The end of Collins' tenure reminded me of a recent article in Touchstone magazine that I read recently. The piece referred to an interview with Collins and Richard Dawkins that was published in Time magazine in November, 2006. That interview contained an exchange between the two that I think is worthy of comment. While considering the beginning of the universe and the possibility that a supernatural creator could have been responsible for it, we get the following:
DAWKINS: ... We are profoundly ignorant of these matters. We need to work on them. But to suddenly say the answer is God--it's that that seems to me to close off the discussion.Today I want to address one simple point. My next post will cover Dawkins' assertion in general. The simple point is this ...
TIME: Could the answer be God?
DAWKINS: There could be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible and beyond our present understanding.
COLLINS: That's God.
DAWKINS: Yes. But it could be any of a billion Gods. It could be God of the Martians or of the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri. The chance of its being a particular God, Yahweh, the God of Jesus, is vanishingly small--at the least, the onus is on you to demonstrate why you think that's the case ... we were talking about the origins of the universe and the physical constants, I provided what I thought were cogent arguments against a supernatural intelligent designer. But it does seem to me to be a worthy idea. Refutable--but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect. I don't see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the Cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there is a God, it's going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.
Dawkins goes on, from the above quote, to dismiss the idea that the improbability of 6 physical constants (gravity being one, not sure of the other five he admits to) of the universe being "tweeked" exactly right for life to be possible is not very convincing to him. Apparently both Dawkins -- and Collins, who never corrected him on it -- are unaware that in 1961 there were two of these constants in play. By the 1970s, scientists had identified the six to which Dawkins appears to refer. The list (provided by Reasons To Believe's, Hugh Ross) below shows how the number of design features in the universe has grown over the years ...
In 1995 there were 41 design features identified.
In 2000 there were 128 design features identified.
In 2002 there were 202 design features identified.
In 2004 there were 322 design features identified.
In 2006 there were 676 design features identified.
That's right, as of two years ago astronomer Hugh Ross has identified 676! While improbability does not constitute an airtight argument, at some point such astronomical improbabilities would seem to approach an impossibility. In this case, Ross has calculated the probability at one chance in 10 to the 556th power -- that's a one, with 556 zeros after it -- that the constants the define our universe would be just the way they are or life would not exist anywhere.
By way of comparison, there are estimated to be 10 the the 80th power atoms in the entire known universe. Mathematicians consider on chance in 10 to the 50th power to constitute and impossibility.
Dawkins would undoubtedly reply that no matter how improbable something is, that improbability does not mean it couldn't happen. Fair enough. You be the judge of whose view is more reasonable.
More on Dawkins' comment next time ...