Yesterday, I watched a rather interesting Ted Talk called Thad Roberts – Visualizing Eleven Dimensions
. Now, Ted Talks are by their very nature overly short, and thus as I watched the video I did not expect to have much provided in the way of “evidence” and figured it would be more of a “teaser video” to get me introduced to the subject. In that regard, I was not mistaken. But at the very end of the video, Thad Roberts advertised his website so I decided to look at what was there.
Of course, it didn’t take me too long to discover an article on the main page called Is there room for God in a quantized universe?
You can click on that link to read the article, or I can spare you a bit of time. It is quite plain that Thad Roberts is an atheist. It is also quite plain that his idea of “proof” in this article is equivalent to his idea of “proof” in a Ted Talk—that is, you just make bare assertions.
How does Roberts “dispatch” theism? In the opening paragraph:
The supposed proofs for the existence of a theistic God (0ne that intentionally created the universe and has particular interest in humans) have been resoundingly defeated over the years. There simply is no proof, logical or otherwise, for the existence of such a God. The fact that the strongest arguments ever made in support of the existence of such a God are so trivially easy to see through and defeat at the very minimum strengthens the skeptics’ argument.
Yes, that’s his “argument.” The proofs for God “have been resoundingly defeated”…and yet, he does not defeat any of them. He claims that the strongest arguments for theism are “trivially easy to see through and defeat”, and it must be so since he doesn’t bother to a) identify a single theistic argument, nor b) actually defeat any said argument.
Having thus “dispatched” theism because…reasons, Roberts goes on to pontificate:
Faith in a theistic God has been more responsible for the dehumanization of humanity than any other historical crutch. It has given psychopaths, and power hungry individuals, a weapon by which they become able to control the masses and in effect get them to curtail their natural compassionate tendencies.
Yet it still remains the case that atheism in the 20th Century alone is responsible for more deaths than religious warfare in all other previous centuries combined
. One need only look at Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and similar ilk to see that it is not faith in a theistic God that is responsible for slaughter.
But notice also that here Roberts repeats the classic error of treating all religions as if they are equal. It is not as if faith in a theistic God (as if there could be an atheistic God) is the same in Christianity as it is in Islam, etc. It is quite clear that Roberts is trying to single out Christianity, though, as he goes on to quote Saint Augustine and Martin Luther. You know, because every Christian is a Catholic or Lutheran…
But it’s even worse. While “quoting” Augustine and Luther, there isn’t any actual attribution to the quotes. First off, if you Google the Augustine quote, you’ll see that it was made famous because Richard Dawkins quoted it. Dawkins reported to have gotten it from The Closing of the Western Mind
by Charles Freeman. But Freeman actually doesn’t source it.
Doing my own Google search, I found that St. Johnny.com
had actually managed to track down where the quote came from. The actual quote from Augustine was (and this is a bit lengthy given that atheists have to cut all the context from Augustine’s quote to twist it):
I must now speak of a different kind of temptation, more dangerous than these because it is more complicated. For in addition to our bodily appetites, which make us long to gratify all our senses and our pleasures and lead to our ruin if we stay away from you by becoming their slaves, the mind is also subject to a certain propensity to use the sense of the body, not for self-indulgence of a physical kind, but for the satisfaction of its own inquisitiveness. This futile curiosity masquerades under the name of science and learning, and since it derives from our thirst for knowledge and sight is the principal sense by which knowledge is acquired, in the Scriptures it is called gratification of the eye. For although, correctly speaking, to see is the proper function of the eyes, we used the word of the other senses too, when we employ them to acquire knowledge. We do not say, ‘Hear how it glows’, ‘Smell how bright it is’, ‘Taste how it shines’ , or ‘Feel how it glitters’, because these are all things which we say that we see. Yet we not only say ‘see how it shines’ when we are speaking of something which only the eyes can perceive, but we also say ‘See how loud it is’, ‘See how it smells’, ‘See how it tastes’, and ‘See how hard it is’. So, as I said, sense-experience in general is called the lust of the eyes because, although the function of sight belongs primarily to the eyes, we apply it to the other organs of sense as well, by analogy, when they are used to discover any item of knowledge.
We can easily distinguish between the motives of pleasure and curiosity. When the senses demand pleasure, they look for objects of visual beauty, harmonious sounds, fragrant perfumes, and things that are pleasant to the taste or soft to the touch. But when their motive is curiosity, they may look for just the reverse of these things, simply to put it to the proof, not for the sake of an unpleasant experience, but from a relish for investigation and discovery. What pleasure can there be in the sight of a mangled corpse, which can only horrify? Yet people will flock to see one lying on the ground, simply for the sensation of sorrow and horror that it gives them. They are even afraid that it may bring them nightmares, as though it were something that they had been forced to look at while they were awake or something to which they had been attracted by rumours of its beauty. The same is true of the other senses, although it would be tedious to give further examples. It is to satisfy this unhealthy curiosity that freaks and prodigies are put on show in the theatre, and for the same reason men are led to investigate the secrets of nature, which are irrelevant to our lives, although such [knowledge] is of no value to them and they wish to gain it merely for the sake of knowing. It is curiosity, too, which causes men to turn to sorcery in the effort to obtain knowledge for the same perverted purpose. And it even invades our religion, for we put God to the test when we demand signs and wonders from him, not in the hope of salvation, but simply for the love of the experience.
In this immense forest, so full of snares and dangers, I have pared away many sins and thrust them from my heart, for you have given me the grace to do this, O God, my Saviour. But as long as my daily life is passed in the midst of the clamour raised by so many temptations of this sort, when can I presume to say that nothing of this kind can hold my attention or tempt me into idle speculation? It is true that the theaters no longer attract me; the study of astrology does not interest me; I have never dealt in necromancy; and I detest all sacrilegious rites.
Yes, that’s right, the “disease of curiosity” that Augustine is referring to is that which involves the occult and the theaters and the gawking at dead bodies. Or, you know, reality TV.
Of course, the other quote that Roberts provides (from Martin Luther) does no better under scrutiny. (I should also note that this same quote is found in Dawkins, just like the Augustine quote, so at this point all Roberts has really established is that he can steal from Dawkins.) The Luther quote is: “Reason should be destroyed in all Christians.”
Note once again that there is no source given for where that quote originated. That becomes important given that Luther’s Table Talk
runs to FIFTY-FOUR VOLUMES
by itself, and that doesn’t even count his other works. Table Talk
, it should also be noted, was not written by Luther, but was compiled by his students based on what he said to them, which means that it contains an element of hearsay.
Nevertheless, supposing the quote (devoid of context and attribution as it is) happened to be accurate, there are several issues at play here. First, Medieval Scholasticism was at its heyday, and often times Greek philosophy was treated as equal, if not even superior, to Scripture. If one defines “reason” as that which belonged to that view of Scholasticism, then there is nothing wrong with someone objecting to “reason.” Secondly, and related to that, Luther spoke in German and wrote in Latin, and thus was not using the word “reason”—which is an English word. Given a simple sentence with no context, it is impossible to determine what definition of “reason” Luther was using, and to assume the American definition is to commit the error of anachronistically interpreting a text.
But more important than all of that, we have specific quotes from Luther that refute the view that he was opposed to all reason whatsoever. Instead, we have Luther saying before the Diet of Worms:
Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen. (emphasis added)
Yes, Luther appealed not just to Scripture but also to “plain reason” in explaining why he could not recant his views.
And that’s not all, for he wrote in The Bondage of the Will
, “We should speak according to a definite rule, in sober and proper terms; for what is wanted in teaching is simplicity and logical correctness, not the high-flown figures of a rhetorical persuasive.” And, because I’m not like Dawkins or Roberts, I will provide the actual source: Luther, M., Packer, J. I., & Johnston, O. R. (1957). Martin Luther on the bondage of the will: A new translation of De servo arbitrio (1525) Martin Luther's reply to Erasmus of Rotterdam.
Westwood, N.J.: Revell. (page 138).
So clearly, even if Luther at one point said that “Reason should be destroyed” and he actually meant exactly what we mean by "reason", he contradicted that view multiple times elsewhere, and a charitable reader would seek to understand what exactly was meant by the phrase instead of assuming contradiction.
On the other hand, since it’s quoted by Dawkins and by Roberts without attribution, I’m just going to say:
I made up the quote. -- Richard Dawkins
But let us continue with Roberts. Having dispatched theism with such aplomb and brilliant wisdom, he then asks:
Does this mean that our scientific knowledge leaves no room for any kind of God? If the eleven-dimensional map of quantum space theory is in fact an accurate map of physical reality, then is there any room left for God? Well, if we are talking about God in the theistic or deistic sense then the answer is a resounding no. Qst is a fully deterministic construction. It portrays a perfect fractal that continues into the infinities of increasing expanse and resolution. It leaves no room for a planner or organizer, in fact, it reveals that the structure of the universe is a result of the processes of emergent phenomena, which explicitly requires the absence of a central planner. It carries us beyond the outdated and flawed (may we say dangerous) notion of a theistic or deistic God but quantum space theory also ushers in a different notion of “God.”
Now, I’m not going to address this alternative view of God, which Roberts claims is the view of Einstein’s God. That may actually be the only thing he got right in this entire essay, as Einstein did not view God in a way that any Christian would acknowledge as accurate. But that’s beyond the scope of my critique here. Instead, I’m more concerned with the fact that Roberts’s own view is self-destructive and implodes.
Roberts claims that QST (Quantum Space Theory) is “a fully deterministic construction.” It should be noted that Roberts view of determinism is vastly different from any kind of theological determinism, because he claims it is the result of the shape
of the universe being a fractal, and that everything within the universe ultimately “is a result of the process of emergent phenomena.” As Roberts says in Overview of qst
: “[T]his approach explicitly reveals a Universe that is, on every level, deterministic.”
The problem with this form of determinism is that it completely strips away any validity that “reason” itself has. In point of fact, under this view, reason and irrationality are the same thing—just emergent behavior from the fractal. There is no reason
(pun intended) to prefer “reason” to “irrationality” under that view. If both are just emergent behaviors, we have no basis by which to judge one as being better than the other (or, to use the words of Roberts, to say that one is “dangerous”). When Rogers behaves according to “reason” he is really behaving according to the fractal, just as much as the ISIS suicide bomber is behaving according to the fractal. There is no fundamental difference between their behaviors. It doesn’t matter what either of them do, because no one can alter the structure of the fractal.
This is why it is so ironic that Roberts claims (as he does in his QST overview): “Those working on this project are motivated by the potential this return to determinism has to put us in better touch with reality and heighten our humanity. The more we understand Nature’s infinitely cascading structure and its dynamics, the more we can come to grips with our ‘magnificent insignificance.’” How, precisely, does it “heighten our humanity” to make us slaves to geometry? This is just wishful thinking masquerading as wisdom.
So, I am saddened to say that while the original video actually worked in garnering my attention and making me think, “I wonder if something could be going for this topic”, Roberts’s poor handling of sources I am familiar with as well as his shoddy reasoning skills have left a sour taste in my mouth. I do not trust any of Roberts’s claims that he made in his video, now that I know what his “research” is like. And I do not trust any of his deductions because I have seen how flawed his thinking is. This does not mean that Roberts is wrong on everything, of course; merely that he is an untrustworthy source and my time is going to be better spent on other endeavors than trying to sift through the chaff to find a few nuggets of truth in his theories.