Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Is There Something Out There?

In a conversation with a congregation member this past Sunday, I invoked the name of Isaac Asimov.  My congregation member and I were discussing the relationship between science and faith and how there is quite a bit of arrogance on the part of both "sides" as they promote their particular points of view.

The reality, my congregation member pointed out, is "everyone has faith in something that cannot be proved."

For those who base their thought process in science, the idea everyone bases their thought processes in faith is abhorrent!  "Science is not about faith!!" they decry.  And then, in the name of science, they proclaim, "There is no evidence for God."  Their conclusion is logical.  However, I will argue, their conclusion stems from premises which are indeed faith based.  Isaac Asimov is helpful here.

Asimov, of course, was a brilliant author, biochemist and philosopher.  If you read his works, you will see that he has an incredible ability to remain logically consistent as he conveys philosophical and scientific truth.  His short stories weave these truths throughout and (hopefully) help the reader better to understand them.  In the short story "Reason" from I, Robot, the following dialogue is found as the two human characters try to deal with a "rogue" robot:

"Then, for the love of Jupiter, we've got to do something." Donovan was half in tears.  "He doesn't believe us, or the books, or his eyes."

"No," said Powell bitterly, "he's a reasoning robot--damn it.  He believes only reason, and there's one trouble with that--" his voice trailed away.

"What's that?" prompted Donovan.

"You can prove anything you want by coldly logical reason--if you pick the proper postulates.  We have ours and Cutie has his."

"Then let's get at those postulates in a hurry.  The storm's due tomorrow."

Powell signed wearily.  "That's where everything falls down.  Postulates are based on assumption and adhered to by faith.  Nothing in the Universe can shake them.  I'm going to bed."

(If one desires to deeply understand why Asimov places this in his stories, one can study and read up on Goedel's proof.)

The scientist may decry, "I have no postulates.  I have no assumptions.  I base everything upon what I can see and measure."

But what assumptions are built into the statement, "I base everything upon what I can see and measure?"

Just this: you are confined to the natural world.  You are confined to only the things you can see and measure.  Nothing more.  Using science, one cannot answer the question, "Is there anything beyond the physical universe?"  Based upon a method which requires measurement, duplication, reason, logic, and observation, one cannot come up with any absolute conclusion for what may lie beyond what can be measured, duplicated, reasoned, and observed.  One is limited.  The only thing one can do is look at the evidence provided within the physical universe and deduce whether or not something may or may not be beyond it.  One cannot arrive at any definite conclusion--at least based upon the assumptions.

If one recognizes this, then one easily sees that the statement, "God does not exist," is actually a statement of faith.  It is not a statement of science.  It is not a statement of fact.  It is not a statement of pure reason.  It is a statement based upon what one tries to deduce from looking at the evidence in the natural world and extrapolating to that which is beyond the boundaries of the natural universe. 

One may ask, "Well, what is the problem with that?"

From Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion:

"The human brain runs first class simulation software.  Our eyes don't present to our brains a faithful photograph of what is out there, or an accurate movie about what is going on in time.  Our brains construct [emphasis mine] a continuously updated model: updated by coded pulses chattering along the optic nerve, but constructed nevertheless."

Think about that statement long and hard.  If one's assumption is "There is nothing beyond our physical universe," then one's simulation software is set to interpret any data which comes in as supporting the assumption. 

On the other hand, if one's assumption is, "There is something beyond our physical universe," then one's simulation software is set to interpret the same data as supporting this assumption.

This is why believers and non-believers can look at the exact same evidence and come up with vastly different conclusions.  It has nothing to do with the quality of the evidence.  The evidence might be just fine--for both!!  However, it has everything to do with the assumptions governing the logic!

The cold, hard fact is that we do not know what lies beyond the bounds of our physical universe.  We will actually never know.  (Asimov is helpful here too, but I won't go there right now.)  By a statement of faith we can either say, "There is something out there." or "There is nothing out there."  Neither of these statements can be proved. They are both statements of faith.   We would do well to recognize this.

It might just help to tone down the rhetoric and settle a few court battles along the way.

At least I can dream, right?


John Flanagan said...

Filling your mind with doubts, and spending too much time reading the works of atheistic scientists is unhealthy for your spiritual walk, that is, if one is truly a child of God, not merely an educated person dabbling in religion. People who continue to be fascinated with intellectuals like Asimov, and Dawkins, eventually begin to question their own faith, and often discard it like yesterday's trash. I think you need to put away books written by those who despise your Lord, put faith in their own reason, and seek to persuade you to follow them down the road to unbelief and the destruction of your soul.

Kevin Haug said...

Tell me, John, would you have given the same advice to Martin Luther when he read and then responded to the likes of Erasmus, Eck, and others?