Friday, May 16, 2008

Presumptions of Science

I am taking a break in my series (ha! a break he says; more like a sabbatical) to post on a couple of articles I read recently that have me thinking. They both point to an arrogance, I think, in the hyper-rationalistic, hyper-naturalistic worldview that claims that nature is all there is; that science is the only way to explain things, and science can not only remove the need for a God, but can remove God altogether. It's not enough to say, "here's an alternate explanation to God." Many are instead saying, "this explanation is it, and God can't possibly play a part."

This strikes of hubris, a wee bit. It also points to a blindness in that particular worldview that keeps the holders thereof from seeing the problems in their own philosophy.

The first article is this article from FoxNews which discusses a book attempts to answer "the question 'Does science make belief in God obsolete?'" Full disclosure: I haven't yet read the book. I may not ever read it. That said, there is something disconcerting in the self-confident assertions that "Science has failed to find natural evidence of God. Natural evidence is all there is. No God. Case closed." Or references to another book entitled "God: The Failed Hypothesis — How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist."

The logical flaws here are gaping. Science, by definition, only speaks in regards to the natural world. God is by definition super-natural, or above nature (unless one is a pantheist.) Science cannot possibly, by its own limitations and the reach of traditional scientific methodologies, say anything whatsoever about God's existence. Science can put forth explanations, yet any explanation put forth by any scientist is built on assumptions - some of which could potentially be invalid. To say that because "science has failed to find natural evidence of God" (a claim disputed by some scientists, although I can conceded the point and still win this line of reasoning) doesn't mean that there is therefore no God. God could quite skillfully avoid detection were He to want to, and His visibility, or lack thereof, to the proponents of such a philosophy says nothing whatever about whether He exists or not.

And don't even get me started on how science, something which by definition can't speak to things outside the natural realm, can show that God does not exist. I can buy that adherents to scientific/naturalistic worldviews don't believe that God exists; I can't at all buy that they've proven their belief in God's non-existence through science any more than I can prove my belief in God's existence via science.

The second column, written by David Brooks of the NY Times, talks about how neural science is leading to a new debate about who, or what, God is. (And yes, I know I am quoting both the NY Times and Fox News in the same blog post. I expect this will cause both liberals and conservatives to then be up in arms with me.)

To me Brooks' column was more interesting than the Fox News one. The Fox article demonstrates the misplaced hubris of the fundamentalist naturalists. That's easy pickings, not really advancing anything new, and a standard covering of a philosophy that won't lead anywhere. By contrast, the Brooks column stands out to me as an actual challenge. In an over-simplified summary, scientists studying cognition and neural development are observing that certain areas of the brain "light up" during times of "religious experience." The naturalistic interpretation is that our brains, therefore, are inventing our encounters with God, or that our brains can connect with something bigger than ourselves; they can transcend ourselves and that explains how so many things are commonly held across cultures and time.

The challenge, Brooks seems to say, is that those like me, who believe in a personal God & that truth is found in scripture, are going to have a harder time defending those beliefs in light of this neural research. If the brain's behavior makes us feel close to God, the question seems to be, how can we be so confident God is there as we believe Him to be? How do we know our brain isn't messing with us? Similar arguments have been broached by those of a deterministic bent, who deny us freewill on the grounds that naturalistic determinism (chemical/physical interactions, etc...) cause us to think, say or do what we think, say or do. That is, we don't choose, we're nothing more than computers programmed by a non-intelligent natural environment; we can't help it.

This challenge isn't so difficult as one might presume. My soul, if I have one, would be (like God) super-natural, and therefore outside of the realm of scientific observation. Neural scientists, then, would only be seeing part of the picture and drawing conclusions based on incomplete information. My view, if I may offer it here on my own blog, is that we have brain and soul, and they interact in what I would call the mind. The soul is supernatural, the brain is natural, and the mind is the interface betwixt the two. (I may be stretching definitions here, but this model makes sense to me.) Materialists will never see the soul. Science will never see it in the lab. But that doesn't mean it's not there. What we are seeing when we measure the brain may well be the effects of the soul, via the mind, directing the brain what to say, to think or to do. What we see as active neurons may not be our brain making us feel close to God. What we see as active neurons may very well be our souls being close to God, and letting our brains know about it.

Of course, I can't prove this any more than I can prove the opposite. But that's my point. Science needs to remain humble. For all the certainty the militant materialists can muster, the challenges they pose are no real threat.

Please note, too, that I am not at all opposed to science or scientists. I married one, and I have a background in both computer science (formal training and career) and meteorology (my hobby). I just think it best to keep the bold proclamations about things outside the realm of science to a minimum. When the tool isn't equipped to address the problem at hand, it's best not to trust your solution to that tool. Find a more appropriate one. Say philosophy. And use it with humility.

God bless,
Ron

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