Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The limits of Science in the Search for God, part 1

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I. A Global approach to knowledge enables us to understand the inadequacy of the scientifically based view that writes God out of the picture.
II. Understanding the need for the global approach to knowledge gives us the understanding of the link between ground of being and the divine.
III. Understanding these two points gives us the basic realization of the reality of God that frees us from the need to prove.



Since Laplace uttered those fateful words, “I have no need of that [God] hypothesis” God has been disassociated from science. Just why he uttered them is another matter but the upshot seems to be that those who find their hobby if not their profession in doubting the reality of the divine do so on the grounds that its not “officially backed” by science. The constant refrain of atheists heard around the net every single day “there’s no proof for YOUR God” echoes the call for scientific evidence as the only form of knowledge. The success of the “Back to God movement” in philosophy, stunning though it has been, nevertheless is tainted with the dismissal on the part of atheists, skeptics, and some agnostics that God arguments are not “scientific.” The God argument as a species is broadly criticized for not being science and for being philosophy. The point of this work is to demonstrate the notion that belief in God is rationally warranted, but that it need not be demonstrated with scientific rational. The purpose here is to forge a new apologetics.
This new apologetics focuses upon knowing in a deep personal way that can’t be denied by the one who comes to know, rather than wasting one’s time trying to prove things to those who do not wish to know. What we need to do is to make the proper tools availed to the seeker, to do that we have to disabuse seekers of the benighted notion that the only way to know something is through scientific data. The aim here is to demonstrate the basis for a phenomenological and existential realization of the reality of God and how to put oneself in a position where that realization becomes real to the experincer and can be validated by logic, reason, and other sources in a global understanding of all our knowledge.
As the alternative to the atheistic view of scientism I will propose a theological approach centering upon phenomenology, and culminating in theological method. The point is to produce an apologetical approach that makes the process of God realization transparent to the seeker. The way to do this is to understand the connection between an understanding of human being and it’s relation to being itself. I will defend a notion similar to that of Paul Tillich’s idea that God is being itself, or the ground of being; that I equate with the super essential godhead of Dionysus the areopagite. Tillich said that if you know being has depth you can’t be an atheist. He equates the depth of being with the realization that God is the ground of being.[i] Thus, if he’s right, all one need to do is to understand what that means, then observe the depth of being. Understanding the relationship between the ground of being and the question of the divine, from the outset, is crucial because how we understand the concept of “God” will make all the difference in what we seek and what we find, and what we reject. If we are looking to prove the existence of a big man in the sky and we don’t understand the concept of God as the ground of being, or being itself, we are going to miss the whole point of belief and write God off because there’s no big man in the sky. Being is all around us and we are in it, so we tend to take it for granted and we are going to miss what being is and how that relates to God if we don’t understand Tillich’s concept. A silly little analogy that I use to illustrate this notion is about a fish scientist who was hired by the high council of Tuna to find the strange substance humans believe in called “water.” The fish had never seen any water so they wanted to know what it is. The fish scientist examined every puddle and depression he could find but found no water. He eventually concluded that humans are deluded about water because he could find no examples of it. Of course that’s because it never dawned on him that this state of normality in which he is submerged and is surrounded by all the time could be illusive substances humans’ thrive on, water. As a fish empiricist our scale clad investigator was certain that what he was looking for had to be an object that he could see, he forgot to look at the substance he was always looking through. So it is with being, we write it off as “just what is” and go on looking for this “God” who can’t be found because we don’t understand he’s nearer than our inmost being. Such is the pitfall of scientific empiricism.
In my dealings with atheists in debate and dialogue I find that they are often very committed to an empiricist view point. Over and over again I hear the refrain "you can't show one single unequivocal demonstration of scientific data that proves a God exists." This is not a criticism. It's perfectly understandable; science has become the umpire of reality. It is to scientific demonstration that we appeal for most of our questions concerning the nature of reality. The problem is that the reliance upon empiricism has led to forgetfulness about the basis of other types of questions, other view points, and other forms of knowledge. We have forgotten that essentially science is metaphysics; as such it is just one of many approaches that can be derived from analytical reasoning, empiricism, rationalism, phenomenology and other view points. The attitudes of various atheists from all walks demonstrate the power of the view that science is the only valid way of thinking. Consider the popular level:

The question of God’s existence is incredibly loaded because, if God doesn’t exist, the majority of people in the world derive meaning in their lives from a lie. For this reason, the capacity for natural science to explain why things happen without appeal to the supernatural is threatening to religion and to religious believers. After all, if we can explain everything without appeal to God’s intervention, why introduce Him into the equation at all?[ii]

Again from the popular level, a website called God is Imaginary:

There is no scientific evidence indicating that God exists. We all know that. For example:
  • God has never left any physical evidence of his existence on earth.
  • None of Jesus' "miracles" left any physical evidence either. (see this page)
  • God has never spoken to modern man, for example by taking over all the television stations and broadcasting a rational message to everyone.
  • The resurrected Jesus has never appeared to anyone. (see this page)
  • The Bible we have is provably incorrect and is obviously the work of primitive men rather than God. (see this page)
  • When we analyze prayer with statistics, we find no evidence that God is "answering prayers." (see this page)
  • Huge, amazing atrocities like the Holocaust and AIDS occur without any response from God.
  • And so on…
Let's agree that there is no empirical evidence showing that God exists.
If you think about it as a rational person, this lack of evidence is startling. There is not one bit of empirical evidence indicating that today's "God", nor any other contemporary god, nor any god of the past, exists. In addition we know that:
  1. If we had scientific proof of God's existence, we would talk about the "science of God" rather than "faith in God".
  2. If we had scientific proof of God's existence, the study of God would be a scientific endeavor rather than a theological one.
  3. If we had scientific proof of God's existence, all religious people would be aligning on the God that had been scientifically proven to exist. Instead there are thousands of gods and religions.
The reason for this lack of evidence is easy for any unbiased observer to see. The reason why there is no empirical evidence for God is because God is imaginary.[iii]


Of course these attitudes are backed by the more academically inclined leaders of the New Atheist movement such as Dennett and Dawkins and Hitchens. These sorts of attitudes have always been around since the enlightenment, but since the dawning of this century they have been strident and associated with a complete sceintism.


The New Atheists subscribe to some version or other of scientism as their criterion for rational belief. According to scientism, empirical science is the only source of our knowledge of the world (strong scientism) or, more moderately, the best source of rational belief about the way things are (weakreligious epistemology), it is not surprising that some criticism of their views has included questions about whether there is adequate scientific support for scientism and whether there is adequate evidence for evidentialism.[iv] scientism). Harris and Dawkins are quite explicit about this. Harris equates a genuinely rational approach to spiritual and ethical questions with a scientific approach to these sorts of questions. Dawkins insists that the presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is a scientific question. The New Atheists also affirm evidentialism, the claim that a belief can be epistemically justified only if it is based on adequate evidence. The conjunction of scientism and evidentialism entails that a belief can be justified only if it is based on adequate scientific evidence. The New Atheists’ conclusion that belief in God is unjustified follows, then, from their addition of the claim that there is inadequate scientific evidence for God’s existence (and even adequate scientific evidence for God’s non-existence). Dawkins argues that the “God Hypothesis” the claim that there exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe, is “founded on local traditions of private revelation rather than evidence” (2006, pp. 31-32). Given these New Atheist epistemological assumptions (and their consequences for


Take the view point of Richard Dawkins in his most celebrated work The God Delusion. [v]

The argument from improbability is the big one. In the traditional guise of the argument from design, it is easily today’s most popular argument offered in favor of the existence of God, and it is seen, by an amazingly large number of theists, as completely and utterly convincing. It is indeed a very strong, and, I suspect, unanswerable argument—but in precisely the opposite direction form the theist’s intension. The argument from improbability, properly deployed, comes close to proving that God does not exist…[vi]

This quotation tells us several very important things about the major leader of the new atheist movement thinks. The first thing this quotation tells us is that Dawkins views evolution as an atheist territory, he doesn’t think of evolution as a theistic possibility, he can only conceive of belief in God being the domain of people who can’t understand evolution. He thinks of God belief as strictly creationist territory. He basically says as much in following up this quotation above he talks about the analogy of a 747 being assembled by random chance from a junk yard. “This in a nutshell is the creationist favorite argument.”[vii] He doesn’t say there are other theological views and he doesn’t deal with them, as though they don’t exist. One might forgive this tendency if he thinks liberal theology is just out of the main stream and thus beyond the focus of the popular audience. Nevertheless he goes even further, “It turns out to be the God hypothesis that tries to get the free lunch…however statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by evoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. God is the ultimate 747.”[viii]
He is doing more than just reversing the design argument he’s trying to apply the logic of the design argument to a critique of belief in God. This led to the often repeated refrain on message boards and blogs, “who designed the designer?” That’s not exactly what he’s saying either. He’s establishing the idea that God has to meet the same requirements of probability that nature has to meet as an alternative to God. The point here, however, is the thing that enables him to make this argument is the badly misconstrued nature of theology in the evangelical camp that allows for an application of the same principle to God that we take to examining nature. He is treating God like a big man in the sky. God is subject to the laws of probability? Since when is God a “thing” in creation to be discussed in the same manner one discusses planetary formation? Since fundamentalists and evangelicals began thinking of God as a big man in the sky rather than the foundation of all that is. When we think of God as “creator” and “designer” rather than “ground of being” we put God in the category to be analyzed by the laws of probability. There is no logical reason why the ground of being could be analyzed as though it is just another thing in creation alongside flush toilets and swizzle sticks. God is not probable at all, but not because “the divine” is too complex, but because there’s no way to compare complexity when the word itself is made meaningless by trying to compare the basis of all reality to things in reality. This is like trying to apply up and down, north, south, east, and west in outer space. Which way is up when there’s no down? Which way is west when there’s no horizon? The creationists really put all of this in motion by thinking of God a “designer” rather than preserving the truth of God that the church fathers taught us, that God is beyond our understanding. In their haste to produce an argument that modern science could relate to and prove these apologists, such as William Paley (really Newton and Boyle before), tried to ground proof in empirical data and succeeded only in creating the impression, perhaps even against their own beliefs, that God can be thought of analogously to a big man in the sky. Dawkins is not going to work very hard at correcting the impression. When we do correct we can see that there is a way offered by the basic concepts of God as the ground of being to realize the reality of God in such a way that we don’t have to rely upon data or empirical scientific observations to know that God is real.
The common denominator lurking behind all of these viewpoints is the assertion that science is the only form of knowledge, one may only believe that which is “officially” proved by science. Lurking behind that is an ideology that picks and chooses what is and what is not “officially scientific,” according to what enables the atheist’s case and what enables the theistic case. The problem with all of this is the scientism lurking behind the ideology that lurks behind the “commitment” to scientific thought. Here I don’t mean all commitment to scientific thought of course, but that that has been pressed into service of the strident atheism. That ideology says that science is the only form of knowledge. The only way to know the nature of the world and the reality of any hypothetical creator is through scientific means. The reason this ideology has been fostered is because it is set up to yield poor results for God proof. Thus it’s a means of dismissing religious thinking without really considering what it has to say. We should not expect to find God directly through scientific means. God is beyond sense data. Most of the major world religions posit that “God,” or “the divine,” or transcendental signified or however they construe the top of the metaphysical hierarchy, is beyond human understanding. God is usually understood as transcendent. Being transcendent, beyond human knowledge, not given in sense data, we should not expect to find any direct proof of God in a scientific vein. That means any scientific evidence that points to God can only do so in an indirect way. To that extent then it’s totally fallacious to point to the dearth of scientific proofs as a weakness in religious belief. Logically this has to be that the place to look is on other grounds. From a stand point of pure knowledge scientific tools are inadequate to find God. If there is a God if there is not a God, science is totally inadequate to answer the question about the divine. Philosophy, logic, reason, personal experience are all discounted by the atheist on the grounds that they are “subjective” and not “scientific.” What they are really saying is “that’s not the method that backs my ideology so I can’t accept it as a source of knowledge.” If science is not the valid way to understand God then obviously we have to use other means. If we do use those proper tools, and God appears to be a more valid option then it did, atheists will refuse the proper tools because they don’t privilege their position. While not all atheists think this way, one runs into this attitude all the time. The best thing to do is use the proper tools.
my proposals

(1) Scientific reductionism loses phenomena by re-defining the nature of sense data and quailia.

(2)There are other ways of Knowing than scientific induction

(3) Religious truth is apprehended phenomenoloigcally, thus religion is not a scientific issue and cannot be subjected to a materialist critique

(4) Religion is not derived from other disciplines or endeavors but is an approach to understanding in its own right

Therefore, religious belief is justified on its own terms and not according to the dictates or other disciplines


[i] Paul Tilllich, The Shaking of the Foundations. New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948, 152-55.
[ii] “Liza” public opinion expressed by commenter on blog “Apple Eaters,” no date given. UTL: http://theappleeaters.wordpress.com/2010/03/10/philosophers-scientists-and-the-new-atheism/ visited 8/26/2010
[iii] Website God is Imaginary . URL http://godisimaginary.com/i11.htm visited 8/26/2010
[iv] James E Tylor, Internet encyclopedia of Philosophy: A peer Reviewed Academic Resource. Last updated January 26,2010, URL: http://www.iep.utm.edu/n-atheis/ visited 8/26/2010. James E. Taylor is associated with Westmont College.
[v] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. New York: First Marionor books, Houton Mifflin Company, 2008 first published in Great Britain by Bantam, 2006. On line version Google Books URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=Ayt0bUwN5v4C&printsec=frontcover&dq=Dawkins+from+the+God+Delusion&source=bl&ots=6M_E5W8-Uo&sig=j5bAGhDSY6MGYxYeQpv_q8T3l_A&hl=en&ei=gPKATLvvHsHflgeNgKHnDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6&ved=0CDkQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q&f=true
[vi] Ibid. online page number 138 all quotations from this source are from the Google books online version.
[vii] Ibid.
[viii] Ibid.

6 comments:

klatu said...

New proof on the web/ part 1

The accumulating scandals shaking the roman catholic church will look a mere trifle compared to the perfect storm that appears to be on the way. For these growing, worldwide sexual scandals, exposing the endemic institutional corruption of this tradition, while betraying thousands of children and the faithful, only reflect a far greater betrayal and crime against humanity itself and is setting the stage for the 'churches' worst nightmare: the questioning of it's very origins! And that has already started on the web. But not by any atheist ravings. We may very well come to remember the church as two thousands years of accumulated hubris and theological self deception, retailing a counterfeit copy of revealed truth.

For on the horizon is an approaching religious and cultural furore so contentious, any clash of civilizations may have to wait. On one side, a manuscript titled: The Final Freedoms, against all the gravitas religious tradition can bring to bear.

The first wholly new interpretation for 2000 years of the Gospel/moral teachings of Christ is on the web. Redefining all primary elements including Faith, the Word, Law, Baptism, the Trinity and especially the Resurrection. Questioning the validity and origins of all Christian tradition, and focusing specifically on marriage, love and human sexuality, it overturns all natural law ethics and theory. What history, philosophy, science and theology have agreed was not possible has happened and at stake is the credibility of several thousand years of religious history.

What first appears a counter intuitive challenge to the religious status quo is worth closer examination;  it carries within its pages a wisdom which the theological history of religion either ignored, were unable to imagine or dismissed. An error of presumption which could now leave 'tradition' staring into the abyss and humble all secular, atheist  speculation. 

Using a synthesis of scriptural material drawn from the Old and New Testaments, the Apocrypha , The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Nag Hammadi Library, and some of the world's great poetry, just as in the beginning, it describes and teaches a single moral Law, a single moral principle, a single test of faith, delivering on the Promise of its own proof; one in which the reality and will of God responds directly to an act of perfect faith with a demonstration of his omnipotence, an individual intervention into the natural world; 'raising' up the man, correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries. Intended to be understood metaphorically, where 'death' and darkness are ignorance and 'Life' and light are knowledge,  this personal experience of omnipotent transcendent power and moral purpose is our 'Resurrection', and justification for faith. From here, on a perfectly objective foundation of moral principle, conduct and virtue, true morality and 'Life' begins.

The first ever viable religious conception capable of leading reason, by faith, to observable consequences which can be tested and judged is now a reality. A teaching that delivers the first ever religious claim of insight into the human condition, that meets the Enlightenment criteria of verifiable, direct cause and effect, evidence based truth embodied in experience. For the first time in history, however unexpected, the world must consider the implications of a new claim to revealed truth, a moral tenet not of human intellectual origin, offering access by faith, to absolute proof, an objective basis for moral principle and a fully rational and justifiable belief! 

Metacrock said...

Speaking of hubris, why do you suppose, reader, that this guy chose to answer something about science with a statement about sexual scandal among RCC priests? It's a fairly eloquent statement, but totally irrelevant to the post.

It reminds me of one of those canned atheist responses, where they get backed into a corner and they blurt out one of their standard objections to religion as though any argument for God is automatically beaten by reminding everyone how much one hates organized religion.

As for the bit about the origins re being questions, I take he means the little Jesus myth fantasy that I have torn to pieces a hundred times on this site?

He's right about one thing, pride goes before a fall. God always does a house cleaning and exposes our sin, chruch first, then the world. So we as Christians must welcome exposure of sin and repent. Those of us who are not child molesters still have things to repent about, we all have hubris. We have always the chruch is for sinners to be healed, not a place for perfect people to gloat.

The idea that 3% of the priests are guilty is going to destroy of Christianity is just a stupid little fantasy. You can tell this is how we know the author of that post hates religion and is merely a brain washed mention of the hate group. His exposure of sin is not an opportunity for him to think about his own hubris and his own need to repent but a chance to strike out in hatred at his enemies and take advantage of the weakness of others.

Metacrock said...

Klatu Barata Nico

tinythinker said...

Ahh, a classic line from The Day the Earth Stood Still that was borrowed as an homage to become a classic line from Army of Darkness.

Metacrock said...

It means something like "Klatu is up shit creek,help!"

Kristen said...

I remember reading G.K. Chesterton saying that every few years a claim like this arises:

"Redefining all primary elements including Faith, the Word, Law, Baptism, the Trinity and especially the Resurrection. Questioning the validity and origins of all Christian tradition, and focusing specifically on marriage, love and human sexuality, it overturns all natural law ethics and theory."

Chesterton said that always say they're "new" and they're always a re-hashing of old heresies. There's nothing new under the sun, said Solomon.