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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

"God exists" is a religious claim. So is "God doesn't exist."

Michael Ruse, one of the most important philosophers of science of our time, and a man who does not believe in God, has written an article, in which he asks:
If “God exists” is a religious claim (and it surely is), why then is “God does not exist” not a religious claim?

The article is well worth reading, and examines some serious questions, most importantly the one raised by the quotation. Ruse has gotten a lot of flak for raising this question, such as in this post by Mark Perakh on the Panda's Thumb, in which the author wrote: I dare to claim that the sole value of philosophy of science is its entertaining ability. I doubt that all the multiple opuses debating various aspects of the philosophy of science have ever produced even a minute amount of anything that could be helpful for a scientist, be he/she physicist, biologist, geologist, you name it.

Other writers on the Panda's Thumb (which is not especially friendly to Christianity) did not agree with Perakh's assessment of the philosophy of science, and pointed to a rebuttal by John S. Wilkins, a philosopher of science. Wilkins does not say whether or not he believes in God.

That rebuttal points out three things:
First, statements like Perakh's claim are, themselves, philosophy, not science. (Perakh has no scientific proof of his statement.)
Second, philosophy of science has been practiced by some pretty influential scientists, Einstein, for one. (Wilkins doesn't say so, but one evidence for this is that the starting points of his special theory of relativity were not determined by experiment, but by Einstein's thought -- they were assumptions.)
Third, "If a scientist claims that science asserts the non-existence of an object that is, by definition, not investigable, like a deity outside time and space, then that is not science, no matter who makes the claim."

Wilkins mentions a post at Thinking Christian, which also refutes Perakh.

There are a number of thoughtful comments on the article by Wilkins, from several viewpoints.

Ruse wrote, in the next sentence after the one quoted above: And if Creationism implies God exists and cannot therefore be taught, why then should science which implies God does not exist be taught?

I agree with Ruse on this matter. No one should be allowed to say, in a public school science textbook, or in a public school science class in the US, either that science has proved the existence of God, or that science has proved the non-existence of God. Neither is true.

It is important to consider the word "Creationism." Ruse appears to be using it in the sense of "belief in a supernatural creator." If that is what the word means, then all Christians, as I see it, are creationists. However, the word is also used as short-hand for "Young-Earth Creationism." All Christians are not Young-Earth Creationists. See here for an analysis of strengths and weaknesses of different views on origins held by Christians.

Thanks for reading!


gregasola said...

What is all this "God exists or God doesn't exist" rambling, especially from a blog titled "Sun and Shield"

The Sun exists - no scientific proof required. The Sun IS the source of the divine light of life - we know this. The Sun was once recognized as a major deity throughout the world and it was not science that burned it out of our culture but a jealous Church.

No proof is needed. Just google "sunodfgod" to open your eyes.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, gregasola.

I selected the title of my blog from Psalm 84:11, over six years ago, I believe it was.

The Sun exists, indeed. At no point in my post did I even mention the Sun, let alone suggest that it might not exist. Yes, it was (and perhaps still is) recognized as a deity. I reject that. I believe in the Son of God, as part of a Triune Deity, although I can't prove His existence in a way satisfactory to scientific proof.

I suppose you meant me to Google something else? I tried that, and got exactly one return, which I didn't check.

Thanks for commenting.

Martin LaBar said...

P. S. I didn't start the "rambling" I referred to. See the links to The Panda's Thumb, or to The Chronicle of Higher Education. I merely mentioned what they said, and mused on it.

Pete D said...

Hi Martin. Hope you had happy holidays this past couple of weeks!

I think Ruse's question is not the correct one. Ruse leaps to the conclusion that because science and religion conflict, then scientists must take the position that there is no god. The correct scientific position is something more like "there is no god that we have detected yet" or "there is no need for a god hypothesis in our model of the universe." And there never has been. If someone wishes to make the positive claim of a god existing, it is incumbent upon them to provide evidence, otherwise the null hypothesis of no-god is not contradicted.

Russell's Teapot is relevant here.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Pete D.

I did.

I would disagree with Ruse's conclusion - "science and religion conflict," if that is, indeed his conclusion. But, assuming that he is correct, I agree with the last half of your comment, with the perhaps large disagreement that what you have stated is a philosophical position, not a scientific position.

Thanks again. I'm not familiar with Russell's Teapot, and expect to look it up soon.

Pete D said...

I'm not sure what is that I stated that is a philosophical position other than the requirement to produce evidence for a positive claim. There is a very clear cartoon of this here:

Ruse's conclusion is that science and religion do not conflict. He is using other's conclusion that they do conflict to ask the further question about whether or not it is then constitutional to teach science if it implies that there is no god. In doing so Ruse completely misses what it is that conflicts between the two!

I'm sure you already know this, but maybe haven't thought about it this way: It is not that science claims there is no god, it is that science as a process is reliant upon evidence, testing, and correction of previous knowledge. Religion as a process is based upon revelation and faith that is not to be revised except by further revelation. If we consider science and religion as bodies of knowledge, the two have conflicted since Copernicus. I would also note that this conflict in only one way: science -> religion. By this I mean, religions can state whatever they want, but when science comes along and contradicts those revelations it is the revelation that is changed to conform with science (except in those cases where revelation forms an unchangeable core of religion, e.g. the resurrection). The Christian religion can write off a literal creation, global flood, etc. as misinterpretations of scripture or allegories, but there is no getting around the claim of a literal resurrection of Christ, despite the fact that it is impossible from everything we know about human biology. That is a HUGE and fundamental conflict! One involving the natural world (Christ's physical body). Claiming to accept it on faith is also a HUGE conflict with the process of science as it denies acceptance of the evidence.

Russell's Teapot is a nice illustration of the need for evidence of claims.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Pete.

I probably shouldn't have said what I did about science vs. philosophy. I don't think the definitions of these, or the distinction between them, is clear, or generally agreed upon. My philosophy may be your science, or the reverse.

The longest paragraph in your comment is important, indeed, and I don't disagree with anything in it, except for one thing. The resurrection is, indeed, impossible from what we know of human biology, or of the second law of thermodynamics. However, I believe in miracles, and also believe that science cannot rule them out. The creation, the incarnation, and the resurrection are all miracles fundamental to my faith. If science agrees that it cannot rule out miracles, then science and religion do not have to be in conflict. This does not mean that all miracle claims must be accepted, by a long shot. I take the activity of the apostles after Christ's death to be one of the evidences for the resurrection miracle.

Thanks again.

Pete D said...

Science says very clearly that resurrection is impossible. You are making a claim about a physical occurrence that was purported to occur in the physical world and taking it on faith that it happened. That is directly in conflict with science as both a body of knowledge and a process of knowledge. Invoking a supernatural does nothing to reconcile this conflict, because it once again must be taken on faith (and no evidence, the antithesis of science) that a supernatural exists.

Martin LaBar said...

I understand what you are saying, but I believe (perhaps wrongly) that there is historical evidence, based on what happened in the early church, and in my own life -- evidence not testable by laboratory science -- that the resurrection took place.

I'd like your permission to post our interchange. I won't misquote you, if you give permission.

Thanks, either way.

Pete D said...

Sure. Thanks for asking.

"Not testable by laboratory science" just means you are accepting some evidence (tenuous evidence at best) and ignoring rock solid evidence (i.e. impossibility of reanimation, decay of dead tissue). A nice example is watching a magician bend spoons. Or making a body float, or disappear and reappear somewhere else. You know it can't be done, yet you yourself (and the entire audience and audiences who have seen it before and after you!) witnessed it occur. You are putting more emphasis on the tenuous evidence that reinforces your belief (confirmation bias) than you do on the solid evidence that contradicts it. You are accepting a faith-based claim that directly contradicts anything we know about the physical world. That is pretty conflicting with science!

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Pete.

You are right, of course. "it can't be done" naturally. But is that all there is?

Pete D said...

I can't say for sure if that's all there is. I'm not sure it's a question that really makes sense. If there is something beyond the natural world that we could have any interaction with, it would just be part of a larger nature that we have not yet described. E.g. electrons have always been natural, but lightning was thought to have supernatural origins at one point in time.

What religion does is posit that a supernatural absolutely does exist, yet provides zero evidence for it beyond edited texts, confusing translations, and subjective personal experience. Again, this is in conflict with science.

I don't see why there is such a drive to reconcile the two (other than to lend the legitimacy of science to religion). Personally, I think it's detrimental to religion. If your religion demands faith, why dirty it up with the need for scientific evidence?

Martin LaBar said...

As always, Pete, thanks.

I don't believe that I want to lend the legitimacy of science to religion, although some do. I see both nature and my own faith as part of God's revelation to me, and believe that, if I understood them both correctly, they should reinforce each other.

Pete D said...

That makes sense that you would want them to be consistent. Since the basis of both is not reconcilable (faith vs evidence), I think what is left is to hope that the body of knowledge uncovered by science is consistent with the body of knowledge as understood by religion. As this is not the case without revising what religions say, I don't see how that can occur. Anway, I'm all for honest investigation, but what I see coming from Ruse and those at Biologos and similar endeavors are convoluted forms of apologetics or interpretations of religious texts beyond recognition. The Adam and Eve story is a great example of this.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Pete.

I try not to be convoluted, but I suspect that all of us humans engage in such defenses of our core beliefs, whatever they are, from time to time.