Monday, June 09, 2014

Assuming the scientific

I've recently completed a review of A. C Grayling's "The God Argument" for the Trinitarian, the Gazette of the Anglican Catholic Church. Of course, it was necessary and reasonable for my review to be limited by a word count so I really was not able to expound as much as I'd liked. Then again, I really didn't want to deluge poor John Omwake, the Editor, with something that was fundamentally unreadable.

As it is, it's really helped me to realise how much the apologetics on both sides are going into some very deep philosophical waters, more than the average person with common sense would like to consider. People don't have time nor the energy to consider the argument. Most don't care and most people find the issue of God irrelevant. However, to my mind, David Bentley Hart's book - "The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness and Bliss" is a real game changer. I am grateful to my brother priest Fr Robert Hart of The Continuum blog for putting me onto that text at last year's Provincial Synod.

I still feel that there is one thing on the matter that needs to be said. I was (I hope I still am) friends with two reputable authors who have publish a series of books on on and around the Scientific Worldview. Their last book in a series was, I felt, a little near the knuckle when they expressed the opinion that they wished that there were no bishops whatsoever. Theirs is obviously a viewpoint the Church is an institution that is harmful to society. Whilst any Christian freely admits that members of the Church is responsible for some very unpleasant behaviour and lack of love to their fellow men, such behaviour is seen to be unacceptable by the tenets of the Church. The Church, of course, is a body of sinful men and women. The law of the Church shows us up to be fallen, the love of God meets us where we are. Where many of those whose influence in the Church is greatest have gone wrong more often than not is by Pharisaism - enforcing the letter of the law rather than the spirit. We must meet and accept people where they are.

However, it is the idea that Scientific Atheism is not a faith that I find their arguments fail. By Scientific Atheism, I mean the idea that Science is a complete system of epistemological enquiry. This means that objective knowledge of existence or non-existence can be determined by scientific method. Thus, in the scientific milieu, there is no room for metaphysics since physics is sufficient to determine knowledge.

However, if faith is the holding of an assumption to be true but unprovable, then we make the observations about Science which Prof Edward Feser makes in his book on Scholastic Metaphysics.

According to Feser there are three assumptions made by Scientific Atheism:

  1. There is an objective world external to the mind of the scientist.
  2. This objective world is governed by principles that can be expressed in scientific or mathematical laws.
  3. The human mind and perception can accurately determine these laws.

It is also worth noting that the terminology "law" is a bit of a misnomer since a physical law (such as Hook's Law, Newton's Laws of motion et c.) is purely descriptive of a physical system and, although often powerfully predictive, do not actually control the physical world. There is no physics police for all those who break the law of Gravity. One can see that there is an equivocation in the word "law" which does confuse those who hear it and produces a few category errors.

I have heard the slogan "Much of what you see or hear is a lie" or "do not trust your senses - here is the scientific reason why!" This seems to me to be sawing off the empirical branch on which Science is sitting.

If Science cannot prove the three assumptions made above, then in asserting them, they become dogmata of a faith.

Grayling in his booksays (p55 in the Paperback)
Some who wish to make room for two "magesteria" repudiate this last remark [i.e. Religious belief being untestable is therefore irrational], by arguing that religion and science operate in wholly different spheres, and therefore do not compete and cannot be compared. Unfortunately for the apologists, this attempt will not work. Religions make claims that certain entities exist in or attached to the universe and further claim that this fact has a significant impact on the universe or at least on humans on this planet. yet they are untestable, and at sharp odds with everything that science and common sense shows us about the nature of reality.
It's not really a convincing  argument, is it? Mainly because Gayling has assumed 1,2 and 3 above. His objection to testability rules out any historical evidence on which science relies, and this includes Evolution itself. If he wants me to accept Evolution as an accurate and common sense record of the origins of the species (which I do, just for the record), then he has failed. If there are not two "magesteria" - i.e. worldviews, or theories of knowledge - then how on earth has he shown that the other "magesterium" does not exist by remaining fully in the scientific "magisterium"? He will object by saying you can't prove a negative. This is bosh -I prove negatives all the time, I still have some mathematical knowledge. Ah, but is mathematics testable?

The fact of the matter is that this debate is going to run and run, and David Bentley Hart is quite correct from keeping out of it. I rather think I shall follow his lead. I believe God exists and it seems to me to be utterly impossible to prove that or disprove that scientifically. I also have ample evidence which shows that Scientific Atheism is just as much a faith as my own.

What's my job? To convince people of God's existence? To convert them? No. Not at all. The visibility of the Church presents the question to the world. The existence of things presents another question to the world. The problem of evil presents yet a further question to the world and those who will pick up these questions and wrestle with them honestly will find answers and yet further questions. My job is to seek the Truth and help others to find it too. That doesn't mean that the search for truth needs to be carried out in the dry world of academic and abstract argument.

Most people don't come to faith in God by "indoctrination" as Grayling claims: many find faith through the experience of living and the little things in life rather than the big ideas. I certainly see God at work daily, but I am not about to put that in a test tube!

No comments: