Category Archives: Science

The God-fearing Determinist*, Part 3

Jokes are good fun, but even satire can reveal that the question is not a simple one, even one that could lead to paradoxes. More fun:

Take the First Cause Quiz!

First-Cause-Quiz

(Click the image for the PDF version of the quiz below – to find out what you believe in. This quiz emulates theistic epistemology and may therefore contain nuts, and traces of false dichotomies. Put tongue in cheek before ingesting.)

1. If something popped into existence without a cause / always existed, was it created? -No. (If Yes, we need to find a new word for this peculiar phenomenon; it is the definition of the word; but even if a new word is defined, it will not carry the meaning of “Creation performed by a Creator”;it would necessarily follow that God didn’t create the Universe. He “something-else’d” the Universe.)

2. Do some things pop into existence / always exist? -Yes. (If No, God didn’t create the Universe; it unfolded by cause and effect.)

3. Did the Universe pop into existence without a cause / always exist, or did something cause it to begin to exist? -Yes. (If No, God didn’t create the Universe.)

4. So you affirm some events require a previous cause but some don’t, and that the Universe is one of the things that require a previous cause. Is that previous cause an act of God? -Yes. (If No, God didn’t create the Universe.)

5. Did the Creator pop into existence spontaneously / always exist, or did something cause the Creator? -No. (If Yes, God plays the intermediary Creator, a role not portrayed in mainstream religions.)

6. So you’re unsatisfied with an uncreated Universe as First Cause. Is an uncreated Creator a better answer? -Yes. (If No, you’ve understood something important – why someone doesn’t have to be Atheist or even a skeptic to question your religion’s origins claims.)

7. Despite all the other causes previously ascribed to acts of God having been replaced with actual knowledge of how reality works, leaving you only the cause for the Big Bang, can you substantiate that this cause is an act of God? -Yes. (If No, you don’t know that God created the Universe, and the argument ends.)

8. Are these substantiations abstract arguments that suspiciously fit exactly what is left to be explained before the Big Bang? -No. (If Yes, several competing, and not necessarily divine origin, theories could fill the gap, and you don’t know that the one involving your God is the correct one.)

9. Accepting all your substantiations as true, you have still only shown that this is an act of a God. Can you identify the Creator of the Universe with the deity of your own religion? -Yes. (If No, you don’t know that your God created the Universe, and the argument ends.)

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OK, phew. The quiz is over! If you didn’t make it past the last question, you should display intellectual honesty by admitting that you don’t know if your God created the Universe.

If you did, you should submit your arguments and any evidence and references for peer review. If some of them are refuted soundly, you should display intellectual honesty by abandoning deeply held convictions that rest on them in order to show that you are interested in seeing truths – just as Scientists do for (perhaps) much more rigorously researched theories than yours. Or, of course, defend your argument.

“If something is true, you should believe it, and if it isn’t, you shouldn’t. And if you can’t find out whether it’s true or it isn’t, you should suspend judgment.”

Bertrand Russell

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This article series continues with part 4, which will deal with false dichotomies, show how an open question on the subject might be phrased, and the relation of any educated guess, answer, explanation, or theory to reality.

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Faith in Science

A philosophically minded person asks a good question properly, and Dawkins succumbs to delivering more of a comeback than an answer.

A more frank answer running less risk of sounding evasive might be,

“Of all that Science holds true, it places its greatest faith in “natural née supernatural”, the fundamental axiom that reality is not fundamentally absurd; that it works in certain ways, and that those ways can be understood. With this in mind, Scientists are not superhuman – naturally, they take many scientific (and unscientific) descriptions at face value like all of us, because they’d never find the time to personally test each one in detail. A few basic axioms are at the heart of each science – and some are shared. From these, Science relies heavily on logic and math to build theories that should predict and explain all known phenomena within that science. They must be testable, and if evidence contradicts them, the axioms may even be discarded! This monumental skepticism is the mark of Science, far moreso than the axioms. (Some of which are so simple that you would accept them the instant you understood them, and some surprisingly unintuitive and mind-boggling.) It’s clear that we have found a good way to learn how reality works. Other, even better ways may appear, and they will succeed Science or become integrated with Science.”

The way the person phrases the question makes him sound educated enough to already hold many of Science’s axioms true and already suspect that distrusting Science as a whole is fruitless and misguided. Naturally, it’s perfectly legitimate to question axioms; point out that logic contains legitimate paradoxes; use Gödel’s proof of incompleteness and inability of consistency in formal logic, the foundation for mathematics. But focusing on these is to look at the weak end of Science’s explanatory power! The testability, the objectivity, and the successful deduction and generalization from evidence is what makes Science uniquely reliable and trustworthy. In other words: if a theory is perfect, and a single solid piece of evidence or objective experimental phenomenon surfaces that goes against the theory, then the perfect theory is questioned. Mere empiricism is what makes it stronger, not weaker. And Science is aposterioricity City!

This much is true of the hard sciences. But some sciences are quite far removed from current reality (as in, having accessible, clear evidence) by time, space, or level of abstraction. The reason Geology, Cosmology, or the Social Sciences can predict and explain as much as they do is due in part to the axioms and world views they share with the hard sciences. They can be questioned practically all the way down to these shared axioms and world views, and are therefore more vulnerable targets of distrust and attack. But because they share axioms not yet refuted by evidence and world views formed from evidence, it’s just this interfacing and interlacing of evidence that justifies at least the core of the weaker hard sciences and soft sciences.

The remaining most effective way to question the validity of a science, assuming evidence is not shaky, must then be to question its axioms. The fulcrum on which the scales of faith hang seems to be the fundamental axiom. It always seemed to me that if you declare some parts of reality supernatural, you automatically say reality cannot, needs not, ought not be understood.

I always thought this an avertible disaster; an avoidable danger – the danger of leaving the field wide open to recidivist lazy mystic censors of wit.

It’s hard for me to see how such a claim can be made without simultaneously and justly looking weaker than Science, and that if you are interested in the supernatural, you can do no better than to discover it through Science. For that is exactly what has happened many times in the few centuries Science has let the evidence lead you to truth and discovery.

Now, I realize Dawkins is human too, and I’ve had almost 50 minutes to think and write this answer, so it’s unfair. I just thought it was a perfectly good question that deserved a better answer than it got. :)


Before the Big Bang

It’s the topic of instantaneous creation. When a believer is asked, “If God created the Universe, how did God come to be? And if he was always there, why not save a step and say the Universe was always there?”, he may retort: “Well, you can’t explain where the Big Bang came from.” Here are some thoughts on the inequality of those accusations.

(First of all, there is an inequality in that one is summary conjecture from doctrine not present in all religions. For some, this would be enough, really.)

But the person asking often recognizes Science’s fascinating ability to reveal the Universe’s complexity and analyze it, so that we can understand more. There is no question of that ability, and believers as well as Atheists are awestruck by the wonder of this Universe in which we live. This is a revelation not present in scripture. We owe this sense of wonder to Science alone.

A believer with normal schooling would accept the arguments and evidence for the Big Bang. Even if the schooling is not there, he may – because the evidence is so compelling. But the real riddle is a psychological one: he feels who-created-God and who-created-the-big-bang are similar questions, and uses it is as an, in his mind, apt counter-accusation.

The answer is simply that the evidence takes you this far, Science has advanced this far in understanding the Universe, at the present moment. Now, here’s the nub: if he believes he knows the true origin of the Universe, he should have information enough to question this mere theory of a hot dense small beginning. But he has demonstrated that he does not, because he too is persuaded by the evidence.  He accepts Scientific explanation up to a point where it becomes uncomfortable; threatens his beliefs.

And throughout history, this is how supernatural causes have had to retreat, further and further, to where they are today: to a very short time before the Big Bang. Causes of unsuitable weather, bad crops, illness, wonders of Nature, and intricate flora and fauna have all to a very large extent given way to Scientific, evidence-based explanation.

It was enough to turn a theist into a deist; now, it’s enough to turn a deist into an adeist.