Sunday, October 2, 2011

Can Faith and Science Co-Exist?

MIT physicist and avowed atheist Alan Lightman has an interesting essay today at, How Faith and Science Can Co-Exist:

Readers can peruse the piece and see how much of it they either accept or reject. For myself, I am skeptical of a lot of it, including the proposal there is some "Central Doctrine of Science". While it is true there are certain central natural laws or statements of science that have withstood well the tests of time, it is also true there are actual "impossibility statements" of what cannot occur - and in the end these may be equally trenchant and valid. For example, one impossibility statement is that a dead man can't actually come back to life from formerly being a rotting corpse. This would violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics, or entropy law which prohibits a system moving from a more disordered state to a more ordered one.

Another is that it is impossible to get more mass or energy out of system than what you put in. This would violate the conservation of mass-energy. And so on, including that it is impossible for any mass to travel faster than the speed of light.

Thus, these would not be described as parts of a "doctrine", central or other, but firm prohibitions on what sort of phenomena we expect to observe in this universe, with its particular physical constants (G, e/m, alpha, etc.)

Next, Lightman offers what he claims is a "working definition of God", viz:

"God is a being not restricted by the laws that govern matter and energy in the physical universe. In other words, God exists outside matter and energy"

But once more, this isn't very workable or operational. Saying God "exists outside of all matter and energy" is more a tautology. Or, saying what is obvious in terms of most orthodox definitions, if such are ever given. But what would be far more useful here, is to state the necessary and sufficient conditions for the entity articulated in the definition to exist. One must also ensure the specific conditions comport with the given definition, to be acceptable in a scientific or even logical sense.

For example, asserting "God is a first cause" is actually and technically unprovable within an axiomatic system based on cause! Of course, one may eschew such a system - but then s/he loses the ability to argue from or about "cause"!This is directly from application of Gödel's Incompleteness theorems.

In this case the set of causal elements in the axiomatic system, call the set:

Z ={C1, C2, C3,........Cn)

has ONE element which is uncaused. It matters not whether it is C1 or any other. The point is, the proof of its existence can't be rendered from within the axiomatic system that uses the set Z for a causal argument. Thus, one will inevitably find at least one contradiction, and this contradiction means the system is incomplete, so the set must be also. Look at it this way: say Z = C1 is equivalent to saying C1 is "the first cause of all Z".

But if: Z = C1 is provable-in-the-system, we have a contradiction: for if it were provable in-the-system, then it would not be unprovable-in-the-system, so that "Z= C1 is unprovable-in-the-system" would be false. Again, it can't be provable in the system since C1 is an element from a presumed CAUSAL set.

So, Z = C1 is unprovable-in-the-system is not provable-in-the-system (Z), but unprovable-in-the-system (Z). Technically, one would require a "meta-set" such that Z' = Z + k', the uncaused element- with Z purged of it. However, it can be shown that invoking such a meta-set leads to an infinite regression.This shows why - before one interjects false conditionality- he or she had first better be sure Kurt Gödel isn't looking over his shoulder! Next thing:

How would Lightman square the claim (say by a firm faith Christian evangelical) for an "objectively true" Christian God with the delimitations noted by Pascal Boyer (Ch. 2, `What Supernatural Concepts are like', p. 51, in `Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought', Basic Books)?

As he observes, when one seeks to reconcile any supernatural concept with what is deemed "objectively real" (and hence - by extension, the religion based on it):

"the information contained in key tags of the statement or concept must contradict information provided by the ontological category".

Therefore ALL terms used by supernatural extension, i.e. "force", "thought", "knowledge", "act" etc. must be set out so as to contradict the tag in a known (physical) ontological category. Thus, "supernatural force" must be shown to specifically contradict physical force (as given by Newton's 2nd law, F = ma) and be explained in depth to show its workability in a supernatural domain. This demand extends to "supernatual ethics" and why it (evidently) contradicts normative human ethical expectations. (For instance, why didn't the Xtian deity intervene to spare those who are actively out there, putatively extending its mission - like those 12 missionaries slain in Afghanistan some time ago).

Such outrageous inaction doesn't even meet the basic qualities of ethical morality displayed by a human parent, say in rescuing a beloved child from a burning room! (As noted by Kai Neilsson in his 'Ethics Without God', observing this must be the minimal defintion for what is "morally good").

In the end, all Lightman's fulminations against Richard Dawkins to the contrary, Dawkins was essentially correct in assessing religion's overall effect on human consciousness as negative. This will be so as long as religion remains a confected or artificial "contraption or creature of civilization" to use the words of one commentator on Salon's blog.

So is it possible for Faith and Science to co-exist? Possibly, but only if faith is diluted to the point that all those of faith acknowledge their respective gods, sacred books and dogmas are relative to all others, none being absolute or in any way "objective". Otherwise, all bets are off and we are merely left with glorified superstition, and worse ....a deleterious form if it is organized by a hierarchy in order to subvert the inquiring function of human minds.

No comments: