Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Bishop Richard Barron Misfires On God & Metaphysics

Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron, of the LA Archdiocese, is adamant that opponents don't grasp his position on science and religion as spelled out recently. In a current response (Nov. 19) he writes:

 "Many respondents display what I call “scientism,” the philosophical assumption that the real is reducible to what the empirical sciences can verify or describe. In reaction to my attempts to demonstrate that God must exist as the necessary precursor to the radically contingent universe, respondent after respondent says some version of this: Energy, or matter, or the Big Bang, is the ultimate cause of all things."

The problem first, is that Bishop Barron offers only a simplistic definition of scientism. It doesn't mean reducible to what the empirical sciences can verify or describe  but rather a blind commitment to a rigid, locality-based, non-emergent mechanical reductionism.  This is in radical distinction to the nonlocality manifested by the quantum domain. Physicist Bernard d'Espagnat put it thusly in his 'In Search of Reality':

"If scientism were correct, or more precisely, if the view of the world it proposes so forcefully, that of a world ultimately consisting of myriads of small localized objects merely endowed with quasi-local properties were correct then we'd be little more than automatons"

Thus, by rejecting scientism - which a real scientist should - one is led to a deeper reality of emergence, such as I discussed in my recent book, 'Beyond Atheism, Beyond God'.  Thus, the cartoon version of physical reality of which Barron writes is obviated by embracing a nonlocal physical universe. This, incidentally, still doesn't allow for any supernatural entity.

In this nonlocal setting, there is no separation vis-a-vis energy so "God" is already immanent in the system as an unexpressed regulative ideal - but which physicists refer to as negative (vacuum) energy. It is this which gave rise to the big bang, this would be via a collision of M-branes, e.g.

The origin of our universe from nothing, then,  occurs as a result of the contact of two hyperdimensional branes, not from a single particle, atom, or even a bubble of dark energy. The M-brane pairs occur as a result of vacuum energy fluctuations in conformal space-time.

Thus, Barron's respondents would have been more correct to say that negative or vacuum energy is the ultimate cause of all things.

Beyond this, Barron, like most religionists, doesn't define what he means by "God". And what is the "radically contingent universe"? Unless terms are defined it is not possible to have a coherent argument or compelling discussion.

Take aseity or non-contingency. Philosopher Mortimer Adler  first identified the attribute of “aseity” as the most fundamental for any putative divine being. Adler translated his coined term as synonymous with non-contingence, i.e. depending on nothing else for existence. In many respects, aseity trumps all other properties when it comes to identifying a divinity or trying to assign properties whereby a God can be defined consistently.
Can aseity be assigned such that an entity called “God” can truly be imaged or encapsulated? Perhaps, but more likely not very likely! The reason, as philosopher Alan Watts has observed, is because to envisage such deity requires a perfect balancing act between fixity and fluidity. In fixity one seeks to possess or fix an isolated definition or image, but this borders on idolatry. In fluidity one admits to the constant motion and ephemeral nature of reality around him but in this case no imaging is possible because all the images flowing are also fleeting. The problem for Barron and others is in identifying the latter with a "radically contingent universe" and the former with aseity or a non-contingent deity. But if the actual deity is "fluid", i.e. based on Dirac sub-quantal energy, what then?

This has led Watts to finally conclude (‘The Wisdom of Insecurity’, p.27):

The incredible truth that what religion calls the vision of God is found by giving up any belief in the idea of God. By the same law of reversed effort, we find the infinite and the absolute, not by straining to escape from the finite and relative world, but by the most complete acceptance of its limitations."

This is a radical idea to be sure, but one which is worth considering if one is really invested in resolving or eliminating any conflict between modern science and religion - as it 0ught to be.  After all, is there really that huge a sacrifice in giving up belief in the "idea of God"?  Which again, is not the same as any essential Being that may be tied to it. (A point made in my book in terms of "God concepts")

Barron  also doesn't seem to grasp here that science DOES take a position or view (naturalistic or materialistic) which undergirds its naturalistic approach to inquiry - in order to take an impartial approach to the natural world. If it allowed subjective beliefs to hold sway, or adopt any openness to supernaturalism, the impartial search for natural truth would be destroyed.

Barron also seems not to grasp that the invocation of God in any domain is fraught with  metaphysical peril because even if we did agree some ultimate power started at all (as I pointed out in my 1990 Astronomy article, August, p. 11, God and Astronomy) there’d still be no agreement on the entity’s attributes, nature or powers. 
Some, like Bishop Barron, would see a ‘creator’ that stands apart from the universe, while others see an underlying intelligence in nature.( Carl Sagan, for his part, equated 'God' to the physical principles and laws that govern the universe, which let's be clear, is more a physical God.)  The point here is that it makes more sense not to interject the issue of 'God' at all, because no two people can even agree on what the noun means.

He also writes:

 "When I counter that the Big Bang itself demonstrates that the universe in its totality is contingent and hence in need of a cause extraneous to itself, they think I'm just talking nonsense."

But referring to a cause "extraneous to itself" shows how he confuses the whole matter.  Robert Baum’s textbook, LOGIC, pp. 469-70, clearly shows that explicating necessary and sufficient conditions constitutes a practical replacement for causes. In other words, instead of saying or asserting x caused y, one stipulates that a, b are necessary conditions for x to exist at all, and c, d are sufficient conditions for y to have been the sole effect of cause x.

Baum’s reasoning is clear (ibid.): because “cause” (generic) can be interpreted as proximate or remote, or even as the “goal or aim of an action”  it is therefore too open-ended, ambiguous and construed in too many different ways. Thus, “cause” is too embedded in most people’s minds with only one of several meanings, leaving most causality discussions unproductive and confused. If my “cause” and your “cause” in a given argument diverge, then we will not get very far.

Because of this one uses the more neutral term “condition” and specifies necessary and sufficient ones. The latter terms are specifically meaningful in the context of determining causal conditions, and hence, causes. If one eschews them, then one concedes he is incapable of logical argument.

Much of this can be addressed via Bayesian probabilities. To fix ideas here: let p[S] be the unconditional probability there is a supernatural agent responsible for the creation of the universe. Let p(S-[BB]) be the conditional probability of the existence of a supernatural agent if the Big Bang has indeed occurred. Let p[B,B] be the unconditional probability the Big Bang occurred and p(BB-[S]) the conditional probability that the Big Bang occurred – provided a supernatural agent is responsible for the creation of the cosmos.

According to the principles of Bayesian probability theory (e.g. by Bayes’ theorem) we can write:

p(S-[BB])/ p[S] = p(BB-[S])/ p[B,B]

In terms of strict adherence to Bayes’ theorem, one can only have:

p(S-[BB]) >> p[S]

E.g. IF the Big Bang occurred, there is an enhanced probability of the Big Bang being its source.

However, this is not what they proffer, but instead arrive at:

p(BB-[S]) >> p{BB]

which inverts the prior Bayesian statement by asserting:

the existence of a supernatural being enhances the probability of the Big Bang

The fallacy of the approach inheres in the inequality given by:

p(BB-[S]) >> p{BB]

But this is an arbitrary assumption since we have no knowledge of how a supernatural agent might act and none of its proponents have given the necessary and sufficient conditions for such action, including Barron.

The end result? If necessary and sufficient conditions were at least provided, we might have a better way of setting up the Bayesian probabilities to conform to what they should be and not include any arbitrary assumptions.

In the meantime, we can conclude the universe is not in need of a cause 'extraneous" to itself since p(S-[BB]) >> p[S]

Barron goes on:
"The obvious success of the physical sciences, evident in the technology that surrounds us and facilitates our lives in so many ways, has convinced many of our young people (the vast majority of those who watch YouTube are young) that anything outside the range of the empirical and measurable is simply a fantasy, the stuff of superstition. That there might be a dimension of reality knowable in a nonscientific but still rational manner never occurs to them. In their scientism, they are blind to literature, philosophy, metaphysics, mysticism and religion."

The problem for Barron here is that he does not indicate in any way how an "extra-physical" reality might be established. Yes, there well might be such but how can it be accessed rationally? How can it be validated in a nonscientific way? Again, the major difficulty for Barron is that he confuses scientism with Monistic physicalism.  In its most rudimentary form the latter can be summarized by reference to the late Victor Stenger’s comment (cf. God and the Folly of Faith, 155)

It does not matter whether you are trying to measure a particle property or a wave property. You always measure particles. Here is the point that most people fail to understand: Quantum mechanics is just a statistical theory like statistical mechanics, fundamentally reducible to particle behavior.

By contrast, David Bohm's nonlocal physics as explicated in his wonderful book 'Wholeness and the Implicate Order' shows that all the reductionist snafus are eliminated when one integrates the results of fundamental physics or quantum mechanics. By the use of such a full integration Bohm provided a putative basis for a holistic consciousness which he referred to as the holomovement. To enable a unified field within this higher dimensionality he appealed to hidden variables obeying Heisenberg uncertainty relations such that:

(d p)( d q) > h/ 2π

Where p, q denote hidden variables underlying a sub-quantal scale indeterminacy relation. From this he was then able to derive an equation for what he called "the quantum potential":
VQ=   {-ħ2/ 2m} [Ñ R]2 / R

If one then fully applies Bohm's nonlocal system to physical reality it becomes possible to show the relation of individual forms to the universal aggregate, i.e.g




The relation is holographic in the sense that each of the individual forms contains the information of the whole holographic field. Given this holistic system, none of Barron's issues provides an impediment. Thus, the young person familiar with a Bohmian system of physical reality will not be  "blind to literature, philosophy, metaphysics, mysticism and religion".   Bohm's implicate order perspective, indeed, absolutely forbids metaphysical (or physical) isolationism.
Barron again:

Another recurring theme on my YouTube forums is the disturbing assumption that science and Christianity are, by their natures, implacable enemies.
He then goes on to cite examples of Georges Lemaitre, Galileo and others but omits many key details. While it is true  Lemaitre can be considered the "father" of the Big Bang theory (he did conceive a crude version, without inflation) no mention is made by Barron that he refused Pope Pius XII claim that Lemaître's theory provided a scientific validation for Catholicism. In fact, as the Wikipedia article on him observes: "While a devout Roman Catholic, he was against mixing science with religion" - though he did allow there need not be conflict.  Regarding Galileo, Barron omits the fact he was actually persecuted by the Inquisition for backing Copernicus' heliocentric theory. He also conveniently omits mention of Giordano Bruno - who was burned at the stake just for his speculations, and the Alexandrian scientist Hypatia, slaughtered by Christian zealots, e.g.

The true fact to take away is that, as George Santayana put it ('Reason in Religion', p. 157):

"It does not require much shrewdness to see that supernatural beings and events are without the efficacy attributed to them".

Inferring that those who uphold such (presumably like Barron) are in fact advocating a "false physics". Thus it isn't true science and religion that are necessarily opposed to each other, but mock religion which pretends to have creations that can't be proven (e.g. false physics) and real physics - which underlies all of science.  They will always be opposed to each other because there is no support basis for agents or events without efficacy in science.

Barron's penultimate statements are especially enlightening in view of the preceding:
"If the world or nature were considered divine (as it is in many philosophies and mysticisms), then one would never allow oneself to analyze it, dissect it or perform experiments on it. But a created world, by definition, is other than God and, in that very otherness, open to inquiry.
Similarly, if the world were considered unintelligible, no science would get off the ground, because all science is based on the presumption that nature can be known. But the world, Christians agree, is thoroughly intelligible, and hence scientists have the confidence to seek, explore and experiment."

But considering the world or nature "divine" begs the question of what exactly we mean by "divine"? If we mean some supernatural order or being - which lacks efficacy - to use Santayana's term, then we are admitting a false physics and false religion. (Santayana links the two as a tandem). If on the other hand, we mean something along the lines of Bohm's holomovement, we may be getting somewhere.

But let's be clear again that a universe a la Bohm is not a "created" one, for all the reasons given above.

As for his claim that "if the world were considered unintelligible, no science would get off the ground", no argument. But when we say "intelligible" in science we mean the artifact or object of inquiry must be susceptible to scientific methods and I don't believe this is what Barron means.  As I noted in my ASTRONOMY magazine article:  ‘The God Factor’ (Astronomy Forum, March, 1990), science selectively excludes problems for which no practical method of inquiry exists. The supernatural, which is neither measurable or verifiable, falls into this category and that includes ‘God’ - if depicted as "causeless" and "supernatural". More to the point, we tend to regard such entities held by virtue of belief alone – as opposed to evidence - as evocative of superstition.  The latter encompasses such beliefs, especially when the supernatural realm is populated by invisible beings which can supposedly affect and interact with our world. To the empirical scientist this is the very epitome of superstition.
This is reinforced by the fact that astronomy, like most physical sciences, still operates on the primacy of observation and testing,  as well as subsequent confirmation. Thus, our job and duty is to remorselessly cull all dross or irrelevant issues that clutter as opposed to highlight, what our objects of inquiry are about. This means all invisible, unapproachable entities must go into the dumpster.

Thus, we have the confidence to "explore and experiment' precisely because we need not worry about entities for which there is no support: ghosts, poltergeists, demons, angels.....or God - unless this is identified with a regularized ideal or something like the holomovement.

Lastly, Barron writes:
"This is why thoughtful people — Christians and atheists alike — must battle the myth of the eternal warfare of science and religion. We must continually preach, as St. John Paul II did, that faith and reason are complementary and compatible paths toward the knowledge of truth."

Again, we do battle if it is in the context of  the pseudo-warfare between real emergence allowing) science and standard religious metaphysics which disallows it. Thus, the former allows no supernatural events or beings which lack efficacy (false physics) that the latter insists on. The battle Barron actually refers to is between reductionist physics -science and false religion (predicated on locality, separation)
Interestingly, Barron's arguments dovetail in many ways with those of Gary Gutting in his recent piece, e.g.
Sadly, Gutting also doesn't appreciate the fact that cosmological arguments, non-contingent (non-causal) ones and others simple don't work - based on what I already discussed above, e.g. in terms of separating monistic physicalism and its required reductionist cosmos from an emergent, nonlocal cosmos.

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