Home » Intelligent Design » Does scientific knowledge presuppose God? A reply to Carroll, Coyne, Dawkins and Loftus

Does scientific knowledge presuppose God? A reply to Carroll, Coyne, Dawkins and Loftus

The scientific enterprise stands or falls on the legitimacy of making inductive inferences, from cases of which we have experience to cases of which we have no experience. The aim of this post will be to show that there can be no scientific knowledge if there is no God, and that there is no way of justifying inductive inference on a systematic basis, in the absence of God.

The UK-based Science Council has defined science as “the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.” Scientific knowledge is therefore systematic rather than particular: it isn’t just about this or that fact, but about classes of facts. My senses can tell me that the apple I see in front of me is red and juicy, but it is science which tells me that the apple genome contains about 57,000 genes, that all apple trees are deciduous, and that apple trees belong in the rose family. It is this kind of systematic knowledge which, I maintain, would not be possible in the absence of God.

What is induction, and what is the problem of induction?

In science, the term induction is commonly used to describe inferences from particular cases to the general case, or from a finite sample to a generalization about a whole population. These generalizations include not only universal statements (e.g. “Every life-form observed to date has been carbon-based, so it’s safe to conclude that all life-forms are”) but also functional relations (e.g. Hooke’s law, F=k.x, which states that the force F needed to extend or compress a spring by a distance x is always proportional to that distance).

In logic, the term “induction” has a much broader meaning, encompassing all arguments in which the premises support the conclusion without deductively entailing it. Inductive arguments are not formally valid, but are nonetheless intended to be strong. Such arguments include predictions about the future based on past data (e.g. “I predict that the sun will rise tomorrow, because it has risen every day in the past”), as well as inferences about individuals based on statistical generalizations (“Most basketball players are tall, and Jodie’s friend Sam plays basketball, so Sam is probably tall, too”). Neither of these kinds of inferences would qualify as scientific inferences, in the strict sense, as they aren’t inferences from particular cases to the general case; nevertheless, they are inductive.

Associate Professor Kevin deLaplante, of Iowa State University, has posted an excellent 10-minute video on Youtube, titled, Induction and Scientific Reasoning. In the video, deLaplante explains that the scientific usage of the term “induction” is a subset of the broader, logical usage, and he adds that induction in the broader logical sense is fundamental to scientific reasoning, since it involves moving from known facts about observed phenomena to a tentative conclusion (or hypothesis) about the world, which goes beyond the observable facts.

This brings us to the problem of induction, which relates to how we can legitimately infer, in Hume’s words, that “instances of which we have had no experience resemble those of which we have had experience” [p. 89] (Hume, David, 1888, Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature, edited by L. A. Selby Bigge, Oxford, Clarendon Press; originally published 1739–40). John Vickers, writing in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, succinctly explains why Hume’s principle is so important to science, and why at the same time, philosophers have had such a hard time in providing a justification for the principle:

[Inductive] methods are clearly essential in scientific reasoning as well as in the conduct of our everyday affairs. The problem is how to support or justify them and it leads to a dilemma: the principle cannot be proved deductively, for it is contingent, and only necessary truths can be proved deductively. Nor can it be supported inductively — by arguing that it has always or usually been reliable in the past — for that would beg the question by assuming just what is to be proved.
(Vickers, John, “The Problem of Induction” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.))

The philosopher C.D. Broad described induction as “the glory of science” and at the same time, “the scandal of philosophy.” (Broad made those remarks in a 1926 lecture on “The Philosophy of Francis Bacon,” reprinted in Broad, C. D., Ethics and the History of Philosophy, New York: Humanities Press, 1952, p. 143.)

In today’s post, I’d like to informally survey the rationales which have been put forward to support the legitimacy of inductive inference, and explain why I think they fail, without God.

Does the reliability of associative knowledge in animals legitimize scientific inference?

In an article on his Website, Debunking Christianity, the well-known skeptic and former preacher John Loftus, M.A., M.Div., author of Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity, defends the possibility of scientific knowledge along the following lines:

If there is no God then we don’t know anything.” False. If so, chimps don’t know anything either. They don’t know how to get food, or mate or even where to live. Without knowing anything they should’ve died off a long time ago. And yet here they are. They don’t need a god to know these things. Why do we need a god for knowledge? We learn through a process of trial and error. Since we’ve survived as a human species, we have acquired reliable knowledge about our world. Period.

There are several things wrong with this argument.

First, Loftus is attacking a straw man here. Theists who make this kind of argument do not claim that if there is no God then we don’t know anything. Rather, what they claim is that we can have no scientific knowledge in the absence of God: hence the attempt to invoke science in order to undermine belief in God is self-defeating, for it destroys science as well.

Second, Loftus fails to differentiate between procedural knowledge (“knowing how”) and declarative or descriptive knowledge (which can only be expressed in propositions). It is obvious that animals need to know how to obtain food or to mate, or they wouldn’t have survived. Some animals have also learned certain techniques that promote the survival of the population, on a trial-and-error basis. But science isn’t just a collection of techniques; it’s an organized body of facts, unified by theories which purport to accurately describe the world. Since the goal of science is to correctly describe the world on a systematic basis, it can only be expressed in the form of statements. That’s why the scientific enterprise cannot be based on mere “know-how.”

Third, the term “reliable,” which Loftus employs in the passage above, is an equivocal one: it can mean “tried and true,” or it can mean “trustworthy in general.” From the fact that human beings successfully relied on certain techniques (e.g. for foraging, hunting and tool-making) on past occasions, in order to survive and prosper as a species, we cannot infer that these techniques will work in other situations. All we can infer is that these techniques have a good track record: they must have worked up until now, in the situations where they have been employed, or otherwise we wouldn’t be here. Science, however, makes statements which go beyond situations of which we have had experience, to cover situations of which we have had no experience. Loftus cannot justify this inferential leap by simply appealing to the past successes we’ve had, without begging the question.

Fourth, the associative knowledge that animals have, which promotes their survival, relates to a contingent link between two stimuli. However, unexpected environmental changes may cause associations to fail, and when they do, many animals die. Suppose that an animal learns to associate a certain stimulus (e.g. a large nearby tree with red things hanging from its branches) with an abundance of good food (apples). For many years, the animal thrives on the basis of that knowledge, until it dies at a ripe old age. Did the animal really know that the fruit of the tree was good to eat and that the tree was a good source of food? Such an assessment can only be made in retrospect: if the association formed by the animal promoted its survival, then we can say in hindsight that it possessed useful and reliable knowledge. But if the animal died instead because the tree (and all the other plants nearby) withered in a drought, or because its fruit was poisoned by a farmer spraying it with pesticides, then we would certainly not say that it had reliable knowledge. In other words, the notion of reliability in this example is a relative one: it is defined relative to some broader context, which is assumed to be fixed. But since the enterprise of science is concerned with the description of the natural (and social) world as a whole, mere relative fixity is not enough. The question we need to address is: how can we be sure that the most general statements about our world are ones we can rely on?

Why the past success of science is irrelevant to my argument

The “Science works” comic that was indirectly alluded to by Professor Richard Dawkins, in a recent talk at Oxford’s Sheldonian Theater on 15 February 2013. Image courtesy of xkcd comics. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

Some scientists argue that the successful track record of science is enough to legitimize scientific inferences, and solve the problem of induction. After giving a talk at Oxford’s Sheldonian Theater on 15 February 2013, the world-famous biologist Professor Richard Dawkins was asked by a member of the audience how we can know whether scientific induction is a legitimate way of knowing. Dawkins then proceeded to give some examples of how practices such as medicine, computing, driving, aeronautical flight and space travel work in everyday life when they are based on science, concluding with a crude but clever put-down: “It works, bitches!” – an apparent allusion to a popular XKCD comic on the Web.

Evolutionary biologist Professor Jerry Coyne is also highly impatient with critics who question the legitimacy of scientific inference, in the absence of God. In a recent post of his, Coyne offered a blunt response to what he called “the Planting-ian argument that science cannot philosophically justify its own methodologies”:

…I reply, “Who the hell cares — science has helped us understand the cosmos, and is justified by its successes.” I fail to understand why a lack of philosophical justification counts at all against the success of science.

In a recent online essay titled, No Faith in Science (Slate, November 14, 2013), Professor Coyne argues that when people speak of having “faith” in science, they really mean “confidence derived from scientific tests and repeated, documented experience,” as opposed to religious faith, which lacks rational justification. He writes: “You have faith (i.e., confidence) that the sun will rise tomorrow because it always has, and there’s no evidence that the Earth has stopped rotating or the sun has burnt out.”

Both of these responses by Professor Dawkins and Coyne entirely miss the point I want to make here. I do not doubt for a moment that the scientific method has worked in the past. Rather, my concern is with the question: what makes it reliable? For unless we can answer this question, we have no guarantee that it will continue to work on Earth in the future, let alone in places beyond our Earth. Nor can we be sure that it will work for past events which we have not yet discovered.

Let’s take a very common example: we all believe that the sun will rise tomorrow, and more generally, that it will continue to rise on every future day, at intervals of every 24 hours or so. In order to keep this illustration as simple as possible, let’s imagine that the sun rises at exactly the same time every morning (say, 6:00 a.m. sharp) – which it would, if we lived on a planet with an axial tilt of 0 degrees, and if there were no tidal drag. We might then plot the sunrises on graph paper, as a series of evenly spaced X’s on a timeline. We might even go further, and chart the position of the sun in the sky at various times of day, on our nice little graph, and we might also trace out the path it presumably follows at night. Now we have a smooth, wavy curve linking all the X’s and tracing the path of the sun over the course of time. It’s very natural for us to assume that this smooth curve will follow the same nice, regular path tomorrow, and that the sun will rise at the same time as usual. But would it be rational for us to assume this, if we didn’t believe in God? I don’t think it would. Here’s why.

Think of it this way. If you’re trying to follow a particular path in the woods, then there’s only one possible way in which you can go along the path. But there are an infinite number of ways in which you can go off the path. The same applies to the sun. There are countless ways in which it could conceivably fail to rise at the expected time tomorrow. (Here, I’m describing the sun’s motion from an earth-centered perspective.) For instance, it could soar up into the sky and disappear, or it could do a loop-the-loop, or it could jump suddenly from one place to another in the sky, or it could turn into a green dragon, or it could just disappear in a puff of smoke. Putting it another way: there are infinitely many ways we can draw a mathematical curve showing the sun’s path going off-course, but there’s only one way in which we can draw a curve showing the sun staying on-course. On the basis of that fact alone, we should rationally conclude that the sun’s staying on course consistently in the future is prima facie extremely improbable.

Are there any other facts about the sun which are capable of tipping the balance, making the expectation that it will rise in the future a warranted inference? I don’t think there are. I shall now proceed to review the leading arguments put forward to justify the logic of inductive inference, and explain why I believe they fail.

Can Bayes’ theorem legitimize scientific inference?

A blue neon sign at the Autonomy Corporation, showing a simple statement of Bayes’ theorem. Courtesy of mattbuck and Wikipedia.

It is often argued that Bayes’ theorem can provide a warrant for inductive inferences, and help us to confirm the hypothesis that the sun will rise at the expected time tomorrow (and in the future). It’s a hypothesis that could easily be falsified (e.g. if the sun comes up later than usual one day, or simply disappears), but it continues to hold up. Surely, it is argued, there must come a point – say, after 1,000,000 days of observations – at which it would be utterly irrational to deny that the sun will rise tomorrow at the forecast time.

Not so fast. Our observations provide support for the hypothesis that the sun always rises at the same time every day – but they’re equally consistent with the hypothesis that the sun rises at the same time every day until the year 2050, after which it sails off into space, or the hypothesis that it rises at the same time until 1 January 2437, after which it turns into a green dragon. In short, there are infinitely many alternative hypotheses about the future path of the sum which are also fully consistent with the observations we’ve made to date. The question we need to ask ourselves is: why is it rational for us to single out just one hypothesis – the hypothesis that the sun always rises at the same time every day and always will – and ignore all the other hypotheses about the future course of the sun which are fully consistent with the evidence? (Of course, I’m quite aware that the sun won’t keep rising forever, as it will eventually burn itself out, but we’ll overlook that point for the purposes of this illustration, and assume, as Aristotle did, that the stars are capable of shining eternally.)

Do appeals to simplicity legitimize scientific inference?

Physicist Sean Carroll, in his video, Is God a good theory?, argues that we should assign a higher prior probability to theories that seem more powerful, simple or elegant. In the (highly idealized) case which we are considering, Carroll would argue the simplest hypothesis is to assume that the sun will just keep rising at the same time every day. (In a similar vein, skeptic John Loftus approvingly quotes the following statement by Luiz Fernando Zadra in a recent post of his: “When facing equivalent theories, the one that is more simple is most likely to be the right one.”)

Carroll might then invoke Occam’s razor, and argue that we should jettison more complicated hypotheses – e.g. that the sun keeps rising regularly until 2020, after which it rises regularly only on Tuesdays, and zigzags around the sky on the other days of the week – as unworthy of serious scientific attention, and focus on the default hypothesis that it will continue rising at intervals of 24 hours. If that hypothesis holds up well under testing, then we should accept it, until something happens to cast it into doubt or falsify it.

Finally, Carroll might add that science, by definition, is the search for the simplest and most all-encompassing explanation of what we observe – as he put it on a recent post (June 7, 2011) on Uncommon Descent, “Scientists are trying to come up with the simplest description of nature that accounts for all the data… Science wants to know how we can boil the behavior of nature down to the simplest possible rules.” On this logic, the only hypothesis in my little illustration about the sun rising which merits scientific consideration is the one that says it rises at the same time every day.

Here’s the problem I have with arguments of this kind: just because an explanation is simple, doesn’t mean it’s any more likely to be true. (Oscar Wilde once humorously remarked in his play, The Importance of Being Earnest, that the truth is rarely pure and never simple.) We might want reality to be as simple as possible, but there’s no reason why reality has to bend to our whims. To expect the universe to be simple because we’d like it that way is to project our wishes onto the cosmos. But the cosmos doesn’t care about us. It just is. Hence I am at a loss to understand why Dr. Sean Carroll and John Loftus believe that simpler theories have a higher prior probability of being correct, or are more likely to be true.

Carroll and Loftus might respond by arguing that scientific theories which appeal to fewer entities are by default more likely to be true, as they don’t make as many background assumptions as theories which invoke a multitude of entities. This is the thinking which underlies Occam’s razor, which tells us never to multiply entities beyond necessity. But it isn’t at all clear to me that the hypothesis that that the sun rises at the same time very day until the year 2050, after which it sails off into space, requires us to postulate any more entities than the hypothesis that it keeps rising at the same time every day. The only real advantage of the latter hypothesis is its brevity: it can be stated very concisely, while the other hypotheses require more words to specify. Occam’s razor does not say that we should prefer simpler (i.e. more concise) explanations, as opposed to entities; and it certainly does not say that more concise explanations are more likely to be correct. So in order to justify your belief that the sun will rise at the forecast time tomorrow, you have to make quite a strong assumption: that the briefest explanation of reality in our language is the one most likely to be true. That’s a staggeringly anthropocentric claim, when you come to think of it.

Cut emeralds. We would say that emeralds are green. But how do we kow that they aren’t really grue, where “grue” is defined as “green before the year 2100 and blue afterwards”? Courtesy of Vzb83 and Wikipedia.

I might add in passing that defenders of this claim also have to address the grue paradox: whether the hypothesis that the sun will rise at the same time on every future day is the simplest one depending on what language you are using to describe the sun. The philosopher Nelson made a similar point when writing about the greenness of emeralds: the claim that emeralds are green before a certain year (say, 2100) and blue afterwards might sound convoluted than the claim that emeralds are always green, but if you use the term “grue” to mean “green before the year 2100 and blue afterwards” and “bleen” to mean “blue before the year 2100 and green afterwards” then the claim that emeralds are always green becomes more convoluted – you would have to say that they are grue before 2100 and bleen afterwards – while the claim that emeralds are grue is the more concise. To be fair, however, Carroll and Loftus could argue that the term “grue” is not epistemically basic: it can only be understood by someone who is already familiar with the notions of “blue” and “green.” So in a language employing only epistemically basic terms, the hypothesis that emeralds are always green turns out to be the most concise – and similarly, the hypothesis that the sun rises every day is simpler than the hypothesis that it rises at the same time very day until the year 2050, after which it sails off into space. That’s fine, but now defenders of the claim that simple and concise explanations are more likely to be true have to justify the even stronger claim that explanations which are easy to state simply, from a human-bound epistemic perspective, are more likely to be true. Now that’s a truly astonishing claim.

As for Carroll’s argument that science, by definition, is the enterprise of explaining the world in the simplest and most concise way: well, he can define science that way if he likes, but then I’ll have to ask him: what guarantees that this way of explaining the world reflects the way it actually is? And more worryingly, what guarantees that this way of explaining the world will work in the future? Nothing, as far as I can tell.

Does practical necessity legitimize scientific inference?

At this point, someone may impatiently object that we can argue till the cows come home about whether the sun will rise tomorrow, but on a practical level, we have to commit ourselves to one hypothesis or another. If we believe that the sun will rise at the same time every day, then planting crops in the expectation of harvesting them will be a very sensible thing to do; but if we think the sun is more likely to veer off course, then we probably won’t bother. Like it or lump it, we have to make a choice. Our very lives depend on it. And the hypothesis that’s easiest and most convenient for us to commit ourselves to is the hypothesis that the sun’s behavior is perfectly regular.

That’s perfectly fine, and I can certainly understand people reasoning in this way, on a practical level. But what I insist on pointing out is that convenience doesn’t equal truth. It might make good sense to hope that the sun will keep rising at the same time every day – after all, who wouldn’t want that? – but that doesn’t make it rational to believe that the sun will continue behaving in this fashion. Hoping and believing are two very different things. What I have yet to see is an argument explaining why our belief that the sun will rise at the forecast time tomorrow is a rational one.

Can scientific inference be legitimized over the short term, at least?

Perhaps someone might concede that the belief that the sun will rise every morning at the same time for all eternity is an irrational one, but at the same time argue that the belief that the sun will keep rising at the same time for the foreseeable future is a rational one. They might try to argue as follows. Suppose that the sun is going to stop rising one day. It could be tomorrow, or the next day, or in one year’s time, or in 100 years, or in 1,000,000 years. The point is that other things being equal, it’s much more likely to happen in the distant future than in the near future, as there are so many more days – perhaps infinitely many – in the distant future, and relatively few in the near future. So we should (if we’re rational) bet in the sun’s rising tomorrow, even if we think it will eventually stop rising some day.

What’s wrong with this argument is that it tacitly assumes that the likelihood that the first day on which the sun fails to rise is tomorrow is equivalent to the likelihood that the first day on which it fails to rise is the day after tomorrow, or for that matter, 1,000,000 years from now. But as I argued earlier, there are countlessly many ways in which the sun could fail to rise at the forecast time tomorrow, and there’s only one way in which it could stay “on track,” as it were. That makes it, prima facie, a very likely event to happen. By contrast, the event of the sun’s first failing to rise the day after tomorrow is a much less likely event, as it is conditional upon the apparently unlikely event of the sun’s rising on time tomorrow. In other words: given the number of possibilities (or alternative paths) that we can draw on paper, the sun’s first failing to rise tomorrow is much more likely than its first failing to rise the following day, which in turn is in turn much more likely than its first failing to rise the day after that, and so on.

Does my argument presuppose a “principle of indifference”?

Someone might also object that I’m assuming that all possible future outcomes are equally likely – in other words, I’m smuggling in a metaphysical “principle of indifference.” Not so. All I’m doing here is asking someone who wants to give a greater weighting to the simpler hypotheses: “Why? How can you justify doing that?” Since I haven’t received a good answer to this question, I’m going to treat all of the various alternative hypotheses about the future course of the sun as viable options, until someone gives me a good reason why I shouldn’t.

Do larger data sets help legitimize scientific inference?

A star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud. Image courtesy of NASA, ESA and Wikipedia.

So far, I’ve just been talking about one celestial body: the sun. But what if we observe that all the other stars behave regularly, too? Wouldn’t that strengthen the belief that the sun will continue to behave regularly in the future?

No, it wouldn’t. Here’s why. Just as there are infinitely many ways in which we can graph the sun going off course at some point in the future, so too, there are infinitely many ways in which we can do so for the sun and the other stars. The possibilities are limitless. The fact that the sun and stars have all moved in a uniform manner in the past doesn’t tell us that they’ll continue to do so in the future, as there are infinitely many alternative paths they might take (singly or together), which can still be described by a mathematical equation, except that it’ll be a more complicated one than the equation for uniform motion. (Of course, I realize that the stars don’t really move in a perfectly uniform manner over the long-term, even from an earth-centered perspective, but as I stated above, I’m deliberately simplifying the example, in order to keep it non-technical.)

The point I’m making here is that the simplest equation that we could use to describe the movements of the stars is just one of infinitely many sets of equations we could have chosen, which provide identical descriptions of the stars’ previous movements, but which make wildly divergent predictions for the future courses of the stars. Now imagine someone writing all these alternative equations down on paper, starting with the shortest equation and then writing the rest, in increasing order of length. As we progress, the length of these equations keeps increasing, tending towards infinity. Now can you see what we are doing when we make the uniformitarian assumption? We’re picking the very shortest equation, and ignoring all of the infinitely many alternative equations that successfully predicted its behavior perfectly up to this point. And why? Simply because they’re not short. That doesn’t sound very rational to me, unless we have some reason for believing that shorter explanations are more likely to be correct.

Did the philosophers Donald Williams and D. C. Stove solve the problem of induction?

Philosophy Professor Tim McGrew of Western Michigan University attempts to solve the problem of induction by appealing to the example of balls being taken from a very large urn, containing only red and green balls. He shows that our sample reaches a certain size, we can be reasonably sure that the proportion of red balls in the sample roughly matches the proportion in the urn – even if the urn is a very large one. The picture above is of a Roman funeral urn belonging to one L. Cornelio Leto (R.I.P.), who died at the age of 16. Image courtesy of Museo archeologico regionale di Palermo, Giovanni Dall’Orto and Wikipedia.

Some philosophers (notably Donald Williams and D. C. Stove) have argued that the problem of induction can be solved by appealing to a form of direct inference. The most outstanding defense of this view is from philosophy professor Tim McGrew of Western Michigan University, who in a recent article titled, Direct Inference and the Problem of Induction (The Monist, Volume 84, Issue 2, April 2001, Pages 153-178), argues that a simple, non-controversial form of direct inference provides the key to the refutation of Humean skepticism.

To illustrate his point, McGrew uses the example of taking a sample of balls from a very large urn, containing a mix of red and green balls. He then considers the question: how can we be sure that the proportion of red balls in our limited sample roughly matches the proportion of red balls in the urn? Answering this question, McGrew contends, will enable us to see why we can legitimately infer the likelihood of the sun’s rising at the forecast time tomorrow on the basis of our past observations of sunrises.

First of all, Bernoulli’s theorem tells us that “most large samples differ but little from the population out of which they are drawn,” as McGrew puts it. He points out that it is the absolute size of the sample, and not its size relative to the population as a whole, that matters here:

In fact, the relative proportion of the population sampled is not a significant factor in these sorts of estimation problems. It is the sheer amount of data, not the percentage of possible data, that determines the level of confidence and margins of error.

Bernoulli’s law of large numbers entails that a random large sample of balls from the urn will probably roughly match the population, in its proportion of red and green balls. (For example, if we take a sample of 2,000 balls from the urn, we can be 95% sure that the proportion of red balls in the sample will differ by only 5% from the proportion of red balls in the urn, no matter how big the urn is.) Hence we can make a legitimate inference about an as yet unsampled ball from the urn: we can infer the likelihood that it will be red, with a high degree of confidence. Thus, argues McGrew, “we may draw a conclusion regarding an as-yet-unexamined member of the population with a reasonably high level of confidence.” In a similar fashion, we can view our past observations of sunrises occurring every morning as a large sample from the total population of all past, present and future mornings. Since the sun has risen on every morning in our sample (making our sample proportion of mornings with sunrises equal to 100%), we may infer with a high degree of confidence that the sun will rise on the next morning we observe (i.e. tomorrow morning), and that the sun will rise on most or all future mornings.

McGrew’s argument implicitly assumes that randomness is a primitive epistemic notion, and that in conjunction with the statistical data we possess, it is capable of yielding probabilities without our having to make any additional assumptions about how “fair” our sample was. But how do we know that our sample of balls from the urn was truly representative of the population as a whole? How do we know it wasn’t a biased sample? McGrew replies that we don’t need to know whether our sample was a fair one. “What is required instead is the condition that, relative to what we know, there is nothing about our particular sample that makes it less likely to be representative of the population than any other sample of the same size” (emphases mine – VJT).

The same argument can be applied to our sample of past observations of sunrises occurring every morning. In our sample of historical observations, the proportion of mornings on which the sun rises is 100%. Someone might object that we don’t know whether our current position in time (2013 A.D.) is a typical one, and so we cannot be sure that the sun will behave in the same way in the future. But McGrew would reply that since we have no reason to believe there’s anything atypical about our location in time, we should follow the data (which says that the sun rises on 100% of all mornings we have observed) and conclude that the proportion of all past, present and future mornings on which the sun rises is close to 100%. Hence we can be virtually certain that the sun will rise tomorrow. The same considerations apply to inferences about events occurring in the remote past, before the dawn of recorded history: “When we have no reason to believe conditions were relevantly different – as in the case, say, of certain geological processes – we may quite rightly extrapolate backwards across periods many orders of magnitude greater than those enclosing our observations” (emphasis mine – VJT).

The reason why I think McGrew’s argument fails to assuage skeptical doubts about the reliability of induction in general is that it illicitly assumes the very thing that needs to be established: that the items in the population have a consistency of character, which means that samples drawn from the population won’t vary significantly from it, unless there is a reason for them to do so.

This oversight on McGrew’s part is readily apparent in his reply to John Foster’s objection (based on an illustration by A.J. Ayer) that if we draw balls from a bag, and we’re told in advance that the balls come in only two possible colors, then even if all of the balls drawn turn out to be the same color, we can never be confident about the color of the next ball to be drawn, no matter how many balls we draw from the bag. McGrew responds to this objection by asking as to imagine that we return each ball to the bag immediately after we’ve taken it out, “creating, in effect, an indefinitely large population with a fixed frequency” (emphasis mine – VJT). He continues:

No finite sample with replacement, no matter how large, ever amounts to a measurable fraction of this population. Yet as we have seen, using direct inference and Bernoulli’s theorem it is simple to specify a sample size large enough to yield as high a confidence as one likes that the true population value lies within an arbitrarily small (but nondegenerate) real interval around the sample proportion. (Emphasis mine – VJT.)

But what we are really doing in this “replacement” example is re-examining the same balls, over and over again, as we take them out, put them back and (some time later) draw them again. The reader will also notice that these balls are assumed not to vary in color over the course of time. Given these constraints, no-one would contest the legitimacy of making inferences about draws of balls which we haven’t yet sampled, on the basis of draws that we’ve already made, since our future samples will be of the same balls we’ve already looked at, and they will (by stipulation) be the same color that they were previously. But the problem of induction is nothing like this. Instead, we are required to make inferences about items we haven’t seen, on the basis of items which we have seen, and to make matters worse, we possess no assurance whatsoever that the items will display any consistency of character, over time.

I might add that the epistemic principle which McGrew is appealing to sounds very odd when it is applied to the problem of guessing the equation for a mathematical curve, from a limited section of that curve. Consider a curve on the x-y axis. We need not assume the curve to be of infinite length: it suffices for our purposes if we confine ourselves to a finite but very long segment (say, from x = -1,000 to x = 1,000). Let us now assume that we know what parts of that segment look like, and that the parts we know appear to be broken segments of a linear curve – say, the curve y = 2.x. McGrew’s epistemic principle would then entail that we should infer that the rest of the segment is linear, in the absence of any reason to think otherwise. From a mathematical perspective, however, this is an absurd conclusion: there are infinitely many possible ways of joining all the broken parts together, apart from the “obvious” way of joining them with a linear curve. Which of these ways is “more likely”? Mathematically speaking, none of them are.

This brings me to another point of difference between McGrew’s example of drawing balls from an urn and my sunrise illustration: in McGrew’s case, there are only two possible values we have to consider (is the ball red or green?), whereas in the case of the Sun, there are infinitely many possible paths we can imagine it following: it could wander off in any direction.

Finally, I would argue that McGrew’s appeal to an epistemic norm – that when we have no reason to believe our particular sample is less likely to be representative of the population than any other sample of the same size, then we should take it to be a typical sample – is an illegitimate move, unless he can ground that epistemic norm in an underlying ontological norm relating to things in the natural world. The notion of an epistemic norm which is not ultimately grounded in reality surely makes no sense; for what, apart from reality, could possibly make it normative? But if McGrew wishes to argue that there is an ontological basis for the epistemic norm he proposes, then he is begging the question; for the ontological equivalent of his proposed norm is: “A sample of items taken from a population will be typical of that population, unless there is some reason for it not to be.” But that is precisely what needs to be established. A skeptic would contend that events can vary from their usual course for absolutely no reason.

I do not wish to disparage McGrew’s argument, which builds on that of Williams and Stove, for it has genuine merit. In my opinion, it constitutes a successful answer to restricted versions of skepticism, which concern themselves with the question of how we can infer this or that generalization from a limited sample. What it fails to address is global skepticism, which addresses the larger question of how we can legitimately infer any generalization from a limited sample. In my illustration above, I chose the example of the sunrise merely as a specific instance of the kind of global skepticism I had in mind. The larger question which I am attempting to answer is one which is fundamental to the scientific endeavor: “How do we know that any of the laws of Nature will continue to hold in the future?” It is this question which McGrew’s argument fails to furnish us with an answer to, in my opinion.

Do mathematical laws and scientific models legitimize scientific inference?

But perhaps it will be objected that I’ve been doing my science all wrong, up to this point. Someone might argue that I haven’t addressed the laws of nature, so far, in my discussion of the problem of induction. Laws are written in the language of mathematics. If I can not only chart the sun’s time of rising but also write an equation that allows me to calculate it as far as I like into the future, doesn’t that buttress the belief that the sun will rise at the forecast time tomorrow?

Additionally, I have hitherto confined my attention so far to just one property of the sun: its motion in the sky (actually, the earth’s, but let’s not worry about that trifling detail here). But what if I can construct a comprehensive model of how stars shine, which explains not one, but many different properties of the sun – its color, its temperature, its mass, and so on – in addition to explaining its motion? And what if it turns out that this model continues to hold up, in successfully predicting all of the sun’s future properties? Wouldn’t that strengthen the belief that the sun’s future movement in the sky is predictable, and that it will continue behaving regularly in the foreseeable future?

I’d now like to address each of these objections in turn. Neither of them, I believe, helps us solve the problem of induction.

(a) Why scientific models are incapable of legitimizing scientific inference

An example of scientific modelling: a schematic diagram of chemical and transport processes related to the composition of the atmosphere. Image courtesy of the Strategic Plan for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, Phillipe Rekacewicz and Wikipedia.

First, let’s look at scientific models. For any given model that we might make of how stars behave, there are infinitely many alternative models that might explain the same properties of stars as our original model does, but make radically different predictions regarding their future behavior. Of course, the vast majority of these models will be inconceivable to us, but perhaps we could program a computer to generate these models and test them. (Is there a way of enumerating all possible models and testing them one by one? That’s an interesting question; I don’t know the answer, but I suspect not.) Or maybe some advanced aliens could grasp these models, even if we’re incapable of doing so. At any rate, for any particular model that lies beyond our grasp, we can at least imagine (and perhaps construct) some being that’s capable of grasping it.

Professor Carroll has maintained elsewhere that physicists last century were forced to adopt such theories as quantum mechanics and general relativity, despite their counter-intuitiveness. I hope the reader can see now why that statement is incorrect. When it comes to models, there are always other choices, even if we haven’t thought of them yet.

(b) Why the laws of Nature are also incapable of legitimizing scientific inference

Emmy Noether (1882-1935), described by Einstein as the most important woman in the history of mathematics, from a portrait circa 1910. In physics, Noether’s (first) theorem explains the fundamental connection between symmetry and conservation laws: any differentiable symmetry of the action of a physical system has a corresponding conservation law. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

But what about the laws of Nature? It is often said that the laws of Nature must continue to hold, and that they cannot fail to hold. But what does “cannot” mean here? What makes a law incapable of failing? Science has not told us. Professor Carroll will probably point out that the conservation laws can be explained in terms of something called gauge invariance, as mathematician Emmy Noether showed almost 100 years ago in a theorem now known as Noether’s theorem. Since I’m not a physicist, I shall content myself with quoting from a handy summary of the theorem in a New York Times article by Natalie Angier entitled, The Mighty Mathematician You’ve Never Heard Of (March 26, 2012):

What the revolutionary theorem says, in cartoon essence, is the following: Wherever you find some sort of symmetry in nature, some predictability or homogeneity of parts, you’ll find lurking in the background a corresponding conservation — of momentum, electric charge, energy or the like. If a bicycle wheel is radially symmetric, if you can spin it on its axis and it still looks the same in all directions, well, then, that symmetric translation must yield a corresponding conservation. By applying the principles and calculations embodied in Noether’s theorem, you’ll see that it is angular momentum, the Newtonian impulse that keeps bicyclists upright and on the move.

Some of the relationships to pop out of the theorem are startling, the most profound one linking time and energy. Noether’s theorem shows that a symmetry of time — like the fact that whether you throw a ball in the air tomorrow or make the same toss next week will have no effect on the ball’s trajectory — is directly related to the conservation of energy, our old homily that energy can be neither created nor destroyed but merely changes form.

In other words, the symmetry of Nature across space and time corresponds to conservation laws. And if these conservation laws didn’t hold, we’d be living in a different kind of world. This is a very profound and interesting fact, but it still leaves us with the epistemological question of how we know that the conservation laws do hold, in our world. Or putting it another way: how do we know that Nature is symmetrical? As we’ve seen, the evidence we’ve amassed from our observations to date is insufficient to determine the answer to that question. The fact that energy has been conserved for 1,000,000 days in a row does not, in and of itself, give us any warrant for believing that it will continue to be conserved, on the 1,000,001st day, let alone into the indefinite future. And if we don’t know that energy is conserved, then we cannot know that the behavior of an object – such as a ball thrown in the air – is invariant across time.

I conclude that if we accept the modern scientific account of reality, then we have no epistemic warrant for treating the laws of Nature as anything more than mere regularities, which we have observed holding until now, but which may break down at any point in the future.

At this point, I think it’s time to take stock of where we are. We’ve been trying to come up with a justification of scientific inference – in particular, the uniformitarian assumption that the regularities we observe in Nature will continue to hold in the future. Without that assumption, we have no good reason to believe that the sun will rise tomorrow or at any time in the future, or that scientists’ experiments in the laboratory will continue to work, in the same way that they always have previously. So far, we have found no grounds whatsoever for accepting that assumption. In short: repeated observations, Bayesian testing, appeals to simplicity, appeals to our practical needs, the use of large data sets, appeals to forms of direct inference, the formulation of mathematical laws, and the generation and testing of scientific models, have all failed to supply us with the warrant we need to ground our belief in the rationality of scientific inference and solve the problem of induction. It seems that we’ve run out of options for rescuing science, and restoring it to a rational footing. Or have we?

How the existence of God makes scientific inferences rational

A possible way out: what if things have prescriptive properties, in addition to descriptive properties?

A cross-section of a star like the Sun. Image courtesy of NASA, Phil Newman, Dr. Jim Lochner, Meredith Gibb and Wikipedia.

So far, we’ve been doing science as if it meant: the enterprise of accurately describing the past, present and future properties of the entities we observe in Nature. But this assumes that the various properties of an entity are all descriptive. What if, instead, we assume that some of the properties of things are prescriptive?

Putting it another way, we’ve been proceeding as if all the properties of things are “is” properties: the sun, for instance, isa type G2V star, is 1,392,684 kilometers in diameter, is 1.989×10^30 kilograms in mass, and so on. But what if some of the fundamental properties of things are not “is” properties but “ought” properties? For instance, what if the sentence “Salt is soluble in water” really means: “Sodium chloride ought to dissolve in water,” where the term “ought” refers to the fact that it has a built-in (and ontologically irreducible) disposition, or tendency, to dissolve in water?

The idea we are pursuing here is that things have built-in tendencies which define how they ought to behave. I’m not using “ought” in the moral sense, of course; all I mean is that it’s a basic fact about things that they should behave in certain ways and should not behave in other ways. In other words, we can – indeed, must – use prescriptive terminology when we’re talking about things in the real world.

We can see how prescriptive terminology could provide a ground for scientific inference. For if things have certain ways in which they ought to behave, then the only question we need to answer is: which ways are those? Putting it another way: we no longer have to worry about whether we can rely on Nature to conform to our expectations. Nature is reliable, once you get to know it properly. The problem of induction disappears; all that remains is the epistemic problem of properly identifying the ways in which things should behave. (I’ll say more about this problem below.)

We thus seem to have arrived at a notion of things as embodying prescriptions. What’s more, these prescriptions have to go all the way down: there’s no “ultimate level of reality” at which descriptions take over from prescriptions – for if there were, then the problem of justifying scientific inferences made about that “bottom level” of reality would only raise its ugly head again, and science would rest upon an insecure foundation.

Prescriptions imply rules

Structure of a crystal of sodium chloride (table salt). Below, I propose that any proper account of the properties of table salt has to include reference to rules governing how it behaves. Image courtesy of Raj6 and Wikipedia.

All this talk of “shoulds” (or “oughts”) and “should nots” (or “ought nots”) in reference to things only makes sens if rules are somehow part of their very warp and woof. (For if there were no such rules, then it’s hard to see how the term “should” could have any meaning when applied to things.) What I’m suggesting, then, is that things in the natural world are constituted, in part at least, by rules, which are prescriptive. I am not, however, claiming that objects consist of “nothing but” rules; that would be Platonistic. Objects have other properties as well: they are also associated with quantitative (and qualitative) values, such as having a particular size, shape or color, as well as a spatio-temporal location. Additionally, objects are defined by their complex web of relationships with other natural objects.

The view that laws of Nature are rules is additionally supported by the fact that the laws of Nature are all capable of being given a rigorous mathematical formulation: they can be written down as mathematical equations. In other words, they are formal statements. But a mathematical equation, per se, is not a prescriptive rule; what makes it a rule is that it prescribes the behavior of something. Platonic abstractions are defined by their forms, but they do not follow rules; only real things do that. Things behaving in accordance with a rule must have a built-in tendency, under the appropriate circumstances, to generate the effect that the rule states that they should.

The world, as we have seen, is not a world of facts alone, as the younger Wittgenstein believed; it is also a world of rules which specify what ought to be the case. Rules make up the very warp and woof of the natural world: without them, it would be nothing, as natural objects could no longer be said to possess a nature of their own, and a thing without a nature is not a thing at all. What’s more, these rules pervade all levels of reality: the domain of the lawless is nowhere to be found in Nature. Even at the quantum level, strict mathematical rules still apply.

Kepler’s 3rd Law: The square of the orbital time period T is proportional to the mean radius a:

T^2 =  \frac{4\pi^2}{G \left ( m + M \right ) }r^3\,\!

where M is the mass of the central body (i.e. star).

How we get to a Mind behind Nature

The world thus appears to be made of mathematical prescriptive rules, all the way down. How very, very odd. Where do these rules come from? To answer this question, we have to remember that these prescriptive rules are expressible only in some sort of language – and as we have seen, for the laws of Nature, this language will also have to embody mathematical concepts. Since these rules can only be formulated in some sort of language, then by definition, the only place where rules can come from is a mind. We are forced, then, to assume the existence of a Mind (or minds) underlying Nature, which is responsible for establishing its laws.

A hard-nosed skeptic might object that even if the behavior of things can only be described by us in terms of rules (e.g. recipes), it doesn’t follow that things in themselves are essentially characterized by rules. Rules might be an anthropomorphic projection that we impose on things. We can now see that this objection misses the point, as it presupposes that there are things for rules to be “imposed on” in the first place – in other words, that a thing possesses some underlying essence which is independent of any rules we might impose upon it. But as we’ve seen, it’s “rules all the way down.” There is no level of reality where we can escape the need for prescriptive terminology: as we have seen, the scientific enterprise hangs upon it. What’s more, the rules in question are mathematical: they need a special kind of language, even to formulate them. The universe, to quote Sir James Jeans, is “nearer to a great thought than to a great machine.” But a great thought requires a Great Thinker.

The hard-nosed skeptic might still object that abstract objects, such as triangles, also require language in order to describe them properly. But we don’t say that a mind created these objects. The answer to this objection is that abstract objects are either instantiated in the natural world (e.g. tetrahedra) or they are not (e.g. 999-sided regular polygons). If they are, then their existence is derivative upon that of the objects in the world instantiating them; if they are not (e.g. a regular 999-sided figure, to borrow an example from Professor Edward Feser), then they only exist in the minds of the people who think them up and/or talk about them.

A short argument for God’s existence

We can now sketch how an argument for God’s existence might work. It proceeds as follows:

1. (a) All natural objects – and their parts – exhibit certain built-in, fixed tendencies, which can be said to characterize these objects and circumscribe the ways in which they are capable of acting.
(Note: Although this premise refers to objects and their tendencies and activities, it refrains from saying anything about substance vs. accidents, matter vs. form, or essence vs. existence. These metaphysical categories are of no concern to us.)

(b) The universe itself – or the multiverse, if there is one – can be regarded as a giant natural object.

2. In order to properly ground scientific inferences and everyday inductive knowledge, the tendencies exhibited by natural objects must be construed not merely as properties which describe these objects, but as properties which prescribe the behavior of those objects, and define their very natures. What’s more, these prescriptive rules go all the way down: they are not superimposed on pre-existing objects, but actually constitute those objects, in their very being.

3. By definition, prescriptive rules presuppose a rule-maker. (Rules can only be formulated in some sort of language; hence the notion of a mind-independent rule is an oxymoron.) Thus the existence of prescriptive rules in the natural world can only be explained by an intelligent being or beings who has defined those rules. Hence the rule-governed behavior of natural objects presupposes the existence of an intelligent being or beings who has defined their natures – and hence their very being.

4. An infinite regress of explanations is impossible; all explanations must come to an end somewhere. Hence the intelligent being (or beings) who defines the prescriptive rules which govern the behavior of natural objects and their parts, must not exhibit any built-in, fixed tendencies which can be formulated as invariant propositional rules, and which constrain its mode of acting. Additionally, this intelligent being (or beings) must not be composed of any parts exhibiting such fixed tendencies. We are left, then, with an intelligent being (or beings), whose mode of acting is totally unconstrained by any fixed tendencies of its own, or of any underlying parts.

5. Since the cosmos itself is an entity whose nature is defined by prescriptive rules, it follows that it too requires a Rule-maker, Who must therefore be supernatural, since this Being explains Nature itself. Finally, this Being must be infinite, as nothing constrains its mode of acting. Thus we arrive an an Intelligent Author of Nature, Who is one, simple, supernatural and infinite.

On this account, then, to be infinite is simply to have a nature which is not circumscribed by rules relating to how it can and cannot act. Thus the reason why God must be both supernatural and infinite is that Nature is a giant system of invariant propositional rules (relating to the interactions between various kinds of objects), and because the nature of the Ultimate Rule-maker cannot be defined by any rules of this sort.

How God solves the problem of induction

Even if we grant the existence of a Transcendent Rule-maker for the cosmos, we might still wonder how postulating the existence of such a Being solves the problem of induction. After all, if God’s Nature is not defined in terms of any fixed rules, then that seems to make God a “no rules” Deity. How could it be rational to trust such a Being to make a world in which things behave in a consistent manner? How do we know that God is not an Almighty Joker?

I would like to respond to skeptical concerns about a whimsical Deity by pointing out that I have never argued that God is totally lawless. Consider the traditional concept of God as a simple Being Whose nature it is to know and love in a perfect and unlimited way, and Whose mode of acting is simply to know, love and choose (without anything more basic underlying these acts). The nature of such a Being cannot be characterized by any set of invariant propositional rules; nevertheless, because this Being is essentially loving, there will be certain things that it is incapable of doing – among them being, playing mean tricks on us. Now of course, I haven’t proven that this traditional conception of God is correct. I mention it merely to show that it can be rational to trust a “no rules” Deity.

So, how do I resolve the skeptical problem of induction? I would suggest that the problem disappears if we are prepared to make the following two fairly minimal assumptions about God: first, that if God were to create a cosmos, God would want to produce intelligent beings; and second, that God would want these intelligent beings to know that their Creator exists. (I’m not assuming here that God would want our love or adoration, let alone our prayers.) Since the only way of our knowing God’s existence is through Nature (barring any direct supernatural revelation on God’s part, which very few people claim to have had), it follows that God must have made things in such a way that their natures are knowable by the human mind – or otherwise, we could not reason our way from the knowability of things to the existence of God, Who prescribed the rules which define the nature of things.

“This is all very well,” the skeptic might retort, “but your case for God still hangs on two big ‘ifs.’ How do you know that God is like that?” The short answer is that: (a) my case for the existence of God doesn’t hang on either of the two assumptions in the preceding paragraph – rather, it is my proposed solution to the skeptical problem of induction which hangs upon them; and (b) all I am trying to show here is that invoking God can solve the skeptical problem of induction, not that invoking God will necessarily solve the problem. I made two fairly modest assumptions about the Deity in the preceding paragraph. Given these assumptions, the skeptical problem disappears: if God wants to be known by us, then the things in the world must behave in a reliable fashion. And if they do, then of course, human beings can go about their daily lives and scientists can conduct their research without having to continually worry about whether the sky will fall on them, as the ancient Gauls did. (What I will say, though, is that if I were an atheist, I would be just as worried as the Gauls were.)

The two assumptions which I have made about God follow very naturally from the traditional, classical conception of God as a Being Whose nature it is to know and love in a perfect and unlimited way, and Whose mode of acting is simply to know, love and choose (without anything more basic underlying these acts). Such an essentially Being might well wish to create beings capable of knowing (and loving) their Creator.

A skeptic might still object that the classical description of God as a Being Who is simple (having no parts) and at the same time intelligent flies in the face of our experience that all intelligent beings are highly complex entities – a point which Professor Richard Dawkins deploys to great effect in his Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit. But this objection, I would argue, constitutes an illicit use of the principle of induction. It is difficult enough to justify inferences about other natural objects on the basis of objects which we have observed, how much more so when the Being we are talking about lies outside Nature, as its Author? God the Creator is on another plane of reality than we are, and we cannot make legitimate inferences as to whether an intelligent being on this plane of reality would have to be composite or not.

In any case, my argument above for God’s existence did not attempt to prove that God is absolutely simple. Rather, what it tried to show was that God does not contain any parts whose interactions can be characterized by invariant propositional rules – in other words, mechanical parts, whose working can be described by mathematical formulae. I have not discussed the possibility that God might contain parts of some other sort.

How God guarantees that the scientific enterprise works

I alluded above to the troubling fact that even if we assume that objects somehow instantiate rules, there remains the epistemic problem of knowing whether we’ve chosen the right model, or identified the right mathematical equation (i.e. laws of Nature) for characterizing the rules that define a certain kind of object – be it a tiny electron or a star, like the sun. But if we make the two assumptions about God which I referred to in the preceding section – that God wants to make intelligent beings, and that God wants these intelligent beings to reason their way to God’s existence – then we can infer that the rules which are embodied by objects in the natural world must be tailor-made to fit the minds of intelligent beings that are capable of contemplating their Creator. In other words, the universe is designed to be knowable by us. Hence we don’t need to concern ourselves with the theoretical possibility that the rules which characterize things might be too complicated even in principle for us to grasp.

God, then, is the ultimate Guarantor that science can work.

A Short Note on the Problem of Evil

An atheist might object that while I have put forward a powerful argument for the existence of God, the argument from evil is an equally powerful argument against the existence of God. What the objection overlooks is that not all arguments are equally strong. The foregoing argument for God’s existence can be described as a transcendental argument: if God does not exist, then scientific knowledge is impossible; but scientific knowledge is possible; therefore God exists. However, the argument from evil is of a much weaker sort.

It is generally agreed by philosophers that the argument from evil is not a logically conclusive argument against the existence of God – a point conceded even by skeptic John Loftus, in his post, James K. Dew On “The Logical Problem of Evil”. Rather, the argument appeals to powerful prima facie evidence against the existence of God: the existence of senseless evil in our cosmos. Loftus argues that it is not enough for theists to attempt to avoid the force of the argument by saying that it is possible that an omnibenevolent and omnipotent God might make a world in which senseless evil occurs. What needs to be shown, contends Loftus, is that it is reasonably probable that the cosmos would contain senseless evil, if it were made by God. But it is precisely here that the argument from evil displays its Achilles’ heel. A key weakness of the argument is that it is unquantifiable: it makes no attempt to calculate how improbable the existence of God is, given the evil we find in the world. But if one cannot quantify the weight we should attach to evidence against the existence of God, then it would be foolish to place much credence in an argument appealing to such evidence. In short, the argument from evil is properly described as an argument from incredulity, to use the words of Professor Richard Dawkins. The atheist who triumphantly points to some hideous example of evil in the world – say, the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, which killed 400,000 people – and grandiosely declares, “Voila! How do you explain that on your hypothesis, hey?”, is making a rhetorical point rather than a logical one. And as Professor Dawkins likes to point out, the mere fact that we cannot imagine a good explanation for some event does not render that event impossible or even improbable. Thus the mere fact that we cannot imagine why God would have allowed the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 to occur does not necessarily mean that it is unlikely that He would have done so.

I should add that I personally find rhetorical arguments of this sort very forceful, on an intuitive level. But the point I want to make here is that as objective arguments, these rank pretty low on the scale.

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41 Responses to Does scientific knowledge presuppose God? A reply to Carroll, Coyne, Dawkins and Loftus

  1. Hi Dr.,
    I enjoy reading your posts because they are always thought provoking and exhibit deep understanding of the subject under discussion.
    In this case, don’t you think, you are presupposing God? Based on Natural forces being invariant, you infer there is God. Don’t you think God is a concept which differs across religion? and that each religion has a different version of how universe and species were created ?
    If we believe Light was created on Day 1, what natural forces could we conceive to have created light? What natural forces would account for universe and all species being created in a week?

    What’s more, these rules pervade all levels of reality: the domain of the lawless is nowhere to be found in Nature.Even at the quantum level, strict mathematical rules still apply.

    Quantum particle defy laws:
    -Quantum entanglement works across large distance where as it is supposed to weaken as distances increases.
    - Double slit experiment shows photons show wave interference when observed and show non-interference when not observed. There is no way to account for how Quantum particle ‘know’ we are observing it!

    -The Bosons which form from splitting Fermions have greater weight than the particles themselves!

    -When Gluons are pulled apart, after certain distance, they split and form another pair, instead of separating- as you could reasonably expect.

  2. You presumably realize, Vincent, that in making the above arguments — in particular that “All natural objects – and their parts – exhibit certain built-in, fixed tendencies” — you have specifically blocked the ability of intelligent beings to manipulate any aspect of the world on the basis of their intelligence?

    You have here asserted the causal closure of the physical world!
    Is this want you think should be true, if you also think that ID is possible?

    The only way ID would be possible in the case of causal closure, would be if all the intelligent design input was 100% front-loaded into the initial conditions of the universe. That is possible, but extremely unlikely given the tendencies to chaos in initial-condition-instabilities that occurs in many physical systems.

    I admit another way, would be if the relevant intelligence(s) were entirely natural. But that takes us back to Darwinism and materialism, and I believe you do not want go there!

    You have clearly made the case for a good logical connection between natural law and God as the ‘ultimate guarantor’, but do you really believe in rigid natural laws in the first place? Do you think natural law is true?
    Put in another way, is it logically possible for all your posts at UD to be simultaneously true?

  3. Hi Ian,

    Thank you for your post. You appear to believe that my statement, “All natural objects – and their parts – exhibit certain built-in, fixed tendencies,” blocks the ability of intelligent beings to manipulate any aspect of the world on the basis of their intelligence. I don’t see why it should. To get that conclusion, you’d have to make a very large number of assumptions:

    (a) that the fixed tendencies of a natural object totally exhaust its nature – or in other words, that natural objects are entirely defined by their suite of properties they possess, in relation to other natural objects;

    (b) that the activity of natural objects does not depend on any supernatural Source for its support;

    (c) that no intelligent beings are natural objects, and that no intelligent beings contain parts which are natural objects;

    (d) that the intelligent supernatural Being Who created natural objects cannot create any more of them.

    I don’t accept any of these assumptions.

    (a) I hold that in addition to having relational properties defining (or at least constraining) their behavior towards other objects, natural objects also have “back-end” properties, defining the way in which they interact with their supernatural Creator;

    (b) I believe that natural objects are continually dependent on their Creator, not only for their conservation in being, but also for their ongoing activity – or putting it another way, fire only burns if God co-operates with its burning activity (in theological jargon, I’m a concurrentist – see http://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/chance.htm );

    (c) I certainly hold that human beings are intelligent and at the same time natural (as opposed to supernatural), and that human beings have bodies, making them capable of interacting with other natural objects;

    (d) I also believe that God’s creative activity in the world is ongoing. I don’t know whether He continually creates new particles (although He might), but I believe He certainly creates new proteins.

    Which brings me to your last question: “is it logically possible for all your posts at UD to be simultaneously true?” Short answer: no. Over the years, I have changed from being a front-loader to viewing God’s activity in more interventionist terms. One recent paper that changed my mind was “Proteins and Genes, Singletons and Species” by Dr. Branko Kozulic at vixra.org/pdf/1105.0025v1.pdf . If Dr. Kozulic is correct, then it seems to me that even the appearance of a new species would require the intelligent manipulation of matter to creates the hundreds of chemically unique proteins which characterize each species.

  4. Vjt: You have a talent for using thousands of words when a few sentences would do. Might I suggest a brief conclusion at the start of your stuff ?

  5. =>vjtorley: If Dr. Kozulic is correct, then it seems to me that even the appearance of a new species would require the intelligent manipulation of matter to creates the hundreds of chemically unique proteins which characterize each species.
    =>Me: Mr./Ms. Good reference Let me read. Thank you

  6. Graham2, hows this for shortening it up to meet your personal tastes?:

    Does scientific knowledge presuppose God?

    Conclusion:

    YES!

    Details below

    :)

  7. =>Graham2:Might I suggest a brief conclusion at the start of your stuff
    =>Mr./Ms.vjtorley says that without assuming God’s existence,scientists cannot prove their theories and new discoveries.

  8. Dr. Torley, since you touched on math, I think you may appreciate this quote by David Berlinski I found the other day:

    An Interview with David Berlinski – Jonathan Witt
    Berlinski: There is no argument against religion that is not also an argument against mathematics. Mathematicians are capable of grasping a world of objects that lies beyond space and time ….
    Interviewer:… Come again(?) …
    Berlinski: No need to come again: I got to where I was going the first time. The number four, after all, did not come into existence at a particular time, and it is not going to go out of existence at another time. It is neither here nor there. Nonetheless we are in some sense able to grasp the number by a faculty of our minds. Mathematical intuition is utterly mysterious. So for that matter is the fact that mathematical objects such as a Lie Group or a differentiable manifold have the power to interact with elementary particles or accelerating forces. But these are precisely the claims that theologians have always made as well – that human beings are capable by an exercise of their devotional abilities to come to some understanding of the deity; and the deity, although beyond space and time, is capable of interacting with material objects.
    http://tofspot.blogspot.com/20.....-here.html

  9. Dr. Torley, of related note, I was quite surprised to learn, here on UD a few years ago, that modern science was born within the Christian worldview. And many references have been and could be cited which solidly back up that claim (the nuances of which would be a worthy topic for you to lend your exceptional organizational and research talents to!,, hint, hint :) .,,, And as such, since, as far as I can tell, Christianity was a necessary condition for the birth of modern science, then I think that it is very possible that Christianity can provide an ultimate resolution to the number one problem in modern science, of a reconciliation between General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics into a quote unquote ‘theory of everything’. A few short notes in that regards:

    Kurt Gödel – Incompleteness Theorem – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/w/8462821

    BRUCE GORDON: Hawking’s irrational arguments – October 2010
    Excerpt: Rather, the transcendent reality on which our universe depends must be something that can exhibit agency – a mind that can choose among the infinite variety of mathematical descriptions and bring into existence a reality that corresponds to a consistent subset of them. This is what “breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe.” Anything else invokes random miracles as an explanatory principle and spells the end of scientific rationality.,,,
    Universes do not “spontaneously create” on the basis of abstract mathematical descriptions, nor does the fantasy of a limitless multiverse trump the explanatory power of transcendent intelligent design. What Mr. Hawking’s contrary assertions show is that mathematical savants can sometimes be metaphysical simpletons. Caveat emptor.
    http://www.washingtontimes.com.....arguments/

    Of related note to the incompleteness theorem and God having to ‘breathe fire into the equations’, it is interesting to note that our two best mathematical descriptions of reality require higher dimensional mathematics. Thus strongly suggesting that whatever is ‘breathing fire into the equations’ resides in a higher (highest?) dimension:

    The Mathematics Of Higher Dimensionality – Gauss and Riemann – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/6199520/

    The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences – Eugene Wigner – 1960
    Excerpt: We now have, in physics, two theories of great power and interest: the theory of quantum phenomena and the theory of relativity.,,, The two theories operate with different mathematical concepts: the four dimensional Riemann space and the infinite dimensional Hilbert space,
    http://www.dartmouth.edu/~matc.....igner.html

    Moreover, if we allow that God ‘can play the role of a person’ as Godel allowed,,,

    The God of the Mathematicians – Goldman
    Excerpt: As Gödel told Hao Wang, “Einstein’s religion [was] more abstract, like Spinoza and Indian philosophy. Spinoza’s god is less than a person; mine is more than a person; because God can play the role of a person.” – Kurt Gödel – (Gödel is considered one of the greatest logicians who ever existed)
    http://www.firstthings.com/art.....ematicians

    ,,then we find a very credible reconciliation between General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics into a ‘theory of everything’,,

    General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Entropy, and The Shroud Of Turin – updated video
    http://vimeo.com/34084462

    Scientists say Turin Shroud is supernatural – December 2011
    Excerpt: After years of work trying to replicate the colouring on the shroud, a similar image has been created by the scientists.
    However, they only managed the effect by scorching equivalent linen material with high-intensity ultra violet lasers, undermining the arguments of other research, they say, which claims the Turin Shroud is a medieval hoax.
    Such technology, say researchers from the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (Enea), was far beyond the capability of medieval forgers, whom most experts have credited with making the famous relic.
    “The results show that a short and intense burst of UV directional radiation can colour a linen cloth so as to reproduce many of the peculiar characteristics of the body image on the Shroud of Turin,” they said.
    And in case there was any doubt about the preternatural degree of energy needed to make such distinct marks, the Enea report spells it out: “This degree of power cannot be reproduced by any normal UV source built to date.”
    http://www.independent.co.uk/n.....79512.html

    The absorbed energy in the Shroud body image formation appears as contributed by discrete values – Giovanni Fazio, Giuseppe Mandaglio – 2008
    Excerpt: This result means that the optical density distribution,, can not be attributed at the absorbed energy described in the framework of the classical physics model. It is, in fact, necessary to hypothesize a absorption by discrete values of the energy where the ‘quantum’ is equal to the one necessary to yellow one fibril.
    http://cab.unime.it/journals/i.....802004/271

    Verse an Music:

    Colossians 1:15-20
    The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

    Unto The King Eternal – music
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLPYRhOQcCU

  10. coldcoffee, if I may help, here is Dr. Kozulic’s paper:

    Proteins and Genes, Singletons and Species – Branko Kozuli? PhD. Biochemistry
    Excerpt: Horizontal gene transfer is common in prokaryotes but rare in eukaryotes [89-94], so HGT cannot account for (ORFan) singletons in eukaryotic genomes, including the human genome and the genomes of other mammals.,,,
    The trend towards higher numbers of (ORFan) singletons per genome seems to coincide with a higher proportion of the eukaryotic genomes sequenced. In other words, eukaryotes generally contain a larger number of singletons than eubacteria and archaea.,,,
    That hypothesis – that evolution strives to preserve a protein domain once it stumbles upon it contradicts the power law distribution of domains. The distribution graphs clearly show that unique domains are the most abundant of all domain groups [21, 66, 67, 70, 72, 79, 82, 86, 94, 95], contrary to their expected rarity.,,,
    Evolutionary biologists of earlier generations have not anticipated [164, 165] the challenge that (ORFan) singletons pose to contemporary biologists. By discovering millions of unique genes biologists have run into brick walls similar to those hit by physicists with the discovery of quantum phenomena. The predominant viewpoint in biology has become untenable: we are witnessing a scientific revolution of unprecedented proportions.
    http://vixra.org/pdf/1105.0025v1.pdf
    Of Note: Branko Kozulic is on the editorial team of BioComplexity
    http://bio-complexity.org/ojs/.....TeamBio/23

  11. I think the summary reads like:

    * Nature is understandable, therefore god.
    * Nature shows regularity, therefore god.

  12. the universe is designed to be knowable by us

    You havent been following BA77. Anything with ‘quantum’ in front of it tends to be fairly violently non-intuitive. hardly ‘designed to be knowable’.

  13. Graham2,

    “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
    William Shakespeare – Hamlet

    Funny how materialists constantly describe quantum mechanics with adjectives such as ‘violently non-intuitive’, whereas I, as a Christian Theist, who is by no means ‘smarter than the average bear’, grasp the basic principles of quantum mechanics fairly quickly. I firmly believe this is because materialism predicted that the basis of physical reality would be a solid indestructible material particle which rigidly obeyed the rules of time and space, whereas Theism predicted the basis of this reality was created by a infinitely powerful and transcendent Being who is not limited by time and space. Yet, quantum mechanics reveals a wave/particle duality for the basis of our reality which blatantly defies our concepts of time and space. Thus the materialists is left without any proper reference point for truly grasping and understanding quantum mechanics:

    Why Quantum Theory Does Not Support Materialism – By Bruce L Gordon:
    Excerpt: Because quantum theory is thought to provide the bedrock for our scientific understanding of physical reality, it is to this theory that the materialist inevitably appeals in support of his worldview. But having fled to science in search of a safe haven for his doctrines, the materialist instead finds that quantum theory in fact dissolves and defeats his materialist understanding of the world.
    http://www.4truth.net/fourtrut.....8589952939

    What blows most people away, when they first encounter quantum mechanics, is the quantum foundation of our material reality blatantly defies our concepts of time and space. Most people consider defying time and space to be a ‘miraculous & supernatural’ event. I know I certainly do! There is certainly nothing within quantum mechanics that precludes miracles from being possible:

    How can an Immaterial God Interact with the Physical Universe? (Alvin Plantinga) – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kfzD3ofUb4

    This ‘miraculous and supernatural’ foundation for our physical reality can easily be illuminated by the famous ‘double slit’ experiment. (It should be noted the double slit experiment was originally devised, in 1801, by a Christian polymath named Thomas Young):

    Double Slit Experiment – Explained By Prof Anton Zeilinger (a leader in quantum mechanics) – video
    Quote: “We know what the particle is doing at the source when it is created. We know what it is doing at the detector when it is registered, but we do not know what it is doing in-between”
    - Anton Zeilinger
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/6101627/

    Dr. Quantum – Double Slit Experiment and Entanglement – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4096579

    As well, it seems fairly obvious to me as a Christian Theist that the actions observed in the double slit experiment, as well as all other ‘spooky’ experiments of quantum mechanics, are only possible if our reality has its ultimate basis in a ‘higher transcendent dimension’:

    Explaining The Unseen Higher Dimension – Dr. Quantum in Flatland – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4119478

    Verse and Music:

    John 3:12
    If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

    I Need A Miracle – Third Day
    http://myktis.com/songs/i-need-a-miracle/

  14. Hi vtj,

    I also believe that God’s creative activity in the world is ongoing. I don’t know whether He continually creates new particles (although He might)

    As new particles are added, matter density is added hence the Omega of universe will be > 1. It would mean the universe will become closed and will eventually crush into a ball and collapse.

  15. Interesting read Dr. Torley, thank you for posting it.

    Could it be that you’re describing what science is actually up to? Notwithstanding whether most of the scientists carrying out the enterprise want to blame induction without warrant due to their allergic reaction to the theology required to make their pursuit fully rational?

    “If this is that, then it ought to do the other, otherwise it’s something else,” seems descriptive of how the project works to me.

  16. A note on the problem of evil:

    We simply cannot know whether or not something is “evil” (like the 2004 tsunami) without knowing both the purpose and ultimate context of human physical existence. Put more simply, what may appear evil to us is simply a function of our not being able to see the big picture.

    If one believes, for example, that physical existence is a place we come to in order to learn and grow spiritually, and that we each spend many lifetimes here in all sorts of different circumstances, and further that our true home to which we always return (and which has been glimpsed at least in part during many NDE experiences) is a place of peace, harmony, and unconditional love, then the suffering and death that we all to a greater or lesser degree experience while in the physical is trivial except in so far as it furthers our purpose for being here.

    But whether or not one accepts that particular explanation, it remains true that we simply cannot reliably judge the goodness or evil of events on earth without a larger perspective that includes understanding the purpose of earthly existence. Atheists are constitutionally unable to see the possibility of such a purpose because they believe that the universe is purposeless to begin with.

  17. Hi bornagain77,

    As well, it seems fairly obvious to me as a Christian Theist that the actions observed in the double slit experiment, as well as all other ‘spooky’ experiments of quantum mechanics, are only possible if our reality has its ultimate basis in a ‘higher transcendent dimension

    I don’t see how a higher dimension will solve Quantum mystery. Could you explain a bit? Just in case you bring in String theory-IMHO String, theory which deals with 7 dimensions,is just hocus pocus.

  18. bornagain77=> coldcoffee, if I may help, here is Dr. Kozulic’s paper:Proteins and Genes, Singletons and Species – Branko Kozuli? PhD.
    =>Thank you bornagain77.You have given good reference.

  19. selvaRajan asks,

    I don’t see how a higher dimension will solve Quantum mystery. Could you explain a bit? Just in case you bring in String theory-IMHO String, theory which deals with 7 dimensions,is just hocus pocus.

    Since string theory has no empirical support, then I also consider string theory ‘hocus pocus’. Although I prefer the term ‘mathematical fantasy’:

    A Capella Science – Bohemian Gravity! – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rjbtsX7twc

    Commenting on the preceding video which went viral, Dr. Sheldon states:

    Bohemian Gravity – Rob Sheldon – September 19, 2013
    Excerpt: there’s a large contingent of physicists who believe that string theory is the heroin of theoretical physics. It has absorbed not just millions of dollars, but hundreds if not thousands of grad student lifetimes without delivering what it promised–a unified theory of the universe and life. It is hard, in fact, to find a single contribution from string theory despite 25 years of intense effort by thousands of the very brightest and best minds our society can find.,,
    This negative result is remarkable, and says something that no one wants to hear–that materialism as a philosophy of science, is spent, is toast, is worthless.
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....n-gravity/

    Many more quotes, and references, can be shown stating much the same thing about string theory, but the main point about string theory, at least for me as far as science is concerned, is this:

    “string theory, while dazzling, has outrun any conceivable experiment that could verify it”
    - Peter Woit – -A senior Lecturer at Columbia University

    So since I obviously don’t think string theory provides any empirical evidence for ‘extra’ dimensions, what do I mean when I say that quantum mechanics provides evidence for ‘higher’ dimensions? Well let’s back up a bit to Special Relativity, something that has solid empirical support, and see what Special Relativity reveals to us about ‘higher’ dimensions and then see how that evidence fits together with the evidence from Quantum Mechanics to see how it reveals ‘higher’ dimensions to us shall we? First it is important to note higher dimensions, ‘if’ they exist, would be invisible to our physical 3 Dimensional sight. The reason why ‘higher dimensions’ are invisible to our 3D vision is best illustrated by ‘Flatland’:

    Dr. Quantum in Flatland – 3D in a 2D world – video
    http://www.disclose.tv/action/....._2D_world/

    Perhaps some may think that we have no real scientific evidence to support the view that higher ‘invisible’ dimensions are above this 3 Dimensional world, but a person would be wrong in that presumption. Higher invisible dimensions are corroborated by Special Relativity when considering the optical effects for traveling at the speed of light. Please note the optical effect, noted at the 3:22 minute mark of the following video, when the 3-Dimensional world ‘folds and collapses’ into a tunnel shape around the direction of travel as a ‘hypothetical’ observer moves towards the ‘higher dimension’ of the speed of light:

    Approaching The Speed Of Light – Optical Effects – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5733303/

    The preceding video was made by two Australian University physics professors. Here is the interactive website, which is related to the preceding video, with a link to their math at the bottom of the page:

    Seeing Relativity
    http://www.anu.edu.au/Physics/Searle/

    As well, as with the tunnel for special relativity to a higher dimension, we also have extreme ‘tunnel curvature’, within space-time, to an ‘event horizon’ at the surface of black holes;

    Space-Time of a Black hole
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0VOn9r4dq8

    Of related note, it is also interesting to point out that a ‘tunnel’ to a higher dimension is also a common feature of Near Death Experiences:

    “I started to move toward the light. The way I moved, the physics, was completely different than it is here on Earth. It was something I had never felt before and never felt since. It was a whole different sensation of motion. I obviously wasn’t walking or skipping or crawling. I was not floating. I was flowing. I was flowing toward the light. I was accelerating and I knew I was accelerating, but then again, I didn’t really feel the acceleration. I just knew I was accelerating toward the light. Again, the physics was different – the physics of motion of time, space, travel. It was completely different in that tunnel, than it is here on Earth. I came out into the light and when I came out into the light, I realized that I was in heaven.”
    Barbara Springer – Near Death Experience – The Tunnel – video
    https://vimeo.com/79072924

    “I was in a body, and the only way that I can describe it was a body of energy, or of light. And this body had a form. It had a head, it had arms and it had legs. And it was like it was made out of light. And it was everything that was me. All of my memories, my consciousness, everything.”,,, “And then this vehicle formed itself around me. Vehicle is the only thing, or tube, or something, but it was a mode of transportation that’s for sure! And it formed around me. And there was no one in it with me. I was in it alone. But I knew there were other people ahead of me and behind me. What they were doing I don’t know, but there were people ahead of me and people behind me, but I was alone in my particular conveyance. And I could see out of it. And it went at a tremendously, horrifically, rapid rate of speed. But it wasn’t unpleasant. It was beautiful in fact. I was reclining in this thing, I wasn’t sitting straight up, but I wasn’t lying down either. I was sitting back. And it was just so fast. I can’t even begin to tell you where it went or whatever it was just fast!” –
    Vicki Noratuk’s NDE – (of note: although she was Blind since birth, she could see for the first time during her NDE, which is found to be a common experience for blind people during deep NDE’s)

    Near Death Experience – The Tunnel, The Light, The Life Review – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4200200/

    Some may want to write off the ‘observational evidence’ from Near Death Experiences (NDEs) as ‘unscientific’, but I remind those who would like to do as such that NDEs have far more ‘observational evidence’ going for them than Darwinian evolution does:

    Near-Death Experiences: Putting a Darwinist’s Evidentiary Standards to the Test – Dr. Michael Egnor – October 15, 2012
    Excerpt: Indeed, about 20 percent of NDE’s are corroborated, which means that there are independent ways of checking about the veracity of the experience. The patients knew of things that they could not have known except by extraordinary perception — such as describing details of surgery that they watched while their heart was stopped, etc. Additionally, many NDE’s have a vividness and a sense of intense reality that one does not generally encounter in dreams or hallucinations.,,,
    The most “parsimonious” explanation — the simplest scientific explanation — is that the (Near Death) experience was real. Tens of millions of people have had such experiences. That is tens of millions of more times than we have observed the origin of species (or origin of life), which is never.,,,
    The materialist reaction, in short, is unscientific and close-minded. NDE’s show fellows like Coyne at their sneering unscientific irrational worst. Somebody finds a crushed fragment of a fossil and it’s earth-shaking evidence. Tens of million of people have life-changing spiritual experiences and it’s all a big yawn.
    Note: Dr. Egnor is professor and vice-chairman of neurosurgery at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....65301.html

    “A recent analysis of several hundred cases showed that 48% of near-death experiencers reported seeing their physical bodies from a different visual perspective. Many of them also reported witnessing events going on in the vicinity of their body, such as the attempts of medical personnel to resuscitate them (Kelly et al., 2007).”
    Kelly, E. W., Greyson, B., & Kelly, E. F. (2007). Unusual experiences near death and related phenomena. In E. F. Kelly, E. W. Kelly, A. Crabtree, A. Gauld, M. Grosso, & B. Greyson, Irreducible mind (pp. 367-421). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

  20. What’s more is that special relativity (and general relativity) both confirm that it is an ‘eternal dimension of time’ for this higher dimension. i.e. Time, as we understand it temporally, would come to a complete stop at the speed of light. To grasp the whole ‘time coming to a complete stop at the speed of light’ concept a little more easily, imagine moving away from the face of a clock at the speed of light. Would not the hands on the clock stay stationary as you moved away from the face of the clock at the speed of light? Moving away from the face of a clock at the speed of light happens to be the same ‘thought experiment’ that gave Einstein his breakthrough insight into e=mc2.

    Albert Einstein – Special Relativity – Insight Into Eternity – ‘thought experiment’ video
    http://www.metacafe.com/w/6545941/

    “I’ve just developed a new theory of eternity.”
    Albert Einstein – The Einstein Factor – Reader’s Digest

    “The laws of relativity have changed timeless existence from a theological claim to a physical reality. Light, you see, is outside of time, a fact of nature proven in thousands of experiments at hundreds of universities. I don’t pretend to know how tomorrow can exist simultaneously with today and yesterday. But at the speed of light they actually and rigorously do. Time does not pass.”
    Richard Swenson – More Than Meets The Eye, Chpt. 12

    Virtual Particles & Special Relativity of Photons – Michael Strauss PhD particle physics – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4554674/

    And this ‘eternal’ time framework, for both General and Special relativity, has, unlike string theory, much empirical support:

    Time dilation
    Excerpt: Time dilation: special vs. general theories of relativity:
    In Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity, time dilation in these two circumstances can be summarized:
    1. –In special relativity (or, hypothetically far from all gravitational mass), clocks that are moving with respect to an inertial system of observation are measured to be running slower. (i.e. For any observer accelerating, hypothetically, to the speed of light, time, as we understand it, will come to a complete stop).
    2.–In general relativity, clocks at lower potentials in a gravitational field—such as in closer proximity to a planet—are found to be running slower.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_dilation

    Time Dilation – experimental confirmation
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T.....nfirmation

    This following confirmation of time dilation is my favorite since they have actually caught the physical effects of time dilation on film (of note: light travels approx. 1 foot in a nanosecond (billionth of a second) whilst the camera used in the experiment takes a trillion pictures a second):

    Amazing — light filmed at 1,000,000,000,000 Frames/Second! – video (so fast that at 9:00 Minute mark of video the time dilation effect of relativity is caught on film)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_9vd4HWlVA

    It is also interesting to point out that this ‘eternal’ framework for time at the speed of light is also a common feature that is mentioned in many Near Death Experience testimonies:

    ‘In the ‘spirit world,,, instantly, there was no sense of time. See, everything on earth is related to time. You got up this morning, you are going to go to bed tonight. Something is new, it will get old. Something is born, it’s going to die. Everything on the physical plane is relative to time, but everything in the spiritual plane is relative to eternity. Instantly I was in total consciousness and awareness of eternity, and you and I as we live in this earth cannot even comprehend it, because everything that we have here is filled within the veil of the temporal life. In the spirit life that is more real than anything else and it is awesome. Eternity as a concept is awesome. There is no such thing as time. I knew that whatever happened was going to go on and on.’
    Mickey Robinson – Near Death Experience testimony – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4045544

    ‘When you die, you enter eternity. It feels like you were always there, and you will always be there. You realize that existence on Earth is only just a brief instant.’
    Dr. Ken Ring – has extensively studied Near Death Experiences

    ‘Earthly time has no meaning in the spirit realm. There is no concept of before or after. Everything – past, present, future – exists simultaneously.’ -
    Kimberly Clark Sharp – NDE testimony

    ‘Time dilation’, i.e. eternity, as was shown is confirmed by many lines of scientific evidence, but basically the simplest way to understand this ‘eternal framework’ for light, and Einstein’s enigmatic statement “I’ve just developed a new theory of eternity” is to realize that this higher dimensional, ‘eternal’, inference for the time framework of light is warranted because light is not ‘frozen within time’ (i.e. from our perspective light ‘moves’) yet it is also shown that time, as we understand it, does not pass for light. This ‘counter-intuitive’ paradox is only possible for light if the ‘temporal time’ for 3-dimensional mass is of a lower dimensional value of time than it is for light. Temporal time for mass must be a ‘lower dimensional value of time’ than it is for light in order for time dilation to even be possible for something traveling the speed of light
    Yet, even though light is shown to have this higher dimensional ‘eternal’ attribute, for us to ‘hypothetically’ travel at the speed of light will still only get us to first base as far as trying to coherently explain the instantaneous actions of quantum entanglement, and/or quantum teleportation.

    Light and Quantum Entanglement Reflect Some Characteristics Of God – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4102182

    Science vs God: Bryan Enderle at TEDxUCDavis – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sn7YQOzNuSc

    i.e. As the preceding videos slightly reveal, hypothetically traveling at the speed of light in this universe would be, because of time dilation, instantaneous travel for the person traveling at the speed of light. This is because time does not pass for the ‘hypothetical’ observer at the speed of light, yet, and this is a very big ‘yet’ to take note of, this ‘timeless’ travel is still not completely instantaneous and transcendent of our temporal framework of time as quantum entanglement is now shown to be.

    Looking Beyond Space and Time to Cope With Quantum Theory – (Oct. 28, 2012)
    Excerpt: ,,,The remaining option is to accept that (quantum) influences must be infinitely fast,,,
    “Our result gives weight to the idea that quantum correlations somehow arise from outside spacetime, in the sense that no story in space and time can describe them,” says Nicolas Gisin, Professor at the University of Geneva, Switzerland,,,
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....142217.htm

  21. i.e. Speed of light travel, to our temporal frame of reference for time, is still not completely transcendent of our temporal time framework since light appears to take time to travel from our temporal perspective. Yet, in the quantum entanglement, the ‘time not passing’, i.e. ‘eternal’, framework is not only achieved in our lower temporal framework, but is also ‘instantaneously’ achieved in the ‘eternal’ speed of light framework/dimension. That is to say, the instantaneous travel (if travel is a proper word) of quantum information/entanglemnt is instantaneous to both the temporal and speed of light frameworks, not just our present temporal framework or the ‘eternal’ speed of light framework. Quantum information ‘travel’ is not limited by time, nor space, in any way, shape or form, in any frame of reference, as light is seemingly limited to us in this temporal framework. Thus ‘quantum information/entanglement’ is shown to be timeless (eternal) and completely transcendent of all material frameworks. Moreover, concluding from all lines of evidence we now have examined (many of which I have not specifically listed here); transcendent, eternal, and ‘infinite’, quantum information is indeed real and resides is the primary reality (highest dimension) that can possibly exist for reality (as far as we can tell from our empirical evidence).

    “An illusion can never go faster than the speed limit of reality”
    Akiane Kramarik – Child Prodigy – artist

    supplemental notes:

    Bohemian Gravity – Rob Sheldon – September 19, 2013
    Excerpt: Quanta magazine carried an article about a hypergeometric object that is as much better than Feynman diagrams as Feynman was better than Heisenberg’s S-matrices. But the discoverers are candid about it,
    “The amplituhedron, or a similar geometric object, could help by removing two deeply rooted principles of physics: locality and unitarity. “Both are hard-wired in the usual way we think about things,” said Nima Arkani-Hamed, a professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., and the lead author of the new work, which he is presenting in talks and in a forthcoming paper. “Both are suspect.””
    What are these suspect principles? None other than two of the founding principles of materialism–that there do not exist “spooky-action-at-a-distance” forces, and that material causes are the only ones in the universe.,,,
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....n-gravity/

    An Interview with David Berlinski – Jonathan Witt
    Berlinski: There is no argument against religion that is not also an argument against mathematics. Mathematicians are capable of grasping a world of objects that lies beyond space and time ….
    Interviewer:… Come again(?) …
    Berlinski: No need to come again: I got to where I was going the first time. The number four, after all, did not come into existence at a particular time, and it is not going to go out of existence at another time. It is neither here nor there. Nonetheless we are in some sense able to grasp the number by a faculty of our minds. Mathematical intuition is utterly mysterious. So for that matter is the fact that mathematical objects such as a Lie Group or a differentiable manifold have the power to interact with elementary particles or accelerating forces. But these are precisely the claims that theologians have always made as well – that human beings are capable by an exercise of their devotional abilities to come to some understanding of the deity; and the deity, although beyond space and time, is capable of interacting with material objects.
    http://tofspot.blogspot.com/20.....-here.html

    It is also interesting to note that ‘higher dimensional’ mathematics had to be developed before Einstein could elucidate General Relativity, or even before Quantum Mechanics could be elucidated;

    The Mathematics Of Higher Dimensionality – Gauss and Riemann – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/6199520/

    The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences – Eugene Wigner – 1960
    Excerpt: We now have, in physics, two theories of great power and interest: the theory of quantum phenomena and the theory of relativity.,,, The two theories operate with different mathematical concepts: the four dimensional Riemann space and the infinite dimensional Hilbert space,
    http://www.dartmouth.edu/~matc.....igner.html

    Verses and Music:

    2 Timothy 1:9
    who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal,

    Psalm 90:4
    For a thousand years in thy sight Are but as yesterday when it is past, And as a watch in the night.

    Psalm 148:4
    Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, And ye waters that are above the heavens.

    2 Corinthians 12:2-4
    I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I know not; or whether out of the body, I know not; God knoweth), such a one caught up even to the third heaven.
    And I know such a man (whether in the body, or apart from the body, I know not; God knoweth), how that he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

    Lift My Life Up – Unspoken
    http://myktis.com/songs/lift-my-life-up/

  22. bornagain77,
    Wow.Thanks for all the information. Will have to go through all those and see how I can relate to it. Thanks again.

  23. No problem dude,

    This verse seems a bit more fitting than some of the ones I listed at the end of my post:

    “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:” (Romans 1:20, KJV)

  24. How does your argument cope with:

    1. Popper et al., and
    2. Pessimistic meta-induction?

    Your second paragraph talks of science being systematic. The next three talk of science as inductive; sliding over views of science as a systematic yet non-inductive.

    If science does not use induction then, surely, your argument fails. Your argument posits God as a justification for induction. If there is no need for induction then there is no need for a justification of induction and, thus, no need for God.

    Ignoring Popper et al. and taking the more mainstream view that the sciences are inductive you have a problem in establishing not just that induction is “justified” but that it needs to be so.

    As your quotation of Jerry Coyne shows we may consider “justification” in various ways: Coyne, clearly, holds to a different “justification” of science from “philosophical justification”. Coyne’s “justification” may be along the lines of the “practical necessity” argument you mention. Of course you are correct to say that this argument does not establish truth. However, as philosophers have noted when considering the pessimistic meta-induction:
    Most scientific theories have turned out not to be true.

    Those theories did not need their truth establishing as they had none. If the Pessimistic meta-induction holds neither do current theories: as they too are false. Yet the “practical necessity” argument establishes them as the (currently) most rational theories to adopt.

  25. Hi Tony Lloyd,

    Thank you for your penetrating critique. You are of course right in pointing out that on some views of science (e.g. the Popperian view), science does not use induction. However, I find these accounts unsatisfactory, as they fail to establish that the sun’s rising tomorrow is even a highly probable event. All they amount to saying is that the hypothesis that the sun rises every morning has withstood numerous attempts at falsification – which I would not contest.

    You also ask why induction needs to be justified, and suggest that Professor Coyne’s argument from practical necessity shows why our current scientific hypotheses are the most rational theories for us to adopt, at the present time, even if they’re not true. But I would reply that our current scientific hypotheses (which we have adopted because scientists tend to favor hypotheses possessing the greatest explanatory simplicity) are epistemically rational only if Nature itself is biased towards theories possessing greater explanatory simplicity. Since Nature itself is not intelligent, the notion of Nature having a bias towards conciseness makes no sense. Hence I feel compelled to postulate an Intelligent Being outside Nature, Who possesses such a bias and Who is the Author of Nature. Only then does it make rational sense for scientists to adopt those hypotheses having the greatest explanatory simplicity.

  26. Hi bornagain77,

    Thank you very much for your links, especially the ones on higher dimensionality and the interview with Dr. David Berlinski. Very thought-provoking stuff. Thanks again.

  27. Hi selvaRajan,

    In answer to your query, my argument could be called a presuppositionalist argument. It’s not particularly original: a few decades ago, Dr. Greg Bahnsen attempted to argue that God’s existence was required to justify scientific induction. I’ve tried to cover all objections, in the post above.

    I refrain from speculating which God science points to, in my argument. It could be the Judeo-Christian God, but it need not be. I certainly don’t wish to argue for a literal reading of Genesis here.

    I can’t possibly imagine what kind of natural sequence of events could mimic the sequence of events narrated in Genesis 1. That’s different from saying that there isn’t one, in some universe with different laws and initial conditions. But finding such a universe, out of the vast range of possibilities, would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

  28. Dr. Torley, thanks for your comments. I was worried that I had responded with too long of a post on your thread and would raise your ire for doing so. I’m very glad you find the information useful instead. ,,, By the way, I have a link to an audio recording of a Dr. Greg Bahnsen debate in 1985 in which he used presuppositional apologetics as a very effective tool in the debate:

    The Great Debate: Does God Exist? – Justin Holcomb – audio of the 1985 Greg Bahnsen debate available at the bottom of the site
    Excerpt: The transcendental proof for God’s existence is that without Him it is impossible to prove anything. The atheist worldview is irrational and cannot consistently provide the preconditions of intelligible experience, science, logic, or morality. The atheist worldview cannot allow for laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, the ability for the mind to understand the world, and moral absolutes. In that sense the atheist worldview cannot account for our debate tonight.,,,
    http://justinholcomb.com/2012/.....god-exist/

    As well, This following site is an easy to use, and understand, interactive website that takes the user through what is termed ‘Presuppositional apologetics’. The website clearly shows that our use of the laws of logic, mathematics, science and morality cannot be accounted for unless we believe in God who guarantees our perceptions and reasoning are trustworthy in the first place.

    Presuppositional Apologetics – easy to use interactive website
    http://www.proofthatgodexists.org/index.php

    I like William Murray’s blunt summation of it:

    “If you do not assume the law of non-contradiction, you have nothing to argue about. If you do not assume the principles of sound reason, you have nothing to argue with. If you do not assume libertarian free will, you have no one to argue against. If you do not assume morality to be an objective commodity, you have no reason to argue in the first place.”
    - William J Murray

  29. ‘Light, you see, is outside of time, a fact of nature proven in thousands of experiments at hundreds of universities. ‘

    No proof was necessary, Philip, was it, since, unlike the rest of space-time, it’s speed is absolute?

  30. It is space-time that is contingent, even though I am able to strike a match or turn on a torch.

  31. boranagain77:

    This following confirmation of time dilation is my favorite since they have actually caught the physical effects of time dilation on film (of note: light travels approx. 1 foot in a nanosecond (billionth of a second) whilst the camera used in the experiment takes a trillion pictures a second):

    Time dilation is the biggest misnomer in the history of physics. Why? Because time cannot change by definition. It is not time that dilates but the clock that slows down (for whatever reason). The fact that time cannot change is the reason that nothing can move in Einstein’s spacetime. Hence spacetime is a fiction and so is the time dimension.

    I challenge anybody here, physicist or not, to argue otherwise.

  32. Graham2′s invocation of a ‘violent non-intuitiveness’ of quantum mechanics harkens back to my endlessly banging on about the necessity for materialists to wrongly characterize it thus, since to cast it as ‘counter-rational’ or ‘repugnant to logic’, which of course, paradoxes/spiritual mysteries are….. well….. where would their ‘promissory note’ be then?

    But doesn’t it just illustrate the endless duplicity displayed by atheists – I mean the lobbyists among them – in relation to language; really a part of their construction of a totalitarian infrastructure. A demand to impose whatever meaning they consider words should have, whatever the context, if it suits their fancies. We also see a lot of it in their ‘spin’ on sexual morality, both in terms of their propaganda and of their recourse to the legislature to change the laws, if necessary, bypassing the democratic process.

    But of course, it’s at the cost of deceiving themselves, or of reinforcing their own self-deception. Not an asset to science or philosophy.

  33. “Because time cannot change by definition.”

    Whose definition of time are you using? Man’s definition or God’s definition?

  34. bornagain77, please. Do you have a private hotline with God? How do you know his definition?

    There is only one definition in physics. It’s the same one used by both Newton and Einstein: Time is that which is measured by a clock. Only, Einstein turned time into a dimension of the universe and got away with it, even though it’s nonsense.

  35. Mapou,

    It is not time that dilates but the clock that slows down (for whatever reason). The fact that time cannot change is the reason that nothing can move in Einstein’s spacetime. Hence spacetime is a fiction and so is the time dimension.

    Clock is an instrument made to express non-relativistic time. It’s slowing down is thus meaningless. Time can be expressed in terms of constants – Planck time = Square root[(hr/G)/c^5] = 5.39 x 10^-44 sec ,
    where hr(since I can’t type the actual symbol) = reduced Planck constant, G= gravitational constant, c= speed of light. Similarly Planck length can be expressed in terms of constants. Space time is thus a construction based on fundamental constants. Newton’s gravity has been expressed in terms of space time. If you argue space-time is fiction then it would mean gravity is fiction.Will you undermine Newton -who seems to be your favorite?

  36. selvaRajan @35,

    You’re arguing in circles. How does Planck time, a constant representing a fundamental interval, prove that time can change? Give me an equation that shows that time changes and I’ll explain to you why it’s nonsense. Hint: changing time is self-referential.

    Spacetime is just a mathematical fiction. It does not exist. And I don’t mean just time. Space, too, is fiction. Both space (distance) and time are mathematical abstractions. That’s right. Distance is a perceptual illusion. All those Star Trek fairy tales about time travel through wormholes are just chicken feather voodoo physics. Moving through time in any direction is pure hogwash. The universe is ONE and there is only the changing present, the NOW. Yep, the little guy in the wheelchair is a time travel crackpot.

    Cheers.

  37. Hi Vincent,

    Thanks for the reply.

    You’ve argued for the undesirability of non-inductive and pragmatic views of science, but not their falsity. If either Popper or Coyne are normatively incorrect but descriptively accurate in their pictures of science then science can quite happily trundle along doing what it does. It will produce the same theories the only difference will be the epistemic status of those theories.

    That might be regrettable, but doesn’t your argument depend on it being more than regrettable? As I read your argument it must contain the following sub-argument:

    1. Without God we cannot rely on scientific theories to be true
    2. We can rely on scientific theories to be true
    3. Thus God

    But the pessimistic meta-induction (if you’re an inductivist) or prior negative experience (if you’re a falsificationist) establish that “2” is false: you cannot rely on science to produce theories that are true.

    Worse, “(h)ow God solves the problem of induction” assumes that God entails that induction is reliable:
    1. If God then induction is reliable
    2. Induction is not reliable
    3. Thus no God

  38. Hi, Mapou @36

    Give me an equation that shows that time changes and I’ll explain to you why it’s nonsense

    Time dilation depends on velocity and is given by 1/Squareroot[1-(v^2/c^2)], where v^2 is relative velocity, c=speed of light.

    Space-time is just a mathematical fiction. It does not exist

    Space-time is affected by mass-which is how effect of gravity is explained by space-time. When a star close to Sun is observed, the apparent position of that star is shifted to the right, proving the space-time is indeed curved near Sun(due to its mass). This is commonly considered observable proof of space time.

    Moving through time in any direction is pure hogwash

    True. You can’t travel in arbitrary direction in the existing concept of space-time (so it strengthens space time concept).You can move only in certain directions.
    If you see a space time diagram, you will see that the speed of light is represented by a 45 degree line. The plotted velocity cannot go over the line and the distance cannot go below the x axis. In fact the space time is represented as a parabolic curve (Which is what we call Minkowski space-time ).All points have to be plotted on the curve. Essentially an event which happens later in time cannot be represented as having happened earlier-you cannot move backward in time. No one can go back and kill his grandmother

    Yep, the little guy in the wheelchair is a time travel crackpot

    Dr.Stephen Hawking is conceptualizing a different space-time – a space time which is curved in opposite direction -like a saddle. In this world time travel is possible. Curving in opposite direction requires negative enrgy and negative matter. The Casimir experiment shows we may have negative energy, but it is no where near the required amount to curve space-time in opposite direction. If it were possible to produce negative energy, then we could roll up space time and travel across its diameter – which is the worm hole method of time travel, but the problem is if space time is tightly curved, the virtual particles which produce the negative energy will become permanent particles! There is the tensed string theory which may provide acceleration from 0 to 60 in 1/13 of a second. Then there is String theory and its 6 small curved spaces and 4 normal space-time dimensions.
    Summary:
    1. Space time is a proven concept
    2. Time travel is not possible in existing space-time. It is possible only in oppositely curved space-time, and I agree that Time travel is a distance dream.

  39. selvaRajan @38:

    Time dilation depends on velocity and is given by 1/Squareroot[1-(v^2/c^2)], where v^2 is relative velocity, c=speed of light.

    Aw, come on. Don’t insult my intelligence, please. The so-called “time dilation” equation does not show or prove that time can change. It just assumes it. Changing time implies a rate of change just as changing position implies a speed which is a rate of change in position (v = dx/dt). Nobody can write an equation to describe a rate of change in time. Why? Because it is self-referential. This is why there can be no motion in time and thus no time dimension and no spacetime.

    The rest of the stuff you wrote above is pure hogwash. Nothing can move in spacetime in any direction, period. This is why the little guy in the wheelchair is a time travel crackpot. Here are a couple of quotes from people who know what they’re talking about. Read them and weep. (emphasis mine)

    There is no dynamics within space-time itself: nothing ever moves therein; nothing happens; nothing changes. [...] In particular, one does not think of particles as “moving through” space-time, or as “following along” their world-lines. Rather, particles are just “in” space-time, once and for all, and the world-line represents, all at once the complete life history of the particle.”
    Source: Relativity from A to B by Dr. Robert Geroch, U. of Chicago

    “At the same time I realized that such myths may be developed, and become testable; that historically speaking all — or very nearly all — scientific theories originate from myths, and that a myth may contain important anticipations of scientific theories. Examples are Empedocles’ theory of evolution by trial and error, or Parmenides’ myth of the unchanging block universe in which nothing ever happens and which, if we add another dimension, becomes Einstein’s block universe (in which, too, nothing ever happens, since everything is, four-dimensionally speaking, determined and laid down from the beginning).
    Source: Conjectures and Refutation by Sir Karl Popper. Emphasis added.

  40. Hi Mapou,
    Both references are pretty old (The 1st reference is a reprint of 1970s book. The second one is 1969).Many observations in 1980s and 90s of massive planets and near by stars have proved space time curvature. Gravity can only be explained by General Relativity.
    You have to understand that Einstein was just a clerk in a patent office when he proposed General Relativity. His work was apparently heavily scrutinized as he was only a clerk and not a scientist. Imagine hundreds of scientists, philosophers and anti-Jews group working to disprove him. If his theory was as faulty as his detractors allege, it would not have survived the combined scrutiny.

  41. See you around, selvaRajan. You bore me and you’re wasting my time.

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