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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Science & the Search for God, part 3

I have been posting on Kitty Ferguson's book, The Fire in the Equations: Science, Religion & the Search for God. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995) In my next to last post (see link in previous sentence) I attempted, following Ferguson, to discuss the idea that science has limits. My last post on the book was a compilation of comments on that next to last post.

In the post that was all mine, I quoted one of the great scientists of the previous century, who said, basically, that science cannot tell us why science works. That scientist, Richard Feynman, was not, so far as I know, a believer in a personal God of any sort. (I have read a couple of biographies of Feynman, and they don't mention or suggest such belief.) I would paraphrase Ferguson thus: "There are things that science cannot explain, or that are outside the legitimate realm of science." Does this prove that God exists? No. Does it mean that God must be invoked to explain why science works, or why science frequently seems to succeed when it follows a quest for elegance? I don't think so.

I continue with chapter three of Ferguson.

On her page 74, Ferguson says that, if there is a God, that, in itself, means that there are, most likely, limits to what science can discover.

She goes on to say that God might be better served by trying to prove He does not exist, and failing to do so, than by attempting scientific proof that he does. She draws a parallel with the Big Bang theory, which, originally, was not believed by most scientists. However, that previous disbelief, and the fact that the main evidence for the Big Bang was discovered by scientists who were not looking for such evidence, are now powerful arguments for an initial Big Bang.

Then, writes Ferguson:
A Brief History of Time [by Stephen Hawking] and The Blind Watchmaker [by Richard Dawkins] are two of the finest books ever written for the popular science audience, and both authors seem obsessed with God. Whether or not it is true, both give the impression that the fact that the scientific theory they are writing about erases our need for a God is far more reason for celebrating than the fact that the theory makes a new part of this mysterious universe accessible to human beings. This can't be called a religiously neutral point of view. Science, for Hawking and Dawkins, is not essentially Godless. (p. 76).

In her acknowledgments section, Ferguson thanks both Hawking and Dawkins (and others) for reading and commenting on parts of The Fire in the Equations. She doesn't indicate what parts they read, or what they said about her manuscript.

If Ferguson had written later, she might, or might not, have considered The God Delusion by Dawkins. That book, published after hers, is about what you might expect from its title.

I have read both of the books cited by Ferguson. It's been a while. However, my impression is that her assessment is correct. Both of these important writers do seem to celebrate erasing the need for a God. The later book by Dawkins certainly does.

On page 79, the author puts out an interesting idea. Many people, including, I suppose, most scientists who have thought about the question "why do we have the ability to do science?" believe that our thinking ability is present because it has been selected for. That is, our ancestors must have been able to think, and in ways that helped them to survive and produce viable offspring, more than their peers who weren't able to think as well. Not only that, but even the type of thinking that we do must have been selected for, at least in part, for the same reason. Ferguson suggests that, should there be any intelligent life forms on other planets, they might also be able to think, but might have been selected, because of differences in their environment, in a way different from humans. That, she supposes, might make their science, should they have any, rather different than ours.

I understand that some readers might disagree seriously with the idea that the ability to think, or the way we think, may be the way they are in us humans, at least partly, because of natural selection. But most scientists, especially non-Christian ones, believe it, if they have thought about the question.

On page 84, Ferguson says the following:
. . . hasn't science proved to us in more positive ways than 'Sorry, can't study it' that the supernatural world is only a trick of the brain, only psychological experiences, at most unusual but altogether natural occurrences? Hasn't it shown that what we call God is only the laws of physics, or wishful thinking? Hasn't it shown that meaning is only interpretation -- meaning in the eye of the beholder? And isn't there already good evidence that human mind and personality are only the product of complex physical mechanisms?
No. Science has not yet been able to offer us a complete physical explanation in any of these four areas; we do not know that it has the capacity ever to do so; we do not know whether there are, even in principle, unknowable physical explanations. (84)
Ferguson goes on to say that if such an explanation was forthcoming, for any of these matters, we would still not be sure that it was the only possible explanation. She does not claim, as I see it, that the lack of explanation in these areas proves the existence of God.

This, for now at least, concludes my published musings on Chapter 3 of The Fire in the Equations. Thanks for reading. I expect to continue the series.


green leaf said...

I believe each person was born with certain talent, whether it is the ability to think science or the ability to perform art, or something else. I can't speak for all, but as I discovered through quite a number of people and from some literature, there is an inner sense within human that leads him/her to go certain direction. We all like to search where we were from, and where we are going. Is it from the natural selection or God actually put the sense within each one of our fallen human being to ultimately search for Him, that is something worth mulling over.
Also, we are living in a 3d finite world. It is sure that the law of our world is not sufficient to explain a higher dimensional world. God didn't review everything in the Bible, part of the reason I assume was that we won't understand, an important reason I assume is that He wants us to always depend on Him. After all, He wants us to enjoy Him as the tree of life instead of falling into the tree of knowledge of good and evil and become independent from Him.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, green leaf.

I'm not sure I follow all of what you are saying, though.

I believe that God's search for us is the important search. Our search for God is often futile or misguided, because we are depending on ourselves.

green leaf said...


Sorry if I didn't make myself clear. I just want to say that the ability to do science comes from a natural talent to understand science, which is a gift from God. I believe God gave each one a different talent, maybe it is the ability to do science, maybe it is the ability to perform art, or maybe it is the ability to write literature... Whatever it is, the talent makes us want to search Him from different path.
Yes, I agree with you that our search for God is often misguided.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, green leaf.

I don't disagree with anything you said in this last comment. (For what, if anything, that's worth!)