Naturalism


God of GapsI’ve noticed that many nonbelievers (and even believers) misunderstand what constitutes a “God of the gaps” argument.  They tend to think one is guilty of a God of the gaps argument if they offer God as an explanation for some X rather than some natural phenomenon.  The problem with this definition is that it presumes the only valid explanation is a naturalistic explanation.  God is ruled out as a valid explanation for anything a priori, so anyone who offers God as an explanation for X is thought to do so merely because they are ignorant of the proper naturalistic explanation.  This begs the question in favor of naturalism and against theism.  One could only conclude that every effect has a naturalistic explanation, and that God is not a valid explanation, if one has first demonstrated that God does not exist.  So long as it is even possible that God exists, then it is possible that God may be the cause of X, and thus explain X.

What makes an argument a God of the gaps type of argument is when God is invoked to explain X simply because we do not know what else can explain X.  In other words, God is used to plug a gap in our knowledge of naturalistic explanations: “I don’t know how to explain X, so God must have done X.”  This is not at all the same as arguing that God is the best explanation of X, based on what we know regarding X and the explanatory options available to us.  Here, God is being invoked to explain what we know, not what we don’t know.

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The Scientific Collapse of MaterialismA lot of people think that science has proven that the material world is all that exists – no God, no angels, and no souls.  The problem is that science can never be used to justify the belief that the material world is all that exists (materialism, naturalism).  Science is a tool that examines the workings of the physical world.  Of course, if the material world is the only thing your tool examines, it is the only thing your tool will see.  But it doesn’t follow that what your tool examines is all there is to examine.  Edward Feser compares science to a metal detector.  It would not follow that since the metal detector only finds metal objects in the ground there are no treasure maps buried as well.  A metal detector is not capable of finding paper.  It is only geared toward finding metal objects.  Its success in finding what it is geared to find – metal objects – in no way serves as evidence that non-metal objects do not exist.  Likewise, the success of science in discovering the workings of the physical world in no way serves as evidence that there is no spiritual world.

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Not scienceMany believe science has disproven God.  This is not possible, even in principle.[1]  The truth of the matter is that advances in science are providing more reasons to believe in God, not less.  While scientific discoveries cannot prove God’s existence, they can be used to support premises in arguments that have theistic conclusions/implications. For example, science has discovered that the universe began to exist.  Anything that begins to exist requires an external cause.  Since the universe encompasses all physical reality, the cause of the universe must transcend physical reality.  It cannot be a prior physical event or some natural law, because there was nothing physical prior to the first physical event, and natural laws only come into being once the natural world comes into being.  Whatever caused the universe to come into being must be transcendent, powerful, immaterial, spaceless, eternal, and personal, which is an apt description of God.

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Universe from NothingLast year theoretical physicist and atheist, Lawrence Krauss, wrote a book titled A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing. As the title suggests, Krauss wrote the book to answer the age-old question of why there is something rather than nothing. The book was heralded by many atheists as the definitive answer to theists who claim God is necessary to explain the existence of physical reality. Indeed, in the afterward Richard Dawkins claimed that Krauss’ book devastates theistic arguments based on cosmology just as Darwin’s On the Origin of Species devastated theistic arguments based on design in biology. Other reviewers, however – including scientists, philosophers, and theologians – beg to differ. Having read the book myself (not just once, but two times now), I can see why they were less than impressed with Krauss’ argument.

While my overall assessment of Krauss’ argument is not positive, truth be told, most of the book was quite enjoyable and informative.  That’s because the first 2/3 of the book is a lesson on the historical development of modern cosmology.  Krauss doesn’t make his case for why there is something rather than nothing until the last four chapters.  Unfortunately, that’s where the book falls apart.

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thinking manPhilosohpers David Bourget and David Chalmers recently surveyed 931 philosophy faculty members to determine their views on 30 different issues.  Here were some of the more interesting results:

God: atheism 72.8%; theism 14.6%; other 12.6%.
Metaphilosophy: naturalism 49.8%; non-naturalism 25.9%; other 24.3%.
Mind: physicalism 56.5%; non-physicalism 27.1%; other 16.4%.
Free will: compatibilism 59.1%; libertarianism 13.7%; no free will 12.2%; other 14.9%.
Meta-ethics: moral realism 56.4%; moral anti-realism 27.7%; other 15.9%.
Normative ethics: deontology 25.9%; consequentialism 23.6%; virtue ethics 18.2%; other 32.3%.
Science: scientific realism 75.1%; scientific anti-realism 11.6%; other 13.3%
Time: B-theory 26.3%; A-theory 15.5%; other 58.2%.
Truth: correspondence 50.8%; deflationary 24.8%; epistemic 6.9%; other 17.5%.

Notice that although 72.8% of respondents are atheists, 56.4% are moral realists. This goes to show the strength of our moral intuitions. While atheists do not have a sufficient ontological grounding for objective moral values, they still believe in them nonetheless.

I was surprised that only 13.7% believe in libertarian free will. I would expect it to be much higher.  Perhaps this correlates with the high rates of physicalism.

HT: Scot McKnight

Luke A. Barnes, a specialist in astro-physics and researcher at the Sydney Institute for Astronomy, University of Sydney, has an excellent quote responding to those who claim it’s possible that the universe could have come into being from nothing: 

The claim regarding a universe coming from nothing is either nonsensical or a non-explanation. If we use the dictionary definition of ‘nothing’ – not anything – then a universe coming from nothing is as impossible as a universe created by a married bachelor. Nothing is not a type of thing, and thus has no properties. If you’re talking about something from which a universe can come, then you aren’t talking about nothing. ‘Nothing’ has no charge in the same sense that the C-major scale has no charge – it doesn’t have the property at all. Alternatively, one could claim that the universe could have come from nothing by creatively redefining ‘nothing’. ‘Nothing’ must become a type of something, a something with the rather spectacular property of being able to create the entire known universe. It’s an odd thing to call `nothing’ – I wouldn’t complain if I got one for Christmas.[1]

Love it!


[1]Luke A. Barnes, “The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life,” 21 December 2011; available from http://arxiv.org/abs/1112.4647; Internet; accessed 16 April 2012; page 67.

In his new book, atheist Thomas Nagel had some interesting things to say about why scientists are so opposed to Intelligent Design: “Nevertheless, I believe the defenders of intelligent design deserve our gratitude for challenging a scientific world view that owes some of the passion displayed by its adherents precisely to the fact that it is thought to liberate us from religion.” – Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 12.

A friend of mine made a point the other day that I thought was insightful.  If matter is all that exists, and there is no free will because everything is either determined or indeterminate, then there is no real distinction between rape and consensual sex since the distinction relies on the notion of free will.  If the will is not free, then strictly speaking, no act of sex is chosen—even so called consensual sex is not chosen.  Every act of sex is chosen for us by forces that lie outside of our control.  We may think that we choose to engage in sexual activity or choose to refrain from doing so, but these are just illusions.  Prior physical processes cause us to either have the desire to engage in sex or the desire not to engage in sex.  

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Astrophysicist Alex Filippenko of the Universityof California, Berkeley took part in a panel discussion on June 23, 2012 at the SETICon 2 conference on the topic “Did the Big Bang Require a Divine Spark?”  Taking a page out of the playbooks of Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss, Filippenko claimed that “the Big Bang could’ve occurred as a result of just the laws of physics being there. With the laws of physics, you can get universes.”[1] If the laws of physics are responsible for churning out universes, then the ultimate question is not the origin of the universe, but the origin of the laws of physics.  Where did they come from?  Filippenko recognizes this problem, saying “The question, then, is, ‘Why are there laws of physics?’  And you could say, ‘Well, that required a divine creator, who created these laws of physics and the spark that led from the laws of physics to these universes, maybe more than one.’”[2] 

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Given my recent post on falsely assuming that God’s eternality excludes the possibility that He has a cause (and thinking premise 1 of the kalam cosmological argument proves He doesn’t have a cause), I thought it fitting to address atheists who assume that the universe, if it is eternal, is uncaused.  Some atheists reason as follows:

(1) If the universe began to exist, then it has a cause
(2) The universe did not begin to exist
(3) Therefore the universe did not have a cause

This commits the fallacy of denying the antecedent.  The form of the fallacy is as follows:

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At about 33:45 into his dialogue with Rowan Williams, Richard Dawkins made a remarkable statement regarding consciousness:

The thing that really baffles me about consciousness is that I can kind of see that one could program a computer to behave exactly as though it were conscious, to pass the Turing Test, and actually fool people into thinking that it was conscious, but I still have trouble believing it actually would be.  And yet I think I have to be committed to the view that it would be.

He recognizes that his worldview requires him to believe that such a computer would be conscious, and yet deep down he knows that can’t be right.  He recognizes that the computer’s experience would not be the same as our experience.  And what would that difference be?  We have a first-person awareness of ourselves while a computer would not, even if both could perform identical functions.  Dawkins realizes that consciousness cannot be reduced to function and physics, and yet his worldview requires him to maintain the otherwise ridiculous claim that a super computer should be thought to have consciousness just like us.

I like the way the agnostic moderator, Anthony Kenny, responded to Dawkins’ admission: “I think it’s rather sad that you are committed to that view.  Computers are human tools.  They can’t even add two and two together.”  Exactly.  It is rather sad that someone would confess such intellectual absurdities because they are so committed to naturalism.

Physicist Lawrence Krauss’ new book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing, purports to answer the age-old philosophical question of why there is something rather than nothing from a scientific, rather than philosophical or religious perspective.  In the book’s afterword Richard Dawkins announces that Krauss has triumphed in his quest:

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

Columbia professor of philosophy, David Albert, couldn’t disagree more.  In his scathing review for the New York Times, Albert points out that Krauss has not answered the question at all.

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Those who reject dualism (the view that man is made up of two kinds of substances: physical and immaterial) often cite the “interaction problem” as an argument against the view.  Stated simplistically, the interaction problem is to explain how an immaterial entity such as a mind/soul could causally interact with material entities.  One envisions the Hollywood movies in which a ghost is desperately trying to pick up a beverage or kiss someone to no avail.  Try as he might, he cannot connect his immaterial self to the material world to affect it in any way (unless you are Patrick Swayze!).  Many monists think the interaction problem alone is sufficient to dismiss dualism as a possibility.

Such an approach to the question seems wrongheaded, however.  One should not look at the queerness of mind-body interaction and immediately conclude that the mind cannot exist independent of the brain.  One must first evaluate the evidence for the existence of such an entity.  If there are good, independent reasons to think the mind is not an immaterial entity—but can be reduced to the brain or arise from material processes—then the interaction problem could serve as further confirmation that there is no soul.  But if there are good reasons to think the mind is an immaterial entity separate from the brain, then the interaction problem—while difficult or even impossible to explain—is insufficient to overturn the evidence that the mind is immaterial.  While we may not know how the mind interacts with the material world, we know the two entities do exist, and do interact with each other.  One need not explain how something occurs to know that it occurs.  We may forever be ignorant of how the mind and body relate to each other, but we have direct awareness and experience of the fact that they do.

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J. W. Wartick has written a nice article evaluating the case for atheistic ethics, particularly as presented by philosopher Louise Anthony.  She represents a brand of atheists (such as Sam Harris and Michael Shermer) who refuse the nihilism of an earlier generation of atheists who admitted that if there is no God, there are no objective moral values.  She thinks God does not exist but moral values do.  Or so she says.  When she defines what those moral values are and how they are determined, it becomes clear that they are subjective, not objective.  Something has value if she values it, and something is wrong if it causes suffering.  But these are mind-dependent, and thus subjective by definition.  For meaning and morality to be objective, it must have an existence independent of human thinkers such that even if conscious beings did not exist, moral values and meaning would still exist.

Ultimately, atheists can only put forward various ways that humans can know what is moral (epistemology); they cannot explain what makes those moral values moral.  Secular ethics lack an objective foundation.

The Best Schools interviewed leading Intelligent Design theorist, Bill Dembski.  At one point he was asked, “You have stated that ‘design theorists oppose Darwinian theory on strictly scientific grounds.’ But then why is the ID movement so heavily populated with religious believers? Could we not expect more of the scientific community to support ID if your statement were true? Why do the majority of the world’s leading scientific bodies oppose ID and claim that it does not qualify as science?”

This is a valid question, and I’m sure it is on the minds of many people who are interested in the debate.  I like Dembski’s answer:

As for why religious believers tend to be associated with design, I could turn the question around. If Darwinian evolution is strictly scientific, then why is that field so heavily populated with atheists? In one survey of around 150 prominent evolutionary biologists, only two were religious believers (as I recall, Will Provine was behind this survey). I see a scientific core to both intelligent design and Darwinian evolution. And I see no merit in questioning their scientific status by the company they keep. The character of the proposals that both approaches make is what really ought to count.

 

HT: Uncommon Descent

For many famous historical figures, a distinction often needs to be made between the man and the myth that surrounds him.  This is no less true for Charles Darwin.  While the mythical features of a man are often later creations by others, in the case of Darwin, he created some of his own myths through his autobiography.  In his book The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin, Benjamin Wiker takes a critical look at the historical Darwin: the man, the myth, and his contribution to evolutionary theory.

Wiker documents several myths have arisen regarding Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution:

  1. That Darwin thought up the theory of evolution.  The notion that animals in the present evolved from earlier forms was not a novel idea.  The idea can be traced back to the ancient Greek philosopher Lucretius in the 1st century BC, and it was particularly in vogue among the intelligentsia in Darwin’s day.  In fact, his very famous grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, wrote a widely acclaimed book titled Zoonomia (1794) in which he laid out his own theory of evolution more than 60 years before Charles wrote On the Origin of Species.  In medical school, Darwin studied under a radical evolutionist by the name of Robert Grant.  He also read the works of other evolutionists.  Darwin did not come up with evolution.  He merely popularized the theory by providing a plausible, naturalistic mechanism by which it might work, backed up by some empirical observations.

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In honor of Stephen Hawking’s 70th birthday, a meeting of the minds took place to discuss the state of cosmology.  New Scientist[1] reported on the events of the night, one of which was a talk delivered by famed cosmologist, Alexander Vilenkin, describing why physical reality must have a beginning.  But first, a little background is in order.

For a long time scientists held that the universe was eternal and unchanging.  This allowed them to avoid the God question—who or what caused the universe—because they reasoned that a beginningless universe needed no cause.[2]  They recognized that if the universe began to exist in the finite past that it begged for a cause that was outside of the time-space-continuum.  As Stephen Hawking told his well-wishers in a pre-recorded message, “A point of creation would be a place where science broke down. One would have to appeal to religion and the hand of God.”

Scientific discoveries in the early and mid-20th century, however, forced cosmologists to the uncomfortable conclusion that our universe came into being in the finite past.  The scientific consensus was that the origin of our universe constituted the origin of physical reality itself.  Before the Big Bang, literally nothing existed.  The universe came into being from nothing and nowhere.  This sounded too much like the creation ex nihilo of Genesis, however, and seemed to require the God of Genesis to make it happen.  As a result, some cosmologists were feverishly looking for ways to restore an eternal universe.

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Several months ago the Discovery Channel aired a television series featuring Stephen Hawking called Curiosity.  Whereas in his book The Grand Design Hawking claimed that God is not necessary to explain the origin of the universe given the existence of physical laws such as gravity, in Curiosity he argued that God could not have created the universe because there was no time in which God could have done so:

[D]o we need a God to set it all up so a Big Bang can bang? … Our everyday experience makes us convinced that everything that happens must be caused by something that occurred earlier in time.  So it’s natural for us to assume that something—perhaps God—must have caused the universe to come into existence.  But when we’re talking about the universe as a whole, that isn’t necessarily so.
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Evolutionist, Jerry Coyne, has written an article in USA Today promoting the idea that free will is an illusion.  After several paragraphs of attempting to convince his readers that they have no free will, Coyne raises the question of justice: Why punish people if they did not freely choose to do bad?  His answer: “But we should continue to mete out punishments because those are environmental factors that can influence the brains of not only the criminal himself, but of other people as well. Seeing someone put in jail, or being put in jail yourself, can change you in a way that makes it less likely you’ll behave badly in the future. Even without free will then, we can still use punishment to deter bad behavior, protect society from criminals, and figure out better ways to rehabilitate them.”  But wait, what is this talk of “should”?  That presumes some sort of rational or moral obligation, but both are impossible in Coyne’s world since we have no ability to choose, and obligations cannot be met by those who lack the ability to choose to fulfill them.  We can’t decide how we will respond to criminal behavior.  Physics determines that for us.  I may be determined to respond by refusing to punish anyone’s bad behavior or rewarding anyone’s good behavior.  It’s not within my control, nor Coyne’s.  We are just puppets on the strings of physics.

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Scientists working in origin of life research are fairly candid that they do not know how life originated, but they are quick to point out that they are making progress and that science will eventually be able to provide an answer to this question.  I have always found this sort of faith in science a bit intriguing.  It is just assumed that there must be a naturalistic cause/explanation for the origin of life, and that we will eventually be able to discover it.  But why should we think this to be true?  Given what needs to be explained (the origin of biological information), and given our understanding of the causal powers of naturalistic processes, the origin of life does not appear to be the kind of thing for which natural causes are adequate to explain it even in principle (See 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9).

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