is attributed to David Frost ……. “I still believed in God (I am now an atheist) when I heard the following question at a seminar, first posed by Einstein, and was stunned by its elegance and depth: ‘If there is a God who created the entire universe and ALL of its laws of physics, does God follow God’s own laws? Or can God supersede his own laws, such as travelling faster than the speed of light and thus being able to be in two different places at the same time?’ Could the answer help us prove whether or not God exists or is this where scientific empiricism and religious faith intersect, with NO true answer?” David Frost, 67, Los Angeles.

  10. There’s something highly comical about believers trying to squeeze god into the universe as we know it. It’s also a bit unsettling that little can convince them otherwise, even though their ideas are patently ridiculous.

    It’s not that the universe, our knowledge, or morality changes because of theological insights or because of God himself. It is clearly — obviously — the other way around. Whatever scientists locate in the universe, it’s God who bends and twists around to accommodate the new information. Our moral intuition changes, and somehow God’s changes too. Such stretching and bending took place, that He now resides in a box of bizzarre contours that even the most gerrymandered district looks plain in comparison.

    In trying to explain just how the divine contortionist still fits inside that box, the believers never offer a good explanation how the trick works. They will always propose His limbs are even more rubbery than imagined, and His abilities to twist the spine in circles are even more unimaginable. He’s ever more powerfuller, goodier (somehow) and all-knowinger. Nobody imagined divine quantum mechanics, or powers that reach billions of light years away, and encompass more galaxies than grain of sand on earth. God’s powers increased through science.

    Their explantion hinges on a feature of reasoning. Namely, if you’re looking for a guy, the more abstract or broad the description, the easier it becomes to find someone. Look for a red-headed, bearded guy with a glass eye, and you find few. Look for any bald man, and it could be someone in millions.

    If you want to explain a red headed guy, and who is also somehow the same person described as a bald African man, you need a shapeshifter. However, this leaves the problem of demarkation: if apologetics inevietably lead to a highly versatile contortionist, he could be anyone, Yahweh, Allah, or Odin. This is when they quickly move in the opposite direction, and add specific traits back in, only to say that their particular deity is not the guy with the missing eye, but the guy who tested Abraham if he would kill his son (even though He is also all-knowing and tests could not possibly tell him anything he didn‘t know aeons ago).

    Apologetics always move in that way: god bends when pesky details of reality ram like spikes through the magic box. He becomes abstractum when needed, and concrete again.

    The apologist will also twist themselves when coming up with improvised guess-work fit for the occasion. In debates with atheists, they’ll move far away to the edge of the universe, to the beginning of time itself, into the quantum soup. But when facing believers, the guy who sacrificed himself to himself and can turn wafers into his flesh; only that’s the real god.

    Why do they get away with this? The believers control the conversation. The author Monica Grady can simply posit anything because it‘s her article. She doesn‘t need to concern herself with also explaining why He isn‘t Zeus. She doesn’t need to bother explaining where the place is, in physics terms, to which Jesus de-materialised, “ascended” to.

    I object. We know God is not real. Knowledge did “disprove” God long ago (proofs exist in formal systems only). In theory she can simply invent traits that match any given situation, and in theory, this proposal is unassailble in a rigid sense. But this is also preposterous, because the free-wheeling of supposed divine powers and traits is itself unserious, and infantile. She, and a culture around her can keep doing it, because they find ways to control this conversation.

    1. “the guy who sacrificed himself to himself and can turn wafers into his flesh; only that’s the real god.”

      Exactly. Monica Grady believes in that crazy kind of divinity, since she is a practicing Catholic.

  11. So which god is she speaking of? do they share the universe or try and squeeze each other out, is that why we can see them? To busy banging each other on the head.
    Which god gets the huge voids where even light can lose a little of its puff! That’s an easy job.

    1. Never gets old! “Oh, right – ummm, the one with a beard, toga, and sandals because I thought that’s the one everyone means when the letter g is capitalized! Or just energy. Some love too. Same thing.”

  12. Summary:

    1. “Gee, look, this lake is perfectly suited for these fish. Therefore some ‘being’ must have built the lake just for these very fish. I know there is no evidence at all supporting this and, in fact, the evidence shows the contrary, But that is what I warmly want to believe and that is therefore what I will believe.”

    2. God can transgress the laws of nature at ANY time but, for some unknown reason, NEVER does so. So this means God is by definition untestable and unprovable but, because I want to believe God exists, I do believe that.

    Isn’t this basically a “null” or “circular” argument?

    Example: “I want to believe that (3.5X)(-0.9Y) – 77.9 equals 10. I acknowledge I can never prove that, and of course, by definition, it is impossible to find evidence in support of that. To repeat, I acknowledge I will never be able to show that result is valid. But simply because I want to believe that I will assume it is true.”

    But then if someone equally believes that the answer is 55.99 rather than 10 why is that not equally “true by faith”? In other words, Grady is claiming to be some sort of “oracle” with divine insights that the rest of us mere mortals lack.

    I am sorry, but this is childish thinking.

  13. We all know that planetary scientists are the expert voice on quantum entanglement.

    May I ask what exactly travels faster than light in quantum entanglement ?

    Please people, do not believe all physicists are like her.

  14. a sound syllogism that attempts to prove the existence of something cannot contain a reference to that “something” in any of the premises.

    Expanding and colloquializing … any attempt to prove the existence of God cannot refer to God whatsoever … until the payoff QED at the final line. This, then this, then this, then this, proves x exists, and it receives the label “God.”

    So “can God go faster than the speed of light” is automatically unsound and deserves no intellectual respect.

  15. It is worth noting the speed of light can only be measured for round-trip. As such, there is no evidence that the speed light isn’t anisotropic – errmmm, that is, measures differently on each leg of the trip – including instantaneous :
    Veritasium – “why the speed of light can’t be measured in one direction” <- where I learned this fact.

    … though I wonder if there is any theory that accommodates anisotropic speed.

      1. Your comment represents a serious misunderstanding. Yes, the speed of light is now defined to an exact number, for practical reasons. However, that does not mean that it is impossible to measure it; just measure it in the same way it was measured before the redefinition.

        1. Assuming light travels at the limit speed that is used in the equations of Relativity, you’d only measure the quality of your setup.

          If light does not travel at the limit speed (it doesn’t have to), yes, you can measure its velocity.

          All of what I just wrote is provided you’re using the Système International system of units, and its assumptions over what is decreed and what is not, id an equivalent system of units.

          You could revert to the systems of units that Ole Rømer, or Hyppolyte Fizeau and Léon Foulcault used, but then your results would me incommensurable with the values of the S.I. people.

        2. Have you noticed that by the same reasoning, light could event go backwards in time ?

          (Let me know if you need me to elaborate.)

    1. I’ve watched the video. How does that apply to the measurement of the speed of light by Rømer ?

      The Bohr radius, the radius of the hydrogen atom, is given by a formula that contains c, the so-called “speed of light”.

      If the speed of light is anisotopic, how does the hydrogen atom know which value of the speed of light gives it its radius ?

      1. My understanding is that c, 299,792,458 m/s is the value when considering each leg of the trip. That is fine for an atomic radius (I guess) but matters when interpreting distances on cosmological scales. But as Mueller says, physics doesn’t break – and there is the Einstein citation as well. Point is, the measurement only tells us so much. I noticed there are plenty of response videos as well, but it’ll be a while before I can check them.

        Because I find this intriguing, I looked into this a bit:

        The Røemer measurment, from Wikipedia :

        “Rømer’s determination of the speed of light was the demonstration in 1676 that light has a finite speed and so does not travel instantaneously. The discovery is usually attributed to Danish astronomer Ole Rømer (1644–1710),[note 1] who was working at the Royal Observatory in Paris at the time.

        By timing the eclipses of the Jupiter moon Io, Rømer estimated that light would take about 22 minutes to travel a distance equal to the diameter of Earth’s orbit around the Sun. This would give light a velocity of about 220,000 kilometres per second, about 26% lower than the true value of 299,792 km/s.”

        The point was to show light traveled at a finite speed. There were elaborate estimates, because I guess it was exceedingly difficult to set up a simple apparatus.

        The Veritasium video mentions this :

        … “In 1848–49, Hippolyte Fizeau determined the speed of light between an intense light source and a mirror about 8 km distant. The light source was interrupted by a rotating cogwheel with 720 notches that could be rotated at a variable speed of up to hundreds of times a second. ”

        And of course, there’s the Einstein paper and quote in the video, which is pretty clear to me – it is just convenient, that we assume it is the same each way.

        I am not a physicist I just find this intriguing and compelling – as there are plenty of things which give different measurements depending on the direction, axis, or observer position, etc. of measurement.

        1. I do not see the Rømer measurement as only establishing that light goes at a finite speed, but also as establishing that speed… Give or take.

          It is a very good, given the technology of the time, and very clever measurement.

        2. I still cannot see how the Rømer measurement would be unable to find a difference in the speed of light depending on the direction.

          If the speed of ligh varied with the direction an we were monitoring the orbit of Io, as the direction of Jupiter changes with respect to Earth, if the speed of light increased, the revoutions of Io would seem to go faster inconsistently with a fixed speed of light. The laws of celestial mechanics would seem violated.

          Watching Io simultaneously from the Earth and from a space probe would tell us that something is wrong I think.

          Also, I am ready to accept, given the righ arguments, that a Morley-Michelson-type experiment would not yield any result, for these things are tricky, but I would need the arguments.

            1. I think the error bars set limit for how much can be known from one experiment, and the difference could be too small to detect with that observation. I think the idea is for an apparatus to measure any difference, it needs to make use of modern instrumentation, 5 sigma, and all that.

              1. A small difference could pass under le radar. As in everything. The expression “radius of the proton” comes to mind. But the video tells you the effect could be as big as c/2 in one direction and infinitely fast in the other.

                The video doesn’t use the argument of the small differences.

                Which would render everything mundane.

    2. “It is worth noting the speed of light can only be measured for round-trip.”
      I see that claim a lot and it is demonstrably *false*. Idiot creationists (there are no other kinds) even use that claim to “prove” that the entire universe, including the Earth) is actually quite young. They even have less “sophisticated” (relatively speaking!) other arguments that the speed of light was infinite in the past and only slowed down when humanity started measuring it (see creationist Barry Sutterfield).

      Evolution denying creationist Dr. Jason Lisle (actual PhD in Astrophysics) claims that the speed of light (C) coming towards the Earth is infinite and light leaving the Earth has a speed of C/2 (making the very distant parts of the universe young). He admits that he can’t “prove” this by insisting that only the 2 way speed can be measured. It is actually possible to perform an experiment to disprove that claim, but Lisle will never do that experiment since it would obviously falsify his claim.

      Take two atomic clocks, with each sending a locally clock controlled periodic laser pulse. Both are also equipped with optical receivers that time stamp the reception of every laser pulse from the other clock. Position the two clocks such that they are a known distance apart, with one being farther from the Earth than the other one (or inline with whatever orientation you want to measure C in). Move them 1 meter farther apart or closer together and each clock will register a time stamp change that is the same for both clocks (in the vacuum of space about 3.3ns later or sooner, respectively) clearly showing that the speed of light is isotropic no matter what the inline orientation of the two atomic clocks.

      1. I thought any proposed measurement moves the clocks and measuring apparatuses through spacetime, and therefore makes the discrimination between isotropic or anisotropic impossible?

        1. “I thought any proposed measurement moves the clocks and measuring apparatuses through spacetime, and therefore makes the discrimination between isotropic or anisotropic impossible?”

          Why? I am unable to parse you statement into anything that makes any sense to me. Are you claiming that spacetime varies over directly measurable distances? Note that the only assumptions made here are that the testing apparatus is within a sufficiently near zero gravitational gradients and all movements are sufficient slow that that atomic clock times are not altered by significant relativistic velocities (both significant gravitational gradients and significant relativistic velocities can alter atomic clocks). If the speed of light (1/SQRT(u0*E0)) varied with direction then either the permeability or the permittivity (or both) would need to vary as well.

          Note that the communication with high velocity spacecraft exiting the solar system shows exactly the same Doppler shift that is predicted based on a constant speed of light (Earth base receiver have to transmit at a slightly higher frequency and receive at a slightly lower frequency to account for the spacecraft velocities. GPS satellites also have to employ corrections for both special and general relativity as they orbit the Earth, using a constant speed of light. A variable speed of light would break so many things that it could not be used to even define the length of a meter. Previously, the speed of light was defined in terms of the meter and the second, but owing to the constancy of the speed of light, the meter is now defined in terms of the speed of light and the second. If the speed of light varied, electronics could not even function correctly.

      2. Also how would we know the entire apparatus is moving through a uniform region of spacetime – if that is necessary?

    1. You’re right, it’s such an obvious teapot.

      People like her (well, I don’t, but nonetheless) make other physicists look bad.

      Her stance is probably that of one physicist in ten thousand.

  16. I think we’ve reached the point in human history–the post-Stenger age?–where unless there’s hard evidence for a god–and by hard evidence, I mean something sensible in the root sense of the term, that is, visible, audible, tangible, gustable, or olfactible–all arguments for a god are mere sophistry.

  17. It does remind me of Plato’s cave. If you have always lived in a cave, you don’t know anything about the outside world. The same is true for this universe. Sometimes a ray of light might enter the cave. You could google ‘Ian Stevenson’.

  18. “Or can God supersede his own laws, such as travelling faster than the speed of light and thus being able to be in two different places at the same time?”

    The theistic god doesn’t exist anywhere in space, so these questions are nonsensical when asked about him. For what doesn’t exist anywhere in space is in no place at all, and a fortiori cannot be at two different places at the same time; and it cannot change its place either, since what has no place in space cannot move at any speed through space. God is immovable!

  19. Lawrence Krauss, physicist, gives an interesting argument against the existence of god in A Universe from Nothing. I don’t agree with him but his arguments are intriguing.

  20. The question is wrong headed: “If God created the laws of physics, and thus is infinitely powerful, can he break the laws of physics?” This – and most of the discussion above, assumes and implies that this G who made laws and matter must inside that matter. It’s like asking ‘if G hit a single, could He run to first base faster than a flashlight beam?

  21. “Also how would we know the entire apparatus is moving through a uniform region of spacetime – if that is necessary?”

    What? Note that everything is already moving through spacetime at the speed of light (one second per second). Accelerometers and gyroscopes have achieved sufficient sensitivities to be able to measure minute gravitational gradients and minute rotations. Over 40 years ago gravimeters could measure the Earth’s gravitational gradient with less that a 1 foot change in height above the ground, and more recent instrumentation is far more sensitive than that. Distances of a few meters through spacetime can be trivially shown to be uniform or non-uniform.

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