June 27, 2010

God II

If you say atheism is faith, what's your definition of science? Is the force of gravity a concept of faith or science? I suppose you hold that atheism is based on the absence of proof, as opposed the observation of proof. I somewhat buy that, but I think the practical difference is not that much. If I've understood your post correctly, then it seems you'd be fine with "intelligent design" taught inside a science class--but maybe I'm misunderstanding.

June 25, 2010 1:15 PM

This was Clark's response to my last post "God". I responded that he "took the bait" because these are subjects I rant about constantly, sometimes to the chagrin of my family and friends.

Easy question first: I do not think that intelligent design should be taught in science class because, as I understand it (and I could be wrong about this), intelligent design takes God as a given and moves from there. Until there is a proof for the existence of God that is internally consistent with the parameters of science, then discussions of God belong in religion class, not science class. Although, are the discussions of the existence of God really all that different from discussions of the existence of dark matter?

As a quick aside, I never understood why religious types were always so eager to attack science. Quite a few scientists are religious . . . I used to have an Irish priest as a professor who said "I absolutely believe in evolution: I believe the world evolves according to God's plan". The two are not mutually exclusive, they are just different ways of seeing.

The concept of gravity is a concept of science, which requires a commitment of faith, as does any thought system. It is not a question of "faith" or "science", as if science is fact and faith is fiction. Science, like any other way of seeing the world, is a system of metaphor. What makes science special is that it is limited to the quantitative, or that which can be measured. This limiting of science makes it a very utilitarian metaphor system and, as such, a very useful system in a concrete way. This does not, however, make science more "true" than any other system of thought: think about the ocean, example. I would argue that Moby Dick tells you as much about the ocean as the description H2O along with a list of its other constituent minerals and all the organisms that inhabit it. On the other hand, if you want to make a diving apparatus or a deep water drilling platform, you are much better off consulting depth charts, geological surveys, etc. . . . you are much better off using science to design your tools.*

Even conceding this understanding of science v. other metaphor systems, we still tend to think of science as objective fact, which is where Clark's citation of gravity comes in to play. If science dealt exclusively in objective fact, then a fact, once discovered, would be forever immutable. We know that is not the case. Science continually perfects its metaphor, as any good thought system would: for example, it has not been that long ago, relatively speaking, that a geocentric universe was scientific fact. Sure, we have an understanding of gravity that is clear to anyone with even a minimal understanding of science, but do we feel the earth spinning? No, we need to have a certain level of faith to commit to science as a system of metaphor. Someday, the theory of gravity may seem as quaint as "humors" in the blood. Even now, with concepts such as chaos theory, fractals, and the uncertainty principle, the complex metaphorical nature of science is becoming more apparent.

* * * * *

Yes indeed, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. And yes, the difference is not much above the trivial when it comes to atheism.

It is conceivable to me (though perhaps not likely . . . but that is another discussion that I wouldn't even want to get into) that science may someday discover a creator. But even if science does discover a creator, God is outside of its realm. There are things that science is not designed to do, and crowning a God is one. In this sense, atheism cannot be based on science since it has nothing to do with science, since science neither proves nor disproves God.

I think it is perfectly logical to say "I see no evidence of a God, and therefore I believe there is no God." I think it is also perfectly logical to say "I see evidence of God in everything around me, and therefore I believe God exists." Like I said, neither statement is particularly interesting to me in and of itself. What is interesting is what actions are enacted on behalf of those beliefs. Given the huge destructive power that religion has demonstrated on the world stage, I tend to be sympathetic to atheism, even if I am not an atheist.

And yet, we have to be aware that atheism has its pitfalls as well: it is not accidental that all this Randian Objectivist bullshit has atheism at its core. And as much as the atheist would like to use science to escape the mythology of theism, the objective fallacy that underlies scientific positivism has a Western monotheistic model at its core - "one truth, one law, one word, one God".

All of which comes down to my fundamental problem with atheism: atheism, being solely defined by religious principles (even if in the negative), is just another religion. And not a very interesting one at that.


* Though perhaps an understanding of Moby Dick (specifically, its fundamental hubris motif) would have been useful to BP and the other operators of the Horizon platform.

1 comment:

comfortstarr said...

I'm just a dumb fish I guess...

Okay, I'll fly by the seat of my pants: my first reactions:

1) You say "science is a system of metaphor." I would understand this to mean that what science reports as observation isn't observation of something real--is that right? I mean, you're saying what science tells us is a metaphor right? You say we can't call science "fact." Then, you say that science is quantitative.

At this point I'm lost. While you make the point that our powers of quantitative analysis/measurement are evolving--so we used to think stupid stuff--I still fail to see how a quantitative approach to "measuring" or observing the world is a "system of metaphor."

If I notice that there are days and nights, then I use astronomy to figure out that it means the earth is rotating, that's different than if I notice the same thing and I devise a theory that the earth is sitting on a large, slow dog who's endlessly preparing for sleep next to the big fireball. As he turns checking for snakes before laying down to sleep, the earth turns.

Going with your example of the ocean, I think I'd draw the exact opposite conclusion about Moby DIck describing the ocean. As we've seen, global industry initially didn't think the ocean would be harmed by vast amounts of waste ("it's so big! We've never seen anything bad happen when we dump these barrels"). Granted, later, industry just doesn't give a shit.

2) Back to science as fact... While true, we used to see the world as comprised of four elements (water, earth, air, and I think the last one was the dumb one: fire? I can't remember). Those observations were fact to the extent of the available skills/tools around observation. I think you go down a slippery slope when you start to basically say: "Is that fork really a fork?" Of course, as quantum physics shows us, the divisibility of stuff appears to be endless. I think the likelihood of fundamental changes to our understanding of the basics of science are slim at this point (and I know that sounds like a ton of hubris).

Now here's a question for you: why don't we see similar "evolution" of understanding in God as we do in Science? If they're both systems of thought, seems like God is a little stagnant. We still don't understand why God allows suffering (e.g., I've written this rambling response while on a terrible conference call with a giant American bank... true suffering that any God I can perceive wouldn't put me through).