John and I have been continuing an old discussion about science, and I thought I would make it it’s own post, since it has been advancing beyond the original discussion in some ways. John’s comments are in normal font, mine are bolded.
1) I am not not trying to incorporate all of reality into what can be called “science”—I think the question I am trying to suggest is, how do you suppose or even propose to talk about the non-physical? You have a problem doing that! But you want to include God into the discussion—a discussion which has stipulated that only physical items are presently allowed into discussion.
I don’t see what the difficulty is talking about the non-physical. We do it every day when we refer to mental states and their effect on our (partly material) actions. It is, of course, difficult to talk about the non-physical in physical terms, but that’s for obvious reasons.
2) the “that-which-is-available-to-the-senses” I intentionally meant as ambiguous—that it, is I want to include both physical entities not directly present to the senses though inferrable from them and physical entities directly present to the senses. There is no reason for me to be specific. And there is no a priori reason I ought to think that that which is inferrable is God over and above a potentially less understood physical entity.
But there’s also no a priori reason to exclude God from being such a factor. This is the primary point of my original post.
I mean, to reduce it to a “naked-eye” brand of sensation, of course, is not what I properly mean either—I expect there to be sensation-excellerants, i.e., telescopes, microscopes, chemical detectors, etc., apparatuses.
Surely the past is not present to the senses but the memories are and that is the past-present link. Now we can quibble all we want about how we really can trust these recollections, so on and so on, but no one is really going to doubt in the main that recollection is an access to the past or that it cannot be trusted in part. I don’t think that any scientist is really being that strict. That is more a philosopher’s issue.
Well, my original post was one about the philosophy of science, so I’m not agreeing to bracket philosophical questions here. And my point about the past being inferred from the present was not really to raise “sceptical” questions; rather, I was trying to point out that, in general, making inferences to causal explanations from sensible data is already part of what we call “science”, so there is no reason to exclude God from being the result of such inferences unless we are assuming God is not a part of the causal nexus of the universe.
“[I]t equates something having no cause with something having a non-physical cause, which is just to assume the non-physical does not exist.”
You’re wrong about this, and I think you’ve misunderstood me, since you would be thereby assuming that I think only physical things exist. But that is not what I am saying, so I must conclude that your reading of me is not as charitable as it could have been. I’ll try to clarify nonetheless.
1) It is not inconsistent to assume that there are things which cannot be spoken about in terms of physicalities (Kant with his things-in-themselves should have taught us that; or even Pierce, who said there was a difference between things that were actual and thing which existed).
2) I would like to see (independent of the very first thing which supposed came into existence) someone attempt to show that something physical can have no cause.
Again, you’re equating something with having no *physical* cause with something having no cause. No creationist, and no intelligent design supporter, is trying to argue physical things have no cause. In fact, it is usually the opposite: it has been secular thinkers who have tried to deny that certain characteristics of the universe (or the universe itself) have causes.
Also: if you admit that the first thing can come into existence without a physical cause, there seems to be no reason (to me, anyway) to assume such a thing could never happen again.
So why I have to conclude that something which cannot be spoken of necessarily cannot exist is beyond me. The point I am making is that once you have restricted the conversation to that which is physical, to introduce into it a non-physical entity is to put forth a nonsensical, non-physical claim—hence something without reason, without meaning *inasmuch as the conversation goes* (not without meaning or reason generally which is how you are interpreting me)—which was supposed to be thereby excluded from the discussion. Hence it does not function as any proper explanation inasmuch as the conversation is concerned—whether or not (and this is the important part) there is an actual referent to the non-physical entity.
I think you’re missing the context of this discussion. My entire point was that we should not limit the conversation to only allowing physical explanations for physical effects, precisely because science should not rule out possible explanations a priori. I agree it would be nonsensical to admit a non-physical cause into a “science” that was defined by only searching for physical causes, but my point is precisely that we should not even be practicing such a “science” in the first place, because it is just prejudicial. It is by definition less likely to get us to the truth, since it rules out possibly true scenarios before it has even started.
God is more than welcome to effect whatsoever he likes, but if he wishes to be part of the spectrum of science (in its modern sense, if it will make you feel better) he must incorporate himself into the physical. In other words, God is irrelevant to the scientific discussion unless he can make himself observable to it.
It only follows that God is actually irrelevant to the search for the true causes of material phenomena (as opposed to the search for only physical causes, regardless of their being the real causes in history) if God is in fact causally irrelevant to all the physical effects in the universe. God does not have to *be* physical to have an effect on the physical, and if God does in fact have a causal relation to some physical effect he is relevant to understanding that fact.
Your argument will have to demonstrate that design is only possible through a designer and is not a fundamental condition of existence. And that I don’t think you can do without bringing God in through the back door. Even if there is an unexplainable complexity to simple structures it doesn’t follow that there is a creator behind them, it may only follow that basic structures have a fundamental complexity to them. It is only when you add the presupposition that ‘it is not possible for there to be basic complexity without the hand of God’ that you’ll reach your conclusion. But then you’ll have to demonstrate that. However at the same time, and luckily for the theist, a basic fundamental complexity does not exclude God either.
Paley’s analogy is not comparable at all (I bring this in because it was of discussion above and in case you wanted to further argue about design). Thinking that there is design in the world is not like finding a watch and wondering, because of its mechanics, about its creator. If you really want a comparable analogue you’ll have to suppose that it would be like the minute hand of a watch thinking that because there is a second hand which moves that the whole thing in which they are contained must have a designer. Of course that doesn’t really work, or certianly not as well. The presupposition that we can observe the world as whole from within it, as though we were without it, is just from the beginning wrongheaded. But it’s what Paley assumed. Humans might design things but our understanding of their being designed is largely because we can point to designers and the things they design, but the universe doesn’t have a designer we can point to (physically speaking) and therefore we cannot really determine whether it is a thing designed. Order in its parts itself will not tell whether the whole thing is ordered or whether order at all is a necessary condition of there being a God. Because if there is no God, and there is order, then order itself must be a fundamental condition of existence.
It seems to me your fundamental point here is that the design inference does not apply to the universe as a whole, though you do not give a reason why it should not (unless you were doing so when you said “but the universe doesn’t have a designer we can point to (physically speaking)”, which again presumes that a cause must be a physical cause to be a sufficient causal explanation). Let me ask this: do you think SETI is based on a fallacy, because it is attempting to infer the existence of non-human intelligence based on the existence of inter-planetary language transmissions? I think most people would find the logic behind SETI’s method to be common-sensical: if something showing evidence of design exists outside of earth, it is highly likely there is extra-terrestrial intelligence; one does not have to know any other characteristics of that intelligence (such as its metaphysical/physical makeup) in order to rightly infer the existence of such intelligence. Now, if you grant SETI is a reasonable endeavour, why would the same intuition not apply on a cosmic scale?
(As a thought experiment,) what if tomorrow an astronomer somehow observed the edges of the universe (just suppose such a thing exists for a moment), and from his observations realized that the entire universe was in the shape of the following statement written in English in three-dimensional cursive script: “Hey, it’s about time you found the edge of the universe.” In such a scenario, would it be reasonable to infer there was a mind who designed the universe? Again, I think the average person would say yes.
Of course, as you pointed out, it is still logically possible that the universe being in such a shape is just a brute fact, which is equivalent to saying it is by chance. Also, it is logically possible that there is some greater impersonal law that necessitated the universe be in such a shape. But again, I think it is obviously logically intuitive that such explanations are less plausible (*not* impossible, which is what you said I would have to argue above) than the design inference. If you want to question the basic intuition of design, I would say, as you do below: “I don’t see how it shouldn’t be included as part of methodology just because it is not completely philosophically tight”. Also, like the principle of induction, we could not function in society without using this inference all the time (imagine if we refused to believe stop signs were in fact designed…).
Well it is not really a history of science that I am so much concerned with which informs what the present *might be* (not must—no scientist is going to concede to your ‘must’) like, inasmuch as it is about past events dictaing how we think about present and future events. Inasmuch, as that is the case I don’t see what the problem is. Sure, quote some version of the problem of induction to me, that’s really not going to assist with how we generally operate. We don’t exclude the problem of induction either! That present events will presumably be like past ones is not an altogether bad idea—it’s essentially what gets me across the street when I am not at the lights. I recognize this could be the time when I do not succeed, but I am still allowing the past to dictate the future in some regard. I don’t see how it shouldn’t be included as part of methodology just because it is not completely philosophically tight. I also think that science does allow also that such a principle will not always follow. So to assume that an explanation could come about for which God is not needed is alright to assume from the fact that similar situations have happened in the past. Though granted, it should not be absolutely expected that it will. I don’t understand why you are disagreeing with me.
I’m disagreeing with you because of your original statement:
“And I think the reason there might some reason to exclude God as a possible explanation is…”
You’re making the argument that the history of science is a reason to think God is not even a possible explanation for effects in the universe, which is modally speaking the same as saying the history of science probably entails that God must not be a cause. (In a binary situation, where there are only two options, if you say one is not possible you are implying the other is necessary.) My point is that the history of science does not prove that God is not a possible explanation for any physical effect, and so I don’t think it should be part of our scientific methodology to assume every effect must have a non-divine cause. There’s no problem looking for one to some extent, but that doesn’t mean we must never infer that God probably caused something directly.
Let me explain it a little bit differently, perhaps that will help. I think my question is that if it is truly better (from the position of Christianity) for natural phenomena to be explained by recourse to God, why not reject the current ideas concerning thunderstorms, for instance, and take up a causal idea that states that God is angry or bowling or something else? Or why not create explanations for natural phenomenon which have recourse to God though which have been for the most part explained naturally: like God bats the earth around the sun like a tether ball. Why is there a need for God to be an explanation at all?
I think I should clarify my position: I don’t think it is theologically necessary for there to be intra-universal effects which have only God as their cause. I do think, however, that given traditional Christian views of the history of creation (starting with the creation week), we have pretty strong reasons to believe there are some intra-universal effects which do not have strictly natural laws as their cause. For example, if we assume that Adam was created the way Genesis 2 says he was, I think it would be fair to assume there will never be an accurate description of Adam’s origin which is entirely based on the uniform outworking of natural laws (is there really likely to be a natural law that dictated: (1) a pile of dust would form together (2) in the garden of Eden, and that (3) said laws would then somehow (without God’s Spirit being supernaturally involved in anyway) bring that pile of dust to life?). This is not to say there could not be some logically possible natural explanation which could explain the existence of humankind without Genesis being literally true, or without theism being true, but your question here is “why do Christians care so much”, and so perhaps this is part of your answer.
The point is, there is this idea that the less natural phenomena can be explained by God the worse shape theists are in. But, I fundamentally disagree with this (at least inasmuch as Christianity is concerned). I can think that God is the cause of everything without having to believe that individual items in the universal network are caused by him at any given time. Or I can assume that he is the ground of the cause of all things, however, the appearances of which always look as though they were the cause of other natural phenomena. In other words, I can except with little problem that God is truly the cause of every little thing and therefore be consistent with the bible and hence read it just as you do; though on the surface maintain that the causal relations looks quite naturalistic without actually only being so. I can be content with the fact that it is just something I can’t fathom and leave it at that. But you’ll have to assume your way of reading it—in order to exclude mind—is the only possible way to read it. But that is not acceptable by me.
To look at the universe as many Christians do and expect that there have to be or there should be holes in order for God to poke his head through seems to be the product of anxiety not faith. The thing which you defend, if you let go of does not disprove the ground of your belief. I must therefore ask why it is you argue for it. Because you really believe there to be these “scientific peculiarities” which point to God?
Why do I argue for it? Basically because I think it is a good reason for naturalists to give up naturalism. It is basically an external argument focused at unbelievers for me; I do not need it to believe in God’s existence (though it does bolster my faith, which I think is just fine).