"Reconciling" science and theism. A perspective from a non scientist

Science

#21

I know this has already been further discussed here, but this is an interesting perspective that I don’t think I’ve heard put forward. I don’t agree with it, but it made me think.

It seems to me that Aristotle’s “unmoved mover” is a philosophical deduction, not scientific. Rather than a “god of the gaps” it seems to me that it is an answer to the infinite regress that materialists must deal with. The infinite regress that is attempted to be answered by positing the multi-verse, eternal matter, etc., etc. Such answers don’t really address the problem but just punts it further down the field…and in that sense it seems to me to be a scientific version of the “god of the gaps” and, perhaps, seeking an answer that science isn’t really equipped to answer.


(Jon Garvey) #22

In broad principle, yes. The devil is in the detail, of course: at face value, dga471’s description sounds like occasionalism - and that, in some forms, is a viable option. More broadly, to speak of God’s “lawlike” actions allows for any kind of secondary causes - provided one regards them as instruments of divine action, not autonomous entities. That would include “laws” or even “angels.”

The point would be that ones methodology, within science, would be geared to “regularity,” or “predictability,” without begging the metaphysical question with words like “naturalism” or “materialism.” So the mode of God’s regualr action (lkaws, angels, divine finger) would be covered by philosophy and theology - but without the current conceptual disjunction that encourages metaphysical naturalism.

The other major problem to solve (vide the discussions on Bacon here and at the Hump) is how to view that which is not regular and predictable in relation to ones science. Miracles is one pole of that, but if nature is God’s instrument, then providential contingent action will be expected to exist alongside regular divine action, and needs to fall within ones account.

My solution is to recognise that the category of “random,” which at its purest just means “unknown, because not regular or predictable,” carries as much metaphysical baggage as “natural”. In fact, “theistic science” will do better by using “contingency” as a placeholder for “divine choice” and dispensing with the idea of “randomness”, just as it will do better by substituting “God’s regular actions” for “natural occurrences.”

The aim is not to change the science, but to enable the theist to engage the natural world using a language language with which they may also address spiritual matters. For the Christian, that means christological language.


(John Dalton) #23

If we’re talking about how things appear in the natural world, I don’t see why it’s outside the realm of science. That’s something that can be observed and investigated. If things point to a designer, that’s not necessarily external to the natural world either.

I don’t think so. It could be true that no natural cause was apparent. That wouldn’t necessarily lead to a conclusion of supernatural activity, but it could raise questions.


(George) #24

@John_Dalton

How does one test for the existence of God?


#25

This may be better broken off into a separate discussion, but I’m interested in understanding this a little more. Are you suggesting that we encourage Christian’s to substitute (in their mind) "God’s regular actions” when they encounter science talking about “natural occurrences”, or are you suggesting they engage science with using the christological language?

I come at this from the perspective of someone who see’s a huge amount of fear in the Christian community around me, in regards to engaging with science, which results in them pulling away not only from science, but into somewhat insular Christian communities. This I find this saddening for a whole bunch of reason’s, and am trying to understand better pull the community around me back into engagment.


#26

How would science differentiate between the supernatural, and a natural cause that simply is not yet understood by science?


(John Dalton) #27

We were talking about a “designer”. Would it have to be supernatural? We might be able to detect the activity of a designer without knowing anything else about it, including if it were God, supernatural, etc.

It might well be impossible. But if we encounter situations which can’t be explained under our understanding of the natural world, will we ignore other possibilities?


(George) #28

@John_Dalton

Unless you are speaking about the End of Days, what could make a majority of Scientists say God did this?

If you are speaking of the past, the only designer that science could identify would be like the “Engineer Race” from the Aliens movie that depicts an alien being contributing his genetic donation to planet earth.


(Jon Garvey) #29

More of the former - though I’m particularly thinking of Christians who are doing science more than lay people reading or hearing about it. Preserve the public discourse of science at it is, but be more aware of the theology by which one lives in the way one thinks.

A non-scientific parallel: a Christian may have a strong view of providence in daily life. When he prays and something unusual happens, he’s grateful for God’s providence, not astonished by coincidence. But there are circumstances - a police report, or medical notes, or simply informing a non-believing friend - when the language of “coincidence” is more appropriate because neutral.

However, the Christian who thinks in coincidental terms is in danger of forgetting who runs the world (and ends up using bizarre words like “Godincidence” when "coincidence2 runs out!).

Likewise, it’s not helpful (nor professionally possible) for a scientist to talk in terms of “divine habit” instead of “regularity” or “law”, or of unknown causes in theological terms beyond “random”. But if the neutral terms are the only mental vocabulary he has, then there’s a gulf between his christology and his science.

The reason for bothering is that the scientific terms do carry metaphysical baggage. If scientists themselves use “natural causes” as an argument against divine involvement, the withdrawal of those Christians you mention from science is not surprising: neutral language has been hijacked for an anti-theist agenda.


(Neil Rickert) #30

I agree with that.

Why must materialists deal with that? Why cannot they start with the world as they experience it?

I don’t think that’s why the multiverse is posited.


#31

Along that same line, there are those who have a deistic view of nature, where God creates the laws and then lets them run on their own.


#32

I don’t see how God solves this problem since God would need something to cause God to exist. If God can be eternal and without a creator, then why can’t there be some impersonal and unintelligent quantum field with the same properties?


#33

Science gets around this metaphysical problem by just ignoring it. What science does is determine if data is statistically consistent with a random model. At this point, if it looks random then it is treated as random, but no ontological or metaphysical conclusion is ever reached. This allows the individual scientist to hang whatever metaphysical adornment they want on their view of science, but still affords all scientists to have a common language and common method that they can all agree on.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #34

I think @jongarvey has no problem with this. Borrowing from @Philosurfer’s insight, we could call it a “metaphysical desert.”


(Neil Rickert) #35

For me, “random” does not carry any metaphysical baggage. It is just a term used in the mathematical theory of probability. That theory can be useful for modeling aspects of reality. But we can use that theory without having to make any commitment as to whether any part of reality is “really random”.

In other words, we should treat probability theory as a modeling tool, not as a description of reality.


#36

The claim is that God is eternal - without beginning or end. That is a matter of belief based upon God’s self revelation.

There could be an impersonal and unintelligent quantum field with the same properties - but that is not a scientific claim. If a scientist wants to believe that - then so be it, but as long as we recognize it is a statement of faith akin to the belief in the eternal God.


#37

Fair question. I suppose it could be possible to live life and simply experience what is around you without ever asking any deeper questions as to “how?” and “why?” - but it seems that many (most?) human beings through history are drawn to consider such existential questions.

I claim no expertise in this field. In fact, I am a rank amateur in this area.

I’m not saying that the sole reason for the theory of the multiverse is to address the issue of the infinite regress. However, it is an attempt to address the “how” of the origin of the universe…how is there something rather than nothing, from where did this “stuff” come?


(Neil Rickert) #38

We can ask the question. But we are not required to solve it.

One of the reasons that science works well, is that it concentrates on the questions that it is able to answer. It mostly avoids getting sidetracked on unsolvable problems.

My understanding, which could be wrong, was that it was started as a way of simplifying the mathematics. Quantum theory was describing things in terms of probabilities and probability waves. The multiple worlds approach was to take everything to be deterministic (instead of probabilistic), but to have a new world branch of at every point where QM does not give a deterministic solution.


#39

This is what leads to existential angst and the desire (need?) to come to some kind of answer…or else continue to live with the weight of the angst. Generally, people find the angst to be unpleasant, even intolerable.

Agreed. When science sticks to scientific questions and answers. It seems that often in the area of origins some draw conclusions from the answers that we are able to answer and make statements that leave the realm of science and enter into the metaphysical (Dawkins being a good example).

I will gladly defer to your greater understanding of this area.


(Bill Cole) #40

The opposite of this is a naturalism of the gaps argument. The more gaps the stronger the inference to what ever you are evaluating. “God of the gaps” is just an attempt to condemn an argument by labeling it.