Sunday, October 18, 2009

Reflections on a Flawed Assumption in Atheism

Recently I've had an atheist take me to task over a post I wrote regarding Creationism and Evolution being the wrong issue to debate.  It's interesting to see the common errors held which are blind spots, and may sound reasonable on the outside but are not.

The issue I wish to reflect on is an argument made from probability.  In this case, it is argued as:

Science doesn't prove things in the sense that it provides absolute knowledge. Science is a process of observation and experimentation that provides a best guess about how things work. By the same token, we except the scientific method because through the process of observing and experimenting with different methods, it seems to be the one which works best. Science is only a best guess, but it is the best guess.

From this it is commonly argued by atheists that the knowledge of science disproves religion by providing a more "likely" explanation than the existence of God.

The problem is this argument presupposes that Theist = creationist.  This of course would be a surprise to many religious scientists who accept the idea of evolution yet retain their religious beliefs.  We see here a condescending and patronizing view from one atheist: Christians are ignorant of science or they would be atheists.

Problems with this Reasoning

I would of course object to his reasoning.  A scientific guess is no better than a guess that it was "done by elves" if the guess is wrong.  A scientific "guess" would be good or bad to the extent it was "true."  So a belief in ether, a belief in phlogiston, a belief in a geocentric universe, a belief in the transmutation of lead to gold were all errors which were scientifically the "best guess" of the times… yet they were errors which were a false turn which required undoing, and did not lead to the advancement of science, but the hindrance of the proper understanding.

The point is, science can sometimes err, and scientists can sometimes err.

The Ramifications of Erring Scientific Theories

If they can err, this does not of course mean "all science is bunk."  However, it does mean we do need to be wary about the social and moral conclusions drawn from science.  Evidence and experiments do need to be reviewed to see whether they prove what is alleged.

The argument which claims that there is no proof from science for religion, therefore it is probable there is no God is in fact against the requirements of science.  Since Science is done with things observable and experimental, the question is, what sort of experiments can be done to test the supernatural, from a strictly natural standpoint when by definition the supernatural is above the natural order?

This is the error the atheist makes about science, thinking that science can say anything (positive or negative) about the existence of God.  It is like using a telescope to try to see microbes… using a tool that is not designed to carry out the task.

Proof and Lack Thereof… and what it means

Atheism, or the quasi-atheistic agnosticism of today assumes that an absence of physical proof of something is de facto positive proof there is no God.  The charge is that science alone can explain what happens in nature, therefore a god is unnecessary.  The problem is that whether or not the best guess of science can find out the physical causes of certain events, it cannot find out the supernatural causes of events.

To argue that the non existence of God can be deduced through probability through what we now know of science is illogical.

To "prove" their point, the atheist has often sought to provide a false analogy making use of some mythical creature, saying "we can't disprove the existence of a flying spaghetti monster either, but we can be fairly sure it does not."

The reason this does not work is that the invention of a story about one fictional construct does not mean all things which cannot be observed physically do not exist.  To say it is probable the Flying Spaghetti Monster does not exist has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not God exists.

The atheist who argues that because science does not directly show a god in the physical observations of the material realm it does not exist fails because of this: That we do not have knowledge of something does not the lack of existence of something

Atheism, to avoid abusing science, has to demonstrate that what we do know and what we will know in the future will in fact be everything which exists.  A thing exists or does not exist regardless of whether it is known.  If nobody had discovered Mt. Everest, it would have remained the tallest mountain in the world in actuality, even if we misidentified another mountain as "the tallest."

What Do We Know, What Can We Know and What Bearing Does it Have On Actual Existence

So for atheists to claim that God cannot exist, even when hedging bets by using the word "probability," requires a knowledge that everything that exists (B) falls into the category of things that are or will be known in the future (A). In other words, A=B.

Since we do not even know everything which will be known, we cannot reasonably say we know what will fall into group A. Since we do not know this, we cannot know whether A=B.  We could discover in the future that all our research into AIDS or Cancer was a waste.  Alternately we may discover things we thought impossible were true.  The point is we neither know all there is to know or that whether all that exists ever will be known

Therefore we cannot say God does not exist based on what we know by science.  We can only say Science cannot speak to whether or not God exists.

God in the Gaps?  Or Science in the Gaps?

It is about here the atheist trots out the "God of the gaps" argument.  This claim is a straw man argument which holds that Christians explain away what they can't explain by saying "God did it."  This is false however.  It is not incompatible with Christianity to believe that the actions of science are set into motion by God.

We believe God can act directly or He can set natural things into motion.  If God can set natural things in motion, one can believe in God without believing in "gaps."

Unfortunately, atheists who use science do fall into the idea of "Science in the gaps" where anything pertaining to a miracle or the like will eventually be explained away by science.  What is the basis of this?  Nothing more than a belief that there is no God and no miracles so there must be a physical and natural cause.

This is of course begging the question.  The unspoken assumption needs to be proven, but the problem is we do not know what science will discover in the future.  I have no doubt science will discover many things of course.  But some of our areas of investigation may come up blank.  The claim that someday science will find answers to these things is based on the assumption there is a natural cause and that it will be knowable.

The Error of The Enlightenment

For an atheist who mocks the faith of Christians, this is irony indeed.  They profess faith in Science, and do not base their claims scientifically.  Indeed, if one were to apply the same standards the atheists apply to Christianity to the beliefs of atheists, we would soon see that their claims have no scientific basis, and would have to be considered in terms of philosophy, truth, data, methods of knowledge and so on.

The problem with the atheistic use (or more accurately abuse) of science is that it is artificially limited to the actions of the Enlightenment, which in effect decreed (irrationally) that only that which could be observed physically could be known.  In other words, All Knowledge is Scientifically verifiable.

To test this, try to prove the beauty of Mozart's works through Science.

We can indeed have experience and knowledge which cannot be verified by science, but exists.  For example: Take your height.  Are you aware of the fact of your height?  OK, now, are you aware of the awareness of your height?

Good, now prove that awareness exists, scientifically.

Not the Argument from Silence

The atheist may object here that this is an argument from silence.  That we are saying "You can't disprove the existence of God, therefore He exists."  We are not.  We are at this stage merely pointing out that to claim that only scientific knowledge is knowledge is false.  For the Christian to point out the limitations of science is not the proof of God.  We are not even at that stage yet.  We are on chapter 1 and that is around chapter 20.

In pointing out the limitations of science, the Christian apologist does not seek to deny science or the value of science.  Rather he or she wishes to point out that it is irrational to insist on scientific proof for something science cannot measure.

Once we grasp that, we can move on to what we can know.

What This Indicates

What this indicates is that the atheist who seeks to browbeat the believer "In The Name of Science" has no basis for his claims.  Quite frankly the Emperor has no clothes here.  The atheist's point is not proven to be true in terms of logic, and if it is not proven, it is not irrational to hold a belief in God.

Of course, as I said above, this does not mean the work of the Christian is done.  We have yet to show the truth of the faith.  We have only pointed out why atheism is not a reasonable belief, and we do have to show why the faith is rational.

However, before this can be demonstrated to the atheist, the atheist needs to recognize the errors of his personal interpretation of science to make it say what it cannot say.

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