April 12, 2014

I love the way the question whether science can prove the existence/nonexistence of God...

... always turns into the question whether Einstein believed in God.

It's easier to ask what scientists think than to do science, and it's especially convenient when everyone converges on one scientist. Similarly, it's easier to consult one religious authority than to pursue your own religious inquiry. Easier... and maybe better.

It's easier to look to the authority, but is it better?
  
pollcode.com free polls 

61 comments:

Alexander said...

I think that you've missed an option (which I think is the right one), and it's Augustine's theory of religious authority. If I remember correctly, his idea was that you should study different religious authorities with the aim of determining which was worth trusting. This strikes me as the right way to treat authorities in general: Before hiring a lawyer, I want to spend some time ensuring I get a good one, but after coming to that conclusion, I will trust the lawyer's sense of the law, not attempt to become a lawyer myself.

nonapod said...

Human beings aren't infallible. Scientists are human beings. Scientists are susceptible to hubris, prejudice, greed, and the other human weaknesses.

At any rate, saying that you know that something absolutely true beyond any doubt always struck me as unscientific, like for example that there is no god.

Ann Althouse said...

@Alexander That is a good point and seems to be what I've expressed in the second option.

But I can see that the third and fourth options don't repeat the idea of preliminary inquiry into who should be trusted as an authority.

I think you should see that as implied though, so if that's what you think, you should vote for the second or the 4th option.

tim in vermont said...

I figure God died in childbirth within the first couple picoseconds of the Big Bang, and we have been on our own ever since, or perhaps he managed to encode every action since that moment by determining each action depending on the previous right back to the Big Bang and so god lives forever and this very post was encoded in the Big Bang as inevitable.

Revenant said...

Since the people making the "Einstein believed in God!" argument are almost invariably conservatives, I like to reply "have you read 'Why Socialism?'?"

Patrick O said...

I consult Einstein on everything.

Hairstyle, legal issues, medical complaints, entertainment, relationship challenges, grading papers, English grammar and punctuation, and so on.

n.n said...

First, religion is a philosophy of morality. The concept of faith is separable from religion. Second, whether it is faith (i.e. trust) in experts or God, the discerning individual will be skeptical.

The noteworthy distinction between science and philosophy, is the former does not rely on inference (i.e. created knowledge) to establish its validity. At least that's the classical standard. Today, the fine line separating science and philosophy is routinely violated.

As for the God entity, it is unknowable, and inscrutable, hence the need for faith. It is purported to exist outside of our limited frame of perception, let alone observation. We have only the word of our ancestors to guide our judgment. What we do know is that there is an underlying order to our reality; of which only the topmost layers can be perceived and characterized. So, whether it is God or an axiom, there is a universal faith.

JPS said...

Here's what I find funny: the idea that science can prove or disprove the existence of God.

Suppose we understood in perfect detail every biochemical mechanism that underpins conscious thought. Would we be any closer to understanding why we have consciousness?

An atheist might argue that in all the time and over all the space in which random chance has been operating, this was bound to happen somewhere, and here we are. I might argue that God wrote the rules under which all this unfolded. I have yet to read of the experiment by which one of us proves the other wrong.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

There are so many apocrypha attributed to Einstein without basis that any time I see him quoted I automatically discount it. Irrelevant to this argument, though, because what Einstein had to say about God wouldn't have much influence on me anyway.

Bob Boyd said...

These difficult questions need no longer trouble us for Ezra Klein has a new website and if you're smart, you'll use it...no, wait.... if you're dumb you'll use it....um....oh never mind.

rcocean said...

Never understood the whole Einstein worship or what "Science" has to do with religion.

Natural world vs. Supernatural world.

My personal experience with Engineers, Computer Programmers, Scientists, etc. is that they are VERY smart in their own little area of expertise. Outside of it, no so much. In fact their High IQ leads them to believe they can pontificate about anything, which is why so many of them lose money in the stock market or make foolish political pronouncements.

rcocean said...

Case in point is Einstein himself. He called himself a "Socialist", and never seemed to have a problem with Communism or Stalinism. Although, he doesn't seem to have been an official party member.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

As both a scientist and a believer I can conceive of no manner by which science can prove God or disprove God. There is quite certainly nothing in the current body of knowledge which requires.

About the most you can ask is whether that body of knowledge is consistent with any existing descriptions of God or inconsistent with all of them.

I find current knowledge consistent with the Judaeo-Christian understanding of God.

Terry said...

So smart people are better able to determine if God does or does not exist? God is revealed (if he exists) to smart people but not dumb or average people?

Mikio said...

I'm not merely an atheist; I'm an anti-theist. I don't want to live under a cosmic dictator (a.k.a. God) and, fortunately, all evidence shows that this preference of mine is what we have here.

PB Reader said...

My belief is that humans have evolved to need to believe in a god or supernatural power, just as they've evolved other physical and behavioral traits. This doesn't mean that god doesn't exist, but it sure explains why so many people who don't believe in god or only have a social/nominal association with religion place so much faith in other things that cannot be proved or are known failures - like liberalism, and other things.

rcocean said...

"So smart people are better able to determine if God does or does not exist? God is revealed (if he exists) to smart people but not dumb or average people?"

Exactly. There are large areas of knowledge where being "super-smart" is of no real advantage. Do you really think that Einstein was better at fixing his car, or writing a novel, then other people?

How smart do you have to be, to understand religion, or know that communism is wrong, or run a business? I'm reminded of John Sununu, who'd always tell people he had an IQ of 140 (or was it 160?). Of course, his high IQ didn't prevent him from being a bad chief-of-staff. If Bush I was taking his advice, it must have been bad, since he got 40% of the vote in 1992.

Patrick O said...

"all evidence shows that this preference of mine"

That's what everyone says! But, curiously, all the evidence seems to lead to different conclusions for people. Weird thing that.

rcocean said...

"I'm not merely an atheist; I'm an anti-theist."

Well, aren't you a special little snow-flake. God either exists or he doesn't, your FEELINGS don't matter one way or the other.

The Godfather said...

Like most people, I picked the second option, "do your own work or at least study the work of divergent authorities", but only because it presents two alternatives, one of which is correct with respect to science, and both of which are correct with respect to religion.

If you think about how you judge science, for the vast majority of us "do your own work" is not a realistic possibility. Sure you could drop two weights off the Tower of Pisa like Galileo, but you can't produce a Higgs boson or study the X-ray remnants of a supernova. The best we can do is study the work of (apparently) qualified scientists, and try to grasp where and why they disagree.

It's different with religion. Over the centuries many wise men and women have said many profound things (as well as many foolish things) about the nature of God (or the gods) and the relationship of the deity and the universe, etc. If we are serious about these matters, we ought to study the work of these theologians and philosophers and try to learn from them, as we try to learn about science from the work of scientists.

But in religion there's an additional step: We need to relate the theology or philosophy to practical questions about how we live our lives. The nature or existence of the Higgs boson will not affect a single decision that I will ever have to make in my life, but the nature or existence of God will affect profoundly every element of my life. I have to "do my own work" for better or worse.

n.n said...

JPS:

Consciousness can be described as a motive order. Unfortunately, its characterization is limited to inference of origin and expression. Its true nature is an article of faith, which is presumably why abortion/murder is considered acceptable.

tim maguire said...

Ever flip through an Einstein quote book? Outside of certain scientific disciplines, he was a pretty pedestrian thinker.

Fernandinande said...

Science disproves religion.

Revenant said...
..."have you read 'Why Socialism?'?"


It reminds me of his statement/quote (which I can't find...) about people asking his opinion on matters which he knows nothing about - like economics, apparently.

tim in vermont said...

" I don't want to live under a cosmic dictator (a.k.a. God)"

So you believe in free will then? That somewhere on the way down to the the most fundamental structures of the universe there is a layer where actions are truly not determined by previous conditions?

I know this is our current understanding of quantum mechanics, but of course, quantum mechanics exists at one level and is a statistical description of the phenomena as it occurs at that level. These statistics are fantastically accurate. That does not mean that there is not a deterministic layer deeper than QM which is beyond our knowledge and ability to make measurements, which are known to be limited not just by the limits of our technology, but in theory even with perfect technology.

Good luck in living free of a "cosmic dictator"?

JPS said...

Mikio:

"I'm an anti-theist. I don't want to live under a cosmic dictator (a.k.a. God) and, fortunately, all evidence shows that this preference of mine is what we have here."

Isn't it kind of self-centered to assume God would give you unambiguous evidence of His existence? And what kind of world would we live in if we knew beyond doubt there was a God? Most people would sit back and wait for the ultimate bailout from whatever trouble they got into, and curse God for everything He did or failed to do. Think about attitudes toward the US Government, writ infinitely large.

I'm being facetious, but seriously: "All the evidence?" The only way this can be true is if you've defined the problem very carefully, whether you meant to or not, to produce the result you already believed in.

hombre said...

Mikio: "I'm not merely an atheist; I'm an anti-theist. I don't want to live under a cosmic dictator (a.k.a. God) and, ...."

And I will continue to base my belief system on mistaken notions of avoiding domination right up to the moment my buns start smoking at which time I may reconsider.

Scott M said...

"God...does not play with dice."

Patrick O said...

Faith of Scientists in their own words is an interesting read, by the by.

Robert Cook said...

"Here's what I find funny: the idea that science can prove or disprove the existence of God."

It can't, and scientists don't claim it can do either; this is why any theories of creation that include discussion of a creator figure--a god--are not science and cannot be included in science classes or curricula.

Science endeavors to discover, insofar as is possible, what happened, when, and how. It cannot enter into discussions of ineffable spiritual realms or supernatural beings, which are untestable.

m stone said...

As for the God entity, it is unknowable, and inscrutable, hence the need for faith. It is purported to exist outside of our limited frame of perception, let alone observation. We have only the word of our ancestors to guide our judgment.

Not really if you think about it.

God reveals something of Himself in creation, across every culture, age, and location.

We have a conscience, all thinking people that is, that further adds a moral dimension to an understanding there is a God.

Then, we have scripture (ancestors if you want) that further unveils a God, now with a name and voice.

If you've never read Judeo/Christian scripture, you can't be held responsible for what it says/reveals, but an understanding of God remains to anyone in the remotest part of the world. Worship is inherent in our nature. Denial of a creator is not a healthy option. No one has an excuse.

n.n said...

Mikio:

All evidence actually shows that you, I, and everyone is subject to the whims of an underlying order, with little to no means of appeal. That order may be attributed to a force or entity which exists outside our system (e.g. "God"), or it may simply be described as emergent phenomenon and accepted as an axiomatic truth. Either way, it is a universal article of faith, whose physical effects (i.e. sensed) are observed and characterized by science.

Terry said...

Mikio wrote
"I'm not merely an atheist; I'm an anti-theist. I don't want to live under a cosmic dictator (a.k.a. God) and, fortunately, all evidence shows that this preference of mine is what we have here."

This is an astonishing attitude. It was God who gave us free will (if you're talking about the Judeo-Christian god). It is scientific materialists who tell us that we have no freedom.

John said...

I agree that the poll is missing an option.

religion is all about faith. Nothing else.

Faith in God and His son Jesus Christ. Nothing else.

Not faith in a church, in a book and especially not in other people including pastors, ministers, priests, rabbis, imams etc.

Not to say that they should be ignored. They all have a lot to say that is valuable. That can help us think about our faith.

Why should I even try to prove there is a God. I'll find out soon enough one way or t'other.

In the meantime it hurts nobody and helps me to believe that there is and to worship Him. (or her if you prefer, God is probably genderless)

It arguably helps society for me to believe. I would not force anyone to believe. It is something we all have to find for ourselves.

John Henry

rcocean said...

The other problem with STEM's types or as I call them "Nerds", is they try to apply Spock-like logic to human problems.

The reason we have so many societal problems or debate the existence of God has nothing to do with our lack of intelligence, or the fact that no one has done a logic check.

Responding to the problems of racism, war, religion or poverty with "It does not compute" is worthless.

Illuninati said...

Science originated as one branch of philosophy which was named natural philosophy until recently. Natural philosophy by definition deals only with natural laws. Because natural philosophy has been so successful, it has been renamed science. By definition, natural philosophy can not deal with miracles or theology, those issues lie within the domain of other branches of philosophy. Therefore, natural philosophy can not determine whether God exists or not since evidence for a supernatural being is automatically excluded from consideration.

William said...

Newton believed in alchemy and astrology. I believe in three or four hundred years, it will be readily apparent how simple minded and superstitious Einstein was......I'm not the go to guy for nuclear physics, but I understand that Einstein spent the last decades of his life trying to disprove quantum mechanics or some such mistaken quest......I don't know about the disproving the existence of God, but science has definitely disproven the notion that we're the crown of creation. Even our galaxy is small change in the universe. And if the multiverse theory is correct, our universe is just one bubble in a cauldron of bubbling universes......Hegel said that God is mankind seeking consciousness, but all knowledge gives us just a greater awareness of our own insignificance. Perhaps the fact that infinitely insignificant creatures such as ourselves can imagine a God is a proof of God's existence.

jimbino said...

The important thing to realize is that belief is fundamental to the religious person, while the scientist doesn't believe in belief at all.

Non-scientists don't appreciate the fact that no scientist will consider "I believe that the Earth is a satellite of the Sun" is in any way equivalent to "I believe in God the Father...."

jimbino said...

The important thing to realize is that belief is fundamental to the religious person, while the scientist doesn't believe in belief at all.

Non-scientists don't appreciate the fact that no scientist will consider "I believe that the Earth is a satellite of the Sun" is in any way equivalent to "I believe in God the Father...."

Howard said...

The true scientific position is agnostic. Mikio's major malfunction is quoting Christ o fer Hitchins without attribution. I believe Hitch was speaking specifically about the monotone lord almighty of the constantly pissed off Semitic tribes who were too obstinate to leave the wasteland after climate change turned Eden into desert. Happy Easter

Fen said...

When we say "science", we're not including Climatology right?

Æthelflæd said...

Mikio said, "I'm not merely an atheist; I'm an anti-theist. I don't want to live under a cosmic dictator..."

This has to be trolling. "There is no God and I hate Him."

traditionalguy said...

Since Saul of Tarsus ran into the risen Christ outside Damascus he quit fighting Him. In fact after that he gave up all religious claims he had earned in Judaism and served Jesus.

Einstein had to guess.

Steven said...

How can science prove the nonexistence of God? The religious always redefine their God after-the-fact so that the latest test doesn't count.

I mean, there's a reasonably scientific test of the existence/nonexistence of deities actually recorded in the Bible, which reportedly Baal failed and YHVH passed. But if you suggest that we can solve the whole debate over the existence of God simply by reproducing the test, they'll come up with all sorts of lame excuses why it's not now valid.

Drago said...

Steven: "The religious always redefine their God after-the-fact so that the latest test doesn't count."

You could not come up with a better description of the actions taken by those proponents of AGW theory as actual observations continue to move away (at near light speed) from their continually evolving predictions and backfilling of hilariously inaccurate feedback models.

Thanks for chiming in Steven.

Terry said...

“I never took my religious instruction seriously,” Allesandro told them, “because it was delivered in the language of reason. I asked everyone you can imagine, from the nuns when I was a child, to bishops, philosophers, and theologians later on, why do you speak of God in the language of reason? And they said it was because God has burdened those who believe in Him with the inability to prove His existence except in the language of His enemies, which is a language in which you cannot prove His existence. Why bother? I asked. Their answers showed me that they believe in God no more strongly than you do. Can you see a group of people on a beach in a storm, deafened by the surf, their hair blown back from their foreheads, their eyes tearing, trying to prove the existence of the wind and the sea?”

Mark Helprin, _A Soldier of the Great War_

persiflage mahal said...

Only I can verify the existence of the God that I believe in.
Y'all are on your own.

The Godfather said...

You can say "I don't want to live under a cosmic dictator (a.k.a. God)", but that is irrelevant to whether God exists. Too often atheists and agnostics say things like this, as though not wanting to believe in God is sufficient proof that God does not exist. I don't want to live in a universe in which nothing can travel faster than light. I don't want to live in a universe in which I cannot know where every electron is at any particular instant. I don't want to live on a planet on which all life could at any time be wiped out by a colliding asteroid, or comet, or black hole. Yet I do live in such a universe and such a planet. My preferences, and Mikio's, mean nothing.

Mark Nielsen said...

I find it interesting that it is Darwin that is held up as the big enemy of religion, or at least Western Christianity. Darwin is only a threat to beliefs if those beliefs involve very literal readings of what most believers regard as meaningful myths.

If there's got to be a figurehead scientist for "the enemy of religion", it should probably be Einstein. Not because of any particular thing he said, but because his *scientific work is the most threatening to the traditional understanding of religious questions. Relativity, where past, present, and future exist as not-even-universally-experienced levels of space-time, shakes the traditional notions of free will to the core. He's only not held up as the enemy because so few people realize the repercussions of what he said.

eric said...

I'd have more respect for science and scientists if it didn't get so much spectacularly wrong so often. Or if it didn't require, "Shut up!" As an explanation to those who disagree.

I suppose science could be separated from scientists. But its so often employed now as a means to end the conversation its hard to separate them. Are you a science denier? Instapundit uses this to mock quite often now.

They try to get around this through peer review. But we have discovered that peer review is a crock and political. Therefore, as long as scientists are doing science, its going to come up with questionable results.

Patrick O said...

"Non-scientists don't appreciate the fact that no scientist..."

I have three friends with PhDs in hard sciences who are very committed Christians. Two have their PhDs from Cal Tech. The other one works in a major research institution and published articles Science and other top journals. Their PhDs are in astrophysics, materials science, and theoretical physics.

So, no scientist would say such sweeping generalities. That is after 1900 at least.

Patrick O said...

"The religious always redefine their God after-the-fact"

That's silly and sweeping. Always is a big, conclusive, faith-demanding word. You gotta really believe in contrast to any and all evidence to make a statement like that.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

S A T O R
A R E P O
T E N E T
O P E R A
R O T A S

The creator reveals his works as vortices

Rusty said...

tim in vermont said...
I figure God died in childbirth within the first couple picoseconds of the Big Bang, and we have been on our own ever since, or perhaps he managed to encode every action since that moment by determining each action depending on the previous right back to the Big Bang and so god lives forever and this very post was encoded in the Big Bang as inevitable.

I prefer to think of it as having already been seen. Time for an infinite being doesn't exist. Therefore it has already unfolded in all its permutations and the outcomes are known.

Patrick O said...

Relativity, where past, present, and future exist as not-even-universally-experienced levels of space-time, shakes the traditional notions of free will to the core

You should read contemporary eschatology (academic), very much takes advantage of the issues related to space-time, showing how God is not working within our conception of linear time.

That is assuming you start from a religious perspective that values free-will. Strong Reformed folks would heartily agree that free-will is an illusion. We're all predestined.

Most who think Science has finally brought the final challenge against religion haven't read very much in theology.

Check out Polkinghorne's work, for instance, as someone who fairly certainly gets the implications as part of his theological work.

cubanbob said...

I'm not merely an atheist; I'm an anti-theist. I don't want to live under a cosmic dictator (a.k.a. God) and, fortunately, all evidence shows that this preference of mine is what we have here."

The only evidence we have here is that without a cosmic dictator we will surely live under a human dictator. Without God we inevitably will find ourselfs in Mussolini's universe: everything within the State, nothing outside the State.

cubanbob said...

I suppose science could be separated from scientists. But its so often employed now as a means to end the conversation its hard to separate them. Are you a science denier? Instapundit uses this to mock quite often now. "

When it's used as means to end the conversation Science has left the building.

Gary Rosen said...

Right, I'm sure rcocean has made a bundle in the stock market bwahaha. Although it's nice to see him acknowledge he has a low IQ. Kinda redundant though.

Gary Rosen said...

Wow, rcocean has tremendous resentment against people who can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Jim S. said...

Science is utterly dependent on authority, despite what some people say. Nevertheless, the authority in questions of science (and religion) is not infallible but should be taken as "innocent until proven guilty". It's a starting point, not the conclusion.

Mikio said...

It’s clearly too late to be responding here, but what the heck, even if only one other person is reading this that’s still one more than are reading my journal except for maybe an NSA agent who I’m thankful for.

I’ve been putting off responding to the backlash to my post because it’s just too much work. Atheism is a small-minority view for good reason. It’s a tough sell. People don’t like it. And most don’t understand it. The responses here bear that out. But a couple rose above and I think merit my reluctant, procrastinating effort to try to at least partially answer their challenge. I may only get to one, though.

JPS said…Isn't it kind of self-centered to assume God would give you unambiguous evidence of His existence? And what kind of world would we live in if we knew beyond doubt there was a God? Most people would sit back and wait for the ultimate bailout from whatever trouble they got into, and curse God for everything He did or failed to do. Think about attitudes toward the US Government, writ infinitely large.

That’s an intriguing point I’m not sure I’ve thought about it before. But the first thing that comes to mind is surely God would anticipate and know how to deal with a majority of humanity collapsing into a bunch of sobbing-with-joy, “lazy, do-nothing, 47-percenters,” right? See, this is the ridiculously contradictory flaw made by everyone pushing the God-exists argument: they limit His power when it suits them while insisting He’s got unlimited power. Human free will, by the way, the go-to excuse, isn’t breached in this case either because God can eschew supernatural force and restrict Himself to the power of persuasion through words which we do all the time and free will maintains. He could proclaim, “Listen, folks, just because you know unambiguously that I’m here now doesn’t mean I’m going to answer your prayers any more than I did before, so just keep going about your business. And if that makes you mad at Me, well, why weren’t you mad at Me before when I wasn’t answering your prayers then too? Answer that, numbskulls. Yeah, you’re stumped. Think about it. Fall out.” But He would convey it in a gentle, loving way. So, that shoots down that point.

JPS continues…I'm being facetious, but seriously: "All the evidence?" The only way this can be true is if you've defined the problem very carefully, whether you meant to or not, to produce the result you already believed in.

Definition. Yes, this is key. Well, I’m going by the standard definition of God—i.e. omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent. The Ultimate Being Imaginable. I don’t know anyone who goes by the definition of God as Less Than The Ultimate Being Imaginable even though that’s the only God that strikes me as possible.

Evidence. My evidence, borrowing/stealing from Voltaire’s brilliantly scathing Candide, is the far-fetched idea that we live in The Best of All Possible Worlds which it seems to me logically must follow if the world we live in is a creation of the Ultimate Being Imaginable. Anything less than the best is relatively shoddy work rendering the Ultimate Being false and not so ultimate since an ultimater one is clearly imaginable.

And again, the predictable go-to excuse here of free will and the “fall from grace in Eden” allegory to account for our Less Than the Best Possible World is nonsense. Allowing the suffering of billions of innocents for the misdeed of one or two is the furthest thing from benevolence there is. It’s a stupid, illogical excuse.

So the Candide problem remains for the God-exists argument.

I’ll leave it here even though I can foresee the possible responses and have more to cover in this line of argument, but this is long enough already. Besides, JPS may not even see this. (The other intriguing post I found, by the way, was tim in vermont's about QM, determinism, and free will. Can't think of anything but a lengthy response to that either, though. Maybe another time.)

Unknown said...

Until such time as science can explain self awareness it seems silly to ask it explain a higher consciousness.