Friday, April 25, 2008

God, the Physical Evidence

This was going top be a comment on a thread on another blog, but I decided to make it a post.

In the science-faith bloghetto, there are often demands for proof of God. Now theologically we know such a thing is impossible, for John tells us in his gospel that we cannot see the kingdom of God unless we are born again. If you are not born again, you are blind, and if you are blind, you can't see the proof—which puts you in one helluva predicament. But hey, that's what grace and divine initiative are all about, and that predicament perfectly explains why we need a savior.

But is there really no physical evidence? Well, there certainly is not scientific evidence in the sense that "if you do this experiment and get a result A, that will be proof of God."

But there is prima facie for the existence of God. And the strongest such evidence is the success of godless materialism, or methodological naturalism if you prefer, or better yet let's use its common name: science.

Now the argument is quite simple. The bible tells us things like the heavens declare God's glory and that the study of creation (that would be science) leaves men without excuse. As I read it, if science leaves men without excuse, then science must be possible. That is, a prediction of the bible is that science, if is to leave us without excuse, will work.

But science could easily be a fool's errand. If the simplest physical laws were not linear differential equations, science would be dead in the water. The very fact that man's intellect can comprehend science, is capable of developing theories, and most amazingly the theories are amenable to mathematical analysis is taken more or less for granted, but it shouldn't be. When a scientist tells you that science requires no faith or presupposition, he either isn't being honest or hasn't thought it through. All of us who are scientists work under the presupposition that we at least have a good chance to be successful—that all of a sudden nature will not decide that enough of her secrets have been revealed.

A purely naturalistic view (tell me if I'm wrong) has no reason to expect that science is not as fool's errand. The mathematics could have been so hard as to have forced Newton to give up. But from the bible we get a simple prediction that science will be doable. The success of science, my friends, is prima facie physical evidence that God exist, because the only other explanation is luck.

Science should be embraced, not feared. Every advancement of science is a feather in the cap of the faith community. Don't view it as a nail in our coffin.

15 comments:

  1. The laws of physics don't just magically fit into linear differential equations... Linear differential equations were created to define the laws of physics.

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  2. No, that is incorrect. We can calclulate the electric field from one charge as if all others were not there, and do the same for all charges, and add them all together to get the total electric field. That is why it is linear--superposition works. If the superposition did not apply--if the presence of one charge distorted the field from another so you could no compute them as if they were alone then add them together then the system would be nonlinear and you would be stuck with nonlinear mathematics. That's just one example.

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  3. So, you are a pantheist?

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  4. "So, you are a pantheist?"

    Yeah sure, you figured me out. Brilliant.

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  5. If the simplest physical laws were not linear differential equations, science would be dead in the water.

    This is just silly. First, our use of linear differential equations is just a model, not one that we know with absolute certainty that works. Second, despite these equations, physicists can't even use them to accurately model the most basic kinds of scenarios, such as the position of a single O-18 molecule in a room full of O-16 molecules after a few hours. Third, the underlying assumptions needed to use differential equations, such as continuity and differentiability, probably don't hold at the basic level of building blocks of the universe, so they are just approximations. Finally, one can easily imagine other systems that would make life possible, such as a discrete universe with discrete rules. Such a setting would not have differential equations, at least not ones that are apparent to me.

    If this is the best kind of argument you can construct, then it's no wonder so many scientists are not theists.

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  6. Jeffrey sometimes you speak before you write.

    The argument is this: if so many physical systems were not described by linear equations, or at least well approximated by them in the domain or laboratory of human experience, then one can plausibly speculate that science would never have developed to anything close to what is has. If Newtown's 2nd law was not a simple linear ODE, how far could he have gotten? If there was no superposition, how far would Maxwell have gotten? Yet there was no a priori reason to expect such simplicity.

    The argument is not: all science is based on simple linear equations. It is rather: if a great deal of science, well beyond a critical mass, and if not the right kind of science, namely classical mechanics, was not based on simple linear ODEs, then it would never have progressed at anything close to the pace that it did,

    And there is no: ergo, god! to follow.

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  7. And if physical systems were described by simple cellular automata, maybe we would have gotten much further than we are now. Who knows?

    Your argument is not really coherent at all. It does not even have a conclusion. On the one hand you claim it is clear evidence for your god; on the other hand you claim there is no "ergo, god!". Which is it?

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  8. Jeffrey,

    If I didn't know that you hold the view that words mean whatever is convenient, and that dictionaries are for little people (except when they aren't), I'd tell you to look up prima facie.

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  9. "Now the argument is quite simple. The bible tells us things like the heavens declare God's glory and that the study of creation (that would be science) leaves men without excuse. As I read it, if science leaves men without excuse, then science must be possible. That is, a prediction of the bible is that science, if is to leave us without excuse, will work."

    This argument assumes the Bible to be true, which there's no reason to believe.

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  10. "This argument assumes the Bible to be true, which there's no reason to believe."

    Well sumbitch! Why didn't that ever occur to me? That's it then. Game over man.

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  11. Excellent. Since you're unwilling to support that idea, then we are in agreement that your whole argument fails.

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  12. "Excellent. Since you're unwilling to support that idea, then we are in agreement that your whole argument fails."

    Oh yeah, absolutely. Uncle.

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  13. Is that what that Romans verse is referring to, 'the study of creation'? What part of the quote translates to 'the study of', maybe it's mentioned in multiple places and I'm looking at the wrong verse? I thought it was his invisible attributes, 'his eternal power and divine nature' being understood through what has been made. Since we can't really understand anyway his 'eternal power', I don't know why science is at all needed to understand his divinity; a flower or a tiger is just as divine as 'science' and equally as revealing of his 'divine nature' I'd argue.

    It seems a little odd to me to compare science to that quote anyway as I don't really know that I consider a whole lot of what they believed in the 1st Century to be 'scientific', yet they were also without excuse. I don't see anything either necessitating biblically that science not be a fools errand (by which I think you mean that there essentially is no science), although I agree that there's no reason to expect science to 'work' under a naturalistic point of view as you've noted.

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  14. Dave,

    For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse

    That's Romans 1:20. The things that have been made refers to creation.

    The verse states that you are left without excuse for not recognizing god, because he is revealed in the things that he has made. The study of the things that he has made is science.

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    1. But the way that he can be revealed in the things that he has made is not restricted at all to just science. I didn't provide nearly enough of an explanation, but what I mean by for example 'a tiger' leaving us without excuse is that a tiger is a magnificent, beautiful creature with incredible abilities, I don't see why a more aesthetic experience of it doesn't count as revealing his divine nature. From the perspective of someone in Paul's time, entirely ignorant of natural selection and genetics, I don't see why the mere existence of the animal kingdom isn't itself revealing of God in his creation; where else did it come from? It sure seems a stretch to take one verse that seems pretty ambiguous and intepret it as 'science leaves us without excuse', since the verse nor the context seems to talk much at all about specifically how God is revealed, and I don't see anything nearby discussing any type of study. I don't see why it can't be taken as the simple, 'why is there something instead of nothing' argument, let alone more along the lines of the argument from design, neither which require science.

      To be clear though, and maybe this is where we differ, I don't consider the mere observation of things to be science. If our person from the 1st C decides to watch tigers and notices that its stripes camouflage it in tall grasses, given that this person has no other alternative explanation it would make the 'without excuse' more logical; 'God created tigers' is the prevailing theory based on the little evidence they had to go on. Science provides the explanation for how the tiger's stripes came to be, but I don't think it's really comprehensive enough to designate as 'science' the observation that a tiger's stripes camouflage it. Yet I don't know why the observation that tigers are equipped with camo does not reveal God's divine nature. Could you provide an example of something scientific from Paul's era that you believe leaves people without excuse?

      I've seen you raise your overall point before and I'm definite meh on it, although I do think it's clever. I don't see any reason why you couldn't make the same post in a reality where we know no physical laws and we can only comprehend reality or 'science' to the point of simple agriculture and animal husbandry, and you could likewise argue how the naturalistic viewpoint has no reason to expect to be successful at these.

      And great to see you blogging again Heddle! I disagree with you quite a bit but it always makes me think.

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