Queen of the Sciences

vasili-belyaev-sofia-the-holy-wisdom-of-god-spasa-na-krovi-st-petersburg-rf-undated-1890s-640x336Anyone interested in the relationship between science and theology should find this passage by atheist Paul Davies interesting:

The orthodox view of the nature of the laws of physics contains a long list of tacitly assumed properties.  The laws are regarded, for example, as immutable, eternal, infinitely precise mathematical relationships that transcend the physical universe, and were imprinted on it at the moment of its birth from “outside,” like a maker’s mark, and have remained unchanging ever since… In addition, it is assumed that the physical world is affected by the laws, but the laws are completely impervious to what happens in the universe… It is not hard to discover where this picture of physical laws comes from: it is inherited directly from monotheism, which asserts that a rational being designed the universe according to a set of perfect laws.  And the asymmetry between immutable laws and contingent states mirrors the asymmetry between God and nature: the universe depends utterly on God for its existence, whereas God’s existence does not depend on the universe…

Clearly, then, the orthodox concept of laws of physics derives directly from theology.  It is remarkable that this view has remained largely unchallenged after 300 years of secular science.  Indeed, the “theological model” of the laws of physics is so ingrained in scientific thinking that it is taken for granted.  The hidden assumptions behind the concept of physical laws, and their theological provenance, are simply ignored by almost all except historians of science and theologians.  From the scientific standpoint, however, this uncritical acceptance of the theological model of laws leaves a lot to be desired… 

-Paul Davies, Universe from Bit

This is simply an extension of Hume’s problem of induction. All of science, if one is secular, seems to be a massive logical fallacy that works for no reason at all. It is only theists who have offered an explanation for its working (more than one actually—some are much more sophisticated than the version Davies names here).

One can always debate theism as an explanation. But it makes no sense at all to declare, without giving a secular response to this problem, that atheism is somehow the “scientific” way of thinking. Rather, modern science was invented by theists, for theological reasons, and was only later crowbarred into an atheism that has no concept at all as to why this strange, and acutely theistic, method of inquiry works.


59 responses to “Queen of the Sciences

  • john zande

    You mean, Professor Paul Davies: Physicist, Arizona State University. Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science and co-Director of the Cosmology Initiative. Author of 26 books. Held appointments at the University of Cambridge, University College London, University of Newcastle upon Tyne,University of Adelaide and Macquarie University. 2001 Kelvin Medal and Prize by the Institute of Physics, 2002 Faraday Prize by The Royal Society…. And low and behold, winner of the Templeton Prize in 1995! My, my, Fide…. How did he get that?

    Or do you just prefer, “atheist, Paul Davies.”

    Honestly Fide, you can be tremendously pathetic at times as you try to frame your worldview against the evil atheists.

    To the heart of your post. Answer this simple question: what, precisely, is the “problem”?

    You say (whine, again): “One can always debate theism as an explanation. But it makes no sense at all to declare, without giving a secular response to this problem…”

    So, again: what is the “problem”? Who says there’s a problem? Identify it. Detail, exactly, what this problem is….

    • Debilis

      I really don’t know why you feel the need to insult me. Nor do I understand why you perpetually assume the that the most easily attackable interpretation of my words must be the correct one. In short, I’m not at all sure why you seem so angry about a fairly straight-forward line of argument simply because you (apparently) don’t understand it.

      I referred to Davies as an atheist because 1) he is one, and 2) that is the pertinent fact to my comment. I didn’t mention his accolades for the same reason I didn’t mention his family life: it wasn’t relevant.

      I did mention his atheism because he was saying something with which I almost completely agree, and I wanted to make clear that one needn’t be a theist to see the point. That wasn’t remotely calling him an “evil atheist”. I was specifically agreeing with him.

      If you’ve gotten to the point that even my agreeing with atheists is something you insist on taking as an attack, then I suspect that you’ve decided what I’m claiming before you’ve read my words (which is a form of prejudice).

      Nor does throwing around the word “whining” address my arguments, no matter how often you write it. If you read over this blog, and count the number of times you’ve made unsupported and unprovoked personal complaints of me, it should be obvious that you aren’t in a poison to whine about the so-called whining of others. Please be careful to avoid whining before complaining about others doing so.

      But that is to assume there was any whining in the post in the first place. Rather, there was a calmly-made point that was simply missed: the modern materialist has no explanation whatsoever for the fact that the universe operates according to laws. This is precisely the problem that Davies (whom, as you point out, is quite an expert) was outlining. According to him, there’s is a serious issue here: science only makes sense if one is a theist.

      The materialist is left saying that science works for no apparent reason, which is an appeal to magic in all but name.

      Now, if you still don’t understand, feel free to ask questions and/or make challenges. But ask something specific. Simply announcing that you don’t see the point being made, and throwing out insults before insisting that I explain again, gets us nowhere.

      • john zande

        Apologies. I’m not at all angry, and certainly not angry at you. It is you, I’m afraid to say, who comes across as being angry and whiny.

        I think you’ve overstated Davies point. It seems what he’s saying, and I might be wrong here, is that we’re conditioned to accept Laws as somehow given, bequeathed, and the fact that certain laws exist means, in part, that this can only be explained via a theological model… the mental framework we already have in place. I really don’t see any great revelation here. He’s certainly not implying the theological model is in any way true, rather more the point that it’s the way we approach reality.

        Now, you haven’t answered what the alleged “problem” is? So the universe works by laws that just are… where’s the “problem” here?

        • Debilis

          Once again, I’ll skip past the personal jabs and get to the point:

          Davies is indeed saying that we think of scientific laws that way. I added the point that the only explanation materialists have of scientific laws is “just because they work”. This is both a non-explanation (basically an appeal to magic) and precisely the line you are taking here. “Just because” isn’t a rational answer to any question.

          But, to be fair to Davies, I didn’t so much add this as notice that this is what he was saying: materialists need to put forth a better explanation than “just because”. I’m saying that one can’t actually do this without contradicting materialism, and you seem to be saying that there’s nothing wrong with “just because”.

          If that isn’t what you are saying, please clarify. I’d love to discuss a more metaphysically rich position than that.

          But, whatever you do, be sure to make a more specific objection than to insist I’m wrong on the grounds that you, personally, don’t understand what the issue is.

        • john zande

          Granted. I get what Davies is saying, in the larger context, although i’m not entirely sure its something that can be realised on some grand scale. Cut to the marrow and we’re talking meaning, right? What’s it all about? There are 8 billion answers to that question today here on earth; probably trillions upon trillions of unique answers if we count alien intelligence’s. Why isn’t any single answer less valid than another?

          It seems the “problem” you’re trying to say exist, exists only in your emotional need for some grand explanation; some conscious design. I see no problem here because that very idea repulses me. Desiring to be a puppet is, quite frankly, an appalling wish.

          So you see, for me, “just because they work” is not a problem. What I was asking you was this: Why is it a “problem” to you?

        • Debilis

          I’m not sure how Davies problem can be acknowledged while denying that it is relevant to a grand scale. It is a point about the whole of science, which is pretty grand.

          But then you move to an even grander scale to ask about the meaning of life. To answer your question here: no, that is not what my argument was about. It was about explaining the effectiveness of science. On that topic, I’m inclined to think that some answers are better than others. And Classical Theism seems to be a much better example than “just because” (which, so far, is the materialist alternative Davies rejects).

          But I do want to correct your understanding of my position. I don’t remotely “desire to be a puppet”. Nor do I believe that is what people are. In fact, the idea that people are all puppets of physical laws is one of the things I find distasteful about materialism.

          So, we have two explanations: Classical Theism and “just because”. I think it is pretty clear which is the better explanation. I also think it is clear which is more in line with science’s spirit of seeking explanations, accepting the best theory, and willingness to consider ideas which strike some as strange and abstract.

          But, if you simply don’t care, then it is obvious why you are a materialist: you aren’t interested in thinking about or answering the issues that have led others to the conclusion that God exists.

        • john zande

          God is “concluded” (only ever “concluded,” never “demonstrated”) by people with emotional problems. You are exhibiting your emotional depth here by trying to imply “just because” is a problem. That answer is not fixed, and you know it’s not. The window of ignorance is shrinking every day… thanks ENTIRELY to naturalism. Theism, if I must remind you, has never, I repeat, never, revealed a single truth. As Thomas Paine’s deeply so accurately put it in his 1794 observation:

          “The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on nothing; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing.”

        • Debilis

          In response to my point, this is mostly just changing the subject.

          So, skipping the armchair psychology, I’ll start with the request that you name any context, other than defending atheism, in which you think “just because” is a legitimate explanation of anything.

          Rather, I’d say that it is an appeal to magic in all but name.

          But theism is indeed a source of truth if one follows the argument. That is precisely what the point here shows, and demanding otherwise in order to argue against is simply begging the question. The fact that you, personally, don’t accept an explanation doesn’t mean that it isn’t the best explanation.

          Nor does materialism close gaps in our knowledge. Science does that, to be sure, but all materialism seems to be doing is insisting on the very unscientific claim that some things are true for no reason whatsoever. That’s hardly scientific.

          Classical Theism, on the other hand, had offered explanation of the underlying principles of science. That people can pretend that the materialism which denies that science is based on anything rational (it’s “just because”, no rationality needed) can somehow take credit for what science does is completely out of touch with the facts.

          More simply, science has always been at odds with materialism. It has always been grounded in metaphysics. And “just because” has always been at odds with reason and logic. It is a refusal to reason toward the best explanation of the facts.

        • john zande

          Nonsense Fide, and you know it. If naturalism can’t explain something today the box is left empty. This is not, repeat “not” an appeal to magic. To even suggest that is ludicrous. You’re projecting, superimposing your own magic-based worldview onto what you consider its adversary, and looking rather silly for the matter. Nowhere and at no time, repeat “nowhere and at no time” in science has a question ever been deferred to “well, we don’t know the full answer to that yet, but we’re assuming magic!”

          Here you are doing what very weak apologists do: trying to lump naturalism in with their “faith based systems” simply because they see the weakness in their position. An example is trying to call naturalism a religion…. Precisely what you’re trying to do, in an underhanded manner. You have leapt on “just because” as if it’s the be-all and end-all, as if it’s a binding statement, when in the back of your head you must, surely, know you’re deluding yourself in this matter. You’re not dumb, I know you’re not. You are, though, so desperate to attack naturalism that you’re blinding yourself and creating a fantasy reality.

        • Debilis

          I’m not sure I see a fundamental difference between “the box is left empty” (even though there is a specific explanation on hand) and an appeal to magic.

          But, once again, you’re simply conflating your position with science. I’ve been criticizing materialism, not the scientific method. I completely agree that the latter doesn’t propose magic, or reject perfectly good explanations in favor of “leaving the box empty”. It is the “just because” defense of materialism that does this.

          And that is fundamentally like an appeal to magic. I think it is rather obvious that “there must be some explanation for this” is always more rational than “this is true, but for literally no reason whosoever”. Whatever term we use for the last, it is a halt to all inquiry—it is a refusal to draw the logical conclusion.

          But I’m not attacking naturalism, if by that word you simply mean science. I love science. I am attacking it, however, if by it you mean materialism. That is a (poor) metaphysics which tends to take credit for what is actually done by science, throw out incoherent metaphysical claims, then attack the ideas that can offer much better explanations for how science can function so well.

          That is why I “leapt on” the “just because” statement. It isn’t remotely binding to science. In fact, I’d say that it positively contradicts the real spirit of inquiry that underlies science. But it is indeed binding on materialism.

          And that is the point which keeps being missed: it is not science at all, but this materialistic tack-on of “just because” that I reject. I believe that a philosophy that can actually explain why science works is more intellectually respectable than one that cannot.

        • john zande

          What “specific explanation is onhand”? An invisible cosmic being who performs magic?

        • Debilis

          You could propose that if you want; I’ll be happy to debate against it. There are good reasons to think my view is superior to that rather silly one.

          As to what explanation is on hand, there are quite a few. What they all have in common is the idea that there is more to reality than the materialists (with their anti-intellectual maxim of “just because”) are willing to accept.

          The Platonists believe metaphysical objects are the basis of every physical object, Aristotelians believe that final causality lodges in both physical and metaphysical objects (meaning that the nature of the source will explain the nature of the consequent), and theistic personalists believe that a single metaphysical entity has both the will and capacity to intentionally create the physical and its traits.

          For the record, I lean toward the middle position (Aristotelianism). Feel free to ask more about it or the others. But the point is that none of these are the silly straw man that you seem to be demanding is the only alternative to “just because”.

          That is, none of these positions believe in a “cosmic being” the whole idea is that the thing being proposed is NOT cosmic. Nor are any of them suggesting magic, as magic is something that works without an explanation (it is the materialist who is proposing that). Rather, each if these groups have written lengthy explanations as to how their respective non-cosmic, non-magical proposal operates. The fact that pop-culture is ignorant of these explanations does not mean that they aren’t there.

          This keeps coming up. There is simply no reason at all to assume that the only alternative to materialism’s refusal to follow logic to its conclusion (and the silly “just because” that it creates) is the silly unexplained entity you name. Explanations exist, whether one had read about them or not.

          This is how all forms of inquiry work (including science): once we’ve seen that there must be something that explains what we know, we investigate further, try to learn more about it, and try to explain it.

          Really, no educated person ever rejected a scientific theory on the grounds that the explanation wasn’t itself explained. One could reject any theory with that method. Much worse is rejecting it when there are further explanations, but only of the real idea, as opposed to a silly straw man like the one you’ve named above.

          More simply, what we don’t do is say “well, we don’t already have an explanation of that explanation, so let’s toss it aside the explanations we do have and say ‘just because'”.

          But what the New Atheists usually do is even worse than this. It is “we do have a further explanation, but I’m personally ignorant of it, so let’s throw out a silly straw man like ‘magical sky-being’ then demand (without giving any reason whatsoever) that ‘just because’ is the only other option”.

          So, instead of attacking that silly straw man as if that were at all relevant, do you have a defense for materialism? Any reason at all to think that the actual explanations we have are less valid than ‘just because’?

        • john zande

          Your error here is trying to imply “just because” is some final answer. You know it’s not. And even if it is discovered that random quantum fluctuations which were frozen in place as the universe cooled is the final explanation for the laws of nature then that will still be immeasurably more satisfying than Woo.

          Still, thanks for letting me know you lean toward an Aristotelian perspective. Have no idea how you square this with your Middle Eastern god, but I would like to pursue this a little further. If “the nature of the source explains the nature of the consequent” then surely we are looking at a world designed by a malevolent being, correct?

        • Debilis

          As I have no idea what “woo” is, I don’t claim to know what is “immeasurably more satisfying” than it. But I hope that you don’t think that calling theism “Woo” is somehow a valid defense of your materialism (or anything else).

          Either way, what is satisfying to a materialist atheist isn’t really important. The fact remains that the materialist answer to the question remains “just because”. You can insist that this isn’t a permanent position, but only if you’re willing to consider other answers.

          Rather, you seem to be rejecting the actual explanations we currently have in favor of “just because” on the grounds that some better explanation will come along one day.

          The first thing to do here is ask yourself if you’d accept this kind of argument from a theist. If you pointed out a fact that theism couldn’t explain, would you accept “well, it just works, and I’m sure we’ll find the answer for it someday” as a response?

          If you’re tempted to do so, please refrain from rants about how that’s happened. (I’m sure some have indeed given you responses like that.) Rather, ask yourself the question, did you consider it a valid point?

          I’m guessing that you didn’t. And I don’t, either.

          And, to beat off another objection that I guess will be coming, I’ve not remotely done this. I’ve offered explanations. It is only materialism that is insisting on “just because” here.

          But it seems that there’s another problem here that is even worse than this. If I’m reading correctly, you’re simply assuming that science is going to answer this question one day.

          If so, that means you’re ignoring the fact that this isn’t a scientific question. Science starts from the assumption that these laws exist. To try to support them with science is a circulus in probando fallacy.

          So, are you just assuming that science will answer a non-scientific question—or do you have a reason to think that your materialist metaphysics will come up with a better answer than “just because” someday?

          If the latter, give me that reason.

          Getting to my position, I don’t know why it is so shocking that a Christian might favor Aristotle. This is a very traditional view, after all. (If you want the details there, look up Thomas Aquinas or Scholasticism).

          But I have no idea how you can conclude that any being which might have created the universe would be malevolent. Is there any reason whatsoever to think that malevolence is the only motivation to create life? Do you think that anyone who tries to create life (such as by having a baby) is malevolent—or is it only the creation of the universe that would mean this?

          I’m sure you’re set to tell me about every unpleasant thing in the universe, but I’d rather you explained how it is that you happen to know that the bad out weighs the good.

          To do this, you’d have to make a case that there is such a thing as a standard of bad and good—and that it is reasonable to hold a non-human creator of the universe to that standard. But that is precisely what you’ve denied in our conversation on morality.

          Specifically, you claimed that enlightened self interest was the basis of morality. Is there a reason you can give why it would be a matter of enlightened self-interest for such a being to make a more pleasant universe?

          If so, let me know what it is. If not, have you changed your moral theory?

          Once you’ve made that case, I’ll talk about my answers to the so-called problem of evil. For now, however, I’ll simply point out that it’s beside the point.

          Yes, even though many atheists are willing to assume the thing they deny (moral truth) in order to give this response, it doesn’t actually have anything to do with the point being made.

          I’ve given an argument that theism has offered clear explanations of the effectiveness of science (and even helped to found science), and that materialism has only been able to offer “just because” (followed by a “I’m the ‘real science’ philosophy, for no reason at all”).

          I don’t remotely see how “but if God made the universe, he’d be evil” even addresses this argument. Yes, I can answer that challenge, but the point for now is that it’s simply changing the subject. I’d think that we should first note materialism’s complete failure to account for science before pretending that this objection has done a thing to defend the New Atheists’ position.

          But, if you agree that materialism is a failure, and that theism is a better explanation, then it makes perfect sense to ask whether or not the God that created the universe is good or evil.

          I’m assuming that you don’t agree, of course. But, if you do, I’d be happy to have that conversation next.

        • john zande

          Debilis, “just because” is, by itself, already an immeasurably better answer than Woo (magic dispersed by invisible cosmic being) as it does not make any supernatural claims. If Woo is to be even considered as a viable explanation we should, nay must, have examples of supernatural activity in nature. We don’t, and we have no reason whatsoever to suspect any supernatural activity will ever be discovered.

          Now, that’s not to say Woo isn’t possible. However, if we are simply looking for the more attractive explanations today, then anything, literally anything that doesn’t invoke magic or supernatural entities is going to be the more likely.

          Although I understand where you’re coming from regarding circulus in probando fallacy, it isn’t as cut and dry and you are trying to make out. A retrocausal action could well have established the laws of nature. As retrocausality has been demonstrated in the lab, then that answer (however unlikely) is already far, far, far superior than theism, which has absolutely no supporting data. Simply put, the God Hypothesis is a terrible theory.

          Now, an Omnimalevolent Creator explains the world we see far better than a benevolent creator. Here the maximisation – or accretion – of suffering over time is the bedrock malicious program underwriting the Omnimalevolent Creators wicked works, and which stands as the greatest proof for this debased beings existence. Don’t delude yourself that such a being would simply desire to kill everything. Killing your prey is not the objective. Thrill-kills lack a certain long-term aesthetic beauty. Far, far more sadistic pleasure can be siphoned from one’s prey if one can prolong and deepen that creatures suffering. Even more pleasure can be extracted by permitting your prey to hope for an alternative outcome. Suffering, therefore, is not simply violence. Its greatest expression is in dashed hopes. For the sadistically minded, killing your prey produces only momentary enjoyment, but to permit your prey to live through calamity, to weep and lament, to feel anguish over all that was lost, to suffer with injuries, well, that is evil genius.

          Consider this: an earthquake striking a clan of 30 nomadic hunter-gatherers produces, at best, only fear and momentary anxiety. The same earthquake striking a city of 30,000 individuals is exceedingly more efficient in delivering evil; destroying buildings, public infrastructure, businesses, and ruining lives that had invested considerable time, money, and emotional capital in a future now obliterated. That same earthquake then striking a city of 30,000,000 is, well, you do the math…. And when you’re done with the calculations you tell me which scenario would best suit the desires of a debased architect.

        • Debilis

          I’m glad to have a definition of “Woo”.
          First, I should point out that you never seem to tire of making up silly words to describe straw man versions of my position. I’ve already clarified that neither “magic” nor “cosmic” make any sense. And even some of your other terms betray a lack of understanding.

          So, once again, the silly straw man that you keep “refuting” isn’t true. Yes, we agree on that. In response, I propose that we get around to discussing my actual position (and yours). You seem to be proposing that we pretend that this silly straw man is the only alternative to “just because”.

          Nor is “just because” any better than that. And it certainly isn’t better than the real alternatives. It is completely beyond me how it is you think “this is true for literally no reason whatsoever” is the anything but an anti-intellectual refusal to accept the explanation for a thing.

          But, very much to your credit, you do offer the start of an explanation:
          “A retrocausal action could well have established the laws of nature.”
          Let me start right away by saying that this strikes me better than the “Woo” that no one is arguing for.

          Still retrocausation, for as interesting as it sounds, suffers from the same problems you attribute to the “Woo” that seems to obsess you. We don’t have any examples of it in nature (it hasn’t been demonstrated in any lab I know about—but I’ll happily retract that if you could point me to the experiment in question), and I see no reason at all to think that it will be discovered. It is a matter of pure speculation.

          So, you seem to be implicitly agreeing that, so long as I can come up with something that is a matter of pure speculation but not contradictory of science, our positions are on equal grounds.

          I’d say that the fact that I’ve offered an explanation that is much more metaphysically simple, doesn’t require rewriting causation, and explains more that simply the subject at hand means that it is the better of the two.

          But I’m fully aware of the “malevolent creator” concept you’ve just outlined. You’ll note that absolutely nothing in my last comment rested on the assumption that a malevolent creator would simply destroy all life.

          You’ll also note that you haven’t responded to anything that I actually did say. I pointed out two major weaknesses in this line of attack.

          1) That you yourself deny that there is any good reason to apply terms like “good” or “evil” to God.

          2) That this is a change of subject.

          The second is the major point. Your response to “how is ‘just because’ a better explanation than a non-contingent source of space-time reality?” seems to be “Suppose we change the subject.”

          Now that I’ve taken the time to read about the “Woo” that I’m not presenting, and an elaboration on just what sort of malevolent being you don’t believe in, I suggest that we talk about the things that we actually do believe.

          So far, you seem to believe that the universe has regularities either “just because” (or perhaps mistakenly believe that a lab experiment has shown retrocausation to be valid).

          So far, I’ve pointed to non-contingent reality, and emphasized the need for metaphysics when answering metaphysical questions.

          It’s fine not to have an answer right away—to say “let me go off and think about that”. But it makes no sense at all to simply attack straw men and otherwise ignore the case being made.

        • john zande

          Retrocausality has been demonstrated through experimentation (in Vienna, 2012). That’s why I wrote the sentence above. Do you think I was just making it up?


          Now, I’ll grant you, we haven’t yet seen this demonstrated in nature, but as it has been proven under lab conditions, without breaking any laws of nature, then we can say a retrocausal explanation is (regardless of how unlikely) a much, much, much better explanation than Woo… which has “no” supporting data. Here, I can even give you an example of how it might have happened. A particle, bound by the laws of nature as they are set in this particular universe, tunneled into non-space, and by its very appearance in this perfect quantum vacuum dispersed the laws that are. It’s fantastic, sure, a catalogue of catalogues, but again, it’s not breaking any laws of nature.

          You see, naturalism can and does explain these things, whereas metaphysics has never produced a single truth or fact in its entire history. I’m not ruling metaphysics out as a mildly useful tool in approaching certain mysteries, but as an instrument of ultimate discovery its proven utterly useless.

          What supporting data do you have for theism? None. Apart from the emotional satisfaction is sells, why should anyone give theism the time of day?

          Apologies if you thought I was changing the subject. We can leave the certain existence of the Omnimalevolent Creator for another day.

        • Debilis

          I’m aware of quantum entanglement, but I don’t see what this proves about retrocausation. The article you cite wasn’t clear on that point and (as pop-science articles are notorious for over-exagerating anything about science which seems to offend common sense) I would have expected it to have made some kind of claim about retrocausation before taking this as demonstration of the concept. At best, it may one day overturn the Minkowskian view of space-time. But that is not a demonstration of retrocausation, or any other form of time-travel.

          But the larger point here is this: you’re still attacking a straw man. I completely agree that what strikes me as pseudoscience is, even so, a better explanation than “Woo”. This might some day be relevant when you’re in discussion with someone who’s actually defending Woo.
          When that day comes, by all means, let me know. I’ll pop over to agree with you on that point.

          But to say that a metaphysical reading of scientific data proves that metaphysics doesn’t tell us anything is simply a basket full of logical fallacies. It overlooks the fact that your statement that metaphysics “as an instrument of ultimate discovery its proven utterly useless” is itself a metaphysical claim.

          In the end, this strikes me as pure rhetoric. You ask for “supporting data”. Are you asking for purely naturalistic data? If so, that’s simply begging the question. Are you including all the times I’ve pointed out why materialism leads to self-contradictions and/or contradicts one’s actual experience with reality? If so, there you are.

          And that is how I’ve answered this exact challenge for more than a year now: it’s either a circular argument or there is quite a bit of data. I always get silence on this point so long as I’m saying this, but then this repetitive challenge creeps back into the conversation as soon as I stop. Perhaps I need to just start pasting in my old comments?

          So, next time you make this, be sure to be clear what it is you want. Are you demanding physical, scientific, natural data—or will logical analysis of any of our experience do?

          If the later, then re-read the post. Naturalism has no explanation whatsoever for why the universe behaves in a law-like manner. The fact that it does is evidence that there is more to reality than your version of naturalism (which seems to be materialism by another name) is willing to accept.

        • Frank Morris

          jz: “A particle, bound by the laws of nature as they are set in this particular universe, tunneled into non-space, and by its very appearance in this perfect quantum vacuum dispersed the laws that are.”

          Wow, talk about a God particle. Sure hope no other particles come here., since we now know what particles do. John actually followed up this wild fantasy with:

          “You see, naturalism can and does explain these things”

          …As if he actually explained anything.

          So the guy who claims there is no such thing as Free Will is the one decrying puppetry. Interesting.

          Naturalism is a fraud. So-called “naturalists” are merely those who arbitrarily decide what they *believe* is natural and what isn’t. Thus they feel they can decide on a whim what is real and what isn’t, without any evidence.

          Naturalism has accomplished nothing.

        • john zande

          Frank, are you denying the existence quantum tunneling, and the fact that particles randomly pop in and out of reality? That’s cute.

        • john zande

          Oh, and while you’re at it: do please name a single truth revealed by theism.

        • Frank Morris

          You’re trying to use quantum mechanics to defend your anti-science naturalism? Interesting.

          I didn’t deny tunneling, but I will question your claim that it is “random”. The coefficient is quite calculable through the Shroedinger equation, although conscious intelligence does affect wave-particle duality.

          What is laughable is your claim that a single particle magically created all the natural laws “by its very existence”.

          Why of course! If a particle exists, it creates… everything! Why has nobody ever thought of this?

          Setting aside the minor trifle of HOW it does such a thing, one wonders why the other 1 x 10 to the 90th particles in the universe are slacking doing nothing of the kind.

          So you find it perfectly explanatory to claim that a particle somehow caused all natural laws (some of which are necessary for the existence of the particle in the first place) and managed to fine-tune the constants by rank luck.

          Yet you reject as impossible the idea of an intelligent agency accomplishing the same task intentionally in much the same way we ourselves consciously animate intrinsic matter.

          Materialists believe in the immaterial. They believe in intelligence, morality, gravity and even quantum mechanics.

          They just insist on forcibly inserting a clump of matter as a magical cause of it all by luck, even though matter itself is caused by these same laws and intelligence.

          Alchemy isn’t dead.

        • john zande

          Now, now Frank… Did i “claim” that is what happened, or did i simply give an example of something that is possible?

          You see, your delusion clouds your mind and seriously hinders you from understanding that which is written.

          BTW, any particular reason why you haven’t answers my rather straightforward question? To refresh your memory: name a single truth (a fact) established by theism.

        • Frank Morris

          You claimed that a particle can create all the natural laws “by its very existence” and you claim again here that it is possible even though it isn’t even remotely possible. Then you use that as an example of how “science” explains things.

          Claiming that a particle can do miraculous things is not science. It is the Book of Genesis with a particle in place of the word God.

          Your fantasies do not establish facts and neither does atheism, materialism, naturalism or theism. If you need an “ism”, its an ideology, not the scientific method. So why would I answer a question of the “”have you stopped beating your wife?” variety? I never said theism establishes facts.

          How ’bout you answer the question I asked? HOW did the magic particle do all of this natural law-creating business? Why don’t other particles do anything of the kind?

          So you posit that the laws of nature didn’t exist until this particle had its “very existence”? Did this clever little particle also cause all other particles to exist as well as all energy, time and space through the Big Bang or are all cosmological measurements wrong? Or was it just another lucky coincidence that it all happened at the same time?

          Pseudoscience materialists believe fully in miracles, as long as we interject a glob of matter as the almighty.

        • john zande

          Frank, I’m sure your lunatic ramblings would be frightfully interesting to psychiatrists, but they’re just painfully boring to me.

          Now, care to explain why you still haven’t my rather simple question?

          Why are you avoiding it, Frank?

    • cogitatingduck

      John Zande, that’s just your assertion. “. . . thanks ENTIRELY to naturalism” is demonstrably false, and mere ideological cheering from one who is no less immune to emotional considerations than any other person who has ever lived. Let’s get off of the psychological explanations; it is only a red herring to the logical problem proper.

      I have to concur with Debilis that puppetry is a problem for materialism, not theism. But you are not compelled to adapt either position if it does not suit your taste, I assure you.

      • john zande

        Hi Duck.

        First up, how can a non-believer in an overseer god who’s set rules to follow be considered a puppet? This i have to hear…

        Now, would you be kind enough to name a single thing Theism has ever revealed to be true. And could you cite examples where that explanation of the natural world is referred to today and shapes any arena of human endeavour.

        Thanks in advance.

        • cogitatingduck

          John, regardless what a person believes, if metaphysical naturalism is true, then all persons are puppets of the laws of nature. Consider Sam Harris’ Free Will. Or as Scott Adams said, humans are moist robots. Or as Alex Rosenberg illustrates, our brains do not think. I don’t know if you affirm metaphysical naturalism.

          What is the point of your second question? If it pertains to my critique of your statement, “The window of ignorance is shrinking every day… thanks ENTIRELY to naturalism,” then whatever truths theism reveals about the natural world is irrelevant. What matters is that some knowledge is acquired apart from naturalistic inquiry. I would point to the body of scholarship known as the humanities. Besides, I doubt you are in a position to say ignorance is shrinking everyday. This requires knowledge of about all possible facts and the state of knowledge of all possible believers of facts.

        • john zande

          Hi Duck

          It was a very simple question: name a single truth Theism has ever revealed; a standardised fact or method of the natural world we depend upon and turn to even in this day and thank X religion for revealing it.

        • john zande

          Constrained by the unthinking laws of nature hardly denotes a system of puppeteer and marionette. The theist, conversely, is dancing to what they believe is a conscious, thinking, watchful overseer who WILL PUNISH them if they don’t dance the exact way it tells them to.

  • Boxing Pythagoras

    Thank you for your post, Debilis!

    This argument has been getting more and more popular within apologetics, in recent years. I often hear it claimed that I am “borrowing from the Christian worldview” when I attempt to utilize logic in any manner. If you’ll allow me, I’d like to respond, briefly.

    The simple fact of the matter is that Mr. Davies description of the human understanding of physical laws is far from complete. We are so inundated with the history of Christendom that we often forget about the other cultures which preceded it and coexisted with it. It is very easy for us to look at how Christians thought about things 300 years ago, while forgetting that the majority of the world was not Christian, 300 years ago. It’s easy to forget that Christianity did not even exist 2000 years ago, but the assumption that physical laws behave in rational and predictable ways did.

    Greek philosophers such as Thales, Leucippus, Democritus, Epicurius, and many other pillars of scientific thought put forward the idea that physical laws are rational as early as six centuries before Jesus even began his ministry; and they offered this proposition as being explicitly DESPITE the gods, not due to them. Chinese mathematicians and astronomers such as Zhang Heng, Liu Hui, Zu Chongzhi, and Yi Xing operated on the assumption of the world’s rationality without ever even being introduced to Christianity or its Aristotelian underpinnings.

    The secular position has never been that science works “for no reason at all,” and it is certainly not only theists who have offered explanations for its utility. Logic is a natural outgrowth of the invention of language– once you have a word to describe a thing, the natural consequence is that this word does not describe other things. From this, we derived our intuition of the basic laws of identity, non-contradiction, and excluded middle. The natural extension of logic, in turn, is mathematics; and it was geometry which allowed us to begin measuring nature. These measurements led to the recognition of patterns in nature, and the quintessence of a pattern is in its predictable repetition. The formal attempt to describe these patterns in nature is that which we call Science.

    Science works precisely because human beings have been continuously refining it to do so for millennia. Many times in our history, our understanding of the patterns we observe has proved incomplete, inadequate, or even entirely incorrect. Every time that this has occurred, we have altered our science in order to better fit our observations. No gods are necessary to such a process.

    • paarsurrey

      @Boxing Pythagoras;June 3rd, 2014 at 5:50 am

      I think you have not understood the main argument of Debilis; he has not even once mentioned the name of Christianity in his OP.


      • Boxing Pythagoras

        Yes, Debilis did not explicitly mention Christianity, however the Christian view of the laws of physics was implicit to the Paul Davies quote to which he was responding. Dr. Davies was discussing a 300 year-old theological view of physics– it’s fairly clear that his intention was to address the Christian theologies underlying the views of 17th Century thinkers.

        For his part, Debilis explicitly stated that only theists can provide explanation for natural laws, and I replied directly to this claim. Thales and Democritus believed in gods, but argued explicitly that the laws of nature were neither created nor governed by the gods. Yi Xing did not believe any gods existed, and yet he still held to the idea that the cosmos behaved in a rational manner.

        There is nothing about logic, reason, or science which requires the institution of a god or gods.

    • Debilis

      Greetings, and thank you for the thoughtful response.

      You make several good points, and I completely agree that science is far from a purely Christian invention (for starters, western histories tend to downplay the immense contributions of Muslim thinkers).

      Where I’ll defend my position is against materialism is as follows: All of the last thinkers you mention had to propose more than the material universe in order to develop the metaphysical propositions that led to modern science.

      And “metaphysical” is key. I completely agree that all cultures have developed logic (or could have developed it, were it not already present). But this is not to be conflated with modern science. Aristotle’s arguments (for instance) are logical; what makes them distinguishable from science is the lack of certain metaphysical suppositions such as those proposed by Descartes and Bacon.

      As such, what is needed in response to Davies isn’t an appeal to history, but either a materialistic explanation of the metaphysical foundations of science or a rejection of materialism. Obviously, I’ve chosen the latter path.

      For those who choose the former, it is pertinent that one can remain an atheist after rejecting materialism. I would only add that all of the common reasons given for embracing atheism are actually reasons for embracing materialism. As such, I didn’t think it worthwhile to address basically dead forms of atheism, but let me know if your position is non-materialist.

      But, above all, best to you out there.

      • Boxing Pythagoras

        I consider myself a materialist and a naturalist, insofar as I am not aware of anything which demonstrates that “immaterial existence” is even a cogent idea. That said, I do not reject theism because I embrace materialism, as these are not mutually exclusive positions– there are many theists whose gods are purportedly material beings. I reject theism because I am not aware of anything which demonstrates the existence of a god or gods. The reasoning for my atheism is similar to the reasoning for my materialism, but the one does not cause or necessitate the other.

        I disagree with the sentiment that that which distinguishes Aristotle’s arguments from modern science are metaphysical suppositions. In fact, I do not agree that modern science rests upon any metaphysical foundation, in the first place. Precisely what metaphysics do you believe are underlying modern science?

        • cogitatingduck

          BP, there is a taxonomy of metaphysics that would call a view of material universe with gods within it “finite godism.” A Mormon cosmology would be like this, I think. To speak of “God” in a classical metaphysics is to refer to the entity that caused the material world to come into being. If the material world did not cause itself to come into being, then that which caused it would be immaterial, and could be God. Just wanting to make the presuppositions clear here.

        • Debilis

          Greetings and best wishes to you!

          But otherwise diving right in:
          Ideas don’t need to be established as cogent. Rather, anyone claiming that an idea is not cogent needs to show an internal inconsistency in the concept. Given that there is no such proof regarding the non-material, we cannot use demands for proof of cogency against it.

          I completely agree, however, that atheism does not require materialism. However, atheism (to be rational) does require that one defend a secular view as superior to theism. Any view can be criticized or dismissed. It is only when something better can be presented that one has been given good reason to change views.

          Regarding science, of course ancient philosophers did not practice it. Any relevant history book will tell us this. Aristotle, for instance, believed that controlled experiments were an invalid approach to learning about the natural world. This is a direct rejection of a foundational point of modern science.

          And, to answer your question, there are many beliefs which underlie science. Science is based on the assumption that the universe behaves in ways that are mathematically consistent, that these consistencies hold across time and space (so results in Beijing will be the same as results in London), and many other things besides (for instance, there is no scientific test of Special Relativity’s claim that light travels through a vacuum at a consistent speed and a straight line; that is a metaphysical position).

          These kinds of things are drilled into we modern types from such an early age that it is “just common sense” to us. And, while I happen to agree with these claims, there is no actual demonstration or explanation of them apart from theism.

          All these points taken together can be put much more simply: secularists need to offer an explanation for the existence of physical laws, and defend that explanation as superior to theistic alternatives.

          That is, after all, what one’a view is: the explanation of experience that one finds to be most likely.

        • Boxing Pythagoras

          Thank you again for your responses.

          1. Cogency of “Immaterial Existence”
          I do not find “immaterial existence” to be a cogent concept simply because I do not know of anyway to meaningfully define “existence” in the absence of a material universe. Generally, when we say that something “exists” we mean that it occupies a position within our shared space-time manifold. What does it mean to exist immaterially?

          2. Ancient Philosophers and Science
          I apologize– I did not mean to intimate that ancient philosophers practiced modern science. There were certainly forerunners of what would become the Scientific Method– especially in Alexandria– but I did not intend to say that Aristotle’s philosophy was NOT distinguishable from modern science. Rather, it is quite distinguishable; just not primarily due to metaphysical suppositions. Aristotle’s basic methodology was, as you have illustrated, entirely different (and often antithetical) to that of modern science.

          3. The Universality of Natural Laws
          Science operates on the assumption that natural laws are universal, not because it is a metaphysical supposition, but because it seems to be borne out by the evidence. When we look to our planetary neighbors and apply our local models of gravity, we make predictions about how we would expect them to behave. We then observe, collect data, and confirm or disconfirm our predictions. Newton supposed gravity to be universal, then tested his theory empirically. These tests have been continued throughout the centuries, on more and more celestial objects, and the model continues to perform accurately. When it hasn’t, we have striven to improve it– as Einstein did with General Relativity, and as current physicists are doing in the searches for quantum gravity, dark matter, and dark energy. So, too, does this extend to all areas of science.

          4. Special Relativity and the Speed of Light
          Einstein’s premise that the speed of light is constant through a vacuum was most certainly not a metaphysical supposition. It is a consequence of Maxwell’s equations, which are some of the most empirically verified formulae in all of physics. The constancy of the speed of light was absolutely a physical supposition, not at all a metaphysical one.

          5. The Need for Explanation
          Regardless of whether one is a theist or not, eventually we all reach a point where we concede “That’s simply the way it is, and we may never know why.” For materialists, that point arises at the observation that the universe contains intelligible patterns. For theists, that point is in the idea that God created the universe with these intelligible patterns. Ultimately, both of these positions are simply tautological assertions that the universe contains intelligible patterns. As I have not been presented with sufficient evidence to support the existence of any creative deity, I see no need to multiply the entities of the proposition unnecessarily. It certainly seems more likely, to me, that the universe simply is intelligible than that there is a being which defies all understanding of being which utilized some unknown method to create an intelligible universe simply because that being created it that way.

          Thank you, again, for your time, and I look forward to your responses!

        • Debilis

          Greetings once again!
          And categorizing was a good idea; let me borrow that:

          1) The cogency of immaterial existence

          To exist immaterially is simply to be a real, instantiated thing that does dot have the property of materiality. I think we can all understand what that sentence means; the problem seems to come when we try to picture in our mind’s eyes what one such thing would be like.

          The answer to that is that it is probably impossible to form a mental image of the non-material. I’ve certainly never been able to do it. But our ability to imagine a thing isn’t a test for cogency. Nor is our ability to see how it might exist. If it were, much of modern science should be thrown out. Rather, the test for cogency is to ask ourselves if an idea contradicts itself.

          So, if there is something we can point to about immateriality that contradicts something else about it, then it is not cogent. Otherwise, we have no reason to think so.

          2) ancient philosophers and modern science
          This makes much more sense. I should have realized that this is what you were saying (apologies!).

          To respond to this, then: I’d simply maintain that the differences in methodology are because of differences in metaphysics. This idea that there are mathematically modelable physical laws that govern the universe is a metaphysical one, which thinkers like Aristotle (wrongly, as it turns out) reject.

          3) the universality of natural laws

          While I completely agree that the success of science shows us that laws are at least somewhat universal, this had not been shown when Descartes and Bacon were first recommending modern science.

          If it had turned out otherwise, science would have to be abandoned because the entire process assumes the universality of laws (as well as the mathematical consistency of laws, the abstraction of efficient causation from other modes of explanation, and other things).

          It is absolutely right to say that this seems to be working, but that doesn’t tell us why it works. If we want an explanation other than “well, it just seems to”, we have to turn to metaphysics.

          4) The constancy of light’s path through a vacuum

          I’ve rambled quite a bit, and I suppose this is a minor point. As such, I’ll say that Maxwell’s equations themselves simply assume that light has a constant speed and direction in a vacuum. There are many other patterns of behavior that could explain the data.

          5) The need for explanation

          My position here is threefold.

          First, I wanted to quickly point out that Ockham’s Razor is itself a metaphysical principal that helps to ground science. It is one more example of the kind of thing I’m discussing.

          Second (and more to the point), the theist doesn’t simply stop with the phrase “that’s simply the way it is” in the way that the materialist atheist does. Classical Theism offers explanations for God as much as the universe (grounded in the concept of necessity, but I’ll not get into that here).

          Third, God is a remarkably simple concept (assuming one understands classical theism and the technical sense of the word “simple” used in Ockham’s Razor), which offers various metaphysical explanations for several complex issues. Given that the universe is not simple, it is actually a violation of Ockham’s Razor to terminate explanation there when there is a more simple explanation on hand (Classical Theism).

          Okay, apologies for the length of that, but I was just far too interested in your comments.

          Best to you.

        • Boxing Pythagoras

          Thanks again! This has certainly been an interesting and poignant conversation, thus far.

          1. Cogency of Immaterial Existence
          I don’t mean to imply that we need to be able to visualize something for it to be cogent, but such a concept does need a method for being consistently and completely described for cogency. The term “real” doesn’t seem to help in this case, since we usually define a “real” thing as one which exists, as opposed to one which doesn’t. That would make “real” dependent on our definition of “existence,” and therefore useless in defining “existence.”

          Similarly, “instantiated” necessarily implies that the entity in question occupies some instant, and an instant is generally understood to be an increment of material space-time. This is why I say that “immaterial existence” seems to be a phrase lacking in cogency.

          2. Ancient Philosophers and Modern Science
          It seems that we’re mostly in agreement on this subject, now. I would clarify that Aristotle’s rejection was not that the universe can be modeled mathematically, but that empiricism can be useful to cosmology. He thought that cosmology was an exercise of pure reason, and he disdained the idea of attempting to measure something as esoteric as the cosmos. Still, this is only a minor point, and overall it seems we agree on this issue, now.

          3. Universality of Natural Law
          I’d disagree that Descartes and Bacon had no demonstration that laws are at least somewhat universal. Both men were perfectly aware, from previous human-initiated experiments dating back millennia, that physical laws seemed to exhibit similar behavior no matter where one stands on the Earth. Dropping a ball in Milan would cause it to fall to the ground just as surely as it would in London. A water clock would judge time just as accurately whether it ran in Paris or in Rome. Heating water in Alexandria during Summer would produce steam just as it would in Uppsala during Winter. Numerous principles of natural philosophy could be empirically demonstrated to be at least somewhat universal.

          This is what led to the idea that certain principles might be universal. It was not metaphysics, but rather the continuous observation through human history that certain patterns seemed to repeat reliably and predictably, regardless of where those patterns were observed.

          4. Constancy of Light’s Speed in a Vacuum
          Again, you are mistaken, here. The constancy of light’s speed in a vacuum is a consequence of Maxwell’s equations, not an assumption made by them. In fact, when Maxwell first derived his equations, he did not know that they would be describing light, at all. He had calculated a speed limitation for electromagnetic waves in a vacuum. It wasn’t until after Maxwell had come up with these formulae that he hypothesized that light, itself, was an electromagnetic wave, based on a correlation between his calculated speed limit and measurements from attempts to empirically determine the speed of light.

          5. The Need for Explanation
          Ockham’s razor is certainly a philosophical precept valued in science, but I would not consider it a metaphysical foundation. After all, the principle is just as basal to discussions of metaphysics or any other area of philosophy as it is to science. It seems to simply be a matter of common sense: if you propose hypothesis A, while I propose hypothesis A plus hypothesis B on top, then we both have the burden of demonstrating A. However, you do not have the burden of demonstrating B, while I do. As such, if A is sufficient to explain the question at hand, B becomes an unnecessary and arbitrary addition to the equation.

          Classical theism absolutely stops with “that’s just the way it is” just as much as materialism. For example, take the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” The materialist answers this tautologically: there is something because there is something. The classical theist answers theologically: an omnipotent, immaterial, personal entity created something. However, this doesn’t truly answer the question. Firstly, it does not answer why this entity created something rather than not creating something– a question typically answered tautologically by theologians. Nor does it even answer the original question. An omnipotent, immaterial, personal entity is not nothing; it is something. So why is there something rather than nothing? Ultimately, this question must be answered tautologically.

          Ockham’s razor advises against the unnecessary multiplication of entities in an argument. Let’s say we are attempting to answer the question of the origin of cosmic inflation. My argument is that the physical cosmos exists, and that an as-yet unknown mechanism initiated space-time inflation about 14 billion years ago. The classical theistic argument is that God exists, that God utilized an as-yet unknown mechanism to bring the physical cosmos into existence, and that another as-yet unknown mechanism initiated space-time inflation about 14 billion years ago. Both of these positions sufficiently explain the observed data, however the theistic position adds two entities which are not required by the observed data: God and the creation of the physical cosmos. It is not the theistic position which better satisfies Ockham’s razor.

          Thanks again for taking the time to read and respond! I’m thoroughly enjoying this exchange!

        • Debilis

          Okay, this is shaping up to exactly the sort of discussion I was hoping to have. I very much love reading your thoughts on the subject.

          So, here we go:

          1) Cogency of Immaterial Existence
          This makes more sense. And I completely agree that simply referring to words like “real” or “instantiated” wouldn’t help.

          But I wouldn’t say that instantiated means that something exists within a moment of physical space-time. To insist on this would be to beg the question in favor of materialism. Rather, it just means that a thing exists. So, we can simply leave that alone.

          As such, I don’t see a reason to think that immaterial existence is a self-contradiction. We can claim that existing means existing within space-time, but I know of no reason to think that this is true.

          I agree, however, that a cogent point should be describable in detail. To that, I would reference Scholasticism and the rest of the history of Classical Theism. Their concepts of particular immaterial things are described in great detail (more than I can handle, to be honest).

          2) Ancient Philosophers and Modern Science
          I’m always happy to run into a point of agreement.

          3. Universality of Natural Law
          I completely agree that the early supporters of modern science were basing much of their ideas on fundamental human experience, and that the idea that scientific law could be universal was influenced by earlier thought.

          The point is, however, that the kind of reasoning you name is metaphysical, not simply a matter of counting up facts. The information these people had contained both reasons to see universality and great differences in the functioning of the universe.

          Anymore, we take it for granted that common experience “proves” the validity of the former and that stories to the contrary are to be viewed with suspicion, but this was not always so. Monotheism was definitely a motivating factor in moving Descartes, Bacon, and others in this direction.

          Nor would it have mattered (regarding the overall point) even if it was. Even if experience gave us reason to think that there are regularities in nature, but does not explain why this is the case—or what makes it the case.

          And it is answering this question that, I have argued, requires appealing to something other than the material universe.

          4. Constancy of Light’s Speed in a Vacuum
          I think I’ve miscommunicated here. I didn’t mean to say that the premise was about light, specifically. I meant to say that the equations assume that electromagnetism is moving steadily through time and space (as opposed to backing up in time, looping in imperceptible ways, etc., that would be consistent with the data).

          This is a perfectly reasonable assumption, in my view. It may well be overturned some day, but hasn’t yet. But the point is that all scientific theories must make some assumptions simply because we don’t have all the information in the universe—or even all the information about any one object in the universe.

          These assumptions are often very defensible, from a metaphysical standpoint. But, if one rejects metaphysics altogether, one rejects any basis of defense of these assumptions. Much of the means by which we settle disputes between new scientific theories would be gone.

          5. Ockham’s Razor
          (Splitting this one off…)
          This is indeed a metaphysical principle.
          I agree with you that it is “just common sense”, but much of common sense is the basics of metaphysics (In a similar way, much of common sense is the basics of science).

          Nor does the fact that it is as pertinent to metaphysical discussions as scientific ones make it not a metaphysical principle. The precept that 1 + 1 = 2 doesn’t cease to be mathematical simply because it is as pertinent to mathematics as it is to science. And something like this could be said for Ockham’s Razor.

          Metaphysics is so fundamental to our thinking that it is hard to get outside ourselves and see how often we are actually doing it. But it is fundamental to every field of study.

          5. The Need for Explanation
          This would be my strongest point of disagreement. Classical Theism doesn’t simply propose the existence of a deity followed by “that’s just how it is”. The idea is that there is a logical contradiction in the idea that this particular entity should not exist. The arguments are long and abstract, but they are not simple abandonments of inquiry in a “that’s just how it is” way.

          Nor do Classical Theists lack answers to the question, why did this deity create the world, as opposed to not creating it. As before, there are explorations of that topic, and specific points regarding the nature of God. Hundreds, if not thousands, of pages have been written on just this topic.

          Moreover, it is simpler (in the sense of Ockham’s Razor). Not only is the God of Classical Theism simpler than the earliest states of the universe (meaning that we’re already explaining complexity with something relatively simple, but the concept explains more than simply the earliest states of the universe. As such, we’ve eliminated many entities and replaced them with one.

          That isn’t to say that the discussion is ended there, but it is indeed an advance in simplicity to accept Classical Theism.

          Okay, that was a fun one (but apologies that it took me a bit to get back to you).
          Most of all, I hope things are going well for you.

        • Boxing Pythagoras

          I absolutely agree that this has been a thoughtful and enjoyable discussion! I’m going to re-number the positions, slightly, now that we’ve reached some agreement and come to some new nuances.

          1. Cogency of Immaterial Existence
          I didn’t mean to question-beg with “instantiated.” I simply meant that “instantiate” carries the necessary baggage of its root word, “instant,” and an “instant” is very clearly an increment of time. This is why I stated that “instantiate” implies a space-time existence.

          I fully agree that there could, possibly, be some definition for “existence” which is both cogent and inclusive of immaterial entities. I simply have not ever seen any such definition, which is the reason I had originally phrased my opposition by saying, “I am not aware of anything which demonstrates that ‘immaterial existence’ is even a cogent idea.” It may, indeed, be cogent, I am just not aware of a definition which could satisfy this.

          I will look to Scholasticism to see if I can find a definition for “existence” which resolves this issue, though.

          2. Universality of Natural Laws
          I will gladly agree that Descartes and Bacon were motivated by their theism, just as Yi Xing was motivated by his Buddhism, and just as Democritus and Richard Feynman were motivated by their naturalism. I will still contend that theism offers no better an explanation for the universality of natural laws than does Buddhism or naturalism or any of a host of other philosophical positions. These always ultimately collapse into axioms which are held tautologically.

          3. Constancy of Lightspeed
          I’m still not understanding why you think there was an assumption, here. Maxwell’s equations were developed as a result of observations of electromagnetic activity. He wasn’t simply assuming that these waves were moving through time and space in any given manner. Rather, Maxwell observed the properties of electromagnetic fields and developed equations which described those observations and could predict the outcomes of further observations. There was no assumption of motion implicit in Maxwell’s work.

          4. Ockham’s Razor
          Perhaps we have differing definitions of “metaphysics,” because I still do not understand why you would classify Ockham’s Razor as a metaphysical principle.

          I don’t think the 1+1=2 example is quite analogous. Perhaps better would be the laws of identity, non-contradiction, and excluded middle. If I were to say, “A is A; A is not ~A; and if A, then not ~A,” most people would not consider this a mathematical principle, even though mathematics would be meaningless without these ideas. Yes, it is not inaccurate to identify these laws with mathematics, since it does rely upon them, but they are more basal than that identification would denote. This is why we typically refer to these things as “laws of logic,” rather than “laws of mathematics” or “laws of metaphysics.”

          5. The Need for Explanation
          Let’s assume, for the moment, that theism is correct in its claim that God exists. Why is does God exist rather than not existing?

          The arguments for God’s existence only assert that contingent reality leads back to something non-contingent. They do not tell us why this non-contingent entity exists rather than not existing, any more than Max Tegmark’s mathematical universe hypothesis tells us why mathematics exists rather than not existing.

          All “why” questions inevitably lead back to either tautologies or infinite regression. Even if we can offer some hypothesis X to answer the question “why did God create the universe rather than not creating it?” we are no left with a new question: Why X rather than ~X? For any X, we can offer an explanatory hypothesis X’, but that still leaves us the question of why X’ rather than ~X’. This process repeats ad infinitum, unless we find some basal explanatory hypothesis which is held to be simply tautologically true.

        • Debilis

          Okay, here we go for the next round! I hope all is well with you.

          1. Cogency of Immaterial Existence
          Fair enough.

          The only thing I can say is that concepts like “existence” don’t seem to necessarily require a medium of space-time. I completely agree that this is how we normally think of things as existing (hence the derivation of “instantiate” that you point out). In fact, I suspect that it isn’t possible for a human to imagine a non-spaciotemoral object.

          Still, I don’t see that there is any logical incoherence in the idea of such a thing existing. It would just be that some things exist that we can’t rightly imaging (which is what scientists and philosophers have been proposing for some time).

          But, I don’t think you’ve spoken against any of that—so I suppose I’m just digressing.

          2. Universality of Natural Laws
          This is much more a point of disagreement. Though, even here, I’ll wholeheartedly agree with a major part of your point: that the personal motivating factors of those who proposed science is not automatically lent credibility via the success of science.

          But I would disagree with the idea that theism requires axioms in order to explain science in the same sense that naturalism does. There are many explanations of God that have been offered by various forms of theism.

          While it certainly remains true that one lifetime is not enough time to discover an explanation of all things, I can’t see a stopping point in theism—where the theist is forced to say “this is simply an axiom”. There are explanations for God, for instance.

          The materialist is, however, forced to say this with respect to the question of the regularity of the universe (as well as some other things not mentioned here).

          As such, it doesn’t seem to be as strong an explanation of reality (which is what a philosophy is, of course).

          3. Constancy of Lightspeed
          I’m starting to suspect that I’ve been horribly unclear.

          This was essentially an extension of the last point. Maxwell assumed (rightly, in my view) that the universe was behaving regularly. This is a fundamental assumption of all science. In case it seemed otherwise, I hadn’t meant to say any more than that (and apologize if that’s been frustrating).

          4. Ockham’s Razor
          I’m not sure how one would classify this principle, if not as metaphysical. If it is simply epistemological or methodological, then it shouldn’t carry weight in choosing between materialism and theism.

          But (and I’m not sure if I have this right) it seems that you might be saying that Ockham’s Razor is a law of logic. But the laws of inference are modal truisms. That is, conditionals. Ockham’s Razor is not one of them.

          5. The Need for Explanation
          I agree that it is important to ask theists for explanations of God.

          In the Leibnitzian version of the explanation (which is the one you reference here), the basic reason offered is that the inability to not exist is just what it means to be non-contingent.

          That is, a contingent thing requires something else to exist. We require our parents (not to mention things like air, food, and a space-time universe). This is because, while our existence was always possible, something had to make that possibility a reality.

          With respect to non-contingent things, it is not the case at all that such things might of existed, but don’t—or might not have existed, but happen to exist. Rather, it is logically impossible for them to not exist.

          That is the entire idea of a non-contingent being. And, given (hypothetically) that something is non-contingent, then its existence has been explained by that fact.

          Of course, one could study the matter in much more detail than that. It is perfectly fine to keep asking questions. But the point is that God isn’t being presented as an intellectual stopping point. I agree that this should never be done.

          I like the reference to mathematics, actually, as many would offer a similar explanation of mathematical truth. Why does 1 + 1 = 2? Very sophisticated answers have been given, but the basic explanation is that, once one understands what those symbols mean, it would be a self-contradiction for that not to be true.

          It is the same with respect to non-contingent things.

          But I completely agree with your statement that this leads to an infinite series of questions (but not that it is an infinite regress). I think it is rather obvious that, no matter how far one probes intellectually, one can always go deeper.

          The way I typically put it is this: “there must be some explanation” is always more reasonable than “this is true for literally no reason whatsoever”.

          Personally, I think this is both undeniable, and the spirit of inquiry that motivates both philosophy and science. This is one more way, then, that I think of materialism as out of step with science: it proposes a halt to the very conviction that underlies all discovery.

          Okay, I think I’m done rambling. I’ll just say again that I appreciated the thoughtful response.

        • Boxing Pythagoras

          Thanks again, for this round! Definitely seems like we are whittling down our areas of disagreement to their prime points, now.

          1. Cogency of Immaterial Existence
          I have done a little bit of research, here, since my last post– though, I admit, not half so much as I would like. While I have discovered some definitions for existence which cover immaterial entities, these tend to be discussing classes and relations of material entities, and therefore seem inadequate in describing an immaterial entity which has intelligence and person. I am still continuing to look, however. If you happen to come across any, in your own studies, please let me know.

          2. Universality of Natural Laws
          Some of this seems to be wrapping into #5, now, so for now I’ll simply say that naturalism does not necessarily need to take the rationality of the universe tautologically. For example, many iterations of the Multiverse hypothesis offer explanation for why we find ourselves in a rational universe rather than an irrational one. Similarly, Max Tegmark’s Mathematical Universe hypothesis offers a rather striking explanation of the rationality behind the universe. It is certainly just as possible for the naturalist to offer explanations, in this area, as for the theist.

          3. Constancy of Lightspeed
          I think I see your meaning, now. In that case, I will again assert that this presumption is based upon vast empirical evidence that things seem to operate similarly regardless of their position in space-time, and not simply upon a metaphysical assumption.

          4. Ockham’s Razor
          I classify Ockham’s Razor as a probablistic principle, personally. I certainly wouldn’t classify it alongside the basal laws of logic, nor would I view it as a metaphysical principle. It is simply a tool for evaluating the simplicity of one’s argument. Simplicity does not, necessarily, imply anything as regards veracity. However, it is easier to provide support for a simple argument than for a complex one.

          For example, say two scientists observe a ball falling to the surface of the Earth. The first supposes that there exists some force which attracts the ball to the Earth’s center. The other supposes that an immaterial, personal gravity wight is actively pulling the ball towards the Earth’s center. Both explanations adequately explain the observed phenomenon, and both require their proponent to support the idea that there exists a force between the ball and the Earth; however, the latter explanation also requires its proponent to demonstrate that this force is caused by an immaterial, personal gravity wight. Ockham’s Razor would lead us toward the first scientist’s explanation, but it does not suggest that the second scientist’s explanation is therefore false. It simply shows that the second scientist now has to provide support for two entities (the force and the gravity wight) while the first scientist need only support a single entity (the force).

          So, I’ll happily agree that Ockham’s Razor does not offer us a tool for evaluating, absolutely, whether to prefer naturalism over theism; it does, however, show us that theism requires a greater burden of proof, as it seeks to explain all the same things while introducing entities which have not been shown to be necessary to the system.

          5. The Need for Explanation
          It seems that you are actually agreeing with me that such questions ultimately boil down to tautologies. When you say “the inability to not exist is just what it means to be non-contingent,” you are asserting a tautology. Perhaps an example might better illustrate my meaning:

          Why do we assume the universe is rational? Because God exists. Why does God exist rather than not existing? Because God is non-contingent. Why are non-contingent things not contingent? Because of the Law of Non-Contradiction. Why can a thing not be simultaneously A and ~A?

          That’s where it becomes tricky. We cannot say that the Law of Non-Contradiction holds because the universe is rational, because our original aim was to explain why the universe is rational. We cannot say it holds because God exists, since we are using this Law to support the idea that God exists. We cannot say that the Law is non-contingent, because we are employing the Law to show why non-contingent things are not contingent. Therefore, we must take the Law of Non-Contradiction tautologically.

          Mathematics is no different. As a computer scientist, I learned how to break down mathematics into its constituent parts in order to teach a computer how to evaluate such things. As a simple example, we can look at exponentiation. If I want a computer to calculate x^y, I have to teach the computer that this means multiplying x by itself over y iterations. But a computer cannot innately multiply, so I first have to teach it that x*y means adding x to itself over y iterations. But a computer cannot innately add, so I first have to teach it that x+y means combining two quantities. But a computer does not innately know what a quantity is, so I have define a quantity as a multiple of 1. Still, a computer has no innate knowledge of 1, so I define 1 as being the case when a certain switch is set on, rather than off. Now, we have something which is innate to a computer, and the rest can be built on top of it. However, this ultimate result is that we have to teach a computer that 1 is “on” and not “off,” tautologically, before it can perform even the most basic mathematical process: counting to 1.

          Ultimately, all logic eventually leads back to tautology– including the logic which supports theism.

        • Debilis

          Apologies for the delay! (But, unfortunately, I don’t think that is going to change—it’s my busy season.)
          I appreciate the thoughts very much here, and think yours is an intelligent approach.

          But, to get to the points of disagreement, here we go:

          1. Cogency of immaterial existence
          This concept is rather broad. I don’t expect that one will find a definition that is significantly different from “existing, but not material”. I personally think it is clear that (whether or not such things actually do exist), there is no logical contradiction in that definition. Hence, it would be a cogent point.
          I’m sure that there are some subcategories of this that are self-contradictory. If one could show that all forms of theism must necessarily belong to those subcategories, one would have a powerful argument for atheism. But, personally, I’ve never encountered a serious attempt to do this (and can’t imagine what it would be).
          I’d love to read on any such attempts. But, for now, I’d say that this is a point neither in favor of nor against theism.

          2. Explaining the law-like structure of the universe
          I don’t yet see how the multiverse would help the naturalist on this particular point, in that the multiverse itself is always conceived of as having a law-like structure (albeit with a very different set of laws).
          This is because a multiverse that lacked such a structure wouldn’t be an explanation. And one which possesses such a structure would itself need an external explanation (as it would not, therefore, be a self-explained entity). This would, therefore, simply push the question back a step.
          I agree, however, that Tegmark’s metaphysics (which is what it is—as opposed to a scientific hypothesis) would explain the universe, but only by denying the materialism that I’ve been rejecting. In claiming that the material is a sort of illusion, he seems to be in agreement with me that more than the material is needed to explain the universe.
          For sure, this still contradicts theism. To that, I’d say that his position suffers from the same problem of consciousness as materialism, leading me to feel that it is a sort-of “worst of both worlds” approach. But I’ll not pursue that unless you’re more interested in it than I take you to be (I expect that it was simply a side comment to illustrate).

          3. Constancy of Lightspeed
          You are definitely in good company in that position. Many intelligent people assert as much.
          As to why I disagree, I’d say that that empirical research itself assumes the constancy of the speed of light. This is essentially the point about the law-like universe “writ small”.
          More formally, it is known as “the problem of induction” as put forth by David Hume. (I should have mentioned the name sooner, apologies.)
          It is assuming that we can generalize based on a few test examples. This is reasonable, given some forms of theism, but (as Hume famously points out) is inexplicable given naturalism (but that is essentially point #2).

          4. Ockham’s Razor
          This may be my point of most unqualified disagreement. But (to give some qualifications) I agree that Ockham’s Razor is a useful tool for evaluation.
          My trouble is that the argument that (because of Ockham’s Razor) theism has a greater burden of proof is, specifically, to treat it as a metaphysical principle.
          That is, the form of theism being discussed is not a scientific hypothesis. It is a metaphysical sort of explanation not subject to probabilistic analysis.
          If one wants to say that it is, then one is saying that Ockham’s Razor is applicable to metaphysical questions, and (therefore) the metaphysical argument I made for theism based on Ockham’s Razor would apply.
          However, if one wants to reject the idea that Ockham’s Razor is metaphysical, saying that it is purely probabilistic, then it is irrelevant to metaphysical questions and explanations like the one I’ve been discussing.
          With respect to certain kinds of gods (such as those put forth by many ID theorists), a purely probabilistic, scientific principle is relevant. With respect to my beliefs (classical theism), only a metaphysical principle is relevant.

          Personally, I’m more inclined to take the simpler metaphysical explanation over one that seems unnecessarily complicated (particularly if it proposes brute facts). Classical theism is simpler (by the technical meaning of the term) than naturalism, and therefore is preferable insofar as one is interested in simplicity, but I agree that this isn’t a compelling argument for theism.

          5. The need for explanation
          I didn’t know you were a computer scientist! I work in programming myself.

          But, getting to the point:
          I completely agree that, from a human perspective, we have a very hard time getting out from under our fundamental assumptions. And, yes, if we are going to explain God via logical principle, it is circular to then explain logical principle in terms of God.
          The difference between this and naturalism, however, is that there is an explanation of both God and the universe. Naturalism not only fails to explain rationality, but also the existence of contingent objects (as well as their ordered behavior, as above).
          So, while I completely agree that all philosophies have a starting point, my complaint with naturalism is that it seems to have at least three starting points. Specifically, it explains less, and is reduced to claiming that certain things are brute facts when we actually do have an explanation for them.
          This, to me, is rather like saying that rain is a brute fact (“water just falls”) when the idea of condensation is perfectly available.

          In fact, there is also a fourth starting point for naturalists. I did want to mention this:

          6. Basic experience
          There have been those, such as Thomas Nagel, who point out that no amount of science can explain our everyday, basic, first-person experience. This is not because science isn’t yet advanced enough, but because science (including neuroscience) is defined in such a way that it can only discuss that which is describable in third-person terms. Essentially, it is about what can be written in the language of mathematics.
          This is very useful, and a brilliant insight of the early scientists. But it should be obvious, however, that we’ve mentally carved up the landscape in such a way as to exclude every-day conscious experience from science. This makes it a truism that naturalism, if it only includes the material as science studies it, is incomplete.
          This is one more reason to look into non-material explanations of reality as we experience it.

          And, as a certain form of theism is the most complete and parsimonious of the explanations on the table, I find it the most attractive.

          That’s my conclusion, in any case. The most emphatic statement I’d like to make is that, in spite of my slowness, I very much appreciate the responses you’ve given.

          To that end, best to you out there.

        • cogitatingduck

          Hi BP, I appreciate your spirit of engagement. I would critique the junction where you support non-contingent beings on the basis of the law of non-contradiction. Rather, a necessarily existing being exists out of necessity. Contingent beings are predicated upon it. Your description of a necessary being relies on the law of non-contradiction to be coherent. To say all logic leads back to tautology dynamites the significance of all propositions. Rather, we can each choose to assent to grounded meanings as a way to convey significance. Do you study the linguistic turn much?

        • Frank Morris

          BP, rarely do we find a materialist atheist who is so polite, intelligent and engaging. You disappoint, however, with your semantic approach to the question of whether something is real or not. You even discard the word “existence” in an attempt to explain what “real” means.

          You remind me of Bill Clinton’s “That depends on what the word ‘is’ is”. (not a precise quote)

          It is abundantly clear what the word “exist” means. If there is such a thing as X, then X exists. There is no requirement that X be made of materials in order to exist. To insist on such a requirement is nothing more than an empty assertion of your materialistic beliefs and a semantic stumbling block to an otherwise intelligent conversation.

          You may as well say that we can debate anything as long as we don’t use any words without agreeing in advance that you are correct.

          I believe that X doesn’t need to be material to exist. You may throw arbitrary limitations on that, but either way, the word “exist” or “real” works. So in the absence of a more applicable term, let the discussion continue using those basic words. I find those words much more valid than accusations of “magic” bandied back and forth above.

          Let’s also be clear about materialism. Materialists do not ONLY believe matter exists, but they also believe in energy and other things not made of matter. They believe in time and they believe in various forces and constants.

          They just whimsically and anti-scientifically believe that intelligence does not exist, at least not in a teleological “final cause” point of view. They oddly do not believe in consciousness and the free will ability to animate matter purposefully.

          Materialists oppose overwhelming scientific evidence.

        • Boxing Pythagoras

          Thanks for your thoughts! I was not trying to support non-contingence, as a concept, by the Law of Non-Contradiction. I was simply stating that a non-contingent entity cannot also be a contingent entity, due to this law.

          I think that a necessary basis in tautology only “dynamites” all argument in the case when the involved parties cannot agree to accept such premises tautologically. If these basal tautologies are agreed upon as premises, then further argument can be constructed.

          Unfortunately, I haven’t given as much study to the Linguistic Turn as I might have liked, just yet, but I welcome any insight you might provide upon it!

          @Frank Morris,
          Thank you for the complement! I really am only interested in learning and dialectic, and to that end, I abhor self-serving vitriol. I bear no enmity against anyone who disagrees with my views simply for the reason that they disagree; and I rarely find that anything productive comes out of such offensive antagonism, so I always endeavor to be as cordial as possible.

          I am not attempting to be semantically dishonest, in my discussion. I am asking for a definition of ‘existence’ which could include immaterial entities because I truly do not understand the concept of immaterial existence. I do not know what it means for an immaterial thing ‘to be.’

          Nor did I mean to imply that materialists only believe that matter exists. The physical sciences’ “matter” and philosophy’s “material” are not equivalent concepts. In terms of science, yes, a materialist believes that matter, energy, and forces exist, but these are all philosophically “material” entities (and, in fact, all equivalent things, if Einstein was as correct as he seems to be).

          I am not aware of any overwhelming scientific evidence in support of the idea of an immaterial, intelligent entity. nor even of the necessity of a “final cause.” If you know of any such evidence, please share it with me. Thanks!

      • Frank Morris

        BP, a material is a substance, out of which a thing can be made. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/material

        Thus morality and intelligence are not material, but neither is gravity or strong nuclear force. There is no actual physical substance, but we know these things exist. You can’t see them, grab them, taste them or set them on a scale to weigh them, but we know they exist based on their effects on matter.

        A definition of existence does not specifically exclude anything. Our discussion can and should center around whether or not there is adequate evidence that anything immaterial DOES exist, not stumbling over whether the word exists exists. You are merely (falsely) asserting your own a priori conclusion by trying to rule out the immaterial by definition.

        I call that a semantic debate trick. If you insist on an auto-exclude provision to what “is” is, then we have no conversation because you already have your “conclusion”.

        On the other hand, to say that you can not fathom the idea of something existing but not in substance form, is fair enough, as long as we note that an inability to wrap your mind around it does not mean it doesn’t exist. Still, I have never understood how a materialist easily accepts electromagnetism but not intelligence. Why do materialists take the most certain of all facts and arbitrarily deny it?

        You don’t need a microscope to detect an elephant on your lap, and you don’t need a research paper (though many exist) to know that life is overflowing with constant evidence of intelligence. The evidence that life is intelligently controlled is clear, ubiquitous and overwhelming.

        That is, unless you have made up your mind, against all evidence, to rule it out by your own personal atheistic beliefs.

  • paarsurrey

    Reblogged this on paarsurrey and commented:
    Paarsurrey says:
    I appreciate your post.

    Thanks and regards

  • paarsurrey

    @ Debilis
    I agree with you that the atheists contention that
    “atheism is somehow the “scientific” way of thinking” is totally wrong. Their ideology is not supported by science; they cannot quote from a text book of science or from a peer-reviewed journal where science has positively supported atheism.
    Atheism at core is an ignorant way of thinking.


  • paarsurrey

    @john zande: June 3rd, 2014 at 5:45 am
    @Boxing Pythagoras :June 3rd, 2014 at 10:40 am

    “The modern materialist has no explanation whatsoever for the fact that the universe operates according to laws. This is precisely the problem that Davies (whom, as you point out, is quite an expert) was outlining.”

    I think now that Debilis has since identified the “problem” in the above words.

    Please feel free to refute his argument, if you have any concrete evidence against it.


  • paarsurrey

    The focal point is that Oneness of the One-True-God is the fountain head of the system working in the Universe. Had there been no system; there would have been no science.

    If there had been many gods then there would have been many systems working in the Universe; it would have been archaic universe with no science.

    If there had been no god, as the atheist would have one to believe; then there would have been no universe and no science.


  • paarsurrey

    @cogitatingduck :June 3rd, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    Thanks for the clarification.


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