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>The illegitimacy of anti-supernatural causation

2009 September 28 7 comments

>My recent post led to some discussion, mainly in response to my opposition in defining science as methodological naturalism. I think the previous use of the term Natural Philosophy was adequate for the time. It made it clear that it was the study of natural phenomena without the baggage of additional metaphysics that are unnecessary to the practice of science. The subsequent addition of historical science to operational science to encompass all “science” makes short descriptions more difficult.

My contention is that forcing singular past events to be natural (that is not supernatural) is artificial (not genuine) and arbitrary (not determined by necessity); in that if God did make an object, methodological naturalism would prefer the false explanation that man made it over the true explanation that God did. david w states

The difference is artificial if there can be evidence for supernatural causation. How… [can] we know if God made a house?

This is putting the cart before the horse. One cannot argue philosophically that God does not exist thus he cannot make anything thus nothing is made by God. One can argue philosophically the case for and against God, but if there is empirical evidence otherwise, that must be taken into consideration.

To ask what such evidence is for God, but deny that evidence is even possible within one’s philosophy is disingenuous.

If God exists and he made man, and is at least as capable as man then he can make anything man can make. It does not matter whether or not we can identify a particular object is made by God, the fact is this is theoretically possible. And a definition that excludes God from producing something when it possible that he could, and thus God didn’t, even if he did, is fallacious.

I think there is reason to think that God made some objects. But definitive evidence, or even any evidence, that God made something is not necessary to allow that possibility. We allow for that possibility in other situations, such as an unknown culture, or the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence.

It must be recognised that we are looking at effects, thus inferring the source. Extensive knowledge, or any knowledge, about the source is not required beforehand. It is in studying the effect that we theorise about the source.

Categories: design, logic, philosophy, science

>The only test of any analysis is its truth

2008 November 9 2 comments

>I am currently reading America’s Great Depression by Murray N. Rothbard. He makes an interesting comment concerning critiques of Austrian economic theory. If it was included in the first edition, this comment was made in 1963:

Hayek believes that Mises’s theory is somehow deficient because it is exogenous—because it holds that the generation of business cycles stems from interventionary acts rather than from acts of the market itself. This argument is difficult to fathom. Processes are either analyzed correctly or incorrectly; the only test of any analysis is its truth, not whether it is exogenous or endogenous. If the process is really exogenous, then the analysis should reveal this fact; the same holds true for endogenous processes. No particular virtue attaches to a theory because it is one or the other.

I found this reminiscent of the intelligent design debate. My substitutions bolded.

Evolutionists believe that intelligent design theory is somehow deficient because it is non-naturalistic—because it holds that the generation of genetic information stems from interventionary acts rather than from acts of the organism itself. This argument is difficult to fathom. Processes are either analyzed correctly or incorrectly; the only test of any analysis is its truth, not whether it is naturalistic or non-naturalistic. If the process is really non-naturalistic, then the analysis should reveal this fact; the same holds true for naturalistic processes. No particular virtue attaches to a theory because it is one or the other.

>Dysteleology

2008 September 26 4 comments

>Evolutionists often argue against a designer by pointing to poor design in plants, animals, and humans. In his recent book By Design, Jonathan Sarfati makes the following points (my paraphrase):

  1. This is not a scientific argument, it is a theological one. It is not saying anything about design but about the designer.
  2. The examples offered are usually not bad design but a problem with our ignorance. We don’t understand the design. If we understood the full function of the organ then the good design would be obvious.
  3. Features need to be considered together and not in isolation. It is not one aspect that is being optimised but several.

These are profound points.

As an analogy consider a car, an object that is designed.

  1. Pointing out why you think a car functions suboptimally does not prove the car is not designed, it says that you think the designer did a poor job.
  2. Not understanding how spoilers work does not mean their presence is poor design, rather it reveals good design when you becomes aware of flow dynamics.
  3. Designing for speed and crash safety are competing themes. The fastest car may be unsafe in a crash. The strongest car may be slow. A car may be optimal for speed, safety, space, and fuel efficiency; though not maximised for any single one of these features.

>Physics is descriptive not prescriptive

2007 October 8 Leave a comment

>It is important to remember the laws of physics come from observations. We observe regular patterns and attempt to come up with mathematical models that explain the data and predict related phenomena. The predictive component is validates the model, it suggests that the model is more likely to represent reality. Explaining anomalous data is less impressive because models can usually be adjusted to fit. Models with simple equations, symmetry and covering more fields are generally favoured.

Kepler and Newton came up with orbital equations and gravitational theory that explained the movement of the the planets. Using gravitational laws we can predict the movements of the moon around the earth to great accuracy.

But the moon does not orbit the earth because of these equations, the moon orbits the earth and these equations describe the movements.

God set up the universe to function how it does. But God also sustains it, this means that it is not wound up and would run without him, if God removed his sustaining power the universe would instantly cease to exist. Anti-theists complain that this means we cannot do science, that we are at the whim of a God. Well we are dependant on him, but that does not mean that the universe is irregular and unpredictable. Leaving aside the fact that an atheist view of the universe gives us no reason to even trust our senses, if God is not capricious, then we can rely on his usual providence. We can therefore examine the universe with an assumption of a constant God who set up the world with a high degree of predictability.

This predictability has been known by all cultures and predates the scientific method—the scientific method gives a tool to gain underlying knowledge and make predictions based on models. As the earliest scientists said, they were thinking God’s thoughts after him. Isaac Newton stated,

This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being.

Because God sustains the universe he can manipulate it at his will. Not that he necessarily does this on frequent basis. This intervention we refer to as (specific) providence if God’s hand guides specific events according to his will, or even at our request; we refer to it as miracle if it involves the overriding of physical law. Both the general upholding of the universe and a specific change to how the world usually operates are of equal ease for him. If God can stretch out the fabric of space then the multiplying of loaves and fish is of little difficulty.

That is why science is unable to disprove miracles. Miracles are not within the domain of operational science. Miracles are God’s specific activity, not his general activity. We cannot observe regularity in miracles to formulate physical law. However they are provable, just via another method: testimony. Proof of miracles is via witnesses.

Miracle is also proof of the supernatural. Science can say the the world operates “like so” under the normal scheme of things. Observations that contradict what we know may be due to miracle and science can say nothing against it—science does not describe specific providence, only the general. Dead men do not come back to life according to biological science, but there is nothing to prevent God doing this in a specific case if he so wishes.

>The design argument

2007 June 11 Leave a comment

>

The heavens declare the glory of God,/
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

In essence this is straightforward. In everyday life it is apparent that many things are designed by men. We recognise design. And we know that designed objects have a designer. The parallel is that we see many other things that are not designed by men but are clearly designed.

We recognise design by purpose or intent. While a splatter painting may have been drawn by an artist there is no clear intent so whether or no it was designed is not clearly apparent. However the more intent something has the more clearly it was designed.

Information content is a helpful way of assessing design. The higher the information content the more obvious it is designed. Information is based on specification and complexity. So if something is ordered it is not particularly complex. If something is complex based on the number of bits to store it, it is may or may not be specified. So storing 100 addresses is specific, 100 random letters is not. A measure of information can be made by the the storage capacity required to hold the generator of the data. For a story it is the data (ie. every single letter, though thru lossless compression it may be possible to minimise information content) as a story is specified and not predictable. However large quantity data that is predictable (⅓ in decimal), calculable (π, e) or random has a low information content.

The issue with random numbers or noise needs more explanation. It is low information because describing a random number generator requires little information. To describe any single random number will require as much data as an equivalent length story. The reason this is not high information is that it lacks any specificity. The binary data that describes a jpeg picture may appear random but it is specific, it stores data about a specific object.

People don’t perform these calculations rigorously but as information content ranges over multiple orders of magnitude design is easily recognised. A smoothed rock is easily distinguishable from a carving. We can tell a painting from spilled paint (usually). We know that a book has an author.

So it is clear that design can be seen even if the designer is not known. The existence of a designer can be inferred from design. So when one sees all the design in this world that is not from the hands of man the logical conclusion is that a designer exists and he is other than man. One may claim this designer is other than the Grand Designer; whether that be an angel, a lesser god of a pantheon, an extraterrestrial being. But whatever the immediate source, these beings are still creatures and the ultimate source must be the Creator.

>Evidence for God

>Romans introduces us to how general revelation can point people to God.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. (Romans 1:18-20)

What is the form of this revelation? His eternal power and divine nature. So there are things (perceived) in this world around us that point to attributes of God which in and of themselves are not visible.

What points to God’s eternal power? Those things which may suggest to us God is powerful. The size of the earth, the stars of space, the creatures of this world. Creations that speak of design.

What points to God’s divine nature? Those things in this world which reveal the image of God in creation. The behaviour on animals, the behaviour of humans, love, goodness, the hatred of murder and falsehood. Attributes that speak of morality.

I have left out the distortion of these due to the Fall as this is not of God’s doing. So broken design and immoral actions while in existence may not point to God directly, though they may do indirectly.

Now there may be other aspects further than design and morality that Paul is alluding to here, but these seem to me to be the 2 that are enough to convince men about God. And while there may be many proofs of God’s existence, it is possible that these 2 are the most powerful.

There is another reason to suspect that design and morality are the 2 classes of evidence that Paul is referring to, further in the passage Paul states the results of denying them. Romans continues

So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:20-25, 28-32)

In not acknowledging God people now sin the areas they deny. They reject design so they worship the designed rather than the designer and they reject morality so they act immorally but claim their actions are eumoral (morally good).

So it is possible the strongest evidence for God’s existence and our obligation to him come from the existence of design and morality. These are not the only arguments that could be made for God’s existence, but they are arguments that all have some appreciation of. The kalam argument (all effects need a cause) is a strong argument but it relies more heavily on philosophy and abstract logic; therefore it is less easily grasped by all people. Whereas we are forced to face the moral argument by our consciences daily, and design is apparent in many things of varying complexity, again, we see it daily.

And it is possible that the reality of design and objective morality are the aspects of the general revelation of God that is most attacked.

Categories: apologetics, design, ethics