Explanations, and the understandings they mediate, must all terminate (at least in principle) upon *some singularity or other* if they are to hang together – if they are to succeed as explanations by satisfying our urge to understand. This is as true for explanations of singular phenomena as it is for explanations of regularities. Science then, of any sort, has no alternative but to adduce some singularity or other as the original fact or truth at the basis of all others. The terminus ad quem of the scientific project must be an account of the terminus a quo of all things: a terminal singularity. This, whether the posited singularity be a historical event such as the Big Bang, or a fundamental equation that can work as a Theory of Everything, or what have you.
But only one sort of terminal singularity can ultimately succeed – not at completing inquiry, for (per Gödel) that completion is not possible to finite beings, but rather at satisfying them that things cohere intelligibly. Only one sort of terminal singularity can set the scientist’s mind finally and fully at ease.
The following are reflections based on my years teaching introductory astronomy for non-science majors. Few of my students take the class out of personal interest. It fulfills a natural sciences general education requirement and sounds less scary than geology or chemistry. Thus, the ultimate purpose of the class is to expose students to the scientific enterprise, so I put a lot of thought into the impression of science I’m giving them. When I speak of “science” below, I will be using the word in its modern rather than its classical sense, according to which biology and sociology are sciences while philosophy and history are not.
Survey course textbooks in the branches of science usually include some discussion of the general nature of science. Anxious to emphasize science’s quality as a process rather than a fixed body of knowledge, they often hold up the “scientific method” as the essence of science. This, however, has disadvantages. For one, actual science rarely follows the model given in these books. More importantly, the scientific method is itself given no real justification, and the limits of its usefulness are left unclear. What makes this problem pressing is that students may believe, and textbooks may even state, that the scientific method involves assumptions about the world and excludes a priori certain kinds of explanation, as for instance when scientific explanations are contrasted with assertions of miraculous or animistic spiritual causality. The impression is given that science is at least methodologically naturalist, that when thinking scientifically we must pretend to be atheists. This, I emphasize, is not a problem for religion; it’s a problem for science. To tie oneself from the beginning to very questionable metaphysical assumptions threatens the credibility of the whole enterprise.
A proposition that cannot be carried into practice at all cannot be true. An act that cannot be implemented in actuality must be somehow incoherent: self-refuting – for example, you can’t mean it when you say, “this statement is a lie” – or a contradiction in terms either simple or implicit – e.g., there’s just no way to implement “2 + 3 = 4,” for it is a contradiction in terms. That such propositions can’t work logically means that they can’t work in practice.
But a proposition that can be carried into practice might be true. E.g., “It is best not to defer gratification.”
When we sin, we assert one or more of a number of propositions:
- God does not exist.
- God is not omniscient.
- God is amoral.
- The world is amoral.
- God does not care whether I behave well or not, nor does the world.
- Whether or not God cares about my behavior does not matter (to me, at least).
And so forth. When we misbehave, we effectually attest to our belief in at least one of these propositions, or else in one of a number of other propositions like them. And to attest belief in propositions is to testify to their truth, and so is to urge their truth: behavior is an effectual proposal for how it might be well to behave.
I have long been intrigued by the conservation laws. Conservation of energy, momentum, charge, and so forth all seem to point to a more basic conservation, of which they are all instances. I was therefore interested to read in Bill Dembski’s latest book, Being as Communion: A Metaphysics of Information, his discussion of Conservation of Information in search routines. He has apparently demonstrated (I have not read the demonstrations, which appear in the technical literature he cites in the book) that increasing the likelihood of a successful search – i.e., a search that has an object and finds it – over and above the walk of a blind drunkard who is not looking for anything in particular may be accomplished only through additional investment of information in the search routine. This can be done in a number of ways: by a more comprehensive specification of the configuration of the object, or by adding a feedback circuit to the algorithm, or by adding strange attractors to the configuration space (so that the environment of the search itself embodies more information) or some other similar measure. But any such improvements of search efficiency – of the likelihood of success – come at a cost of their own: it takes information to inform the search. At best, then, informed search will cost just as much as blind search, and cannot cost less. But then also if the information added to the routine is not essentially perfect – free of noise and error – then the addition will cost more information than it saves: the overall cost of the search, plus the cost of the search for the improvements to that search, will exceed the cost of random wandering about the configuration space.
The modern crisis all goes back to nominalism. The modern muddlings of clear definitions, confusions of really and essentially different things, and denials of essences or definitions in the first place are all outworkings of the nominalist turn. Once suppose that categories are merely conventional, that universals are merely nominal, that life is never simply black or white, but rather only shades of grey, and you find yourself on a steep and slippery slope to chaos.
An eye for an eye makes the whole world circumspect. But, also, an eye for an eye makes the whole world cooperative, as Robert Axelrod showed with his study of tit for tat and competing strategies using iterated rounds of contests among genetic algorithms (described in his book The Evolution of Cooperation). Tit for tat beat all the alternative strategies, again and again; and as rounds of the contest were iterated, with winning strategies favored by the reproductive mechanism of the iteration, it more and more perfused the population of competing algorithms. As tit for tat increased in frequency, so did the total value generated by all competitors in each round: fewer and fewer defections occurred, and responses to defections were more and more often optimal.
That tit for tat wins the evolutionary game does not mean that its superiority is merely adventitious, an artifact of this or that sequence of random events that might have been quite different, and so generated quite a different sort of winner. On the contrary: provided the game goes on long enough, tit for tat wins every time, sooner or later, and no matter how the sequence of outcomes varies. The utile superiority of tit for tat is a truth of game theory, so that like any other mathematical truth it is from before any and all worlds, and holds true in every world. The metaphysical superiority of tit for tat, then, is the source and reason of its practical evolutionary success, and not vice versa (this is true of all perdurant evolutionary success). Tit for tat is the optimal strategy in evolutionary practice because it is the best in metaphysical fact. As metaphysically best it is the most moral policy of all (these are two ways to say the same thing).
In the discussion thread to my post “Atheism is an Assumption, not a Reasonable Conclusion from the Evidence,” commenter Taggard offered a lengthy criticism of my position. Since my response to his response is also lengthy, I offer it here.
In this writing, Taggard reiterates what I described as the basic error of the atheist: sticking with an initial negative assumption in the face of positive evidence.
I reproduce here the full text of Taggard’s comment. My responses are in bold:
Taggard, 9:45 am:
I would like to reply to this article point by point, for the most part, but before I do, I need to lay down some definitions, a basic assumption, and a few statements:
Definitions: Atheist – one who lacks belief in all gods. [AR: This is too thin a definition. The existence of God is too important for a man simply to “lack belief.” For example, if someone told you that there was a bomb, or a check for a million dollars, in your car, you would not be content just to “lack belief.” You would want to have good reasons for acting in whatever way you choose to act. Atheists act as if they are confident that there is no God.] Agnostic – one who does not know for sure if gods exist. Evolution – the process by which living organisms have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth. [AR: As defined by the scientific establishment, “evolution” means that the process was entirely naturalistic.] Abiogenesis – the origin of life. Continue reading
Today, the BICEP2 team announced the detection of what they claim is an imprint of long wavelength gravitational waves in the polarization of the cosmic microwave background. If this holds up (a big if: lots of exciting discoveries don’t hold up when some neglected systematic error turns up), it will be the most important discovery in cosmology since the first evidence for dark energy, and for physics in general I would rate it more important than the detection of the Higgs boson.
To piggyback on Bonald’s post below:
At his blog, our Proph recently reposted an item that linked to an essay of mine at the old Intellectual Conservative. Since the old IC was taken down by evil leftist (but I’m redundant) hackers, Proph’s link to my essay is dead. So here is my old IC essay. Its basic thrust: When atheists claim there is no evidence for God, they are assuming atheism at the beginning, looking at life through atheist-colored glasses, and then seeing nothing but atheism. They are being supremely illogical.
No Evidence for God?
Atheism now has a confession of faith. Christians say “Jesus is Lord.” Moslems say “There is no God but Allah.” And English-speaking atheists now say “There is no evidence for God.” But are they correct? Continue reading
I often find the popular debate between Religion™ and Science™ intensely irritating, because almost everyone on both sides seems to take it for granted that if we have (or might someday have) a scientific explanation for something, then we don’t stand in need of a divine explanation for it; so that the only places where God might possibly play a role in our explanatory scheme is in the bits and pieces of the world that science has not yet explained. And this notion of the “God of the Gaps” presupposes that the merely scientific explanation is exhaustively adequate, at least in principle. But that means that the whole debate is skewed from the get go by an implicit presupposition in favor of naturalism, and is therefore founded upon begging the very question that it proposes to answer.
God is not needed first as an explanation of this or that item in the natural order, but rather as an explanation of the fact that there is such a thing as nature in the first place, or that there exists anything at all that might have a nature. If God does not exist, then there can be no explanation of existence per se, or therefore of any of the things that do seem to us actually to exist. If God does not exist, then all we can say of things in the final analysis is that they are what they are, for no particular reason.
Or can we say even that?