Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Prelude to a Prose Poem

Over in the wild and wooly world of Marco’s Blog, winstoninabox said he was not getting a clear idea of what Marco and I meant by God from our comments on his comments on Marco’s comments on Richard Dawkins’ comments on what other people have said about God, i.e.:.

In all of these comments I'm yet to get any idea of what God is.

In my own ramblings about Dawkins I offered an alternative definition of God to the one he proposed, namely:

1. At some level of the Universe more fundamental than our own, there exists an entity which is omniscient and omnibenevolent with regard to our universe.

This is the first essential feature of the God I believe in.

I have been thinking that ‘omnibenevolent’ and ‘omniscient’ might not mean what I want them to mean unless it is also true that:

0. This entity is the fundamental self-existent uncreated thing upon which everything else is dependent.

The next essential feature about the God I believe in is that, although what God is really like is as unknowable to us as what we are really like is unknowable to, say, an electron, in the same way that we can interact with an electron by setting up a particular distribution of electric charge,

2. God can interact with us as a person.

I thought I had a document around here that was a summary of what I thought about God, the universe, and everything , but the latest revision (c.2000 A.D.) appears to have an introduction, a table of contents, a hodgepodge of dot points, and lots of notes to myself to look things up. It strikes me that this might be as good a time as any to get it in order, change things I feel like changing, and set it loose upon an unsuspecting world.

9 comments:

winstoninabox said...

Thanks for the super speedy answer.

Your point number 2 is the one I'm most interested in. The intersection between God and humans is the only area where we can get some real data about God. The points 0 and 1 will more than likely be conjecture in our lifetime.

Dr. Clam said...

The main point of contention between you and Marco-and-me is our assertion that all these statements are unprovable. We might live to see the stars die, the black holes evaporate, and Dyson's machine intelligences incorporate the entire universe into an inhabited quantum foam, and points 0-2 will remain conjecture in our lifetimes.

Point 3, "God is an interventionist God", which is not implied by point 2, is also unprovable. By Spinoza's Proposition 1.18: 'God is the indwelling and not the transient cause of all things' any phenomenon attributable to God's intervention will also have a chain of transient causes within time and space.

winstoninabox said...

I've once again over-relied on wikipedia to come up with this article that summarizes my position.

No doubt there's nothing new here for your good self, but I thought it was great that all the different ideas that I agree with are in one place and have a name.

Dr. Clam said...

Metaphysical naturalism as defined ‘metaphysical naturalism entails the belief that nature is in fact all that exists’ is the same as the statement ‘the universe is self-existent’, which I have been arguing and arguing is vanishingly unlikely for two reasons. Neither of these are given as arguments against metaphysical naturalism in the wikipedia article, so to briefly restate them, ahem:

(1) ‘For we see that anything can be more speedily disintegrated than put back together again. Hence, what the long day of time, the bygone eternity, has already shaken and loosened to fragments, could never in the residue of time be reconstructed’. (Lucretius)

Our universe looks like something that is running down like a watch. This suggests that it is not all there is- not the Universe- and that there is a watchmaker, blind or otherwise.

(2) ‘There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.’ (Rumsfeld)

It has continually been our human experience that we have insufficient information to make a complete explanation of any phenomena we care to explain, and we have to go outside that phenomenon to pull in extra data to complete the picture. It seems very unlikely to me that the universe as a whole will be any different, and very likely to me that the universe is a subset of a Universe most of which is fundamentally inaccessible to reason.

winstoninabox said...

Our universe looks like something that is running down like a watch. This suggests that it is not all there is- not the Universe- and that there is a watchmaker, blind or otherwise.

And dr clam as you know that is only one theory. There are a a few others about the fate of the universe, not all of which postulate that the universe will run down. None of them require a watchmaker.

It has continually been our human experience that we have insufficient information to make a complete explanation of any phenomena we care to explain, and we have to go outside that phenomenon to pull in extra data to complete the picture.

Gaps in our knowledge are part of the excitement of science! But dr clam what are the cases that have required science to go outside the phenomena for explanation? Can you give any examples of phenomena that currently require supernatural explanations?

It seems very unlikely to me that the universe as a whole will be any different, and very likely to me that the universe is a subset of a Universe most of which is fundamentally inaccessible to reason.

In answering this I'm going to resort to a slightly lengthy quote from the metaphysical naturalism wiki. But I think it really encapsulates the difference in our thinking:

Argument from precedent

For over three hundred years empirical methods have consistently discovered only natural things and causes, even underlying many things once thought to be supernatural. Meanwhile, no other methods have produced any consistent conclusions about the substance or causes of anything, much less anything supernatural. The logical inference is that since countless past gaps in knowledge have been filled by naturalism, and by nothing else, probably all remaining gaps in knowledge will be filled by naturalism as well. This simply extends a principle fundamental to science as a whole, that we should presume any new phenomenon obeys known laws of physics until we have empirically proven otherwise. Hence we should presume that any unexplained fact has a natural explanation until we have empirically proven otherwise. Therefore, since we have not found empirical proof of anything supernatural, and since we have abundant reason from past precedent to expect that natural explanations underlie everything, metaphysical naturalism is most probably true.

I find it immensely interesting that our positions in this are actually completely opposite from what is to be expected. You are a trained and working scientist that is happy to resort to the supernatural for science's most basic questions. I'm a blogger with little understanding of science (hell I've read more science in the last few weeks than in the last 40 years) who has faith that we need no recourse to the supernatural.

Gotta love the blogsphere.

Dr. Clam said...

No, it is not 'only a theory'. That is as serious a distortion of the facts as the creationist critique that evolution is 'only a theory'.

"The law that entropy always increases - the second law of thermodynamics - holds I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell's equations - then so much worse for Maxwell equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation - well these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of Thermodynamics, I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation."
- Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, in The Nature of the Physical World. Maxmillan, New York, 1948, p. 74.

As a scientist, I know that the axioms on which science are based cannot themselves be determined by science. These axioms restrict us to looking at reproducible phenomena which can be correlated by 'laws of nature'. They do not and cannot tell us anything about the probability that those phenomena are all that exists. Science also can tell us nothing about phenomena for which we have no data, and the history of science suggests that there are going to be phenomena outside the universe which are forever unobservable. It seems to me the height of hubris to imagine that our brains, evolved for office politics in the African bush at a scale of 1.0 m and 10^9 s, are going to eventually makes sense of the 'Universe', the whole shebang of observable and fundamentally unobservable stuff-that-is.

An anonymous quote from webland: 'Science is a differential equation. Religion is a boundary condition.'

And I am going to translate your last paragraph into a different sphere to show you how silly it is (or perhaps, only how grouchy it makes me!)

"I find it interesting that some people who are trained to race cars obey the speed limit on the highway, while I, who have no such training, blithely zip along at 130 kph."

winstoninabox said...

Woah, take a chill pill dr clam.

Your opinions are always well constructed and well researched. You provide reasons why you think a certain way. I'm glad that you take the time to present your ideas to the blogsphere.

Unless some else chimes in here it's just 3 friends (I hope) blowing some wind about life the universe and everything. I was making a humorous observation about our differing viewpoints as opposed to our backgrounds. Nothing more than that. I'm NOT ridiculing you or your ideas.

Dr. Clam said...

Chill pill taken! ;)

Shoulda chucked a few more emoticons in there to indicate the equally light-hearted nature of my simile, I guess.

I am happy to claim a label as a methodological naturalist, and am quite certain that the precedent wikipedia cites is going to lead to a fuller and more complete model of the universe: I'm just equally certain that the other precedent I cite is going to leave us with a vast unknown unknown.

Just would like to progress to other things... there isn't much point in going further into my concept of God (which will doubtless draw as much flak from Marco as from your good self!) unless you concede "the universe is not self-existent" is a plausible position that not susceptible to proof or disproof- then we can put on the shelf as a point on which we disagree and move on.

Should quickly check to see if your own blog has been updated... :)

winstoninabox said...

I knew your simile was without merit I don't even have a license 8-)

unless you concede "the universe is not self-existent" is a plausible position that not susceptible to proof or disproof

Conceded. I wanna see God! (famous last words)

Should quickly check to see if your own blog has been updated... :)

You do use the RSS or Atom feeds don't you? I find Firefox as browser using Sage to organize the feeds to be a very workable combo. With one click I can find out that I haven't updated my blog, and I can also find out the states of the other 17 blogs I subscribe to.