Monday, June 30, 2014

Philosophies of God and Science

In celebration of my philosophy textbook, which took about 10 years to get published (now down to $64), I started doing my philosophy in bullet points, as I had done my theology. Unlike the textbook, which tries to present all basic positions fairly, my last post gave my sense of most appropriate positions on epistemology and metaphysics.

So here is a second installment, treating the philosophy of God and the philosophy of science. I consider the first to be a subset of metaphysics and the second a subset of epistemology. Since I had largely done my philosophy of religion in the previous post, I have mostly just repeated it here.

Philosophy of Religion
Faith and Reason
  • The best working epistemology for a Christian is, "faith seeking understanding" (fides quaerens intellectum, credo ut intelligam). Begin with faith and pursue further understanding from there. Given the epistemological predicament in which we find ourselves, however, such faith should be potentially revisable.
  • Belief in God is reasonable, although from our current capacity of understanding, it does not seem provable. Abelard was not completely wrong (intellego ut credam) but not entirely correct either.
  • Items of faith in general are, in principle, reasonable to believe. They may not be obvious and certainly may not be provable (that is to say, the evidence will rarely "demand" the verdict of faith). Christian thinkers like Aquinas were overconfident in how much about Christian faith is more or less provable. 
  • At the same time, items of faith are not, in general, irrational. God is not a trickster with evidence. Christian thinkers like Tertullian and Kierkegaard go too far in their sense of "blind faith" (credo quia absurdam). Similarly, presuppositionalists like van Til and even Barth give us the impression that Christianity can't survive in an evidentiary world, which seems problematic for the long term survival of Christianity. Christian epistemologies that cannot survive the Enlightenment have the whiff of failure.
Arguments for the Existence of God
  • The idea that a Being as powerful as the universe created it is as reasonable as to suggest as that some other unobserved material reality beyond this universe as generated the universe as we know it. (cosmological argument). If so, he would thereby be all powerful in relation to this creation (omnipotence).
  • The idea that the universe was designed and initiated by an Intelligence is as reasonable as the notion that some other unobserved material reality beyond this universe has generated the universe as we know it. (argument from design or teleological argument) If so, he would thereby at least know all the possibilities of this creation (full middle knowledge)
  • The idea that, amid the contingency of existence as we know it, there is an entity with necessary existence seems reasonable. This line of thinking may actually prove God's existence as a Necessary Being, but we are not intelligent/informed enough to know it at this time. (argument from necessity, Aquinas, a form of ontological argument).
  • Anselm's formulation of the ontological argument is nonsense (I can conceive of a greatest Being, but he wouldn't be greatest if he didn't actually exist. Therefore he exists.).
  • Other arguments for the existence of God are less convincing (moral argument). Arguments from miracles and personal experience of God tend to be more individually convincing.
Problem of Evil and Suffering
  • The biggest challenge for faith in a benevolent God is the question of evil and suffering. Why does a good God allow the righteous to suffer?
  • The best suggestions are the free will theodicy and the soul making theodicy. The soul making theodicy (Irenaeus) suggests that suffering provides a context in which we can grow morally and become mature people. 
  • The free will theodicy (Augustine) suggests that a world in which we can choose between good and evil is a better world than one in which we all choose good by nature. But if God allows us to choose, some will choose badly and, thus, we will have evil in the world.
  • Others, such as Pascal or Kierkegaard would suggest that we cannot hope to fully understand such things. Lack of clarity creates a context in which faith can thrive.
  • It seems likely that many things that we think of as contradictory to goodness (e.g., death, suffering) are actually not and should not be thought of as incompatible with a good God.
Philosophy of Science
Cause and Effect
  • As a heuristic tool, we might say that God has created the world to run like a machine according to certain "natural laws." 
  • The "natural" refers to the universe as it runs apart from God's intervention. "Miracles," then, properly so called, are when God or some other spiritual agent with the ability to circumvent natural law, interrupts the natural cause and effect flow of events. We might call such an event a "supernatural" event.
  • At present, there would seem to be a certain fundamental indeterminacy on the atomic level, where the normal understanding of cause and effect may not fully apply. Nature, on its most fundamental level, may therefore be more indeterminate rather than determined.
  • Nevertheless, the law of cause and effect seems thoroughly dependable on the macro-level of reality.
Scientific Method
  • Scientific theories are ultimately not about explaining the world as it is (das Ding an sich, Kant) but are very precise "myths" that express how nature appears to work under certain circumstances.
  • The scientific method remains without question the most appropriate evidentiary approach to truth. Gather evidence. Formulate a hypothesis. Test the hypothesis. Establish a theory. Continue to modify the theory as appropriate.
  • The simplest explanation, without being too simple, is the most reasonable explanation (Occam's Razor, Einstein form). A good hypothesis accounts for most of the data in the simplest way conceivable.
  • A good scientific theory often has an "elegance" to it and often results in unexpected convergences with other scientific problems.
  • Inductive thinking, such as scientific reasoning, tends to be open-ended when one cannot (as is usually the case) account for all the data. In that sense, inductive reasoning in particular is almost always revisable in the light of new data that does not fit the existing hypothesis ("naughty data").
Scientific Paradigms
  • In all areas of life, we function by way of certain paradigms or ways of organizing data in particular domains.
  • No one can be completely objective. There is always prioritization and selection of data, as an expression of the operating paradigms.
  • All paradigms involve assumptions. There is no such thing as a purely evidentiary framework of thinking. Fundamental presuppositions are always involved in the organization of the data of reality. However, some presuppositions are more basic than others. The most appropriate evidentiary assumptions should be "atomic" in size, rather than whole systems.
  • Worldviews are our collective paradigms. Usually there are harmonies between our individual paradigms such that you might say that we broadly have a certain "worldview." However, most worldview rhetoric smacks of extreme oversimplification and tends to be particularly "violent" in relation to particulars.
  • Most of our paradigms are inherited from our environment, although one might argue, I suppose, that some are genetically inherent to the human brain. We do not see the world as it is (das Ding an sich, Kant) but the world as our paradigms organize it.
  • Most of our paradigms are thus a product of our cultures and subcultures, with a strong element of our individual personality at work in the mix as well.
  • Given the nature of inductive hypothesis, almost all paradigms, if not all, are potentially revisable in the light of new data or better hypotheses on how to organize the data.
  • The history of science is thus a story of ongoing paradigm shifts (Thomas Kuhn). Normal science is what Kuhn called the inherited scientific paradigm, which he argued tended to be persistent.
  • A paradigm shift occurs when someone suggests a significantly different way of accounting for what I call "naughty data" that existing paradigms do not as easily account for ("The Devil is in the details.").
  • Such shifts are often resisted by more entrenched scholars of the standing paradigm. They eventually die off. Scientific "progress" thus has a significant element of sociology and is not just about objective truth.

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