Saturday, September 26, 2009

An argument for atheism: the scientific juggernaut

This is the what I call the argument from the scientific juggernaut. I am redating this post from a couple of years back, as it is a perennial issue. Every time some explanatory difficulty for atheism comes up, you get this argument that science is filling all the gaps and we just need to be patient.

1) In the past, many things were directly attributed to divine activity, ex. Rainbows were thought to be put in the sky by God as an expression of His promise never again to flood the earth after Noah.
2) However, these explanations have been displaced naturalistic explanations. Rainbows, for example, can be explained in terms of light refraction.
3) So if something appears as if it cannot be explained naturalistically, instead of invoking the supernatural, we should instead confidently wait for science to do its job.
4) Therefore, we should never accept a theistic explanation of anything.
5) But if God explains nothing, then we should simply deny His existence.
6) Therefore, we ought to believe that God does not exist.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why would God inspire a book which claimed that God put a rainbow in the sky, presumably in much the same way that it is God who puts bent sticks in water?

John W. Loftus said...

Premise 4) Therefore, we should never accept a theistic explanation of anything.

Should be revised as follows:

4) Therefore, we should probably not accept a theistic explanation of anything.

Leaving us with

5) But if God probably explains nothing, then we should simply deny His existence.
6) Therefore, we ought to believe that God probably does not exist.


I think this works!

Tom Gilson said...

Somehow between your 4, 5, and 6, John, you shifted from an epistemic probability to an ontological one. 4 is we probably do not have a theistic explanation, while 6 is we probably do not have a God.

Set aside for a moment the point I made in Victor's parallel post, which I think on its own is enough to cause you quite a problem. Can you even justify the epistemic-to-ontological leap you made here?

Jason said...

I haven't seen atheists use the argument as your straw man argument, but since natural science does get results, it certainly can used as an appeal for naturalism.

I would like to ask you two question, Victor. It really is just one question though.

Under what circumstances should scientists declare that certain events in the world are genuinely caused supernaturally and cease to investigate any further? Don't you think that scientist do need to work with an assumption that there is natural explanation?

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

The logic flows wrong from #4.

Based on #1-3, we should never take a theistic explanation of anything for granted. Thus, when faced with a physical phenomenon to explain, one should conduct a thorough search for a physical explanation prior to accepting a theistic explanation.

That thorough search for physical explanations is the project of science, and is still ongoing -- i.e., is not yet completely "thorough." Until that project is complete, no particular physical phenomenon can be adduced as evidence for the existence of God.

However, the fact that physical phenomena exist at all, as a class, is outside the purview of science, for the discovery of a physical explanation for a phenomenon merely provides science with another physical phenomenon to explain. When phenomena for which no physical explanation is possible are reached, science will have reached the end of its current project and other types of explanation will be necessary.

These explanations may be theistic, circular (i.e., some phenomenon produces a chain of phenomena which leads causally to the initial phenomenon), or absurd, or perhaps some other class of which I am not aware or am not currently thinking.

But in the meanwhile, specific physical phenomena are not useful as evidence for God.

JD Walters said...

I have critiqued this argument here:

http://toegodspot.blogspot.com/2007/01/naturalistic-explanations-stumbling.html

Plantinga Fan said...

An argument for atheism was given:
(1) In the past, many things were directly attributed to divine activity, ex. Rainbows were thought to be put in the sky by God as an expression of His promise never again to flood the earth after Noah.
2) However, these explanations have been displaced naturalistic explanations. Rainbows, for example, can be explained in terms of light refraction.
3) So if something appears as if it cannot be explained naturalistically, instead of invoking the supernatural, we should instead confidently wait for science to do its job.
4) Therefore, we should never accept a theistic explanation of anything.
5) But if God explains nothing, then we should simply deny His existence.
6) Therefore, we ought to believe that God does not exist.

My problem with this argument is what I call the “some-to-all” fallacy. By this I mean that you cannot logically by means of deduction, infer from some/from particulars, to a universal conclusion. I have seen Calvinists repeatedly make this logical error when arguing for Calvinism. They will take some bible verses that refer to predestination of a particular event (and there are some), and then conclude after presenting 2 or 3 of these kind of bible verses, that therefore God predestines ALL events, in spite of other bible passages where the events appear to involve freely chosen actions on the part of people. Instead of mistakenly concluding that ALL events are predetermined, the logical inductive conclusion that includes all of the available data is to claim instead that: God predestines some events and some events are not predestined by God. I share this theological error because I believe the same kind of fallacious thinking is occurring here as well.

Premise 1 refers to the fact that some events have been explained by being “directly attributable to divine activity.” Premise 2 refers to the fact that some of these explanations have been “displaced by naturalistic explanations”. Premise 3 refers to the methodological assumption that if at present we cannot explain something by means of a naturalistic explanation, instead of invoking the supernatural, “we should instead confidently wait for science to do its job”. Premise 4 is a conclusion that “we should never accept a theistic explanation of anything.”

This whole thing is riddled with unstated assumptions and questionable conclusions. P1 at most can claim that SOME events are claimed to be “directly attributable to divine activity.” I sometimes do stupid actions, and I do not attribute these actions to divine activity. Rather, I attribute them to human activity, in this case to my own foolishness. The same goes for when humans sin; most Christians do not invoke “divine activity” as the explanation for their own sin. Christians generally speaking only invoke direct divine activity to actions that God does such as creation and miracles that do not involve secondary agents or what we call “providence.” Science deals with physical phenomena and processes. By definition if God who is a Spirit acts, whether in creating the world out of nothing, or by doing a miracle in the created order, as a spirit His action is non-physical and beyond the realm of science. Or put another way, if God is non-physical and His direct actions involve non-physical causation, Science can say nothing about God’s activities.

The only way in which completely physical processes and realities could explain ALL EVENTS THAT OCCUR IN THE SPACE TIME UNIVERSE THAT EXISTS, is if in fact all of reality was physical and no non-physical realities were present. And this could only be true if materialism were true. But materialism has never been proven to be true, and in fact, there is evidence of immaterial realities showing materialism to be false. Science per se deals only with physical explanations. And that would be sufficient only if materialism were true. Materialists will invoke science against Christianity as a way of “proving” Christianity to be false. But the problem for Christianity is not science, but materialism. If God created a world that is partly physical, and He created an orderly world, then we would expect some physical explanations to be perfectly appropriate and correct. But just because science may get the “physical story” correct does not mean that only physical explanations are useful, or that no other explanations that are not strictly physical are incorrect or useless. Wittgenstein made this point, that there are different language games involving different forms of rules and explanations. Science is quite good and useful in the how does the physical work game. But Science is extremely weak and practically useless in the why should we do this game. If I ask you how you drove to the store. You could provide a physical description of the laws of physics and the mechanics involved in the car taking you to the store. We could describe it all mathematically and precisely. On the other hand, if we asked you “why did you drive to the store?” You may engage in a personal explanation giving reasons/teleology for your trip to the store (which could include you drove to the store to join the boycott of the store, you had a bet that you could get to the store before they did, you feel like celebrating some personal victory by cooking your favorite dinner so you needed the seasoning, etc. etc. etc.). The why explanations are not inferior to the physical/how explanations, just different. Similarly, theological explanations may be different from physical/how explanations but they are not inferior nor are they always inappropriate.

An additional problem in Premise 3 is the claim that if something cannot be explained naturalistically (take it as **physically**), then we ought to wait for science to do its job. But if some valid and relevant explanations do not involve strictly physical explanations, we will be waiting a long time for “science to do its job”. :-) Science is not the only arbiter of truth (unless of course you believe in “scientism”; but then of course your belief would be wrong anyway, :-)). Science is very good at arbiting truth about physical events and processes, but lousy at arbiting between competing moral claims. And since Christianity involves moral claims and a God who is a pure Spirit, the Clint Eastwood slogan becomes important: “a man’s got to know his limitations.” Science is useful, but outside the realm of physical events and processes, it has its limitations. Unless of course you believe in “scientism” in which case for you “science” has all of the answers to all of the questions.

Premise 3 speaks of science doing its job. But what is the job of science? To provide physical explanations of physical phenomena. In this it does quite well. And here is the key problem, only some phenomena are strictly physical and so capable of physical explanation. There is a whole host of phenomena, just as real, just as important, that do not involve strictly physical explanations. Science can help us design the bomb, but non-scientific realities will determine whether or not we use the bomb or not. The claim of the materialist that everything must be explained in terms of physical explanations or it is not true, worthwhile or real, is merely a dogmatic assertion of “scientism”.

Premise 4 is laughable. Science can only deal well with physical explanations. Premise 4 claims that all theological explanations should be thrown out, kept out of the game, **never** accepted as an explanation for anything. How does one logically and deductively go from using physical explanations (i.e., Science) and the success of physical explanations for SOME phenomena, to the conclusion that ALL theological explanations should be discarded? Especially when some phenomena involve processes and events and realities that are not physical? This is the “some to all” fallacy with a vengeance. Since SOME realities can be well explained by using science, therefore, ALL realities can be well explained by science? And ALL non-scientific explanations are to be discarded?

Plantinga Fan

Basic Fan said...

wow, Plantingafan used his response to an argument for atheism to sneak in a critique against Calvinism! Anyone seen Cable Guy lately?

Jason said...

Plantinga Fan,

Under what circumstances should scientists declare that certain events in the world are genuinely caused supernaturally and cease to investigate any further? Don't you think that scientist do need to work with an assumption that there is natural explanation?

Also your objection to "why" questions..

Computers, cars, cell phones and such devices to primitive human thousands of years ago would ignite some interest due to exotic looks and flashing lights, but without knowing what it is used for, soon it would mean no more than rocks.
Humans in recent millennial developed ways to utilize tools, and naturally started to exhibit tendency to ask the purpose and what such tool is used for.
Human's tendency to be teleological made Pagans ask what thunders, lightnings, waves, earthquakes and such are for. They reasoned in their primitive mind that they were designed by gods.
Now we pride ourselves for knowing that these things are natural phenomena we expect to occur.
Though we still ask questions like, "why did tsunami have to happen taking away thousands of innocent children?" or "why has cancer struck my child?" or conversely "why did my cancer be cured?"
People still ask these questions, what the purpose of these events are, even though these events are what you would precisely expect living in a natural world with natural orders. People with teleology intrinsically hard-wired in them have such a hard time comprehending that nature is neither good nor bad.
I have diverted from the original topic, but I wanted to illustrate that our tendency to reason teleologically is not always correct.

So under what circumstances should we ask "why" question? What should be the reasonable condition to do so?

Your objection to 3 and 4 are based on your dualist position.
I am not going to necessarily agree or disagree with physical ism nor dualism, but I want to side with scientists who work on assumption that the world they observe are something of physical and natural instead of supernatural.

Plantinga Fan said...

Jason asked:

‘Under what circumstances should scientists declare that certain events in the world are genuinely caused supernaturally and cease to investigate any further? Don't you think that scientist do need to work with an assumption that there is natural explanation?’

There is nothing wrong with making the assumption that something is a physical phenomenon and then investigating it in a scientific fashion. Again, Science is a good and useful tool of investigation of strictly physical phenomena. The problem is when some try to extrapolate from science and a methodological assumption of naturalism, jumping to the conclusion that only the physical exists or that only science provides valid explanations. You need to be able to differentiate between scientific investigation and SCIENTISM.

‘Computers, cars, cell phones and such devices to primitive human thousands of years ago would ignite some interest due to exotic looks and flashing lights, but without knowing what it is used for, soon it would mean no more than rocks.
Humans in recent millennial developed ways to utilize tools, and naturally started to exhibit tendency to ask the purpose and what such tool is used for.’

According to the Christian worldview nature does have some purposes as an intelligent mind created it, maintains it, and planned for it.

‘Human's tendency to be teleological made Pagans ask what thunders, lightnings, waves, earthquakes and such are for. They reasoned in their primitive mind that they were designed by gods.’

I would be careful about this “primitive mind” thinking. The human mind is not a primitive mind and as it was created by an intelligent creator is the same mind across cultures. Our knowledge of science and technology has increased but the human mind is still the human mind.

‘Now we pride ourselves for knowing that these things are natural phenomena we expect to occur.
Though we still ask questions like, "why did tsunami have to happen taking away thousands of innocent children?" or "why has cancer struck my child?" or conversely "why did my cancer be cured?"
People still ask these questions, what the purpose of these events are, even though these events are what you would precisely expect living in a natural world with natural orders.’

Actually people ask these kinds of questions because in their heart of hearts they know that God exists and is behind the whole thing.

‘People with teleology intrinsically hard-wired in them have such a hard time comprehending that nature is neither good nor bad.’

Actually nature was created and initially was very good, but because of the entrance of sin is now corrupted by sin and its effects. So nature is not neutral but fallen and sin effected.

“So under what circumstances should we ask "why" question? What should be the reasonable condition to do so?’

Whenever you are dealing with persons and their actions, we will be dealing with their reasons for acting and so “why” questions are perfectly appropriate and helpful. If we ask someone who has committed a crime: “why did you do it?” We are not expecting a purely physical explanation. We are asking for a personal explanation, the reasons why they did what they did.

‘Your objection to 3 and 4 are based on your dualist position.
I am not going to necessarily agree or disagree with physical ism nor dualism, but I want to side with scientists who work on assumption that the world they observe are something of physical and natural instead of supernatural.’

It is not a question of “siding” with the scientists, scientists assume naturalism in order to **restrict** themselves to **physical explanations**. And again there is nothing wrong with assuming this when dealing with strictly physical processes and events. At the same time physical explanations are not the only game in town.

Plantinga Fan

Jason said...

plantinga fan,

Things you have said "actually" to are presumptions and speculations at best. Simply adding "actually" prior to whatever you say on the basis of your belief does not suggest in anyway that it is true in nature.

"Whenever you are dealing with persons and their actions, we will be dealing with their reasons for acting and so “why” questions are perfectly appropriate and helpful. If we ask someone who has committed a crime: “why did you do it?” We are not expecting a purely physical explanation. We are asking for a personal explanation, the reasons why they did what they did."

In terms of massive earth quakes or hurricanes which are expected physical events, is there any room for asking personal explanation?

"It is not a question of “siding” with the scientists, scientists assume naturalism in order to **restrict** themselves to **physical explanations**. And again there is nothing wrong with assuming this when dealing with strictly physical processes and events. At the same time physical explanations are not the only game in town."

I am confused what your definition is of "strictly physical processes". You have pointed out that nature is originally good and now it's affected by sin (which I would find to be purely speculative), then what is a strictly physical process?

Also is it okay for scientists to assume miracles claims of Christianity to have naturalistic explanation that requires no supernatural reasons or believe that they are simply myths?

Dmitry Chernikov said...

William Dembski has repeatedly noted that the case for ID is twofold. First, there is the negative argument to the effect that naturalism has failed to account for specified complexity, that it continuously gives us a "promissory note" which it shows no signs of ever redeeming. He's used phrases like "a global disciplinary failure." Second, there is the positive argument that just as no one would ever seek a natural way through which a computer came into existence, or a way through which a message received from outer space containing the first thousand primes arose naturalistically, so it is silly and vain to try to seek a naturalistic explanation for the apparent design of biological systems exhibiting specified complexity. The inference to the best explanation is that such systems were designed.

So, the fact that most phenomena have been shown to have a natural explanation is no guarantee that all phenomena are such. The distinction between nature and grace is real, even if grace is not bestowed often or according to a law. If God can infuse charity into a person, He can surely manipulate biological structures.

Plantinga Fan said...

Jason wrote:

‘Things you have said "actually" to are presumptions and speculations at best. Simply adding "actually" prior to whatever you say on the basis of your belief does not suggest in anyway that it is true in nature.’

I stated my views and as this is merely an internet discussion I am not obligated to argue for and establish every point that I make.

‘In terms of massive earth quakes or hurricanes which are expected physical events, is there any room for asking personal explanation?’

If we were studying these events scientifically we would assume they are strictly physical processes and events, so scientific study of them would be perfectly appropriate. But as there is more to reality than merely the physical, in some instances there could also be a more personal element involved in the phenomena. As Plantinga himself has suggested there are events that involve God or even angelic beings. If that is the case, then there would be “room for asking personal explanation”.

I had stated:

"It is not a question of “siding” with the scientists, scientists assume naturalism in order to **restrict** themselves to **physical explanations**. And again there is nothing wrong with assuming this when dealing with strictly physical processes and events. At the same time physical explanations are not the only game in town."

Jason commented:

‘I am confused what your definition is of "strictly physical processes". You have pointed out that nature is originally good and now it's affected by sin (which I would find to be purely speculative), then what is a strictly physical process?’

A strictly physical process would involve no immaterial aspects, so there would be no mind, no intentionality, objects composed of parts and materials, and the phenomena would be observable and could be described mathematically. In contrast, as an example, if someone had a love for another person, intentionality and mind would be involved, and love cannot be described mathematically very well. For me, physical events and processes will lack the involvement of a mind and intentionality, be observable (directly or indirectly through various instruments) and would be quantifiable and so capable of precise mathematical description.

‘Also is it okay for scientists to assume miracles claims of Christianity to have naturalistic explanation that requires no supernatural reasons or believe that they are simply myths?’

A scientist who **assumes** a miraculous event which had occurred to have a “naturalistic explanation” would be making a major category mistake (a helpful philosopher who understood how different explanations belong in different areas of thought is Wittgenstein).

A miracle would involve a mind, intentionality, non-physical realities and would in fact be incapable of scientific explanation. Example - if you supernaturally spoke an Eskimo language, a scientist could tape your words and analyze the sound waves and physical realities that were involved in your speaking, but he would have no access as to how the miraculous speaking had occurred. The meanings connected with the physical sounds and how those meanings were produced and then expressed by your mind would be completely beyond the realm of science. And this event would go beyond a strictly physical explanation.

Plantinga Fan

Jason said...

I didn’t know that you were simply presenting your views. Sorry about that.

Plantinga himself would have no idea under what circumstances such supernatural cause is involved and is not involved in a natural event. So we still would have no idea whether if there is any “room for asking personal explanation” or not.

Hurricanes and earthquakes are predictable (to certain extent) natural events, we expect to occur. We also expect that when you throw a rock up in the sky that it will fall. We also expect Earth revolve around Sun once a year. All these are physical events. Under what circumstances can we say things like “This is God’s wrath” or “This is God’s gift”.

Intentionality that was often thought as the dead end of behaviourism is now considered by many philosophers to be really functionalizable. When we have a presuppositional stance we have certain potential to act accordingly to presuppositional stance.
I am not trying to speak for physicalism nor dualism. What I am merely trying to do is to show you that there are areas where is strictly physical and what is strictly mental are undistinguishable.

You continue to assert as though we do strictly know what is genuinely miraculous and what is not. Things like earthquake, storm, lightening and such were all thought to be some miraculous interventions by gods by our Pagan ancestors but they turned out to be something obvious.

Plantinga Fan said...

Jason wrote:

”Plantinga himself would have no idea under what circumstances such supernatural cause is involved and is not involved in a natural event. So we still would have no idea whether if there is any “room for asking personal explanation” or not.”

Well if a personal agent, such as God, angels or humans is involved, then I think Plantinga or anyone else would suggest that there would likely be some evidence of such involvement.

“Under what circumstances can we say things like “This is God’s wrath” or “This is God’s gift”.”

First, if God had told us/revealed to us, that a particular event included his involvement,that would be circumstances in which we could conclude that God had acted. For Christians we believe the bible includes just such events. The important ones being the creation of the world by God (as referred to in Genesis) and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (as referred to in the New Testament books). Besides biblical evidence, we could look for signs of intelligence, a mind being involved, intentionality, a language of some kind being employed. How would you know a person was acting, that a phenomena was not just physical? Answering that question answers your question.

”Intentionality that was often thought as the dead end of behaviourism is now considered by many philosophers to be really functionalizable. When we have a presuppositional stance we have certain potential to act accordingly to presuppositional stance.”

Actually Noam Chomsky completely destroyed B. F. Skinner’s behaviorist position in his review of Skinner’s book: A REVIEW OF B. F. SKINNER’S VERBAL BEHAVIOR (available on the web free of charge). In that essay Chomsky shows that language involves a mind and that strictly stimulus-response explanations completely fail when applied to language use. Personally, I believe language use is a devastating argument against all forms of materialism (and determinism).

The preconditions that make language use possible cannot exist in a purely physical world nor is language use determined (it involves multiple freely chosen actions by the person speaking/writing).

”I am not trying to speak for physicalism nor dualism. What I am merely trying to do is to show you that there are areas where is strictly physical and what is strictly mental are undistinguishable.”

I disagree; I think we can see when a mind is involved as opposed to when a process or event is strictly physical. Even children learn rather early the difference between inanimate objects (stuffed animals) and animate beings (such as persons and animals). I believe the categories of mental and physical are so different that it is rather easy to distinguish one from another.

”You continue to assert as though we do strictly know what is genuinely miraculous and what is not.”

Even in the first century they understood that dead bodies stay dead. So if a body dies and then resurrects, they rightfully concluded that a miracle had occurred. One need not be a rocket science to conclude that a miracle has occurred.

“Things like earthquake, storm, lightening and such were all thought to be some miraculous interventions by gods by our Pagan ancestors but they turned out to be something obvious.”

You keep returning to the beliefs of human persons prior to the rise of science as evidence that people cannot tell the difference between a miracle and a natural event. That seems a bit of a straw man to me. Assume the existence and success of modern science, then take some phenomena and ask whether or not it qualifies as a miracle.

You also need to distinguish between God’s use of natural phenomena to accomplish his purposes from miracles. Miracles are pretty obvious, but God using a natural phenomena is more subtle. Assume that event X involves God using a natural phenomena to accomplish some purpose. This same event would involve two very different forms of explanation and yet both would be correct. We could examine event X from a scientific point of view by quantifying it, describing it mathematically, and say we knew everything that could be known about it when it comes to physics. And yet a personal explanation would say God did event X to accomplish some particular purpose. Is the scientific explanation of event X wrong? No, it is insufficient as it does not include the personal element.

Also consider our own actions, they consist of both a physical reality and an immaterial reality (again, language use is such a great illustration of this: both the physical and the mental/immaterial being present and involved in the same phenomena).

Francis Schaeffer once gave the example of a kiss between persons. From a strictly physical perspective the kiss involves the exchange of microbes, touching of two bodies, etc. But is that all that that kiss means? Of course not, the mental meaning associated with the physical event may be extremely important to the persons involved. And Schaeffer’s example makes the point clearly that physical explanations may be correct and yet they leave out important non-physical realities.

Plantinga Fan

Plantinga Fan said...

Thank you for your comments Dmitry.

You wrote: “William Dembski has repeatedly noted that the case for ID is twofold. First, there is the negative argument to the effect that naturalism has failed to account for specified complexity, that it continuously gives us a "promissory note" which it shows no signs of ever redeeming. He's used phrases like "a global disciplinary failure."”

Yes, one of the major “promissory notes” is to provide for a completely biological and physical explanation for the inherent knowledge of, learning of, and acquisition of language by human persons with normal faculties. Chomsky has conclusively shown that we are pre-programmed or wired for language use. Children in any and every human society and culture acquire language with ease, and are capable of engaging in language use that no other earthly creatures are even close to engaging in.

I find it hilarious that all humans use language, including those who espouse scientism and a materialistic worldview, when this language use involves an immaterial mind, multiple freely chosen actions, concepts and representations that are not physical, etc. Etc. It is funny because the minute they open their mouths to argue against God or the reality of nonphysical realities (such as minds, souls, angels, etc. Etc.) they are using their immaterial minds, immaterial concepts and representations (e.g. the connective “or” is a regular part of human language, but where does “or” exist in the world of physical objects, it doesn’t, yet we all use this concept regularly).

“Second, there is the positive argument that just as no one would ever seek a natural way through which a computer came into existence, or a way through which a message received from outer space containing the first thousand primes arose naturalistically, so it is silly and vain to try to seek a naturalistic explanation for the apparent design of biological systems exhibiting specified complexity. The inference to the best explanation is that such systems were designed.”

Again, messages in a language are a direct refutation of materialistic philosophy and scientism. If a message were received from outer space it would involve both specified complexity and immaterial concepts. The abductive inference that ought to be drawn by evidence of minds, meaning, language, specified complexity, irreducible complexity, etc. Etc. Is that the materialist worldview is completely bankrupt and incapable of providing explanations for some of our most common experiences.

“So, the fact that most phenomena have been shown to have a natural explanation is no guarantee that all phenomena are such.”

Great point Dmitry. Even showing that “most” phenomena have a natural explanation does not prove that “all” phenomena are susceptible to natural explanation.

“The distinction between nature and grace is real, even if grace is not bestowed often or according to a law. If God can infuse charity into a person, He can surely manipulate biological structures.”

And the fact that materialistic philosophy denies the existence of grace again shows it to be a bankrupt and deficient world view. Regarding God infusing charity or manipulating biological structures, would that not necessarily involve a mind, intentionality, and realities completely beyond the realm of science/strictly physical explanations?

Plantinga Fan

Finney said...

Fallacy of composition?

unkle e said...

I have a different perspective on this.

When I was a boy there were three popular theories about the origin of the universe - the big bang, steady state and pulsating. Steady state was the most favoured in the books that I read, despite its requirement of continuous creation of matter, perhaps partly because it didn't seem to suggest a God did it. But then the big bang was shown to be correct, which has much more of a look of God about it.

One argument for the existence of God was the teleological argument, based on the apparent design of the world (Paley's watchmaker). It wasn't much in favour because evolution explained all the amazing diversity of life on earth. But only a few years later, Brandon Carter drew attention to the "large number coincidences" at the core of the laws governing the universe as a whole. These have not been successfully explained, and have been assessed by most leading cosmologists (e.g. Rees, Susskind, Weinberg, Smolin, Penrose) as being virtually impossible by chance. The teleological argument has been resurrected and is now one of the strongest arguments for God.

A few generations ago, humanists confidently predicted the coming of a new golden age of science and education and peace on earth, and all things good, as the human race grew to adulthood and took control of its own destiny. Instead, we had a century of great turmoil and war, where the new "adult" humanity, and anti-theistic regimes, killed each other at levels never before seen. Scientists, the supposed high priests of this brave new world, participated in some gruesome experiments and torture of their fellow humans, showing themselves to be just as fallible and capable of inhuman behaviour as the rest of us. (As Lou Reed wrote: "you can't depend on the goodly hearted, the goodly hearted made lampshades and soap".) The result is that many social commentators believe "modernism", the "age of reason and science", has significantly weaned our culture off its faith in science and scientists, recognising that science has been used in many cases to justify a reductionist and inhuman approach to life. People are turning back to spirituality of many and various kinds.

I don't think there is much of a battle between science and belief in God, but if there is, science isn't "winning" quite as much as some people say.

IlĂ­on said...

Hell! "Naturalists" can't admit a "miracle" which meets their own "criteria" -- they simply redefine things and move the goal-posts ... From May 2008: "You can't get more dead than that"

According to 'naturalism,' to say nothing of 'medical science,' Mrs Thomas was clearly dead. But, she clearly wan't actually dead after she was apparently dead.

So, was she dead in the first place?

Or, if she wasn't dead in the first place, what does this tell us about procurement of organs for transplant?

--------------
Can it *ever* be morally permissible to take a person's vital organs if we do not for a fact that the person in deally dead?

Consider this in France (it occurred early in 2008, but wasn't reported until later) --

The Independent: 'Dead' patient comes around as organs are about to be removedThe Daily Telegraph: 'Dead' man wakes as transplant surgeons prepare to remove his organs

Gregory said...

This question was asked:

"Under what circumstances should scientists declare that certain events in the world are genuinely caused supernaturally and cease to investigate any further? Don't you think that scientist do need to work with an assumption that there is natural explanation?"I can think of three circumstances:

1) The Cosmic singularity which triggered the "Big Bang".

2) Human will

3) Love

On point 1:

The moments predating the "Big Bang" are not susceptible of any kind of scientific explanation. In fact, if some persons were able to traverse backwards in time toward the initial singularity, they would see that the physical laws, as well as time and space, break down into virtually nothing. Therefore, there cannot be a scientific explanation for the beginning of the universe....if by "scientific" explanation you mean "explained by natural law".

On point #2:

The human "will" cannot be explained by science precisely because such an explanation undercuts itself.

How can a "scientific explanation" explain scientific explanations scientifically?

Or to put another way: if scientific explanations explain everything, then how do they explain themselves?

There is a point at which such explanations are not reducible to further analysis, and must be accepted apart from any rational/scientific inference. There is a "bottom line"---what philosophers used to call first principles---in all scientific theorizing.

On point #3:

Love has absolutely no analogue or correspondence with the objects of sense perception, or in the matrix of causal explanation.

Love is not "rational". In fact, people who "love" are often accused of acting irrationally and inconsistently with--what others perceive as--their "normal" behavior pattern.

And when we attempt to do something that is "loving" toward someone we love, like buying roses for a girlfriend or wife, we don't say or think this:

"Honey, I'm glad you like the flowers I got you. I know you must be thinking that I must really love by having given you these roses as a token of my deep, heartfelt affection for you; but that is not the case at all. I got you these flowers because of antecedent conditions working within myself, which caused me to pick them up and give them to you. I could not do otherwise."

This runs against our intuitions of "love"....and would be deeply insulting to the person to whom had to listen to them.

We intuitively believe that when someone does something nice or loving to us, that that kind of "act" was freely chosen (i.e. not determined)....that it was done irrespective of personal feelings and/or our biological causal histories.

One Brow said...

I agree with the general sentiment that this is not a particularly strong or compelling argument against the existence of some God or gods.

To proceed, science depends on cedrtain metaphysical understandings, like the uniform behavior of material objects. While it has great successes, these assumptions can't really be proven by science itself.

Jesse said...

::5) But if God explains nothing, then we should simply deny His existence.

Science, in itself, is predicated on faith; faith that the universe works in a particular way, a particular way which, as C.S. Lewis points out, cannot itself be explained for it's the basis of explanation. And it doesn't matter how uniformly and reliably the universe has worked in the past, its future ongoings will always be a matter of faith:

Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: *you can never prove it.* No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory. --Steven Hawking

That's a grand admission from Mr. Hawking! 1) It's categorical, and 2) it has radical implications. It means that no physical theory can, by itself, ever remain anything but pure faith. It gets right to the observation of earlier philosophers like Hume and Decartes, the latter who noted, "from the fact that we are now it does not follow that we shall be a moment afterwards, unless some cause, viz. That which first produced us shall, as it were, continually reproduce us, that is, conserve us." And not just us, but every thing in existence.

The intuition of this radical contingency was, I believe, the basis for the terrible capriciousness attributed to the pagan gods -- a capriciousness which Islam (and Calvinism?) still attributes to its deity. Incidentally, the atheist denial of the philosophical construct of a Rational Mind, i.e., God, which accounts for the (otherwise blind presumption of) ongoing rationality at the core of the universe perpetuates the very ground for the mistaken pagan belief in a fundamental capriciousness to the universe by perpetuating blind faith as a first principle (the same bogus charge they level against Christians). The only basis aside from pure whimsical blind faith by which atheists can scoff at and mock primitive pagan belief is the philosophical explanation of God, which, by definition, they reject -- and scoff at and mock.

Blue Devil Knight said...

If I were a theist, I'd reject premise 5. God is immanent in all, even things we can explain. Sure, we don't need God to explain why the Earth revolves around the Sun, but God sustains all that. Not as an explanatory gap filler, but as the ground of all being.

J said...

Science does at times modify theological assumptions--evolution and radiocarbon dating shows the earlier creatonist views were mistaken, at least if read literally. Einstein and quantum physics modified the absolute time and space of Newton.


There's another type of theological fallacy based on science which one still notes, especially with the Intelligent Design crowd: the idea that Continuity itself proves a Being who preserves order (really, one might say the older Aquinas arguments from cause also presume that).

While I would agree there may be a slightly plausible Deistic point to continuity, order, uniformity of phenomena (and thus Design arguments), that in itself does not suffice as proof of monotheistic Creator. One could possibly infer an Order-keeper, but Order keeper also arranges plagues, insects, predators, poorly engineered/extinct species.

Jesse said...

Hi J.

William James used a similar argument, an argument to which I've responded with what I call the Kaleidoscope Argument:
http://soberinebriationblog.blogspot.com/2008/08/science-realist-philosophy-and-god.html

Check it out sometime if you feel like it...

KBC said...

Excellent!!!