Atheists Disproving the Wrong God

There is a particular brand of objection to Christian theism that I like to call disproving the wrong God. It’s refuting a God that no one believes in anyway. I wrote about this a long time ago under the heading, “The Wrong God Fallacy,” also known as the “straw god” error. It’s amazing how easy it is to disprove the existence of the wrong God.

I’ve just encountered one of the more sophisticated versions of this in Stuart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro’s outstanding 2008 book Naturalism. They quote the philosopher Jan Narveson saying,

Creation stories abound in human societies, as we know. Accounts describe the creation to various mythical beings, chief gods among a sizable polytheistic committee, giant tortoises, super-mom hens, and, one is tempted to say, God-knows-what. The Judeo-Christian account does no better, and perhaps does a bit worse, in proposing a “six-day” process of creation.

It is plainly no surprise that details about just *how* all this was supposed to have happened are totally lacking when they are not, as I say, silly or simply poetic. For the fundamental idea is that some infinitely powerful mind simply willed it to be thus, and as they say, Lo!, it was so! If we aren’t ready to accept that as an explanatory description – as we should not be, since it plainly doesn’t *explain* anything, as distinct from merely asserting that it was in fact done – then where do we go from there? On all accounts, we at this point meet up with mystery. “How are we supposed to know the ways of the infinite and almighty God?” it is asked – as if that put-down made a decent substitute for an answer. But of course it doesn’t. If we are serious about “natural theology,” then we ought to be ready to supply content in our explication of theological hypotheses just as we do when we explicate the scientific hypotheses. Such explications carry the brunt of explanation. Why does water boil when heated? The scientific story supplies an analysis of matter in its liquid state, the effects of atmospheric pressure and heat, and so on until we see, in impressive detail, just how the thing works. An explanation’s right to be called “scientific” is, indeed, in considerable part earned precisely by its ability to provide such detail.

This amounts to an impressively effective refutation of a material, mechanical God: a God no one believes in.

I haven’t studied Narveson; I haven’t even read him beyond this quote. I’m bringing you this quote as representative of something I’ve seen in atheists including Steven Schafersman (see also here) and the (alas!) now-vanished commenters on this post. Because it’s representative I think it’s worth discussing. I don’t want to make the error of assuming I know what Narveson thinks beyond this short snippet of his words, however. So for this post I’ll use “N” instead of Narveson, where N represents a certain sort of non-believer with a certain kind of expectation. You’ll see what I mean as we go along.

N misses out on the “why” kind of explanation

For the kind of explanation it calls for in God’s working is the kind that belongs in the world of material, mechanical things. For one thing it wants to answer “why” questions in terms of “what efficient and material cause brought about this effect?” which fails (as Goetz and Taliaferro note) to take into account that explanations can also be given in terms of reasons. If we say “the pot is whistling because she wanted to make hot tea,” no one calls that a non-explanation.

He disproves a God whose parts could be analyzed

But Goetz and Taliaferro miss the better answer to N’s objection, in my view. N’s view requires that explanation be given in terms of steps that can be broken down, analyzed, and subsumed under general laws. He seems to doubt that any God can be found like that. I agree.

He disproves a spiritual reality that’s physical rather than spiritual

Further, this view is tantamount to ruling out spiritual explanations just because they are not physical; either that or else it insists that if there are any spiritual forces, then they must be material/mechanical forces, in order to be explanatory. Such a God obviously doesn’t exist. Again, I agree, and so does every other theist. N has ruled out a God no one believes in.

He finds God-as-explanation to be inadequate

His whole point would be trivially, even embarrassingly obvious if not for the purpose he puts it to, which is to say that theists can’t get any explanatory mileage out of the God we do believe in. For some reason it bothers him that we resort to “mystery,” as if we ought to be believers in a God we can analyze and understand. This again is the God that neither he nor we believe in.

Is there then some reason that we ought not believe in a God whose being and whose ways we cannot break down and analyze? N thinks that if we want to think of God as an explanation for reality, we can’t believe in the God we believe in, because such a God just doesn’t explain reality. Here again I’m almost back to agreeing with him. If I conceived of God only as an explanation, I would have nothing much to say about either God or the physical world.

N gets a lot right

I find myself agreeing with N on many things: ultimate reality does not consist in a mechanical/material/spiritual being whose parts can be analyzed and subsumed under general law.

Isn’t it refreshing to have non-believers helping us refute a false god?

But N misses out on the real God Christians believe in

The thing is, his refutations have nothing to do with the God Christians believe in.

Take his criticism of God-as-explanation. The thing is, that’s not the only way we have of knowing, understanding, or conceiving of God; far from it, in fact, for we do not know God or believe in him just as an explanatory force. He has given us so much more than that! We have his self-revelation, the record of his acts among men and women, the account of his character and purposes as he expressed it in history. Character and purposes explain things, too. “The pot is on the stove because she wanted to make tea for her husband,” provides us with deeper understanding than simply, “The pot is on the stove because she wanted to make tea.”

We can say that God explains things, then. The universe’s existence is explained (partly) as the expressive act of a creative God who loves beauty. Humans’ ability to think, to love, to act with moral significance is explained (partly) as the result of God’s wanting to create us with the ability to relate with him, and so that he could show his goodness and his love.

This doesn’t explain things fully; but then neither does physical causation, as Goetz and Taliaferro point out. We have no explanation for the existence of quarks. They might just be the ultimate particles, indivisible, not composed of any other stuff, whose existence simply is, for all science could ever find out. If not quarks, then some smaller, more fundamental particle must meet that description. There must be an end of science. And could science ever explain why there are physical laws, and energy, and matter?

God is accessible because he is God

But then again, are God’s character and purposes even explanatory? Are they not so far beyond us that we could never really grasp what they are in God’s mind? How could mere humans know anything of what God, the totally-other is like in himself? Not so fast. To say that humans could never understand anything whatsoever of God is to say that if there is a God, he is a God who cannot communicate anything about himself to humans. It is to say that God, who originated human communication, cannot communicate himself to humans.

Some may think that humans are woefully arrogant to suggest we might know something of God. Almost the reverse is true: to say that we cannot know anything of God is to make God so small that he cannot make himself known to us. I’m sure N would never believe in that kind of God. Neither do I, and neither does any other Christian.

At any rate, N seems to agree with Christians on many things. He seems to disbelieve in many of the same things we disbelieve in. More power to him on that!

Comments

  1. Dutch

    I’m puzzled by your claim that this is a straw God.

    Isn’t the God being disproved by “N” precisely the sort of God posited by the Christian Intelligent Design movement, toward which you seem to be (at a minimum) extremely sympathetic?

    Aren’t they objecting to clearly mechanistic hypotheses–primarily the descent of man and other great apes from a common ancestor–because they conflict with their idea of a God?

    “N’s view requires that explanation be given in terms of steps that can be broken down, analyzed, and subsumed under general laws.”

    Doesn’t the ID movement claim that their analyses demonstrate ID?

  2. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    No, Dutch. The God posited by theistic ID theorists is not analyzable into parts. His working in the world might be discoverable and analyzable scientifically, but not his nature in himself.

    The God of Genesis 1:3 did not strike a match in himself. He did not turn on a flashlight in himself.

    The God of Christianity does miracles in today’s world; but when he healed the woman with the hemorrhage, it wasn’t with a cauterizing tool or a tourniquet. God is spirit, who does work in the world that is physical. He does not do physical work in himself in order to do physical work in the world.

    Physical explanation is completely appropriate to physical reality. ID claims that there comes a point where physical explanation bumps into conceptual, in-principle impossibility, on the one hand, and that the physical world exhibits features best explained by intelligence, on the other hand. Both of those point toward a non-physical reality. The error I’m addressing here is that of saying, “If you can’t analyze and explain how non-physical reality works, then you have no explanation.”

  3. Ray Ingles

    A couple clarifying questions:

    There must be an end of science.

    Why? Why can’t it be, “this is as far as we’ve gotten so far”?

    Further, this view is tantamount to ruling out spiritual explanations just because they are not physical; either that or else it insists that if there are any spiritual forces, then they must be material/mechanical forces, in order to be explanatory.

    When people do psychological research, are they doing science? You contend that minds are ultimately spiritual and not physical – does that mean that science can say nothing about them?

    (I’m not trying to trap you in any ‘gotchas’, I’m asking these questions to help understand your point.)

  4. Jenna Black

    Tom,

    Thanks for this enlightening discussion of the “straw gods” of atheism. The quote from Jan Narveson exhibits many of the false arguments and claims that atheists make, but it is essential for us to take note first of all with the tone of these remarks and the attitude toward religions and cultures that it exemplifies. Note that Narveson ridicules creation myths from ancient cultures, even calling them “silly” and criticizing them as “explanatory descriptions.”

    Mr. Narveson is a cultural snob. He obviously looks with contempt on mythology as a story-telling genre among ancient civilizations and is especially condemnatory of myth and allegory as vehicles for communicating deep and complex theological understandings of the universe and humankind found in the sacred scriptures of Judaism and Christianity. I speculate that the only literary genre that Narveson finds that meet his criteria for not “silly” are peer-reviewed scientific journal research reports, which are rich in detail but, of course, are not treatises on the theological implications of cosmology, biology, etc.

    Atheists’ disapproval of the forms of communication of the teachings of religions is beside the point. They cannot even win a debate on the theological implications of the Big Bang Theory since atheists-materialists continue to insist that the universe popped into existence from nothing and that mind originates in/from matter, although they have yet to give us a satisfactory explanation (in any literary genre) of exactly how.

    I have oftentimes heard atheists complain about how it is difficult for them to argue about God’s “existence” since the term or concept of God is not clearly defined and seems to them to be a “moving target.” In fact, some atheists such as James Lindsay accuse theists of using the ambiguity of definition of God as a devious trick used in an attempt to wiggle off the atheists’ rhetorical hook. You have given us an excellent example and discussion of the “straw god” arguments that do not address the God Creator of the Universe we Christians love and worship.

  5. Ray Ingles

    Jenna –

    they cannot even win a debate on the theological implications of the Big Bang Theory since atheists-materialists continue to insist that the universe popped into existence from nothing

    You might find this video enlightening about what exactly the claims are.

  6. northierthanthou

    It isn’t clear that the snippets you reference is to disprove the existence of God, but rather to deny their meaningfulness as scientific explanations. I would add that the traditional narratives may not have been intended as explanations to begin with, but anyway, it does appear that you’re asking a different question than the one they are trying to answer.

  7. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Ray, you ask, “Why? Why can’t it be, ‘this is as far as we’ve gotten so far’?”

    I ask, why do you ask? The answer was in the paragraph you pulled that quote from.

  8. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    When people do psychological research, are they doing science? You contend that minds are ultimately spiritual and not physical – does that mean that science can say nothing about them?

    Science can analyze physically observable behaviors, and physical precursors to behavior. God, if God exists (as I’m convinced he does) isn’t physical. So science’s ability to study persons on a physical level says nothing about it having the ability to study God on a spiritual level.

  9. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    And you might find Hawking’s & Mlodinow’s The Grand Design and Krauss’s Universe From Nothing enlightening about what the claims are.

  10. Post
    Author
  11. Chris

    Jenna wrote:

    “Atheists’ disapproval of the forms of communication of the teachings of religions is beside the point. They cannot even win a debate on the theological implications of the Big Bang Theory since atheists-materialists continue to insist that the universe popped into existence from nothing and that mind originates in/from matter, although they have yet to give us a satisfactory explanation (in any literary genre) of exactly how.”

    Your comment alludes to a problem I’ve noticed with many (actually, most in my experience) theists. Somehow, somewhere, you buy into this notion that the origin of the Universe or the nature of mind, are settled matters. They are most certainly not, and unlike the very tidy and comfortable theistic view of the world, most non-theists are quite comfortable leaving these as open questions to be unraveled.

  12. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    Which questions, Chris, are non-theists open to leaving to be unraveled? I think that if you stacked unanswered question against unanswered question, you’d find that the two groups had different unanswered questions, but the level of openness would be similar.

  13. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson –

    The answer was in the paragraph you pulled that quote from.

    Over a year ago,, I asked G. Rodrigues: Feser states something along the lines of, ‘people depend on molecules, and molecules depend on atoms, and atoms depend on particles, and particles depend on quarks, but how far down can this go? Not all that far.’ Aquinas was willing to grant an infinite regress per accidens but not a causal one. But I don’t see where Aquinas or Feser argue for that.

    Why must there be a ‘most fundamental particle’? Is there an argument for that, rather than an assumption?

  14. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson –

    Science can analyze physically observable behaviors, and physical precursors to behavior.

    I was speaking specifically of psychological research. When psychologists study feelings, are you asserting that (a) they are studying something nonphysical, or (b) that they aren’t doing science, or (c) that feelings are physical, or (d) something else?

  15. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Ray, the reason for a most fundamental particle has to do with the impossibility of infinite regress. But even if there weren’t a most fundamental particle, there would eventually have to be an end to science in its ability to explain. Why are there physical laws? Why does explanation explain, or, why do we have the ability to ask and answer “why” questions? Where did the first matter and energy come from and why? etc.

  16. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Ray, help me understand why this isn’t a red herring, please. The topic in the OP was about the impossibility of analyzing spiritual reality as if it were physical reality, and how it’s question-begging to expect that it would be. I can’t see how your question relates to that.

  17. Jenna Black

    To Ray, RE: #5,

    I have viewed this video of the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum debate between Dr. Sean Carroll and Dr. William Lane Craig and find it to be excellent. I reiterate what Dr. Craig repeated several times in the debate. It is not a debate between naturalism and theism. It is a debate about whether or not God’s existence is more probable given the data of/from modern cosmology than it would be without this data. As Dr. Craig states, the conclusion we can (perhaps must) draw from the debate is that “modern cosmology is strongly confirmatory of theism.” I agree.

    To Chris, RE: #11

    I disagree with your observation that there is a “… very tidy and comfortable theistic view of the world” that makes theists adhere to the “… notion that the origin of the Universe or the nature of mind, are settled matters.” Most certainly, there are people of faith who don’t engage in these debates and discussions about the theological implications of modern cosmology. Possible reasons may be that quantum physics and the Big Bang Theory are intimating for most ordinary believers, but quite another reason may be that they/we simply accept Dr. Craig’s conclusion that the science of cosmology is merely confirmatory of our belief in God so “debates” with atheists-naturalists-materialists are simply non-productive.

    Naturalism does not and cannot disprove God and atheists do not accept theology as an epistemology, so where do we really go from here? Atheists who are engaged in giving naturalistic critiques of ancient mytho-poetic theological teachings may be engaged in something they find entertaining, but as far as illuminating our understanding of God and His relationship with humankind, collectively and individual, such discussions generate more heat than light.

  18. JAD

    Chris to Jenna @ #11:

    Your comment alludes to a problem I’ve noticed with many (actually, most in my experience) theists. Somehow, somewhere, you buy into this notion that the origin of the Universe or the nature of mind, are settled matters. They are most certainly not, and unlike the very tidy and comfortable theistic view of the world, most non-theists are quite comfortable leaving these as open questions to be unraveled.

    As a theist all I’m really concerned with is keeping the scientific questions separate from the metaphysical ones. Of course there are some areas where the questions overlap– the origin of the universe, the nature of mind and consciousness along with a few others. However, it is actually the non-theist who adheres to a very closed-off world view. It is he who insists that everything that exists can be explained by matter/energy + space/time + the laws of nature and nothing else. But in adhering to such a dogma it is he who leaves questions unanswered, like: “why are there laws of nature? Where did they come from?” That’s his “very tidy and comfortable [non-theistic] view of the world…” As a theist I am challenging the non-theist to justify his assumptions. Why are you treating them as if they were “settled matters?”

  19. Dutch

    “No, Dutch. The God posited by theistic ID theorists is not analyzable into parts.”

    I agree.

    “His working in the world might be discoverable and analyzable scientifically, but not his nature in himself.”

    My point is that His working isn’t analyzable scientifically, but the ID movement is falsely claiming that it is. That’s why you have to qualify “ID” with “theorists.” If they were truly analyzing scientifically, there would be ID empiricists. I think we can agree that there never will be.

    “The God of Christianity does miracles in today’s world; but when he healed the woman with the hemorrhage, it wasn’t with a cauterizing tool or a tourniquet. God is spirit, who does work in the world that is physical. He does not do physical work in himself in order to do physical work in the world.”

    I thought we were discussing physical work in the world, such as the origin of modern humans.

    “…ID claims that there comes a point where physical explanation bumps into conceptual, in-principle impossibility, on the one hand, and that the physical world exhibits features best explained by intelligence, on the other hand.”

    I’m not following you. Why would the alleged impossibility be merely conceptual and not empirical?

    “Both of those point toward a non-physical reality. The error I’m addressing here is that of saying, “If you can’t analyze and explain how non-physical reality works, then you have no explanation.””

    I know. I’m pointing out what looks to me to be the flip side of that error, “If you invoke the same (necessarily) vague non-physical reality to explain how physical reality works, then you aren’t really explaining, particularly scientifically.”

  20. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Dutch, yes, we’re discussing physical work in the world, but please re-read what I wrote about the kind of error some people make: the error of seeking to analyze God, or spiritual reality of any sort, into component parts, causes, effects, and actions, as if it were physical. That’s a different topic than the one you’re bringing up here.

    Why would the alleged impossibility (referred to previously) be conceptual and not empirical? I could answer that, but then this would turn into a discussion on the merits of ID theory, and since you’ve read the discussion policies you know I don’t prefer that comments take off into entirely new trajectories.

    Your final paragraph is exactly right, to this extent: when we invoke non-physical reality, we’re not explaining anything scientifically.

    We tend not, however, to invoke it to explain how physical reality works, but more often to explain (yes, actually explain, at least to a degree unattainable by any other explanatory mode) why there is a physical reality at all, why it works at all, why humans can understand it at all, where humans fit into the scheme of things, and other matters for which God’s ways constitute a better explanation than any other.

  21. G. Rodrigues

    @Chris:

    They are most certainly not, and unlike the very tidy and comfortable theistic view of the world, most non-theists are quite comfortable leaving these as open questions to be unraveled.

    As opposed to the comfortable tidy Atheistic blindness that while these questions are opened, theists are certainly wrong? The typical “open” Atheistic mind is indeed a marvel to behold, a creature as rare and exotic as a Unicorn parading in the streets of Birmingham.

  22. Ray Ingles

    Ray, the reason for a most fundamental particle has to do with the impossibility of infinite regress.

    I have never seen an argument for the impossibility of infinite regress. So far as I can tell, it’s just assumed – ‘Well, that’s obviously impossible!’ But given how counterintuitive the universe has proven so far – almost everything humans have learned since we left the African savanna has been surprising in some way – I’m not so sure that ‘obviously impossible’ is a sound argument.

    Why are there physical laws? Why does explanation explain, or, why do we have the ability to ask and answer “why” questions? Where did the first matter and energy come from and why? etc.

    As Einstein asked, “Did God have any choice in creating the universe?” It’s not clear that the physical laws we see could be different. We understand the regularities, and sometimes we can relate them to more fundamental properties, but that’s as far was we’ve gotten… so far. I suspect they may ‘bottom out’ – if they bottom out – in fundamental things like logic and mathematics.

    In short, I think it’s rather presumptuous to think we’ve got a solid handle on this stuff, to the point where we can confidently assert one particular possibility is the ‘most likely’.

  23. Ray Ingles

    Ray, help me understand why this isn’t a red herring, please. The topic in the OP was about the impossibility of analyzing spiritual reality as if it were physical reality

    It seems to me that psychology – at least a large chunk of it – is about analyzing feelings, emotions, styles of thought. And this holds whether or not they are conceived of as ‘physical’ or not. The days of behaviorism are long past. As you point out, we don’t currently have a theory covering how exactly such things relate to the physical – but as I point out, we study them nonetheless.

    In other words, if I understand you correctly, you would have to contend that psychology is a case of a science that studies a nonphysical reality. Is that correct? If not, where have I gone wrong?

  24. Jenna Black

    Ray,

    You are probably aware that among scientists, there are those who make a distinction between the “hard” sciences like mathematics, physics, biology, etc. and the humanities or “social sciences” that are academic disciplines that deal with human behavior, where many place psychology. Even within psychology there is the discipline of experimental psychology versus counseling, where experimental psychology employs certain scientific, experimental and empirical methods of research while counseling uses case studies and ethnographic methods of research.

    Many scientists from the “hard” sciences do not consider psychology to be a science. For me, the term “science” entails the use of certain specified and agreed-upon as well as limited research methods. Here is the official statement of the US National Academy of Sciences regarding the questions that are the subject of this blog: “Science is a way of knowing about the natural world through natural causes. Science can say nothing about the supernatural. Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral.” Scientists inevitably get in trouble and IMO, make fools of themselves, when they pretend to “do”theology and call it science.

  25. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Ray, other than, “hey, who knows?” could you give one reason to think that infinite regress shouldn’t be assumed? It leads to complete absurdities, after all. There’s a reason most people accept those two words as sufficient to bring a line of reasoning to a conclusion.

    If the physical laws could be different, why are they what they are? If they couldn’t be, then why couldn’t they? Either way, the point remains: there has to be an end to science. (Let’s not forget that’s why we’re talking about these things.)

  26. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Ray @23, no, you haven’t yet understood what I’m talking about. I’m not saying that every non-physical reality is inaccessible to science in every way. That would be an interesting question to explore, but it’s pretty much irrelevant to what I’ve been talking about here.

    I’m contesting a specific view that “requires that explanation be given in terms of steps that can be broken down, analyzed, and subsumed under general laws.” Also, the idea that “if there are any spiritual forces, then they must be material/mechanical forces, in order to be explanatory.” Also, the view that God “is analyzable into parts.”

    So let’s grant that psychology could be the scientific study of some sort of something that’s non-physical. That has nothing to do with the specific ideas and claims that I’ve brought up for discussion here.

  27. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson –

    It leads to complete absurdities, after all.

    Professor Steven Weinberg is supposed to have quipped, “Quantum Mechanics is a totally preposterous theory which, unfortunately, appears to be correct.” The idea that space and time could change based on velocity was supposed to be pretty absurd, too. Continental drift, germ theory of disease, etc. etc.

    Absurd is one thing. Logically contradictory is another. Whether or not it’s the former, I haven’t seen a case made that infinite regress is the latter.

    I’m contesting a specific view that “requires that explanation be given in terms of steps that can be broken down, analyzed, and subsumed under general laws.” Also, the idea that “if there are any spiritual forces, then they must be material/mechanical forces, in order to be explanatory.” Also, the view that God “is analyzable into parts.”

    I dunno if you need ‘parts’ as such to qualify as science. If nothing else, there’s the figure/ground distinction – by identifying the edges of the figure you can characterize the ground. The Mandelbrot Set is kind of an example – computers are used to explore its boundary, essentially by finding points that aren’t part of the set.

  28. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Ray, whether one needs parts to qualify as science or not, the view I’m contesting is the view I’m contesting. It’s been stated clearly enough, often enough.

    In fact, I’d like to ask you if you could state for me in your own words what this post is about. Hint: it isn’t about what you’ve been saying it’s about. You’ll need to back up a ways and take a fresh look at it, as well as my answers to your comments.

  29. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    P.S. Whatever Weinberg might have said about QM, there must, of necessity, be an end of scientific explanation. For some reason you’ve decided to ignore the second paragraph of my recent comment on that, and you’ve tried to take this thing off on yet another tangent. Please. Try to stay on topic, okay? This isn’t about whether science can get strange, weird, or counter-intuitive. It’s about what it’s about—which I won’t summarize again, since I’ve asked you to do it for yourself just now.

  30. Ray Ingles

    One more thing –

    For some reason it bothers him that we resort to “mystery,”

    I think there really is a difference between referring to something ‘unknown’ and something ‘unknowable‘. (Familiar, I know.) As you note, we don’t know why we see the particular physical laws we do – but scientists keep studying and pushing the boundaries further back. Hence cosmology – which, it should be noted (and as Carroll does note, in the debate that I linked to, as well as here), includes plenty of models that don’t require a ‘beginning’.

  31. Ray Ingles

    Whatever Weinberg might have said about QM, there must, of necessity, be an end of scientific explanation.

    I grant that there’s certainly always going to be a current boundary. I’m questioning the assertion that of necessity there must be a boundary that couldn’t be pushed back further in the sense you seem to intend. If you push something all the way back to mathematics, for example, I don’t see the need to justify the existence of “2+2=4”. That’s the kind of think that couldn’t not be.

  32. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    What do you think is the main point of the post, Ray? Can you state it in your own words?

    You’re dancing around the edges of it, tugging it off course. Not worth answering.

  33. Jenna Black

    Ray,

    I linked to the video of the Carroll-Craig debate and it has been removed from UTube. They have posted a statement that this is because of a copyright issue.

    This is my opinion about the issue of the universe’s beginning from a non-scientist and a Christian perspective. There are only two possibilities: the universe as we know it either had a beginning or the universe is eternal, with no beginning and no end. In Genesis 1:1 the ancient Hebrews begin giving their rationale for their relationship with God with the words “In the beginning…” The authors of Genesis were speaking theologically, although their level of knowledge of cosmology and natural history seems to be to have been remarkably sophisticated. Nonetheless, humankind’s relationship with our Creator God has, for us at least, a beginning point. The Book of Genesis is the Hebrews’ analysis of the deep meaning of creation in terms of how we live our human lives in relationship to/with our Creator, by whatever name we call the Creator and whoever/whatever He is and however we encounter and know Him.

    IMHO, our level of understanding of cosmology is not an important factor in our love for and relationship with God. Knowledge of cosmology is not required to feel the deep sense of awe that comes from contemplation of the marvels of creation.

  34. Dutch

    “…please re-read what I wrote about the kind of error some people make: the error of seeking to analyze God, or spiritual reality of any sort, into component parts, causes, effects, and actions, as if it were physical. That’s a different topic than the one you’re bringing up here.”

    Tom, I did. That’s the same topic! ID purports to analyze God as a designer analogous to physical human designers. It even emphasizes only the component of design and ignores the implementation of the design!

    “I could answer that, but then this would turn into a discussion on the merits of ID theory, and since you’ve read the discussion policies you know I don’t prefer that comments take off into entirely new trajectories.”

    In your 2007 post you acknowledged the clear connection with ID! It therefore doesn’t make sense to call it a new trajectory.

    “Your final paragraph is exactly right, to this extent: when we invoke non-physical reality, we’re not explaining anything scientifically. We tend not, however, to invoke it to explain how physical reality works,…”

    I don’t at all, but the ID movement clearly is invoking it to explain how physical reality works and calling it science. If we agree that it’s incorrect for anyone to portray God in this way, it’s incorrect when the ID movement does it.

  35. bigbird

    unlike the very tidy and comfortable theistic view of the world, most non-theists are quite comfortable leaving these as open questions to be unraveled

    This seems to translate to “I have faith that naturalism is true, and so even if currently it seems there are some good reasons to think theism is true, I believe that in time science will produce answers that will render theism unnecessary”.

    It’s just a statement of worldview.

  36. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Dutch, I don’t know what else to say except that you are categorically wrong. ID does not analyze God into parts, and while it does seek to recognize evidences for an intelligent designer in natural processes, it does not propose that natural processes have any analogy in the supernatural realm. Disagree with me all you want, but either you misunderstand what I am saying or you misunderstand ID.

  37. JAD

    Tom: “Your final paragraph is exactly right, to this extent: when we invoke non-physical reality, we’re not explaining anything scientifically. We tend not, however, to invoke it to explain how physical reality works,…”

    Dutch: I don’t at all, but the ID movement clearly is invoking it to explain how physical reality works and calling it science. If we agree that it’s incorrect for anyone to portray God in this way, it’s incorrect when the ID movement does it.

    Personally I disagree with ID’ists who claim that ID is “scientific.” (Of course, as a theist I presuppose a metaphysical versions of ID.) However, naturalists and materialists who criticize scientific ID are making the same mistakes they see with ID. They think that their philosophical world view has “all but been proven” by the physical sciences.

    However, naturalism (or materialism) is a philosophical world view which makes metaphysical claims. It is no more scientific than theism. Naturalism assumes that natural causation alone (causation that does not involve any kind of intelligent agency–God, angels, aliens etc.) is sufficient to explain everything about the universe and life, including the emergence of self-conscious intelligent life.

    You cannot establish the philosophical assumptions upon which naturalism rests scientifically.

  38. Chris

    Bigbird – “This seems to translate to “I have faith that naturalism is true, and so even if currently it seems there are some good reasons to think theism is true, I believe that in time science will produce answers that will render theism unnecessary”.

    It’s just a statement of worldview.”

    Not really. The position that I hold is more or less flexible given the changing nature of human knowledge. I do know that nature exists, and I also know that we can learn things about it through the practise of science. History has demonstrated that and I think most theists also would agree with that statement.

    Where things get funny is that I don’t subscribe to a particular opinion on metaphysics or things that we cannot currently learn from science. There seem to be plenty of gaps in our knowledge, such as where the Universe came from, what is the nature of consciousness, is there a foundation for morality, how do we reason, etc, and science will get us to answers for some of those things. For others perhaps it won’t. Perhaps there is some dimension of reality that is yet to be revealed. Perhaps it will be part of “nature” and perhaps it won’t at all.

    Christian theism, like many other religious belief systems has some interesting aspects to it, namely it appears on the surface to have answers to almost all of these things, but ultimately the leaves me unsatisfied when looked at more closely. It just doesn’t make sense.

    Anyway, the point is that I reserve judgment until there is a real reason to commit to something, and I think many other non-theists think the same way.

    We just don’t know and unlike what Jenna wrote higher up in the thread, most atheists are not committed enough to have to “defend” something like a model which suggest the Universe came from nothing.

    We just…don’t…know…

    Thanks again for running this great blog!

  39. Jenna Black

    Chris, RE: #38

    I have two questions for you:

    If you view on The God Question is simply that you just don’t know, then doesn’t that mean that you are an agnostic, not an atheist?

    What is it about Christianity that you say “just doesn’t make sense”?

  40. SteveK

    It just doesn’t make sense.

    What does this mean? There may be some aspects of Christianity that are difficult to understand and are unusual to us (miracles, demons, angles), but the message certainly isn’t incoherent. If you mean that you have unanswered questions and can’t make sense of everything, well, join the club. I have a ton of those too, but still, I can understand it.

  41. Dutch

    Comment deleted by siteowner for persistent violation of comment guideline #3. See the notice given in comment #20.

  42. scblhrm

    Fake-Gods foisted by atheists and then attacked.

    Nonsense.

    Tom,

    Well, I’m going to copy/paste something I just put into the True Reason thread, as it relates to false descriptions of the Christian God.

    Again, please, if this copy/paste move is bad form, cluttering up threads, just delete it. I assure you I do not mean to make a habit of this, but this is a big time-saver for me on this rather busy weekend.

    For all the FSM folks:

    [Ultimate Actuality], whatever it is, is without question, One, for, there are not 1.000009 realities. If the Multi-Verse, then “that” just is the Whole. Hawking now agrees with Genesis 1:1 that [Ultimate Actuality] is also Immaterial, just as he agrees that it, whatever it is, is also Timeless. That such a thing must be Unchanging has forced the hand of the Naturalist to posit that all which is our reality, this universe, time, and so on, every bit of it, cannot be real, but must be a mere Hologram. Hawking tells us Time is not ontologically real, whereas, Imaginary Time is ontologically real. Such a desperate move is to circumvent the problem of contingency amid Cause/Effect. A Necessary and Sufficient Cause of [All-Effects] standing amid This-Effect yet not That-Effect speaks of the incoherence of mechanistic determinism, and our eyes see no geography which accounts for this, in the real world which mind perceives, other than within the confines of Intention. But this must be avoided at all costs by the Naturalists, and thus Imaginary Spheres and You-Are-A-Hologram are sought out and dived into, shouting, “No! None of this is real!”

    Reason itself, void of intentionality, is sheer illusion, is a Hologram, if materialism, and thus the desperate move to Holograms, lest Cosmic Intention open the door to Reason, all of which leads to God. “No! None of this is real!” is the only coherent move left.

    A Necessary and Sufficient Cause of [All Effects] found standing amid This Effect but not That Effect is incoherent, and as such This Effect which is this “universe” (whatever that whole is) must be Not-Real, must be sheer illusion, must be a Hologram, or, there must be Intention, for Intention is the only other end of regress which avoids absurdity.

    We find then that [Ultimate Actuality] houses the following:

    1) It is One
    2) It is Immaterial
    3) It is Timeless
    4) It is Unchanging
    5) It is the Necessary and Sufficient Cause of [All Effects]
    6) It stands amid This Effect but not That Effect

    We conclude then with the only two rational options:

    A) Nothing is real. “This is all a Hologram” just is the end of the matter.

    B) Cosmic Intentionality, Will, just is the end of the matter.

    Our brutally repeatable experience of intention, coupled with observed reality, brings us, then, to this juncture:

    It will be opaque skepticism in some bizarre amalgamation with mereological nihilism, as all is illusion, as all is Hologram, or, it will be that I do in fact exist. If there is I, if i-am, then mereological nihilism is false, and a whole new reality has been stumbled upon.

    I exist.

    I am.

    This startling statement coupled with all of cosmology coupled with all of perception coupled with all of physics brings us, again, back to that Necessary and Sufficient Cause of [All Effects] standing amid This but not That, wherein i-am, wherein Will breaks through the absurdity of the holograms of mereological nihilism with a far more gritty, far more rigorous explanatory power housed within its TOE.

    We’ve somehow stumbled upon all that is The-Self, and therein the door into all that is The-Other is wide open, for i-am is not a Hologram, not illusion, but stands intact amid many I’s, and thus the Other, You, is found, also, standing intact, on necessity.

    But Reality is One. We come then to We, the singularity of unity of the singular-Us, for, as we have seen, Ultimate Actuality is One.

    We find but one TOE infused into Mankind’s Consciousness upon planet Earth wherein the landscape of the fully singular, the fully triune [Self-Other-Us] stands as the Ontological End of Regress, as the Uncaused Cause, in Whom the term E Pluribus Unum just is [Ultimate Actuality].

    I see only intellectual desperation in pretend Imaginary Spheres and pretend Time and real Holograms and FSMs and Unicorns.

    None of them have the explanatory power which is housed, necessarily, within the fully singular, fully triune God, Who is Himself E Pluribus Unum, Who is, on ontological necessity, Love.

  43. Ray Ingles

    What do you think is the main point of the post, Ray? Can you state it in your own words?

    That disproving some conceptions of theism doesn’t necessarily disprove all conceptions of the Christian God? That “ultimate” reality and causality may not be comprehensible to humans?

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