The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself? Part 5

Part 5 of my review of the book: “The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself,” by Sean M. Carroll. Part 4 is found here.

Worldviews and Science

In his chapter titled “Planets of Belief” he uses the analogy of how planets are alleged to have formed naturalistically (which in reality is just wishful thinking) and how we humans form our belief systems by associating together collections of ideas and ‘isms’.

“One person’s planet might include the scientific method, as well as the belief that the universe is billions of years old; another’s might include a belief in biblical literalism, as well as the belief that the world was created a few thousand years ago.” (p.118)

Then he asks how do we know which one is correct. But firstly he has created a straw man anyway. To suggest that a biblical creationist does not believe in the scientific method because she or he believes in a Creator is absurd. Science operates on the present, not the past. Any past creation event is untestable by the scientific method. This shows a clear ignorance of such matters. He goes on to write:

“If you confront a young-Earth creationist who thinks that the world came into being 6,000 years ago with scientific evidence for a very old Earth and universe, their typical response is not “Oh, I don’t believe in evidence and logic.”  Rather, they will attempt to account for the evidence within their belief system, for example, by explaining why God would have created the universe that way.” (p.118)

Carroll believes that his science is some absolute ground upon which he may firmly stand, without realising that same that he accuses the young-Earth creationist of applies to him. His worldview is also based on a set of beliefs. I would say beliefs that are without foundation because they rely on an edifice of untestable theories supported by plethora of unknown ‘unknowns’. Those ‘unknowns’ include, but are not limited to, dark matter, dark energy,1 dark radiation, dark photons, chameleons, inflation and how it allegedly started and stopped, the singularity itself, expansion of space, CMB radiation as the afterglow of the big bang—not the radiation itself, but the fact that it allegedly came from the big bang fireball, when big bang cosmology has a radiation horizon problem—and also the growth of large galactic structure allegedly only hundreds of millions of years after the big bang—a particle horizon problem. These horizon problems mean that there is insufficient time in the standard cosmology to account for the existence of the observations. Yet, on the same page, Carroll writes,

“Abandoning the quest for a secure foundation in favor of a planet of belief is like moving from firm ground to a boat on choppy seas or a spinning teacup ride. It can make you dizzy, if not seasick. We are spinning through space, nothing to hold onto.” (p.118)

The implicit belief here is that his belief is better than a YEC belief though he does not directly acknowledge it. But he is saying something like ‘you’d be mad to believe that!’ Yet he uses the language of belief in reference to his own faith.

“What rescues our beliefs from being completely arbitrary is that one of the beliefs in a typical planet is something like ‘true statements correspond to actual elements of the real world.’ If we believe that and have some reliable data, and are sufficiently honest with ourselves, we can hope to construct belief systems that not only are coherent but also agree with those of other people and with eternal reality.” (pp.118-9, emphases added)

Then he continues with the discussion saying that stable planets of belief are those that are internally consistent and coherent. Also he relies on the fact that others hold to the same beliefs as a judge of their truth. The inference though is that YECs and others who hold a different belief system to his atheistic worldview are not consistent or rational, and their beliefs don’t correspond with reality.

“When you realize that you are holding two beliefs that are in conflict with each other, psychologists refer to the resulting discomfort as cognitive dissonance. It’s a sign that there is something not structurally sound with your planet of belief.” (p.119)

What he writes, intending to apply to those who do not believe the atheist narrative, applies firmly to his own worldview. The very fact that the materialist even considers dark planets with dark alien intelligent life2,3 is firm evidence that they no longer have a sound mind. Yet he writes of self-serving bias and confirmation bias that people use to confirm their beliefs and reject conflicting evidence.

“We cherish our beliefs, and work hard to protect them against outside threats.” (p.120)

No doubt this is true. But if it applies to anyone. It applies to the big bang/evolution believer. Why can’t they see that? Well, Carroll just answered that question for you.

But he objects to my claim:

“You will sometimes hear the claim that even science is based on a kind of ‘faith,’ for example, in the reliability of experimental data or in the existence of unbreakable physical laws. That is wrong.” (p.128)

But admits that

“As part of the practice of science, we certainly make assumptions—our sense data is giving us roughly reliable information about the world, …” (p.128)

But continues by saying that they (atheists like himself) are willing to discard any unworkable assumptions. But this is not true. They are not willing to discard the primary assumptions, that the Universe had no Creator, that life is the product of material atoms and that all life evolved by unguided Darwinian processes. Also his claim that the ‘faith’ people like me point to in the atheists’ minds is not trust in the reliability of data or the immutability of physical laws. Quite the opposite. It is the atheist cosmologists who doubt the unbreakability of the laws of physics.4 A biblical creationist does not. He sees those laws as the creation of God who has indicated that they are reliable because He is.5,6

And, it is not data that is disputed, it is the interpretation of those data within the evolutionist’s worldview. How could he get this so wrong? Probably because he has never read what a YEC scientist has written but only the criticisms (via straw man arguments) on skeptic websites.

Typically, as I have many times found debating with atheists, they are always willing to add the caveat, that they are willing to change their “… beliefs in the face of new evidence,” but Carroll adds that

“… the evidence required might need to be so overwhelming strong that it’s not worth the effort to seek it out.” (p.129)

He is completely opaque to the reality that it is not the evidence that changes but the worldview in which the evidence is interpreted. Yet as Christ has said: “They would not believe even if one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31, my paraphrase).

Belief in God, or, as he writes, “the witness of the Holy Spirit”, is categorised along with meditation and experiences on psychotropic drugs (p.131). These he includes in transcendent experiences but according to him they are no more transcendent than the mood developed from listening to a good piece of music. He asks “What … does transcendence teach us about ontology?” He answers his question with

“Science, even broadly construed, is certainly not the only way that we can come to acquire new knowledge. The obvious exceptions are mathematics and logic.” (p.131)

Carroll acknowledges that many have argued that science only allows for explaining the world through natural processes, quoting the National Academy of Sciences, who also state that “science is precluded from making statements about supernatural forces because these are outside it provenance.” (p.133) But he does not agree.

“Science should be interested in determining the truth, whatever that truth may be—natural, supernatural or otherwise. The stance known as methodological naturalism … amounts to assuming part of the answer ahead of time.” (p.133)

Now before you jump to conclusions, he isn’t disagreeing with methodological naturalism but as much as he is disagreeing with it as a definition of science. He advocates “methodological empiricism—the idea that knowledge is derived from our experience of the world, rather than thought alone.” (p.133) He believes that comes about through careful observations and theories and models. He also believes science should not exclude the supernatural from the start.

“Science tries to find the best explanation for what we observe, and if the best explanation is a non-natural one, that’s the one science would lead to.” (p.134)

Then cites an example of the Second Coming of Christ, with the dead raised and judgement given. He says it would be

“… a pretty dense set of scientists indeed who, faced with the evidence of their senses in such a situation, would stubbornly insist on considering only natural explanations.” (p.134)

Is he naïve or what? As stated above, and in Luke 16:31, Christ Himself said they will not believe if one rose from the dead. Why would millions rising from the dead be any different?

But don’t think for a moment that Carroll is open to the supernatural. He is not, even though he seems to allow for the possibility. He writes that there is no evidence for the supernatural and that “naturalism is the best picture of the world we have available” and “naturalism is well out ahead of alternatives”. (p.134)

He ends the chapter “What can we know about the world?” by suggesting that the only way to know if we are getting truth from a higher level of reality (the spiritual world) is to weigh the idea against what we learn from the world by looking at it. (p.138)

He accepts the idea that our intuitions and thoughts are the product, inter alia, of the “long course of evolution.” (p.135)

It follows, by saying ‘looking at the world,’ he must mean through evolutionary glasses.  Without discarding first the evolutionary worldview one can never see the world that the Creator has made. Creationists continually point to design in complex interrelationships between living species, for example, and that speak of a designer. But those wearing evolutionary glasses cannot see it no matter how much you point it out. Richard Dawkins said it perfectly:

…that’s one of the most interesting things about living creatures; that they do carry this overwhelmingly strong illusion of design….living things really do.”7  (emphases added)

In the following chapter “Who am I?” the usual progressive sentiments are discussed. But

“Poetic naturalism sees things differently. Categories such as “male” and “female” are human inventions—stories we tell because it helps us make sense of our world. The basic stuff of reality is a quantum wave function, or a collection of particles and forces—whatever the fundamental stuff turns out to be. Everything else is an overlay, a vocabulary created by us for particular purposes. Therefore, is a person has two X chromosomes and identifies as male, what of it?” (p.142)

He advocates the reality of the world, but he sees no underlying moral reality. He believes past “outdated ontologies” (which I assume are those biblically based), if we insist on them, will do more harm than good. (p.143)

This is the fruit of materialism. All what matters is what the society says is true, which is not far from the most-modern adage “reality is socially constructed”. There is no underlying moral truth because they have no belief in a supreme Creator.

The Existence of God

Then he leads us into a chapter on testing the existence for God. He offers a test. If evolution is true, without guidance from God, humans

“… would expect to inherit a wide variety of natural impulses—some for good, some for not so good. The absence of evil in the world would be hard to explain under atheism, but relatively easy under theism, so it would count for the existence of God. But if that’s true, the fact that we do experience evil is unambiguously evidence against the existence of God.” (p.147)

But unfortunately such a test is predicated on the unfounded initial assumption that God’s existence hinges on there being no evil in the world. It is circular reasoning—really a straw man. When you understand actual history as described in the Bible, evil exists not because God is evil but because God created humans (Adam and Eve) and angels with choice. They chose evil. Satan for example is a creation of God but the evil in his heart is of his own devising. Thus Carroll’s hypothetical is flawed as a test for the existence of God. His view of God is very straightjacketed indeed.

He then follows it with a several more straw man arguments on God’s existence.

“Imagine a world in which human beings were completely separate from the rest of biological history.” (p.147)

He assumes implicitly Darwinian evolution in the present world.

“Imagine a world in which the souls survived after death, frequently visited and interacted with the world of the living, telling compelling stories of life in heaven. Imagine a world that was free of random suffering.” (p.147)

Carroll puts himself into the role of God. He imagines what a world with a Creator should look like and then uses the fact that that is not observed (according to his own standards) to demolish any argument for God’s existence. It is childish at best.

He says that many people are comforted by the idea of a God who cares for them, and who determines standard of right and wrong.

“Personally, I am not comforted at all—I find the idea extremely off-putting. I would rather live in a universe where I am responsible for creating my own values and living up to them the best I can, than in a universe in which God hands them down, and does so in an infuriatingly vague way.” (p.149)

God has not been vague at all. But very clear in His word. Even the Ten Commandments make a very clear statement, which most of the world does not even attempt to live by. But as Carroll seems to indicate he would be unhappy in the world created by God, so why should he be concerned about an afterlife? He seems to be content that his life will end soon, cosmically speaking—his words not mine.

As I mentioned above, Carroll seems to take a philosophical lead from David Hume. He writes how Hume would treat claims of miraculous events, defined as “a violations of natural laws of nature”. Following Hume Carroll says

“… we should accept such a claim only if it would be harder to disbelieve it than to believe it. That is, evidence should be so overwhelming that it should strain our credulity more to deny it than to accept that the laws we thought governed the world have in fact been violated.” (p.157)

This view though fails on two counts. The first is the initial premise that man can decide what truth is in this situation and hence set up criteria upon which to make a judgment. The second is that it requires sort of a self-delusion that the laws of nature have no Creator therefore they cannot be superintended by that Creator. There is no need for ‘credulity’ if one believed the Creator could “occasionally step in” and suspend or change His own laws for a specific purpose.

At this point Carroll falls back on what he believes he knows for a fact.

“… the Core Theory [quantum field theory]… includes everything going on within you, and me, and everything you see around you right this minute. And it will continue to be accurate.” (p.157)

He criticises psychic phenomenon and astrology but even that is playing to the crowd and setting up easily knocked down straw men. Besides his belief in the Core Theory he has nothing else in his universe, only the laws of physics from which all things eventuate. Even consciousness.

“Consciousness emerges from the collective behavior of particles and forces, rather than being an intrinsic feature of the world. And there is no immaterial soul that could possibly survive the body. When we die that’s the end of us.” (p.158)

The atheists must tell themselves this. The alternative is unthinkable!

Click here for Part 6 of this review.


  1. Hartnett, J.G., Big bang fudge factors, December 24, 2013.
  2. Hartnett, J.G., Materials believe in dark unseen life, February 23, 2017.
  3. Hartnett, J.G., Where materialism logically leads, June 1, 2016.
  4. Hartnett, J.G., On the origin of universes by means of natural selection, October 9, 2014.
  5. Hartnett, J.G., The Lawgiver is the biblical Creator God, June 16, 2015.
  6. Sarfati, J.D., The reality of creation, Creation 36(4):1, October 2014.
  7. Dawkins, R., COSMOS magazine interview,, May 2012.

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