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Discussion 6 to Meditation 797
Searching for a nonphysical cause does not, by itself, make one unscientific.

by: Will Petillo

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Kristine,

Although I agree with your conclusions, I don't think your specific criticism quite hits the mark.  My reason for saying this is that being a nonphysical cause for the origin of the universe is kind of a defining characteristic of God and that searching for such a nonphysical cause does not, by itself, make one unscientific.

God is not the most well-defined term in the world, but just about every religion I can think of describes their God or gods as being innately mental.  Thus, if Marcellino wants to prove the existence of God, it is necessary for him to demonstrate that mental processes can have a direct impact on the world.

For example, suppose I light a candle by deciding what I want to do, striking a match, causing a chemical reaction that results in a flame, and then extend my arm (by sending electrical signals from my brain to my arm) to put the match next to the candle and light it.  The entire chain of causality can be described in physical terms.  Now suppose I cut out all the intermediate steps: I just think about the candle being lit and that's what happens.  In this hypothetical (impossible) case, one cannot accurately explain what happened in physical terms... but since there must be SOME explanation, one must search for something else and here the correct answer is simply "it happened because I thought about it in a certain way."  This kind of thing is commonly called "magic."

People used to think that magic was possible, even common, because there were lots of things that clearly happened and had a readily available mental explanation but no apparent physical explanation.  Then people developed the scientific method, which involved looking at things as closely and systematically as possible to find the explanation that best describes the data and makes accurate future predictions.  A pattern emerged: explanations that relied entirely on physical explanations always won out.  This pattern was so strong that scientists began to assume there was were physical explanations for things that were still mysterious--and have so far always turned out to be right.

It didn't have to turn out this way.  We could have found massive leaps in the fossil record or creatures that could not possibly be explained by Darwinian evolution or dinosaurs living with humans.  We could have discovered that the brain doesn't actually do very much and thus our abilities are the result of a nonphysical "soul" rather than neurons firing--that could still happen with "consciousness", but I highly doubt it.

We could have found that all the planets in the solar system revolve in perfectly circular paths around the earth, despite what our theories about gravity and such predict should happen.  James Randi could have been forced to give away his $1 million prize to someone who could demonstrate the existence of something supernatural under rigorous scientific conditions. 

So far, none of these things have happened.  In principle, the failed track record of inherently mental (as opposed to physical) explanations for observable phenomenon does not mean scientists should stop considering them.

Just one verifiable exception would revolutionize our understanding of the universe.  But realistically, we can't waste time and money looking into every single claim made by creationists or people who think they saw ghosts or people who claim to be able to perform miracles and so on and on and on.

I haven't read Maricellino.  Maybe he presents a plausible explanation of "how" the universe came to be that just so happens to suggest a "who" being involved.  And maybe there is even some data that fits his explanation better than more mainstream theories.  I can't reject this possibility simply because it goes against the grain of how I understand the world on a such a fundamental level (otherwise how would I learn?).  But considering how many false claims just like his that I have spent time learning about, I am not going to waste more by reading the book of someone who clearly doesn't understand many of the terms he is using, is complaining about science rather than working within it (they are actually quite an open-minded lot and willing to accept non-mainstream opinions, albeit gradually), and has assumed his conclusions to the point where any overlap between his argument and reality is entirely coincidental.