Monday, February 15, 2016

Is monotheism the historical foundation of modern science?

From John Lennox's God's Undertaker: 
At the heart of all science lies the conviction that the universe is orderly. Without this deep conviction science would not be possible. So we are entitled to ask: Where does the conviction come from? Melvin Calvin, Nobel Prize-winner in biochemistry, seems in little doubt about its provenance: ‘As I try to discern the origin of that conviction, I seem to find it in a basic notion discovered 2,000 or 3,000 years ago, and enunciated first in the Western world by the ancient Hebrews: namely that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science.’17

24 comments:

Crude said...

I'll go one further: Naturalism makes science, at best, a remote possibility.

Naturalism is the metaphysical view where anything goes and chaos can reign. Let brute facts abound arbitrary. Let the laws of nature change day to day, year to year, century to century or moment to moment. Hell, for that matter let the universe be borne of unpredictable chaos and then spew out gods who are running the show, a la the greeks.

Methodological naturalism is a lark.

planks length said...

It's even worse than Crude describes, because naturalism has deteriorated recently in the face of the undeniable fine tuning of the universe to positing (with zero evidence, mind you) a multiverse consisting of an infinite number of universes, each with its own unique set of physical laws, and we just happen to occupy the one compatible with intelligent life.

What was it I read about an infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of typewriters, coming up with the Complete Works of Shakespeare?

Gyan said...

Science requires more than mere monotheism. Such as a belief in the know-ability of the causes of things. That Creator has created a world that operates consistently--otherwise no laws of nature and no science.
The first premise is "Things exist and we know them".
The second is "Things behave consistently".

The theist tendency, to counter the atheist reliance on the Laws of Nature to substitute for God, is to downplay the rational nature of the creation and thus encourage the views of occasionalism--the view that there are no real knowable causes of things. This is the Ethics of Elfland run wild and certainly it is not going to help either theism or science.
Many theists are also taken up with promoting idealism as to counter materialism. But idealism is not good soil for sciences as well.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Victor: I've seen something Lennox's claim made before. I've yet to see the argument for it. What is it?

Crude: Straw man.

PL: Another straw man. You've confused the claims of some outspoken naturalistic scientists who have a weak grasp of philosophy with what naturalis simpliciter claims. But, in any case, whether the life-permitting conditions of our universe are best explained by theism is a separate issue from the question of whether monotheism is the historical foundation of modern science. Even if the former were true, it wouldn't follow that the latter is true. You've confused the issues.

Gyan said...

The Hebrews were monotheists for 1500 years but did not have even a beginning of the sciences. The sciences did begin in polytheistic Greece but suffered setbacks after an initial glory.

So, clearly monotheism per se is neither necessary nor sufficient for sciences.

Joe Hinman said...

This argument is made by Whi9tehead a long time ago. The link between modern science and theism is more direct than that. It's not just a mater of an organizing source but Robert Boyle purposely plotted to make Science a tool for apologetics. The rise of the Royal society was bound up with this project through the Latitudinarians. Boyle practically wrote argument from design into science as a law. It could well have been one of Newton's laws. Newton and Boyle co conspirators in the project.

I know what I'm talking about. this was my dissertation topic. More secular thinkers of today will try to distance Newton asserting that he was a closet Arian He was a closet Arian but his friendship with Boyle superseded his doctrinal stance. He also knew that Trinitairans got the gravy in Brit society.

Great book all apologists should read: The Newtonians by Margaret Jacobs, it was ground breaking in the 90s and overhauled our understanding of the relationship bwegtween modern science and Christianity.

Joe Hinman said...

"But, in any case, whether the life-permitting conditions of our universe are best explained by theism is a separate issue from the question of whether monotheism is the historical foundation of modern science. Even if the former were true, it wouldn't follow that the latter is true. You've confused the issues."

That is true Jeff it's not any kind of proof of God. Yet it is important to know since a lot of atheist argument on popular circles is about how Christianity is bad for science.

Hey I'm a historian I can't help but think that historical perspective always matters.

Joe Hinman said...

"The Hebrews were monotheists for 1500 years but did not have even a beginning of the sciences. The sciences did begin in polytheistic Greece but suffered setbacks after an initial glory.

So, clearly monotheism per se is neither necessary nor sufficient for sciences."


that does not counter the argument. Human knowledge was not advanced at that point. Thinking about God was not advanced. But over the course of social evolution the God concept contributed to the development of scientific thought.

Joe Hinman said...

I do not expect this to be of major interest to anyone but if you are curious here is a summary I did at one time dealing with the historical background to my dissertation topic, that I mention above.

HERE

Joe Hinman said...

Gyan, "The theist tendency, to counter the atheist reliance on the Laws of Nature to substitute for God, is to downplay the rational nature of the creation and thus encourage the views of occasionalism--the view that there are no real knowable causes of things. This is the Ethics of Elfland run wild and certainly it is not going to help either theism or science.
Many theists are also taken up with promoting idealism as to counter materialism. But idealism is not good soil for sciences as well."


>>>I think you a slipper slope there. It's true the argument needs to be handled correctly and not overstated. The apologist needs to know something about history as a discipline. This business about occasionaoism and Efland that's exaggeration.

You are actually say8ng that a belief in an organizing principle obscures our ideas of causes, I am betting not.

planks length said...

The theist tendency, to counter the atheist reliance on the Laws of Nature to substitute for God, is to downplay the rational nature of the creation and thus encourage the views of occasionalism--the view that there are no real knowable causes of things. This is the Ethics of Elfland run wild and certainly it is not going to help either theism or science.

I don't get this at all. It seems rather to me that the materialist reliance on Brute Fact is the view which deserves the accusation of "downplaying the rational nature of the creation ... the view that there are no real knowable causes of things." I don't know of a single Christian - not one - who would say anything remotely like "there are no real knowable causes of things."

And as to "occasionalism", I take it that you are referring to a belief in the existence of miracles. (If this is not so, then kindly ignore the remainder of this paragraph.) But miracles are generally (not always, but usually) understood to be the rarest of rare occurrences (other than what another contributor to DI (I can't recall who) calls "coincidence miracles") and one should not expect to ever personally witness one. So there ought not to be any cause to say this is "running wild".

Seriously, unless someone is directly and critically connected with Salvation History (for example, Saints Paul, Juan Diego, Bernadette of Lourdes, or Maria Faustyna Kowalsa), there should be no expectation of anyone themselves encountering the miraculous, and thus it would be quite inappropriate to consider a belief in the existence of miracles to be in conflict with conducting scientific research.

Patrick said...

On pages 340-341 of his book “God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science” (Duxford 2009) historian of science James Hannam points to the importance of the belief in God as a motivation for the pursuit of science in the Middle Ages:

“The metaphysical cornerstone of modern science is often overlooked. We take it for granted and we do not worry about why people began studying nature in the first place. Today you can enhance the credentials of any outlandish theory you like by labelling it “scientific”, as advertisers and quacks well appreciate. But back in the Middle Ages, science did not enjoy the automatic authority that it has today.

To understand why science was attractive even before it could demonstrate its remarkable success in explaining the universe, it is necessary to look at things from a medieval point of view. The starting point for all natural philosophy in the Middle Ages was that nature had been created by God. This made it a legitimate area of study because through nature man could learn about its creator. Medieval scholars thought that nature followed the rules that God had ordained for it. Because God was consistent and not capricious, these natural laws were constant and worth scrutinizing. However, these scholars rejected Aristotle’s contention that the laws of nature were bound by necessity. God was not constrained by what Aristotle thought. The only way to find out which laws God had decided on was by the use of experience and observation. The motivations and justification of medieval natural philosophers were carried over almost unchanged by the pioneers of modern science. Sir Isaac Newton explicitely stated that he was investigating God’s creation, which was a religious duty because nature reflects the creativity of its maker.”

Crude said...

Jeff,

Crude: Straw man.

You're gonna have to do better than that, man. 'Naturalists accept brute facts' is not some niche position - it's prominent to the extreme, and it's no accident that you can generally infer you're dealing with an atheist by determining whether they reject the Principle of Sufficient Reason.

Pretty sure one of your boys over at the Outpost chose to fight and die on exactly this hill, come to think of it.

Gyan,

The Hebrews were monotheists for 1500 years but did not have even a beginning of the sciences. The sciences did begin in polytheistic Greece but suffered setbacks after an initial glory.

The greeks had monotheistic thought as well as polytheistic, and it was the monotheistic strains where science started to sprout. No one's claiming monotheism is sufficient for science, but the 'necessary' or damn close to it sure has evidence in its favor.

Planks,

Occassionalism refers to God basically being the cause of absolutely everything - as in, if you light a match and set a paper on fire, 'God' causes the paper to catch fire, not the match.

Never was all that popular in the west outside of Islam.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Crude v1.0:

I'll go one further: Naturalism makes science, at best, a remote possibility.

Naturalism is the metaphysical view where anything goes and chaos can reign. Let brute facts abound arbitrary. Let the laws of nature change day to day, year to year, century to century or moment to moment. Hell, for that matter let the universe be borne of unpredictable chaos and then spew out gods who are running the show, a la the greeks.

Methodological naturalism is a lark.


Cf. Crude v2.0:

You're gonna have to do better than that, man. 'Naturalists accept brute facts' is not some niche position - it's prominent to the extreme, and it's no accident that you can generally infer you're dealing with an atheist by determining whether they reject the Principle of Sufficient Reason.

There is a MASSIVE DIFFERENCE between Crude v1.0 and v2.0 and so find your reply to me to be uncharitable. Why? There is a MASSIVE DIFFERENCE between "Naturalists accept brute facts" and "Naturalism is the metaphysical view where anything goes and chaos can reign."

Face it: you were engaged in hyperbole and I rightly called you on it.

Furthermore, your portrayal of naturalism is inaccurate and worthy of being slapped with the "straw man" label. Unlike your hyperbole, I propose we actually try to apply the principle of philosophical charity and fairly evaluate what does and does not follow from naturalism.

Let's start with a definition of naturalism which, I'm confident, all self-identified (metaphysical) naturalists would be willing to accept.

Naturalism (aka "source physicalism") = df. The belief that the physical world existed before the mental world and caused the mental world to come into existence, which implies that all mental entities are causally dependent on physical entities.

Source physicalism should not be confused with "ontological physicalism," the belief that everything—or, to be redundant, every existing thing—is physical. One might be tempted to reject ontological physicalism ) because mental entities—that is, minds and things located in minds—do not appear to be physical—that is, they do not appear to be spaces or things located in spaces. But even if ontological physicalism is false, source physicalism might still be true because it is a claim about the source of mental entities, not about their nature. Also, notice that Source physicalists—even if they are ontological dualists—need not claim that mental entities never cause physical entities or other mental entities, but they must claim that there would be no mental entities were it not for the prior existence (and causal powers) of one or more physical entities.

CONTINUED...

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

... CONTINUED

Next let's define "brute fact." At first glance, this seems easy. A brute fact is something that cannot be explained. But we need to distinguish two types of "brute facts."

Brute fact1 = df. Something which cannot be explained because its explanation is unknown.
Brute fact2 = df. Something which cannot be explained because it has no explanation.

It seems to me even theists should be happy to accept this distinction. For example, most (all?) theistic philosophers who specialize in the problem of evil admit that there are some cases of 'evil' (read: pain and suffering) for which no one can identify why God, if He exists, allows them. If theism is true, such instances of apparently pointless suffering must have explanations but those explanations are unknown. So they be brute facts1, not brute facts2. In other words, I don't think any reflective theists would be happy saying that apparently gratuitous evils are just 'brute facts' on theism, without qualification.

The same distinction is useful for naturalism. Take the so-called 'hard problems' for naturalism: coarse-tuning (aka "life-permitting conditions of the universe), consciousness, intentionality, reason, etc. If naturalism is true, all of those things have explanations, but their explanation is unknown. So they are brute facts1, not brute facts2. "Those facts are in principle unexplainable because they have no explanation" does not follow from the definition of naturalism (aka "source physicalism").

This even applies to the Leibnizian cosmological argument and the PSR. Sure, you can find atheists, even a few atheist philosophers, who speculate that the universe is a brute fact (in the brute fact2 sense). But even with respect to that argument and the PSR, notice that that is just their opinion. It doesn't follow analytically from the definition of naturalism (aka "source physicalism"). Naturalism is logically consistent with the hypothesis that the universe is factually necessary and so the universe's nature provides the explanation for its existence. So even the most plausible candidate for a naturalistic brute fact2 turns out to be doubtful.

Gyan said...

Jeffery Jay Lowder,
"The belief that the physical world existed before the mental world"
Your meaning is unclear. What precisely is this "mental world"? Whose mental world are you talking about? Yours, mine, first human's, God's?
Or does it just mean that "there was once a time there existed no conscious entity in the universe".

Gyan said...

Crude,
The thesis under consideration is that the conviction of an orderly universe is rooted in monotheism. Do we find monotheism in ancient Greece or we find shades of pantheism, monism and frank polytheism?
It would be a new thesis to me that the Greek science grew amidst of monotheistic strains. Are you calling the Aristotelean idea of First Cause and Unmoved mover a monotheism?
The pre-Socratic cosmologists were certainly not monotheistic and neither was Democritus.

Joe Hinman said...

you guys have dropped every argument I made. when I went ot the conferences an d wrote the papers people treated it lie I knew. I had to quite for economic and family reasons not grades. now I don't know any thing because i didn't get the paper. Answer my bleeding arguments!

"The thesis under consideration is that the conviction of an orderly universe is rooted in monotheism. Do we find monotheism in ancient Greece or we find shades of pantheism, monism and frank polytheism?
It would be a new thesis to me that the Greek science grew amidst of monotheistic strains. Are you calling the Aristotelean idea of First Cause and Unmoved mover a monotheism?
The pre-Socratic cosmologists were certainly not monotheistic and neither was Democritus"

(1) I pointed out that there is a time differential and the social evolution that led to science had not gone far enough in the time of ancient Israel.

(2) I pointed out that the Greeks dropped the ball so you can']t claim that secularism = science because they dropped it. This beats your argument

Moreover, (3) The Greeks were not secular and while suppose you could say some were atheists they weren't all so. any belief counts for belief and not for atheism.

(4) Greek science was a momentary flower, Christianity developed modern science to appoint that atheists in the enlightment could run with it.

Gyan said...

Joe Hinman,
Your (1) does not work. The Hebrews did not have even the least beginning of anything close of science for their 1500 years of strict monotheism. While Greece, at the similar level of social evolution, had advanced quite a lot of many scientific fields. Also, Chinese and Hindus had developed some sciences without any monotheism.

Your (2) and (3) are irrelevant for I have nowhere claimed secularism=science or that Greeks were secular.

brownmamba said...

The implication that modern science needed monotheism to get modern science of the ground is most likely false. Science is founded on a principle of induction, which, as Hume pointed out, is something that we naturally act on. Note that major activities that require a strong grasp of inductive principles, such as agriculture and architecture, existed long before "modern science". Science,really, is just a polished method that reflects our inescapable inductive habit.

Moreover, people infer God from the consistency of the universe not the other way around. Monotheism may have been an improvement over polytheism, but that doesn't imply that a "God-belief" was necessary to get the ball rolling. In fact, there's a case to be made that it may have been a hindrance. Consider Newton and how he wasted a lot of time trying to find patterns and infer prophecies from the Bible, which, unsurprisingly, never amounted to anything. Only when he took the approach of "methodological naturalism" did he have fruitful results.

Victor Reppert said...

I think you can argue that in the early modern days of science, theistic belief played a positive role, and that other kinds of things were science stoppers. That is where Lennox is going with all of this. But it doesn't follow that science is impossible without a belief in God, although our belief in induction ends up, a la Hume, being something that is there because of custom and habit and has no logical foundation. That's not necessarily fatal, but it is there.

On the other hand, the fact that Newton had some nonscientific interests due to his religion is not as telling as you might think. By the same token, it can be very easily argued that, for Richard Dawkins, atheism has been a science stopper, since his career went from doing actual scientific work, to science popularizations with an atheistic thrust, to doing philosophically misguided atheist polemics in the name of science. But actual scientific production, on his part, has decreased over time. Compare him on this score to Francis Collins, Donald Page, or Owen Gingerich, for example.

Edward T. Babinski said...

There is nothing about science that cannot be done today by people of all religions or no religion. In fact the scientific revolution was when science came into its own, not when religion sprouted a blossom called "science."

Read about why most Evangelical apologists are ignoring the evidence against the "dependency thesis" when it comes to the birth of modern science:

How and why did the scientific revolution take place? How much responsibility can Christianity claim for it? ESSENTIAL RESOURCES

http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2015/07/how-and-why-did-scientific-revolution.html

Edward T. Babinski said...

Paradox

Not truth, nor certainty. These I forswore
In my novitiate, as young men called
To holy orders must abjure the world.
'If...,then...,' this only I assert;
And my successes are but pretty chains
Linking twin doubts, for it is vain to ask
If what I postulate be justified,
Or what I prove possess the stamp of fact.

Yet bridges stand, and men no longer crawl
In two dimension. And such triumphs stem
In no small measure from the power this game,
Played with the thrice-attentuated shades
Of things, has over their originals.
How frail the wand, but how profound the spell!

Clarence R. Wylie Jr.

Crude said...

Gyan,

The thesis under consideration is that the conviction of an orderly universe is rooted in monotheism. Do we find monotheism in ancient Greece or we find shades of pantheism, monism and frank polytheism?

Considering Aristotle and Plato, we do indeed find monotheism. The existence of other competing -isms doesn't eradicate that.

Lowder,

There is a MASSIVE DIFFERENCE between Crude v1.0 and v2.0 and so find your reply to me to be uncharitable. Why? There is a MASSIVE DIFFERENCE between "Naturalists accept brute facts" and "Naturalism is the metaphysical view where anything goes and chaos can reign."

Face it: you were engaged in hyperbole and I rightly called you on it.


Not at all, man, because the acceptance of brute facts IS a metaphysical view where anything goes and chaos can reign.

Let's start with a definition of naturalism which, I'm confident, all self-identified (metaphysical) naturalists would be willing to accept.

Naturalism (aka "source physicalism") = df. The belief that the physical world existed before the mental world and caused the mental world to come into existence, which implies that all mental entities are causally dependent on physical entities.


Considering the SEP won't endorse that, your confidence seems misplaced. Do you think neutral monists are going to say they reject naturalism? Hell, I've seen neutral monists insist that neutral monism is just physicalism. No less than David Chalmers says he can't say whether he's a naturalist or not because the definition of naturalism is so up in the air.

Brute fact2 = df. Something which cannot be explained because it has no explanation.

...

If naturalism is true, all of those things have explanations, but their explanation is unknown. So they are brute facts1, not brute facts2.

Jeff, you're making a grand mistake here, and let me highlight it for you:

The acceptance of the existence and possible existence of brute fact2s is part of naturalism, along with the rejection of the PSR. Once again - you can reliably use the acceptance or rejection of the PSR as a guide to whether you're dealing with an academic theist or atheist.

So let me correct you here:

Take the so-called 'hard problems' for naturalism: coarse-tuning (aka "life-permitting conditions of the universe), consciousness, intentionality, reason, etc. If naturalism is true, all of those things have explanations, but their explanation is unknown.

False.

If naturalism is true, those things may have explanations. Or maybe they don't! Since brute facts are accepted, -that is, metaphysically speaking, up in the air-.

Now, they may personally believe that those things have explanations. But their metaphysics does not commit them to accepting this - indeed, their metaphysics tells them that these things may well *not* have an explanation. That's a live possibility on naturalism, and it's a live possibility for just about any event or state of affairs.

As for holding out for atheists who believe the universe 'exists necessarily and is explained by its nature', that's getting into a flat out rejection of naturalism in favor of a kind of pantheism, or even panentheism - because you're going to find that just what that 'nature' has to be to do to the work required is going to put you in the orbit of theism.

There's a reason that's not a very popular move.

And hey, I'm no the one that made these guys reject the PSR en masse and embrace brute fact thinking. They did that on their own. But I damn well will point out the consequences of that, and what impediments it presents to science when actually realized rather than ignored.