Showing posts with label faith vs. science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label faith vs. science. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ten Things Christians Should Keep in Mind When Debating Atheists Number Two

Based on my recent post about trying to break my writer's block, I'm tackling this list of ten things Christians/theists need to keep in mind.  See this link for number one, this is the second point:

Science has radically altered how we understand the universe, so theism must grapple with the implications of science before offering prescientific beliefs as truth.

First off, let's discuss definitions of various terms here.  I'm not claiming that these are the best or dictionary definitions, but it seems these are commonly agreed upon definitions.  If you disagree with these definitions I'd be open to hearing alternatives.

Science -- the methodical study of the physical/natural universe.
Radically altered -- completely changed.
Universe -- the totality of physically existent things.
Grapple with the implications -- consider and think about with relation to meaning.
Prescientific beliefs -- (honestly I'm not certain here, but I assume) metaphysical statements.
Truth -- that which best coherently explains and correlates with reality.

Given these definitions I find it curious why this would even be a problem.  Science deals with the physical nature of the universe, religion/Christianity deals with the metaphysical and sources of what it means to exist.  I think the original assumption is that science has somehow proven that God doesn't exist or at least that God doesn't need to exist.  I do not agree with the concept of NOMA, (Non-Overlapping MAgesteria) but in a sense the two are on a one-way street.  Science is concerned with what is happening or from what cause something happens, but it is limited to physical universe.  Science cannot get to a deeper meaning of existence.  Science cannot give why there is anything at all instead of nothingness.  Maybe, but honestly I'm not holding my breath, science will someday give us how the universe came into existence, but even then it still doesn't say why.  To try to apply purely scientific views to morality, consciousness, deeper meaning etc. only leads to disastrous results.  Pure logic says that one must torture the innocent if it will bring about something good.  Applying mathematic principles to life leads to devastating consequences.  As portrayed in the popular movie, Watchmen the hero/villain Adrian Veidt is perfectly justified in killing millions in order to potentially save billions of people.  Also, in V for Vendetta the government is perfectly justified at rounding up innocent people to do scientific experiments on them.  As I insinuated before any number of thought experiments seem to easily slip into absurdity.  Say you somehow could save one person by the torture of another, innocent, unrelated person.  Under strict utility, you have to weigh things that are totally unrelated to their value as human beings.  In a strict utilitarian view the idea of inalienable rights (life, liberty, property, pursuit of happiness) is foreign.  You do not have a right to life if somehow your death brings about some good.

So, the study of the physical universe has greatly altered our lives including how and what are able to do, but it has had no impact on the meaning of life.  Just consider what I'm doing right now.  I'm typing out my thoughts on a laptop computer that is able to connect wirelessly at great speed to the largest collections of facts ever compiled.  It can process information at a speed faster than what used to take up several rooms of computing devices.  This isn't even all that amazing of a machine either.  Even small electronic devices can carry thousands of books.  We can nearly instantaneously communicate visually even at great distances.  We've landed on the moon.  We've sent probes deep into outer space.  But, all of this wonderful progress doesn't bring any deeper meaning or better moral value (whatever that may mean).

So far I've been bringing out the point that science doesn't bring meaning or really better people, only better convenience to living.  But what about the implication that religion is trying to control or denigrate science and scientific progress?  Why is this such a common theme?  I've actually written about this a couple times here and here.  Science actually only makes sense in the context of belief in God.  If everything is the result of random chance (under a strict materialist view), why would one expect any semblance of order to nature?  How can we perform scientific tests without first assuming that things won't randomly change?  Materialists won't admit it, but the consistency in nature is a presupposition smuggled in from the Christian/theistic view of the universe.  These "prescientific" beliefs actually guide science to be better, not just by giving science moral guidelines within which to work (think Nazi science experiments), but by giving it a foundation from which to spring.  If everything is random, then the scientific method itself will never work, because there's no reason why we should expect our testing and hypothesizing to be consistent in a framework of randomness.  Science, in the proper context is not lessened by believing that God created (creates) the natural universe, it a deepened understanding of the creator.  Indeed science is a form of worship, studying to know the Creator better by studying the creation.

Truth ... As Pilate so famously asked of Jesus, "What is truth?" (John 18:38), presumably not knowing that Jesus had already given the answer, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me (John 14:6)."  If you're trying to get to the truth of things, there is only one source of truth revealed to humanity in various ways.  Science certainly is a wonderful study and can teach us much about God, but God has also revealed much of Himself through the person and work of Jesus Christ (John 1:18).  There is no reason to expect science to "find God," or truth about God, but I'd say the reason some scientists can't find God is they are looking at the trees and missing the forest.  Big Bang theory also points to a creator.  The awesome intricacies of biological life, particularly the information found in genes, also points to God.  Also, based on a video I watched recently about quantum theory it seems that one of the conclusions we can come to is that quantum mechanics actually indicates that God is the reason for the universe.  So, science has proven God, just not in the way dogmatic materialist scientists will accept.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas: Part 4: The Case Against Aquinas’s God and Proofs

Continuing this series on the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, lecture four deals with rebuttals to Thomas' ways/proofs for god as we looked at in lecture three.  One thing of note before I move on though, I never answered the question posed in the title of that lecture.  Can you prove God's existence?  It seems clear that the answer is, no, but it is certainly a logical position to take.

To start out, it's important to note that in most of Thomas' works he finds three or four counter arguments for his assertions, but for his five ways, he only finds two counter arguments against God, they are, the problem of evil and science.  These two objections have been used throughout history as the primary arguments against God, though really only one of the two arguments actually claims to show that God doesn't exist, the other arguments merely claim that one shouldn't believe in God, not that God does not exist.

Thomas' phrasing of the problem of evil goes like this:
It seems that God does not exist, because if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word “God” means that He is infinite goodness. If, therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.
However, good and evil are not contradictories, rather they are opposite qualities.  Opposite qualities can coexist even at the same time in the same person.  Prof Kreeft uses the example of visible and invisible, how every person is both, at the same time.  Because one's mind is invisible, but one's body isn't.  Good and bad is another example, pain is bad, but the pain one experiences because of a good tough workout is good!  One thing to note here is that, in some ways, Thomas' answers are not of his own making.  Augustine uses much the same arguments against this objection.

One of the most powerful statements about evil is how God can bring about good from evil.  Thomas uses the word “allow;” God does not do evil, but He allows it.  He created us, He does not kill, but He created beings that are mortal.  God does not sin, but He created beings with free will who can sin if they choose.  This explanation works for both moral and physical evil.  God doesn't create physical evils but he created a world wherein natural disasters/physical evils can happen.  One of the important things to note about this is how untenable the alternative is.  Either God creates life with the freedom to choose to do evil or God creates life that is completely robotic, devoid of all choice.  This objection does leave room for doubt, just as the Ravi Zacharias quote I mentioned from lecture two, faith is reasonable, but reason alone is not enough.

The second objection is from science.  Like many of the other objections that have come up since Thomas' day, this objection doesn't really show that God doesn't exist rather that belief in God is superfluous.  This objection is often called the principle of parsimony or Ockham's razor.  The basic idea is that if one already has an explanation that accounts for all the variables then one shouldn't add any more explanations.  Thomas' response is that science doesn't have all the answers, that the five ways show that there are questions that only God can answer.

Prof Kreeft points out that one of the weaknesses in Thomas' ways is in the unmoved mover concept because Thomas didn't know the second half of the Law of Thermodynamics that objects in motion tend to stay in motion.  An interesting objection, but it still doesn't account for everything, because even if things stay in motion, nothing is set in motion of its own accord.  Also, remember that Thomas' way doesn't simply mean physical motion, but also change, and the philosophical idea of how things have come about, not necessarily physical movement and change.  Prof Kreeft also points out that other philosophers like Hume have doubted the idea of causality in general, which is an odd, completely skeptical position to take.  One would have to admit that one's parents were not necessarily involved in causing oneself.

Another objection Prof Kreeft brings up against Thomas' ways is rather confusing to me.  He says that people claim that "God transcends logic" or that one cannot say anything logical about God.  Statements like that, while illogical, still fall within the purview of logic and are contradictory.  People that hold views like this see faith and reason as opposites, which is exactly the opposite of what Thomas is showing here.  I've heard this view called "fideism" which I've seen reflected in counter arguments.  For example, in a recent Facebook conversation about religion someone said that we (those who defend faith) have this "trump card" that says, "We don't need evidence or reason. We have faith."  I've seen arguments that end that way and it saddens me, because there is so much logic and reason that corresponds to faith.

Another objection brought up, which I totally agree with and it seems that Thomas saw this as well, says that what the ways prove only a "thin slice of God."  Much like the Deists' "watchmaker god" idea which Pascal said was "almost as far removed from Christianity as Atheism" (quote from Peter Kreeft's lecture, I don't think he was quoting Pascal).  As I see it, yes in a way, these prove only a small part of a much more complete picture of God, that doesn't mean that the rest of the picture isn't there, but that some of that picture has to be taken on faith.  One doesn't have to prove the full picture of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Christianity one only has to prove that God exists and then through careful study of faith one can come to know more fully the Christian God.

Next is a psychological objection which says that Thomas' ways are just camouflage for his faith.  That he is only making these arguments because he grew up believing in God and these ways are just his rationalization of his faith.  This is a genetic fallacy just because something has a particular origin, doesn't discount the veracity of the claim or the logic of the argument.  The same can be said of Marx's objections.  Opiate of the oppressed people?  So what?  The logical arguments still work and God is still proven to exist.  Nietzsche offers an even harsher psychological reproach to Thomas' ways to God.  There are two absolute demands in Nietzsche's writing: "to be God yourself rather than bowing to another, and to bow down to the objective truth that you are not God" (quote from Prof Kreeft's lecture notes).

The final objections come out of some misunderstandings.  One, comes from the idea that infinite regress cannot exist, after all infinite regress is happens in mathematics, however, real things are not numbers.  Here's another, why can't the universe be the first cause?  That is answered by the third way.  Contingent things require a necessary being in order to exist.  Related to this, the "who created God?" question is a misunderstanding of what God is.  How can you ask who created the uncreated?  By definition God has no cause and no beginning, He is the very essence of existence, so this question is a misunderstanding of what God is.

I don't know how to summarize this next part so here's another quote from the lecture notes:
"[T]he objector might say, then isn’t there a self-contradiction in the proofs? They all conclude to a God who doesn’t need a cause, but they begin with the principle that everything needs a cause."

This is actually an embarrassingly poor objection, although it’s found in the writings of no less a genius than Bertrand Russell. And the answer is simply that Aquinas never says that everything needs a cause. He says that everything in motion needs a cause, everything that begins to exist needs a cause, everything contingent needs a cause, everything imperfect needs a cause, and every unintelligent being that acts for an end needs a cause. If you read the actual arguments carefully enough, these misunderstandings disappear."
To sum this up, these aren't the end-all-be-all for all the arguments for God.  Thomas doesn't close the issue of God, even God doesn't do that.  He still leaves it open for faith.  Sorry again for the long delay in writing this, I've been busy with school and work, thank you for your patience with me.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Faith vs. Science: Checkmate (part 2)

If you missed part one of this discussion you can read it here.  Also, as I mentioned in that entry there are two sections of Dr. Lennox's lecture here and here.  I highly recommend you listen to his words as he is much more eloquent that I can convey here.

Part one started from the position of fear, but this part is about how even science requires faith.  He gives several quotes about how scientists all have to have faith that there is something out there in the universe to be understood.  Atheists all have faith in the rational intelligibility of the universe, and that human powers of reason have a certain power of validity.  What reliability do our cognitive faculties have if we're nothing more than a collection of accidents?  If our thoughts are just the movements of atoms in our brains then why should we trust them at all?  C.S. Lewis uses this type of argument as well.  If there's nothing more than materialism then we have no reason to believe what we believe.

Here's a powerful quote from the lecture:  "If Dawkins is right, that we are a product of mindless unguided natural processes, the he has given us strong reasons to doubt the reliability of human cognitive faculties and therefore inevitably to doubt the validity of any belief that they produce, including Dawkins' own science and his atheism."  Why do the New Atheists seem to claim that it's more rational to believe that a random series of mutations and natural selection led to our faculties of reason and the ability to discern truth, and on the other hand claim that it's irrational to believe that those abilities were endowed by a creator?

Dr. Lennox says that his reason for rejecting this idea of materialism of Dawkins, Hitchens and others when it comes to science, is that it destroys science not just belief in God.  Of course their goal is to destroy faith in God and so by definition they destroy peoples' belief in God but they also take down science.  Apparently that is a price they are willing to pay for their beliefs.

So many of the fathers of Western science saw the power of the biblical view of God and it led them to seek out reasonable answers for their questions.  They expected law and logic in nature because they knew of the Law Giver.  The history of science shows how important the biblical worldview has been in the rise of science in western culture.  Even secular historians agree that the historical evidence given against the biblical worldview is worthless.

The heart of the issue according to Dawkins in his book The God Delusion, is in the assumption that introducing God would mean an end of all science.  His logic behind this idea is quite convoluted and (as Dr. Lennox argues) wrong.  According to Dawkins, God cannot be an explanation for the universe because God is by definition more complex and therefore less probable than the thing being explained.  Secondly he adds the idea that God was always there and you might as well say that life was always there and DNA was always there and leave God out of it.  To sum it up, it's two arguments, the explanation for something cannot be more complex than that which is being explained, and the schoolboy argument; who created God?

In answer to the first portion of the argument Dr. Lennox talked about the idea of one finding a book called The God Delusion and then looking for an explanation for the book's existence.  It's a fairly complicated book, over 400 pages, and one finds that it's written by a man named Richard Dawkins and a human mind is by far more complex than any book.  So, by Dawkins' own rules, this idea would bring an end to all science.  This is true of a great many things, often the explanation for a thing is much more complicated than the thing it explains.  He uses a similar example with two scratches on the wall of a cave in China.  The scientist that finds them says, look, I've found human intelligence.  To which Dawkins must respond, using this logic, that to postulate human intelligence would mean an end to all science even though it's clearly the Chinese symbol for man (⼈).  The rational scientist understands that this is the start of all science, one makes these types of observations, postulates part of the answer, then seeks out the rest of the answers.  Obviously, the real answer is that explanations aren't always more simple than the things being explained.

The second part of the argument (who created God?) is refuted, simply in definition of God.  God is the uncreated, creator.  Therefore, the question, "who created God?" is futile.  If the book had been The Created God Delusion no one would care, because most everyone agrees that man-made gods are delusions.  The uncreated God is a totally different idea. That's the whole point of John 1, "In the beginning was the Word" and "all things came into being through Him."  Any other type of god is a delusion.  The universe is not primary, it is derivative God is NOT derivative He is primary.  If the question, "who created God?" is a legitimate question, then how about, you believe the universe created you, then who created the universe?"

Another powerful argument from design...  If you're walking on the beach and see the first couple letters of your name written in the sand, you assume that some intelligence wrote those letters there.  Then later you're analyzing the human genome and you see the ATCG sequence of genes, over three billion of them in exactly the right order for it to work and you ask what the origin of that complex code is, and the answer, from an atheist point of view must be, chance and necessity.  Why, in the instance of seeing part of one's name written in the sand one postulates an intelligence, but when seeing the unique encoded design behind all life as we know it, does one postulate chance and necessity?

Both the atheist and the theist end up believing an Ultimate fact either the universe or mass energy or some other physical thing, or, for the theist, it's God.  The key question of life is not that there's an Ultimate fact, but which Ultimate fact is correct?  Two world views... in the beginning, mass energy or gravity or some other thing (it doesn't say where that came from), or in the beginning, God.

One thing that's come to my mind since I read Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter, it seems to be that the Gödel Incompleteness Theorem would add to the teleological arguments that Dr. Lennox and others have made.  In my simple, basic understanding of the theorem that mainly applies to the philosophy of mathematics, is that no system, if it's sufficiently complex to make a statement, can be complete.  Take Euclid's theorem that there are an infinite number of prime numbers there is no way to sufficiently list all prime numbers, that's part of what infinite means.  There's no way to count to infinity, so even though there are a couple of proofs for an infinite number of primes nothing in mathematics can explain all possible combinations of numbers.  Here's where the idea of God makes sense.  Take the set of the whole universe, we cannot get outside this logical set, but as Gödel implies, there must be something outside that set.  In Hofstadter's book he uses his characters in the book reading a book about a book about a book in which they're having adventures.  In the course of the story within the story within the story (you get the point even if I didn't match up the number of stories!) the characters pop out of each story till the (almost) get to the top level.  Well, God is outside all levels, and the sets all stop with Him.  The uncreated, creator that makes all logic make logical sense.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Faith vs. Science: Checkmate (part 1)

Just a quick interlude in my Discovering the Philosopher in You series.

I recently listened to an intriguing podcast of a lecture from a Dr. John Lennox part one here and two here if you care to listen.  The first quote mentioned in the lecture from Bertrand Russell, "What science cannot explain, humanity cannot know."  Dr. Lennox retorts, "that statement is not of science, so if it is true it is false."  I've written of the conflicts between science, philosophy, and religion before in this entry, and this one, and here about the Higgs boson, and it seems like a common theme in my life, so this lecture was right up my alley.

He starts off with a quote from Psalms 91:5 You will not be afraid of the terror by night, Or of the arrow that flies by day.  We all have fear.  Especially in this context of that there's someone somewhere that's smarter than you.  In defense of one's faith this is terrifying, I know I've struggled with this at times.  I know I'm not really all that smart, I'm not as well read as I'd like to be and I'll never catch up to others that have focused their lives their studies.  The context of 1 Peter 3:15 [(NASB) but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence] is one of fear.  Fear of not having all the answers when someone asks.  Dr. Lennox says that he's afraid in this area, which seems crazy to me to hear that from this powerful apologist.  He gives the story of Peter's denial of Christ, and how even this giant of the Church (at least in this story) is afraid and when accosted about his association with Jesus and he denies it three times (vs 34)!

The good news of Dr. Lennox's message is that we (as Christians) don't need to fear science's attacks because in reality there is no war between science and Christianity, the real conflict is between belief in God and disbelief in God, and the conflict has been going on at least since the beginnings of Greek philosophy.  The atomists, and their assertion that the universe is all there is, non-derivative against Plato, Aristotle, and others that believed god or gods were responsible for creating the universe.  Now obviously I believe the Greek gods were wrong, and I think history has proven that.  If the Greeks were right about their view of creation then their religion wouldn't have died out so many years ago.  The New Atheists are waging war against religion/Christianity using the power of science, and for a quite a while now they've been succeeding.  Some seem to think that science excludes faith, but that isn't borne out in reality.  There are so many prominent scientists that have powerful outspoken testimonies for Christ.  I've read Dr. Francis Collins' (Dr. Lennox mentions Dr. Francis and other preeminent scientists that have powerful faith) book and I've written about it on two different occasions, and while we have our differences, his testimony is powerful and he's obviously a consumate scientist.  So obviously scientists can, and many do, have faith.

Authorial intention...  I love Dr. Lennox's anecdote about authorial intention.  He talks about meeting with a man that had written a book about the idea that there is no such thing as authorial intent.  To which he replies, so, if I read your book I'll be convinced that there's no such thing as authorial intent?  Then I'll pass.  (**laughter from the crowd**)  In case it's not obvious, if the book has no authorial intent, then there's no point to the book.

Here are the limitations of science, and they're clearly shown in science's inability to answer the questions of a child; why am I here, where do I come from, and what is the purpose of life.  Scientist cannot give us morality either.  There are ethical foundations of science but not the scientific foundations of ethics, and looking back in history (his not so veiled reference to Nazi eugenics ideals) we can see what ethics are like when based on science.

Dr. Lennox also references what is commonly called an argument from design or a teleological argument.  His example goes like this, say you have a Ford Galaxy like this one:

Now, looking at this car and you're forced to choose an explanation for the car.  New Atheists say you must choose either the laws of physics, mechanics, engineering, and internal combustion, but on the other side you have Henry Ford.  Obviously you can't choose just one, both are required.  The idea is that one has to choose either science or faith, which is a false dilemma.  One of the reasons for this dangerous disagreement is the idea that God is only a god of the gaps, the idea that God is only good for explaining what we don't understand. This is a flawed view of God, because He's the reason for everything.  Science is about studying a given with a given.  Because neither science nor the scientist created the universe.

These problems stem from a misunderstanding of laws and mechanism and agency.  Newton's Principea Mathematica was written so that the thinking man would believe in God.  The more you know about a thing the more impressive one's understanding of what you're studying.  The more you know about art the better you can appreciate Rembrandt; the better you understand mechanics the more you appreciate a Rolls-Royce.

New Atheists are confused about the nature of faith.  It's not about belief without evidence.  It's about belief where there is evidence.  There are so many reasons to believe and there is evidence.  Belief without evidence really is dangerous.  It's where suicide bombers come from.  When Jesus blesses doubting Thomas for his belief, He isn't saying that we should believe without evidence, He's saying that many will do so; it's true there are millions of people even today that still believe in Jesus without seeing Him.  Not without evidence, but just the simple logistics of not seeing Jesus.

I know you all love when I loquaciously carry on, but I'm going to have to divide this into two parts.  I've only covered the first half of the lecture and there's so much more he has to say that I want to pass on to you.  So stay tuned for part two.

Such a beautiful place to live