Saturday, October 23, 2010

Does science presuppose a theological world-view?

In the ensuing three hundred years, the theological dimension of science has faded. People take it for granted that the physical world is both ordered and intelligible. The underlying order in nature-the laws of physics-are simply accepted as given, as brute facts. Nobody asks where they come from; at least they do not do so in polite company. However, even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith that the universe is not absurd, that there is a rational basis to physical existence manifested as a lawlike order in nature that is at least in part comprehensible to us. So science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview.



Physicist Paul Davies "Physics and the Mind of God"

Why IS the universe not absurd, if there is no God? Why don't the laws of nature change from one week to the next?

31 comments:

shiningwhiffle said...

I'd like to agree with you, but Roderick T. Long has me convinced otherwise (see his answers to questions 1 and 2).

I don't take as strong a "it must have been this way" take as Long does, but I accept the point that questions about the nature of Universe that only a god could explain, in turn couldn't be explained about God. If was possible for nothing to be instead of something, then it would be possible for God not to have been. If it was possible for physical laws to be other than they are, then it was possible for God to be other than s/he is. Either argument for God just tosses the same question back on him/her/it/them.

Now, I do think assuming God stands up a little better than assuming the Universe and its laws, but not by so much that atheists can be blamed for not accepting this line of argument.

shiningwhiffle said...

Possibly related:

Back when I was a Mormon (and believed Elohim was one of an infinite number of gods in stretching back into eternity) I thought other denominations were silly in believing that (a) this is the only world, and (b) God existed for an infinite amount prior to creating it. For then why did God wait so long to create it? (Of course, logically he couldn't have spent any less time beforehand, but that was the whole point of the argument.)

I still think that's a problem for naïve Christianity, but I no longer think it's necessary to accept the premise shared by both naïve Christianity and Mormonism: that God and the world share the same flow of time.

Doug Benscoter said...

The laws of nature are either explained or unexplained. Assuming they are explained, and assuming they are invariant, it seems quite conceivable that they are only explicable in terms of a changeless substance - what Aristotle referred to as the Unmoved Mover.

Even granting that the laws of nature must have been the way they are (and there are no compelling reasons to think that's the case), that wouldn't undermine their explicability or theological implications.

Ilíon said...

[link doesn't seem to work]

Victor Reppert said...

I put a link in the title.

GREV said...

"I'd like to agree with you, but Roderick T. Long has me convinced otherwise (see his answers to questions 1 and 2)."

Since I have grown to like much of what shiningwhiffle writes I thought I would check out this Mr. Long.

Then I read his confident claims that Jesus denied He was God and then said, I don't think so.

A consideration of the whole story is missing, so Mr. Long's other confident claims become questionable also.

Especially some of his answer to matters under Question 1 in his post. Interesting read but not convincing.

Well I must go and talk this morning about the existence of this God that many think is not necessary.

Shalom

shiningwhiffle said...

@GREV

Since I have grown to like much of what shiningwhiffle writes

Well, thanks. :-)

Then I read his confident claims that Jesus denied He was God and then said, I don't think so.

He does at least argue for it at length. Anyway, I don't think it's relevant to this point.

…so Mr. Long's other confident claims become questionable also.

I agree to an extent that his rejection of "any form of possibility other than 'compatibility with the nature of the actual world,'" is a bit too strong. But he has a point:

Asking why there's something rather than nothing presuppose there was already something that made the choice whether something or nothing would exist.

Asking why the physical laws are what they are already presupposes there was something (God or some cosmic randomizer) that could have made them different.

So, I would re-formulate Long's issue this way: of course the atheist can't answer either question, but only the theist can coherently ask either to begin with.

Perhaps this ability is a point in the theist's favor (and to a small extent I think it is), but the theist has a comparable question they can't coherently ask, either: why my god and not another?

Note that this isn't the epistemological question about which god to believe in. It's the ontological question about why, say, the Christian God wound up being the one instead of Allah or Zeus.

But of course there was no meta-god that decided which god would exist. So to ask how whatever god you believe in ended up being the supreme deity is just as nonsensical to the theist as asking how the laws of physical ended up being what they are is to the atheist.

shiningwhiffle said...

Err, my editing of GREV's comment in my response makes it seem a little like GREV's accusing me of claiming that Jesus never said he was God.

Oops.

Doctor Logic said...

Despite the risk of the theists here taking your awesome comments less seriously, I feel compelled to say...

I love you, shiningwhiffle! <3

Bilbo said...

Shining: "So to ask how whatever god you believe in ended up being the supreme deity is just as nonsensical to the theist as asking how the laws of physical ended up being what they are is to the atheist."

I think a Christian theist would argue that the Christian God exists necessarily. They might adopt the ontological argument. Or even if they don't like the ontological argument, they might say that if God exists, then He must be a being a greater than which cannot be conceived.

I can conceive a greater being than Zeus, since Zeus, afterall, depended upon previous beings for his existence. If I had to pick between Yahweh and Allah, I would say that Yahweh is the greater God, since Yahweh is able and willing to be incarnated and die for our sins, whereas Allah either isn't able to be incarnated and die, or won't. That suggests that Allah is not willing to do whatever he possibly can to save us. I would think that a being a greater than which cannot be conceived would do everything possible to save his creation. Therefore, it seems to me that Yahweh is a greater god than Allah. Therefore, given that if God exists, there is no greater being, I would say that it is more likely that Yahweh exists than that Allah exists.

Walter said...

I can conceive a greater being than Zeus, since Zeus, afterall, depended upon previous beings for his existence. If I had to pick between Yahweh and Allah, I would say that Yahweh is the greater God, since Yahweh is able and willing to be incarnated and die for our sins, whereas Allah either isn't able to be incarnated and die, or won't. That suggests that Allah is not willing to do whatever he possibly can to save us. I would think that a being a greater than which cannot be conceived would do everything possible to save his creation. Therefore, it seems to me that Yahweh is a greater god than Allah. Therefore, given that if God exists, there is no greater being, I would say that it is more likely that Yahweh exists than that Allah exists.

I can conceive of a God who does not need to kill himself to forgive us for being what he made us to be. My God concept is greater than Yahweh.

Bilbo said...

Walter: "I can conceive of a God who does not need to kill himself to forgive us for being what he made us to be. My God concept is greater than Yahweh."

But what Yahweh "made us to be," according to Christian teaching, was free. And that freedom means either choosing to trust and obey Yahweh, with the result being life, or to disbelieve and rebel against Yahweh, with the result being existence without Yahweh, which is death, the outer darkness, or Hell.

Now the question is how to rescue His creatures from Hell. And the way to do that is for Yahweh to enter into their existence in Hell and provide a way out. In order to do that, Yahweh must become like them, die and go to Hell. This is what He did.

Bilbo said...

So the question is not just, How can Yahweh forgive us? Though this is also an important question. If someone has made themselves essentially unforgivable, how can they be forgiven? The answer is that they cannot be forgiven. They must die. So how does Yahweh save someone who must die? By dying Himself, so that we may participate in His death. Then jsut as Yahweh rose from the dead, so shall we.

shiningwhiffle said...

I think a Christian theist would argue that the Christian God exists necessarily.

An atheist could argue that the Universe exists necessarily. The fact that anything exists now is proof that something necessarily had to exist. (Try to imagine the alternative: that both something and nothing were both genuine possibilities. But what could have been the cause of something's existence without itself being a something to start with?)

The second argument would be that the fact that the Universe is as it is is proof that it was necessarily possible for the Universe to be as it is (p -> ◻◊p). But that doesn't tell us if it was possible for it to be any other way. So, for all we know, the nature of the Universe was also necessary, and the theist is arguing from an overactive imagination.

Now, I think God's claim to necessity is slightly stronger than the Universe's on the grounds that God, if there is such a thing, is both necessary and logically prior to the Universe, but I don't think it's a terribly strong case.

I can conceive a greater being than Zeus, since Zeus, afterall, depended upon previous beings for his existence. If I had to pick between Yahweh and Allah, I would say that Yahweh is the greater God, since Yahweh is able and willing to be incarnated and die for our sins, whereas Allah either isn't able to be incarnated and die, or won't. That suggests that Allah is not willing to do whatever he possibly can to save us.

Fair enough about Zeus.

With Allah, my understanding is that Islam has a substantially different account of what sin is and how one gets saved from it. I do know that Muslims accuse Christians of being polytheists, and they argue that God is so great he doesn't need multiple persons or to be incarnated. From the opposite side, you have the quasi-Hindu view (popular among New Agers and neopagans) that God is so great s/he can be anything the believer needs.

Then there are those who don't accept that God (in the sense of the creating/sustaining/law-giving force behind the Universe) even needs to be a being at all; Daoists, for example. C.S. Lewis in the first part of Mere Christianity only argues that whatever is behind moral law just needs to be "more like a mind than [like] anything else."

I think this would include Long's view of God as the logical structure of the Universe, especially given his elaborations on the similarities (also see his follow-up).

For myself, I think Long is right in saying that whatever else God might be, the logical structure of the Universe is part of what God is.

shiningwhiffle said...

Walter:
I can conceive of a God who does not need to kill himself to forgive us for being what he made us to be. My God concept is greater than Yahweh.

Ah, I see you have pre-empted me on this one. Good show, sir.

Bilbo:
But what Yahweh "made us to be," according to Christian teaching, was free. And that freedom means either choosing to trust and obey Yahweh, with the result being life, or to disbelieve and rebel against Yahweh, with the result being existence without Yahweh, which is death, the outer darkness, or Hell.

That looks necessary to you because you're a Christian. To an atheist, or a deist, or a Buddhist, or a Daoist, it will seem silly. This goes back to why I think the "God explains the Universe" case is not very strong: the idea of God being necessary is just as silly to an atheist as the idea of God's death being necessary is to a Muslim.

Bilbo said...

Shining: "Now, I think God's claim to necessity is slightly stronger than the Universe's on the grounds that God, if there is such a thing, is both necessary and logically prior to the Universe, but I don't think it's a terribly strong case."

I wouldn't know and leave it to others who have read and thought more about this.

"With Allah, my understanding is that Islam has a substantially different account of what sin is and how one gets saved from it."

I'm curious what their account is.


"I do know that Muslims accuse Christians of being polytheists, and they argue that God is so great he doesn't need multiple persons or to be incarnated."

And I would say they are mistaken about the charge of polytheism, and agree that God doesn't "need" to be incarnated, but out of love chose to be.

"From the opposite side, you have the quasi-Hindu view (popular among New Agers and neopagans) that God is so great s/he can be anything the believer needs."

But God has created us to need the truth.

"Then there are those who don't accept that God (in the sense of the creating/sustaining/law-giving force behind the Universe) even needs to be a being at all; Daoists, for example. C.S. Lewis in the first part of Mere Christianity only argues that whatever is behind moral law just needs to be "more like a mind than [like] anything else.""

The implication seems to be that God's mode of existence is different from ours, which I accept. But I don't see how this affects my argument. If anything, it seems to tie into the idea of Divine Simplicity, which strengthens the God is necessary argument.

S.D. Parker said...

Leaving aside the discussion that has ensued thus far -- in response to the OP, perhaps I'm missing something but, even as a Christian, I see comments like Davies to be unconvincing as a basis upon which to postulate God. Not that it isn't reasonable, mind you, it simply does not command assent.

It goes back to the principle of simplicity, which both theists and non-theists affirm. In this case, it is simpler to believe in a universe where laws apply all of the time, rather than some of the time. And since this is irrespective of one's worldview, it makes little sense to express exasperation that an atheist would hold to such a notion.

At best, theism may lead one to expect this and as such serve as some kind of explanation or grounding. But it is mistaken, IMO, to think atheists shouldn't hold to notion that is clearly simpler than the next one.

Anonymous said...

But are these laws metaphysically real things, just as rocks and trees are? If so, are they not also contingent things, insofar as they do not account for their own existence and could have easily been other than what they presently are? And if this is so, then musn't their existence be accounted for and thereby be made intelligible by some sort of ultimate, noncontingent, supernatural, metaphysical ground?

S.D. Parker said...

Anon,

To keep things in perspective, the point is not about the potential grounding a theist can provide with respect to the way things are (as important as that undoubtedly is in any kind of sufficiently complete argumentation regarding God’s existence).

My remark was a response to the notion that atheists should be expected to accept a less simple construal of the universe simply by virtue of the fact that they think God doesn’t exist. But given the Principle of Simplicity, all the atheist needs to do is point out the greater simplicity of believing that a universe in which laws operate all the time against one where they only do so some of the time.

This is little different than Swinburne’s application regarding how one should approach the issue of “God’s power, knowledge, and freedom.” As he states, “To suppose a finite limit to these qualities is less simple than to suppose no limit. And to suppose infinite degrees of these qualities bound together, and bound to eternity, is to postulate the simplest kind of person there could be” (Swinburne 43, “Is There a God” 2010).

Best.

shiningwhiffle said...

@Anon 7:26

Being metaphysically real doesn't mean a thing is contingent. God is metaphysically real, yes? But it doesn't follow that God is contingent.

The point is that a lot of theists refuse to allow for the Universe what they have to allow for God.

Anonymous said...

^^Not the previous anon, but I think what he was trying to say is that, if scientific laws are metaphysically real (and not nominally real), then they must be metaphysically real in the same way that rocks and trees are, i.e. they must be contingent, seeing as how they do not account for their own existence. Moreover, they didn't have to be the way they are. Some *other* cause must serve as an explanation for their existence. To put it in Thomistic terms: their essence, like that of rocks and like that of trees, is evidently disjoint from their existence. What is needed to ground the whole physical enterprise is a being whose essence simply is its existence.

Anonymous said...

shiningwhiffle,

Ever hear of the composition fallacy? If a Ten mile high wall is made of Red Bricks two inches High, it logically follows the Wall is Red but not that it it Two inches high.

The Universe is made up of contingent things. Does it have at least one non-contingent component? If it's a physical component how do you prove it scientifically? Can a physical element be non-contingent?

OR must we conclude the Non-Contingent Thing behind the Universe is outside it?

Because where I'm sitting saying the Universe is non-Contingent seems to me the same as saying a Ten Mile high wall is also 2 inches High.

shiningwhiffle said...

The Universe is made up of contingent things.

But this is precisely what the atheist can deny. The Universe need not be made up entirely of contingent things, and in fact the physical laws and the state of the Universe at the first moment are the prime candidates for necessity. The physical laws because they aren't physical objects themselves (more like properties of all matter — metaphysically real in an Aristotelian forms kind of way), the state of the Universe at the first moment because, being the first moment, there was nothing prior to it to cause it to be any particular way.

Because where I'm sitting saying the Universe is non-Contingent seems to me the same as saying a Ten Mile high wall is also 2 inches High.

I'm just not following you. It seems to me that you're the one making such an implication, from (the parts of the Universe are contingent) to (the Universe is contingent). I saying the implication (the existence of the Universe is non-contingent) to (some aspects of the Universe are non-contingent) is valid.

Ilíon said...

Guys, "the universe" doesn't even concretely exist. "The universe" is a consept; it's a temporal set, the members of which over time come into existence and then cease to exist.

And, for that matter, most individual things we speak of as existing (in "the universe") don't concretely exist.

Anonymous said...

>The physical laws because they aren't physical objects themselves (more like properties of all matter — metaphysically real in an Aristotelian forms kind of way),

I reply: Aren't these properties mere regularities? How do we know they are forms? Where is the science? If you are going to invoke Aristotle then he taught the Universe needed a Prime Mover that was Purely Actual outside of time to keep it moving(i.e. changing specifically) for eternity.

Even if you envision the Physical Laws of the Universe as some existing form then you automatically deep 6 materialism.

J said...

--the idea that order and continuity demonstrate the need for religion, or specifically judeo-christian monotheism is hardly necessary. Gravity may be a constant. And the seasons are regular. And cancer will be cancer, STDs will be STDS, earthquakes will occur regularly, ie orderly. So really the Design argument becomes the usual dealing with something like the evidential problem of evil (or chaos, unmerited suffering, what have you). AS Bertrand Russell once pointed out , the 1st and @nd Laws of Thermodynamics themselves seem rather difficult to reconcile with the argument from Design and a supposed omnipotent Creator (at least benevolent one). That said, one might grant a certain sublime order to Nature without exactly affirming ju-xtian tradition.

--the argument from "contingency" seem rather less plausible than Design. Clouds are contingent, evanescent. Therefore some Being controls the weather and cloud patterns? No--That's just the way the atmosphere works. The same for any temporary phenomena--for that matter, calling something like gravity, or the movement of the planets or tectonic plates, chemical reactions contingent seems a bit odd. Is the freezing point of H20 contingent? Only to philosophasters. The Arg. from Cont. looks like really an appeal to ignorance fallacy--.

J said...

which is to say, most theological "arguments" are essentially.... metaphorical. When the theologian insists on the Design argument as undeniable proof of the Almighty, few listen. When the Psalmist or JC hints at it, some might pay attention. When PB Shelley offers it in a rather cryptic form, as in Mont Blanc, some may be rather moved.

Shackleman said...

"Note that this isn't the epistemological question about which god to believe in. It's the ontological question about why, say, the Christian God wound up being the one instead of Allah or Zeus."

This assumes that the God described by Christians is not the same God described by Muslims and ancient Greeks.

If, as I believe, there is only one God, then all three are one and the same. They simply offer different descriptions.

One description may be more accurate than the other, but the *subject* of what is being described is a singularly existent thing.

So the question isn't "why my God", the question is "which description of God is most accurate?".

Since none of us is God, none of us can know with absolute certainty which is most accurate. Yet, I believe, that one *can* and should do their own study, research, meditation, and prayer to determine which description is most accurate.

shiningwhiffle said...

So the question isn't "why my God", the question is "which description of God is most accurate?".

I have a great deal of sympathy for your view. It's not that far from my own.

But for the purposes of this discussion, if there is a most-accurate description, why that one and not another? The point is that there is no answer to this question. There can't be: at some point, the facts just were what they were.

So, in context of what was being discussed here, the theist who assumes God is ultimately in the same position of the atheist who assumes the Universe, just one step further back.

Shackleman said...

I agree with you. As with *all* other things, one must eventually discovery and then have faith (even in science).

However, one can become *confident* of things (rather than "have proof"), that things are one way and not another.

It seems to me that when it comes to God, skeptics demand a level of evidence and proof which is tantamount to coercion.

This quote from Lewis, which I read at about the midway point of my "conversion" hit me like a ton of bricks. It remains * especially* relevant today, considering our recent propensity to believe damn near everything we read on Twitter, and damn near nothing we read from brilliant and careful scholarship:

"Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as New York. I have not seen it myself. I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there must be such a place. I believe it because reliable people have told me so. The ordinary man believes in the Solar System, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority--because the scientists say so. Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority. A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life."

Jim S. said...

Nicholas Rescher had an excellent chapter in A Useful Inheritance arguing against the claim that the understandability of nature is mysterious or miraculous.