Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Proof Of GOD

Just read some material produced by a couple of philosophers that are no doubt famous, but new to me. I will give a lay interpretation of what I read.

Assuming there is objective truth, and one would expect that both naturalists and theists would agree that there is a metaphysical reality, we cannot know that truth unless there is a God.

I will presume to make two arguments for naturalists. I'm sure you'll correct me if these are not accurate. 1. Humans have evolved as a result of our ability to survive and reproduce. 2. Christians and other theists have invented God. A corollary to 2 is that the invention of deities would be a survival method.

To the extent that we have invented gods or others things that we believe to be objective reality, but that are in fact myths that help us survive, our minds are not able to actually differentiate between objective reality and these myths. If this is true, then this would also be true for naturalists. Therefore none of us really knows what objective reality looks like.

Alternatively, if God is God (the Christian definition), and He has made man in his image, then He has both created objective reality and created in humans, minds that can discern what is real. Thus He has created naturalists who are able to discern what is real also.

Clearly, folks of all types and stripes have some varying opinions about what is and isn't real, so this ability is not perfect, except in God. However, to the extent that we possess the ability at all, it must come from God, not from evolution.

For all the details see here.

16 comments:

Duck said...

To the extent that we have invented gods or others things that we believe to be objective reality, but that are in fact myths that help us survive, our minds are not able to actually differentiate between objective reality and these myths. If this is true, then this would also be true for naturalists. Therefore none of us really knows what objective reality looks like.

I'd say that we have a limited and flawed ability to know objective reality. You can't say that we either know objective reality perfectly or we know nothing.

But with regards to God, how many theists say that they know objectively of his existence? I think that it is fair to say that most people take his existence as a matter of faith, and not objective truth, so I don't think that the question of faith says a lot about the knowability of the universe.

Your last point doesn't follow from any of the preceding arguments. There is no reason to suggest that the posession of any ability to discern objective truth must come from God and not evolution.

Randy Kirk said...

It isn't that we either know objective reality or we know nothing, but rather we either know it, or we can't know if we know anything.

The very act of saying that we have the ability to know objective reality assumes a mind that was designed to know such. How could such a mind be the result of chance, and if it was, how could we maintain that such a mind knows anything for sure.

Duck said...

How could such a mind be the result of chance

Evolution does not equate to chance. The only chancy thing about it is the chance of mutation. Those chances are acted upon by challenges to that organism's survival, and only those that promote or at least do not inhibit survival are retained by future organisms.

The ability to perceive objetive reality must obviously have conferred great survival advantages, and those advantages are not hard to imagine.

As to how we can maintain that an evolved mind knows anything for sure, all we need do is recognize that it does. However we know that the human mind does not know everything for sure. Our ability to accurately know certain aspects of reality is not complete, nor is it universally accurate. But in many situations approximations work just fine. Perfect knowledge isn't always needed, which is good as perfect knowledge is usually not possible to attain, or takes to long to attain. Is it better to only react to a noise once it is determined for sure that the noise was caused by a predator, or does it serve the organism better to react to any unusual sound with the assumption that it is a predator? The second survival strategy is clearly the better. Better to deal with false alarms than to have perfect knowledge that arrives too late to take action upon.

Since our ability to know objective reality is flawed, it seems to me more likely that it was bestowed upon us by a natural process and not as the result of a conscious design decision by an intelligent designer.

Randy Kirk said...

But you are forced into a paradox. If our minds have naturally evolved to be really darn good at seeing what is and isn't real, then the fact that most folks think there is a spiritual aspect should be given huge weight. And, at the same time, if our minds are not perfect at this or even close, because evolution has created minds that are more given to what works than what is real, then we certainly can't be making many objective claims.

bernardo said...

We first evolved a mind that was "more given to what works than what is real", that worked intuitively and impulsively, with little understanding other than some known cause-&-effect relationships. We then evolved a mind that could reason, use logic, think about itself, generalize, see long chains of causation and of probabilities, understand that some feelings and responses are not rational, and come up with tests to refine its models of the world.

So our intuitive/impulsive side makes us want to interpret things a certain way (or take certain actions), but it seems to me that we now know better than to take all our gut feelings/impulses at face value.

Another way to look at it is that we have an impulsive, intuitive, imperfect way of coming up with explanations. But we then have the filter of logic, reason, and the scientific method, which point out any discrepancy between those explanations and what we (and everyone else) observe.

So we cannot make objective claims in the form "It seems to me that this works like so". But we CAN make objective claims of the form "I have run these control-experiments to test the effects of every factor I can think of on this phenomenon, so unless I missed something, it seems that the strongest causal factors are this one and that one".

Like I keep saying, there is no reason to assume that divine experiences are triggered by anything supernatural, anything outside the brain.

So we have a brain to give us ideas (some of them impulsive), and a method/process for evaluating these ideas as objectively as we can. The problem with most believers (not all) is that they are taking their brains' (impulsive) ideas at face value and not putting it through the method/process. (This is called "faith").

And in a semi-unrelated topic... Randy, do we really need to explain to you how evolution by natural selection is very, VERY different from "chance"?

Randy Kirk said...

Your answer is both intuitive and logical (as usual.) However, it doesn't answer the core question. If billions of poeple, potentially millions of whom have put their faith to the test, find that belief works better for them than non-belief, then it would seem we are talking about this trait being selected.

I know that you believe there is a difference between natural selection and chance. However, I am still stuck on why any mutation is other than chance, and that why certain mutations that would seem to have no advantage would flourish until other mutations made the first one useful. And I know that you have explanations for that in terms of intermediary uses, etc., but so many of those turn out to sound like just so arguments. Gee, it could have been that this happened which did this which then caused this, so then....... But I think we're covering this in another thread.

Welcome home

bernardo said...

"If billions of poeple... find that belief works better for them than non-belief, then it would seem we are talking about this trait being selected."

Not necessarily. In western society, almost everyone lives long enough to reproduce, so there isn't much natural selection anymore acting on us. Are you saying that people of faith tend to have more kids? Well, ok, maybe. But how would that indicate that faith is "true"? Just because an opinion/belief "works" in increasing its own reproduction, does not mean that it's true. Also note that here I am making the jump from Gene to Meme (unless you are claiming that a preference for faith in the supernatural is genetically inherited, which is not entirely unreasonable, but genetics can't be more than one of many factors that influence this aspect of a person's personality). The question of what causes a meme to be successful (what causes it to help its own preservation and distribution) in a society is analogous but different to what causes a gene to be successful. Can a false idea gain more fans than a true idea? Sure! Some groups of memes, like Nazism and Christianity for example, include the setting up of structures and systems and institutions to preserve themselves and spread themselves. This doesn't mean that their views of how the world works are accurate - just that their views are likeable (to their owners), make their owners feel good (by "confirming" things they want to believe), and make their owners organize themselves into tight, powerful groups.

(And I'm sorry I have finally brought Nazism into our discussion. As Godwin's Law predicts, the longer an online discussion goes on, the more likely it is that someone will compare their opponents to the Nazis. I hope you see the validity in comparing the meme-group of Nazism with the meme-group of Christianity, not in the beliefs they define but in the ways they propagate and preserve themselves).

But let's go back to genes. When we were entirely impulsive and non-rational, our brains evolved to make us do and feel whatever would keep us alive the longest and make us tend to reproduce more. Most of those impulses are still around in our brains. Some of them might cause (as a side effect of sorts) a preference for faith rather than naturalism. So, I guess you're right when you say that a tendency for supernatural belief might be the result of some characteristic that was naturally selected for. But this tendency might have been a side effect of those characteristics. Those characteristics may have led us to think a certain way in the wild which helped us survive, but they now manifest themselves as a desire to believe in the supernatural.

For example (and here is another classic atheist example, along with the planets' orbital plane - actually, I'm fairly sure I've mentioned this at some point), many insects have evolved to navigate by flying at a certain direction relative to the light that illuminates them, i.e. by controlling their attitude by keeping their light source at some fixed angle to themselves. This works well when the light source is very far away (it causes the bug to go in a straight line), but if the source is closer, then keeping it at one angle relative to the bug's flight path causes the bug to loop around the light source in a logarithmic spiral that often ends in an unfortunate collision. So something that evolved to help bugs navigate by sunlight or moonlight used to work very well, but in the modern artifically-lit world it causes bugs to fly into light sources. Similarly, the genetically inherited desire to behave a certain way, to think a certain way, or to see the world a certain way, might have kept us safe in the wild but today only serves to make a lot of people want to believe in a creator. What genetically inherited desire could that be? Richard Dawkins thinks it's the desire to listen to our parents (which makes us listen to their warnings, thus keeping us out of situations too dangerous for us to explore ourselves), Dan Dennett thinks it's the desire to see deliberate intentionality where there is none (which makes us suspect a trap, or the actions of a predator, whenever we see something that could be interpreted as the result of someone being out to get us, even when this paranoia turns out to be incorrect).

In any case, it does indeed make sense that the desire to believe in the supernatural is (like any characteristic commonly observed in many people's psyches) a consequence of some naturally-selected-for trait. But this does not mean that the desire to believe in the supernatural is an accurate representation of the world. Like the desire to eat a lot and the desire to have lots of sex, it's an impulse that needs to be watched carefully, that should be the subject of discipline and restraint, and that might become easier to resist once its biological origins are understood.

Or do you think that it's a good idea for bugs to keep flying into light sources?

If belief makes your life better, then good for you (as long as you're not making everyone else's life worse, which tends not to be the case with modern Christianity, not always but most of the time). But just because it "works" and/or feels good, doesn't mean it's true. It might even mean it's good, but it doesn't mean it's true.

Our minds evolved to create shortcuts that optimize our processing of some input (our surroundings) into reactions that keep us alive. The desire to keep following those shortcuts should not keep us from unraveling the area of thought covered by the shortcuts. Just because the shortcuts work and our brain finds them very easy and effective, this does not mean that the shortcuts do not miss aspects of a more complicated and general truth. Just as our minds did not evolve to have an easy time dealing with quantum mechanics or relativity, maybe they did not evolve to have an easy time dealing with naturalism. But just as Newtonian physics are a shortcut to describe something that would be more accurately described by quantum mechanics and relativity, maybe "God did it" is a tempting shortcut to explain something that would be more accurately explained by naturalism, even if getting to the naturalistic explanation takes more work and is not as intuitive.

I'm not saying that I can prove that the universe wasn't deliberately created. I'm just saying that the evolution of the mind (a device that includes, and acts upon, a model of the world around it, and of itself), and the desire of that mind to believe in the supernatural, don't prove the existence of a creator or of the supernatural.

bernardo said...

"I am still stuck on why any mutation is other than chance..."

Well, actually, the mutations happen by chance. However, it is not by chance that those random mutations are differentially preserved.

"... and that why certain mutations that would seem to have no advantage would flourish until other mutations made the first one useful. And I know that you have explanations for that in terms of intermediary uses, etc."

Yep, that's what I was going to say. Either it's immediately useful for whatever use it later has (albeit initially in a much less effective, clunkier form), or it's useful for another reason initially. Or it's useless, but the gene that causes it also causes something else that is useful, so the useless characteristic gets preserved along.

"but so many of those turn out to sound like just so arguments."

They're not "arguments", they're just a way things COULD have happened with no divine intervention. They might not sound compelling to you, but the alternative (miracles!) sounds much less compelling to me.

Randy Kirk said...

Short answer for now. Would the bugs view of things be also true if our scientific view of things turns out to be skewed. In astrophysics we need adjust the telescopes to take into consideration the refraction of the light coming through the atmosphere. What if there is an "atmosphere" in the universe that is refracting light that we are unaware of. Crystals or some such. Some minor changes would create monumentally different results, no?

I'll try to respond to some of the rest later. I do actually agree with some of it.

bernardo said...

Yes, I know that our observations might be off. That's why every model/observation/theory/law put forth by science is followed by an implied "as far as we can tell".

But just because our models aren't perfect, doesn't mean they're worthless (we can build successful spacecraft, MRI machines, etc), and doesn't mean that the scientific method is not amazingly powerful - which it has to be since it focuses on what observations don't fit the models, on what factors could be "fooling" us into seeing something when something else might be going on.

I know that science is not equipped to answer every question that everyone might have about the universe. But for the kinds of questions it does pursue, it pursues them in a way that is methodical and honest and that tries its hardest to take everything into account.

Randy Kirk said...

Three thoughts:

1. It would be nice if it were always stated "as far as we know." Unfortunately there is a tendency for science to say "this is it." Currently in the GW debate, you are branded a "denier" if you don't agree with those who KNOW. Is this honest?

2. Said it before. I'll say it again. Science is amazing. Engineering is even better. But if we get too far sold on science and engineering, we can end up with disasters that will make Thalidomide babies look like a minor deal.

3. Some scientists, like some Christians pursue questions and truth methodically, honestly, and attempt to take everything into account. Some don't.

Tom Foss said...

Currently in the GW debate, you are branded a "denier" if you don't agree with those who KNOW. Is this honest?

Yes. Science is not a democracy, it's a meritocracy. If you have actual evidence to back up your disagreement, then it's a different story. However, those who, as you claim, "KNOW," do so because they have examined the evidence and have come to a conclusion based on all available sources. It's not a matter of ivory-tower intellectuals arbitrarily deciding to tell people to stop using aerosols. It's climatologists and meteorologists and environmental scientists all coming to the same conclusions from different evidentiary sources, and proposing a plan of action.

So, yes, when someone denies the facts and conclusions without evidence to back up their disagreement, it is perfectly honest to label them a "denier," since denial is their only contribution to the discourse. What is not "honest" is pretending that an uninformed, agenda-laden opinion carries the same weight as independently and repeatedly corroborated scientific conclusions.

Tom Foss said...

By the way, looks like Daylight Atheism took apart this Plantingan argument a year ago.

Randy Kirk said...

Why wouldn't Bernardo's memes be true for scientists as well? Surely they are not immune.

Tom, there are top notch scientists, and not just a few, who not only don't agree with the current man-made view of GW, but have done published experiments that show solar effects capable of doing all the work. But, we sort of digress.

Tom Foss said...

Sorry to continue the digression, but:
Tom, there are top notch scientists, and not just a few, who not only don't agree with the current man-made view of GW, but have done published experiments that show solar effects capable of doing all the work.
1. Who are these scientists? Are they climatologists, atmospheric scientists, meteorologists, and environmental scientists? Once someone is speaking outside of their field, they cease to be an expert.
2. Where have they been published? What journals?
3. Who is funding them? As conspiratorial as it sounds, there has been a propaganda machine from certain government groups and corporations to quash global warming and ozone hole discussion for over thirty years. I just heard recently about another group of scientists exposed as being in the pocket of environmentally unfriendly businesses.
4. By what mechanism does the sun account for these effects? How does a ball of helium and hydrogen 93 million miles away cause carbon dioxide levels to skyrocket on Earth?

Randy Kirk said...

No offense, Tom, but I am going to call an halt to the digression. The info you seek is over at http://ideaplace.blogspot.com, my general blog, along with detailed links.

But, while I think going completely off the reservation into a detailed discussion of GW is not the design of this blog, discussing the way scientists come to conclusions about truth and comparing that to other ways folks come to know or think they know truth is fair game.