Book Plunge: The Big Picture

What do I think of Sean Carroll’s book published by Dutton books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This is a book an atheist reader of the blog suggested I should read. Naturally, I jump at such an invitation. (Keep this in mind atheists I interact with who make it seem like you might as well commit ritual suicide before reading any Christian academics.) I found the book to be a good one to read, thankfully not hostile for the majority towards Christianity, and nothing struck me as an emotional rant of any kind.

However, I did not find it persuasive. The science was fascinating, but not being a scientist or playing one on TV or studying in that field, I choose to not debate that point. Generally, when I come across something I’m skeptical of in science, I accept it for the sake of argument and see if it does any damage. Note that this is the science itself and not the philosophical conclusions some atheists draw from the science.

One post I made early on on my Facebook about the book was as follows:

However, I do comment on the other areas. Sean tells us that all that we have ever seen in our lives is material stuff and the material stuff is all that exists and that our knowledge of the world comes through observation.
I can agree to a large extent with the latter, but it doesn’t lead to the former. Let us take one example. As I sit here on my bed, I see to the left of me my cat Shiro. Now note that all I see when I look there is Shiro, one type of creature. I have in my mind the idea of an animal, and that concept of animal includes me in it, but yet the animal I am is not the animal that Shiro is.
Now you could take me to a pet store and I would see several people and several cats. I would not assume that each person is a whole different species or each cat a totally different animal. There are different races of people and different breed of cats, but all would fall under the category of humans or cats. However, I cannot observe the idea of human, animal, or cat. I observe many humans and cats and derive from those observations the idea of human, animal, and cat. Those concepts are immaterial concepts.
In the same way, Carroll can write about how we determine to be good people, and yet while I fully believe goodness is real, it is certainly not something I see with my eyes or detect in any way with my senses. Now we could say those essences aren’t real, but that leads us to nominalism which I think is even more difficult for science.
I could go on and list other concepts. Numbers. Triangularity. Existence itself. We notice things that are triangles and things that exist, but we don’t notice triangularity and existing itself.
Much of naturalism is just reductionism and ultimately, unlivable. Just as when Carroll talks about something being good, it is smuggling in something that is not scientific and trying to include in the rubric. It doesn’t work.
And this is a problem that many scientists have. It’s easy to take an idea like goodness or something and run with it assuming it is real. We don’t stop to think about what cats and humans are. How is it that even a small child can recognize catness in several cats while noting that they are all different? Again, just because knowledge begins with observation, it doesn’t mean it ends there.
Also, as I said later in another post, which I share again because there’s no need to reinvent the wheel:
Still going through Sean Carroll’s “The Big Picture.” It’s not a bad book really. There are many parts that I agree with. He talks about events that could lead scientists to think the best explanation is beyond the natural world, such as the Second Coming of Jesus taking place and the dead being resurrected.
He then says it’s not that science presumes naturalism, but it has concluded that naturalism is the best picture of the world. He then speaks of all that we do and weighing out the evidences and then weigh out the conclusion and naturalism is ahead of the alternatives.
But there’s a little bit of sleight of hand going on here. It’s subtle and I think a lot of unwary readers would not grasp it, but here it is.
Carroll is speaking of science as if science is an authority doing its own study and coming to its own conclusions. No. Science doesn’t study anything. Science doesn’t say anything. Men and women who use science study and speak.
Carroll is also assuming that people who agree with him speak for all of science and all scientists. This is not so. I am not saying anything here to shoehorn in ID or creationism or anything like that, but there are plenty of intelligent scientists past and present who see no problem with holding a Christian worldview and agreeing with scientific study.
The same could apply if we replaced science with history, philosophy, theology, literature, or anything else. These are all fields that we study and different people in the fields come to different conclusions. I am convinced a study of history shows that Jesus rose from the dead, but it would be foolish to say that as if all historians agree with me.
Science is a wonderful tool and Christians should support it, but Carroll is speaking beyond science here. Science studies material means and low and behold, that’s the judgment many scientists make. You might as well conclude there is no paper buried on the beach because the metal detector can’t find it.
And this is something that does happen consistently and we must be on the watch for it. It’s too easy to throw out science as if it was speaking for itself. This can happen with any field other than science, such as history or philosophy or economics. Science doesn’t say anything. Scientists say things using science.
Later, I wrote something about what he said about NDEs.
On p. 219-220 of Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture, Carroll is making an argument that there is no soul and he is talking about NDEs. He refers to the book “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven.” Is that book a known fraud? Yes. The boy who was the source said he made it all up. Unfortunately, that’s the only book Carroll interacts with and ignores all the others.
Suppose I said “Now if you study evolution, take a look at Piltdown Man. Piltdown Man was a fraud. What does that tell you about the case for evolution?” That would be a shoddy argument. Even if you disbelieve in evolution and think it’s false, it should be accepted that pointing to one case that is a fraud is not a good way to argue against it.
Someone who does accept evolution would come and rightly say, “Yes. That was a fraud, but what about all this other evidence such as XYZ?” Now at that point, you can argue that evidence and see if it makes the case and that’s not for me to decide, but if you just present one fraud and ignore everyone else, that’s not really being honest.
Carroll also talks about cases where people put objects in a room in case an NDE takes place so that the person can see them. He says this has never happened though. So let’s assume that’s true. So what? That means all the other cases that happen, such as the dentures case You can see about that here:…/an-nde-to-sink…

That’s just one. There are plenty of others. You can pick up most any good book on NDEs and find several documented cases.
Like the problem of evil, it’s easy to make your opponent look weak if you argue and ignore all the positive evidence and just put in all the evidence you want. However, if your opponent is familiar with the data, he can easily show you up. The downside often though is that people don’t fact check what they read if it already agrees with what they want or think to be true.
So could it be still that NDEs are false and there is no soul? Perhaps, but this is not a good way to show it.
No one would accept in science a case where you cite one false occurrence and then throw out all the data on the side of that occurrence. It would be totally invalid to look at just one evolutionary fraud and then say all evolutionary science is bunk. Unfortunately, Carroll has done that here and hasn’t even looked at an evidential NDE at all.
There is also something worth being said about evolution:

Still going through Sean Carroll’s “The Big Picture” and reading a lot about evolution. The main point being stressed is that the language is difficult because agency language and intentional language is hard to avoid as evolution acts without intent.
Now you all should know by now I’m not going to argue for or against evolution here. That’s for you all if you want to. I leave that to the readers who want to comment. I am not a scientist and I do not play one on TV and if I tried to speak on a subject I didn’t do reading on, I would embarrass myself.
However, I can speak about the philosophy of science and I do notice that evolution is often spoke of in terms of agency, which is really difficult to avoid as I think it’s part of the human tendency. At the same time, the biggest loss in this is really the removal of final causality. Some of you might be wondering what that is.
Aristotle listed four kinds of causes overall and the final cause was the reason something exists. What is the goal? What is the endgame? That doesn’t have to be an intentional goal. An iceberg floating through water makes it colder and does not turn it into cotton candy. The iceberg is not intending to make cold water, but that is what happens.
And evolution does not make sense without final causation.
After all, what is the point? That the fittest and best might survive and reproduce. This is not saying evolution if real is an intentional agency. It’s saying that that is the result when left to its processes just as the iceberg all things being equal will make the water colder.
For Christians, this is also the way we need to really look at design. You can go with an ID route all you want, but I prefer this route. This route that says there is a way that things consistently act in the universe, so much so that we practically expect it and can build scientific theorems around it. Imagine doing science in a world where one day water boils at 212 degrees F, the next day at 163 degrees F, and the next day at 34 degrees F. The world would be chaos.
And yet, it isn’t. There is consistently order in the universe which needs to be explained. Things act, intentionally or unintentionally, towards ends, and that needs to be explained.
If evolution is true, well that’s just the way God did it and cool. If it is not, God chose another way and cool. Either way, our system is set for working towards an end and for the Christian, even if the system is not intentional in its working, which we do not think it is, the mind behind the system and the rest of the universe is.
Again, I leave it to you all if you want to debate evolution. God bless Christians who do, provided you show it’s false science if it is. That’s not for me to determine. I just don’t want it to be we go to skeptics and tell them to choose the Bible or science. Too many will choose science, and sadly many Christian youth will do the same.
There’s also the section in the book where he said Quantum Field Theory is how we know we can’t bend spoons with our minds.
Just a guess, but I think many of us don’t have a clue about that theory and yet have full confidence we can’t bend spoons with our minds.
On p. 203, he says theists think they have a better explanation of the universe because they root it in a necessary being, but then says that there are no necessary beings.
And that’s it.

Glad we got that settled.

Imagine if I said, “Evolutionists say they have a better explanation based on common descent, but there is no common descent.”
Ridiculous? Yep. True? How should I know? Bad argument either way. It would have to be demonstrated on my part and I am nowhere close to making such an assertion let alone demonstrating it.
Finally, let’s look at one section definitely worth quoting verbatim.
“You’re telling me that judging right from wrong is just a matter of our personal feelings and preferences, grounded in nothing more substantial than our own views, with nothing external to back it up? That there are no objectively true moral facts out there in the world?
Yes, but admitting that morality is constructed, rather than found lying on the street, doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as morality. All hell has not broken loose.
The Big Picture by Sean Carroll pg 409-410.

As I contended in earlier blog posts such as here, this is a highly dangerous claim to make. If morality is not real, why don’t we live accordingly? If we are making it up, we can make it to be whatever we want. Anyone can set their own rules. Nothing is right and wrong. We just hope other people will play the game the same way we do and the only way to back it up is might makes right.

Fortunately, we live in a world where good and evil are real. I suspect we all know it to some extent not by our actions so much as our reactions.
Carroll’s book is good, but I do not find it persuasive. It is a step above many atheist writings, which sadly isn’t saying much, and he does strike me as a reasonable fellow, but I walked away not finding any major challenge.
In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

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