atheism

The Limits of Science (II)

The material of the universe — be it called matter or energy — has three essential properties: essence, emanation, and effect. Essence — what things really “are” — is the most elusive of the properties, and probably unknowable. Emanations are the perceptible aspects of things, such as their detectible motions and electromagnetic properties. Effects are what things “do” to other things, as in the effect that a stream of photons has on paper when the photons are focused through a magnifying glass. (You’ve lived a bland life if you’ve never started a fire that way.)

Science deals in emanations and effects. It seems that these can be described without knowing what matter-energy “really” consists of. But can they?

Take a baseball. Assume, for the sake of argument, that it can’t be opened and separated into constituent parts, which are many. (See the video at this page for details.) Taking the baseball as a fundamental particle, its attributes (seemingly) can be described without knowing what’s inside it. Those attributes include the distance that it will travel when hit by a bat, when the ball and bat (of a certain weight) meet at certain velocities and at certain angles, given the direction and speed of rotation of the ball when it meets the bat, ambient temperature and relative humidity, and so on.

And yet, the baseball can’t be treated as if it were a fundamental particle. The distance that it will travel, everything else being the same, depends on the material at its core, the size of the core, the tightness of the windings of yarn around the core, the types of yarn used in the windings, the tightness of the cover, the flatness of the stitches that hold the cover in place, and probably several other things.

This suggests to me that the emanations and effects of an object depend on its essence — at least in the everyday world of macroscopic objects. If that’s so, why shouldn’t it be the same for the world of objects called sub-atomic particles?

Which leads to some tough questions: Is it really the case that all of the particles now considered elementary are really indivisible? Are there other elementary particles yet to be discovered or hypothesized, and will some of those be constituents of particles now thought to be elementary? And even if all of the truly elementary particles are discovered, won’t scientists still be in the dark as to what those particles really “are”?

The progress of science should be judged by how much scientists know about the universe and its constituents. By that measure — and despite what may seem to be a rapid pace of discovery — it is fair to say that science has a long way to go — probably forever.

Scientists, who tend to be atheists, like to refer to the God of the gaps, a “theological perspective in which gaps in scientific knowledge are taken to be evidence or proof of God’s existence.” The smug assumption implicit in the use of the phrase by atheists is that science will close the gaps, and that there will be no room left for God.

It seems to me that the shoe is really on the other foot. Atheistic scientists assume that the gaps in their knowledge are relatively small ones, and that science will fill them. How wrong they are.

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Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
A Theory of Everything, Occam’s Razor, and Baseball
Evolution and Religion
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Science, Logic, and God
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
The Big Bang and Atheism
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
The Greatest Mystery
More Thoughts about Evolutionary Teleology
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Demystifying Science
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
Mysteries: Sacred and Profane
Something from Nothing?
Something or Nothing
My Metaphysical Cosmology
Further Thoughts about Metaphysical Cosmology
Nothingness
Spooky Numbers, Evolution, and Intelligent Design
Mind, Cosmos, and Consciousness

The Glory of the Human Mind

As an antidote to the bleakness of “Nothingness” and in tribute to the glory that is the human mind, I refer you to three old posts of mine: “Flow,” “The Purpose-Driven Life,” and “In Praise of Solitude.”

And I also refer you to every great artist, writer, and thinker, from Socrates and Shakespeare to Newton and Einstein to Bach and Dvorak to Nabakov and Nagel.

A particular mind may be evanescent, but the beauty, wisdom, and knowledge that is produced by the best minds is priceless. The sum total of beauty, wisdom, and knowledge that is available to us — though too often ignored and derided — is overwhelming. No one can possibly absorb and understand all of it, which means that no one must waste his time on mindless intellectual and artistic dreck.

That so much time is wasted on dreck — often whole lifetimes — is a greater tragedy than the inevitable death of any particular artist, writer, or thinker. Equally tragic is the rejection of civilizing traditions, which are also sublime products of the human mind. Thus:

I hate modern art that swaps form for dead sharks; and modern music that exchanges harmony for noise…. I hate religious leaders who think that God is found “in the spaces” and that worship is therapy. I hate our pornographic culture, our tasteless battery foods, and our TV that treats adults like children and children like adults. I hate our obsession with irony, as if a shrug of the shoulders is cleverer than serious inquiry. I hate the death of chivalry, manners and the doffed hats. I hate our promotion of sex over romance – today’s Brief Encounters are very different things. I hate the eradication of guilt and shame, very useful concepts that hold us back from indulgence. (Tim Stanley, “Conservatives: Don’t Despair of Our Corrupt, Decadent Age. Write about It,” The Telegraph, August 2, 2013)

Life needn’t be like that. When all else fails us, we can take refuge in our own minds, where beauty dwells — if we have cultivated our minds so that beauty thrives there.

The potentiality of the human mind allows us to be more — much more — than the “most robots” of New Atheism. Thank God for that.

Something from Nothing?

I do not know if Lawrence Krauss typifies scientists in his logical obtuseness, but he certainly exemplifies the breed of so-called scientists who proclaim atheism as a scientific necessity.  According to a review by David Albert of Krauss’s recent book, A Universe from Nothing,

the laws of quantum mechanics have in them the makings of a thoroughly scientific and adamantly secular explanation of why there is something rather than nothing.

Albert’s review, which I have quoted extensively elsewhere, comports with Edward Feser’s analysis:

The bulk of the book is devoted to exploring how the energy present in otherwise empty space, together with the laws of physics, might have given rise to the universe as it exists today. This is at first treated as if it were highly relevant to the question of how the universe might have come from nothing—until Krauss acknowledges toward the end of the book that energy, space, and the laws of physics don’t really count as “nothing” after all. Then it is proposed that the laws of physics alone might do the trick—though these too, as he implicitly allows, don’t really count as “nothing” either.

Bill Vallicella puts it this way:

[N]o one can have any objection to a replacement of the old Leibniz question — Why is there something rather than nothing? … — with a physically tractable question, a question of interest to cosmologists and one amenable to a  physics solution. Unfortunately, in the paragraph above, Krauss provides two different replacement questions while stating, absurdly, that the second is a more succinct version of the first:

K1. How can a physical universe arise from an initial condition in which there are no particles, no space and perhaps no time?

K2. Why is there ‘stuff’ instead of empty space?

These are obviously distinct questions.  To answer the first one would have to provide an account of how the universe originated from nothing physical: no particles, no space, and “perhaps” no time.  The second question would be easier to answer because it presupposes the existence of space and does not demand that empty space be itself explained.

Clearly, the questions are distinct.  But Krauss conflates them. Indeed, he waffles between them, reverting to something like the first question after raising the second.  To ask why there is something physical as opposed to nothing physical is quite different from asking why there is physical “stuff” as opposed to empty space.

Several years ago, I explained the futility of attempting to decide the fundamental question of creation and its cause on scientific grounds:

Consider these three categories of knowledge (which long pre-date their use by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld): known knowns, know unknowns, and unknown unknowns. Here’s how that trichotomy might be applied to a specific aspect of scientific knowledge, namely, Earth’s rotation about the Sun:

1. Known knowns — Earth rotates about the Sun, in accordance with Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

2. Known unknowns — Earth, Sun, and the space between them comprise myriad quantum phenomena (e.g., matter and its interactions of matter in, on, and above the Earth and Sun; the transmission of light from Sun to Earth). We don’t know whether and how quantum phenomena influence Earth’s rotation about the Sun; that is, whether Einsteinian gravity is a partial explanation of a more complete theory of gravity that has been dubbed quantum gravity.

3. Unknown unknowns — Other things might influence Earth’s rotation about the Sun, but we don’t know what those other things are, if there are any.

For the sake of argument, suppose that scientists were as certain about the origin of the universe in the Big Bang as they are about the fact of Earth’s rotation about the Sun. Then, I would write:

1. Known knowns — The universe was created in the Big Bang, and the universe — in the large — has since been “unfolding” in accordance with Einsteinian relativity.

2. Known unknowns — The Big Bang can be thought of as a meta-quantum event, but we don’t know if that event was a manifestation of quantum gravity. (Nor do we know how quantum gravity might be implicated in the subsequent unfolding of the universe.)

3. Unknown unknowns — Other things might have caused the Big Bang, but we don’t know if there were such things or what those other things were — or are.

Thus — to a scientist qua scientist — God and Creation are unknown unknowns because, as unfalsifiable hypotheses, they lie outside the scope of scientific inquiry. Any scientist who pronounces, one way or the other, on the existence of God and the reality of Creation has — for the moment, at least — ceased to be scientist.

Which is not to say that the question of creation is immune to logical analysis; thus:

To say that the world as we know it is the product of chance — and that it may exist only because it is one of vastly many different (but unobservable) worlds resulting from chance — is merely to state a theoretical possibility. Further, it is a possibility that is beyond empirical proof or disproof; it is on a par with science fiction, not with science.

If the world as we know it — our universe — is not the product of chance, what is it? A reasonable answer is found in another post of mine, “Existence and Creation.” Here is the succinct version:

  1. In the material universe, cause precedes effect.
  2. Accordingly, the material universe cannot be self-made. It must have a “starting point,” but the “starting point” cannot be in or of the material universe.
  3. The existence of the universe therefore implies a separate, uncaused cause.

There is no reasonable basis — and certainly no empirical one — on which to prefer atheism to deism or theism. Strident atheists merely practice a “religion” of their own. They have neither logic nor science nor evidence on their side — and eons of belief against them.

Another blogger once said this about the final sentence of that quotation, which I lifted from another post of mine:

I would have to disagree with the last sentence. The problem is epistemology — how do we know what we know? Atheists, especially ‘scientistic’ atheists, take the position that the modern scientific methodology of observation, measurement, and extrapolation from observation and measurement, is sufficient to detect anything that Really Exists — and that the burden of proof is on those who propose that something Really Exists that cannot be reliably observed and measured; which is of course impossible within that mental framework. They have plenty of logic and science on their side, and their ‘evidence’ is the commonly-accepted maxim that it is impossible to prove a negative.

I agree that the problem of drawing conclusions about creation from science (as opposed to logic) is epistemological. The truth and nature of creation is an “unknown unknown” or, more accurately, an “unknowable unknown.” With regard to such questions, scientists do not have logic and science on their side when they asset that the existence of the universe is possible without a creator, as a matter of science (as Krauss does, for example). Moreover, it is scientists who are trying to prove a negative: that there is neither a creator nor the logical necessity of one.

“Something from nothing” is possible, but only if there is a creator who is not part of the “something” that is the proper subject of scientific exploration and explanation.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Three Perspectives on Life: A Parable
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Evolution and Religion
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design
Science, Logic, and God
Capitalism, Liberty, and Christianity
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
Science, Axioms, and Economics
The Big Bang and Atheism
The Universe . . . Four Possibilities
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
Evolution as God?
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps

Mysteries: Sacred and Profane

A philosopher named Jamie Whyte, about whom I have written before (“Invoking Hitler“), is the author of Bad Thoughts – A Guide to Clear Thinking. According to the publisher, it is a

book for people who like argument. Witty, contentious, and passionate, it exposes the methods with which we avoid reasoned debate…. His writing is both laugh-out-loud funny and a serious comment on the ways in which people with power and influence avoid truth in steering public opinion.

Bad Thoughts is witty — though “laugh-out-loud funny” is a stretch — and, for the most part, correct in its criticisms of the kinds of sloppy logic that are found routinely in politics, journalism, blogdom, and everyday conversation.

But Whyte is not infallible, as I point out in “Invoking Hitler.”  This post focuses on another of Whyte’s miscues, which is found under “Mystery” (pp. 23-26). Here are some relevant samples:

…Consider … the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Unity of the Holy Trinity. The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are three distinct entities — as suggested by ‘Trinity’. Yet each is God, a sinle entity — as suggested by ‘Unity’. The doctrine is not that each is part of God, in the way that the FM tuner is part of your three-in-one home stereo. Each is wholly God.

And there’s the problem. It takes only the most basic arithmetic to see that three things cannot be one thing. The doctrine of the Unity of the Trinity is inconsistent with the fact that three does not equal one.

Whyte goes on and on, but the quoted material is the essence of his “case” that the Blessed Trinity (Catholic usage) is impossible because it defies mathematical logic. What is worse, to Whyte, is the fact that this bit of illogic is “explained away” (as he would put it) by calling it a “mystery.”

I am surprised that a philosopher cannot accept the idea of “mystery.” Anyone who thinks for more than a few minutes about the nature of the universe, as Whyte must have done, concludes that its essence is beyond human comprehension. And, yet, the universe exists. The universe — a real thing — is, at bottom, a mystery. Somehow, the mysteriousness of the universe does not negate its existence.

And there are scientific mysteries piled on that mysteriousness. Two of those mysteries have a common feature: They posit the simultaneous existence of one thing in more than one form — not unlike the Blessed Trinity:

Wave–particle duality postulates that all particles exhibit both wave and particle properties. A central concept of quantum mechanics, this duality addresses the inability of classical concepts like “particle” and “wave” to fully describe the behavior of quantum-scale objects.

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The many-worlds interpretation is an interpretation of quantum mechanics that asserts the objective reality of the universal wavefunction, but denies the actuality of wavefunction collapse. Many-worlds implies that all possible alternative histories and futures are real, each representing an actual “world” (or “universe”).

As Shakespeare puts it (Hamlet, Act I, Scene V), “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Or in your physics.

If Whyte wants to disprove the Blessed Trinity, he must first try to disprove the existence of God — a fool’s errand that I have addressed in other posts; for example:

A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Not-So-Random Thoughts (II)” (see the first section, “Atheism,” which inter alia addresses Lawrence M. Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing, which is summarized in this article by Krauss)

Not-So-Random Thoughts (II)

This is the second of a series of occasional posts that link to and discuss writings on matters that have been treated by this blog. The first edition is here; the third, here; the fourth, here; the fifth, here; and the sixth, here.

Atheism

Philip Kitcher reviews Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality:

The evangelical scientism of “The Atheist’s Guide” rests on three principal ideas. The facts of microphysics determine everything under the sun (beyond it, too); Darwinian natural selection explains human behavior; and brilliant work in the still-young brain sciences shows us as we really are. Physics, in other words, is “the whole truth about reality”; we should achieve “a thoroughly Darwinian understanding of humans”; and neuroscience makes the abandonment of illusions “inescapable.” Morality, purpose and the quaint conceit of an enduring self all have to go.

The conclusions are premature. Although microphysics can help illuminate the chemical bond and the periodic table, very little physics and chemistry can actually be done with its fundamental concepts and methods, and using it to explain life, human behavior or human society is a greater challenge still. Many informed scholars doubt the possibility, even in principle, of understanding, say, economic transactions as complex interactions of subatomic particles. Rosenberg’s cheerful Darwinizing is no more convincing than his imperialist physics, and his tales about the evolutionary origins of everything from our penchant for narratives to our supposed dispositions to be nice to one another are throwbacks to the sociobiology of an earlier era, unfettered by methodological cautions that students of human evolution have learned: much of Rosenberg’s book is evolutionary psychology on stilts. Similarly, the neuroscientific discussions serenely extrapolate from what has been carefully demonstrated for the sea slug to conclusions about Homo sapiens.

And David Albert gets rough with Lawrence M. Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing:

Look at how Richard Dawkins sums it up in his afterword: “Even the last remaining trump card of the theologian, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?,’ shrivels up before your eyes as you read these pages. If ‘On the Origin of Species’ was biology’s deadliest blow to super­naturalism, we may come to see ‘A Universe From Nothing’ as the equivalent from cosmology. The title means exactly what it says. And what it says is ­devastating.”

Well, let’s see. There are lots of different sorts of conversations one might want to have about a claim like that: conversations, say, about what it is to explain something, and about what it is to be a law of nature, and about what it is to be a physical thing. But since the space I have is limited, let me put those niceties aside and try to be quick, and crude, and concrete.

Where, for starters, are the laws of quantum mechanics themselves supposed to have come from?…

Never mind. Forget where the laws came from. Have a look instead at what they say. It happens that ever since the scientific revolution of the 17th century, what physics has given us in the way of candidates for the fundamental laws of nature have as a general rule simply taken it for granted that there is, at the bottom of everything, some basic, elementary, eternally persisting, concrete, physical stuff….

The fundamental laws of nature generally take the form of rules concerning which arrangements of that stuff are physically possible and which aren’t, or rules connecting the arrangements of that elementary stuff at later times to its arrangement at earlier times, or something like that. But the laws have no bearing whatsoever on questions of where the elementary stuff came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular elementary stuff it does, as opposed to something else, or to nothing at all.

The fundamental physical laws that Krauss is talking about in “A Universe From Nothing” — the laws of relativistic quantum field theories — are no exception to this. The particular, eternally persisting, elementary physical stuff of the world, according to the standard presentations of relativistic quantum field theories, consists (unsurprisingly) of relativistic quantum fields. And the fundamental laws of this theory take the form of rules concerning which arrangements of those fields are physically possible and which aren’t, and rules connecting the arrangements of those fields at later times to their arrangements at earlier times, and so on — and they have nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of where those fields came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular kinds of fields it does, or of why it should have consisted of fields at all, or of why there should have been a world in the first place. Period. Case closed. End of story….

[Krauss] has an argument — or thinks he does — that the laws of relativistic quantum field theories entail that vacuum states are unstable. And that, in a nutshell, is the account he proposes of why there should be something rather than nothing.

But that’s just not right. Relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states — no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems — are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff…. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings — if you look at them aright — amount to anything even remotely in the neighborhood of a creation from nothing.

None of this is news to me. This is from my post, “The Atheism of the Gaps“:

The gaps in scientific knowledge do not prove the existence of God, but they surely are not proof against God. To assert that there is no God because X, Y, and Z are known about the universe says nothing about the creation of the universe or the source of the “laws” that seem to govern much of its behavior.

(See also the many posts linked at the bottom of “The Atheism of the Gaps.”)

Caplan’s Perverse Rationalism

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have little use for the psuedo-libertarian blatherings of Bryan Caplan, one of the bloggers at EconLog. (See also this and this.) Caplan, in a recent post, tries to distinguish between “pseudo output” and “real output”:

1. Some “output” is actually destructive.  At minimum, the national “defense” of the bad countries you think justifies the national defense of all the other countries.

2. Some “output” is wasted.  At minimum, the marginal health spending that fails to improve health.

3. Some “output” doesn’t really do what consumers think it does.  At minimum, astrology.

Note: None of these flaws have any definitional libertarian component.  Even if there’s no good reason for tax-supported roads, existing government roads really are quite useful.  Still, coercive support is often a credible symptom of pseudo-output: If the product is really so great, why won’t people spend their own money on it?

Once you start passing output through these filters, the world seems full of pseudo-output.  Lots of military, health, and education spending don’t pass muster.  Neither does a lot of finance.  Or legal services. In fact, it’s arguably easier to name the main categories of “output” that aren’t fake.  Goods with clear physical properties quickly come to mind:

  • Food.  People may be mistaken about food’s nutritional properties.  But they’re not mistaken about its basic life-preserving and hunger-assuaging power – or how much they enjoy the process of eating it.
  • Structures.  People may overlook a structure’s invisible dangers, like radon.  But they’re not mistaken about its comfort-enhancing power – or how aesthetically pleasing it is.
  • Transportation.  People may neglect a transport’s emissions.  But they’re not mistaken about how quickly and comfortably it gets them from point A to point B.

Lest this seem horribly unsubjectivist, another big category of bona fide output is:

  • Entertainment.  People may be misled by entertainment that falsely purports to be factual.  But they’re not mistaken about how entertained they are.

Caplan is on to something when he says that “coerc[ed] support is often a credible symptom of pseudo-output,” but he gives away the game when he allows entertainment but dismisses astrology. In other words, if Caplan isn’t “entertained” (i.e., made to feel good) by something, it’s of no value to anyone. He is a pacifist, so he dismisses the value of defense. He (rightly) concludes that the subsidization of health care means that a lot of money is spent (at the margin) to little effect, but the real problem is not health care — it is subsidization.

Once again, I find Caplan to be a muddled thinker. Perhaps, like his colleague Robin Hanson, he is merely being provocative for the pleasure of it. Neither muddle-headedness nor provocation-for-its-own-sake is an admirable trait.

The Sociopaths Who Govern Us

I prefer “psychopath” to “sociopath,” but the words are interchangeable; thus:

(Psychiatry) a person afflicted with a personality disorder characterized by a tendency to commit antisocial and sometimes violent acts and a failure to feel guilt for such acts Also called sociopath

In “Utilitarianism and Psychopathy,” I observe that the psychopathy of law-makers is revealed “in their raw urge to control the lives of others.” I am not alone in that view.

Steve McCann writes:

This past Sunday, the Washington Post ran a lengthy front-page article on Obama’s machinations during the debt ceiling debate last summer.  Rush Limbaugh spent a considerable amount of his on-air time Monday discussing one of the highlights of the piece: Barack Obama deliberately lied to the American people concerning the intransigence of the Republicans in the House of Representatives.  The fact that a pillar of the sycophantic mainstream media would publish a story claiming that their hero lied is amazing….

What I say about Barack Obama I do not do lightly, but I say it anyway because I fear greatly for this country and can — not only from personal experience, but also in my dealing with others — recognize those failings in a person whose only interests are himself and his inbred radical ideology, which as its lynchpin desires to transform the country into a far more intrusive state by any means possible….

… Obama is extremely adept at exploiting the celebrity culture that has overwhelmed this society, as well as the erosion of the education system that has created a generation or more of citizens unaware of their history, culture, and the historical ethical standards based on Judeo-Christian teaching….

The reality is that to Barack Obama lying, aka “spin,” is normal behavior. There is not a speech or an off-the cuff comment since he entered the national stage that does not contain some falsehood or obfuscation. A speech on energy made last week and repeated on March 22 is reflective of this mindset. He is now attempting to portray himself as being in favor of drilling in order to increase oil production and approving pipeline construction, which stands in stark contrast to his stated and long-term position on energy and reiterated as recently as three weeks ago. This is a transparent and obvious ploy to once again fool the American people by essentially lying to them….

[T]here has been five years of outright lies and narcissism that have been largely ignored by the media, including some in the conservative press and political class who are loath to call Mr. Obama what he is, in the bluntest of terms, a liar and a fraud. That he relies on his skin color to intimidate, either outright or by insinuation, those who oppose his radical agenda only adds to his audacity. It is apparent that he has gotten away with his character flaws his entire life, aided and abetted by the sycophants around him; thus, he is who he is and cannot change.

Obama: Sociopath-in-Chief.

Poetic Justice

Newspaper Ad Revenues Fall to 60-Yr. Low in 2011

“Nuff said.

Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life

Scientism is “the uncritical application of scientific or quasi-scientific methods to inappropriate fields of study or investigation.” When scientists proclaim truths outside the realm of their expertise, they are guilty of practicing scientism. Two notable scientistic scientists, of whom I have written several times (e.g., here and here), are Richard Dawkins and Peter Singer. It is unsurprising that Dawkins and Singer are practitioners of scientism. Both are strident atheists, and a strident atheists, as I have said,  “merely practice a ‘religion’ of their own. They have neither logic nor science nor evidence on their side — and eons of belief against them.”

Dawkins, Singer, and many other scientistic atheists share an especially “religious” view of evolution. In brief, they seem to believe that evolution rules out God. Evolution rules out nothing. Evolution may be true in outline but it does not bear close inspection. On that point, I turn to the late David Stove, a noted Australian philosopher and atheist. This is from his essay, “So You Think You Are a Darwinian?“:

Of course most educated people now are Darwinians, in the sense that they believe our species to have originated, not in a creative act of the Divine Will, but by evolution from other animals. But believing that proposition is not enough to make someone a Darwinian. It had been believed, as may be learnt from any history of biology, by very many people long before Darwinism, or Darwin, was born.

What is needed to make someone an adherent of a certain school of thought is belief in all or most of the propositions which are peculiar to that school, and are believed either by all of its adherents, or at least by the more thoroughgoing ones. In any large school of thought, there is always a minority who adhere more exclusively than most to the characteristic beliefs of the school: they are the ‘purists’ or ‘ultras’ of that school. What is needed and sufficient, then, to make a person a Darwinian, is belief in all or most of the propositions which are peculiar to Darwinians, and believed either by all of them, or at least by ultra-Darwinians.

I give below ten propositions which are all Darwinian beliefs in the sense just specified. Each of them is obviously false: either a direct falsity about our species or, where the proposition is a general one, obviously false in the case of our species, at least. Some of the ten propositions are quotations; all the others are paraphrases. The quotations are all from authors who are so well-known, at least in Darwinian circles, as spokesmen for Darwinism or ultra-Darwinism, that their names alone will be sufficient evidence that the proposition is a Darwinian one. Where the proposition is a paraphrase, I give quotations or other information which will, I think, suffice to establish its Darwinian credentials.

My ten propositions are nearly in reverse historical order. Thus, I start from the present day, and from the inferno-scene – like something by Hieronymus Bosch – which the ‘selfish gene’ theory makes of all life. Then I go back a bit to some of the falsities which, beginning in the 1960s, were contributed to Darwinism by the theory of ‘inclusive fitness’. And finally I get back to some of the falsities, more pedestrian though no less obvious, of the Darwinism of the 19th or early-20th century.

1. The truth is, ‘the total prostitution of all animal life, including Man and all his airs and graces, to the blind purposiveness of these minute virus-like substances’, genes.

This is a thumbnail-sketch, and an accurate one, of the contents of The Selfish Gene (1976) by Richard Dawkins….

2 ‘…it is, after all, to [a mother’s] advantage that her child should be adopted’ by another woman….

This quotation is from Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, p. 110.

Obviously false though this proposition is, from the point of view of Darwinism it is well-founded

3. All communication is ‘manipulation of signal-receiver by signal-sender.’

This profound communication, though it might easily have come from any used-car salesman reflecting on life, was actually sent by Dawkins, (in The Extended Phenotype, (1982), p. 57), to the readers whom he was at that point engaged in manipulating….

9. The more privileged people are the more prolific: if one class in a society is less exposed than another to the misery due to food-shortage, disease, and war, then the members of the more fortunate class will have (on the average) more children than the members of the other class.

That this proposition is false, or rather, is the exact reverse of the truth, is not just obvious. It is notorious, and even proverbial….

10. If variations which are useful to their possessors in the struggle for life ‘do occur, can we doubt (remembering that many more individuals are born than can possibly survive), that individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind? On the other hand, we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed.’

This is from The Origin of Species, pp. 80-81. Exactly the same words occur in all the editions….

Since this passage expresses the essential idea of natural selection, no further evidence is needed to show that proposition 10 is a Darwinian one. But is it true? In particular, may we really feel sure that every attribute in the least degree injurious to its possessors would be rigidly destroyed by natural selection?

On the contrary, the proposition is (saving Darwin’s reverence) ridiculous. Any educated person can easily think of a hundred characteristics, commonly occurring in our species, which are not only ‘in the least degree’ injurious to their possessors, but seriously or even extremely injurious to them, which have not been ‘rigidly destroyed’, and concerning which there is not the smallest evidence that they are in the process of being destroyed. Here are ten such characteristics, without even going past the first letter of the alphabet. Abortion; adoption; fondness for alcohol; altruism; anal intercourse; respect for ancestors; susceptibility to aneurism; the love of animals; the importance attached to art; asceticism, whether sexual, dietary, or whatever.

Each of these characteristics tends, more or less strongly, to shorten our lives, or to lessen the number of children we have, or both. All of them are of extreme antiquity. Some of them are probably older than our species itself. Adoption, for example is practised by some species of chimpanzees: another adult female taking over the care of a baby whose mother has died. Why has not this ancient and gross ‘biological error’ been rigidly destroyed?…

The cream of the jest, concerning proposition 10, is that Darwinians themselves do not really believe it. Ask a Darwinian whether he actually believes that the fondness for alcoholic drinks is being destroyed now, or that abortion is, or adoption – and watch his face. Well, of course he does not believe it! Why would he? There is not a particle of evidence in its favour, and there is a great mountain of evidence against it. Absolutely the only thing it has in its favour is that Darwinism says it must be so. But (as Descartes said in another connection) ‘this reasoning cannot be presented to infidels, who might consider that it proceeded in a circle’.

What becomes, then, of the terrifying giant named Natural Selection, which can never sleep, can never fail to detect an attribute which is, even in the least degree, injurious to its possessors in the struggle for life, and can never fail to punish such an attribute with rigid destruction? Why, just that, like so much else in Darwinism, it is an obvious fairytale, at least as far as our species is concerned.

A science cannot be wrong in so many important ways and yet be taken seriously as a God-substitute.

Frederick Turner has this to say in “Darwin and Design: The Evolution of a Flawed Debate“:

Does the theory of evolution make God unnecessary to the very existence of the world?…

The polemical evolutionists are right about the truth of evolution. But the rightness of their cause has been deeply compromised by their own version of the creationists’ sin. The evolutionists’ sin, as I see it, is even greater, because it is three sins rolled into one….

The third sin is … dishonesty. In many cases it is clear that the beautiful and hard-won theory of evolution, now proved beyond reasonable doubt, is being cynically used by some — who do not much care about it as such — to support an ulterior purpose: a program of atheist indoctrination, and an assault on the moral and spiritual goals of religion. A truth used for unworthy purposes is quite as bad as a lie used for ends believed to be worthy. If religion can be undermined in the hearts and minds of the people, then the only authority left will be the state, and, not coincidentally, the state’s well-paid academic, legal, therapeutic and caring professions. If creationists cannot be trusted to give a fair hearing to evidence and logic because of their prior commitment to religious doctrine, some evolutionary partisans cannot be trusted because they would use a general social acceptance of the truth of evolution as a way to set in place a system of helpless moral license in the population and an intellectual elite to take care of them.

And that is my issue, not only with the likes of Dawkins and Singer but also with any so-called scientist who believes that evolution — or, more broadly, scientific knowledge — somehow justifies atheism.

Science is only about the knowable, and much of life’s meaning lies where science cannot reach. Maverick Philosopher puts it this way in “Why Science Will Never Put Religion Out of Business“:

We suffer from a lack of existential meaning, a meaning that we cannot supply from our own resources since any subjective acts of meaning-positing are themselves (objectively) meaningless….

…[T]he salvation religion promises is not to be understood in some crass physical sense the way the typical superficial and benighted atheist-materialist would take it but as salvation from meaninglessness, anomie, spiritual desolation, Unheimlichkeit, existential insecurity, Angst, ignorance and delusion, false value-prioritizations, moral corruption irremediable by any human effort, failure to live up to ideals, the vanity and transience of our lives, meaningless sufferings and cravings and attachments, the ultimate pointlessness of all efforts at moral and intellectual improvement in the face of death . . . .

…[I]t is self-evident that there are no technological solutions to moral evil, moral ignorance, and the apparent absurdity of life.  Is a longer life a morally better life?  Can mere longevity confer meaning?The notion that present or future science can solve the problems that religion addresses is utterly chimerical.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Three Perspectives on Life: A Parable
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Evolution and Religion
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design
Science, Logic, and God
Capitalism, Liberty, and Christianity
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
Science, Axioms, and Economics
The Big Bang and Atheism
The Universe . . . Four Possibilities
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
Evolution as God?
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Demystifying Science

Religion on the Left

Maverick Philosopher makes an astute point:

[T]he present question is not whether God exists or not, but whether belief in Man makes any sense and can substitute for belief in God. I say it doesn’t and can’t, that it is a sorry substitute if not outright delusional. We need help that we cannot provide for ourselves, either individually or collectively. The failure to grasp this is of the essence of the delusional Left, which, refusing the tutelage of tradition and experience, and having thrown overboard every moral standard,  is ever ready to spill oceans of blood in pursuit of their utopian fantasies.

There may be no source of the help we need. Then the conclusion to draw is that we should get by as best we can until Night falls, rather than making things worse by drinking the Left’s utopian Kool-Aid.

The main ingredient of utopian Kool-Aid (its water, if you will) is a belief in the perfectibility of man and the ability of man to achieve perfection on this earth. It is that belief which enables leftists to inveigh against every inevitable imperfection of human striving as a failure that must be — and can be — corrected through state action.  The state is the left’s religion-substitute, and a most dangerous one because obeisance to the state leads to the suppression of individuals in the name of the common good — as seen from the left — and the destruction of the human spirit that enable earthly progress, imperfect as it may be.

Where one finds ostensibly religious persons on the left, one does not find a belief in voluntary acts of goodness toward others. What one finds is exemplified in A Circle of Protection, which proclaims:

As Christians, we believe the moral measure of the debate is how the most poor and vulnerable people fare. We look at every budget proposal from the bottom up—how it treats those Jesus called “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45). They do not have powerful lobbies, but they have the most compelling claim on our consciences and common resources. The Christian community has an obligation to help them be heard, to join with others to insist that programs that serve the most vulnerable in our nation and around the world are protected. We know from our experience serving hungry and homeless people that these programs meet basic human needs and protect the lives and dignity of the most vulnerable. We believe that God is calling us to pray, fast, give alms, and to speak out for justice.

As Christian leaders, we are committed to fiscal responsibility and shared sacrifice. We are also committed to resist budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity, and rights of poor and vulnerable people. Therefore, we join with others to form a Circle of Protection around programs that meet the essential needs of hungry and poor people at home and abroad.

Hiding one’s leftism behind the robe of Jesus is a cynical act:

[T]he “Circle of Protection” … tried to browbeat conservative lawmakers into pumping taxpayer dollars at full force into welfare and wealth redistribution programs.

They claimed to be doing this for the “poor.”  The coalition’s slogan, “What would Jesus cut?”, equates federal spending levels with degree of morality….

Such political activism is its own reward—there’s unlikely to be much of a reward in Heaven for being “compassionate” with other people’s money.  Jesus noted that the Pharisees, who excelled at imposing layers of human standards to the Lord’s, practiced their “righteousness . . . [merely] in order to be seen” by other people.  The “circle” follows the same practice….

The bottom line for America is how to put our public sector on fiscally sustainable ground—for the good of all Americans.  The welfare state, the disproportionate expropriation of private income and wealth transfer schemes embodied in public programs all make for unsustainable spending patterns.

Moreover, the government is robbing middle- and upper-income Peter to pay Paul—despite the fact Paul has what would amounts to middle-class or upper-income existence in most of the world.

The so-called “Circle of Protection” and the unfair, immoral policies it stands for represent one circle that should be broken.

“Charity” at the point of the state’s gun is not charity, it is theft. There is a Commandment about that, as I recall.

Leftists-cum-religionists commit at least one other sin — or most of them do, I am sure. That is the sin of hypocrisy:

Essentially its malice is identical with that of lying; in both cases there is discordance between what a man has in his mind and the simultaneous manifestation of himself…. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that we must carefully differentiate its two elements: the want of goodness, and the pretence of having it. If a person be so minded as definitely to intend both things, it is of course obvious that he is guilty of grievous sin, for that is only another way of saying that a man lacks the indispensable righteousness which makes him pleasing in the sight of God.

The portrait of hypocrisy is drawn with appalling vividness by Christ in His denunciation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23-24: “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you tithe mint, and anise, and cummin, and have left the weightier things of the law; judgment, and mercy, and faith. These things you ought to have done, and not to leave those undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel.”

There are those Pharisees again. Their modern brethren are well-fed, well-clothed, well-housed leftists who proclaim their “compassion” for the “less fortunate” and use the state’s power to enforce that “compassion,” but do not share their homes with the less-fortunate or even give as generously to charity as the conservatives whose supposed lack of “compassion” they deride.

What does left-religionists’ penchant for coercion and hypocrisy have to do with atheism? A lot.

The invocation of religion as a justification for state action, for the sake of the “poor and vulnerable,” is a mockery of charity:

a divinely infused habit, inclining the human will to cherish God for his own sake above all things, and man for the sake of God.

I submit that one cannot be a Christian, in more than name, while favoring coercive “charity.” The person who does that is putting himself in the position of judging the relative worthiness of individuals, which is a kind of blasphemy. Further, the belief that one is doing good by counseling coercion is a manifestation of the vice of presumption.

I will go further and say that the leftists of my acquaintance who profess to be religious are no less mean-spirited than the leftists of my acquaintance who reject religion. Mean-spiritedness is not excused simply because it is aimed at the well-to-do. Yes, Jesus said this to the rich man: “If you will be perfect, go sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” But Jesus was counseling the rich man, not directing anyone to take the rich man’s possessions and give them to the poor.

My conclusion — to which many readers will no doubt object — is that leftist-religionists are religiously shallow at best and insincerely religious at worst. Remove their veneer of religiosity and you have a utopian leftist, committed to perfection on this earth. In other words, you have an lefitist-atheist in all but name — a person who worships at the altar of the state.

Related posts:
Religion and Liberty” (at Facets of Liberty)
“Occupy Wall Street” and Religion

The Atheism of the Gaps

Greg Perkins, writing at Noodlefood in 2008 (“Why the New Atheists Can’t Even Beat D’Souza: The Gap in Religious Thought“), criticizes Dinesh D’souza’s article, “Taking Aim at God, and Missing,” wherein D’souza essays a defense of the “God hypothesis.” There is much to criticize about D’souza’s argument, but Perkins — an Objectivist and therefore, I assume, an atheist — should have looked in a mirror before writing this:

…Dinesh D’souza continues his counters to “New Atheists” such as Christopher Hitchens. This time we find him saying that “Thanks to the astounding discoveries of modern science, I think the God hypothesis has a lot more going for it today than it did in the eighteenth century.”…

[H]istory is littered with examples of something “supernatural” being arbitrarily asserted as the explanation, only to be retracted later as our knowledge expanded….

In other words, science will explain all and nothing will be left to God. That is the import of Perkin’s post, at any rate. He does precisely what he accuses D’souza of doing; that is, “not knowing the answer to a puzzle” (the basis of existence) entitles Perkins “to go and make one up.” The gaps in scientific knowledge do not prove the existence of God, but they surely are not proof against God. To assert that there is no God because X, Y, and Z are known about the universe says nothing about the creation of the universe or the source of the “laws” that seem to govern much of its behavior.

If theists of D’souza’s stripe are guilty of assuming the answer they seek, atheists of Perkins’s stripe are equally guilty of the same thing. Both want to generalize from evidence whose limitations cannot be guessed at. “Unknown unknowns” dominate the mystery of existence.

This is my position:

If the world as we know it — our universe — is not the product of chance, what is it? A reasonable answer is found in another post of mine, “Existence and Creation.” Here is the succinct version:

  1. In the material universe, cause precedes effect.
  2. Accordingly, the material universe cannot be self-made. It must have a “starting point,” but the “starting point” cannot be in or of the material universe.
  3. The existence of the universe therefore implies a separate, uncaused cause.

There is no reasonable basis — and certainly no empirical one — on which to prefer atheism to deism or theism. Strident atheists merely practice a “religion” of their own. They have neither logic nor science nor evidence on their side — and eons of belief against them.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Three Perspectives on Life: A Parable
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Evolution and Religion
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design
Science, Logic, and God
Capitalism, Liberty, and Christianity
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
Science, Axioms, and Economics
The Big Bang and Atheism
The Universe . . . Four Possibilities
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
Evolution as God?
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation

The Improbability of Us

An argument often used against the belief in a Creator who designed the universe runs like this:

The existence of humans is indeed improbable. The laws of nature that govern our existence are but one set out of infinitely many possible sets of laws of nature. Ad had they differed only slightly the universe would be a mere swirl of subatomic particles, free from medium-sized objects like rocks, trees and humans. And even given the actual laws of nature, evolutionary history would have taken different twists and turns and failed to deliver human beings. (Jamie Whyte, Bad Thoughts – A Guide to Clear Thinking, p. 125)

Embedded in that seemingly reasonable statement is an unwarranted — but critical — assumption: that there are infinitely many (or even a large number) of possible sets of laws of nature. But there is no way of knowing such a thing. There is only one observable universe, and one set of observable and (mostly*) consistent laws of nature within it. It is impossible for the human mind to conjure an alternative set of consistent natural laws that could, in fact, coexist in a possible universe. Any such conjuring would be mere speculation, not a falsifiable hypothesis.

Given that, it is impossible to deny that a grand design lies behind the universe. But it is also impossible to prove, by the methods of science, the existence of a grand design. The fact of the universe’s existence is, as I have called it, the greatest mystery.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Three Perspectives on Life: A Parable
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Evolution and Religion
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design
Science, Logic, and God
Capitalism, Liberty, and Christianity
Is “Nothing” Possible?
A Dissonant Vision
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
Science, Axioms, and Economics
The Big Bang and Atheism
The Universe . . . Four Possibilities
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
Evolution as God?
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
__________
* The exception is quantum mechanics, the science of the sub-atomic world. Sub-atomic particles do not seem to behave according to the same physical laws that describe the actions of the visible universe; their behavior is discontinuous (“jumpy”) and described probabilistically, not by the kinds of continuous (“smooth”) mathematical formulae that apply to the macroscopic world.

Atheism, Agnosticism, and Science

I just came across Ron Rosenbaum’s “An Agnostic Manifesto.” Much of what Rosenbaum says accords with my many posts on the subject of atheism, agnosticism, and science:

Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Three Perspectives on Life: A Parable
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Evolution and Religion
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design
Science, Logic, and God
Capitalism, Liberty, and Christianity
Is “Nothing” Possible?
A Dissonant Vision
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
Science, Axioms, and Economics
The Big Bang and Atheism
The Universe . . . Four Possibilities
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
Evolution as God?
The Greatest Mystery