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Discussion 12 to Talk Back 86
Some Further Points of Clarification

by: Will Petillo

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I didn’t notice when writing my article that you quoted C.S. Lewis. Mad props to that, you are definitely an interlocutor to take seriously. Anyways, now that I have said a few words on what science is and why ID doesn’t really fit into it, I’d like to move on to the subject of definitions and bring up some points I forgot to mention earlier.

1. God and reality: In the revision of your latest post, you said the following:

“The conflict between science and religion is not over the existence of God because the terms God and reality are synonymous. Both are absolute, ultimate, and sovereign. The question is really one of God’s (or reality's) characteristics. Is reality a living being or merely an impersonal material force? Whatever or whoever reality is; reality is God by definition. It is what it is or I am who I am. The only difference between the philosophies of naturalism and monotheism is the nature of God.”

I appreciate you taking the time to define your terms, but I disagree with you on the point that God and reality are synonymous. I believe that words have no intrinsic meaning and exist purely for the sake of facilitating communication. Theists, Atheists, agnostics, etc. are have a genuine disagreement and the concepts they disagree over is much clearer if God is defined, in your terms, as a “who” rather than a “what” than if the concepts are obfuscated by terminology inconsistent with common usage.

2. Authority: Authority can be used in the general sense of any source of information. When speaking of authority as opposed to logic or empiricism, however, people are generally using the term in the more specific sense of information coming from a particular type of source—e.g. a priest, a politician, a scientist. Thus, to say that scientists are wrong in claiming that they reject authority because they accept the authority of their observations is to commit the fallacy of equivocation. Also, when people speak of “revelation” they are generally referring to a subset of authority that comes from a divine source.

3. Proof: This term is thrown around a lot but is only meaningful for two groups of people: mathematicians and alcoholics. The kind of logical proof that exists in mathematics basically comes from the recognition that certain statements are implied within other statements. For example, if one accepts statement A and also the statement that A = B as axioms, then one has proven statement B because one has already implied it in the statements one has previously accepted. Scientists, at least the good ones, never claim to prove anything—not even that the foundations of science are valid!—because they try to avoid taking any claim, no matter how obvious, as an axiom. Instead, their goal is to make as few assumptions as possible, be explicit about them as possible, and then, assumptions in mind, deal as best they can with probabilities.

This method only self-destructs if one is locked into the idea that one has to have a certain foundation in something in order to believe anything at all. This is one point in which modern scientists disagree with 16th and 17th century thinkers and you are absolutely right to criticize the latter about it—you are certainly not the first. One of the core ideas of postmodernism was an attack of the modernist conception of scientific certainty. For a while, these criticisms threw people into intellectual disarray. Some were led to believe that there is no such thing as “objective reality,” but this was not the only response. Some, like yourself, decided that this destruction of certainty in the world meant that we had to look to the divine for our solid foundations. Ever the clear thinkers, however, scientists came up with their own solution: accept that reality exists but that our understanding of it is fundamentally uncertain. You may argue, but isn’t that a claim to certainty? Perhaps…

Apply that way of thinking to God—defined as an entity than can exist or not exist rather than as a meaningless tautology—and you have the core of agnosticism. It takes some getting used to, but it is a glorious disillusionment (see Meditation 665).

So what if our reasoning is wrong, what if contradictions are possible? Well, then we would just have to rethink everything then, wouldn’t we? But think of the implications of a universe with contradictions, one that is both possible and impossible, which prevents itself from existing except that it doesn’t, ceramic pineapple %#!GGGGGg—there really is no point in talking about such a universe because it is just so incoherent. Should we keep it open as a possibility? Sure, why not? Should we assume such a model describes our universe as we try to make decisions and navigate our way through our daily lives? I don’t know about you, but I am very satisfied with the results of our current approach.

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