Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Science needs no God

Hawking popped up in the news with a controversial view only to be displaced by Blair and Rooney. In essence Hawking stated that science had no requirement for God. As one might expect this brought out a stream of believers challenging his view all of whom seem to be oblivious to the torturous efforts they're going to in order to force their world-view into reality.
I'll start with a favourite. Hawking is a scientist (a cosmologist to be precise) and therefore speculation regarding God is outside his remit. This is an excellent argument that has been advanced in other fields - why should an astrophysicist speculate on life off Earth when that's the job of a astrobiologist? However it does create a difficult problem - who is qualified to discuss God? Shall we restrict the discussion only to those who hold a degree in Theology, perhaps only those who are published in qualified journals. Well that pretty much eliminates most of those currently holding positions in almost every religion; so that's a pretty tight discussion. If we extend it to those who hold a religious position I have to point out that such tend to be internally designated or even self-designated and therefore open to pretty much everyone.

Also worth pointing out he is talking within his field - science.

The next objection is attacking "spontaneous creation" that is something just happening. The argument here boils down to two objections. Firstly if something happens there has to be a cause and secondly even scientists have 'created' a starting point in terms of a sea of energy so even they don't believe their own statements.

So to start with cause and effect. That's essentially pattern matching and boy do we like pattern matching; it's essentially crack-cocaine to our brains. That's because species without it had a tendency to die. So what? Well the trouble is our pattern matching is too good, the logic being that it's better to produce a false negative than a false positive. Seeing a face in the darkness that's not there is better than not seeing a face that is. So our brains are wired up to constantly be aware of pattern matching and that involves cause and effect. We're not even aware of it until it goes wrong. Sit down on a chair and so what, sit down on a chair and miss and we instantly want to know why. Because it's so tightly wired if we can't find a cause our brains will produce one simply because that's how it works - this happened because of this.

That's fine at the macro level, but head down to the quantum level and things go a little crazy. Things can just happen with no cause. Some people can consciously accept that, some can't; those that can't look for a cause.

Now this ties in nicely to the second point of "well they need a sea of energy so where did that come from" which to those paying attention should easily appear as being a hypocritical statement. Scientists need this energy to explain the beginning of the universe, so why not God. Fine so where did God come from? He's always existed. Okay so if God has no beginning why do you require scientists to explain where this energy came from? Ah this energy could be God. Fine except once the universe is created this energy plays no more role in its creation, therefore no requirement for God within it. If it does play a part why can we find no evidence of this, why does the world at a macro level seem to function in blind obedience to rules? If the rules are a manifestation of this, then God has no place without breaking them; so why no evidence of this?

This in itself ties with the Epicurean paradox "Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?" and no 'mysterious ways' doesn't cover it.

Finally we get to proof by negation. Scientists can't prove that God doesn't exist therefore he does. Need I even bother? I've been chastised before for bringing in elves and unicorns, but seriously why not? This argument can be applied to everything and anything and is therefore only valid if it's adherents don't criticise other beliefs or flights of fancy. Oddly enough they rarely do only allowing this argument to apply to their own prejudices.

I think I've covered the big criticisms as per usual if you disagree (or even agree) comments are welcome pointing out just how wrong (or right) I am; but please provide your reasoning other than condemning me to Hell for my sins.


Jon D said...

I'm reluctant to reply here especially as i'm going on holiday in the next few days but what the hell (no pun intended). I agree with your first point but not the second. The whole point of pattern matching is indeed cause and effect which is pure rationality. It is this that has made scientific laws comprehensible to us. To then pull up the draw bridge at the final hurdle and say we should stop asking 'why' to me is disingenuous. Yes something can happen for no reason in quantum mechanics but causality
is fundamental to all natural science so we cannot write it off with an analogy of faces in the dark. I'm not saying that there MUST be a cause but to accept that things happen with no cause as your default position is really to reduce your arguments to almost nothing more than a bare assertion fallacy. I'll skip over the third point for times' sake and go to the 4th. Here I find both atheists and the religious wrong in discussing morality in religious (or rather 'God') terms. For me morality is temporal and can be rationally explained. It has nothing to do with God (whatever that may be). Finally proof by negation - I think this is a terrible argument...on your behalf. This is a Dawkinsism to provide entertaining TV. The reason being I have never heard an intelligent religious person use this argument as it is self evidently ridiculous. A straw man argument,as someone else said, to bash the religious.

FlipC said...

"causality is fundamental to all natural science" is that because it is fundamental or just because that's how how minds view the world? The fact that once we get to the quantum level things get weird suggests that it might be our perception of reality rather than reality itself. In which case it really is faces in the dark.

From a science point of view we have to proceed as if it all makes sense, but even scientists agree that the 'rules' we apply at this level may not correspond to what actually happens.

I agree with you on the morality point, the problem is that it is so intertwined with religion in our culture that it's difficult to separate or even use non-loaded language to discuss.

For proof by negation, again I agree with you which is why I shoot it down so quickly. I'm not creating it to bash the religious these are all arguments I've seen or heard being used to defend the existence of God; indeed that final point was something someone attempted to use on me as a rejoinder and offered in sincerity.

Jon D said...

By proceeding 'as if it all makes sense' we have got to the advanced state of understanding we have arrived at today and this is basically through following a path of causality. I think we have to take that as a given, or faith if you like, at least in the world of the macroscopic. If we don't we are veering off onto the well worn philosophical question of 'is the world created by our minds'. Which brings us neatly to Stephen Hawking's recent pronouncement that philosophy is dead, which nicely illustrates the limits to his massive brain. Finally I find it astounding that someone used the 'negation' argument on you, which to me shows that the biggest obstacles to people believing in God/Deity/Something Else isn't Dawkins/Hawking/Science but the religious themselves.

FlipC said...

Not gone yet then :-)

Again yes I have no problem with proceeding along those lines, provided you don't conflate 'the way we describe things' with 'the way things are' which sadly a lot of non-scientists (and sadly some scientists) can do leading to much confusion.

Full quote "Philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics." IOW it's moribund not extinct in a similar way that Latin is a dead language.

As to the negation argument, it did leave me absolutely speechless for a moment I really couldn't believe that it was being offered as if it had some sort of validity.