SHOW ME PROOF
on February 20, 2000
Posted on February 20, 2000
The text of Fred Heeren’s book1 Show Me God. What a Message from Space Is Telling Us About God is interspersed with various extraneous matters, including imaginary conversations with the fictional editor of the book, named Carl. Most of these “interludes” have little connection to the book’s main theme. There is, though, a brief fictional story in the very first of those “interludes,” which is worth mentioning. This is a story (page xx) about a marketing expert who specializes in packaging religious books. Among other things, this “seasoned marketer” tells Heeren that the most important thing for a book is not its contents but rather the title and cover design. The title we already know, and it certainly meets the marketer’s requirement. Who may not be interested in seeing God? The striking title of Heeren’s book is reinforced by the cover design. On the cover we see a beautiful photograph of a remote nebula, taken by the Hubble telescope. In front of that nebula, we see Einstein pointing his finger toward the sky, under large letters spelling out the title Show Me God. The implications of that combination of title and picture are obvious: The greatest scientist of the 20th century points to the sky, showing us God. This means that the sky (space) tells us about God, and science (personified by Einstein) reveals God’s existence. However, a reader who wishes to look a little deeper into the packaging of Heeren’s book can discover that the picture in question is a fake. The artist combined two photographs that had nothing in common. One was a genuine photo of a nebula, which did not require any alterations. The other was a photo of Einstein, taken in 1931 when the famous scientist was giving a lecture at Mount Wilson library in California. In the real unadulterated photo, Einstein is seen looking at the audience while his hand is extended toward a blackboard as he is writing a formula. His fingers are bent and seem to hold a piece of chalk. In order to make the picture fit Heeren’s goal, the artist had first to remove from it the blackboard, replacing it with a view of the nebula, and, second, to attach to Einstein’s sleeve someone else’s hand, with a finger pointing toward the sky.
This photographic trick can serve as a symbol of the entire book in question. Several times, Heeren repeats that he is a skeptic in search of truth. Don’t believe that! It is as true as the picture of Einstein pointing to God. Heeren’s book contains numerous references to science, and lengthy explanations of scientific theories and data. To his credit, Heeren’s explanations are accurate and well written. He mostly has faithfully conveyed to his readers information about contemporary cosmological science as he received it from scientists, including some best-known names in science. However, the more one reads of Heeren’s book, the more evident it becomes that all that scientific stuff is used by Heeren to disguise his actual thesis. If Heeren’s book contained only the mentioned explanations of scientific theories and his interviews with prominent scientists, it would provide interesting reading. Unfortunately, using the interesting scientific material, Heeren never forgets to squeeze into it his beliefs which have nothing to do with science but are those of an uncritical believer in the Bible’s inerrancy.
Heeren is actually a preacher disguised as a “skeptic in search of truth.”
He tries to tell the readers that scientific data not only point to God as the creator of the universe (which view cannot be either proved or disproved scientifically) but that these data lead directly to the belief in Jesus being God. Hence, Heeren is not just a believer suggesting arguments in favor of God’s existence, but rather a propagandist for his specific religious beliefs, and in that he is on a shaky ground, as he provides no substantiation for his propagandistic effort, thus devaluating his book into a piece of religious ranting feebly disguised as an objective exploration of his thesis.
HEEREN PROVES GOD BY SHEER LOGIC. OR DOES HE?
Heeren presents his book as the result of a skeptic’s journey over a long path of gradual discoveries of truth, wherein he interviewed many outstanding scientists and thus arrived at the conviction that the Bible speaks the truth. However, a reader should not be deceived by that claim. There is nothing skeptical in Heeren’s approach to the question of God. He is the epitome of a fervent believer and as hard-boiled a creationist as they come. This is, in particular, obvious from the way Heeren uses quotations attributed to various prominent physicists, such as Weinberg, Hawking, Guth and others. To deflect a possible accusation of misusing those quotations, Heeren writes (page xi): “Though I have made every effort to quote them in context, I should mention that the intent of their side of our conversations was certainly not to offer support for any particular metaphysical belief.” A few words further Heeren continues: “I hope it will further serve to show that their more supportive statements were made apart (and sometimes in spite of) their personal beliefs, not because of them.” The plain meaning of the above quotation is that Heeren selectively used those parts of the scientists’ statements which fit his goal. This is exactly what is called quotations out of context.
Heeren’s actual credo is clearly delineated on pages 88 through 102. This is where Heeren endeavors to prove the existence of an omnipotent invisible God by means of sheer logic.
Logic is a respectable tool for analyzing any situation. However, logic by itself, although necessary, is not sufficient to prove a thesis.
When relying on logic, two conditions have to be met. The first condition is the credibility of the premise. The second condition is a strict adherence to the chain of consecutive conclusions, each following from the preceding step of the discourse.
Heeren’s allegedly logical proof of God fails on both accounts.
He starts his discussion with the following statement (page 88): “Logic Demands a Cause for Every Effect.” This statement has nothing to do with logic. This is a premise for the subsequent discourse, and in itself it is neither logical nor illogical. Logic is the path from a premise to a conclusion. It cannot serve to choose a premise. The latter is chosen either based on experimental evidence or as a philosophical principle. In mathematics (which is a formalized logic in its most powerful form) the premise (usually referred to either as an axiom or as a postulate) is a statement which is chosen on the basis of considerations alien to the subsequent logical steps. (Sometimes the axiom is defined as something which is obvious and thus requires no proof. However, the modern view of an axiom has actually erased the distinction between an axiom and a postulate.) Every conclusion reached through logic cannot be anything more than a statement which is true provided we accept the premise.
Heeren’s premise is that “every effect has a cause” (which he also expressed as “From nothing, nothing comes”). Of course he is entitled to offer any premise he wants, but there is no reason to attribute to his premise the status of an absolute truth. Indeed, how do we know that every effect in fact has a cause? This statement is a postulate based on experience, and not, contrary to Heeren’s assertion, on logic. The experience serving as a basis for the above statement is certainly very extensive. The necessary requirement for any scientific data to be accepted as part of the scientific arsenal is reproducibility of experimental results. Reproducibility means that all experiments conducted under identical conditions must yield identical outcomes. As discussed in a paper at www.talkreason.org/articles/good_bad_science.cfm , while reproducibility is expected, it is actually only assumed to have been achieved because, as a practical matter, it is beyond the reach of a scientist to ensure the absolute reproduction of the same conditions when repeating experiments. Nevertheless, the assumption of reproducibility works well in science and the principle of causality is a widely used premise in science, and most probably will remain in the arsenal of science. However, the assumption of causality, contrary to Heeren’s view, does not follow from logic.
Now, let us accept Heeren’s premise and see whether or not his discourse meets the second requirement for being strictly logical. The discourse, among other things, must include no statements which contradict the preceding steps, and hence no statements which contradict the premise. Since Heeren’s premise was that “nothing can come out of nothing,” his conclusion must conform to that premise. Here is Heeren’s ultimate conclusion from his allegedly strictly logical discourse: “A series of causes cannot be infinite. There must have been a first cause which is uncaused.”
Using Heeren’s own words (page 88) “This is not rocket science.” If there must have been an uncaused “first cause,” then, by plain logic, his premise was wrong. You can’t have it both ways, Mr. Heeren. If everything must have a cause (as your premise stated) then there could not be an “uncaused” first cause. If, though, there must have been an uncaused first cause, then not everything must have a cause.
Hence, Heeren’s allegedly strictly logical proof of God’s existence collapses on itself. Of course, Heeren’s alleged proof is not new at all. Exactly the same allegedly logical set of arguments has been suggested many times before and, while seeming very convincing to believers, failed to change the views of skeptics. The reason for such a failure of the allegedly logical argument is its contradiction to plain logic.
Does the collapse of Heeren’s allegedly logical argument prove the absence of God? Certainly not. It shows though that the existence (or non-existence) of God requires a very different type of argument and cannot be proven by logic alone.
Continuing, Heeren tries to imagine counter-arguments by “atheists” and offers refutations. His first point is that science cannot offer an explanation of “how matter and energy could have emerged from nothing before that.” Therefore, says Heeren, “humankind is limited to the same explanation it has had from the beginning: a supernatural explanation.” Science indeed has no universally accepted explanation for the appearance of matter and energy “out of nothing.” This proves the limitations of science. However, to say that something has a “supernatural explanation” means offering no explanation. Referring to a “supernatural explanation’’ is admitting a failure to have any explanation, because we have no way of knowing what that supernatural explanation really is. The origin of matter and energy is unknown. All explanations, by Heeren or by anybody else, are speculations. Trying to explain it by referring to the biblical concept of God is as plausible as any other of an endless variety of ways to invent a supposed explanation. Of course, to predict the future achievements of science is a very risky endeavor. However, my suspicion is that the question of the origin of matter and energy will never be answered. The concepts of the human mind stem from experience. I am afraid that the human mind is not capable of solving the dilemma of deciding whether the universe came out of nothing or existed always. Both concepts – nothing and forever - seem to be beyond human comprehension. We cannot comprehend the meaning of the notion that the universe always existed and will continue to exist forever, rather than evincing that idea in an abstract way, not really understanding its meaning. Likewise, we cannot comprehend the concept of nothing, or the concept of “no time” before the big bang.
Heeren continues, asserting that matter and energy must have been created out of nothing by some “limitless being outside of time and space.” Maybe so. But to make skeptics believe that assertion, it is not enough to just say so. How do you know that, Mr. Heeren? Where did that uncanny knowledge come from, besides your emotional need to believe? When, at the beginning of the book, you said you were a skeptic, you were not telling the truth.
If the big bang theory is true, and the universe as we see it appeared “out of nothing” some 12 or 15 billion years ago, it does not answer the question of what that “nothing” was which preceded the big bang. There is no proof whatsoever that the big bang was caused by a supernatural cause, and to assert otherwise is a display of arrogance by religious zealots who have nothing to prove their assertion besides their blind faith in some ancient legends.
Science cannot offer a firm explanation for the source of energy that exploded at the big bang although a number of hypotheses were suggested. Therefore, it is often said that the energy in question appeared out of “nothing.” On the other hand, science accepts as a reasonable concept that the net energy of the universe is zero and therefore no energy creation out of nothing in the big bang needs to be assumed. Likewise, since modern science maintains that time is just an attribute of matter, it is said that time started at the big bang. However, science offers no universally accepted explanation of the meaning of that assertion. If one says there was nothing before the big bang, including the absence of time, the very word before implies that the concept of time is meant in a very specific way, as defined in the theory of relativity. When we say, according to the special theory of relativity, that the time interval between two events is different in two frames of reference, what we actually mean is that two clocks, one placed in one of the frames in question, and another placed in the other, will show different time intervals between the events. It does not matter what is the construction of clocks or which physical process is utilized for time measurement, as all physical processes change their rate in the same way depending on the frame of reference they are attached to. What is essential, though, is that time is just a certain characteristic of a physical process whose rate depends on the frame of reference (and on the intensity of gravitation at a given location). There is no way to define time separately from any physical processes. When we say that time started at the big bang, what we are actually saying is that before the big bang there were no events and hence no processes with which we could associate time. However, there is no way to assert anything about whatever might have existed and occurred before the big bang. If something existed before the big bang, all signs of that something must have been obliterated in the big bang, if not in some event preceding the big bang. This something could very well be the source of the energy of the big bang (if a source of energy was needed at all). Hence, when science says that there was nothing before the big bang, it means that science has no way of knowing what, if anything, existed and occurred before the big bang.
Grasping at the word “nothing,” Heeren and his colleagues in the creationist enterprise suggest that, since the universe allegedly appeared out of nothing, it must have been created for a purpose by a supernatural First Cause. Of course they do not offer any substantiation for that explanation, which anyway does not explain anything.
Rather than making the arbitrary assumption of a supernatural entity being the conscious creator of our universe at the moment of the big bang, it is not less plausible to assume that another universe might have existed before the big bang. This universe could have had properties and natural laws in some respect different from our universe and these natural laws could have led to its annihilation thus providing the source of energy for the big bang (if such source of energy was indeed needed). For that supposed preceding universe to have ended up in a big crunch, its properties must have only slightly differed from our universe. Does the described hypothesis have any proof? No, it does not and cannot, because such a preceding universe, whatever its laws and properties could have been, must have been annihilated without a trace in the big bang. However, the described hypothesis shows that there is no need to assume a supernatural creator for whose existence there is not a single proof except for the words of some ancient writers who could not and did not know even a small fraction of what science has subsequently established.
Note that the hypothesis of the preceding obliterated universe is not equivalent to the theory of a universe oscillating between big bangs and big crunches (although it does not contradict that theory, either). That theory relates to our universe, which, however, does not seem to meet the conditions for oscillating between big bangs and big crunches (although the verdict on this problem is not yet final). The hypothesis of a possible preceding universe assumes that the latter could be in some respects different from our universe, in particular that it ended up in a big crunch, while our universe may continue expanding forever, whatever forever may mean.
Continuing, Heeren offers certain considerations allegedly proving what God is like. Like his preceding pseudo-proofs of God’s existence, these notions are far from being new. Very similar “proofs” have been suggested uncounted times before. While they may sound reasonable to a believer, they have nary a chance to convince a skeptic because all of them are arbitrary.
Heeren’s first assertion about God is that “The First Cause Must be Independent of its Effect.” Why? Because, Heeren tells us, “logic demands” it. He continues saying, “God must be transcendent; that is above and beyond the boundaries of its creation." Maybe so. However, to base a conclusion only on the assertion that it “must be so” is not quite convincing for those who have not yet been converted to Heeren’s faith. There are many possible ways to attribute various qualities to the supposed “First Cause” and Heeren’s assertion remains just a display of his personal views not substantiated by anything besides his opinion.
Heeren further asserts that the first cause must be omnipotent. Again, it may be so. Equally plausible may be an assumption that the supposed “First Cause” is extremely powerful but still not omnipotent, i.e., still not capable of doing certain things. This question has been the subject of numerous theological disputes where such dilemmas were discussed as whether or not God can create such a stone which he himself would be unable to lift, and the like. Concluding this section, Heeren says: “Once we accept the idea that the universe had a First Cause, we must also accept the fact that all the miracles of the Bible (from the parting of the Red Sea to the resurrection of Jesus Christ) are quite plausible and easily explained.”
For a skeptic, there is a very big gap between the notion of a First Cause and the plausibility of particular biblical stories. If, as Heeren urges us to do, we wish to adhere to strict logic, there is no logical path from the general concept of the First Cause to the particular biblical stories which can be either true or false regardless of the existence of a First Cause. Even accepting the idea of a God by no means leads automatically to the belief in the divine origin of the Bible. For the latter, Heeren has so far not offered any proofs. Heeren is entitled to believe that the Bible is the word of God. It may be so. But to make a skeptic accept that belief, it is not enough to simply say that it is so.
It seems worthwhile to note that Heeren makes no distinction between miracles described in the Torah (such as the parting the Red Sea) and in the New Testament (the resurrection of Jesus). Of course, everybody knows that while both Jews and Christians believe in God and in the divine origin of the Torah, Jews do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. This shows the absence of a direct logical connection between the acceptance of belief in the divine First Cause and beliefs in the divine origin of particular parts of the Bible, including the alleged miracles.
In the next section Heeren tells us that “The First Cause Must Be Eternal (Transcending Time).” Heeren does not provide any substantiation for his assertion except that it “must be” so. The Creator, says Heeren, “is without beginning or end.” May be this is so. But the simple assertion that this is so is not at all convincing to a skeptic. Science indeed provides no answer to the question of “what was there before the big bang.” Neither does the assertion that a supernatural being has always been, is and always will be. How does Heeren know this? Did the supernatural Creator give him this information? Like in all other cases discussed by Heeren, a reference to a supernatural First Cause is not an explanation but rather an admission of the absence of an explanation.
To support his thesis, Heeren also offers an interpretation of the word often used in the Hebrew Bible for God, namely the tetragrammaton YAHVE. (In Hebrew, the four letters Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey). He suggests that these four letters are “apparently derived from the Hebrew for I AM.” This interpretation is rather strained, since the four letters in question, although allowing for several interpretations, actually do not constitute any unequivocally recognizable Hebrew word or phrase.
Furthermore, Heeren refers to the theory of relativity which has established the relativity of time, and this, in his opinion, somehow justifies the concept of God being beyond time. The concept of the relativity of time in Einstein’s theory is transparent. The special theory of relativity tells us that the time intervals between any two events are different in such two frames of reference which are moving relative to each other with a certain constant velocity. The general theory of relativity tells us that time flows differently for two bodies if they are subjected to different gravitational forces. Both conclusions have nothing to do with the concept of a beyond-the-time deity. Heeren’s attempt to enlist the theory of relativity as allegedly supporting his thesis is without merit.
Continuing, Heeren attributes to God three more characteristics (pages 92-93): the First Cause Must Be Spiritual (Transcending Space), Must Be All-Knowing (Omniscient), and Must Have Personhood. I can only repeat what I have said about the preceding alleged attributes of the First Cause, namely that Heeren simply states what he wants to believe without offering even a hint of proof of the validity of his assertions, except for saying that “this must be so.” If the word “must” were replaced with “may” the above assertion could be viewed as one of the possible interpretations of the facts. However, to prove that it “must” be so, rather than “may,” would require a much more convincing set of arguments than those employed by Heeren. For example, the only reason to assume that the First Cause has personhood, is, according to Heeren, the amazing balance between all the forces and conditions in the universe, which, Heeren believes, would be impossible without the creating will of a supernatural person. This is just the same familiar argument from design, to which Heeren does not add anything that has not been said many times before and which is just an arbitrary assumption.
At the end of this chapter, Heeren quotes the prominent physicist, Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg (page 94). The quotation in question is supposed to support Heeren’s religious beliefs. However, Heeren is cautious enough to say that “Weinberg hovers somewhere between agnosticism and atheism.” If that is so, obviously Weinberg’s views cannot support Heeren’s unadulterated creationism. This is just one example of Heeren’s method of using quotations from various prominent scientists which allegedly prove Heeren’s views. On page 149, he uses the same tactics quoting the renowned astronomer Robert Jastrow, who, Heeren tells us, “is a self-proclaimed agnostic.”
Quotations from scientists like Weinberg and Jastrow, while technically providing verbatim some of their statements, are essentially taken out of context, and hence misrepresent the intent of those scientists.
Heeren’s treatment of the quotations in question raises a simple question. Those prominent scientists have at their disposal the same information as Heeren does. Moreover, Heeren actually has acquired this information from the scientists whom he interviewed. Why then do they remain “between agnosticism and atheism” or “self-proclaimed agnostics” rather than seeing the truth as Heeren does? Are they fools incapable of evaluating evidence whereas Heeren is far superior to them in that respect?
In some other places of his book Heeren resorts to the direct distortion of facts. For example, on page 110, he asserts that Einstein “tried to find an explanation for his general relativity equations that would not require a beginning and a Beginner for the universe, and he came away a believer in both.” This statement, which Heeren uses to enlist Einstein as a supporter of his beliefs, is a distortion of Einstein’s views. In his Autobiographical notes2 Einstein unequivocally claims to be a skeptic. In a letter3 to Guy H. Raner, Einstein, again quite unequivocally, asserted being an atheist. Whenever Einstein used the word God, it was never meant to refer to the biblical God and never meant that Einstein was a believer.
Of course, the personal beliefs of this or that scientist do not prove anything, but more important for this review is that Heeren could not offer a single valid argument in support of his religious beliefs.
Concluding the chapter in question, Heeren asserts that his allegedly logical discourse leads to the conclusion that God loves us. According to Heeren, his so-called logic not only proves the existence of God, but also points to all those God’s attributes he discussed, and also proves that the story told in the Gospels is true. However, for an unbiased reader, there is no logical connection between Heeren’s original assumption and his final conclusion, in which he adheres to blind faith in the story told in the gospels.
HEEREN DISPROVES ALTERNATIVE THEORIES
Having dealt with his supposedly strictly logical discussion of God’s attributes, Heeren devotes the whole of chapter 4 to a rebuttal of several theories suggested as alternatives to the big bang theory. Elsewhere Heeren stated that some Christians believe in the big bang, while some others do not. Heeren himself is a staunch adherent of the big bang theory, which in his view supports the biblical story. However, the mere fact that some of his co-religionists do not believe in the big bang is a good indication that the theory of big bang in itself does not imply the veracity of the biblical story.
Heeren constantly asserts the alleged irrefutable logic of his position. Under the heading “A Skeptic’s Question” he writes (page 100): “Even if a common sense tells you that the universe had to have a great First Cause, sometimes common sense is wrong.” Then he proceeds to allegedly demolish all explanations other than his belief in the great First Cause.
Before discussing Heeren’s refutation of the alternative explanations, note that the above quoted statement incorporates a not very subtle subterfuge, attributing to a skeptic a view no genuine skeptic would ever share. No skeptic would agree that “common sense” demands the hypothesis of a great First Cause. Common sense, which elsewhere Heeren also refers to as logic, in no way requires the admission that there must have been a great First Cause. The hypothesis of the First Cause is just that – a hypothesis, which has nothing to do with common sense or logic. One may believe in the First Cause, or disbelieve, or leave the question open; any of the three choices is equally compatible with common sense.
Let us see how Heeren disproves the alternative explanations of the universe.
He starts with the brief discussion of some concepts of Eastern religions. While his view of those religions meets no objections, as they indeed provide no reasonable picture of the universe, Heeren simplifies the tenets of those religions, reducing them to a primitive one-dimensional outlook. In his rendition, all that the Eastern religions claim is that “The cause and effect are the same” (page 100). Of course, there is much more to those religions than Heeren’s description implies. Referring to his definition of the essence of the Eastern religions, Heeren says: “…this contradicts the obvious principle from logic that every cause demands an effect.” Here, again, Heeren demonstrates that he is well in the dark in regard to what constitutes logic and what the concept of a postulate entails.
Then Heeren reviews several theories (not all of them) which have been suggested as alternatives to the presently prevalent theory of the inflationary big bang. This discussion is immaterial for the real question Heeren is interested in. Whether or not the theory of the inflationary big bang is correct, is irrelevant to the question of whether or not the universe had been created by a supernatural First Cause, or it is self-sustained. Any of the alternative theories can be reconciled both with the assumption of the supernatural First Cause and with the assumption of a self-sustained universe. Scientific theories are neither proving nor disproving the existence of God. Therefore Heeren’s effort to show that the theory of the inflationary big bang is the only one acceptable has no bearing on the main thesis of his book.
Viewed separately from Heeren’s underlying idea of a supernatural creator of the universe, his discussion of alternative theories is a moderately entertaining tale about several of those competing scientific theories. Heeren partially acquired his information about these theories from interviewing prominent scientists.
He devotes several pages to the theory of a steady state universe, whose main proponent has been Sir Fred Hoyle.4 In his interpretation of Hoyle’s effort to substantiate the theory of a steady state universe, Heeren seems to claim that he can read Hoyle’s mind. In Heeren’s opinion, the reason that Hoyle continues to search for arguments in favor of his theory is that “a universe with a beginning requires an outside agency that cannot be explored by science.” Of course, this is just Heeren’s own favorite interpretation of the alternative theories. Neither the big bang theory nor Hoyle’s steady state theory require any assumptions about the existence or non-existence of an “outside agency.” As of today, Hoyle’s theory seems to have little chance of success (although it cannot yet be irreversibly ruled out) while the inflationary big bang theory seems to be supported by a host of observational evidence. However, the rise and fall of scientific theories occur without relation to religious concepts. If Hoyle’s theory will be ultimately abandoned, it will in no way support any religious conclusions. The big bang theory in itself has no religious implications and does not require the assumption of a supernatural First Cause (while also not contradicting it).
Similar comments can be made in regard to Heeren’s discussion of other alternative theories, such as “plasma cosmology” (page 106), etc. For unknown reasons, Heeren did not discuss certain alternative theories which found some adherents, for example, the theory of Evgenii Lifshitz and Isaak Khalatnikov of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which offered an ingenious explanation of the universe’s expansion requiring no initial big bang. Heeren concludes his discussion of alternative theories with a section titled “There Simply Are No Natural Explanations for the Ultimate Origin.” Quoting several scientists, he asserts the limitations of science. Of course, no scientist would disagree with the fact that science has its limitations. However, while every scientist would readily agree that science cannot overstep certain barriers in its quest for knowledge, Heeren, unlike most scientists, performs an acrobatic jump over a logical pit, claiming (page 120): “Conclusion: Science Ends Where the Bible Begins.”
What is the basis for that assertion? It is in vain one would search for such a basis in logic or in any evidence. The only basis for that statement is blind faith.
Whereas science indeed stops at the big bang (if the latter has indeed occurred) and cannot (and possibly never will) unequivocally answer the question of the big bang’s origin, this fact provides no reason to look for an explanation in the motley collection of ancient poems, tales, historical chronicles and fables named the Bible. It is common knowledge that the Bible contains an abundance of inconsistencies, and no casuistry, however ingenious, could reasonably explain them away. Moreover, those parts of the Bible which can be verified by comparing it with scientific data, often contradict the latter, be it the biblical cosmogony, or the history of ancient times. These inconsistencies and contradictions are equally abundant in the Old and in the New Testament. Heeren’s jumps from the discussion of scientific theories to the assertion of the truthfulness of the biblical stories have no substantiation. This makes make his book a mixture of a relatively entertaining popular rendition of modern scientific cosmology with the unsubstantiated ranting of a religious zealot.
HEEREN REVIEWS THE BIG BANG FROM THE BIBLE’S VIEWPOINT
Reviewing Heeren’s book is by no means a rewarding job. This thick volume of over 400 pages contains numerous repetitions of similar arguments, mostly of the type “it must be so.” He returns time and time again to the same questions, chewing them from various slightly differing angles. Each time, having told the readers about some facts of science, he jumps to a conclusion which by no means follows from the preceding narrative and which boils down to an unsubstantiated assertion of the truthfulness of his personal version of religious beliefs.
Here is a typical quotation from chapter 7 (titled “The Bible and the Big Bang”): “I won’t deny that there is a conflict between science and traditional beliefs among many Christians, but as I can show, there is no conflict with the Bible itself” (page 182). This assertion can be viewed as the succinct expression of Heeren’s main thesis, and of the main goal of his book.
Heeren starts with the following statement (page 182): “For Jews, Christians and Muslims who wish to pay attention to science, science has brought them good news and bad news. The bad news, for some, is that the universe appears to have been created billions, not thousands, of years ago. The good news is that it was created.”
An unbiased reader would immediately notice Heeren’s not very subtle trick – an ostensible bow to science covering a little less ostensible distortion of science. The first part of his statement is correct, science indeed leads to the conclusion that, contrary to the Bible, the universe has been in existence not for a few thousands but for billions of years. This is certainly bad news for those whose emotional adherence to their faith makes it hard to swallow the findings of science. The second part of Heeren’s statement is, though, false. There is no good news for believers in the conclusions of science. The latter in no way asserts that the universe was “created.” This is an interpretation of the facts of science by Heeren and his cohorts among believers. This interpretation may be true, but it is not enough to just say so and pretend it is an unavoidable conclusion from scientific theories. It is not. If the theory of the big bang is true (as most scientists believe) it only asserts that about fifteen billion years ago our universe emerged and started expanding. The prevalent scientific theory asserts no less and no more than that. Replacing the term emerged with the word created, Heeren makes an unsubstantiated assumption. Of course Heeren and his co-believers are entitled to such an interpretation of the prevalent scientific view, and their interpretation may be correct, but it may just as well be wrong, and to attribute their interpretation to science itself is a subterfuge.
As was mentioned earlier, there are many alternative interpretations of the origin of the big bang, and so far science has no means to determine which interpretation is correct. In particular, rather than assume a supernatural source of creation, it seems easier to assume that our universe was preceded by another universe, all traces of which were obliterated in the big bang (or in some event preceding the big bang) and which was the source of energy of that immense explosion we refer to as the big bang (although actually the constant net energy of the universe well may be zero).
There is a telltale admission by Heeren on page 183: “My own theological biases long included the idea that God created, not just transcendently, but recently.” In view of this admission, the readers may judge whether or not to trust Heeren’s claim that he is a skeptic.
Heeren’s chapter 7 contains rather detailed arguments against the views of young earth creationists, who insist on a literal interpretation of every word in the Bible. Since such a literal reading of the Bible reveals its irreconcilable contradictions with science, while Heeren wants to prove that the Bible and science are fully in harmony, he offers well-known arguments, for example, the interpretation of the word “day” in Genesis as actually meaning a much longer period of time. Of course, all these arguments have been suggested many times before, and failed to convince the young earth creationists, who prefer to deny the validity of science rather than to subject the Bible to a non-literal interpretation.
Some of the passages in that chapter sound rather funny. For example, on page 189, Heeren says in regard to the “days” of creation as they are described in Genesis: “Charting the days reveals the symmetric beauty of days that correspond to one another both horizontally and vertically.”
While beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, a great innovation by Heeren seems to be in discovering that days can be arranged either horizontally or vertically. This is an important contribution to physics. Regretfully, Heeren forgot to explain the exact method for arranging days horizontally and/or vertically. Are there other ways of arranging days, for example at an angle of 37 degrees to the horizon, or along the sides of a triangle, or along a circular path? Then, if days are arranged vertically, couldn’t the upper day fall down and smash the lower days? And which arrangement is better, horizontal or vertical? If days are arranged vertically, do we need a stepladder to move from a lower to a higher day?
Heeren’s imaginary editor Carl did not do his job, by not deleting such preposterous paragraphs like that about vertical days.
Toward the end of this chapter, Heeren offers a discussion of the Hebrew word “rakiya” (resh-kof-yud-ayin) which he transliterates as “raquia.” Heeren repeats the interpretation of that word given several times by various writers, who all intended to find in this word a hint at the Bible’s alleged indication of the universe’s expansion. To achieve such an interpretation, usually reference is made to the verb “raka” (resh-kof-ayin) one of whose meanings in Hebrew is “to stretch.” The definitive Hebrew dictionary by Even-Shoshan5 provides a number of meanings for the word rakiya, but none of them is expanse. The closest translation of “rakiya” (which in KJV is translated as “firmament”) would be “canopy” or “tent” (which, of course, must be stretched to serve its purpose). For the ancient writers who wrote the book of Genesis, the description of the sky as a canopy or tent was a natural manifestation of their view of the apparent blue cupola above their heads. To derive from that word an indication of the expanding universe requires a very inventive imagination indeed. Some Hebrew-English dictionaries (for example, the dictionary edited by David Shumaker6 translates rakiya as vault. Whichever of the possible translations of that word one chooses, expanse is one of the least reasonable.
HEEREN PROVES DESIGN. OR DOES HE?
Chapters 8, 9 and 10 in Heeren’s book are titled “Evidence for Design,” “Alternative Explanations for Design,” and “Implications of Design.”
As could be expected, in these three chapters Heeren tries to prove that the origin of the universe in general and of life in particular must be attributed to what has been referred to as “intelligent design.”
The reference to the alleged intelligent design has recently achieved a considerable popularity, being vigorously promoted by a number of writers, who, unlike their predecessors, have largely abandoned the most primitive, patently wrong notions (like the assertion that evolution contradicts the Second Law of thermodynamics), have accumulated scientific degrees and elevated the discussion to a seemingly more sophisticated level. One odd feature of Heeren’s book is the complete absence of references to the proponents of the intelligent design “theory.” Heeren never mentions writers, commonly viewed as the most prominent “intelligent design theorists,” like Phillip Johnson, William Dembski, Michael Behe and others. While the reasons for such omission could only be guessed, it is worth mentioning that some of the “design theorists” defend and promote the idea of intelligent design by using argumentation much more sophisticated than that used by Heeren. Ironically, Heeren refers instead to the books by Hugh Ross, whom he calls an “astronomer.” Ross’s literary output is discussed at www.talkreason.org/articles/ross.cfm, where it is shown to contain many errors testifying to Ross’s inadequate understanding of the subject. The fact that Heeren refers to Ross but ignores the more sophisticated books and papers by prominent promoters of “intelligent design” is telltale in itself.
The three chapters in question are characterized by the same approach we have discussed regarding the preceding chapters. Heeren tells about some facts of science, interspersing his narrative with assertions that the facts in question confirm his religious beliefs. The manner in which these assertions are supported is always the same, and can be summarized as “this must be so” statements.
We find in Heeren’s book the worn-out assertion (page 228) that the Second Law of thermodynamics somehow supports the Bible’s story. This assertion, which had been common in the writings of the creationists of past, has been largely (although not completely) discarded as wrong by the new crop of creationists (see, for example7).
IS THE GOSPEL LOGICAL?
Chapter 11 in Heeren’s book us titled “Is the Gospel Logical?” On page 274 in that chapter, we read the following categorical assertion: “There is no gospel without the historical events. Of all the religions, no other has left such evidence of God’s involvement with humanity…. If ever God reached into our world, it was through a human named Jesus.”
It is easy to see the arbitrariness of that quotation. For example, in numerous books and articles by defenders of Judaism we find very similar assertions, wherein, though, God’s involvement with humanity is viewed in very different terms. Jewish sources tell us that God revealed himself to the entire nation of ancient Israelites on Mount Sinai. Since Heeren, as a Christian, must believe in the divine origin of the books of the Pentateuch, he must believe that God indeed appeared before the Israelites and directly spoke to Moses. If one believes in that story, was that event not the direct involvement of God with humanity? I am far from trying to assert that the story told in the Torah is true. Moreover, the recent archeological discoveries seem to provide arguments against the veracity of the Torah’s account. As Israeli archeologists seem to have found,7 the religion of the early Israelites was not even universally monotheistic. Ancient artifacts show that at the time of the alleged revelation in Sinai, many (even if possibly not all) of the Israelites worshipped two gods, one male, named Yahve and the other female (the wife of Yahve) named Asherta (Astarta).
Whatever the veracity of the Torah’s story, the inconsistency in Heeren’s position maintaining the uniqueness of the foundations of the Christian faith is apparent.
Regardless of whether or not the gospels’ story is unique (as Heeren seems to insist) or is just one of many different stories told in sacred books of various religions (as obviously is the case) let us discuss the alleged historical evidence which, according to Heeren, distinguishes the Christian gospels.
The four Gospels that are the foundation of the Christian religion describe various miraculous events which are beyond the everyday experience of regular people. Since they are explicitly presented as miracles, their plausibility is not based on the common experiences of regular people and therefore they cannot be refuted simply because regular people have never observed miracles. They are supposed to be accepted on faith without proof. Hence, we cannot discuss the plausibility of the miraculous events described in the gospels by using the same criteria we use when discussing non-miraculous events such as those known from historical evidence. Believing in the miracles such, for example, as the immaculate conception or the resurrection of Jesus requires a leap of faith and cannot be either confirmed or rejected based on rational arguments.
However, if we want to judge the veracity of the gospel’s story, we can look at the non-miraculous parts of it to see, first, if it contains no contradictions, and second, if it fits the historical evidence.
What we find in the gospels, is a number of inconsistencies. For example, Mathew and Luke provide two very different versions of Jesus’ genealogy. According to Mathew, Jesus’s grandfather (the father of Joseph) was Yacov, but according to Luke, his name was Heli. The number of generations between David and Jesus, according to Mathew, was 28, but according to Luke, there were 42 generations between David and Jesus. The lists of Jesus’ ancestors given by Mathew and Luke are very different. Moreover, if, as the gospels tell us, Joseph was not actually Jesus’ biological father, in what way could Jesus be considered a descendant of David? Jesus’ mother was not connected to the line of David‘s descendants.
While in some gospels we are told that, after his resurrection, Jesus appeared before his disciples in Jerusalem, in others we are told that this event occurred in the Galilee. In the Gospel by Luke we are told that three local shepherds came to the manger in Bethlehem to greet the new born Jesus. In the Gospel by Mathew the same three men are referred to as three wise men from Eastern lands, who came following a star in the sky above Bethlehem.
Without discussing the many other discrepancies found in the four Gospels, let us now briefly summarize the story line which is more or less common to all four of them. According to that story, a wandering preacher named Yeshua (whose name has been transliterated in English as Jesus, apparently stemming from the Greek version Yisus), who was born in the city of Bethlehem, but grew up in Nazareth, at the age of about 33 was arrested in Jerusalem and was crucified by the Roman rulers of Palestine, at the behest of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme court. Some details of the story include, for example, the picture of a crowd of Jews demanding to crucify Yeshua, but to release a criminal named Bar Abbas (whose deeds included murder) allegedly following a custom of releasing a convicted criminal at Passover time. Of course, the story in question is very well known so there is no need to repeat it here in all of its details. There is hardly a doubt regarding the great literary quality of that touching story which rarely fails to invoke strong feelings in a reader, as it combines poetic beauty with subtle nuances of psychological and philosophical insights.
All that readily admitted, a completely different question is whether the gospels tell the story that actually occurred, or it is a fiction, possibly having some basis in reality, but including multiple fictional elements. Of course, believing Christians would shrug off such a question. Their unshakable belief in the veracity of the gospels is not based, though, on evidence, but rather on the indoctrination received in their childhood.
In order to discuss the credibility of the gospel’s story, let us consider the following points:
1) If the man named Yeshua preached his version of faith in the temple, this would hardly cause such a harsh reaction from other Jews. At the time of the alleged events described in the gospels, scores of preachers traveled over the land of Israel, preaching various versions of Judaic religion, and there is no historical evidence that any of them was ever severely punished. If a man was proclaimed to be the son of God, whereas his parents, brothers and sisters, all obviously quite human, were known, he would most likely be considered not quite sane, rather than a dangerous criminal. The tenets of Judaism prescribed a punishment of false prophets by stoning them to death. While there is no evidence that at the time of Yeshua such punishment was actually ever implemented, even if it were, it would be a very different occurrence compared with the story told in the gospels.
At the time of the events in question, the most powerful element of the Jewish society were perushim (in the traditional English rendition – Pharisees) whose influence would hardly be threatened by a traveling preacher who had but a small band of followers. Another group, the so called tzeddokim (in English rendition Sadducees), while differing from the Pharisees in some interpretations of the law, exercised some control over the temple but had very little influence on the Sanhedrin. Zealots and Essenes had even less influence (the latter actually sought refuge in remote corners of the land, such as the Qumran). The Pharisees who controlled the Sanhedrin had no reason to take Jesus’ activities very seriously.
2) An offender would hardly be taken to the Sanhedrin. The case against Jesus was not serious enough to merit a hearing at the Supreme Court of the land. The main task of the Sanhedrin was to interpret the religious law.
3) If, contrary to historical evidence, Yeshua were taken to the Sanhedrin, it would be found empty, since, as the gospels tell us, the Passover holiday had started. It is hard to believe that the elders of the Sanhedrin would conduct any business on the evening of that day, since, according to Jewish law, a day starts at the evening of the preceding day.
4) If, contrary to historical evidence, the Sanhedrin conducted a hearing of Yeshua’s case, it is implausible that they would transfer Yeshua, a Jew, to the Roman authorities for punishment. Jewish religious law (Halakha) quite explicitly forbids extraditing a Jew to Gentiles for trial and punishment. Even if Yeshua were found guilty by the Sanhedrin, they would do everything possible to shield him from the Romans, and if they chose to punish him, it would be done by their own means. These means would never include death on a cross. Crucifixion was completely out of the question within the framework of the Judaic law.
5) There is no historical evidence about such a custom as described in the Gospels – releasing a prisoner at Passover time. It is well known, for example, that the Romans used to “decimate” a legion which did not show sufficient courage in battle. In that frightening procedure the soldiers of the legion would form a line, and every soldier who happened to be in the tenth, or twentieth, or thirtieth place, etc, would be executed on the spot. If they were so unmerciful to their own people, their attitude to foreigners, especially to a defeated people, was much crueler. After a victorious war, the Romans would lead the imprisoned king or warlord of the defeated country in chains through the streets of Rome, and then immediately strangle him in the basement of the Mamertine jail. From what is known about the Romans, they ruled by fear, and a gesture of lenience such as releasing a prisoner on a local holiday would be alien to their mentality and practice.
6) It is implausible that a crowd of Jews would demand a crucifixion of one of their own, and, moreover, to cry “let his blood be on us and our children.” For Jews, the Roman custom of crucifying people was an abomination. It was especially true if a fellow Jew was condemned to die on a cross. The fact of history is that the Romans crucified thousands of rebelling Jews, and the latter especially hated that cruel punishment. Of course, it is possible that the crowd mentioned in the gospels consisted of only five, or ten, or twenty people, and that such a small crowd of bloodthirsty scoundrels, including some friends of Bar Abbas, could possibly have gathered trying to get the release of their cohort. It is also possible that the “crowd” demanding to crucify Yeshua consisted not of Jews but rather of Greeks, who at that time constituted a measurable fraction of Jerusalem’s population. However, the gospels maintain the implausible version blaming the Jews for the cruelty of the Romans.
In other words, many elements of the gospels story are implausible from the historical viewpoint, even if we do not discuss the miraculous parts, such as the miracles performed by Yeshua/Jesus and his resurrection. If the non-miraculous parts of the Gospels seem to be inconsistent with the historical evidence, and self-contradictory, why should we believe their miraculous parts?
It can be added that, besides the gospels, there is not a word in any sources contemporary with Jesus’ alleged ministry which would mention Jesus and his story, as told in the gospels (including the absence of such information in the Dead Sea scrolls). The Roman writers, who are often referred to as allegedly confirming the story in question, all lived much later than the events described in the gospels. None of them had any first-hand knowledge of those events and all of them (Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus Flavius) only reported the stories told by Christians. The most reasonable conclusion is that one cannot rely on the gospels as a true account of actual events. The gospels seem to be a mix of a beautiful legend (told in four different versions) with political polemics between the adherents of the fledging Christian religion and of its original source – the traditional Judaism.
A FEW FINAL REMARKS
A question which seems to arise naturally after having read Heeren’s lengthy opus is: why was this book published? Actually, it seems to consist of several books, each broken into many segments, intermittently following each other and having little connection to each other. One of these books is a popular tale about contemporary cosmological science. This is the best part of Heeren’s story; it more or less accurately conveys the information Heeren acquired from his interviews of prominent scientists and from scientific literature. If Heeren’s book contained only this part, its publication would be justified as that of a moderately good popular book about science.
Another “book within a book” of Heeren is the part in which Heeren attempts to convince readers of his religious beliefs. This part contains nothing new, as every argument by Heeren has been suggested many times before and failed to convince anybody who was not already among Heeren’s fellow believers. If Heeren’s book contained only this part, it would be just one more example of ranting by a religious zealot, propagandizing his narrow sort of beliefs. There is no connection, logical or otherwise, between the two mentioned elements of Heeren’s book, artificially combined in a hodge-podge of unrelated ingredients, vastly differing in style and substance.
Then there is one more “book-within-a-book” consisting of imaginary conversations with the imaginary editor Carl. This part would neither stand on its own as a separate book, nor does it add anything of interest to the overall picture painted by Heeren.
Moreover, in the farrago of heterogeneous components of the book in question, there is even a piece of fiction, telling an absurd story about the full text of the Bible being transmitted in Morse from the entire universe. Finally, Heeren’s book includes a historical review, listing names and short biographical sketches of fifty renowned scientists who all were devout Christians.
It is worth saying a few words about that list. First, a reader cannot fail to notice the uneven character of Heeren’s choice of names. Along with some titans of science, like Newton or Faraday, the list includes a number of names whose place in science, while respectable, falls short of being on the level of Descartes or Kelvin. It looks that, while his goal was to demonstrate that science allegedly owes its most important achievements mainly to Christian believers, Heeren could not find enough candidates for his list who would combine an extremely high status in the history of science with their Christian faith. To make up a list of fifty names, he was compelled to include into it some scientist of lesser importance, and, in doing so, to overemphasize their role in science. The composition of his list is more telltale with respect to the names he did not include than with respect to those he did. We do not find in Heeren’s list of the most important contributors to science physicists like Einstein, Bohr, Schroedinger, Dirac or Heisenberg, chemists like Arrhenius, Mendeleev, Haber or Kekule, mathematicians like Gauss, Cauchy, Hilbert or Lobachevsky, biologists like Darwin, Crick, Watson, or Morgan. Instead, he listed much less renowned names, like Buckland, Carver, Kidd, and Michell.
It may also be noted that many of the scientists listed by Heeren did not adhere to his narrow version of Christian faith, not to mention that their views often contradicted not only those of Heeren, but also of each other. (For example. Descartes and Pascal had two quite different sets of beliefs, neither being anywhere close to Heeren’s unquestionable belief in the Bible’s inerrancy.)
By including in his list only devout Christians, Heeren apparently wished to demonstrate that the Christian faith created a fertile ground for the development of science, and even to create an impression that the achievements of science are owed mainly to the contribution of Christian believers. Of course, such a thesis is contrary to facts. Even if we ignore the well-documented history of the persecution of scientists and suppression of the scientific discoveries by the Christian Church, it would be easy to compile a list of great scientists who happened to be agnostics, atheists, believing Jews, Muslims, or Hindus. The fact is that the personal religious persuasions of individual scientists have little relation to their scientific achievements. Therefore Heeren’s list of Christian believers among prominent scientists, even if we ignore its arbitrariness, is meaningless and irrelevant to the theme of his book.
The inevitable conclusion from the preceding sections of this article is that Fred Heeren failed to prove in his book either the harmony between science and the Bible or the veracity of the latter.
(1) Fred Heeren, Show me God. What the Message from Space Is Telling Us About God, (Wheeling, Ill: Day Star Publications, 2000).
(2) Albert Einstein, Biographical Notes, in coll. “Albert Einstein. Philosopher-Scientist,” (New York: Harper & Bros, 1949).
(3) Albert Einstein, letter to Guy H. Raner of Sept. 28, 1949, Skeptic, 5, no. 2 (1997): 62.
(4) Fred Hoyle, The Intelligent Universe (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1983).
(5) Avraham Even-Shoshan, Hamilon Haivri Hamerukaz (The Hebrew Dictionary), (Jerusalem: Kriyat Sefer Publishers,1974).
(6) David Shumaker, ed., The Hebrew- English dictionary, in “Seven Language Dictionary,” (New York, Avenel Books, 1978).
(7) Zeev Hertzog, Vremia Iskat, no. 3 (2000): 115. (In Russian).