Monday, May 13, 2019

Answering: Sean Carroll, "God is not a Good Theory." (part 1)

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Physicist Sean Carroll lectures a class on why God is not a good  thesis ,meaning scientific hypothesis.[1] Science is theoretical perspective he admits. So he knows there is a difference in the kind of thinking one does for religion and the kind one does for science. He argues that some aspects of God are used in place of scientific theories by some people. He says God is a theory because all believers use aspects for it to explain various aspects of the universe. In other words if God and science compete on any aspect than God counts as science thus he can can be dismissed as bad since. I think the problem here is self evident. Just because some people  use God in  place of science that doesn't make belief in God a scientific theory. Some people use science as a religion is science religious?

Carroll defines theory as "just an idea that may be true or false." That's a reasonable definition of theory but it doesn't make any theory a scientific one. Just being a theory doesn't mean it's a scientific theory, God being used as a scientific exploitation on some points does not make the concept of God itself a scientific theory, it does not mean that belief in God is liable to scientific parameters. He's just trying to establish a ground upon which belief becomes part of science so it can dismissed as not passing muster on scientific grounds. Then he moves on to two major criticisms of belief.

Carroll's definition of theory is wholly inadequate. The more scientific and.or academic one wishes to be the more elaborate one's notion of theory  has to be, Moreover Carroll's notion is self serving and ghettoized, Self serving because it allows him to understand religious notions as part of science which they are not, but as such they are liable to scientific criticism. Ghettoized because physics only accepts one model,while social sciences allow multiple models. So Carroll's perspective is relative to the criticism one wishes to level. Multiple models need not always be  viewed as a bad thing. At this point he begins making criticism.

Criticism 1 of belief in God it;s not a specific theory 

*God sometimes used in explanatory Role but it does not do good job

*diversity of views about God means God is not a good theory (that's the hard science bias against multiple models)

He groups ideas of God under three categories:passive, active, and emergent.

passive: roles help explain the universe;  first cause, unmoved mover, necessary being, grounds existence  most perfect being, ultimate explanation, he means not actively engaged in the world.
Active, more personal idea, a person,creator ruler. caring, performs miracles. grounds morality, organizes after life

emergent: not a fundamental category but away talking about aspects of the universe God as love, as universe, laws of nature, feelings of awe, transcendence

He tells us he's going to ignore category three because it's just a way of speaking about the universe it's not really understanding God as a separate entity. Translation not enough to argue with,  that's the way atheists dismiss ideas like Tillich's. That's what he would say about God as being itself. They can't think about ideas that require more subtly than physics, So they just don't think about them.

I have to say his categories seem arbitrary, some of the  attributes are not really attributes. Take  
passive: roles help explain the universe;  first cause, and  unmoved mover, are not the same kind of attributes. First cause is active God acts to cause things,  The others are passive but none of those aspects  necessitate that God is not active in the world. The real criteria he doesn't talk about would be weather not God must act to be that thing, None of them require that God not act. As with his category of "active" ruling,caring performing miracles are active grounding morality is  not; he doesn't have to do anything but command or be known to have a certain charter to ground morality.  

It is a huge mistake to ignore the things in that emergent category. Those ideas are more than just a way of speaking, that really shows the physicist can't think in nonscientific ways. He can't do philosophy. It is in that category that one will find the most sophisticated and modern conceptions of God,thus the conceptions of God that are most compatible with science, 

Criticism 2 According to Carroll it's metaphysics which is armchair, one doesn't go out and look. He says  "this kind of reasoning has never thought anything true or useful." Then he turns around and  says it is useful  when it under girds science (as with math) but we have to go look,so must have science. He says  "a priori kind of reasoning is never going to get you there" All dependents on where "there" is, where you want to go. It's not going to get us a scientific understanding of physical phenomena which is probably all he is able to think about.  Obviously that's not all there is since we have ancient traditions of philosophy,  theology, art,and  literature.

He asks how could we prove God is necessary  to do this he admits he is conflating all the different approaches,"these are all substantially different in ways I am going to completely ignore sorry about that"

*all we have to do is invent a universe in which God plays no role and that would show God is not necessary" he thinks it is possible to invent self contained universes in which God plays no rule. This is an idea I've ran into a hundred times on the message boards I  just know where it came from it was used extensively and I argued with it extensively on CARM by the poster Hans Groom "HRG" (the Austrian Mathematician). 

He posits the notion of a  one particle universe that moves according to Newton's laws. This  is supposed to prove God is not necessary, you could have a universe that obviously does not need God to work,So God is not necessary, There are two things wrong here. First, It's not clear how such a one particle would come into being. Just asserting that it did hypothetically does not prove that such things are possible without a creator:God. But there's an even bigger problem.He is asserting that when we say God is necessary being that we saying there could not be a universe without God, That leads atheist to think they are observing a universe without God when they look at this one. That makes them think it's proven to be possible. In that sense they are just begging the question.

He misunderstands what necessary means.  It does not mean God is necessary in order to have a world (even though he is) but that he is not contingent,.Necessary basically  means not contingent God doesn't depend upon any thing else for his own existence, Since all of Carroll's arguments depend upon the premise of God being necessary to have a world rather than understanding what necessary being really means all of his arguments are wrong, 

He continues to assert possible universes without God because he does not understand what necessary being means

***At this point he makes the first Jump to red herring. He advances what is supposed to be the believer's answer saying you can posit the notion but you can;t explain why the universe would be , the universe is the issue. His answer is "why am I supposed to say that?" He changes to a different tack   from the thought about necessity  although the wrong idea  to a red herring about why do I have to answer that? But he;s glossing over the point that he can't answer it.

He draws out the argument you can't say why the universe must be, it may not have a reason just brute fact (he does not say BF==but that;s the idea) just because there is a universe there is no reason why there's a cause or a reason. In other words not knowing why we are here does not prove God put us here.He is critical of taking metaphysical arguments and making it empirical by demanding a reason or cause, But his method for proving that some things don;t need reasons or causes is to show that somethings  have multiple causers,he never shows anything with no cause at all. 

His whole method for disproving that God is necessary is to posit the  one particle universe 

He asserts superiority of science in empirical testing, So he puts the believer in a position where empirical demonstration is necessary for rational belief and science provides that for atheists but not for God.  Yet what if we used his same logic to argue ok then we don't  need to know the reason for weather or friction or anything science  tells us because everything doesn't need a reason so let's just not study science? Would he be content to live with that? We are supposed to be content to stop asking for ultimate truth and final causes and ultimate reasons on the grounds that some things just don't need to be explained, would he accept that science doesn't need explaining?

He asserts he can answer Kalam  by just saying Maybe not, there may not need to be a reason, but he doesn't say why we should do empirical science when there doesn't have to be a reason for things.

He reaches the staggering conclusion that God should be an empirical testable hypothesis that can be dismissed by  lack of experimental results, his reason  is because he can doubt the philosophical. Whereas I argue that by definition God cannot be empirically testable.Yet the thing that turned me from atheist to Christian was my own empirical apprehension  of the power of God.

He also asserts that necessary begin reduces to empirical claims but that s because he does;t understand the concept necessary in the first place.

He reduces general thought about reality to scientific aspects that could be empirically investigated. such as motion, life, consciousness. science explains more about those than God does. Or does it really? God unites all understanding in science,  art, morality, psychology. Science with atheist assumptions leaves all pragmatic understanding of how with no hint as to why, Thus without God all you have is thousands of loose ends, [2]

i have advanced an argument to  break the tie between a science which cant establish a reason for existence, and faith which asserts God the reason in itself. This is called Tie-breaker because it moves us past the log jam that results in saying God is uncased and timeless always has been always will be with cause, vs. the atheist argument that this is no better than  just saying the universe happens to be here for no reason. 

Next time part 2

Please see relevant essays I've already posted

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

part 2

part 3


[1] Sean Carroll, "God is not a Good Theory." Video You Tube (Published on Jun 5, 2013)  (accessed 5/10/19)

from 2nd mini-series (Is "God" Explanatory) from the "Philosophy of Cosmology" project. A University of Oxford and Cambridge Collaboration.

[2] Stopping at  [21:56]

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