Deducing God from Nature
Psiomniac and I have been having an interesting exchange on the subject of faith, reason, and the scientific support for theism. His latest volley contains some good food for thought, and I've spent some extra time on a reply that I've chosen to share here as a separate post.
[Psiomniac said:] I think you are right about the main area of disagreement being the relative strength of the rational case for theism. I think the so called 'anomalies' [faced by the atheist in foundational areas of science] that you mention [like the origins and design of the universe and consciousness theory] are either questions of detail or genuine areas of inquiry.I think that some of the problems faced by science at this juncture in the road are not just quantitatively different than it has addressed thus far (like learning more about physics and chemistry so we know how stars work), but qualitatively different (like facing the reason for the very origin of matter and the finely tuned laws that allow things like stars and life to exist). But the great utility of science has led many like yourself to have great hope that it can give us answers to even the most intractable questions. For this reason, for some, there is nothing that theists could ever point to that would be conclusive proof of their case, since it can always be said, "Give us time, we'll find the answer eventually."
But I haven't millennia to wait in order to make my commitments. I must, as with every generation before me, take what is offered and apparent to me at this time. Some would say that we are living in the greatest age for the scientific support of theism. I've even heard it said that if you want a hardcore atheist to debate, don't go to the hard sciences department, go to the humanities department. While I'm not sure that I agree that the scales are tipped any more heavily in this age than they were in ages past, I will say that the problems in this age that strict materialism faces are at every point where the deepest questions about life and meaning reside. Theism, at least my brand, answers those concerns in a very systematic way. I find it eminently reasonable; especially when I bring all other things, like philosophy, history, psychology, sociology, and ethics, into the equation.
What really matters is the methodology employed in order to conduct such an enquiry. This is where I think theism falls down.I have news, theists are right there beside the atheists doing scientific research in every way that you would affirm (e.g., the head of the Human Genome Project is a Christian). It is in the interpretation of that data where the debate lies. I think that what you are really implying is that while we can test natural processes, we can't do experiments to test for God. I am sympathetic to the concern, but it is a philosophically tenable difficulty given the premise that there could be a God; simply because we have this difficulty does not invalidate the existence of God. God, by nature, is transcendent and a personal agent. This makes it difficult both materially and causally to pin Him down. For this reason, the best way to "test" for God is through the effects of what He has done. But if one is tenaciously committed to finding a material explanation for all effects, no matter how many divine fingerprints are found upon it, then one will never arrive at a divine conclusion.
And do you suppose that scientists are perfectly objective in their methodologies and anxious for their own theories to be refuted? I just recently read the following passage in Nancy Pearcy's book, Total Truth, that speaks to this very issue:
"The famous duo who discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, Francis Crick and James Watson, freely admit that anti-religious motivations drove their scientific work. 'I went into science because of these religious reasons, there's no doubt about that,' Crick said in a recent interview. 'I asked myself what were the two things that appear inexplicable and are used to support religious beliefs.' He decided the two things that support religion were 'the difference between living and nonliving things, and the phenomenon of consciousness.' He then aimed his own research specifically at demonstrating a naturalistic view of both."
The thing is, the truth doesn't come easy. Anyone can make a miraculous claim and say they were inspired by god or whichever deity and if they are charismatic enough they may even start a cult. . . . I remember a case of a so called 'psychic' who had undergone investigation and who had produced statistically significant results under laboratory conditions. . . . What happened in fact was that the results could not be replicated. It then took thousands of researcher-hours to uncover the telltale statistical patterns that are the signature of fraud. . . . You see the difficulty here? This is people we are dealing with. It takes one charismatic individual to set a problem and then thousands of research-hours to realise that the solution is fraud. Zip back now to Palestine 2000 years ago, when there were no researchers. . . .The theistic framework doesn't even make it to first base in the methodology stakes.I sympathize with what you are saying, and I have an inverse concern. Even if the New Testament portrait of Jesus is true (as I have come to believe), there are so many ways that the evidence for it could be obfuscated and equivocated. How can one ever get past the uncertainty and the layers of just-so stories lain down by the skeptics? While there may be no smoking-gun argument against it (and there have been centuries to try), being distant history, it still leaves persons wiggle-room for their doubt. For this reason, one may start by affirming that the testimony of Scripture and the church Fathers is all in order and is reasonable as far as it goes (assuming one will grant the premise that a God could exist to make sense of it all), and then move on to look at other factors in life and the cosmos that the claims of Scripture would serve to make sense of.
I am also increasingly convinced that the doctrine of the illumination of the Holy Spirit is epistemologically necessary in order to overcome both the predisposition not to believe such a thing and the difficulties in knowing with any kind of certainty that it is so. It is not that I think it unreasonable, or contrary to all the indicators to be found in life, (indeed, the more I look, the more astonishingly plain it becomes); it is that things like data, perceptions, beliefs, and biases are so philosophically and psychologically complex, and most persons are so unaccustomed to thinking carefully, that I am amazed that so many people come to the same conclusion I do about Christianity, or, more accurately, that I have separately come to conclude that classical Christianity is true.
Ultimately, I don't think that there is a problem with the theistic "methodology" in this area. I simply think that it is a matter of the natural complexities of dealing with history and recorded testimonies. It is a different kind of science than mathematics and chemistry, which does not reduce well to formulas and repeatable experiments.
You KNOW the truth already, so it is obviously true that the heavens declare his glory, you just have to articulate how it declares it well enough and we will get it.I agree in general that people often simply shape the facts (some facts anyway) to fit their preferred truths, but the funny thing here is that the very thing that set me on the road to Christianity was the teleological and cosmological arguments. In a very real sense, the heavens did declare the glory of God to me. And I am not alone in this: Antony Flew is but a recent example of an antagonist of Christianity whose skepticism has been eroded by the design argument. It is a fiction that every Christian begins his life as such and simply rationalizes his way through it.
You cannot start from a position of knowing god loves you, deduce the way cosmology must play out if this is the case (brilliantly I must say) and expect that it will be credible that you are swimming with the current of evidence.I think there is a compliment in there, and the fact that you seem to believe that I am doing a plausible job of weaving my tale means that I am at least not being irrational. Perhaps my premise is ultimately untrue, but it is at least consistent with the data that I am presenting.
And isn't this how science works? Does it not test the data against its hypotheses? It is not so important where those hypotheses originate, but it cannot be said to be a respectable theory if it does not have explanatory and predictive power. I suggest that theism does so; it simply does not pass your explanatory filter.
I think that there are many processes in the universe that are observable that give rise to structure through blind algorithmic processes. Like the formation of a snowflake.You are right; though you assume they are "blind" processes and not the regular, orderly, direct actions of God to sustain the universe (but that's another discussion). This is indeed a remarkably ordered universe, which is invested with a great deal of potential by its very forces, material, and constants. But this is one of the very things that begs for an explanation!
So wouldn't it be more honest to admit that the generation of universes better fits this analogy than the analogy of being designed? Surely I have legitimate epistemological objections to the validity of postulating a designer as a solution, since all of a sudden we are going the wrong way in terms of explanatory gradient if we do that.It is an unjustified leap to assume that some "natural" and law-driven process, like we see within this universe, is the very thing that brought those laws into being in the first place. I think that when you get to the point of originating causes, all bets are off.
I would also say that we could look at the analogy of "mind," which we also see examples of in this universe, and make an analogical connection between that and the effect of the universe itself. Since mind is a natural thing, even by materialistic standards (though not adequately explained), is it not a natural candidate for an explanation? Indeed, I have heard world-class physicists propose that our entire universe is nothing more than a computer simulation originating from a prior advanced civilization — this being based on the analogy of what human minds can accomplish in relation to the environment we find ourselves immersed within.
The multiverse hypothesis is not something that suggests itself from anything we see in the universe (like the flight of galaxies suggests the big bang) so much as it is an attempt to explain the remarkable nature of the universe itself without admitting the obvious: that the universe is exquisitely designed because it had a Designer. It is the same as telling someone who has just won the Powerball jackpot for the thousandth time in a row, "It's really not so incredible if you consider that there are an infinite number of worlds populated with people just like you. This was bound to happen to one of them, and you just happen to be that one." I think they could be forgiven if they preferred the explanation that someone purposed that they should always win.
And one last thing: in order to avoid personalizing the "cause," you are willing to compound your entities to require infinite universes and at least one, grand universe-barfing machine. How this "machine" is constructed such that it spawns universes, and why we should believe that each one must be purely random in its physical laws (so as to yield fortuitous order in at least one) I do not know. Nor am I certain how we would ever know such things; it will always be a matter of faith to those committed to materialism. A theistic cause is at least a premise which has hope of secondary support within the cosmos — the Causer may choose to get involved after the fact.
The vast majority of structure we see in the world is not overtly designed (unless you want to beg the question). It is the result of the iterative application of simple rules. A designer is more likely, by analogy from what we observe, to be a product of such processes than a cause.Since the vast majority of what I "see in the world" is its surface, which is dense with biological strata, I would have to take issue with this. That is because biology is not merely "the result of the iterative application of simple rules," like gravity forming stars from molecular clouds or molecular attractions forming crystals; biochemistry, according to naturalistic theory, is the product of random chance applied to supposed chemical processes. For example, while there may be repeatable chemical pathways to the formation of some amino acids, there are no biochemical rules or pathways that inevitably result in amino acids lining up in polypeptide chains (like Na Cl lines up into crystalline structures) short of the aid of a ribosome working at the direction of the DNA. Nor are there any known laws of physics which would invest chemicals with information content. Finding such pathways and processes is the holy grail of evolution, and since that is the very foundation upon which it depends, I do not know why we should find it plausible (even ignoring its other faults) until such time as it does so.