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Faith and Reason

The comment threads to several recent posts have contained spirited discussions of faith, reason and the relationship between the two. This issue comes up quite often on this blog, so I decided it was time to devote a post to it. Many of the comments assume a dichotomy, namely that materialists operate solely within the sphere of reason, and theists operate solely within the sphere of faith. In this post I will demonstrate that this dichotomy is not only false, but obviously false. I will show that everyone operates in varying degrees in both spheres. I will then show that far from being a bastion of pure reason, materialism actually requires greater faith commitments than theism.

Everyone Has Faith.

Materialists can be insufferably smug when it comes to the faith/reason debate. They claim their knowledge is superior because they refuse to believe anything that cannot be confirmed by evidence. Therefore, the claim goes, their beliefs are more reliable than the beliefs of theists, whom, they say, base their beliefs on “leap in the dark” faith that is not confirmed by the evidence or, even worse flies in the face of the evidence. Just a moment’s thought will show, however, that not only is the materialist’s smug self-satisfaction unwarranted, his claim of epistemological superiority is obviously false. Materialists make leaps of faith just like the rest of us.

Materialist believe that a real world exists outside of themselves and that they have trustworthy perceptions of this real world from their senses. Surprise. Those two beliefs are not based upon any evidence. Materialists hold the beliefs based on pure faith, a frequently unacknowledged faith to be sure, but faith nevertheless. You might say, “That’s crazy talk Barry. Everyone knows the outside world exists and that we can perceive it through our senses.” Do we?

Philosophers have known for hundreds of years that data provided to us by sense impressions cannot be the basis of absolute knowledge. Renee Descartes, for example, famously demonstrated this with his “evil demon” thought experiment. In this experiment Descartes posited an evil demon “as clever and deceitful as he is powerful, who has directed his entire effort to misleading me.” The evil demon is so powerful he is capable of presenting an illusion of the entire world, including Descartes’ sense impressions of his own body, to Descartes’ mind. If such an evil demon actually existed, Descartes’ sense impressions would be misleading him, and the outside world, including Descartes’ own body, would not in fact exist even though Descartes’ sense impressions confirmed unequivocally that they did.

Here’s the fascinating part of the experiment. How do we know the evil demon does not exist? Answer. By definition, the data presented to our minds by our senses cannot demonstrate his non-existence. In fact, we cannot know with absolute certainty he does not exist. We take his non-existence purely as a matter of faith.

Or consider the movie “The Matrix.” Early on in the movie we learn the vast majority of humans live in containers filled with clear viscous goo, and all of their sense impressions of the world are fed directly to their brains by a massively powerful computer program. How do we know we do not actually live in the Matrix? Answer, just as we cannot prove the non-existence of Descartes’ evil demon, we cannot prove we are not in the Matrix.

Then there is the concept of the “Boltzman Brain,” which is a hypothetical brain that randomly forms out of the chaos of the universe with false memories of a life and false impressions of the world. Again, as a matter of pure logic, I cannot prove that I am not at this moment a Boltzman Brain.

All of these concepts are closely related and are perhaps epitomized by Bishop Berkeley’s idealism. Berkeley argued that we cannot really “know” an object outside of our mind, that the only reality we can really experience is our perception of things. Boswell records Dr. Johnson’s response to Berkeley:

“After we came out of the church, we stood and spoke some time together of Bishop Berkeley’ sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it – ‘I refute it thus.’”

This is is an amusing anecdote. We can imagine Johnson kicking the rock outside the church so hard that he bounced off of it. But consider this. Johnson most certainly did NOT refute Berkeley as a matter of pure logic. Boswell was correct. It is impossible to refute Berkeley’s idealism, just as it is impossible to refute Descartes’ demon, or the existence of the Matrix, or that at this moment I am a Boltzman Brain. The internal logic of these systems is seamless and flawless.

But in another very important sense Johnson did refute Berkeley. He refuted him as a practical matter. The point of Johnson’s exercise is that our senses are all we have. We have nothing else with which to perceive the universe, and, as a practical matter, we must rely on our senses or give up all hope of having any knowledge, even knowledge as basic as whether the large stone in front of me (and the foot I’m kicking it with) exists. We all have faith that the data related to us by our senses corresponds to an outside world that really exists and that can be apprehended by our senses.

In short, we are all rock kickers. Every materialist believes that when he kicks a large rock he has an actual foot with which he is kicking an actual rock. But as we have seen, the materialist must accept this conclusion as a matter of faith, not as a matter of pure reason based upon evidence.

Materialists’ faith commitments do not stop there. Consider the following statement: “The universe is subject to rationale inquiry.” This statement is a “rock kicking” statement. All scientific inquiry is based on the assumption that it is true. Nevertheless, the truth of the statement cannot be established to a logical certainty or confirmed absolutely by examination of physical evidence.

Finally, consider the very definitional presupposition of materialism, which can be reduced to the following statement: “The universe consists of space, matter and energy and nothing else.” Has this assertion been proven true? Not only has it not been proven to be true; it is incapable of such proof. The statement is what Karl Popper called a “universal statement,” of which he wrote in The Logic of Scientific Inquiry:

“This is the reason why strictly existential statements are not falsifiable. We cannot search the whole world in order to establish that something does not exist [in our case, a non-material phenomenon], has never existed, and will never exist. It is for precisely the same reason that strictly universal statements are not verifiable. Again, we cannot search the whole world in order to make sure that nothing exists which the law forbids.”

Do you mean to tell me that materialism is not in fact physical but metaphysical at its very foundation, and that the entire materialist enterprise rests on a faith commitment? Yes, that’s exactly what I mean to tell you, and we thus conclude that the materialist conceit that all of materialist knowledge is confirmed by evidence is not only false, but obviously false.

Reason has a limit, and at the end of reason are first principles, and first principles must be accepted on faith; they cannot be demonstrated. This is what C.S. Lewis meant when he wrote in The Abolition of Man:

“But you cannot go on ‘explaining away’ for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on seeing through things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.”

Authentic Faith, For Both the Theist and the Materialist, is Consistent With Reason

Not only is the first materialist conceit – that they are immune to faith commitments –false, but their second conceit – that theists are immune to reason – is also false. Usually when a materialist argues against the epistemic status of faith, he does not argue against faith as most theists understand it and practice it. Instead, he erects the straw man of “fideism” and knocks it over, all the while pretending to have knocked over the real thing. “Fideism” is the blind leap in the dark even in the face of all of the evidence type of faith that the materialist so rightly deplores. But fideism is not the type of faith practiced by most theists. It is certainly not the faith of historic Christianity.

Authentic Christian faith is in fact faith; it is belief in something that cannot be proven absolutely by evidence. But it is not blind-leap-in-the-dark-in-the-face-of-the evidence fideism. Far from being a blind leap, authentic Christian faith is a reasoned faith. It does not fly in the face of the evidence; rather it goes one step further than the evidence. For example, Christians, by definition, believe in the existence of God. Is this belief a blind “the moon is made of green cheese” leap? Certainly not, because, in a manner of speaking, God’s existence has been proved.

Before I go on let me say a brief word about what it means to “prove” something. People mean many things when they use that word. There are many different “standards of proof.” One standard of proof is an “apodictic proof.” A is greater than B and B is greater than C. Therefore, A is greater than C. This conclusion is necessarily true as a matter of logical certainty. But there are other standards of proof, and unusually when we talk about something having been proved we mean some lesser standard than apodictic.

I am a lawyer, and when I take a case to trial my job is to “prove” my case to the jury. At the end of the evidence the judge will instruct the jury concerning the applicable burden of proof. In a civil case he will usually say I must have proved my case “by a preponderance of the evidence.” He will then tell the jury that to prove something by a preponderance of the evidence means to “prove that it is more probably true than not.” If it is a criminal case the judge will tell the jury the prosecution must have proved its case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” He will then explain that “reasonable doubt means a doubt based upon reason and common sense which arises from a fair and rational consideration of all of the evidence, or the lack of evidence, in the case. It is a doubt which is not a vague, speculative or imaginary doubt, but such a doubt as would cause reasonable people to hesitate to act in matters of importance to themselves.”

Certainly the existence of God has not been proven in the apodictic sense of the word, but it has been proven in every fair sense of the word “proven.” Wikipedia has a pretty good summary of the proofs of the existence of God (the cosmological proof, the ontological proof, the teleological proof, the moral proof, etc.) here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arguments_for_the_existence_of_god

Consider just one of these many proofs, the cosmological proof. We know that every finite thing has a cause. No finite thing can cause itself. The chain of cause and effect cannot be infinitely long. Therefore, an uncaused first cause must exist, and that uncaused first cause is God.

Is the cosmological proof an example of blind leap in the dark faith? Look at each step in the chain of reasoning.

1. Every effect has a cause. Who could argue with that?
2. No effect causes itself. This seems inarguable as a logical matter.
3. The chain of cause and effect is not infinite. This seems consistent with what we know about the universe; big bang theory especially supports this conclusion.
4. Therefore, there must have been an uncaused first cause. The conclusion follows inexorably from perfectly reasonable premises.

Remember, the cosmological proof is only one of many reasonable proofs of the existence of God. I encourage you to examine it and the others in more detail. If you do, I believe you will find that God’s existence has been proved. By this I mean that the existence of God has been proved beyond any “doubt based upon reason and common sense which arises from a fair and rational consideration of all of the evidence,” i.e., beyond a reasonable doubt. Certainly the evidence preponderates toward the existence of God.

This is not to say that there is no room for some doubt. When I go to trial my opponent puts on his evidence to counter mine. Similarly, many people believe that such things as the existence of evil or the suffering of innocents counts as evidence against the existence of God. It is beyond the scope of this post to answer these objections, but they have been answered.

More to the point of this post, the fact that many people believe there is evidence that points away from the existence of God does not undermine my original conclusion. Authentic Christian faith is not a leap in the dark. It is a rational faith based upon a reasoned consideration of the evidence.

Materialists often make the mistake of engaging in what I call “selective evidentialism.” Selective evidentialism is the practice of saying “unless I can touch it, see it, taste it, hear it or smell it, it must be the product of faith (the evidentialism part), but if it suits me I will accept its existence on faith (the selective part). Consider dark matter. The standard cosmological model rests on the assumption that 90% of the matter in the universe is “dark matter.” Yet no scientist has ever directly observed a single iota of the stuff. The existence of dark matter is rather inferred from certain gravitational effects on visible matter.

Isn’t this astounding! Scientists have so much faith (I use that word advisedly) in their observations, calculations and assumptions that they say that, for now at least, the existence of 90% of the matter in the universe must be accepted as a matter of faith based upon inferences. This is a reasoned faith, probably even a reasonable faith, but it is faith nevertheless. Moreover, there are competing explanations for the data that do not require dark matter. If these explanations turn out to be true, dark matter, like the ether of nineteenth century cosmology, will vanish in an instant.

What is so different about the materialist’s faith in the existence of dark matter and the Christian’s faith in the existence of God? Both beliefs are based upon a reasoned analysis of the evidence. Both beliefs are extensions from the known to the unknown. Both may be true or false.

The Materialists’ Faith Commitments Are More of a Leap in the Dark than the Theists’

In one of his debates with William Provine, Phil Johnson said, “I would love to be a Darwinist. I just can’t manage the faith commitments.”

Consider two instances of the materialist faith dilemma. First, how does the materialist answer the question: “Why is there something instead of nothing?” For the theist this is an easy question. God, the uncaused first cause, created all things that exist. But the materialist finds himself between the Scylla of an eternal universe and the Charybdis of a self-created universe. The eternal universe flies in the face of all we now know about the cosmos. There is practically universal agreement among cosmologists that the universe had a beginning. The self-created universe is a logical absurdity.

Secondly, consider biological origins. By definition the materialist must believe that particles of matter, starting as the detritus of the nuclear furnaces at the center of long burned out stars, organized themselves with absolutely no plan or guidance into first elements and then planets and then organic compounds and then into animals and plants and humans and computers and space stations. The phrase “mud to mind” does not even begin to encompass the absurdity of the proposition.

I call materialists’ belief in these two propositions “materialist fideism.” It really is amusing to listen to materialists blast leap-in-the-dark faith, when their faith commitments dwarf those of even the most fundamentalist believer.

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108 Responses to Faith and Reason

  1. Barry A, congratulations on another outstanding post. You have explained and dramatized a little known fact: theists must take a leap of faith, but materialists must do a pole vault.

  2. BarryA:

    I second StephenB’s motion!

    Excellent work, please keep it up!

    GEM of TKI

    PS: Onlookers — and would-be objectors — may find my discussion on selective hyper-skepticism here, of interest.

  3. Thank you Stephen and GEM.

  4. Two very quick points. First, regarding the cosmological argument, two subpoints:

    1. Every effect has a cause. Who could argue with that?

    No one could argue with that, because it is circular. If something is an effect, then it has a cause by definition. It remains to be established whether the universe is an “effect;” this may be a reasonable enough proposition, but it is not self-evident. Second subpoint: the cosmological argument for an uncaused first cause (which I actually think is a pretty good argument as far as it goes) doesn’t establish anything about that “first cause.” Theists attribute many properties to “God” that are not at all necessary for an uncaused first cause.

    Second point:

    What is so different about the materialist’s faith in the existence of dark matter and the Christian’s faith in the existence of God? Both beliefs are based upon a reasoned analysis of the evidence. Both beliefs are extensions from the known to the unknown. Both may be true or false.re’s a difference: the possibility of refutation. You say yourself:

    Moreover, there are competing explanations for the data that do not require dark matter. If these explanations turn out to be true, dark matter, like the ether of nineteenth century cosmology, will vanish in an instant.

    Is the Christian’s faith in the existence of God similarly subject to revision based on new data?
    And one closing comment: I haven’t spent enough time examining your post to be sure, but I suspect that your stronger examples of materialist faith commitments (e.g., “that a real world exists outside of themselves and that they have trustworthy perceptions of this real world from their senses”) are also held by theists (and therefore can’t really be said to be characteristic of materialists per se).

  5. BarryA,
    Thank you for addressing this. I think a lot of theists and atheists misunderstand this. Christians (and others) let atheists define them as irrational.
    I try to explain that even making a dentist appointment takes a little bit of faith because you must believe and act on the belief that you will be alive then among other things. You must have faith that the sun will come up tomorrow.

    One atheist responded to me, “that’s not faith, there’s just no reason not to believe the sun will come up tomorrow.” What a fatuous argument, because, though he’s right, his argument points to faith not away from it.

  6. Barry, great read. Very carefully worded and thought out.

    You are truly a soft-spoken, logically razor-sharp asset to UD.

  7. pubdef writes: “It remains to be established whether the universe is an ‘effect.’”

    Interesting statement. I wonder what you mean be it. It seems to me the options are three-fold:

    1. The universe is an effect of a staggeringly powerful cause.
    2. The universe is self-existent. Logically incomprehensible.
    3. Some third option our minds have not yet conceived. Hawkings “singularity” argument was a candidate for this category for many years, but I understand that even he has given up on it.

    “Theists attribute many properties to “God” that are not at all necessary for an uncaused first cause.”

    That is true. I never suggested that one can develop a full blown theology from the cosmological argument. But once one is satisfied in the existence of God, the next step is to investigate His other attributes. That is beyond the scope of this post.

    “Is the Christian’s faith in the existence of God similarly subject to revision based on new data?”

    Yes. An excellent read on this topic is “The Skeleton in God’s Closet” by Paul Maier, which explores this question: “What would happen to Christianity if we suddenly received irrefutable proof that Jesus’ body had been found?”

    Paul (the apostle, not Maier) writes that if Christ has not been raised, our faith is in vain. If Jesus body were found, I would succumb to despair, because at that point I would know that materialists’ assertion that our existence is pointless would be true.

    “your stronger examples of materialist faith commitments . . . are also held by theists (and therefore can’t really be said to be characteristic of materialists per se)”

    Well, yes, that is the whole point of the post – that faith commitments are not characteristic solely of either camp. Both materialists and theists have them.

  8. 8
    William J. Murray

    BarryA said:

    Quote:

    Paul(the apostle, not Maier) writes that if Christ has not been raised, our faith is in vain. If Jesus body were found, I would succumb to despair, because at that point I would know that materialists’ assertion that our existence is pointless would be true.

    End quote.

    No, you would only know that your faith wasn’t true. You wouldn’t know that materialists are right. There are other spiritual and religious faiths in the world.

  9. 9
    William J. Murray

    We can conclude god exists from the overwhelming evidence; what can be debated are the particular characteristics and other aspects – intentions, etc. If Christ’s body was found it might disprove your particlar conclusions about the attributes or characteristics of god, but it would hardly disprove god.

    Also, the spirtual world has been similarly proven to exist; just because someone encounters conclusive evidence that their particular view of that other realm isn’t true, doesn’t automatically erase all the evidence that exists for that realm.

    We might not like to believe that we could be wrong about what we consder to be very important particulars when it comes to god or the spiritual realms, but disproving any particular notion hardly makes materialists right.

    Sorry, I felt strongly about it and wanted to elaborate a bit on my first post.

  10. Authentic Christian faith is in fact faith; it is belief in something that cannot be proven absolutely by evidence. But it is not blind-leap-in-the-dark-in-the-face-of-the evidence fideism. Far from being a blind leap, authentic Christian faith is a reasoned faith. It does not fly in the face of the evidence; rather it goes one step further than the evidence. For example, Christians, by definition, believe in the existence of God. Is this belief a blind “the moon is made of green cheese” leap? Certainly not, because, in a manner of speaking, God’s existence has been proved. you reconcile this faith in a “proved” thing with the Biblical definition of faith which “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen”?

  11. Apparently I forgot to close my blockquote — oddly it showed up properly in the preview. Apologies to the moderators.

  12. 12
    William J. Murray

    BTW, it’s a great post. I’ve been making a similar argument for years on various boards.

    A further cognitive dissonance of lay-atheists is that they purport that their beliefs are based on scientific evidence and facts, but in fact they are not; they have faith in venues of media that represent the research and conclusions of scientists, and they have faith in those scientists that their research was conducted appropriately and in an unbiased, honest way.

    The lay-atheists themselves have little or no scientific understanding themselves, so their faith in scientists and the media representing them is equivalent to the faith of many of the religious who rely on the word of clergy or scriptures to represent the spiritual to them in an unbiased an honest way.

    When your average atheist claims, “I only believe what can be scietifically proven”, what they actually mean is “I only belive what my figures of authority tell me to believe.”

    I fail to see how that makes them any different from their oversimplified, condescending view of the religious.

  13. Of course, one of the best examples of a blind leap of faith in the face of contrary evidence and logic is the belief that matter, energy, chance and time wrote the computer program and built the machinery that runs life.

  14. Great essay BarryA

    Also, let’s not forget Hume’s observation about causality — or Kant’s need to save science from Hume, and so forth. Knowledge, knowing, etc. are loaded with presuppostions, each or which has it’s own pitfalls.

    That the likes Myers or Dawkins miss the last 200 years of philosophy is understandable — but to hear them build their “case” out of that same ignorance with a little conceit for a binder? Not only do they want to mercilessly hump Hume’s leg, they then want to pretend no one’s spoken on the issue since. Fools rush in…

    There’s just no reason to take these guys as anything other then reactionaries who know how to make a quick buck off the ignorant.

    Say something outrageous, get a treat.
    Publish something outrageous, get a treat.
    Say something outrageous, get more web traffic.
    Say something outrageous, get a mention on CNN.
    Say something outrageous, get invited to Bill Mahr’s show.
    Say something outrageous, get a treat.
    Say something outrageous, get a treat.
    Say something outrageous, get a treat.

  15. —–pubdef: “It remains to be established whether the universe is an ‘effect.’”

    There are two self evident truths, not one.

    [A] We have rational minds, we live in a rational universe, and there is a correspondence between the two. (the phenomenon of cause and effect is just one of many elements in a rational universe.)

    [B] If [A] isn’t true, then there can be no science, no reason logic, or no rational discourse of any kind.

    Even if one goes to the extreme of narcissistic solipsism and rejects [A], there is no getting around [B].

    —–“Theists attribute many properties to “God” that are not at all necessary for an uncaused first cause.”

    True enough. The five proofs are about God’s existence, they say nothing about his attributes.

    —–“Is the Christian’s faith in the existence of God similarly subject to revision based on new data?”

    The Christian’s faith in the existence of God is of a different texture than his belief in Christ, though they are obviously related.

    In the first instance, (God in general) we are talking about philosophy and the principles of right reason. One can infer the existence of God by simply observing the effects of his creation. It’s a very strong argument unless you deny the principle of causation or deny your minds ability to apprehend it. I don’t know how that would be subject to change.

    In the second instance, (Christ as God) we are talking about history and empirical data. (1) 459 Old Testament prophecies, all of which constitute independent statistical events, became fulfilled in time/space/history. (unlikely to have occurred by chance). (2) Christ lived, performed miracles, and rose from the dead. (all events reported by eyewitnesses). This too is very powerful evidence and justifies a “leap of faith” into a Christian faith commitment, by which I mean offering an assent of the intellect to revealed truths that cannot, in themselves, be empirically verified and submitting to the will of a Divine person, whose claims about Divinity can be justified by his miraculous actions.

    If it can be shown that the Old Testament prophecies were put in after the fact (a difficult task since some of them predate the New Testament reports by over a thousand years), or, if it turns out that the New Testament writers lied or stacked the deck, or if Christ’s body was found, then that would be that. Christianity would be out of business, but God, in general would still be on the table.

  16. BarryA

    “your stronger examples of materialist faith commitments . . . are also held by theists (and therefore can’t really be said to be characteristic of materialists per se)”

    Well, yes, that is the whole point of the post – that faith commitments are not characteristic solely of either camp. Both materialists and theists have them.

    No. Your ellipses leave out the crux of pubdef’s point here. I’ll restore the missing material:

    your stronger examples of materialist faith commitments (e.g., “that a real world exists outside of themselves and that they have trustworthy perceptions of this real world from their senses”) are also held by theists (and therefore can’t really be said to be characteristic of materialists per se).

    Even a biblical scholar must rely on his senses (and his intellect).

    And any decent scientist (or scholar, biblical or otherwise) would be sceptical of the trustworthiness of their senses alone. Nonetheless, we all abandon that skepticism when navigating amongst the living room furniture.

  17. Gil, you made a major mistake that basically negates your whole point.

    The belief of so-called materialists that the world exists is an axiom, a working postulate.

    The belief in a specific man-god is faith. You confuse an axiom with a faith-based belief. They are two very different things.

    Plus, it always seemed to me that theists are proclaiming “well, we know believing something on faith is bad, but they do it too!” I would think theists would be proud of their faith.

  18. Tom NH, I think you are missing my point. The point is NOT that we should be more skeptical of our sense data input in certain contexts (scientific tests) and less skeptical in other contexts (walking through the living room). The point is that we have no reason to believe — other than pure faith — that ANY of our sense data is reliable and actually corresponds with the real world.

  19. Barry,

    A great post. I’ve long said we all have faith, the difference is what we have faith in.

  20. —–wnelson: “Also, let’s not forget Hume’s observation about causality — or Kant’s need to save science from Hume, and so forth. Knowledge, knowing, etc. are loaded with presuppostions, each or which has it’s own pitfalls.”

    Perhaps you would agree with me that Kant tried to solve a problem that wasn’t really a problem. In that sense, both he and Hume militated against the principles of right reason. To abandon realist epistemology for Kantian idealism, Kantian nominalism, and, by extension, Kantian skepticism, is to forfeit the entire rational enterprise. I submit that St. Thomas had it right: the images in our mind really do reflect the essences of realities outside of our mind. If we don’t start there, we end up going nowhere.

  21. StephenB:

    I hear you, once you cede that ground, all is lost.

    I’d side with Calvin [BOO!!! HISSS!! ;-)], or maybe John Frame’s perspectival presuppositionalism — in that knowledge of ourselves is intertwined with knowledge of God, etc.
    (I guess it’s been said that Frame is trying to blend Van Til with Aquinas.)

  22. BarryA

    I quite disagree. My senses gets me through the living room (and down the interstate) unharmed and intact; ergo, I have very GOOD reasons to believe they correspond reliably with the real world. I ignore them – and the truck in the lane next to me – at my peril.

  23. Excellent post,

    Even if ppl were to disagree with us on our faith, surely they can’t say we don’t have a well justified and rational belief in it? (well they prb do anyways…)

    Nice testimony and intellectually stimulating defense of Theism.

  24. But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? ~ Charles Darwin see Exposition

    If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. ~ J.B.S. Haldane

  25. Tom MH wrote:

    I quite disagree. My senses gets me through the living room (and down the interstate) unharmed and intact; ergo, I have very GOOD reasons to believe they correspond reliably with the real world.

    No, you only have very GOOD reasons to believe they correspond reliably with the WORLD YOU SENSE (your sense of touch may be in the Matrix as well.)

    BarryA’s point was that you lack any good evidence that your sense world (the world you see, feel, hear, taste, etc) is not a computer simulation or a demon induced delusion. You take it as the “real” world on faith, as we all do.

  26. 26
    William J. Murray

    [quote]

    The belief of so-called materialists that the world exists is an axiom, a working postulate.

    [end quote]

    It stops being a “working postulate” when one insists that it is a true description of reality, and that all descriptions and hypothesis and theory must conform to that view.

    That is when it moves from postulate towards faith.

  27. When I hear those who place great faith in the explanatory power of science to eventually fill in our current gaps of knowledge, I like to ask them if the definition what is science is discovered scientifically.

    This question opens the door (and sometimes eyes) to the philosophical frameworks which guide our interpretations of experience.

  28. . Sorry for not closing my tags.

  29. Atom:

    Tom MH wrote:

    I quite disagree. My senses gets me through the living room (and down the interstate) unharmed and intact; ergo, I have very GOOD reasons to believe they correspond reliably with the real world.

    No, you only have very GOOD reasons to believe they correspond reliably with the WORLD YOU SENSE (your sense of touch may be in the Matrix as well.)

    We can complete the circularity by admitting that the WORLD I SENSE is the “real world” I am speaking about. And if I am indeed embedded in the Matrix, and yet the “real world” responds predictably, follows laws reliably, and behaves rationally to my senses, then other than the provisionality that “this might only be a dream”, I am safe to proceed with my assumption. As I do. And as you admit, we all do. It would be bewildering to try to stagger through the day thinking otherwise.

    I’m not sure that I would equate that assumption as “faith”, although I suppose if you or BarryA wish to define it so then there is little I can do to stop you. Except perhaps to point out that you at least agree that I have “very GOOD reason” to make that assumption. So is it really a leap of faith, or just garden variety rationality?

  30. I’m not sure that I would equate that assumption as “faith”, although I suppose if you or BarryA wish to define it so then there is little I can do to stop you. Except perhaps to point out that you at least agree that I have “very GOOD reason” to make that assumption. So is it really a leap of faith, or just garden variety rationality?

    Whs your ‘very GOOD reason’? Theists have ‘very GOOD reason’ to assume God has designed our senses to perceive Reality. Atheists have no corresponding reason. If you are going to be a consistent atheist, you have NO resaon to assume your senses correspond with Reality and not a Naturally Selected dream.

  31. should be ‘What is…’

    As an atheists your epistemological feet are planted firmly on thin air.

  32. Tom MH:

    I do think that the comment sense argument you allude to is very powerful, and it should not be dismissed too abruptly. You are right on several counts:
    To deny the that there is another realm other than our own consciousness or to deny a correspondence between the two realms or to believe that someone or something is simply injecting phantom experiences into our brain goes against every experience every individual has ever had. After all, we don’t just respond to life events, we cause life events. First, our world acts on us, and in that sense the physical event precedes the mental event. The light excites the retina, and then we see; the sound waves find our ear, and then we hear. Second, we also act on the world, meaning that we cause events to happen just as events cause things to happen to us. It is almost as if the faith needed to acknowledge this common sense perspective is so negligible as to not really count for much. Indeed, it is the denial of that correspondence (Kantian idealism) that has caused the hyper-skepticism so rampant in today’s thought.

    The problem is, though, that we have to start somewhere. We have to begin with rudimentary principles of rationality that must be taken on faith. Example: Is the law of non-contradiction true with respect to the world? (A thing cannot be and not be at the same time). Is the law of non-contradiction true with respect to our minds (A thing cannot be true and false at the same time) What is truth? (Is it not the correspondence of the mind to reality?) We must begin all rational initiatives by assuming that the answer to those primary questions is yes. St Thomas understood this point and posited a realist epistemology; Kant did not understand it and mistakenly proposed a nominalist epistemology. Sooner or later, we have to bring God into the picture. Indeed, there are really only two approaches to this problem: [A] Theism: Assume that God set up a correspondence between our rational minds and the rational universe so that one makes sense with the other or [B] Materialism: Publically ignore the point that rationality is not possible without that correspondence and deny that the world makes sense, while privately conducting all your affairs as if the there really was a correspondence and act as if the world really did make sense.

    For me, this kind of hypocrisy is intolerable. I have much more respect for existentialists and the prophets of despair than for materialists who say that, even thought there is no rational principle, we can nevertheless create one (and an equally arbitrary system of ethics around it). That is totally illogical. At least existentialists, unreasonable thought they may be, face the consequences of their irrationality. Materialists want to have it both ways: They want to deny the reality of the rational principle (correspondence) and then try to squeeze some life out of it anyway. If there is no rational principle, then the existentialists are exactly right, and, to their credit, they are prepared to face the logical consequences of the anti-intellectualism. For them, the universe is absurd and the only real question is whether or not to commit suicide. That is the way materialists would feel if they had a brain. (They have already conceded that they do not have minds)

  33. Tom MH,

    You need to take a leap of faith in thinking your sense world really exists apart from your perception of it. If you want to call your impressions and sensations the “real world”, you are free to do so, but that does not mean that it really exists.

    If you were insane and had an imaginary unicorn that talked to you, interacted with you and you acted upon, your “real unicorn” would not correspond with reality. In the same way, you have no idea whether or not the world your perceive and interact with exists only to you or if it exists in reality, apart from your perception. That was Berkely’s point and BarryA’s point. You take its objective existence on faith alone, without ANY evidence to support that belief. (Indeed, you can have none.) Belief without evidence of any kind is not only faith, but blind faith.

    In this case, as you point out, it is necessary faith, in order to get through our day. I won’t disagree that faith is necessary in life.

  34. bevets:

    Theists have ‘very GOOD reason’ to assume God has designed our senses to perceive Reality. Atheists have no corresponding reason. If you are going to be a consistent atheist, you have NO resaon to assume your senses correspond with Reality and not a Naturally Selected dream.

    From an evolutionary POV, a creature whose senses did not correspond well with the environment would face differentially poorer chances of survival than one whose senses did. I thought this would be obvious.

    I am curious as to why you assume God would design your senses to perceive reality. Is this a testable proposition? Or is it, too, a matter of faith?

    To StephenB:

    You have me at a disadvantage, as you have clearly read both Aquinas and Kant more than I (and that was more years ago than I care to comtemplate just now). However, I am not convinced of the need to invoke God in order to make sense of the world surrounding me, or to make rationality itself possible. Every creature crawling on this planet is making sense out of it’s immediate neighborhood, or at least trying to. Hypocrites all?

  35. Atom,

    In the same way, you have no idea whether or not the world your perceive and interact with exists only to you or if it exists in reality, apart from your perception. That was Berkely’s point and BarryA’s point. You take its objective existence on faith alone, without ANY evidence to support that belief. (Indeed, you can have none.) Belief without evidence of any kind is not only faith, but blind faith

    Perhaps we can talk about it, agree on whether we mutually sense the same thing, and come up with some rules for how we might go about agreeing on what is true (or provisionally true, with meta-rules for difficult or undecideable propositions) and what is not.

    Isn’t that what science is?

    Or are all ways of knowing just various forms of “faith”? (In which case we can economically snip off the “blind” part.)

  36. Tom MH wrote:

    [Pe]rhaps we can talk about it, agree on whether we mutually sense the same thing, and come up with some rules for how we might go about agreeing on what is true (or provisionally true, with meta-rules for difficult or undecideable propositions) and what is not..

    And perhaps I don’t exist.

    In which case, you are only agreeing on what “really” exists with an equivalent of your imaginary unicorn friend (who happens to have 100% corresponding sense experiences to you.)

  37. Tom MH

    From an evolutionary POV, a creature whose senses did not correspond well with the environment would face differentially poorer chances of survival than one whose senses did. I thought this would be obvious

    Think again. Suppose you come across a tiger and you wanted the tiger to eat you, but you thought the tiger would ignore you unless you ran away as fast as you could. This belief would save your life but would not correspond with Reality.

    Natural Selection 1
    Reality 0

  38. 38
    EndoplasmicMessenger

    For the Christian layman, I highly recommend: I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.

  39. Atom: perhaps. Do you think that is a common occurence worth worrying about?

    bevets: *non-plussed* Sorry, I wasn’t able to follow your link, unless I am supposed to register for something?? At any rate, your tiger situation fails to address my observation (that Natural Selection provides a mechanism for the good correlation of senses with reality) since it was based on an example of mis-understanding not mis-perception. (I did perceive the tiger, didn’t I?) Nor are we going to get very far evaluating the survival possibilities of organisms bent on self-destruction.

    Gentlemen, I am afraid I must logoff for the evening. Thank you for the discussion!

  40. —-Tom MH: “Every creature crawling on this planet is making sense out of it’s immediate neighborhood, or at least trying to. Hypocrites all?”

    I am agreeing with you for the most part. I think there are some things that we can know independent of faith. We can “know” the natural moral law, for example, at least ina primitive way, without taking any leap of faith at all. I think that I can know that you exist independent of me, because I can test the principle. Further, I think that we can know something about everything that we observe, meaning that we can apprehend facts even though we may not be able to assign meaning to them.

    We can know through observation that there is a certain order in the universe and that there must be an orderer behind it. Further still, I think that we can know that there is a rational principle in the universe, or to put it in Biblical terms, we can know that there is design in the universe, otherwise St. Paul would not have said that those who deny the obvious are “without excuse.”

    So, I am not fully on board with those who would say that we can no nothing at all without faith. On the other hand, there is a point at which faith takes over and is indispensable.

    I’ll put it this way: If we are in a matrix or in a dream, then we don’t really know even though we think we do. If, on the other hand, if we are not in a matrix or a dream, then we really do know some things, at least at the primitive level. One can have knowledge (true belief) without certitude or certitude without true knowledge (delusion), however, to have certitude and knowledge, faith is required. In other words, you must believe that you are not in a matrix to have both knowledge and certitude. So, I am not really disagreeing with you, I am simply clarifying my own context.

    In addition to the logical factor, there is a psychological factor. All the great scientists of the past may well have known through the use of unaided reason, that the world is rational, but they needed the psychological boost that their faith provided. They needed to believe that God was responsible for the rationality, that he left the clues, and that he wanted scientists to find evidence of him in natural world. That is what they meant when they said that they were “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” It was both an act of faith and an act of reason. As Barry A has pointed out, faith and reason are fully compatible.

  41. Tom MH,

    You said

    “From an evolutionary POV, a creature whose senses did not correspond well with the environment would face differentially poorer chances of survival than one whose senses did. I thought this would be obvious.”

    Michael, this is basic ID. No one in ID really disagrees with this. The environment culls out ill fit organisms and eliminates them from a particular environment. The question is what is the origin of the species that can adapt. To believe that natural forces create them requires that one has to act on faith which is what the post is all about.

    The post is not about whether our senses perceive the world correctly or incorrectly despite the number of people that seemed to have gotten side tracked on that. It is about the faith that one has in one’s world view and what that faith is based on.

  42. Tom MH wrote:

    Atom: perhaps. Do you think that is a common occurence worth worrying about?

    You have faith it is not the case, so you don’t worry about it.

    BarryA’s point exactly.

    (I’m sure you would begin to worry if somehow you gained knowledge that your perceived world was an illusion, akin to Neo in the Matrix movies.)

  43. 43

    Barry,

    “Paul (the apostle, not Maier) writes that if Christ has not been raised, our faith is in vain. If Jesus body were found, I would succumb to despair, because at that point I would know that materialists’ assertion that our existence is pointless would be true.”

    With all due respect, I find this comment almost bizarre. Are there not many monotheists in the world who are not Christian? Does the Moslem or Hindu or American Indian who spoke so often of “The Creator” have no reason to believe in God?

    I admit that the loss of Jesus, or perhaps of his resurrection would be a confusing blow, but does that really touch your belief that this universe requires a God?

    Just asking!

  44. BarryA @7:

    I agree with the thrust of your post, i.e., that everyone, in order to live, must make certain indemonstrable assumptions, and that atheist materialists have, in addition, a set of their own special indemonstrable assumptions. If living by an indemonstrable assumption is living by “faith”, then indeed everyone lives by one faith or another, and hard-core atheists live by more faith than most.

    However, like others on this thread, I’d invite you to expand upon your thoughts in this section:

    “Paul (the apostle, not Maier) writes that if Christ has not been raised, our faith is in vain. If Jesus body were found, I would succumb to despair, because at that point I would know that materialists’ assertion that our existence is pointless would be true.”

    Assuming that you are speaking for yourself in the last sentence, and not simply restating the view of the apostle Paul, the question is: why do you think this?

    Even from a purely Hebraic standpoint, this would seem to be an over-reaction. If Jesus was not raised, then historical, orthodox Christianity would be false. But then Christians would still be free to embrace Judaism, which worships the same God that Jesus worshipped, and which possesses the same creation doctrine that Jesus endorsed. Isn’t it “over the top” to suggest that for believing Jews “existence is pointless”?

    And then, of course, as has been pointed out, you have other belief systems which are not materialistic, such as Hinduism and Islam and native forms of polytheism and pantheism. For believers in these things, existence is not “pointless”.

    For us Platonists, of course, it is not necessary for Jesus to have arisen from the dead. We would seek the Good, the True, and the Beautiful regardless of any historic events that happened in Israel, we would orient our souls to the superabundant Good via the pursuit of wisdom and the practice of justice, and we would see evidence of the Reason behind the world in the order of nature and in the imitative reason of the human mind.

    Your words imply that there is an either/or choice: either Christ or a hopeless form of atheism. If that isn’t what you meant, perhaps you can clarify. If it is what you meant, I for one cannot imagine why you would insist on such a limited range of possibilities for understanding The Whole.

    T.

  45. BarryA:

    Interesting isn’t it what happens when you point out the obvious fact that we all start form first plausibles that define our point of faith: things accepted without further proof, and from which we think and live!

    I find JJ’s remark at 17 especially revealing:

    The belief of so-called materialists that the world exists is an axiom, a working postulate.

    The belief in a specific man-god is faith. You confuse an axiom with a faith-based belief. They are two very different things . . .

    JJ, a glance at the online version of Am H dict will show this basic definition of “axiom”: “3. A self-evident principle or one that is accepted as true without proof as the basis for argument; a postulate.”

    In short, by shifting your vocabulary, you are inadvertently fostering the illusion that you are not exerting “faith” — which MAY mean you are influenced by the idea that “faith” refers to something like “irrational belief or worldview level prejudice”; which is itself a regrettably common, contempt-driven loaded abuse of language.

    But, plainly, you are accepting and living by first plausibles for which you have no further proof.

    In a more reasonable sense of the term, “faith,” — confident trust in what is credible [often based on experience, introspection or evidence] but not proved in the logico-mathematical sense, nor is it subject to such proof — you are in fact exerting faith.

    The attempts of others to dismiss the point that there are many logically possible, empirically equivalent [or "near-equivalent" . . . hence Nero's "discovery" in the Matrix that he was living in a modern form of a Plato's Cave world . . .] worlds, is equally — and equally inadvertently — revealing.

    The point, here, is that if many logically possible worlds are empirically equivalent, we must choose, and not on an empirical basis. That is, we are looking at the basic challenge of comparative difficulties analysis, the core of philosophy as praxis.

    We choose a worldview, perhaps under various environmental influences, but other views are possible, and simply pointing out that alternatives have difficulties fails to reckon with the fact that one’s own worldview may — and in fact does — have difficulties, which may in fact be even worse. [Thus, we come to the classic philosophical maxim that the unexamined life is not worth living.]

    Maybe, this chain of argument, one that I have sometimes used to underscore the point that we all walk by faith so the issue is which one, why, will be helpful:

    Perhaps the simplest way to pull these threads of thought together, is to start with an abstract example, say, claim A. Why should we accept it? Generally, because of B. But, why should we accept B? Thence, C, D, . . . etc. Thus, we face either an infinite regress of challenges, or else we stop at some point, say F — our Faith-Point.

    At F, we may face the challenge of circularity vs proper basicality: are we simply begging the question, thus inevitably irrational in the end?

    In fact, no:

    1. Reason embeds faith: We have seen above, that reason and belief — indeed, faith — are inextricably intertwined in our thought lives. In G K Chesterton’s words, “It is idle to talk always of the alternatives reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith.” [cited, Clarke, p. 123.] For, if we must inevitably take some things on trust, we cannot escape exerting faith; i.e. the question is not whether we have faith, but: in what or in whom should we repose our trust?

    2. Some beliefs are properly basic: Though of course, our trust in certain things is provisional, we plainly have a perfect right to believe a great many things non-inferentially. (Indeed, this is the largest single bloc of our beliefs — consider for a moment how many sense impressions you had today, and how many of them you for very good reason took as accurate without even an instant’s hesitation.) And, as James pointed out, in contexts where alternatives are forced, momentous and live, we not only have a further right to make a passional decision as to which alternative to accept, but we cannot avoid choosing some option or other.

    3. We may compare alternative Worldviews: Worldviews are clusters of core beliefs about important things concerning ourselves, the world and ultimate reality. Notoriously, they bristle with difficulties and unresolved challenges. But, if we compare faith-points F1, F2, F3 . . . Fn, relative to (1) factual adequacy, (2) coherence and (3) simplicty/ad hocness, we can make a rational choice of our faith-points. Thus, we are not reduced to vicious circularity.

    4.We may recognise appropriate degrees of warrant: When we assess arguments, we can recognise that there is a gradation in degree of warrant that is possible for given classes of cases, as Simon Greenleaf has pointed out — as have many others all the way back to Aristotle. So, where logical or mathematical demonstration is possible, we can insit on that. Where only moral evidence is possible, i.e. on matters of fact, we can respect that. When we come to basic beliefs, we can evaluate whether or not the belief is properly basic — at least on a case by case basis — by comparing the new belief with others that are already credibly deemed so. [For instance, Plantinga has argued that believing in God requires a similar process to that which leads us to believe in other minds.]

    This approach can be properly termed, reasonable faith.

    So, let us acknowledge that while we must live by faith, that faith can and should be a reasonable faith. [Of course as appendix 6 the always linked will show, I have certain reasons for believing that the commonly encountered worldview of evolutionary materialism, for all its vaunted appeal to "science" is precisely not a reasonable faith.]

    GEM of TKI

  46. “Therefore, there must have been an uncaused first cause.”

    What I don’t understand is why this “uncaused first cause” needs to possess intelligence or will, let alone omni-this and omni-that.

    Why can we not reasonably assume, until evidence suggests otherwise, that this “uncaused first cause” was a not-yet-understood, possibly very weird, natural process?

  47. StephenB @ 40:

    I’m glad we can agree on the epistemology of day-to-day living. Seems like fruitless sophistry to pursue the matter any further.

    However, I was intrigued by you last paragraph, and would like to add some comments (which will, hopefuly, bring us back to the topic of BarryA’s original post). You said:

    In addition to the logical factor, there is a psychological factor. All the great scientists of the past may well have known through the use of unaided reason, that the world is rational, but they needed the psychological boost that their faith provided. They needed to believe that God was responsible for the rationality, that he left the clues, and that he wanted scientists to find evidence of him in natural world. That is what they meant when they said that they were “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” It was both an act of faith and an act of reason. As Barry A has pointed out, faith and reason are fully compatible.isagreement from me, but may I restate it somewhat differently? The scientists you speak of made the assumption that God was responsible for the natural world, that the natural world obeyed underlying laws or symmetries (which were not immediately obvious; hence the need for hard work), and that those laws or symmetries could be apprehended by the mind of man. Fair enough? Now, those latter two assumptions (the natural world is governed by laws and symmetry, and they are knowable) are fundamentally axiomatic to the whole enterprise of ‘science’. Theist, agnostic, or atheist, every scientist knowingly or unknowingly adheres to them.

    Which brings up BarryA’s ultimate two points. In his first, he argues that the materialist faces a dilemna when posed with the question of origins. However, what BarryA does not mention is the option of undecideability. A good system of epistemology ought to have options for the provisional, the unknown, and the mysterious. Any scientist ought to be familiar with the state of mind that comes from working at the rock-face of the undecided proposition; in fact, if they are not wrestilng with undecided propositions, then they are probably not doing science!

    Furthermore, they ought to have learned early in their career, through education or experience, that the ‘undecided’ state of mind, vis a vis the proposition they are wrestling with, is a desirable place to be. Every great discovery in science is attended by a hundred slaps to the forehead, as the discoverer’s contemporaries belatedly realize that their biases and pre-conceptions, and no other limitation, have kept that wonderful insight from their grasp.

    Finally, to BarryAs final comment regarding biological origins, I see no need for additional assumptions that materialists need to make other than the ones I have defined above: that the natural world is governed by laws or symmetry, and that those laws or symmetires can be grasped by the mind of man. If a theistic scientist assumes that the natural world obeys laws that represent the will of God, then what need or reason does he have to abandon that assumption now?

  48. I see the blockquote monster has bitten me as well. Only the first blockquoted paragraph belongs to StephenB – the latter three are mine – and missing completely is a paragraph that immediately followed StephenB’s quote…

    *sigh*

  49. Skevos Mavros

    Why can we not reasonably assume, until evidence suggests otherwise, that this “uncaused first cause” was a not-yet-understood, possibly very weird, natural process?What is a “very weird, natural process”, and how can you reasonably suggest it was natural (materialistic)?

  50. blockquote does not work properly here any longer, it shows good in the preview yet it turns out terribly in the site itself!

    Can anyone FIX THIS PLEASE!

  51. Blockquote test:

    testing testing (inside)

    Check 1, check 2, sssibilance, sssibilance (outside).

  52. The blockquote problem might be user error that’s not properly vetted by the client-side preview code. In short, it’s possible to be over-reliant on the preview’s interpretation of the formatting.

    For instance, <blockquote>text</blockquote> seems to work properly in the preview and when posted. However <blockquote>text</blockquote will work in the preview, but is unlikely to work in the final post.

    I can’t say for certain that this is the case, but it’s quite possible, and so double-checking the tags is highly recommended.

  53. Following up:

    On the cosmological argument to God, adapting a Wm Lane Craig paper in light of the concept of contingent vs necessary beings:

    __________

    1. Whatever exists has a reason for its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external ground.

    2. Whatever >begins to exist is not necessary in its existence. [Here, we advert to both the evident beginning of the observed universe and its fine-tuning . . .]

    3. If the [observed] universe [which is generally viewed by cosmologists as originating in a "big bang" some 13.7 BYA] has an external ground of its existence, then there exists a Personal Creator of the universe, who, sans the universe, is timeless, spaceless, beginningless, changeless, necessary, uncaused, and enormously powerful.

    [NOTE: For, impersonal but deterministic causes will produce a result as soon as they are present, e.g. as soon as heat, fuel and oxidiser are jointly present, a fire bursts into being. That is, it takes an agent cause to act in a structured fashion at a particular beginning-point. See (4) below on the idea of sub-universes popping up at random in an underlying infinite, eternal universe as a whole.]

    4. The [observed] universe began to exist.

    [NOTE: To deny this, one in effect must propose a speculative, eternally existing wider universe as a whole; in which sub-universes (such as our own) pop up more or less at random. This, of course is not at all what we have actually observed. Such a resort thus brings out the underlying speculative -- and after-the-fact -- metaphysics embedded in such "multiverse" proposals . . . ]

    From (2) and (4) it follows that

    5. Therefore, the universe is not necessary in its existence.

    From (1) and (5) it follows further that

    6. Therefore, the universe has an external ground of its existence.

    From (3) and (6) it we can conclude that

    7. Therefore, there exists a Personal Creator of the universe, who, sans the universe, is timeless, spaceless, beginningless, changeless, necessary, uncaused, and enormously powerful.

    And this, as Thomas Aquinas laconically remarked,{67} is what everybody means by God.
    ___________

    GEM of TKI

  54. kf wrote:

    …hence Nero’s “discovery” in the Matrix…

    You caught me off gaurd with this typo…I paused to wonder why I didn’t remember “Nero” in the movies…lol.

  55. —–Tom MH: …..(materialist assumption) that the natural world is governed by laws or symmetry, and that those laws or symmetires can be grasped by the mind of man. If a theistic scientist assumes that the natural world obeys laws that represent the will of God, then what need or reason does he have to abandon that assumption now?

    If reason takes us to order, then it cannot ligically stop there, it must proceed onwards to the orderer. In other words, it is not enough to say “I believe in order” and leave it at that. That would be like saying “I believe in paintings,” but I renounce the proposition that a painter exists, or as methodological naturalism would have it, I must study the painting as if it wasn’t painted. This is not only a monumental leap of faith, it is an irrational approach to intellectual inquiry.

  56. Actually, StephenB, I was not posing that as a materialist’s assumption but the assumption made by any who pursue a rational inquiry into the nature of the physical world.

    Science looks for underlying order. One needs the conviction that it exists, and is discoverable, to have even the hope of succeeding in discovering it. Why is that conviction appropriate in some fields of study but must be set aside in others?

    And it goes without saying that without a discovery of order it is pointless to look for an orderer.

  57. Atom, perhaps in the next installment of The Matrix, Neo (or “Nero” ;) wakes up and discovers that he was actually in a cybernetic dream in the previous three movies. It’s containers of viscous goo all the way down (until stack crash).

  58. Tom MH: I think I have lost track of your trajectory. Two propositions are on the table that you seem to dispute:

    [I] Materialism presumes that matter, space, and energy is all there is. Reason, on the other hand, leads us to conclude that [A] the universe is ordered therefore [B] someone must have ordered it. By denying [B], the materialist takes a much greater leap of faith than the theist, because his faith defies reason, while the Theists faith is consistent with it.

    Further, as I think we can agree, the universe appears to be designed. The theist proceeds on that assumption, and therefore, his search for order is logical. The materialist, on the other hand, claims that design is an “illusion,” yet he continues to look for order. Thus, he believes that there can be order without design, which constitutes another giant leap of faith.

    [II] First principles of reason cannot be proven, they must be assumed, or, if you like, taken on faith. If that is not the case, explain how reason can arrive at reason’s first principles. {The law of non-contradiction, for example, or the law of the excluded middle, or the principle that the whole is greater than any of its parts etc.}
    Am I reading you right? Do you deny I and II, and, if so, how do your resolve the difficulties?

  59. 59
    CannuckianYankee

    Pubdef: “Is the Christian’s faith in the existence of God similarly subject to revision based on new data?”

    Probably would be, except that I doubt if there really is any new data. The old data transcends anything new that could be discovered. Interesting when you consider the current state of Darwinian evolution. They (the Darwinists) believe that the old data transcends anything new. So do we have a religion here, or what?

  60. StephenB: thanks for your response!

    Yes, I agree with [II]: first principles are (by definition) assumed, and not derived or proven. (And I will at least provisionally agree to conflate “faith” with “assumption”, “axiom”, or “postulate”. In a like manner I will conflate “materialist” with “atheist”, as the converse of “theist” – I like my dichotomies to be tidy.)

    We make some assumptions and then follow where they lead us. Start with the Peano postulates (and the patience of a saint) and you are led to 1+1=2. Start with Euclid’s five postulates and you are led to planar geometry. Change Euclid’s fifth postulate and you can get different geometries, which are either sublime or ridiculous depending on your taste. And so forth. The value of these postulates is whether they lead us to discover anything fruitful (like arithmetic) or congruent with reality (like Euclid’s geometry…until Einstein showed us that space-time was decidedly non-Euclidean).

    The postulate that I have been talking here is that of a rational universe. That is, the postulate that the natural world is governed by an underlying order, a mathematically consistent system of laws and principles. Sorry for such a poor definition but I think you understand what I mean.

    Note that I have this posed as a first principle, and therefore nothing that can be derived from “Reason”. Perhaps that is our sticking point?

    Both theists and atheists may assume a rational universe. For theists this is an additional assumption beyond just the existence of a supreme being. IOW a faith in the existence of God does not necessarily include the faith that the universe is rational, especially if God is omniscient and omnipresent. For if He is, then He can readily attend to the fall of each sparrow, not to mention the orbit of each planet or the decay of each neutron. No need for the intermediary of natural laws.

    Thus, two commitments of faith for the theist: God exists, and His universe is rational. Only one commitment of faith here for the atheist: the universe is rational.

    Your argument in [I] seems to be that if the universe is rational then someone must have made it so. And further, that denying that requires an additional leap of faith by the atheist. Have I got that correctly? If so, then I do not follow your argument. Nor can I find it among the arguments for the existence of God for which BarryA provided a wiki link. This, too, may be a sticking point between us.

    Finally, I must ask why the postulate of a rational universe needs to be suspended for certain questions. Such as, say, the origin of species. Or the origin of life. At what point do we decide that the natural world had ceased to be rational; that God has dispensed with the intermediary of natural law and is intervening directly? When do we decide that he has turned off the autopilot and taken direct control?

    You will agree, won’t you, that if natural law does not hold and God is directly intervening in the conduct of the universe, then the further search for order (in that particular corner of nature) is useless, yes? Unless we wish to postulate that God Himself is subject to rational law- but that is too metaphysically confusing for me to pursue. At any rate, my contention is that the atheist (materialist) does not reach this point, he continues to believe in a rational universe as long as that postulate yields fruitful results. Or, well, as long as it pleases him to do so.

    Methodological naturalism also doggedly holds to the postulate of a rational universe. But remember, this postulate stand separate (imho) from the existence of God. Therefore I see no conflict between theism and methodological naturalism. The denial of God is not a requirement.

    Tom MH

    {note to blockquote monster: I am now cutting and pasting from MS Word. Do your worst, evil demon.}

  61. Tom MN: Thanks for your response. We seem to agree that assuming first principles is a necessary condition for reasoning in the abstract. Also, if I understand you correctly, the rationality of the universe is a self evident principle. I would be inclined to say that reason derives that principle through observation and reflection, and that only reason’s first principles must be taken on faith. Put another way, I don’t think we have to take the rationality of the universe on faith, we can deduce it through the use of unaided reason, though I think that religious faith can confirm it.

    I suppose part of the difficulty has to do with what we mean by a rational universe. For my part, that term is a more general way of expressing the totality of more specific attributes such as movement, order, regularity, and design—in that order. To me these concepts are inseparable in this sense that one cannot reasonably explain one without an appeal to the other. That is what rationality means; things make sense because they hang together, or, as they like to say in philosophy and science, they exhibit the principle of “coherence.” Aristotle’s “prime mover” argument and Aquinas’ five ways would be two examples.

    In any case, we have two propositions: The theist (at least a classical theist) insists that movement and regularity imply order, which, in turn, implies design, which in turn implies a designer. Keep in mind that this formulation does not require faith. It is an inference, and a reasonable one, in my judgment. The materialist rejects this proposition and insists that order can explain itself. In effect, he scoffs at that which reason dictates and insists that it CANNOT be the case. He admits that design is manifest, (how can he not) but he tries to explain, with no intellectual justification, that it is an “illusion.” Richard Dawkins, for example, defines biology as the study of organism that “appear” to be designed. That is because he has taken a leap of faith and decided to believe that order can explain itself. If we perceive design, he claims, we are deluding ourselves.

    But the materialist is not content to make his own leap of faith; he demands that we must all take that leap with him. In his judgment, order must be its own explanation, and that is all there is to it. Further, he is going to define science in such restrictive terms that no other conclusion is possible. That is what methodological naturalism is all about. It is simply a set of arbitrary rules that codifies and institutionalizes the following proposition: “You may not perform a design inference in the name of science. Even if that is where the evidence leads, even if reason itself has already discovered it, even science was founded on that very principle, you may not do it. Further, if you dare to dissent, meaning that if you use legitimate scientific methods to uncover evidence for design, we will make you pay for it. We who hold power and who arrogate unto ourselves the right to rule science and define its parameters forever, will slander you, discredit you, and remove you from the community of researchers and scholars.”

  62. Excuse please: Paragraph two misplaced the order of events, which should read movement, regularity, order, and design.

  63. Tom MH,

    It does seem like we share the axiom that the universe is rational, although we need to explore precisely what that means.

    Does that mean that the universe is self-explanatory? If Big-Bang cosmology is correct, then there was a time when the universe was not self-explanatory. One can postulate a God, or multiple universes, or a super-universe. But the universe we know cannot explain itself, when pushed back beyond some 13.7 billion years. So, unless one is prepared to challenge Big-Bang cosmology, one must admit that rationality (for the universe) does not entail complete obedience to natural law (the laws of physics as we understand laws) and nothing else. For the laws of physics fail at the moment of the Big Bang. That’s why it is called a singularity.

    Are there any other times at which there is evidence for a singularity? Are there any other times when the laws of physics fail to explain the observed phenomena? Probably the best candidate for such a time is at the origin of life. Consider three postulates:
    1. Life exists at present.
    2. Life could not have existed for a substantial period of time after the Big Bang.
    3. Life comes only from life.

    I believe we can agree on the first postulate. I believe that, given the Big Bang, we can agree on the second postulate. The real question is whether the third postulate is secure.

    As you know, there was a time when the third postulate was believed to be demonstrably false. That time is gone. In fact, the whole point of evolution would be moot if the third postulate were routinely violated. Need some new phyla in the Cambrian? No problem. Trilobites, starfish, clams, hallucinogenia, and hagfish can just spontaneously pop into being. No need to postulate, let alone find, intermediates between ediacaran life and trilobites, for instance. For that matter, no need to find intermediates between reptiles and birds, or between chimpanzees and humans. They just spontaneously generated. The point is that it is generally recognized that the spontaneous generation of life is at least difficult and rare.

    Is it even possible without the intervention of some kind of intelligence? We certainly don’t know the answer is yes by any kind of scientific experimentation. In fact, all our experiments to date argue that the answer is no. So if there is to be any evidence for the belief in abiogenesis, it must (at present) come from theory.

    But as you also probably know, there is no coherent theory that explains the origin of life from non-life without intelligence either. Otherwise, Harverd scientists would not have gotten their grant to produce such a theory.

    And the obstacles in the way of such a theory are formidable. They include (not an exhaustive list):

    1. Miller-Urey apparati do not produce all the amino acids used in life.
    2. Miller-Urey apparati produce numerous other compounds not used in life, and some that are toxic (the most prominent one being hydrogen cyanide).
    3. Miller-Urey apparati do not produce sugars in the presence of ammonia, which is required for producing amino acids.
    4. Miller-Urey apparati do not produce all the bases needed for DNA and RNA (Adenine, (HCN)5, being the only one made in appreciable amounts).
    5. No known reaction will add bases to the 1-position of ribose (even living organisms do not synthesize the nucleosides that way, using either a complicated synthesis for adenine and guanine, or orotic acid for uridine and cytidine).
    6. There is no known process for consistently forming one chirality (left-handed versus right-handed) of biochemical compounds from racemic (non-chiral or mixed chiral) reagents, outside of life itself.
    7. There is no known way to get nucleoside triphosphates from nucleosides other than biochemically.
    8. When nucleosides polymerize naturally into RNA, they form 2′-5′ linkages rather than the 3′-5′ linkages normally found in RNA.
    9. When RNA is formed by RNA polymerase, shorter RNA molecules outcompete longer ones.
    10. Reasonable requirements for the specificity of RNA required for the origin of life are vastly beyond the probabilistic resources of the universe.
    11. Even given all the ingredients for life, life will still not spontaneously reorganize. That is why canned fool can sit on the shelf indefinitely without spoiling.

    Thus all the evidence we have points to postulate 3 above being correct; life only comes from life. This appears to point to another singularity, this time after the universe began.

    Postulating a material intelligence (as Dawkins allowed) doesn’t solve the problem. For then that intelligence must have arisen via some mechanism also. If it is life, then we still must allow for its spontaneous generation, or else a singularity for it. Non-living intelligence is even more of a reach. To postulate that computers, for example, can evolve without intelligent (e. g., from people) input completely strains credulity. And computers cannot have made it through the Big Bang.

    So we are left with three alternatives.

    1. There are laws of which we are totally ignorant that can produce life from non-living material, without the intervention of intelligence.

    2. Life arose through a singularity with no cause, sometime after the universe was formed (implying a break in rationality).

    3. Life arose through the action of an intelligent agent, whose intelligence is not dependent upon the organization of matter (which would make that agent supernatural).

    Option 2, it seems to me, is irrational, and concedes a universe that is at least partly irrational. Option 3 is not irrational, but is not materialistic, postulating an entity or entities that is/are not restricted to the material. That is, it is rational, but not materialistic.

    Option 1 is rational in one sense; we know that our information is incomplete, and this could be one more area where our information is incomplete. And belief in abiogenesis allows us to view the universe as completely (well, except for quantum mechanics and the Big Bang itself), explained by cause-effect relations.

    But it is heavily faith-based. We have no experimental evidence for this belief, and the theoretical problems appear insoluble. We have here belief against all the evidence, analogous to the most daring leaps of religious faith imaginable, that is to say, faith not only without evidence but in the teeth of evidence. And it is even worse; there is no appeal to a God Who could reasonably do the feat that needs explaining. It is a miracle without God.

    The rationale that I have seen for this leap of faith is usually that “science” has solved all previous problems and will solve this one too. But this argument is wrong, on two counts. First, even if successful, it would only establish that there was relative parity between the argument for the supernatural origin of life and those for abiogenesis. We would still be completely dependent on faith to believe in abiogenesis.

    Second, and perhaps more importantly, “science” has in fact not solved all previous problems. Science has come up to a stone wall regarding the origin of the universe. In fact, “science” has come up to several difficult obstacles, issued promissory notes, and moved on without actually solving the problems. The origin of the Cambrian fauna is something that non-interventionalist evolutionary theory has simply postulated without fossil evidence. The origin of the flagellum in a step-by-step manner has never actually been demonstrated (the best try, that of Matzke, was actually a leap-by-leap explanation, and even then without any experimental evidence to back up his scenario). This insistence that nature must be self-contained is in fact faith against the weight of evidence.

    Now if you want to believe in abiogenesis by faith, I won’t begrudge you. But some of us prefer to be a little more evience-based.

  64. Paul Giem: congratulations on an admirable post @63.

  65. StephenB:

    Also, if I understand you correctly, the rationality of the universe is a self evident principle.

    Actually, I did not state is as self-evident, but merely as a postulate. Of course, there are many physical phenomena that naturally lead us to expectations of regularity (the diurnal cycle, the phase of the moon, the seasons). But is ALL the natural world rational? That to me is a postulate, not a conclusion. It is supported by the success at which its application to inquiry leads to discovery and understanding. Newton’s Laws, the Laws of Thermodynamics, Maxwell’s equations, Quantum Electrodynamics – these may all seem self-evident w, but they weren’t initially self-evident to their discoverers. To form those Theorys, in the face of all the challenges that we easily overlook, their discoverers needed first to believe (or at least postulate) that an underlying order was possible. Call it the postulate of a rational universe.

    The rational universe does come free to the theist. The universe could be constantly and permanently in motion at the whim of an unpredictable God. The planets move because God wills them to move. (Or gods – the pantheist, lacking a sense of parsimony, assigns a unique god to each planet.) The intermediaries of gravitation, the inverse square law, action at a distance: these are cold rules of rationality neither explicit nor implicit in a faith in God.

    Also, I note that the Explanatory Filter offers three outcomes: law, chance, or design. The agency of God would, given adequate specificity, fall under “design”. A rational universe would fall under “law”. You seem to be tying “design” and “law” together, or claiming that law is preceded by design, with God the agent behind both. (If that is the case, why not go for the trifecta, and make Him the agent behind chance as well. There is plenty of precedent for it in insurance underwriting, which classifies severe and unpredictable meteorological events as “Acts of God”.) I do not see how it follows that IF a natural laoverns some aspect of the natural world (gravitation, and the movement of planets, for example) THEN that law must have a designer. It is not, in my mind, a reasonable inference, but an act of faith. It certainly isn’t an inference incorporated in the EF.

    Paul Giem:
    I share StephenB’s opinion of your post, and look forward to an opportunity to reply. Alas, at the immediate moment, other duty’s call…

  66. This time WITHOUT the tags:

    “I do not see how it follows that IF a natural law governs some aspect of the natural world (gravitation, and the movement of planets, for example) THEN that law must have a designer.”

  67. Tom NH what do you mean by “natural” law! I have long been pondering the mystic statements by Materialists! What do they mean when they say “Nature created this and Nature created that?” How does Nature create and who is Nature? It seems like it is used when there is no explanation for a phenomenon!

  68. tb

    It seems like it [law] is used when there is no explanation for a phenomenon!

    Precisely the opposite! Science invokes a theory, or a law, or an equation, or a principle (it’s not an orderly naming process) whenever it DOES discover an explanation.

    Newton’s Three Laws of Motion are a perfect example of natural law. They are not “anybody”, but they certainly seem to apply to “every thing”. They are postulates, and form a Theory, but they work so well and so universally that Science honors them with the lofty title of “Law”. Even Einstein’s Relativity was never so honored.

    The question is, what do we do when there is NOT an explanation? The Explanatory Filter is certainly one attempt to answer that question. And note: the very first tap on the filter is “Law”.

    HTH.

  69. Tom TH obviously a natural law is something that applies everywhere in the system then, yet we cannot (without invoking God, or Nature) know why it exists nor how it came into existence.

    In my last post I was actually trying to make the point that: from a materialistic viewpoint, the last authority more or less is “Nature” or the agnostic statement “We don’t know all the bits and pieces yet!”.

    e.g.
    “Nature produced Life! How? Probably through some evolutionary process, yet we don’t have all the information to say for sure!”

    From a theist viewpoint the last authority is God
    e.g.
    “God created Life! How? We have a couple pointers Bible, Koran etc…!

    Thus, if you say that natural law is not invoking a designer, it invokes ever present Nature or an agnostic statement.

    How can there be a law without a lawmaker? Who is the lawmaker in your eyes?

  70. Tom MH: Thanks again for your thoughtful response. I think I understand where we agree and disagree. So, all I can say is, fair enough.

    Here is the part that I don’t understand, though. Why is it reasonable to propose a law without a lawmaker? In the same sense, why would anyone propose a painting without acknowledging the existence of the painter? Methodological naturalism, for example, insists the scientist should investigate the painting as if it wasn’t painted. The theist makes the reasonable inference about the existence of the first cause in both cases, reminiscent of Aristotle’s “prime mover.” What I understand you to be saying is that the materialist, by proposing that there is no lawmaker or no painter, is being just as reasonable as the theist who reasons back to a first cause.

    —-Also, you write, “You seem to be tying “design” and “law” together, or claiming that law is preceded by design, with God the agent behind both. (If that is the case, why not go for the trifecta, and make Him the agent behind chance as well…….”I do not see how it follows that IF a natural law governs some aspect of the natural world…, THEN that law must have a designer.”

    I would say that purpose or teleology underlies all of these things, though “chance” poses special problems, which is complicated enough to merit a separate discussion. (I reject the theistic evolutionists solution, which subjectivizes chance, and propose instead that the solution may be found in God’s ordained will vs. God’s permissive will. [But that is a long drawn out explanation]) However, the following sequence makes perfect sense to me: observe movement, observe the regularity of the movement, infer order from the observed regularity, and infer one who orders from the inferred order. Call it a Thomistic formulation.
    The explanatory filter does not go about things in exactly that way. It begins with a historical fact. Outside of law, chance, or intelligent agency, nothing else has ever been detected as an explanation for any event. That assumption could be wrong, of course, but it seems like a very good place to start because it goes all the way back to Plato and has never been shown to be false. To me, it seems like a much more dependable way of doing business than assuming, as materialist Darwinism does, that everything we know can be explained by law and chance.

    Indeed, we already know that this cannot be the case since we all think and make decisions, meaning that we ourselves are causal agents. The materialist, therefore, must take a giant leap of faith and deny the common sense conclusion that almost everyone arrives at, namely, that we all have a measure of free will. In spite of their public protests to the contrary, Darwinists must know deep down that we all think and make decisions. If it were not so, they would never try to persuade anyone about anything.

  71. 71

    Why is it reasonable to propose a law without a lawmaker?

    Early scientists believed that God the Creator was also God the Lawgiver. When they came by a highly successful explanation of their observations of God’s creation, they assumed that they had discovered God’s law. The history of science tells us that the early scientists were naive. Early “laws” have been replaced by better explanations. Yet the use of law for an inferred principle persists.

    In my mind, it is blasphemous to go proclaiming that we have discovered the Laws by which God’s Creation abides when we have merely found ways of putting together a few pieces of a massive puzzle.

  72. 72

    In my mind, it is blasphemous to go proclaiming that we have discovered the Laws by which God’s Creation abides when we have merely found ways of putting together a few pieces of a massive puzzle.
    And we’ve barely started!

  73. 73

    And we’ve barely started!

    (Curse you, blockquote truncation monster.)

  74. —–Atticus Finch: “Early scientists believed that God the Creator was also God the Lawgiver. When they came by a highly successful explanation of their observations of God’s creation, they assumed that they had discovered God’s law. The history of science tells us that the early scientists were naive. Early “laws” have been replaced by better explanations. Yet the use of law for an inferred principle persists.”

    That may be so, but the broader point remains. To the extent that a law is present, a lawgiver is indicated. That a phenomenon can be explained in a better way does not change its reality or the fact that it points to order.

    —–”In my mind, it is blasphemous to go proclaiming that we have discovered the Laws by which God’s Creation abides when we have merely found ways of putting together a few pieces of a massive puzzle.”

    What would be the alternative? To say that we know nothing at all about God’s creation? Where did anyone say that science provides us with a complete account of the big picture? Should we discount what we do know on the grounds that don’t know very much?

  75. 76

    To the extent that a law is present, a lawgiver is indicated.

    Words have multiple senses. Running a computer is not the same as running a marathon. A scientific law is not the same as a civil law. A civil law is a decree. A scientific law is a human attempt to capture regularity in observations of nature. No scientific law accounts perfectly for observations. Shall we say that nature is breaking the law? Of course not. The fact that “law of nature” is merely a metaphor is evident when one considers that nature “breaks” to some degree every law “discovered” (concocted) by humankind. Nature “breaks the law” only because our explanations of observations are imperfect.

    A further complication is that our scientists have inferred multiple “laws” giving conflicting accounts of observations. William James made various insightful comments about this one hundred years ago. See Pluralism, Pragmatism, and Instrumental Truth.

    What would be the alternative? To say that we know nothing at all about God’s creation?
    It is impossible to say whether we know anything about God’s creation. We can talk about our explanations, and be be very honest about the fact that explanations are not revelations.

  76. Atticus:

    Nature “breaks the law” only because our explanations of observations are imperfect.

    Correct. Violate civil law (as you are free to do) and you are potentially in trouble. Violate a “Law” of nature, and the LAW is in trouble.

    It might be better if we avoid the term “law” in favor of the more generic term “theory” (as long we as agree that we are speaking of a scientific theory, and not merely some hypothesis). (To be a scientific theory, it must have some explanatory power and the ability to make testable predictions.) We might also do well to keep in mind the inherent provisionality of theories, even the ones so well-endowed with evidence that the are honored with the mantle of “Law” (e.g. the Laws of Thermodynamics, or Newton’s Laws of Motion [but note, his "Theory of Universal Gravitation" only gets to be a "theory"!]). And finally, we shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming the theory is the thing itself. Theories have no reality, they are only mental constructs for what reality might be and how it might behave.

    Theories are created by humans. The evidence for or against them are not (or better darn well not be).

    That the universe appears to behave in testably predictable ways is an observation at least as old as history. If you wish to believe that it behaves that way because God wills it, so be it, but I do not think that is a logical fallout of a belief in God (who, being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, could be guiding each and every particle and fluctuation). IOW a rational universe is an additional postulate you must make. And if you believe miracles occur, then in effect you believe that sometimes God chooses to change the rules, occasionally and in an unpredictable way (or else they’d be observable and testable phenomena). So that is yet ANOTHER commitment of faith.

  77. Tom MH:

    Atticus:

    If you don’t like the word law, then by all means, describe the phenomenon in another way. The point is, it can’t come into existence on its own. The big bang was it’s origin, whatever it is or whatever you want to call it. We now know for a fact that “it” wasn’t always there.

    From a philsophical perspective, the cosmological argument still holds: we observe movement, we also observe that the movement is regular, we infer order from the regular movement, and we infer a designer from the order.

    Once again, hearken back to Aristotle and Aquinas. The law of “infinite regress” applies here. Once movement is observed, we are bound to reason back to the “prime mover.” This cannot be ignored or dimissed.

  78. Actually there is a big difference between the faith on display in modern theoretical science and religious faith. Religious faith is reasonable, while many of our theories of being are not.

    Faith is not the same thing as reason, but at least the Christian faith is in accord with reason. According to Christianity, God exists, and God is love; hence “all things work together for good to those who love God.” The statement is reasonable based upon the premises.

    Moreover, believers find confirmation for this statement in experience. They can use it to identify signs of supernatural forces at work in their lives, connecting them with a mate, closing some doors and opening others, delivering them from evil, supplying their needs, etc.

    Darwinism, on the other hand, is opposed to reason. This becomes increasingly clear as the miracle of life is unfolded through painstaking basic research. We now know what Darwin could not have known: It is contrary to reason to believe that life can come from that which is not life.

    The Bible is perfectly harmonized as a rational whole; astonishing, considering that it was the work of many hands. Once its first premises are understood, everything else fits in and makes perfect sense.

    For example, we are told that the “the meek shall inherit the earth.” This picture of reality may seem counterintuitive, but it fits in perfectly well with the notion that man is a fallen creature and that the fall came about through the spirit of emulation.

    Meanwhile the only way to make Darwinism coherent is to reject meekness. Darwinists attempt to account for civilized values through evolutionary psychology, but meekness cannot be harmonized with natural selection. It becomes an excrescent value.

    Faith and reason are perfectly harmonized in Christianity. Faith in Darwinism cannot be supported by reason, however, and leads to uncivilized behavior.

  79. From a philsophical perspective, the cosmological argument still holds: we observe movement, we also observe that the movement is regular, we infer order from the regular movement, and we infer a designer from the order.

    The first statment is observation, the second and third are the postulation of a Theory, and the fourth looks to me like a leap of faith. Assigning the regularities of nature to a Creator is not required by the scientifc method, which embraces only theory and observation.

    If you wish to point me to some Aristotle or Aquinas that might change my mind, I am open to that.

  80. Paul Giem @ 63:

    I did promise a response.

    Yes, we can both readily agree that abiogenesis is a historical fact – even if we presently do not know the particulars of when, where, or how – of an event that took place some time between the Big Bang and now. I’m happy to rule out the silliness of aliens, fertile meteors, time-travelers, and robots.

    Some other comments on your post, not necessarily in order.

    t even possible without the intervention of some kind of intelligence? We certainly don’t know the answer is yes by any kind of scientific experimentation. In fact, all our experiments to date argue that the answer is no.
    Neither yes nor no, but “don’t know”. Certainly HUMAN intelligence has so far failed to accomplish abiogenesis. If and when we do, that success would presumably hold important clues for how it might (or might not) occur in nature.

    The only way to show that a scientific theory is valid (or not) is to form the theory, make predictions contingent on the theory, and conduct experiments to confirm or deny the predictions. No such tests of natural abiogenesis have been performed because AFAIK no such theory exists! I am not a biologist, or even a scientist (just in case anyone might think I was), but I have read things on the web about “RNA World”, and “Lipid World”, and while I don’t have the relevant expertise to evaluate those ideas on their technical merits, I am struck by how provisional and tentative they seem. Perhaps a good start, but not yet a real theory.

    No theory, nothing to prove or falsify. We’re still stuck at “don’t know”.

    Are there

    mes at which there is evidence for a singularity? Are there any other times when the laws of physics fail to explain the observed phenomena?

    You use of “singularity” to describe abiogenesis is novel to me, but a bit troubling. When applying the (known) laws of physics to the conditions of the early universe, we see they break down at points close to zero – predictive models fail, parameters race away to infinities, that sort of thing. Hence “singularity”. What analogous breakdown of natural laws occur in abiogenesis?

    t is that it is generally recognized that the spontaneous generation of life is at least difficult and rare.

    It certainly is now, but the pre-biotic world was necessarily different then the world we live in today. The ubiquity of bacteria alone is probably enough to doom any natural abiogenesis today, by turning the requisite pre-biotic materials into dinner.

    [B]elief in abiogenesis allows us to view the universe as completely (well, except for quantum mechanics and the Big Bang itself), explained by cause-effect relations.

    But it is heavily faith-based. We have no experimental evidence for this belief, and the theoretical problems appear insoluble. We have here belief against all the evidence, analogous to the most daring leaps of religious faith imaginable, that is to say, faith not only without evidence but in the teeth of evidence.

    Perhaps the only faith I can see involved is the postulate of the rational universe: that natural events are governed by discoverable rules of regularity. But as I said in an earlier post (in paragraphs presumably not eaten by the blockquote monster), the entire scientific enterprise hangs off that postulate. It’s worked pretty good – why stop now?

    Nor do I see “belief against all evidence”. Lacking a coherent theory of natural abiogenesis, there is precious little to believe IN, or pose evidences against. Lists of ways that abiogenesis could not happen do not reduce the likelihood that it DID or COULD happen. As you said in a previous paragraph, “this could be one more area where our information is incomplete”. What is wrong with “we don’t know”? Or the more hopeful “we don’t know yet”?
    >
    And it is even worse; there is no appeal to a God Who could reasonably do the feat that needs explaining. It is a miracle without God.

    We didn’t understand the motion of the planets for a very long time. Fifteen centuries stand between Ptolemy and Newton. At what point during that time would it have been reasonable to declare the problem hopeless for natural law and hand it to a God Who could reasonably do the feat that needs explaining?

    And if you believe that nature – the universe, this world – and the laws that govern it are God’s miracles, then how could abiogenesis be a miracle without God?

  81. allanius wrote:

    “Moreover, believers find confirmation for this statement in experience. They can use it to identify signs of supernatural forces at work in their lives, connecting them with a mate, closing some doors and opening others, delivering them from evil, supplying their needs, etc”.

    The problem I have with such sentiment, laudable as it is, is what do you say to people who have known nothing but lack of choices, poverty and suffering?

    Are you saying such unfortunate people have a lack of faith? Or are you saying they have faith in the wrong thing maybe?

  82. Tom MH: Thanks agains for your patience.

    —–You wrote, “If you wish to point me to some Aristotle or Aquinas that might change my mind, I am open to that.”

    Let me offer an abbreviated version of a couple of items:

    I find the argument from motion persuasive. Everything that moves has to be moved by another thing. I take that as a self evident principle similar to the other beginning axioms that reason must begin with. From the observation of motion, it is fairly straightforward. The chain of movers cannot go on to infinity, another key assumption necessary to reason. We must arrive, therefore, at a first mover, as both Aristotle and Aquinas conclude.

    The argument from contingency seems to hold as well. Something obviously exists now, and something never sprang from nothing. As someone put it, “being itself must have been without a beginning.” Something eternal must be admitted, either by the theist or the materialist. In order for contingency to be possible, something necessary and eternal must exist. The physical universe cannot be that eternal something, because science confirms its age at 13.7 billion years. Obviously, it did not bring itself into being. Since something must be eternal, and since the universe is not eternal, I submit that an eternal created being is the logical conclusion.

  83. StephenB,
    Both

    Everything that moves has to be moved by another thing.

    and

    The chain of movers cannot go on to infinity

    Cannot both be true, no matter what words you put in between them. If nothing that is created can exist without a creator then the chain falls apart simply by asking what created the creator of everything.

    Therefore the solution is likely to lie outside what mere words can represent.

    The physical universe cannot be that eternal something, because science confirms its age at 13.7 billion years.

    I know some members of this board, FTK most notably among them, would vehmently disagree with that statement. So maybe the physical universe could after all be eternal part you require, but created with apparent age but from that point on existing for eternity?

  84. Baldwin: “Are you saying such unfortunate people have a lack of faith? Or are you saying they have faith in the wrong thing maybe?”

    This of course is part of the theodicity problem, forever a thorn in the side of traditional religion, prompting endless tortuous, convoluted reasoning on the part of theologians.

  85. 86

    Tom MH: “Violate civil law (as you are free to do) and you are potentially in trouble. Violate a “Law” of nature, and the LAW is in trouble.”

    Well said.

    “It might be better if we avoid the term ‘law’ in favor of the more generic term ‘theory’ (as long we as agree that we are speaking of a scientific theory, and not merely some hypothesis).”

    I’m all for dropping the term “law,” but I don’t want to join you in suggesting that categorization of scientific explanations is simple. Even with restriction to scientific usage, the word “theory” has multiple meanings. Note first that “theory” can serve as a mass noun, denoting a collection of theories. The most important example of this is “Darwin’s theory of evolution,” which, in Ernst Mayr’s analysis, comprises five theories, including the “theory of use and disuse” rejected by the scientific community.

    We all were taught the “hypothesis to theory to law” progression in the context of the scientific method. In actual scientific usage, “laws” are usually components of theories. Einstein’s “e = mc^2″ is widely regarded a law, but it is not the whole of the special theory of relativity.

    Many physicists referred to “string theory” long before anyone came up with ways to test it. It seems that some scientists value mathematical consistency of models so highly that testability is an afterthought. By the way, there’s a weird and wonderful relationship between “theory” and “model” in actual scientific discourse.

    The upshot is that there is no simple characterization of scientific usage of “theory.” ID has a lot of wiggle room here, and I prefer to press for precise meanings of “intelligence,” “information,” and “design” as pical entities.

  86. 87

    Last comment ended, “I prefer to press for precise meanings of ‘intelligence,’ ‘information,’ and ‘design’ as PHYSICAL entities.

  87. Atticus

    I prefer to press for precise meanings of “intelligence,” “information,” and “design” as pical entities.

    What units is “information” measured in here?

  88. I. Everything that moves has to be moved by another thing. And—

    That chain of movers cannot go on to infinity.

    —– M. Baldwin wrote, “these two points (A and B) “cannot both be true, no matter what words you put in between them. If nothing that is created can exist without a creator then the chain falls apart simply by asking what created the creator of everything.”

    As it turns out, this is not the case. The end of the chain must result in a “causeless cause,” which is the essence of the argument. Thus, Bertrand Russell’s famous and confused question, “Who made God?” misunderstands the argument. The causeless cause is, by definition, unmade, meaning, self existent. Not only are A and B both true, both things must be true.”

    II. The physical universe cannot be that eternal something, because science confirms its age at 13.7 billion years.

    —–M. Baldwin: “I know some members of this board, FTK most notably among them, would vehmently disagree with that statement.

    What makes you think that?

    —–M. Baldwin: “So maybe the physical universe could after all be eternal part you require, but created with apparent age but from that point on existing for eternity?”

    If the universe was created, then it is obviously not self existent even if it does go on existing forever.

  89. StephenB,
    I understand, all causes need a causer apart from the ones that don’t. That works out well for one particular position, I’ll give you that!

  90. 91

    Tom MH says, “Theories have no reality, they are only mental constructs for what reality might be and how it might behave.”

    What you’re driving at is of the essence in the ID debate. But theories are abstract, not “mental.”

    The error of assigning physical reality to an abstraction is called hypostatization or reification. Many scientists steer clear of reification in technical writing, but reveal in their informal comments that they in fact think of abstractions appearing in models as physical reality.

    Psychologists who study “intelligence” are fairly good at owning up to it as an abstraction. They understand that the only way to observe intelligence scientifically is to define it operationally. They don’t believe that an animal they say exhibits “intelligence” by one or more of their definitions actually has physical intelligence “inside” it.

    The situation is not so clear in quantum mechanics, where some scientists proclaim that “information is physical” while others regard it as an abstraction. In my opinion, “information is physical” is simply reification. See Quantum Information Theory and the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, by Chris Timpson, a philosopher at Oxford University.

    Whether ID is or can be science depends critically on the claim that intelligence is a physical, but non-material, source of physical, but non-material, information. To be honest, the jury is out on the matter of “information is physical.” To be brutally honest, I have seen no one in the ID camp attempt to define “intelligence” rigorously, let alone argue for its physical reality. It seems we all “just know” from experience that intelligence creates information. Evidently we are also supposed to “just know” that “intelligence is physical” because “information is physical.” This is, of course, a false inference.

  91. 92

    StephenB: “The point is, it [order] can’t come into existence on its own. The big bang was it’s origin, whatever it is or whatever you want to call it.”

    Actually, all we can do is attempt to explain what we perceive. And we know we don’t perceive all that is or has been. Random configurations have orderly regions. That is, the complete absence of order is unlikely to arise randomly.

    No one can rule out multiverses. The number of them does not have to be infinite for the probability that one of the “universes” is orderly to be high. Please do not jump to the conclusion that I am pinning hopes on large numbers. My point is purely that we don’t know.

    You seem to accept standard “Big Bang” cosmology, which cosmologists acknowledge has some Big Problems. The fact is that a space probe is collecting data that should permit testing of the standard model and two models of a cyclic universe (i.e., a universe going through a succession of bangs and crunches) against one another. You and I don’t need to speculate on the results.

    The universe is cyclic in Hindu cosmology. If a cyclic scientific model were to replace the Big Bang model, would you treat it as evidence that the religious beliefs of Hindus are true and those of Jews, Christians, and Muslims are false? Would you say that scientists must have gotten things wrong? In fact, the Steinhardt-Turok cyclic model preserves the correct predictions of the Big Bang model, but would fix the Big Bang model’s problem with the cosmological constant. If accepted, it can only improve on the present standard model.

    Should scientific modeling be constrained by belief on faith that only some things can be true? Should faith be shaken if scientific models depart from what one believes is true?

  92. 93

    “That chain of movers cannot go on to infinity.”

    But an entity that can create the least something out of nothing can also create anything whatsoever out of nothing, including something that has always been. The notion that creation must happen in time, rather than that time is created, is sheer human bias.

  93. 94

    M.Baldwin asked, “What units is “information” measured in here?”

    You can’t talk about units of information until you define “information.” Perhaps you meant to ask what type of information. Recall that I was focused on information as a physical entity, not an abstraction.

  94. M. Baldwin, the admirable parsimony of your post 74 has not gone unnoticed or, now, unremarked.

  95. 96
    Thomas Cudworth

    It’s good to see BarryA back, after an apparent absence of a few days, and in fine, witty form as well.

    Now that he’s back, I for one would be interested to hear him further explain the remark he made in comment #7, in light of the objections and questions raised about it in #s 8, 9, 43, and 44.

  96. Atticus

    You can’t talk about units of information until you define “information.” Perhaps you meant to ask what type of information. Recall that I was focused on information as a physical entity, not an abstraction.

    Then it should be even easier to answer my question! We know what, for example, the units of mass are, energy etc. These are also “physical entitys”. In the context you are using, where information is a physical entity, what units are you measuring it in?

  97. Actually, I’m not laboring under the delusion that it makes any difference what I have to say about suffering and whether the poor or sick can experience the reality of God through the claim that “all things work together for good to those who love God.” Please understand that from my point of view, the “I” spoils anything that I might say.

    But since you asked, it is interesting to note that Christianity, alone among world religions, declares its mission to be to “preach the good news to the poor.” Christ did not value the things the world values. He did not equate wealth or power with happiness—the “kingdom of heaven.” In fact he said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven.

    From the Biblical point of view, it is entirely possible for the poor and sick to experience a kind of blessing that cannot be found in our rich, neurotic society—because they know that they are poor. They know that they need God. They are in a position to obtain the psychological blessing that comes from clinging to God and God alone; clinging to his power instead of to “the world.”

    In that sense, Paul’s statement can be said to have more meaning for the poor than it does for those of us who are rich in things. The poor man is in a position to see the hand of God more clearly in his life because there is nothing standing in his way—no pride, no vanity. This is why Christ counseled the rich young man to sell everything he had and give it to the poor if he wanted to inherit life.

    From the Biblical point of view, the rich are poor because they have nothing to hope for, while the poor are rich because they live on hope. The Bible has a rather dark view of “the world” and those who obtain power and prominence in it. The most soulful song in the Bible is soulful specifically because it says that “he has filled the hungry with good things, but the rich he has sent empty away.”

    Finally, the Bible is very decidedly on the side of the poor. The law demands justice for the poor. It prohibits a farmer from going over his field twice; he must leave the gleanings for the poor. It also requires periodic forgiveness of debt. Isaiah 58 reveals the nature of the law when it declares that true fasting is to give bread to the hungry and shelter to the poor. And Christ says that “the sheep” will be known because they are the ones who gave meat to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, and visited the sick.

    Perhaps it is when we do these things that the poor and sick can experience the reality of God and the truth of the statement that “all things work together for good to those who love God.”

  98. In [96] Thomas Cudworth notes my recent absense and askes if I’m going to respond to certain comments I made in the discussion thread.

    Yes, I have been gone. I have a day job and have been putting in some long hours over the last few days. To your question, let me set the stage:

    pubdef asked in [4]: “Is the Christian’s faith in the existence of God similarly subject to revision based on new data?”

    I responded in [7]: “Yes. An excellent read on this topic is “The Skeleton in God’s Closet” by Paul Maier, which explores this question: “What would happen to Christianity if we suddenly received irrefutable proof that Jesus’ body had been found?”
    Paul (the apostle, not Maier) writes that if Christ has not been raised, our faith is in vain. If Jesus body were found, I would succumb to despair, because at that point I would know that materialists’ assertion that our existence is pointless would be true.”

    To which William J. Murray responded in [8]: “No, you would only know that your faith wasn’t true. You wouldn’t know that materialists are right. There are other spiritual and religious faiths in the world.”

    And avocationist commented in [43]: “With all due respect, I find this comment almost bizarre. Are there not many monotheists in the world who are not Christian? Does the Moslem or Hindu or American Indian who spoke so often of “The Creator” have no reason to believe in God?”

    And Timaeus chimed in in [44]: “If Jesus was not raised, then historical, orthodox Christianity would be false. But then Christians would still be free to embrace Judaism, which worships the same God that Jesus worshipped, and which possesses the same creation doctrine that Jesus endorsed. Isn’t it “over the top” to suggest that for believing Jews “existence is pointless”?”

    Yes, the practitioners of these other religions have reason to believe in God for the simple reason that the God of the Bible – not just any God – exists.

    God has revealed Himself to every person through His creation. Theologians call this the “general revelation.” The general revelation alone is sufficient to compel a belief in God. Therefore, it is not surprising that the overwhelming majority of the people in the world believe in God.

    I believe the God the practitioners of these other religions believe in is the God revealed in the Bible, the “specific revelation” of the Christian faith. Because I believe the Bible, I have placed all of my hope in Christ and Christ alone, and if I were presented with irrefutable proof the resurrection did not occur, my faith would be crushed and I would despair. After reflecting on the matter, I would despair not because the materialists are right, but because I would know my faith has been in vain.

    It is a little difficult to discuss this issue, because it is like discussing the question “what would you do if you found out green is really red?” Well, green isn’t red and it is impossible for it to be red. Similarly, Christ has risen, and it is impossible for me to believe he has not.

  99. —–Atticus Finch: “Actually, all we can do is attempt to explain what we perceive. And we know we don’t perceive all that is or has been. Random configurations have orderly regions. That is, the complete absence of order is unlikely to arise randomly.?

    Even if we abandon the idea of order altogether (not a good idea) we can still know that a prime mover is needed to set things in motion. Things don’t cause themselves.

    —–“No one can rule out multiverses. The number of them does not have to be infinite for the probability that one of the “universes” is orderly to be high. Please do not jump to the conclusion that I am pinning hopes on large numbers. My point is purely that we don’t know.”

    To resort to multiverse theory is to give up on rationality altogether. No one could ever hope to analyze such an entity. If we don’t live in one universe, and unless it is a rational place, science, reason, and all rational discourse are lost forever.

    —–“You seem to accept standard “Big Bang” cosmology, which cosmologists acknowledge has some Big Problems. The fact is that a space probe is collecting data that should permit testing of the standard model and two models of a cyclic universe (i.e., a universe going through a succession of bangs and crunches) against one another. You and I don’t need to speculate on the results.”

    Big bang cosmology is so compelling that the atheist scientists who didn’t want it to be true were dragged in kicking and screaming.

    —–“The universe is cyclic in Hindu cosmology. If a cyclic scientific model were to replace the Big Bang model, would you treat it as evidence that the religious beliefs of Hindus are true and those of Jews, Christians, and Muslims are false?”

    If the cyclical model accurately reflected the evidence, and that evidence indicated that the universe had no beginning, then yes, I would say such a finding should encourage Hindus and discourage Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It would challenge all of the ideas that make Christianity plausible, such as “design,” “fine tuning,” “dark matter,” and of course, “ExNihilo creation”. Of course, it is also the case that the big bang theory, the current model, challenges Hinduism right now. Still, science is one way but not the only way to test the reasonableness of a religion.

    —–“Should scientific modeling be constrained by belief on faith that only some things can be true?

    It seems to me that scientific modeling ought to be motivated by a search for truth and nothing else. That means that everything should be on the table. One of the principles of right reason is that true faith and true science cannot contradict each other, since there is only one truth. So, there is no reason to be inhibited about constructing new models.

    —–“Should faith be shaken if scientific models depart from what one believes is true?”

    Probably not. Science is always provisional and new information is always coming in. On the other hand, if one acquires numerous facts in a variety of contexts that render one’s belief system implausible, then the believer should take pause. Offering an assent of the intellect to a revealed truth is a major commitment, and it should be done only if the religion in question passes the test of reason. Testing that religion would include investigating the claims and the character of its founder, studying its history; judging its tenets according to the principles of right reason; observing the morality of its adherents; examining its record for producing a well-ordered society; and comparing each aspect against those of the other religions, including the religions of atheism and agnosticism. Not surprisingly, those last two belief systems are the first to fail the test.

    In any case, there is no such thing as a person without a religion, even if that religion is no more than a worship of self, which, by the way, is the flip side of atheism. Everyone submits. The only two relevant queestions are these: [A] To what does one submit, meaning, what is the object of worship? [B] Does that thing or person deserve assent of the intellect and submission of the will?

  100. Thank you, Barry, for that very beautiful confession. I know the rules of the game here, but still it is sweet to see that, unlike me, some of us are not afraid to be “fools for Christ”; to be “known and yet unknown.” Your courage lends courage to others.

  101. 102
    Thomas Cudworth

    I thank BarryA (@99) for his answer. If I understand him correctly now, he is saying that even non-Christians do not need to “despair” about the existence of God, because there is sufficient evidence for his existence even without the Bible. And if believing in God means that one does not accept materialism, then one does not need the Bible in order to reject materialism.

    If I understand another part of his answer, he is also saying that he also believes, for independent reasons, that the God accessible to Christians and non-Christians alike (through the observation of nature) is the Biblical God, and that he believes this in no small part because of the resurrection of Jesus. If it could be shown that Jesus’s body is still cold in the grave, then this identification (of the Christian God with the God revealed in nature) would no longer be possible, and Christians would “despair” over the hopes they had placed in Jesus specifically. Yet, I think Barry is conceding, they would not be forced to give up God, so their despair would be a relative despair, so to speak, rather than an absolute despair.

    Finally, he appears to be saying that the possibility of separating the Christian God from the God known through reason and nature, while a theoretical possibility, is not an existential possibility for him personally. For him, the two are inextricably intertwined.

    In light of this, Barry’s comment, which sounded extreme in its original compressed form, does not seem to be asserting anything out of the ordinary. In its original form, however, it sounded as if the discovery of the body of Jesus would necessarily turn Barry into an atheist and materialist, and hence, presumably, into someone opposed to intelligent design. I think that the other posters were right to note that such an extreme reaction would not be logically required, and it sounds as if Barry agrees with them.

  102. It is interesting that so many responded to Barry A’s frank comments with raised eyebrows. Political correctness has become so imbedded in our culture, that even in a forum such as this, polite company mandates that no one should even hint at the prospect that one religion could possibly offer more than another. It is a very strange thing when you think about it. What could be more important than the choice of one’s defining world view? Such a commitment would seem to merit thoughtfulness at the highest level.

    But that is not the way we think about things. Indeed, the very idea that someone could choose his religion based on rational criteria offends our egalitarian impulses. In like fashion, the notion that someone could fall into despair over the loss of his religion evokes the same kinds of response. It implies that all religions may not be equal or even equally rational, meaning, of course, that an alternative would view would not suffice for the one that was lost.

    Our cultural zeitgeist demands that we use irrational criteria to make such choices. It’s perfectly fine, for example, to accept without question the faith of your parents, or to join a religious community for economic reasons, or to convert in order to marry. As long as we do it that way, no one seems to mind.

    I often ask folks to explain why they converted from one faith to another, and, more often that not the answer is, “It just seemed right for me.” At other times, I have heard people say, “because the group made me feel so welcome.” For others, it is simply a matter of proximity. Someone once asked Mahatma Ghandi, for example, to explain why he was a Hindu, to which he answered, “Because I was born in India, of course.”

    Given that expectation, it is only natural, I suppose, that several people were taken aback by Barry A’s answer. As novel as it sounds, he seems to accept his religion for the most politically incorrect reason imaginable. He thinks it’s true. What a novel idea. No wonder everyone feels so put out.

  103. Tom MH, (81)

    Thank you for your reply. And thank you for the background information, including that you are not a scientist, let alone a biologist. It helps me to understand better where you are coming from.

    It appears rather that you get your information largely from websites. That explains why the arguments you advanced sounded so familiar to me. They are standard spin. And they are, quite frankly, ludicrous to one who is familiar with the biochemistry involved. But not being able to form independent judgments, you might easily not have noticed. So I’ll try to spell it out for you.

    The first spin it the attempt to change “in all probability no” into “we don’t know yet.” You say,

    [BLOCKQUOTE--Take that, blockquote monster]

    Neither yes nor no, but “don’t know”. Certainly HUMAN intelligence has so far failed to accomplish abiogenesis. If and when we do, that success would presumably hold important clues for how it might (or might not) occur in nature.
    [/BLOCKQUOTE]

    Again, you say,

    [BLOCKQUOTE]
    No theory, nothing to prove or falsify. We’re still stuck at “don’t know”.
    [/BLOCKQUOTE]

    Then, finally, you ask,

    [BLOCKQUOTE]
    What is wrong with “we don’t know”? Or the more hopeful “we don’t know yet”?
    [/BLOCKQUOTE]

    This kind of reasoning, if carried on consistently, would destroy science. What it does is take the principle of doubt, turn it inflexible, and apply it with no sense of nuance whatsoever.

    It is true that philosophy cannot determine the structure of the universe. Socrates and his friends, as recorded by Plato, tried and came up with four elements, and in medicine, this worked out to four humors. We all know how well *that* worked out. It is also true that induction is not absolute, and that we can misunderstand the nature of natural law. Even falsification is not absolute, as the later Popper, and more modern philosophy of science, recognized. The principle of doubt thus has a theoretical basis.

    But that is not the same thing as saying that all theories have the same base of evidence behind them, and thus can be considered equally probable. The oxygen theory of combustion has vastly more evidence compatible with it than the phlogiston theory. It’s still theoretically possible for the phlogiston theory to be correct, but it is fair to say that believing the phlogiston theory requires faith in the teeth of the evidence.

    Let me ask you, what would be your reaction if a young earth creationist were to say, without giving any evidence whatsoever, “The only way to show that a scientific theory is valid (or not) is to form the theory, make predictions contingent on the theory, and conduct experiments to confirm or deny the predictions. No such tests of short-age theory of radiometric dating have been performed because AFAIK no such theory exists!” Suppose he went on to say, “What is wrong with ‘we don’t know’? Or the more hopeful ‘we don’t know yet’?” Would he really convince you that you should be effectively agnostic on the question? Wouldn’t you say that there should be at least some evidence before the theory is taken seriously?

    And yet, with only the change in subject from “short-age theory of radiometric dating” to “natural abiogenesis”, that is exactly the way you have argued. To be fair, the argument has been used before, and it is understandable that you tend to trust scientific websites. But rather than just repeat it, look at the argument critically. I think you’ll agree that it falls apart.

    It’s important to realize that it doesn’t fall apart just because of faulty philosophical premises. It could be true, and in 1800 it was true, that we didn’t know much about the subject. But it isn’t any more. That’s why I made the list of obstacles in the way of abiogenesis. The argument against abiogenesis is not a philosophical one; it is a scientific one. You have to understand, at least somewhat, the science before you can appreciate its force.

    Another example of spin is the claim that there is no theory to test. You refer to “RNA World” and “Lipid World” (and you might have referred to “Protein World”). Those are theories. When you say,

    [BLOCKQUOTE]
    “No such tests of natural abiogenesis have been performed because AFAIK no such theory exists! ”
    [/BLOCKQUOTE]

    and again,

    [BLOCKQUOTE]
    Nor do I see “belief against all evidence”. Lacking a coherent theory of natural abiogenesis, there is precious little to believe IN, or pose evidences against.
    [/BLOCKQUOTE]

    this is simply incorrect. The theories exist. They just aren’t supported by the evidence. To take just one example from the RNA World theory (mentioned in my previous post 63), RNA is supposed to polymerize with greater and greater complexity and function as time goes on according to the theory. Yet when RNA and the raw materials for RNA were put into a solution with RNA polymerase, the RNA sequences consistently shortened to the smallest fragments that would be reliably duplicated by the enzyme. That is, instead of evolution, we have devolution. This is actually understandable as survival of the fittest (who says the fittest has to be the biggest? If the only relevant function is reproduction, then smaller reproduces faster). But it doesn’t help the RNA to develop new functions, which it will need if it is to be a steppingstone to life.

    This idea that there is no theory to test is pure, unadulterated spin, meant to insulate OOL theories from reality. I’m sorry you got sucked in.

    You make an observation but miss its significance.

    [BLOCKQUOTE}
    Certainly HUMAN intelligence has so far failed to accomplish abiogenesis. If and when we do, that success would presumably hold important clues for how it might (or might not) occur in nature.
    [/BLOCKQUOTE}

    Try substituting "natural production of a quantum computer" for "abiogenesis". Would you really suspend all judgment if you found a quantum computer as to whether it was designed by someone with intelligence, if you found one somewhere, simply because we haven't been able to produce one yet? If We find a functional airplane on a previously unexplored planet, we could be reasonably certain that an intelligence had created it. Wouldn't the case be more, rather than less, certain if we found a quantum computer? The argument that since humans have not created life, nature is more likely to have done so on its own, is a complete non-sequitur.

    You say regarding the spontaneous generation of life being at least difficult and rare,
    [BLOCKQUOTE}
    It certainly is now, but the pre-biotic world was necessarily different then the world we live in today. The ubiquity of bacteria alone is probably enough to doom any natural abiogenesis today, by turning the requisite pre-biotic materials into dinner.
    [BLOCKQUOTE}

    The websites you visited do not give you the information that you need to make the appropriate judgments, and have thus kept you ignorant. But it has been calculated how thick the "primordial soup" was, and it turns out to be something like 10^-7 molar, more dilute than modern seawater. That is because the same processes that make amino acids, adenine, and so forth, also destroy them. Ultraviolet light in particular breaks down the prebiotic compounds. It isn't just bacteria that destroy those compounds. The fact that the websites you have visited have not mentioned this reveals their bias and/or ignorance.

    Since you are not really familiar with the evidence, and what familiarity you have is apparently gleaned from one-sided sources, it is perhaps understandable that you say,
    [BLOCKQUOTE}
    "Perhaps the only faith I can see involved is the postulate of the rational universe: that natural events are governed by discoverable rules of regularity. But as I said in an earlier post (in paragraphs presumably not eaten by the blockquote monster), the entire scientific enterprise hangs off that postulate. It’s worked pretty good – why stop now?
    [/BLOCKQUOTE}

    Would one of those rules of regularity be that life only comes from life? If so, does that not turn your reasoning on its head?

    The logic behind this statement is baffling on first reading:

    [BLOCKQUOTE}
    Lists of ways that abiogenesis could not happen do not reduce the likelihood that it DID or COULD happen.
    [/BLOCKQUOTE}

    In what other area of science does the elimination of the most promising ways for something to happen make no difference in the probability of something happening?

    Since we are talking about historical science, let me offer a parallel from forensics. Suppose we gain access to a house to find a body in the living room, missing its head, and when we proceed to the basement, we find the head in a freezer. DNA matches the two, and the person is known not to have a twin, by historical records and his parents' memory. It seems pretty evident that this is homicide. Further examination of the body establishes that the heart was beating when the head was severed.

    Let's suppose further that the house was inspected just before the deceased went in last night and that nobody was in the house, and the deceased was told not to let anyone in, and that he seemed frightened enough not to do so.

    Now if the door shows no evidence of forced entry, and the windows are all locked from the inside and not broken, and inspection of the walls shows now holes, and the basement walls and floor show no evidence of tunneling, ordinarily this would count as evidence against forced entry.

    But here is where it gets sticky. If one is sure that nobody but the deceased had a key, then all of these circumstances do not rule out forced entry, or even make it less likely. Someone had to get in somehow, and all we have done is rule out certain ways of getting in. Maybe there was some passage forced from under the eaves into the attic or something. But if we know that the deceased had a brother who had a key, suspicion has to increasingly fall on the brother. Of course, the brother's lawyer will insist that our inspection hasn't made forced entry any less likely. But this is true only for the lawyer, who "knows" that his client is not guilty and that somehow someone else must have forced entry into the house.

    Something analogous is happening here. The websites you have read "know" that supernatural intervention does not happen, and therefore abiogenesis must have happened spontaneously, and therefore since its probability is 1 be definition, closing of possible avenues for abiogenesis to have happened just means that we have not discovered the correct one yet. But for one who entertains the possibility that God created life, in whatever way He did, closing off those avenues increases the chances that in fact God did it. This person can easily see that an atheist perspective is being allowed to dictate the interpretation of the data for those who insist that failed theories of the origin of life do not make (unguided) abiogenesis any less likely.

    One can do that. But let's call it what it is. It is philosophy trumping scientific evidence.

    In fact, the stance you have outlined strains logic when you think about it. In what other field of science could one say, "I am struck by how provisional and tentative they [theories of seem. Perhaps a good start, but not yet a real theory." and claim that we are in a state of relative equipoise (as in "No theory, nothing to prove or falsify. We’re still stuck at 'don’t know'.")?

    You were uncomfortable with what you called my using "singularity" to describe abiogenesis. I am not stating that as a premise , but suggesting that as a possible conclusion. The term "singularity" seems to fit IMO because (1) it happens only once, thus making it a singular event, and (2) at that point one of the apparent laws of nature breaks down, namely, that life only comes from life. I don't have a big problem not using the word if it makes you uncomfortable, but the concepts that support that use would still be valid even if we no longer called the event a singularity.

    Now if you can demonstrate the spontaneous generation of life, or show that there is a reasonable theoretical pathway from non-life to life, then the conditions that caused me to suggest that the origin of life is a singularity would vanish, and it would no longer be appropriate for me to use the term. But to quote Sir Charles, "I can find out no such case."

    Finally, you seem to have misunderstood a part of what I said. and countered it with an irrelevancy. The original context of what I said was describing an option for explaining the origin of life:

    [BLOCKQUOTE]
    There are laws of which we are totally ignorant that can produce life from non-living material, without the intervention of intelligence.
    [/BLOCKQUOTE]

    This is obviously an option that leaves God out of the picture, at least for the origin of life, except for the possibility that He set up the laws. After criticizing this option for being belief against the experimental and theoretical evidence, I said (and you quoted):
    [BLOCKQUOTE]
    And it is even worse; there is no appeal to a God Who could reasonably do the feat that needs explaining. It is a miracle without God.
    [/BLOCKQUOTE]

    You then wrote two paragraphs. Taking the second one first.

    [BLOCKQUOTE]
    And if you believe that nature – the universe, this world – and the laws that govern it are God’s miracles, then how could abiogenesis be a miracle without God?
    [/BLOCKQUOTE]

    The way this is stated, if I believe that nature and the laws that govern it are God’s miracles, then how could abioegnesis be a miracle without God? My answer would be that I don’t think that abiogenesis happened, or at least that if you define abiogenesis as previously non-living matter becoming alive, that God did it. and that therefore for me it is a miracle with God.

    But perhaps when you used the word “you”, you really meant it is the generic, and it is analogous to “someone’. So what you really meant was “If someone believes that nature and nature’s laws were God’s miracles, that person could not properly say that abiogenesis was a miracle without God.” In that case I would agree, at least in a technical sense. There would be a God, in that case. If life resulted at some point as the result of nature and nature’s laws, it would no longer be a miracle, although if nature and nature’s laws had to be arranged in a very special way in order to make this happen, and it was not reproducible by us at will, then it would still qualify as a miracle, and if we insisted that God could not influence the event, in a sense it would be without God.

    The other paragraph was,

    [BLOCKQUOTE]
    We didn’t understand the motion of the planets for a very long time. Fifteen centuries stand between Ptolemy and Newton. At what point during that time would it have been reasonable to declare the problem hopeless for natural law and hand it to a God Who could reasonably do the feat that needs explaining?
    [/BLOCKQUOTE]

    Presumably the argument was meant to compare Ptolemy to believers in God’s intervention and Newton to believers in abiogenesis (without God). There are two problems with this assumed parallel and therefore with the argument. First, there is no evidence that Ptolemy believed that God moved the spheres that carried the sun, moon, and planets along, and that in contrast Newton had impersonal laws. Newton did believe in laws, but had no mechanism for gravity, and he certainly believed in God. On the other hand, correct me if I am wrong, but I do not believe that Ptolemy explicitly said what propelled the moving spheres that he envisioned. Ptolemy’s planetary system is every bit as mechanistic as Newton’s, and perhaps more so.

    Second, in contrast to the case you cite, where Ptolemy’s theory was supplanted by Newton’s, in science, belief in widespread abiogenesis has been supplanted by a belief that abiogenesis is impossible, except for some areligious believers and their religious imitators who are trying desperately for carve-out so as to keep God’s activity out of the universe, at least after it started. There is the insistence that history is going their way, when it is actually going in the opposite direction. That is a faith-based rewriting of history, and at present qualifies as a distortion.

    I would still make the point: All the experimental evidence we have points to life only arising from other life. All the theoretical models for how abiogenesis could have happened are presently foundering on the evidence. One can believe in abiogenesis anyway, But that is a faith-based position, against the weight of the evidence. That evidence points to an intelligent designer, and if we discount space aliens as you suggest, it points to a supernatural designer (or Designer).

  104. There is a sentence in (104) that was butchered and should reasd

    In what other field of science could one say, “I am struck by how provisional and tentative they [theories of some kind, in this case abiogenesis] seem.

  105. 106

    StephenB: “Even if we abandon the idea of order altogether (not a good idea) we can still know that a prime mover is needed to set things in motion. Things don’t cause themselves. Things don’t cause themselves.”

    Order and causation are ASSUMPTIONS of science. People who believe that science is the way to truth have essentially adopted them as articles of faith. The successes of science justify its assumptions no more than the successes in life of traditionally religious people justify their faith.

    It is important to avoid equivocal use of “causation.” For a scientist, causation is a relation on empirical phenomena — stuff he or she can observe, at least in principle, with the (perhaps aided) senses. A prime mover stands outside nature, and therefore is a fundamentally different sort of cause than what science addresses.

    Note that people “created in the image of God” are essentially secondary movers. In the context of ID, they are intelligent agents creating information out of nothing. The problem here, scientifically, is that no one has explained how to observe the cause, intelligence, and not just the effects.

    My personal belief that science should treat “intelligence” as an abstraction, and not a physical entity, predates my first encounter with ID by several decades. The question is not what is real, but what advances scientific explanation of empirical observations. This is not materialism, but pragmatism.

    By the way, I use the term “Creation” to refer to the very fact that existence manifests itself against nothingness. This is my choice, not something I can justify rationally. Yet the reality of Creation is for me a higher truth than any of the instrumental truths that come from science. No shift in scientific explanation can shake me personally.

    A key aspect of my opposition to ID is that it seems an attempt to return us to the days when scientists mistook instrumental truths for The Truth. (Again, see William James’ Pluralism, Pragmatism, and Instrumental Truth.)It is ironic that ID proponents jump to the conclusion that I’m a materialist, when my concern is actually that they haplessly make too much of observations of material.

  106. 107

    BarryA: “God has revealed Himself to every person through His creation. Theologians call this the “general revelation.” The general revelation alone is sufficient to compel a belief in God.”

    I must emphasize that there is much more to personal experience than empirical observations. The notion that communal science is discovery of the general revelation does not wash with me. Science misses the most revealing aspects of experience.

    Jesus taught that each person is a child of God; that if one seeks, one will find; and that the kingdom of God is within each of us. The distinction of revelation and discovery is merely linguistic, and (to apparently contradict myself, because I rely on language here) what we find is revealed in our selves. One’s knowledge of, and relation to, God is ultimately individual.

    BarryA: “I believe the God the practitioners of these other religions believe in is the God revealed in the Bible, the “specific revelation” of the Christian faith.”

    In context, “Christian faith” apparently means “Christian religion.” I must say that there are many putative “specific revelations,” and that which of them a person encounters first is almost always an accident of birth. I can conclude only that as children of God, we must use what comes to us by way of general revelation / discovery to assess what is presented to us as “specific revelation.” If you want, for instance, Muslims to convert to Christianity, you must admit that this is so. But then you must admit that people raised Christian should assess the “specific revelations” of various religions.

  107. —–Atticus Finch: “A prime mover stands outside nature, and therefore is a fundamentally different sort of cause than what science addresses.”

    That is very true, and there is a good reason for it. It hearkens back to the problem of infinite regress. Sooner or later, the uncaused cause is inevitable. A chain of movement cannot go on forever. Only a necessary, uncreated, self existent being can be at the end of that chain. To cause something from outside of time and to cause time itself, is indeed different from causing something in time.

    —–“Note that people “created in the image of God” are essentially secondary movers. In the context of ID, they are intelligent agents creating information out of nothing. The problem here, scientifically, is that no one has explained how to observe the cause, intelligence, and not just the effects.”

    This is a very good observation. We don’t know what makes intelligence tick. On the other hand, we know it exists and we can detect its effects.

    —–“My personal belief that science should treat “intelligence” as an abstraction, and not a physical entity, predates my first encounter with ID by several decades. The question is not what is real, but what advances scientific explanation of empirical observations. This is not materialism, but pragmatism.”

    I submit that it matters a great deal what is real. Why reduce intelligence to an abstraction when it really does do something. As you pointed out earlier, “intelligent agents create information out of nothing.”

    —–“Yet the reality of Creation is for me a higher truth than any of the instrumental truths that come from science. No shift in scientific explanation can shake me personally.”

    Again, I celebrate another of your very good points. That we can detect the presence of a creator through the use of unaided reason surpasses in importance anything science can offer us. St. Paul points out that God’s handiwork has been made manifest and points to the creator. Science can confirm that, but it can never top it.

    On the other hand, we cannot detect the Truth of Christianity or Jesus Christ through the use of unaided reason. If science could prove that Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, it would be a blow to Christianity but not theism. We demonstrate the truth of Christianity through history, fulfilled prophecy, and eyewitness testimony. We demonstrate the existence of God through philosophy and logic. They are separate but related arguments.

    —–“A key aspect of my opposition to ID is that it seems an attempt to return us to the days when scientists mistook instrumental truths for The Truth. (Again, see William James’ Pluralism, Pragmatism, and Instrumental Truth.)It is ironic that ID proponents jump to the conclusion that I’m a materialist, when my concern is actually that they haplessly make too much of observations of material.”

    You are quite right to object to those who would mistake instrumental truths for the truth. ID’s claims are quite modest. It simply points to the “effects” of intelligent agency. It doesn’t presume to lower ultimate truth to its own level. Pragmatism, on the other hand, really does cheapen truth by defining it not as that which “is” but as that which “works,” which is, of course, your point. ID doesn’t do that. It merely insists that one can infer intelligence from observing data. One can detect design in an ancient hunters’ spear. There is nothing remarkable or presumptuous about detecting patterns in nature. The hard part is establishing and defining the scientific constructs.

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