October 18, 2012

Scientism and the existence of God



Given the ruminations of Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins, one would think that the limits of scientific arrogance had been reached, but I'm afraid we have to think again. A theoretical physicist from the California Institute of Technology just wrote a book in which he argues...

17 comments:

GONZALO PALACIOS said...

As usual excellent explanation of St. Thomas Aquinas' "contingency" argument. I for one would like to have a printed transcript to hand to my Philosophy class; is it possible? Thank you, Gonzalo Palacios, Ph.D. Philosophy, Prince George's Community College, Largo, MD

Cassandra said...


Actually his explanation was lacking. At the point where he shows there would be an infinite regression of causes, he brushes it away by saying you haven't explained anything. While true, it's not the root problem. If you have an infinite cloud of previous causes, you cannot reach the present state by an application of one finite cause after another, simply because it is impossible to reach end of infinity through finite steps (by definition). Pick any point in the infinite cloud of causes and you remain stuck in that cloud unable to reach the present state.

Linus said...

Surely you meant to say we must appeal to a REALITY radically other than the universe which could NOT be, even in principle, measured by the sciences ?

E.R.

Jim J. McCrea said...

Fr. Barron's argument could have been extended. If we come to a first cause that has no potentiality and which is Being Itself, which we call God, we can give a further explanation as to what we mean by "God." If something is absolutely primary in the order of being, it is not subject to anything, therefore has no limitations that would subject it, therefore it is infinite, which is a classical attribute of the Judeo-Christian God. Another attribute that can be deduced by such an argument is the absolute simplicity of God, where God has no composition of parts whatsoever. If God had parts, those parts and the principle of their composition would in some manner be prior to God, contradicting His absolute primacy as a being. It is beyond the scope of this post, but many other attributes can be deduced from the fact that God is pure actuality and is absolutely primary (for example, it can be arrived at that God is personal).

Nick said...

@Jim

You could make a video about those arguments, than post a link to it on Father Barron's video comments section. It would be helpful to Christians and evangelize non-Christians.

Prot Teios said...

I'm impressed with the video AND the comments. You guys know your logic. As a scientist, I know science. And science is not designed to answer the eschatological questions. It is a process. A way to interrogate the physical world in order to understand it. It being the physical form of existence in which we occupy. Theory is fun, but in my experience theoretical physicist and the like avoid experiment as it is too unreliable, too unclean and rarely agrees with their imaginations. So they avoid proof at all costs. But regardless, they are arrogant. All of us scientists are offered that cup. Fewer of us than you think drink from it. Most of us are mobile and know our limitations, but the arrogance of a few are how we get defined by my fellow Catholics. In truth, Catholics helped develop the scientific method..like every other good thing. But this arrogant fellow...reminds me of the hit hikers guide to the galaxy...where the guy says that man no ore understands his existence than a tea leaf knows the annual profit of the east India tea company. We can understand some portion of what has been revealed...just depends on how much we live it. But we certainly can't claim to know re than the one who revealed it.

Linus said...

Excellent, but I think you made a mistake toward the end. Instead of saying (paraphrased)"...we are forced to conclude to a Reality radically other than the universe which could even be, in principle, measured by the sciences...," shouldn't you have said "...could NOT be, even in priciple, measured by the sciences...? " Linus

Linus said...

Cassandra, you didn't listen close enough. No " cloud of infinite causes " was mentioned, nor was an " infinite regression." The causes mentioned are contingent and therefor finite. And this complex of finite causes all converge here and now, simultaneously on each effect. What was explained was that however complex the system of " contingent " (i.e. finite ) causes postulated, one still has to conclude to causal Reality which is radically other than the universe. This is God.

Mr. Patton said...

I never realized that "God" was ever part of the scientific discussion or the methods employed by those of us that understand how immaterial entities are NOT part of the scientific purview.

Cassandra said...

@Linus, I suggest you review Aquinas' arguments directly. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1002.htm

You are correct that Reality has a finite number of causes, but precisely because an infinite number is impossible.

@Prot Teios,
While much is made of the "divorce" of science from religion, actually they were never married. Instead, Science is the child of philosophy and it is Science's insistence on independence (like a bratty little adolescent) that leads ill-trained scientists to posit absurd causal theories that proper philosophical training would prevent them from asserting.

When you have a field like the natural sciences where one can get a Phd without rigorous training in philosophy (esp. logic), what you get is not a true scientist, but a glorifed lab-technician.

Mr. Patton said...

I didn't realize that "God" was part of the scientific purview because such an entity is immaterial.

Cassandra said...

@Linus, I guess I would add that if Barron's argument was off-the-cuff as part of an interview, I cut him more slack. But this is a prepared presentation and he could have reviewed Aquinas' arguments beforehand. Barron actually confuses to some extent the argument of efficient cause with the argument of necessity (also called contingency). He only barely touches on the heart of the necessity argument that things that don't have their existence as part of their nature and could possibly *not* exist must therefore at one time not exist.

@Mr. Patton,
Your assertion is exactly the error of the natural sciences' divorce from philosophy. Just because something is immaterial does not mean it cannot be examined by human reason. The natural sciences have erroneously insisted on narrowing their examination of reality to the purely empirical. That's why they need to return to father philosophy to get the tools to be able to deal with theories of causality rather than demanding purely empirical casuality (eg evolution).

Mr. Patton said...

Cassandra, there is a logical difference between philosophy and science. When lay persons do not understand that difference, they tend to be pseudo-scientists or pseudo-philosophers.

KAST said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Radio OMG said...

So his crux at the end is that science cannot eliminate god? I dont think that was the goal of many bustling scientists throughout history shedding light on many things that were once incredible mysteries to mere human mammals here on our little spinning dirt ball in outer space.

I think whats really happening is just people are losing patience with traditional institutional religions lack of explanation or even logic for that matter. I dont think scientists intentionally push a godly galactic force out of the picture. One of my favorite lines from Sagan is that we are essentially the cosmos' way of knowing and appreciating itself. Whatever IT is. I think science is continually giving god a new place in our existence broadening our understanding of forces in the universe.

But when he references some of the prominent atheists in the beginning... I think those individuals are just instances where people are not fed up with god but the people ACTING for him on earth. As if they know god.

I do love though how he references reaching the limits of 'scientistic arrogance' ... preaching from his comfy seat there AS IF there has been no history of ecclesiastical arrogance. Oh please sir... tread carefully. The pews aint exactly gettin' fuller. Maybe a new approach?

Cassandra said...

Mr. Patton,

Of course there is a logical difference. Philosophy has at its disposal deductive reasoning, whereas science is restricted to inductive reason-thus why, combined with experimental error, science always has an element of error in its assertions.

All the more reason why scientists need access to philosophy to prevent them making foolish assertions. Refusing to utilize the full range of the tools of reason is unreasonable.

Perhaps you'd care to offer more than a snide remark in your defense?

Mr. Patton said...

No Cassandra, you have made my point...:)