Tuesday, April 15, 2014

God's Science

Nature, we all know, follows laws. It follows laws regardless of whether you and I are thinking about the laws or whether you and I know what the laws are.

As Jacques Lacan once asked, if the planets were following Kepler’s formula for their orbits before Kepler wrote it down, the law must exist independently of human knowing.

But then, before any scientist thought it, was another mind thinking it? We know that ideas are metaphysical entities. No one has ever seen, heard, tasted, touched or smelled an idea. But, is it possible for an idea to exist without there being a thinker thinking it?

Dare I say, it is not a trivial issue. Nor is it trivial to ask whether science can prove or disprove the existence of God.

Emir Aczel does not believe that science can disprove the existence of God. Reviewing Aczel’s book, MIT physicist Alan Lightman defines the issue clearly:

Aczel, trained as a mathematician, currently a research fellow in the history of science at Boston University and the author of “Fermat’s Last Theorem,” takes aim at the New Atheists in his intelligent and stimulating book “Why Science Does Not Disprove God.” He attempts to show that the New Atheists’ analyses fall far short of disproving the existence of God. In fact, he accuses these folks of staining the scientific enterprise by bending it to their dark mission.

Summarizing Aczel, Lightman invites us to examine the latest scientific theory of the origin of the universe, the one that sees the universe as having emerged out of “quantum foam.”  For the record the Hebrew version of Genesis calls it tohu wa bohu.  In translation, the Biblical text reads: “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

At what point does science yield to metaphysics?

In his words:

There is plenty of good scientific evidence that our universe began about 14 billion years ago, in a Big Bang of enormously high density and temperature, long before planets, stars and even atoms existed. But what came before? Krauss in his book discusses the current thinking of physicists that our entire universe could have emerged from a jitter in the amorphous haze of the subatomic world called the quantum foam, in which energy and matter can materialize out of nothing. (On the level of single subatomic particles, physicists have verified in the lab that such creation from “nothing” can occur.) Krauss’s punch line is that we do not need God to create the universe. The quantum foam can do it quite nicely all on its own. Aczel asks the obvious question: But where did the quantum foam come from? Where did the quantum laws come from? Hasn’t Krauss simply passed the buck? Legitimate questions. But ones we will probably never be able to answer.

Lightman takes exception to Aczel’s view that when science cannot explain something it proves that God exists. He answers that this reasoning assumes that science will never know more than it knows today.

He explains:

It is not the inability of science to explain some physical phenomenon that shows we cannot disprove the existence of a creative power (i.e., God). Science is a work in progress, and phenomena that science cannot explain now may be explained 100 years from now. Before the 18th century, people had no explanation for lightning.

He continues that science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God. Grant that Darwin’s theories are scientific fact, but nothing about them says that they do not manifest divine will.

Besides, as long as God cannot be measured, you cannot devise a scientific experiment that would prove or disprove God’s existence:

The reason that science cannot disprove the existence of God, in my opinion, is that God, as understood by all human religions, exists outside time and space. God is not part of our physical universe (although God may choose to enter the physical universe at times). God is not subject to experimental tests. Either you believe or you don’t believe.

He continues:

Thus, no matter what scientific evidence is amassed to explain the architecture of atoms, or the ways that neurons exchange chemical and electrical signals to create the sensations in our minds, or the manner in which the universe may have been born out of the quantum foam, science cannot disprove the existence of God — any more than a fish can disprove the existence of trees. Likewise, no matter what gaps exist in current scientific knowledge, no matter what baffling good deeds people do, no matter what divine and spiritual feelings people have, theology cannot prove the existence of God. 

If we accept that theology cannot prove the existence of God scientifically, perhaps there are other, rational ways of showing that God exists. After all, scientific proof is not be the only kind.

Ultimately, science can merely account for what is. It cannot account for what might have been. It cannot explain why what is did not turn out otherwise. We are left, Lightman says, with faith:

Some universes have stars and planets, some do not. Some harbor life, some do not. In this scenario, our universe is simply an accident. If our particular universe did not have the right parameters to allow the emergence of life, we wouldn’t be here to talk about it. In a similar way, Earth happens to be at the right distance from the sun to have liquid water, a nice oxygen atmosphere and so on. We can ask why our planet has all these lovely properties, amenable to life. And the explanation is that there is nothing special or designed about Earth. Other planets exist. But if we lived on Mercury, where the temperature is 800 degrees, or on Neptune, where it is 328 degrees below zero, we could not exist. Unfortunately, it is almost certain that we cannot prove the existence of these other universes. We must accept their existence as a matter of faith.


Jocker said...

If God is a person, he should have dreams and desires. So maybe he should also have a wife.

Sam L. said...

"As Jacques Lacan once asked, if the planets were following Kepler’s formula for their orbits before Kepler wrote it down, the law must exist independently of human knowing."

Ah, but they WEREN'T following Kepler's Law. Kepler's "Law" simply (if we can call it so) describes what the planets are doing. Wrong premises lead us astray. So does incorrect wordage.

And Jocker, if God were a person, he'd be as old as time, and likely tired of that wife. And she of him.

Anonymous said...

God is endangered because of habitat loss caused by climate change.


Anonymous said...

"Emir Aczel does not believe that science can disprove the existence of God."

The point of science isn't to disprove things/ideas with no empirical basis.
For example, it's not science's job to disprove if Nirvana exists or not. Science deals with observable, measurable, and/or quantifiable reality. It has nothing to say about assertions that have no basis in fact, presumed or hypothesized.

Religion is a matter of vision, inspiration, faith, imagination, and/or dogma. It makes no sense to discuss God, Heaven, Nirvana, or the Tao in relation to science.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 4/15/14 at 3:09 PM is absolutely correct, and this is my greatest problem with this entire debate, because it's a rigged game of sorts. And it's the reason why the silliness called "intelligent design" can't hold up either: it's not falsifiable.

Of course atheists don't believe... there's no data. It's not empirical. It's arguable if it's rational/reasonable, and there are arguments on both sides. But ultimately, we are talking about relationship with the eternal... that which is beyond matter, and therefore beyond empirical measurement. Before the "Big Bang" or whatever creation story/theory you want to... create. Something doesn't come from nothing. There is a source, whether one calls it a "singularity" or whatever convenient euphemism we use to explain nothing. Because before that, there isn't the unmistakable "nothing." There's something. And I haven't heard a way around that.

God cannot be put in a box. If that insults your sensibilities, then I don't really know what to say. And let's be honest... there's nothing to really move you, is there? The only way is for you to see God, and that's... well, that's silly. Perhaps sillier than asking for God to show up. On your timeframe nonetheless! And how would God show up in an acceptable way? You have a demand I cannot possibly satisfy.

Love can't be measured, beauty can't be a measured, but they're important, aren't they? As in vital to LIFE, in all it's resplendence. It's wonder on an entirely different level. It's transcendent.

It comes down to a choice: are we bumbling sacks of ambulatory protoplasm, or are/were we created by God? Forget about the "...in His image" stuff, let's just start with the basics. I'm sure I'm not giving the best offer here, but words fail me, and I assert words fail every believer in this regard. Attempting to solve something with your left brain that only your right brain can comprehend is a fool's errand, an impossibility. It might drive you mad.

So what are you left with? Belief? Unbelief? As much as I love science, there is no way I can get my arms around this universe (laws of nature aside, which are suspended under quantum physics), and as much as I love philosophy, there is no way I can get around the fullness of what it means to live a good life. Both come up short. Yet it's all REAL.

So if you think I'm an idiot, knock yourself out and go back to believing whatever it is you want to believe. Or flame me with comments. But if there's something more out there that you can't get your arms around, I invite you to choose God. And if there's something you can't get your arms around about what it means to live a good life, I invite you to choose Jesus. All else will grow in time, you'll see the connection. Sure, you can say that theists act like scoundrels and Christians are the biggest collection of hypocrites you've ever encountered. And that's the Christian challenge, because the entire faith is ridiculous on it's face, basically set up to show you a farcical result, because we're... human. Fallen creatures.

And who would create such a creature, warts and all? I call it God. And that shows God has a sense of humor. Thank God. Otherwise, what would we have to talk about? Have you heard your pet gerbil complain about the other gerbil in his cage? Would you want to?

And I can't believe I'm posting this comment. Well, at least Stuart does. After all, it's Holy Week.


Jeff Dorsai said...

anyone that says faith has no place in science is either ignorant or a fool ... in the end there will always be a question about where something came from that can only be answered by "it was just there" ... or in other words faith ...

n.n said...

Actually, the evidence does not confirm their speculation. It can only ever not reject it. Science, as distinguished from other philosophies, is necessarily constrained to a limited frame of reference. While it can exploit inference to guide its interests, it cannot rely on it to defend or establish its theories.

The principles of evolution are scientific fact. They are observable and reproducible within a closed frame of reference. Darwin's description of species origin and diversification are articles of faith, or, charitably, philosophical constructs. The former can be inferred, and defended through emergent patterns and circumstantial evidence. While the latter may yet be observed as something other than minor variations.

As for God, there is an unknown underlying order, which temporarily overcomes the natural state of entropy. There is no cause to believe that human faculty and technology will ever be capable of perceiving, let alone observing, anything other than the top-most layers of our host system. Actually, it is an open question if we are even capable of recognizing the underlying order.

God, as we understand it, is an entity that exists outside of our system; outside of our perceptions; certainly outside of our ability to sense. Our ancestors claim to have witnessed several physical manifestations of this entity. They further claim that this entity was the origin of the underlying order in our system, including the incorporated forms known as humans.

Anyway, it would be simpleminded, even ignorant, to reject what we do not know, and to close our minds to the possibilities. Similarly, it would be simpleminded, even ignorant, to rely on something without cause. Fortunately, this God has only directed humans to follow a moral order, which people seem to appreciate as a self-evident truth. This God also directs humans to observe, characterize, and exploit their environment to improve their condition.

That said, make life, not abortion. Spontaneous conception is a self-evident myth, which should not provide comfort to anyone.