January 2012
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  • Archive for January 8th, 2012

    Science, Religion, and Naturalism, continued

    Sunday, January 8th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Paul L. LaClair post is here.

    Paul,

    “I don’t think your argument stands in the face of Einstein’s revolutionary discoveries in physics.”

    Sorry, but my question is not grounded in Newtonian physics. In fact my view would be LESS tenable under a purely Newtonian view. In his book “The Fabric of the Cosmos” Brian Green outlined the two main theories of for the origin of the universe. The inflationary Big Bang probably fits my argument the best, but the competing theory grounded more in Quantum physics, still needs something to start the process in the first place. Neither view has an eternally existing universe. Both views require a beginning.

    Thus my premise, “the current evidence supports that the natural universe as we know it had a beginning and could not have existed forever” remains true, and the question valid. Claiming unstated “other possibilities” does not make it so. Simply postulating other possibilities is not going where the evidence leads. But this is the point of the question. The evidence currently points to something that cannot exist within naturalism, thus the naturalist seeks to avoid what normally would be the obvious conclusion. My world view does not have that self-limiting bias. So I am free to go wherever the evidence leads.

    “They altered our understanding of space, time and cause. Instead of upsetting the apple cart of science, those discoveries gave us a deeper understanding of and appreciation for it.”

    Very true. The problem for you is that discoveries over the last 100 years are also a major reason for the revival of the serious discussion of theism in the latter part of the twentieth century. For example, the discovery of quantum physics destroyed Kant’s objections to the arguments for the existence of God, which were the main reason they had been discarded. The reasons theism is now back under serious discussion, is because of the advances of science, not despite it.

    One of the major problems of your view is that it has trouble seeing support for theism as anything but an attack on science. It is not. I certainly do not attack science. My career includes working as an engineer at JPL where I played a small part in Voyager’s encounter with the Planet Neptune among other things. So I agree that there is nothing in my view that would upset “the apple cart of science.”

    “than a world view based on guesswork, superstition and wishful thinking. You are free to see that as a bias if you choose but that is like saying that I am biased in favor of ingesting apples and not arsenic.”

    Slanting does not an argument make. Simply labeling the views you disagree with as “guesswork, superstition, and wishful thinking” does not make it so. The problem that you seem not to recognize is that our fundamental disagreement is not over science, reason, or evidence. The fundamental disagreement is over the framework in which these operate, i.e., the fundamental assumptions everyone must make, assumptions that ultimately cannot be demonstrated to be true, but which must be accepted at least to some degree on faith. We both think the assumptions we have made are correct, that is why we accept them. But the key point is that our assumptions, while different in substance, are not different in character. There is nothing that makes the naturalists assumptions inherently better or worse.

    Naturalists in the past have argued that the advances of science justify their assumptions. But this is irrational for two reasons. First, it assumes that theirs is the only set of assumptions that allows for the advances of science. This is just factually incorrect. More fundamentally, it results in circular reasoning as it attempts to demonstrate the validity of assumptions by starting with the assumption that they are true.

    It is this second reason that makes these assumptions so fundamental and ultimately beyond demonstration. This is why I classified my view in an early post as the one with “the least problems.” All worldview have problems. Nobody has all the answers.

    Science, Religion, and Naturalism, continued

    Sunday, January 8th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    The following are my comments to another person, Nontheistdavid. His post can be found here.

    Nontheistdavid,

    “Hogwash. If unicorns or invisible “immaterial” beings exist then there should be verifiable and testable evidence of their existence. We should be able to measure and modify to some degree the behavior and/or effects they have on the universe.”

    There are a lot of assumptions in this statement, and it goes to the heart of the difference between theists and non-theists. What perplexes many theists is not so much that non-theist make different assumptions. Rather it is that non-theists do not even seem to realize that they are making their own assumptions, while the attempt to ridicule others; thus their frequent attempts to try and equate the belief in god with the belief in unicorns. While, given its frequent use, non-theists evidently think this is some sort of killer argument, it is so absurd on its face (see my last reply to LaClair) it only makes the non-theist look irrational. Yet they continue to use it.

    “Also why do you theist keep using the term “naturalism”?”

    I for one try to avoid sematic debates that rarely are productive, thus I used the term naturalism, because that is what LaClair used for his views. In this note I used non-theist, because that is what you used.

    “Science engages in Methodological naturalism and most certainty does not deny anything.”

    Depending on exactly how you defined “methodological naturalism” I might agree with you, but you would have to define this a bit more before I could really comment.

    If science is taken as the search for natural explanations, and therefore incapable of saying anything about non-natural explanations, that is fine as long as the bias is recognized. If science is seen as an unbiased investigation and scientists are therefore free to investigate potential non-natural explanations that would also be fine. The problem enters in when you have the view held by many non-theists, that science is seen as an unbiased investigation, but were any non-natural explanation are ruled out a priori as illegitimate.

    Science, Religion, and Naturalism, continued

    Sunday, January 8th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Paul L. LaClair’s  post is here.

    LaClair,
    “if anyone ever demonstrates that a non-naturalistic explanation adds anything to our fund of knowledge, then we scientific naturalists will change our minds.”

    While this may sound good, when one begins to examine this claim in detail within the framework of naturalism it ultimately falls apart. This is because the evaluation of evidence is very strongly tied to one’s world view. Given the presuppositions of naturalism, presuppositions that cannot be demonstrated but must be accepted on faith, it is impossible to demonstrate a non-naturalistic explanation, because naturalism a priori equates reality and naturalism. Any line of reasoning that supports a non-naturalistic explanation is not seen as evidence for a non-naturalistic explanation, but evidence that that line of reasoning is unreliable.

    For example, the current evidence supports that the natural universe as we know it had a beginning and could not have existed for ever. If our current evidence is correct, then either, the natural universe came from something, or came from nothing. If it came from something, then this something would be non-natural, and this is evidence of a non-natural explanation that naturalism denies.

    Perhaps you are different, but all naturalists I have talked to in the past have either denied the validity of the question, expanded the definition of naturalism to include what would otherwise be non-natural (thereby creating a tautology ) or preferred to accept the belief that something came from nothing without cause rather than face what would in any other circumstance be the obvious conclusion.

    “The fact that you think those two claims [invisible unicorns or gods] are of a different quality speaks only to the power of culture to shape belief.”

    One could just as easily argue that the fact that you think these two claims are the same speaks to the power of naturalism shape belief. The problem for you is that there is no correspondence between these two claims. While the philosophical underpinnings of naturalism have come under increasing criticism from serious philosophers, Dallas Willard for one, has pointed out that there has been a rebirth of serious consideration of theism from philosophers starting in the latter part of the 20th century. While serious and scholarly people have discussed the merits of theism down through the ages, I am not aware of anyone who has seriously put forth a claim that there are invisible unicorns. Thus while naturalists like to try and make an equation between these two claims; it is absurd on its face. Pretending that these two claims are the same hardly demonstrates the rationality of your position.

    Science, Religion, and Naturalism, continued

    Sunday, January 8th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Paul L. LaClair’s post  is here.

    LaClair,
    “Unfortunately in my view, however, many people define faith as the basis for belief,” while true, there are also many who do not.

    “’the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’ (The Bible, Hebrews 11:1).” While the KJV translates the passages this way, most modern translations translate hupostasis as assurance or being sure. More importantly, the examples that fill the majority of the chapter follow the pattern of they believed, so they acted. As part of faith 11:19 even says that “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead” (NIV) All of which is consistent with the view of faith I put forth.

    “A definition nearer to this one is necessary in theology because there isn’t any evidence for the existence of a god.” Sorry but this is just incorrect. It is not necessary, if for nothing else; I do not hold such a belief, nor am I the only one. In addition, there is clearly evidence for the existence of god. It is certainly possible to have legitimate disagreement over whether this evidence is sufficient to constitute “proof”, but that hardly translates into no evidence at all.

    “Because religion and theism are cultural phenomena and culture-shapers, what many or most people think matters? That is why I invoked popular belief.” While such statements are acceptable with those who share your beliefs about religion, in discussion such as this with varying points of view such statement amount to circular reasoning, as they presuppose beliefs that are under discussion.

    “Of the Big Bang, scientific naturalism says…” I had problems with this paragraph as it seems internally inconsistent. You state first that naturalism “declines to posit that any but a natural explanation will suffice, or be useful.” But then goes on to rule out anything but a natural explanation.

    As a factual matter, the claim that a theological framework “is affirmatively harmful because it establishes a framework that is opposed to scientific method and is likely to inject irrelevancies and confusion into any inquiry into objective reality” is simply wrong and either ignorant of history of science, or at the very least highly selective in it view of history. It also assumes a unity in the concept of “theological framework” which simply does not exist. There are in fact a variety of theological frameworks. While some are “affirmatively harmful” not all are.

    “You can call that a limitation if you want to, but then you may want to ask whether a limitation is useful.” It is of course a limitation by definition. You are excluding possible explanations a priori and as a result must reject any evidence to the contrary as irrelevant. One thing that is pretty clear from research on the brain is that what does not fit our view of reality, we tend not to see. In short you are biasing any conclusions reached and this, whether you like it or not renders your conclusions suspect, and ultimately irrational, as they fall victim to the fallacy of circular reasoning.

    Frankly the main difference I have between scientific naturalist and my view of science is that I think that science should not eliminate any possible answers. In the past, naturalists I have talked to have tried to distort this into claiming that non-natural answers should receive some sort of priority, but that is not my view. In fact, I do not even opposed to giving natural explanation some priority. I just would not exclude non-natural explanations a priori. I for example, find the hysteria over Intelligent Design illustrative. Will Intelligent Design theories ever lead anywhere? I do not know. But I would not ban them as the scientific equivalent of heresy, and I oppose the current inquisition like zeal to root out any who might dare to even consider such answers.

    As for you views on consciousness, this is a classic example of the problems with the bias of naturalism. You basically have claimed that only natural answers are permissible, and then claim as support for this view that the only explanations we currently have for consciousness are natural. Do you not see the glaring logical fallacy in this? Frankly we know very little about consciousness, and there are some very significant questions such as the nature of Free Will remain unanswered.

    “anyone who criticizes that narrative will face a reaction. It has nothing to do with rationality.” Like the reaction one gets from scientific naturalists when one questions their narrative?

    Science, Religion, and Naturalism

    Sunday, January 8th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    While traveling I saw a review for Alvin Plantinga new book “Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism.”   Checking out the comments on Amazon.com, I noticed a discussion, and decided to jump in.   Here are my replies, with links back to the notes I am replying to. The passages in quotes are taken from the note to which I am responding.

    In reply to Paul L. LaClair post:

    LaClair,

    I was checking out this book and started following this discussion. I found your comment to calcidius that “Most people who say they believe in a god admit they have to rely on “faith,” since they can’t prove it” as particularly problematic for the following reasons,

    “Most people” — the fallacy of an appeal to the people. What “most people” say is irrelevant to the truth of a proposition, particularly in the discussion here as “most people” do not think deeply about the philosophical underpinning of their beliefs.

    Then there is the contrast of faith and proof. Proof is a very vague and ultimately subjective concept. What does and does not constitute proof varies from situation to situation, and from person to person. In its general sense, proof is simply the level of evidence needed to conclude that something is true.

    Faith, on the other hand, is not a basis for belief, but a reliance on a belief that causes someone to act. In the realm of religion, a person can intellectually believe that God exists, but if that believe has no impact on their life, they do not have faith. However faith is not limited just to religion. Everyone has faith in what they believe, and they structures their lives accordingly, even the scientific naturalist.

    While it is possible to have a blind faith in the absence of, or even counter to, the evidence, not all faith is blind. Faith can be supported by the evidence. An engineer could calculate that a bridge will support him, but it is faith in his calculations that allows him to cross the bride.

    This is where the contrast of faith with proof is so problematic. It is one of the reasons I rarely talk about proof, preferring rather just to speak of evidence. Is there proof for god? While this would depend on the standard of proof being used, for simplicity sake, I will say no. But the absence of proof should not be taken to mean the absence of evidence, and I do believe that there is evidence for God. In fact, I believe that a theistic worldview has the least problems of all the various ways of understanding reality, including scientific naturalism, and thus is the best explanation.

    You can see this difference in your statements such as,

    “Good scientists hold many of the questions open, and then make judgments about which avenues of inquiry are most likely to be productive. A reasonable scientist does not spend her time trying to figure out whether ‘God did it’”

    But what is “reasonable” and “most likely to be productive” will depend strongly on one’s world view. Thus for example, when considering questions such as the origin of the universe, or the beginning of life, should a scientist be seeking to discover what happened, or should they limit themselves only to natural explanation for these questions? Scientific naturalism argues the latter.