Monday, October 29, 2007

Everything is to the Glory of God

Now it’s thought by many who are religious that we evolved. It turns out, they claim, that natural selection is God’s means of achieving his ends. Futhermore, that evolution was aided from time to time by God giving it a little nudge when necessary.

Now it’s thought by many people who are religious that the physical constants that physics has found in nature—the strong nuclear force, the weak force, Planck’s constant, the mass of the top quark, and so on—are all part of God’s doing. God is responsible for the narrow range of values for the laws of nature that keep our universe on the knife edge that makes life possible.

When we discover that the universe is 15 billion years old and not 6,000, and that humanity has been around for 100,000 years and didn’t start with Adam and Eve, they acknowledge (reluctantly) “yes, that’s right. That was God’s plan. Isn’t the breadth of God’s plan sweeping?”

It would appear that every conceivable discovery is interpreted as evidence of God’s existence and God’s transcendent power, knowledge, and goodness. And no possible developments in our empirical investigations will be accepted as counter evidence. It’s a sort of reverse conspiracy theory. The conspiracy theorist takes everything that happens to be more proof that the government is watching him. The fact that he can’t get any pictures of the black helicopters surveiling him just shows how stealthy they are. The fact that no one around him lets on that they are spying on him just shows how good they are at covering their tracks. The fact that we cannot find compelling evidence that links the CIA and the mob as conspirators in the John F. Kennedy’s assassination itself shows that the CIA and the mob did it because no one else could have so effectively concealed their scheme. But with God, everything we discover, including the fact that there appears to be no need to invoke any supernatural agency to explain any phenomena we analyze, is taken to indicate just how transcendent God is. Even the fact that the universe appears to be just the sort of place you’d expect if there was no powerful, knowledgeable, and caring supernatural being itself is taken to indicate that that sort of being has good reasons for making its presence completely undetectable.

In all seriousness, if God were to build the universe and then give us a book, a doctrine, and a religion with which to worship him, and if all of the remarkable things about God’s role in the creation and sustainance of the universe that believers claim are true, then wouldn’t we have expected to find some hint about them from God, from his religion, from his book, or from his believers before they were discovered by science? In every, science forges ahead through hard work, insight, and struggle, to discover some truth about the world. And then, after science has done all the heavy lifting, the religious dogmatists snatch the discovery, “Of course, we knew that all along because that’s a part of God’s remarkable creation. It all just suggests more praise to God’s glory for his universe.”

There remain many unanswered questions in science now. We aren’t sure about the existence of the Higgs-Boson, or the graviton, or the relationship of the gravitational force to the other fundamental forces. We don’t have a clear, developed picture of the origins of consciousness in evolutionary history. We don’t have adequate information to ascertain the prevalence of life in the universe at large. But presumably with time, hard work, and human ingenuity, we will find answers to all of these questions. So here is the challenge for the believer. If all of those future discoveries in science are going to be co-opted and neatly adapted to show that God is such a profound being, then we should be able to find some indicator of these mechanisms of God’s handiwork in religion, religious doctrine, or the words of God himself without science to do all the hard work. If the four fundamental forces—gravity, strong, weak, and electromagnetic—are all God’s means of constructing the universe, afterall, then why can’t we find any indication of that anywhere in any religious doctrine or tradition before physics discovered them. If evolution was the method whereby God brought life into the universe as so many Americans now believe, then why can’t we find even the slightest hint of it in any religious source or the word of God prior to Darwin’s hard fought battle with those same believers? If the intelligent design hypothesis about God’s interventions in evolutionary history is correct, then why did no religious source ever give any indication of it until the 1990s? If viruses, not evil demon possession, were the source of disease all along and part of God’s plan, why has religious doctrine always been so clearly in favor of demons? If the abundant amounts of apparently pointless suffering and death in the world has always been part of God’s plan to build moral character, then did we not get any indication that this was true from religious sources until after atheists like William Rowe in the 1970s argued that pointless evil is evidence that there is no God?

The answer should be obvious. With every new development and empirical discovery, believers (usually, after resisting the truth with all their might,) construct an ad hoc explanation that allows them to coopt that discovery and contort it into their worldview and use it to their advantage. That their worldview previously contained no indicators of what is now taken to be obvious because of what science has forced them to accept is conveniently written off as metaphor, discounted, neglected, or forgotten. “Adam and Eve? Oh, we never really believed that literally. “The earth is only 6,000 years old? That’s so quaint—it isn’t what we really believe.” All of the ad hoc re-engineering and reverse conspiracy gymnastics in order to salvage an Iron Age ideology is gross intellectual dishonesty when it is clear that the space left for the God of the gaps is rapidly shrinking.


Anonymous said...

Matthew Gaughen

I was thinking about this question all weekend, "what is the motovation for evilution?" That is, why would there ever be life as we know it? it seems that it would be to easy to say that it is just a coincidence that here on earth all of the requierments for life just happened to occur. it wouold seem like if evelution were a universal trait of, well, the universe that there could be life in nearly any type of environment. if a meteor hit earth tommarow and life ended for 1000 years, it would, i would assume, come back. it would take millions of years for humans to come back into existance but they would evlove to survive in what ever environment that would be left after such a disaster.

science explains the numbers of life and give an answer to how we have life, but it dosen;t answer why we have it. this may simply be a category error on my part, but i feel that there is something about the driving forces of nature (hunger, breeding, and other means of survile) that are not explained by the numbers alone.

Anonymous said...

Matt Gaughen, i am disappointed that you didn't make any sports analogies. But all kidding aside, you bring up a good point.

"it seems that it would be to easy to say that it is just a coincidence that here on earth all of the requirements for life just happened to occur."

From my limited time on earth and as a rational thinking thing, i have found that usually the easy answer is the right answer. Now i am not arguing that because this maybe the easy answer that it is, by no means. But i wonder why people aruge that its not the right answer, although its easy. I have found that its not because of some error in logic or somewhere the deductive argument went awry, but because they "beleivers" don;t like the outcome.

I will admit that there being life on this planet as only an accident or random chance seems pretty dismal. But whether or not we like the outcome does have any weight on whether or not its true. I leave you with this, the best things in life come by accident, or at least thats what my parents say :-P

Jon said...

There is life in nearly every type of environment on earth - including antarctica. Humans have spread everywhere for example. Let me try to postulate why we have life: 1. Before life as we know it there were chemicals. 2. Certain chemicals like crystals are pattern and replication producing within given chemical environments. 3. It is either a lucky accident that life arose through chemical reactions (that we should expect this to happen in physics) or it is simply a determinate thing (that we should expect this to happen somewhere in the chemistry of the universe) that life would arise from chemical reactions. Either way - we seem to have a "why" answer that is not too difficult to understand or at least imagine within the context of physics and chemistry.

Anonymous said...

Jon~ Although I agree with your explanation of why there is life, in a science based explanation, but i think Matt Gaughen was getting at why is there even chemicals and if you have an answer for that, say X, then why X, then why Y, and so on..... Most believers i reckon are looking or asking about the first cause, GOD.

Its odd to me because we have an explanation for why humans are here, evolution and chance. But like my last post, most don;t like that answer so they reject it.

Jon said...

Before chemicals(X) like hydrogen and helium there were elementary particles, this does not include the proton and nuetron because they themselves are made up of even "more" fundamental particles when our section of the universe/multiverse/megaverse was much denser and hotter. Even if we reach to as far as we can go - and then ask the 'why?' - there then can be an array of answers. One answer can simply be an anthropic principle that does not include god or God. It should be no concern to the argument if people don't like say 'evolution' or other naturalistic answers - instead any answers that one finds unsatisfactory should be rejected through reason or science itself. And then it would be even more of a bonus if a better answer can be provided.

Central Content Publisher said...

One consideration, is that there are actually two distinct, but inseparable questions regarding ultimate origin. Let's call them how and why.

Science tells us a lot about how, though it hasn't reached a conclusion on ultimate origin (if there even is one). There are big bang theories, multiple dimension theories, evolution, and so on. These theories describe the dominos of causality that got us where we are - they describe a how.

Then there's the question of why. I speculate this is the important question in most people's minds, for whom, the origins of how are only important insofar as they serve to explain the meaning of life right now - the ultimate why.

I find "why" a very odd and very human question to pose to the universe. It implies there was some initial life-like being that was motivated to create existence, and in doing so, infuse meaning into existence. What but a life-form would even be capable of motivation? And, if there is a why, the one whom was motivated to create the universe must surely be the source of how the universe was created. And so, it seems, many are driven to conclude that the answer to how and why must be the same thing: a god usually.

- brief aside
When "random chance" is evoked, it's usually a surrogate for "there is no why", rather than actual randomness. When you think about it, randomness describes how, not why. And the universe exhibits almost no signs of randomness, but instead seems to reflect various sorts of ordered behaviors.

Anonymous said...

I must agree with CCP that the "why" question seems to be a very human one. When we ask that question we have in mind a motivation directed by a very personal human agent. Often God's properties are associated with being Omni or more of a personal standard. It seems to me that if God exists, then He cannot both be personal/human like (for to have motivations for the creation of life with a goal to create humanity seems very personal/human like), and Omni powered. Either He is personal or He is Omni. It also seems to me to be the case that a personal God is far less likely to exists than an Omni God. That is, having motivations, feelings for our well-being, having beliefs about such things, having a mind, seems inconsistent with Him also being the creator and governor of the universe. So, If God is most likely the necessary Omni version that seems to be a required property for His also being the creator, then the question as to "Why He did what He did," seems a dead end. If God is not a personal God but an Omni God, and having caring motivations for humanity is a personal characteristic, then either God is an Omni God or He doesn't exist. So, there may be no why, just how.

Anonymous said...

It seems as if you are espousing the idea that for theists, everything that happens in our world can be accounted for in religious texts. I'm not so sure most theists would support such a claim. Why would you expect religious texts to account for everything that has or will ever happen? Let's assume God exists: why would God outline for humans everything that it plans on doing over the course of time? So the fact that scientific discoveries aren't accounted for in religious texts isn't proof that theism or the idea of God is flawed. Of course, this lack of account can be interpreted any way you want. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as you say, so the fact that evolution isn't accounted for in the Bible doesn't mean much. It could mean that theism just can't explain everything, but theism is just a belief system, a belief system that can't account for everything that an infinite being has planned (again assuming God).

-joshcadji192 (i forgot my password to log in)

Jon said...

It seems that many "why" questions can be explained by the "how" - except when we talk of the origins of the universe - if indeed there was ever an origin. Also this is where we get away from physics and science and get into metaphysics. Weinberg who posed the anthropic principle for the cosmological constant (Lambda) appeared to make an appeal to metaphysics when physics could not be accounted for. It appears to be the most intelligent move - in a sense using Occham's Razor for a scientific/philosophical best explanation. I have not seen a more coherent one yet.

Carlo said...

These "why" questions you guys are talking about sounds like what Carnap calls external questions (pseudo questions). They reside outside the linguistic framework and are thus ill-formed.

Central Content Publisher said...

"They reside outside the linguistic framework and are thus ill-formed." - carlo

I'm not sure I entirely understand this.

While the motivations of a supreme being are certainly metaphysical, they're no less relevant than the motivations of a murderer. "Why did you kill him?" doesn't sound like an ill-formed question to me.

Do you mind pointing me somewhere? I'm not familiar with Carnap.

Anonymous said...

How vs. Why - I agree that the distinction is frequently artificial. Mof of the history of science has been about changing "Why" questions into "How" questions. An example: "Why do people get sick?" might lead to any number of explanations. Some say God is punishing the ill person, others attrigute it to the action of demons. Once put into a scientific context, and with enough background information accumulated, the question eventually becomes, "How do germs and genes explain the bulk of human disease?"

To ask "Why" is to assume that there is a why; that there is underlying conscious intent.

Anonymous said...

if a meteor hit earth tommarow and life ended for 1000 years, it would, i would assume, come back. it would take millions of years for humans to come back into existance but they would evlove to survive in what ever environment that would be left after such a disaster.

Life would certainly survive a meteor strike. Several mass extinctions have occured through the history of life on Earth, and life has consistently "come back," but never in the same way. It would be very difficult to wipe out all the microbes, that much is for sure. But to presume that the human species would evolve a second time is quite a stretch. See anything Stephen Jay Gould wrote about "contingency."

Carlo said...

RE: central content publisher

"Do you mind pointing me somewhere? I'm not familiar with Carnap."

Here is Carnap's work explaining internal and extrnal questions. Its a dense read but well worth it.

Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology

And to help clarify Carnap's concepts here is a professors' notes on Carnap. It is so cool that professors are posting their notes these days.

Carnap on Ontology

Jon said...

Carlo: You have not clarified what specific why questions were External. When you said "You guys SOUND like..." Please clarify this instead of appealing to authority. In that - your 1st statement seems to be "external" to the context of this conversation. What we "sound like" is itself a metaphysical statement and is not clear. Please add a theory of origins of life, the universe, or consciousness. What do you think are the best explanations, or the most correct answers? Why? Even Carnap would agree with answers to the "why" questions in many of these contexts, depending on the particulars. Plus in the grand scheme of things Carnap's strictness fails. Languages change and there is no perfect internal language game that Carnap created.

Not all why questions are a misuse of language - Or at least they can be answered and corrected clearly. This depends upon the context of the why question. Furthermore, sometimes philosophers put the cart in front of the horse when attempting to theorize on science.

Carlo said...

RE: Jon

You seem to have a good idea what pseudo questions I was referring to. Yet you ask what I meant. I am not interested in contentious conversation.

"Furthermore, sometimes philosophers put the cart in front of the horse when attempting to theorize on science."

This is ad hominem as well as the rest of your post.

I am tired of dealing with trolls on here. I won't be responding any further.

Jon said...

1. There are several "why" questions from different people.
2. I asked which one's needed to be clarified or reformulated.
3. All philosopher's (including Carnap) have at one time or in a theory put cart's in front of horses. Including all people at one time or another.
4. Asking for clarification and debating Carnap's theories does not constitute Ad Hominem.
5. Why is there emotion? Carts and horses are not meant to get anyone angry, especially Carnap because he is not here anymore.

Central Content Publisher said...

Thanks for the links Carlo.

Anonymous said...

NYTimes on Antony Flew: The Turning of an Atheist
by Mark Oppenheimer

"...With the publication of his new book, Flew is once again talking, and this summer I traveled to England to speak with him. But as I discovered, a conversation with him confuses more than it clarifies. With his powers in decline, Antony Flew, a man who devoted his life to rational argument, has become a mere symbol, a trophy in a battle fought by people whose agendas he does not fully understand.

Central Content Publisher said...

That Flew piece is disturbing.

Anonymous said...

Re Iron Age myths.

I don't really understand the bitterness in this post, against those who alter their religious beliefs to accept new facts. They are not the only ones who oppose new theories, like that cigarettes are harmful.

In the very good October issue of that Atlantic, Olivia Judson in "The Selfless Gene" presents a plausible hypothesis for the emergence of group morality. The article (as well as other data on punishment games that show the innate SS guard in all of us) suggests that we have evolved a trait of enforced conformity. "It suggests that individuals who could not conform ... would have weakened the whole group; any group that failed to drive out such people or kill them, would have been more likely to be overwhelmed in battle".

So the very thing we see as a problem in religion, is not intrinsic to religion at all, but sits deeper. Getting rid of religion is not likely to change how strongly we try to get others to conform to common values, or how much an advantage having common values is to a society. It may even explain, why so many atheists and believers seem unable to live and let live. Why is the presumed adherance to iron age myths of others so much of a problem to us, unless we see it hurting our reproductive chances.
We should be content with a steady decline of religion without needing to kill it. And getting rid of iron age myths is not likey to stop new ones, which will avoid what we now see as silly inconsistancies.

If Judson is correct, than it is a wonder that a state without a state religion, could survive at all, and certainly at the time of the American revolution, many did not give it good odds. But with a few simple (untested, and certainly not self-evident) truths they managed to get enough of a consensus to allow productive cooperation.

I don't see why atheists and theists can't do the same. And Sam Harris gives I think a good starting point, the pursuit of truth and love, and the assumption that meaningful life is possible.

Jon said...

I agree with some of your points Paulv and disagree with others. I don't think theoretic genetic sociology is an indicator for the weakness or strength of a nation or league of nations in this world. If there continues to be a steady decline in religion it may aid us much like in the current Scandanavian countries and elsewhere. I am not convinced that this will last however. As far as the atheists "not letting live and let live". Who today has this view in the West? Dawkins? He is one of the few that argues against religion for various reasons -compared to the vast megatrove of religious materials being desseminated. Arguing against the reasons for religious belief does not constitute "killing" it. I'm not sure if you mean it that way however. Who in the West is trying to "kill" religion and how? Are there varying levels of such behaviour from simple arguments against god belief to killing the rights of believers?

Jon said...

On common values and how much of a difference they are in society

-Comparing the common values of the societies of the middle east and North Africa with those of western europe we see a big difference. I and I suppose you would rather live in Britain, France, Denmark... then say Afganistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Egypt, Algeria, Iran, Palistine, Beruit, Syria... Right?

Anonymous said...

I was referring to a Sam Harris comment, that "science must destroy religion". Which I would prefer as science should destroy stupidity (because there is more stupidity than just that to be found in religions) and leaves open the question that there may be something good in religions that we should think twice about destroying.
I am not accusing anyone of killing religious people, and if (to quote a New Yorker title) "atheists with attitude" are only trying to ensure a public space for atheists (that has been absent (at least on billboards)), while still allowing space for theistic belief systems then I have no problem with that either.

I don't believe that theistic belief is necessarily intellectually dishonest, or requires mental gymnastics. The googals of universes required to account for the seemingly fine tuned values of fundamental constants, is one case where a theistic answer requires perhaps less gymnastics, but this does not make it any more certain to be true.

You do, I think have to admit, that some atheist litterature paints relgion as an evil. From the Flew piece "it becomes more understandable if the signatory never hated religious belief the way many philosophers do and if he never hated religious people in the least. At a time when belief in God is more polarizing than it has been in years, when all believers are being blamed for religion’s worst excesses"

If all believers (according to Hitchens) are to blame for the excesses, then the only way to prevent the excesses is to end belief. If belief is painted as evil, then the implication is clear that we should try to rid the world of this evil.

My point from the Atlantic article, was that it purports to explains a lack of a live and let live attitude in all humans, and why things like nationalism can produce similar excesses to religion, but don't depend on a god for moral certitude.

Re western values.
I do prefer Western values, which I see has having been entwined in western religion and philosophy. I am however a relativist, (in the sense at least that you cannot prove what values are best, only which ones are consistent with other values you have). Most western atheists share these values of freedom etc, but I don't think they are deducable from philosophical, or even evolutionary principles. Evolutionary values (things that increase reproductive success) are likely to change with the environmental conditions.

Jon said...

Theistic belief is not dishonest because one cannot help one's belief patterns and belief flow (i.e. I see the apple as red, I believe 2+2=4, I am convinced of "this", and not of "that"...). Science shows this aspect of the illusion of free-will and belief as well (but I am not certain of the alleged non-specialty of conciousness or qualia - Dennet has not completly convinced me yet). A theist who outwardly portrays himself as an atheist and vice versa would be dishonest, or the same for a set of priests who molest children while espousing higher morality, or Chavez in Venezuela espousing freedom while shutting down the opposing media.

True, some atheist literature paints religion as evil. Some religions (or aspects of them) have painted themselves that way, and try to paint everone else and thing as well. None of this discounts the fact that humans (the bulk) ought to evolve higher overall philosophical and scientific conceptions beyond what is lesser, while at the same time achieving this end in a morally superior manner over time. If there is good in religion I agree that we should not destroy the good aspects, only the bad.

I disagree with your relativist position concerning morals. It may be that some things are in the grey or some situations are moral trajedies, but to say in the strong: "The truth of morality is relative" is an analytic contradiction. Therefore, it has no position in which to defend itself from scrutiny. For example: To believe that an innocent person being burned alive by a murderer is simply a relative moral concern for a particular communtiy or individual missess the point.
-Thanks again, from a piece of the universe that emerged from primordial chaos.

Tommykey said...

Right about the conspiracy theories. I remembr reading about the Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk. She was a mentally unbalanced girl who was in a convent. She complained to the authorities that there were underground tunnels connecting the convent with the seminary so that the men and women could secretly engage in wild orgies.

A delegation of Protestant ministers investigated the claim and did not find any tunnels. Their conclusion? The tunnels must be cleverly concealed!

Anonymous said...

A "why" question can certainly be within the conceptual-linguistic system; it can certainly be an INTERNAL question.

It only becomes external if we're looking for a "why" answer from outside of the system.

I think asking for a supernatural answer would very much be external to our system because we have no contact with anything outside of our physical experience, although people will debate this.

However, since the whole problem with god is "his" "divine hiddenness," I think most reasonable people would agree "he" is "transcendent" from the system -- i.e., not an internal feature of the system.

This is why Taoists and Buddhists and Confucians say that we can't really "talk" about transcendental reality, only our manifest reality.

It's the same point as Carnap: even if there is something external to the system, we have no causal access to it and thus cannot really say anything that is not "ill-formed."

Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite posts on this blog, because it simply makes a great, and sad, analogy between modern theism and conspiracy nuts.

This really is what theists are being reduced to: having re-interpret their faith in retroactive ad infinitum!

What kind of "Truth" are we really talking about anyway here?

It almost seems as though theists are being pushed into relativism -- after all, having to always re-contexualize yourself is really what Derrida and post-structuralists mean by "undecidability."

Poor little "t" theism and their little "g" god.