"Highly confused if not deliberately misleading"

I came across this quote by eminent philosopher William Hasker today (HT: Victor Reppert):

But science as a total worldview—the idea that science can tell us everything there is to know about what reality consists of, enjoys no such overwhelming support. This worldview, (often termed scientific naturalism) is just one theory amongst others and is no more capable of being “proved to all reasonable people” than are religious belief systems. To claim that the strong support enjoyed by, say, the periodic table of the elements transfers to scientific naturalism as a worldview is highly confused if not deliberately misleading. (Peterson, Basinger, Reichenbach & Hasker, Reason and Religious Belief, 4th edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009); p 57.)

If only certain members of our opposition here in New Zealand would pay more attention to what philosophers of religion, who actually know what they’re talking about in this regard, said. Ken Perrott’s recent article ‘Bad science, bad theology’, for example, is a prime example of “highly confused if not deliberately misleading” rhetoric from atheist apologists here in New Zealand.

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  1. Simon
    Simon says:

    To me this seems a silly question, though, James. Both you and I have confidence in science, and it has absotively nothing to do with whether it is metaphysically underpinned. It is just a bare fact that the universe displays order and is [largely] predictable. There is simply no need to justify this fact; it is just a plainly obvious to all.

  2. James
    James says:

    To me this seems a silly question, though, James. Both you and I have confidence in science, and it has absotively nothing to do with whether it is metaphysically underpinned. It is just a bare fact that the universe displays order and is [largely] predictable. There is simply no need to justify this fact; it is just a plainly obvious to all.

    But why should we have confidence in science Simon? How can we know if our particular experiences of nature universally apply? Yes, what we see of the universe seems to be predictable, logical – but our knowledge is finite.

    I think the theist is on much more solid ground here since he can ground the uniformity of nature, the laws of mathematics, and logic, nevermind ethics, in the immutable Mind of God – which also would make them universal and objective.

    God just makes more sense – to me at least. Anyways, nice talking to you Simon, I’ll leave you with the last word…

  3. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Simon,

    You’re assuming something here that needs to be explained by your worldview.

    Comparing the two worldviews, its evident that theism is superior because it can explain the presence of logic, intelligence, etc., in the universe, while yours has to just assume its presence, without justification or the support of any valid arguments – just as a brute fact.

    You’ve set yourself up nicely in a cafe where there are no free lunches. When it comes down to it you discover you have nothing to pay for what you have chosen to consume. You continue to make infantile objections that I’ve told you are category mistakes (what you ask at the end of 47 is literally saying is who made the intelligence of the first uncaused intelligence?), you continue to make metaphysical statements to justify your position when on your view metaphysical statements are “pointless” (i.e., quoteThis is the same for me. How can it make sense to ask questions/talk about the universe as a whole when the universe, by its definition, is the origin of that which governs those questions?), and you have to brush off a totally reasonable question as silly, in the process failing to explain why it is you have confidence in science, and why it is plainly obvious that the universe is largely predictable?

  4. Simon
    Simon says:

    Stuart,

    First of all theism thinks it can explain things. I think that the universe explains things. Who is to say that theism is a better explanation? If I do as you do, and just contrive that the universe is an “uncaused cause”, it is as good an explanation as a god. I have to say your notion of “category error” is what I find infantile. It is simply a “do not question any further” statement.

    This is the same for me. How can it make sense to ask questions/talk about the universe as a whole when the universe, by its definition, is the origin of that which governs those questions?

    The universe is Everything by definition. There is no metaphysic here, unless defining words is a metaphysical exercise. Are you going to object that a statement like “cats have eyes” is a metaphysical statment, too?
    There is simply no way for you to avoid this. You cannot claim that there is anything outside of the universe without rendering your statements about the universe absurd.

  5. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Simon,

    The universe is Everything by definition.

    The universe is not everything, as you suppose. To claim that the universe is everything there is, is certainly a metaphysical statement. The universe is by definition “all existing matter and space” – at least according to my dictionary. To claim the universe is everything is to claim that non-physical entities such as God is, at least in principle, part of the universe (try and prove that with science) – but God by definition (according to theism at lease) transcends the universe.

    The universe cannot be an uncaused cause because it began to exist. No necessary being can begin to exist. Whatever begins to exist has a cause, and the universe began to exist, therefore it has a cause, therefore it cannot be an uncaused cause or indeed necessary. The universe needs an explanation for its existence, and the explanation for its existence must, by logic be immaterial (because it is the cause of all matter), spaceless (because it is the cause of all space), timeless or eternal (because it is the cause of time itself), changeless (because what is immaterial and timeless cannot change), powerful (for to bring the universe into existence from nothing requires great power, perhaps even omnipotence) and moreover be personal (because only personal agents have causal potency).

    So yes, theism does think it can explain things. I think it does a pretty good job. But if you disagree with that, you will at least have to agree it does a more comprehensive job than what your worldview allows, for the universe cannot answer (the first proper question that should be asked) why anything at all exists?

    Finally, the category mistake you make shows the illogic of your objection “who caused the uncaused cause.” It may be a do not question any further statement, but a necessary being is a logically valid stopping point that can ground the existence of all other contingent beings. And even if God did have a cause, I don’t see how that matters greatly for the non-theistic argument, since we have at least found the cause of our universe’s existence as well as our own and that this cause bears many of the traditional attributes of God.

  6. Simon
    Simon says:

    Well first of all, show me a non-physical entity. Try doing that with anything let alone science.

    The universe cannot be an uncaused cause because it began to exist.

    This illustrates a confusion/pick-and-choosing of scientific theories. Any physicist will maintain that space-time is a property of our universe, it is not some imaginary absolute notion as you wish it to be! It simply does not make sense to claim “before the big bang…” or “the universe began to exist…” anymore than it makes sense – as you have pointed out – to say “in the space outside the universe…”.

    So yes, theism does think it can explain things. I think it does a pretty good job. But if you disagree with that, you will at least have to agree it does a more comprehensive job than what your worldview allows, for the universe cannot answer (the first proper question that should be asked) why anything at all exists?

    Granted. Just as god can’t explain who made him. Or I could just match you with an equally ridiculous claim like “the universe is a necessary universe and so doesn’t need creating.

  7. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    This illustrates a confusion/pick-and-choosing of scientific theories. Any physicist will maintain that space-time is a property of our universe, it is not some imaginary absolute notion as you wish it to be! It simply does not make sense to claim “before the big bang…” or “the universe began to exist…” anymore than it makes sense – as you have pointed out – to say “in the space outside the universe…”.

    The claim that the universe began to exist is uncontroversial. Its the scientific vogue in the popular level understanding and enjoys great support in academia.

    It can be confidently said that no cosmogonic model has been as repeatable verified in its predictions and a corroborated by attempts at its falsification, or as concordant with empirical discoveries and as philosophically coherent, as the Standard Big Bang Model.

    William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith 3rd Ed., (Wheaton, Il., Crossway, 2008), p. 140

    Now in the Standard Big Bang Model is predicted the beginning of all space, matter, energy and time. This is totally consistent with the divine causation spoken of in biblical revelation. The theological term creatio ex nihilo so actuarially describes what the theory entails (the beginning of the universe from nothing) that it has been commonly adopted by scientists and science commentators.

    Because I know it does not make sense to claim anything before the Big Bang, I’m very careful not to use the world before. Rather, I say that the universe began to exist and therefore had a cause. This does not imply a “before” in physical terms which would be a contradiction, but can imply a “before” in logical terms (i.e., logically prior to the beginning of the universe God determined to create a world of free creatures). So the cause of the universe could have intentioned from eternity—in the timeless state-of-affairs—to freely create the world. Craig would say there is no contradiction in saying the universe had a cause because there is such a thing as simultaneous causation, such as a bowling ball from eternity past can cause the depression of the pillow it rests on. It could also be as Isaac Newton imagined – that there exists a plain of existence apart from and beyond our universe that God indwells with His angels.

    Granted. Just as god can’t explain who made him.

    Simon, God could explain who made him if he was made, but as he was not made it makes no sense to ask. We know he was not made by (i) definition, (ii) the logic implied by the nature of the cause of the universe, and (iii) biblical revelation.

    Or I could just match you with an equally ridiculous claim like “the universe is a necessary universe and so doesn’t need creating.”

    As I said, the universe cannot be necessary because it began to exist (and according to some physicists will cease to exist.) As the universe plainly does exist, it does need creating. The universe needs an explanation for its existence. The universe began to exist and so it needs a cause. As there are good reasons to think that the above statement is ridiculous, and there are no good reasons to think that theism is ridiculous, then theism is clearly the superior worldview when comparing both logical consistency and empirical adequacy. What is ridiculous, to my mind at least, is not abandoning the alternative.

  8. Simon
    Simon says:

    Because I know it does not make sense to claim anything before the Big Bang, I’m very careful not to use the world before. Rather, I say that the universe began to exist and therefore had a cause.

    How we humans have defined the word ’cause’ means that it involves time. It does not make sense to talk of cause without time. This is just the distorting of language in order to ‘prove’ what you want to prove. By all means believe in magic, but please, don’t kid yourself that it is logically defendable; it wouldn’t be called magic then, would it!

    Simon, God could explain who made him if he was made, but as he was not made it makes no sense to ask. We know he was not made by (i) definition, (ii) the logic implied by the nature of the cause of the universe, and (iii) biblical revelation.

    Lol. I love it how it only goes so far. It doesn’t make sense to talk of god’s container, but the container of eveything, the universe, isn’t the container of everything! (?)

  9. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Now Simon.

    I am not distorting language to prove a point. I gave reasons as to why we can speak of a cause of the universe – (i) there is such a thing as simultaneous causation. (ii) God could live in a spiritual existence with his angels in a time beyond our universes time, as Newton conceived. (iii) There is a logical order that does not depend on chronological order which requires time. So any one of these can explain how we can speak of a cause of the universe without logical contradiction.

    As I understand the dictionary the universe is not the container of everything – it is the all matter and space, energy and time taken as a whole. This does not include a great many things – included within that set would be God, and the cause of the universe whatever that is. Because whatever begins to exist needs a cause, and the universe began to exist, the cause of the universe must be immaterial, spaceless, timeless, and tremendously powerful, and moreover changeless, necessary, and personal for the reasons I gave above. God fits perfectly the profile of that cause. Thus we have arrived at the ground of all that began to exist: the necessary being that sustains in existence all contingent beings.

  10. Simon
    Simon says:

    You see the trouble is is that you/we are trying to articulate a super-universe point of view using intra-universe language. And this is why I say it’s pointless to try to do so.

    I certainly understand why it would be tempting to invent an idea like simultaneous causation, but there is no practical description of reality that would employ it. I’m sure that philosophers might talk about it, but then they talk about all manner of ridiculous stuff. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/causation-metaphysics/#Dir

    Sure, god could live in a spiritual existence but, like I have said a thousand times, this makes a complete mockery of the word universe.

    You are once again asserting that logic is somehow superior to time. How could you know this? Please take me with you the next time you go beyond time!

    I mean, can’t you see for instance that the statment “everything that begins to exist needs a cause” is an empirical statement which man has fashioned to describe the observable universe. How, then, can it be justified being used beyond the universe?!

    I admit it of myself as well that we humans seem to like to be grounded; we like to try to start with fundamentals and base everything on them. But I think in many ways this is backwards and is why empiricism has dominated since its inception; it replaced [natural] philosophy and I think it will continue to do so.
    We may not like it – heck I often don’t – but ultimately epistemology is about pragmatics. That which is useful – which describes the world is true. Empiricism is the name of the game. The periodic table is true because it works. It is useful. So is empiricism. So is the scientific method.

    It would be really fascinating to go thousands of years into the future and see what becomes of science and religion. I don’t think that religion or ‘spirituality’ will ever be dispensed with – and so it shouldn’t – but I do hope that people will learn two lessons from history. That religion has no business in epistemology and empathy. The empathy to consider humanity’s experience as a whole rather than declaring a privelidged position to one’s own.

  11. Sarah Tennant
    Sarah Tennant says:

    Sure, god could live in a spiritual existence but, like I have said a thousand times, this makes a complete mockery of the word universe.

    But as Rob has already pointed out, ‘universe’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘absolutely everything’. Look at the various dictionary definitions online; most of them list your definition as one of the definitions of ‘universe’, but not the only one. Even within scientific disciplines your definition isn’t the only accepted one: get into parallel universes and multiverses and it gets far more complicated than ‘the universe is everything’. It is an accepted tenet of Christian theology to describe God as outside the universe (from Rob’s definition of the universe, not yours), so you need to engage with that. Just because the etymology of the word ‘universe’ implies absolute everythingness does not mean that the word is not legitimately used in different ways – any more than it is ‘making a mockery’ of the word ‘university’ by using it to refer to an institution in which not absolutely everything (including cheque forgery, trout-tickling and exotic dancing) is taught.

    So while God existing on a spiritual plane might make a mockery of your definition of the universe, it works just fine with Rob’s definition – no contradiction there. Whose definition is better is, of course, the question; but as you claim to find metaphysics meaningless, the conversation can’t really go very far from there.

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