Monday, October 19, 2009

Reflections on Existence, Truth and Science

When the Christian and the Atheist debate on the existence of God, there needs to be some sort of common ground of course.  Otherwise we end up talking past each other.

I think from this assumption we need to look at what Existence and truth are.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines exist as: have objective reality or being.

It defines true as: in accordance with fact or reality.

It is with these definitions, I wish to bring to attention some considerations.

Existence and Truth In Relation to God

The atheist generally argues that God does not exist, while the Theist argues there God does exist.  Unfortunately, what is often forgotten is the fact that this debate ignores a prior consideration.  When the atheist and the Theist dies, one of them will be wrong.  If the theist is wrong, there will be no God on the other side.  However, if the atheist is wrong, there will indeed be some sort of God on the other side.

In other words, there is an objective answer which is in accordance with fact or reality regarding the existence or non-existence of God.

With this in mind, all of the arguments on one side are futile.  They may be arguments which make sense to the one who holds them, but ultimately all persons should be seeking what is true, and the greater the truth claimed, the more important it is to seek to understand it.

One commenter on a blog of mine wrote (in reference to an example of Oxygen not being discovered until the 18th century):

You've pointed out a valid gap in knowledge, but what you've filled it with is arbitrary. Oxygen existed before the 18th century, but without evidence to show that it did, it would have been foolish to believe that it did.

I think the problem with this view is that the previous view of oxidation involved a belief of a substance called "phlogiston."  We know this view is false, and contributed nothing to the truth of understanding oxygen or rust.  Moreover, science had to unlearn this in order to progress.

So despite what science of the time believed was the best theory, it was false and objectively it was an error to hold to it.

This isn't to say "Science is bunk," but rather I wish to point out that what scientists may think on a subject may be entirely wrong if they approach it from the wrong perspective.

What Science Does

The Concise OED defines Science as:

the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

I have no objections to this definition.  Now, I believe it is crucial to note what Science does study: the physical and natural world.  It stands to reason that whatever is not a part of the physical and natural world cannot be measured by science.

Because of this, science in seeking to study the existence of things can only do so in the physical and natural realm.

The Definition of God

I don't like the definition in the Concise OED as it is too vague (a superhuman being or spirit worshipped as having power over nature or human fortunes; a deity).  The problem is it so broad it could encompass a pagan Greek concept of anthropomorphic physical beings as well as the Christian concept of God which is Spirit. 

However, we can say this, a definition of God which makes a deity a physical being could (theoretically) make that concept of a god observable by Science.  A concept of a god which is not physical cannot be measured by science.

What Science can do In Relation to the Concept of God

Science can only deal with the physical and natural realm, so it can speak of a god only to the extent that a god is physical and natural.  However, if a god exists which is not physical or natural, we need to recognize that whether or not this god does exist, science is inadequate to establish or deny this existence.

Not "God in the Gaps"

It should be understood here that this is not an argument from silence fallacy, nor a "God in the gaps" argument.  I am not saying that because science cannot speak at all on the existence of God in the Christian concept, it proves the Christian God exists.

Right now I am merely speaking on the limits of physical (scientific) knowledge.  if something cannot be observed by science, this does not mean by itself that the thing cannot exist.

Things which we can establish exist that Science cannot explain

Consider the works of Mozart.  Science can explain music as the striking of certain tones of soundwaves in a certain rhythm, but it cannot explain why the music of Mozart is considered beautiful to people of quite different cultures and geographical regions.

Science can explain the idea of brainwaves and chemical interactions involved in emotions, but it cannot explain the idea of consciousness or cogito ergo sum.

I would advise the reader here that this does not prove science is useless.  I think science is in fact a very important thing for the physical well being of humanity.  What it does do though is to establish that "one size does not fit all."

The Right Tool for the Right Job vs. Scientism

I don't use a telescope to observe microbes and I don't use a microscope to practice astronomy.  I use a telescope to study the stars and a microscope to study microbes.  The failure of the microscope to show me the stars does not mean a microscope is useless.  Nor does it mean the stars do not exist.  It means that it is the wrong tool for the job.

Likewise, science which deals with the natural and physical world cannot answer the questions which go beyond the physical world.

Scientism is defined as "the view that natural science has authority over all other interpretations of life, such as philosophical, religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic explanations, and over other fields of inquiry, such as the social sciences."

The problem with Scientism is that it insists on reducing everything to the natural and physical.  Something has to be testable to be true.  Yet if something is not natural and physical, science will not be able to have authority over it.

Of course the problem, as I pointed out earlier, one cannot determine the Scientific Method through science alone.  It is a theory which self-destructs when applied to itself.  Empirical testing cannot prove the scientific method true, so under the theory of scientism, the scientific method must be rejected.

What We Need to Remember

Again, what I have laid forth here is not an argument for the existence of God.  Rather it is a statement reminding people of what Science is and what it is intended to do, as well as remind people what truth is.  The attitude of scientism bases existence on the ability to be detected and tested scientifically.  Yet this is what needs to be proven before science can be accepted as the arbiter of all things.

This is the First Lesson

Some atheists may be wondering where are the proofs for God.  They exist, but they are not yet presented here. Before we can move on to them, we need to unlearn scientism.  Otherwise a person who applies scientism to the proofs for God will argue that these do not "prove" anything.

Once one accepts that science cannot be the judge of all things, we can go on to discussing how we can know non-physical and supernatural things.

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