Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Does Scientific Progress Lessen Our Need for God?

This is Dmitry Chernikov's post why scientific progress doesn't refute theism.

7 comments:

Robert said...

Hello Victor,

I assume the question based on Dmitry’s blog is: “Does Scientific Progress Lessen Our Need for God?”

As long as I have been a Christian I have never felt or sensed any threat from science or belief that science properly practiced threatens Christianity. My first mentor as a Christian was a physicist, who gave me books by Francis Schaeffer and C. S. Lewis to read. Neither of these men felt threatened by science and I believe the reason is simple.

When it comes to giving explanations there are two major forms of explanations which Theologians and scientists are involved with. The Theologian wants to know why and who was behind something so they are primarily concerned with **personal explanations**. The scientist on the other hand, is investigating nature and their primary question is **how** does this work, **how** does this occur? So the key distinction is between HOW and WHY explanations.

As a Christian I believe that God is rational and created an orderly universe. As such this orderly universe can be studied, **how** questions can be asked and answered. As more and more scientific information comes in, more and more **how** questions are being answered. And yet we could answer every how question as to how nature works and we would still not be in the area of why questions, or personal explanations at all.

Consider the quote by Feynman that Dmitry shared:

“God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand. Now, when you finally discover how something works, you get some laws which you’re taking away from God; you don’t need him anymore. But you need him for the other mysteries. So therefore you leave him to create the universe because we haven’t figured that out yet; you need him for understanding those things which you don’t believe the laws will explain, such as consciousness, or why you only live to a certain length of time – life and death – stuff like that. God is always associated with those things that you do not understand. (quoted in Superstrings: A Theory of Everything, Paul C. W. Davies and Julian R. Brown eds.) “

Science is about understanding, understanding **how** nature works. Note especially Feynman’s line that “when you finally discover HOW [my emphasis] something works, you get some laws which you’re taking away from God; you don’t need him anymore.”
And who decided upon this universe with its natural laws? God did. So God creates this world with its natural laws, so the creation is orderly as God intended it to be, and you can in fact discover **how** it works. But in discovering how it works, does that mean that you take something away from God? NO, he formed the world and decided upon this world and its natural laws. Science properly done does not “take away” anything from God, it merely discovers the orderliness of this world and HOW it works. Again, if we knew how everything in nature worked, that would not eliminate God or take away from God, it would merely mean that we know how this universe which God made operates.

Notice Feynman also said “So therefore you leave him to create the universe because we haven’t figured that out yet; you need him for understanding those things which you don’t believe the laws will explain, such as consciousness, or why you only live to a certain length of time – life and death – stuff like that.”
The subjects he mentions here are precisely the subjects that go beyond the how explanations of science. If God created the world, then this creation by its very nature was supernatural and so beyond the sphere of scientific study. And regarding **how** God created the world we will never know, only that HE did create the world. Consciousness is another reality that science has a problem with because if the human person is a spirit with consciousness, we are talking about an immaterial personal being, and we are again outside the proper sphere of science (which is exclusively devoted to the study of physical aspects of nature, if it is not physical, and cannot be mathematically described, then it cannot be scientifically studied). Purpose is another subject outside of science, so the question of why God created the universe cannot be answered scientifically. Ethics and morality is outside of science. Meaning is outside of science.

Science properly practiced is a great thing that greatly benefits human kind. But science needs to be distinguished from **scientism** (the world view or philosophy that claims that science alone provides reliable knowledge and that science alone is necessary in order to explain things). People like Dawkins, Dennett, etc. are advocates of scientism not merely science. Christians on the other hand, have always been in favor of scientific practice. Human beings are both persons (and hence have a personal need to be in relationship with God) and things (we have physical aspects to our being, a body that operates in a real physical world). We need God and if we are wise we also will be positive about science. What we don’t need is the scientism of certain individuals who would attempt to use science in order to attack faith.

Robert

Hiero5ant said...

"As long as I have been a Christian I have never felt or sensed any threat from science or belief that science properly practiced threatens Christianity."

Speaking for myself, the scientific observation that three-day-old corpses suffering irreversible brain damage do not get up and walk around was rather devastating to my childhood beliefs of Christianity.

But that may just be the dogmatic darwinionaturatheism in me talking.

Robert said...

Hello Hiero5ant,

I had made the comment that:

"As long as I have been a Christian I have never felt or sensed any threat from science or belief that science properly practiced threatens Christianity."

Of course you know that part of the Christian worldview is that we believe that miracles can and do and have occurred. And I am guessing that you probably also know that the Christian faith has as one of its central truth claims that Jesus died and was physically resurrected, miraculously. We also believe that the same person who created everything and decided what natural laws would be operation also is able to act within his creation. With those things in mind it is interesting that you wrote:

“Speaking for myself, the scientific observation that three-day-old corpses suffering irreversible brain damage do not get up and walk around was rather devastating to my childhood beliefs of Christianity.”

The scientific observation that corpses suffer brain damage and other bodily decay and change and do not get up and walk is usually valid, ABSENT MIRACULOUS INTERVENTION BY GOD. It’s like a card game where the cards have set values, except for when you bring in a Joker. The entrance of the Joker changes the game. Similarly, miraculous intervention, if it occurs, changes the circumstances.

Apparently you did not know that when you had your childhood beliefs. Apparently you had a set of beliefs that did not include the possibility of miracles. Most Christians that I know have that belief as part of their set of beliefs. When I was a child I did not hold to Christianity, but I also knew if God existed and did miracles that that changes circumstances from **how things ordinarily go**. So I was not a believer but I held that belief about what miracles would mean.

“But that may just be the dogmatic darwinionaturatheism in me talking.”

Yep.

Robert

Hiero5ant said...

So all that NOMA business is just a smokescreen: science only deals in "how" and religion only deals in "why", unless science comes across a "how" that conflicts with a religious doctrine, then it's "scientism".

Reality is orderly and understandable, except when it temporarily is made not orderly or understandable, by a being or beings using un-understandable-in-principle mechanisms to effect goals rooted in alien psychology whose "ways are not our ways". Of course one will never sense a threat from science properly practiced if one simply *defines* science properly practiced as everything that does not conflict with your prior beliefs.

Robert said...

Hiero,

“So all that NOMA business is just a smokescreen: science only deals in "how" and religion only deals in "why", unless science comes across a "how" that conflicts with a religious doctrine, then it's "scientism".”

No, scientism is the claim that **only** science with its “how” explanations, provides reliable information. The fact is, the practicing scientists that I know, can tell you all sorts of things about **how** things work in nature. But noticeably absent is any reference to the purpose of some phenomena they explain. All my friends are also extremely good at math, they have to be. And yet if you ask a “why” question, mathematics is irrelevant.

Ask the defendant why did you fire that gun at the policeman and mathematics and science is irrelevant with respect to his personal explanation of why he did what he did (though mathematics and science will be very useful in determining things such as the trajectory of the bullet, which gun barrel the bullet came from etc. etc.). In this example science is very helpful but is not the **only** information that is useful in explaining things. People who advocate “scientism” as opposed to science, want us to believe that unless the information comes from science it cannot be reliable and really isn’t important. And this is simply false.

“Reality is orderly and understandable, except when it temporarily is made not orderly or understandable, by a being or beings using un-understandable-in-principle mechanisms to effect goals rooted in alien psychology whose "ways are not our ways".”

Interesting that you wrote “temporarily is made not orderly”. When a miracle occurs though the laws of nature may be suspended temporarily, they are not destroyed or eliminated. Science deals with how things ordinarily function. A useful phrase indicating honesty with the physical phenomena is to say “as far as we know” or “at the present time” (because the scientific findings are provisional not absolute).

“Of course one will never sense a threat from science properly practiced if one simply *defines* science properly practiced as everything that does not conflict with your prior beliefs.”

Again, as long as the issue is **how** something works, this does not conflict with **why** explanations or personal explanations. This world consists of both things and persons. Back to the defendant who is accused of shooting the policeman (assume that he did in fact shoot the policeman). The personal explanation as to why he did so is just as important as the explanation of how things occurred in nature during the criminal act by the defendant (and vice versa). The belief that the bullet travelled at such and such velocity and from such and such direction, impacting the policeman at point A, does not conflict with the information that the defendant personally knew the policeman and the policeman was a “dirty” cop who “had it comin”. Now if you want to claim that only things exist in nature, you dehumanize us and open the door for all sorts of problems where people are treated simply as things which can be destroyed or discarded or tampered with at the whim of those in power. I prefer to deal with the actual facts and the real world which is that both scientific “how” explanations and personal “why” explanations are both important and both reflect aspects of reality.

Robert

Dmitry Chernikov said...

Robert, so your view is that science studies efficient causes though not final causes. I think we can say that. But that does not mean that final causes cannot be studied by methodologies other than those of, say, physics. Praxeology and psychology are the paradigmatic sciences of human purposive actions, desires, plans, etc. E.g., if the question is, "Why am I writing this?" I could answer, "In order to contribute to the discussion." "Why bother with that?" ... "In the end, because I think it'll make me more happy than any other action." And now we hit an ultimate given, which is that humans seek happiness necessarily.

I have speculated that the Aristotelian four causes correspond to the four temperaments. So, let me generalize and say that the need for God will not be lessened even as knowledge and understanding increase in every subject, whether dealt with normally by NTs or NFs.

Robert said...

Hello Dmitry,

“Robert, so your view is that science studies efficient causes though not final causes. I think we can say that.”

That’s a pretty fair assessment.

“But that does not mean that final causes cannot be studied by methodologies other than those of, say, physics.”

You can choose to study anything, but that does not mean it is scientific. I reserve the accolades and designation of “science” to the **hard sciences** if you know what I mean.

“Praxeology and psychology are the paradigmatic sciences of human purposive actions, desires, plans, etc.”

I don’t consider Psychology to be science. It mimics science and replaces mathematical and precise descriptions with statistics and conjectures.

“I have speculated that the Aristotelian four causes correspond to the four temperaments. So, let me generalize and say that the need for God will not be lessened even as knowledge and understanding increase in every subject, whether dealt with normally by NTs or NFs.”

I agree the need for God will not be lessened by **any** further study or discovery. Even the hard sciences no matter what is discovered does not touch upon or get close to the personal and the teleological.

Robert