Agnostics – what do they stand for?

I have been told that agnosticism is “the only intellectually ’safe’ position,” that it is honest because it says “we can’t know,” it acknowledges that it is impossible to know if a god exists or not. I disagree. I know that many people prefer agnostic because they are not prepared to confront the anger that is often unleashed on declared atheists. However, the word agnostic actually makes a statement not about beliefs (one can be a theist or non-theist and still be agnostic) but about our ability to know something. To declare that it is impossible to know something without even attempting an investigation is, to me, arrogant.

Avoiding the anger

To many people the word atheist is pejorative. Michael Shermer in The Science of Good and Evil says:

Non-theism . . . avoids the pejorative spin doctoring typically applied to atheism associated with communism, liberalism, post-modernism, and the general decay of morals and culture. Such associations are risible and insulting to atheists, but are common in modern culture.”

However, just using another term for one’s beliefs doesn’t change the hostility of those who hate the belief. One could imagine non-theist, agnostic and bright becoming just as pejorative if atheists used only those terms. (Have a look at the sites NZ Christian Apologetics Network and The Brites for some rather childish examples of Christian attempts to demonise the term bright). On the other hand, insisting on the use of atheist and demanding respect for one’s beliefs could well lead to this word losing its negative connotations.

Temporary and permanent agnosticism

In the The God Delusion Richard Dawkins defines two types of agnosticism. Temporary agnostic in practice is the perfectly legitimate withholding of a decision because of lack of evidence. He cites Carl Sagan’s agnostic position on whether there is life elsewhere in the universe. Sagan was prepared to “reserve judgment until the evidence is in.”

But Permanent Agnostic in Practice declares that a question can never be answered. This is OK for some philosophical questions which can, in principle, never be answered (Dawkins gives the question – “do you see red as I do?”). However, Dawkins is critical of those who claim existence of a god in this category, believing that this is a question amenable to scientific investigation and, in principle, capable of being investigated and answered.

However, Dawkins acknowledges that everybody is agnostic about something, even if only because they have not had time to consider the evidence (or don’t understand the evidence). He defines seven levels of agnosticism with respect to existence of a god from those who “know” there is a god (Level 1) to those who equally “know” there is not a god (Level 7). Dawkins puts himself at level 6: De facto atheist (“I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable and live my life on the assumption that he is not there.” Or “I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden”).

Philosophical agnosticism

My dictionary defines an agnostic this way:

  1. a person who holds that knowledge of a supreme being, ultimate cause, etc., is impossible;
  2. a person who claims, with respect to any particular question, that the answer cannot be known with certainty.

Philosophically, agnosticism is more general than beliefs about a god. To me, a central position of agnosticism is the claim of inability to know about something. The word itself implies this – a-: not, without and gnostic: relating to knowledge. Philosophically it can describe a position that it is impossible to have any knowledge of reality. I think people who describe themselves as agnostic should understand this and decide if their agnosticism applies to reality in general or just to knowledge of a god. If only the later then why?

Humanity has an insatiable desire to know and understand reality. It’s part of our very nature and this curiosity is what enables us to deal with problems, alter our environment and generally build a better life. We cannot do this if we are agnostic about reality, or part of reality. How can we investigate and understand phenomena if we decide beforehand that they can’t be investigated and understood?

The arrogance of “ring-fencing”

The French Philosopher Auguste Comte 150 years ago commented on stars:

“We shall never be able to study, by any method, their chemical composition or their mineralogical structure … Our positive knowledge of stars is necessarily limited to their geometric and mechanical phenomena”

Within a few years the invention of spectrometry proved him wrong! We don’t make that mistake now. Modern science has, in practice, left behind the idea that some parts of reality should be “ring-fenced,” declared “out-of-bounds” to investigation. Similarly, science is ignoring previous moral declarations that things like life, origins of the universe and consciousness should not be investigated. Today everything and anything are legitimate subjects of investigation. Except, for some people, God.

Many people, while not agnostic about reality in general, still declare themselves agnostic about God. This includes theists as well as non-theists. (In fact, theists are more likely than non-theists to claim a god cannot be investigated). But why? What is the evidence for excluding part of reality, declaring that it cannot be investigated or known? Nowhere! This is just a useful argument to protect a belief, to avoid an open-minded examination of ideas. Long theological arguments may be presented in justification but what do they amount to in reality. “I am declaring that this part of reality can not and should not be investigated. Why? Because I say so. Just take my word for it!”

Now isn’t that arrogant.

Related Articles:
Science and the supernatural
Questions science cannot answer?
Debating science and religion
Putting Dawkins in his place
Limits of science or religious “fog”?
Can science enrich faith?
Miracles and the supernatural?
Should we teach creationism?
Humility of science and the arrogance of religion
Intelligent design/creationism: Postscript
Richard Dawkins and the enemies of reason
Limits of science, limits of religion
Science, art & pumpkins
Miracles and the supernatural?

29 responses to “Agnostics – what do they stand for?

  1. Valiant attempt, Ken.

    So, you don’t ‘know’ that there is no God, you just don’t ‘believe’ in one… Hmmm…

    I agree, maybe non-theist is a helpful shift?

    On ‘ring-fencing’, I admit, I do see the common ‘banning’ of science to various areas… ‘Leave that to religion, philosophy, etc.’ is often suggested, and I must agree that this should not be done.

    My addition, is that ALL the disciplines need ALL the others to work best. It’s about ‘knowledge’, (‘scienta’ – Latin root) and all the types of ‘scienta’ need to make each other stronger.

    Your so-called ‘methodological materialism’ needs philosophy, for example.

    And finally, let us not say that God is a ‘part’ of reality that theists try to ‘ring-fence’… That is silly. In classic monotheisms, God is spirit, and dwells ‘along-side’ reality; both transcending reality and acting mysteriously, sometimes powerfully and immanently within it.

    And no, this is not an attempt to escape inspection from methodological materialism…

    Cheers,

    -d-

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  2. I meant to add that I too, perhaps have been guilty of ‘ring-fencing’ before, I think…

    😦

    Also, while I’m confessing my sins, I’ve been guilty of trying to demonstrate God’s existence by highlighting what science has not learned, etc. – the ‘god of the gaps’…

    Shame on me!

    -d-

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  3. “My addition, is that ALL the disciplines need ALL the others to work best. ….. Your so-called ‘methodological materialism’ needs philosophy, for example.”
    I prefer to tread warily here. There are too many examples of philosophy being imposed to ensure the “correct” answers from science. This is what happened in the USSR with Lysenkoism and genetics. It’s what is happening with the intelligent design movement attempting to change the very way in which science is done.
    I think philosophy can be a vague guide at the brainstorming level but it should not dictate. An example: in my callow youth I found the “steady state” theory of the universe more acceptable philosophically than the now-called “Big Bang” theory. Maybe this philosophical appeal encouraged me to support steady state when the evidence was against it (can’t remember now). However, I am pleased to say that I have been able to adjust, or develop, my philosophy to make it more consistent with reality as we discover it. Philosophically I have no problems with “Big Bang” these days.
    I like E. O. Wilson’s ideas (presented in Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge) that there can be a relationship and informing between the sciences and humanities. He believes we are a way off yet. But it is largely occurring within the natural sciences (without supplanting the specific methodologies of the original sciences – we don’t use nuclear particle physics in chemistry or biology). There are areas of overlap with the social sciences, ethics, etc. which will encourage interdisciplinary investigations. (I personally think that a lot of the social science areas have to do a fair bit of tidying up first – this is an area where philosophies have exerted strong dogmatic interferences). And I think, given new findings in consciousness and the mind, there is plenty of scope for the cooperation of natural science and the humanities.
    As for the “god question”. I don’t think many people seriously investigate this as a question of existence or not (I know some are). Actually, I think it is an area researchers shy away from, fear of “Breaking the Spell” as Dennett says. However, I think in future (and it is starting to happen now) we will be looking more deeply at this question as one of evolutionary psychology, sociology and neuroscience. I think there are some very interesting questions there and this research should bear useful fruit.

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  4. Ken,

    Interesting that your ‘treading warily’ includes your philosophical appreciation of E.O. Wilson’s ideas.

    All I’ve been saying (for some time now) is that one should not think that ‘natural science’ is some separate category of knowledge or whatever. The very nuts and bolts of how the natural sciences operate are logic, reason, philosophy. The roles of Logic and Reason should be obvious enough, and philosophy comes in when you try to determine what an ‘observer’ is, and what an ‘other’ is, and how we are actually perceiving reality… These issues are inextricably woven into not only all of the scientific disciplines, but all of life…

    And again, I’m not interested in ignoring or discouraging scientific discovery… It will not, in my view, do anything to the god hypothesis… It may make a deist view more silly, but I’m all for that…

    Cheers,

    -d-

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  5. “The very nuts and bolts of how the natural sciences operate are logic, reason, philosophy.” That’s how “natural theology” worked in the past but for the last few hundred years empirical evidence (hence experiment and testing) have played the central role (and, I believe, given modern science its power). Not denigrating logic reason and philosophy but reality is really the starting point and ending point of modern natural science (and I believe should be for any discipline wishing to describe itself as a science).

    By the way in commenting on philosophy and methodological materialism or naturalism I should have stressed that this does not imply a materialist philosophy. That would insult a large proportion of natural scientists whose personal philosophy is idealistic but are happy to use a naturalist approach in practice. The approach comes from the inevitable natural constraints of having to deal with empirical evidence, with experiment, testing, etc., rather than just logic or philosophy divorced from interaction with reality. I think most people are happy about that situation (considering the benefits we derive from it) even though some may be selective about which parts of scientific knowledge they wish to accept.

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  6. I’m not trying to paint a picture where the natural sciences are mere ropes hanging off the good-year blimp of reason and logic. The picture I’m trying to describe is more like (for example) a human body with all of its parts working together to function as one human – reason/logic (brain), natural sciences (eye)…

    I know that’s not a perfect analogy, but you get what I’m saying… The eye cannot work properly without the brain, and vice versa. And you cannot (well, at the very least, you don’t want to!) experiment and test things in the scientific method without using reason in doing so…

    You talk of ’empirical evidence’ playing a ‘central’ role, and ‘reality’ being the ‘start’ and ‘end’ point… This can only be so, as long as nobody ever thinks about the empirical evidence or tries to explain it. The moment you think about something, (experimentation, testing, comparison, notation) you are employing reason and logic. Reason and logic are (yet another metaphor) like the mortar, holding our bricks (empirical evidence) together…

    And yes, logic and philosophy can be divorced from reality, but I think we agree that they should not be.

    -d-

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  7. Referring to the central role of empirical evidence in modern science doesn’t exclude reasoning and logic – far from it. But we have seen that reason and logic without proper evidence can’t produce a reliable picture of reality.

    However, I think we probably agree on that.

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  8. I blogged not long ago about this very matter.

    I suspect that in your haste to label agnostics as arrogant, you may in fact be guilty of the very same arrogance to which you refer.

    To declare that it is impossible to know something without even attempting an investigation is, to me, arrogant.

    History tells us that in attempting to define a deity, we (i.e. critical thinkers) run into a brick wall when trying to reconcile this with the fluid definitions employed by theists.

    At what point do we become like the investigator in Sagan’s fire-breathing dragon story and give up? How long is a piece of string?

    And is it arrogant to dismiss this historical impasse in such a cavalier fashion?

    We simply can’t construct a testable hypothesis until we have agreement from both sides on what a deity is. And until then, “The God Hypothesis” should really be titled, “The God Speculation”.

    Agnostics don’t just dismiss the idea of ever knowing lightly, you know. But they do know when this activity ceases to be productive.

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  9. Let’s be clear, Dikki, I was referring to philosophical agnosticism – the position that it is not possible to gain knowledge about reality – not to the way people often use this term to apply to their position on belief in a god. No, I don’t think that latter position is arrogant at all.

    However, I do think “the fluid definitions employed by theists” shows that theists are intellectually dishonest, if not arrogant – they claim to have knowledge of an entity which they also claim is impossible to know and therefore impossible to test!

    Of course, the theists who define their god this way – untestable and therefore unknowable (except to them) – are also declaring their agnosticism (at least about a god). Many Christians, for example, may happily say that they are agnostics.

    I guess, my interest is just to deal with the cavalier way people play with ideas of supernaturalism, naturalism, (and the fluid definitions of gods to avoid serious consideration). I have absolutely no problem with people applying the term to themselves. It’s just not a term that describes my beliefs, as explained in the post – and my purpose was to respond to a suggestion that I should call myself an agnostic.

    Hopefully that clarifies my position (Unless of course you also wish to suggest that I should be using the term to describe my own beliefs?).

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  10. Hi Ken,

    You wrote:

    Let’s be clear, Dikki, I was referring to philosophical agnosticism – the position that it is not possible to gain knowledge about reality – not to the way people often use this term to apply to their position on belief in a god. No, I don’t think that latter position is arrogant at all.

    Re-reading your post, I can see the point you made with regards to this. And in that context, I would propose, or even agree that religious agnosticism is probably not the best example you could have chosen. Did you ever think of using solipsism as a better context?

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  11. Ken and Dikki,

    A distinction between types of ‘knowing’ needs to be made. I didn’t ‘know’ my wife until I met her, and I ‘know’ her better now than I did upon first meeting her. Mathematically, however, I ‘know’ that 1+1=2 (for certain values of ‘1’!!!). These are different kinds of ‘knowing’.

    Theists that express a kind of mathematical, test-tube, microscope ‘knowledge’ of God are perhaps being philosophically arrogant, but we’ve all (like Einstein, Newton and more recently Flew) looked at those parts of the universe we can see and gasped and wondered what the origin of it was and how it can be so ordered – and some of us ‘know’ (or assume) that it must have been the result of a cause, force, entity, etc. and we call this (in our hugely varied ways) a ‘god’. This is the beginning of theology…

    But further, atheists are also engaging in theological reflection by their various suggestions that a ‘theos’ does not exist. As we all know, there is no ‘official’ or ‘objective’ definition of a ‘god’, so the question for the atheists or non-theists is what kind of theos do you see as non-existing? That requires thought about the nature or type of the god/theos that you are saying doesn’t exist…

    For example, atheism and pantheism are really not that far apart. Just some quick semantic exploration and/or adjustment and ‘voila’, the athiest and pantheist can join hands…

    Anyway… just a few thoughts…

    -d-

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  12. Dikkii, I guess philosophical agnosticism is solipsism and a practical use of the term is selective solipsism. However, I suspect lots of people use the term loosely because they see it as more “polite” than atheism, as Shermer explains.
    One of my reasons for avoiding the term is that I don’t see why I should, by default, buy into that concept of a god (impossible to know except for the believer). But that’s personal – I don’t go around criticising agnostics or suggesting to them that the term is inappropriate.

    Dale – it’s inappropriate to put Newton, Einstein and Flew together. Newton was clearly a normal believer (and it interfered with his scientific work). Einstein at various times described himself as atheist, agnostic and religious. We probably agree he could be called pantheist. (In the Einsteinian way so am I, but I never use that term). Flew has described his beliefs as deist, certainly not as believing in the traditional Christian god which he describes as some sort of “cosmic Saddam Hussein.”

    Flew’s case is interesting as I wouldn’t think conversions one way or the other should warrant the attention being given. I had never heard of him before and I guess most others hadn’t either. (Now, Dawkins conversion would be news!). However, the conspiracy around how his book was co-authored and handled, and the possible advantage taken of an aged person, does look bad. But there seems to be an attitude among Christian commentators that claiming someone as “on their side” is more important than the truth. Einstein is always being claimed in the same way as Flew is now. I suspect if I described myself as a pantheist I might be claimed as a conversion (“a theist after all”) but my beliefs wouldn’t have changed.

    “what kind of theos do you see as non-existing? “ Isn’t this like saying what kind of phlogiston, or Santa Clause, or fairies, or ghosts do I not believe in? It’s a bit much to ask a non-believer to speculate on what never arises in their contemplation. Now, one can be asked to respond to a specific hypothesis – one can have ideas about that even if we have (at this stage) no way of testing it. My simple answer is I believe no “theos” exists – its up to the questioner to be more specific.

    All atheism say is “I don’t believe in a god,” pantheism is a bit more than that, I think.

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  13. I wasn’t trying to put those three in the same exact, precise basket! (as if I was trying to say they were all fundamentalist Christians!) My goodness, who do you take me for!? 🙂

    I don’t think it’s exaggerating that I simply used their names as examples of people who have given the ‘nod’ (and a considerate, contemplative one) to the idea of a ‘source’, etc. Please don’t over-react to that quite simple, basic statement… 🙂

    On the ‘theos’ thing, why on earth would the questioner bother being more specific if you are already convinced that none of the versions of a ‘theos’ could exist? The statement ‘I believe no ‘theos’ exists’ is a comprehensive statement. It doesn’t just say that one specifically defined version of ‘theos’ does not exist, but rather says that no such ‘kind’ of thing (‘theos’) exists, no? This would either suggest that (a) you have considered all versions of ‘theos’ and found them false, or (b) you have considered all versions of ‘theos’ and lumped their most basic common points into one ‘summary version’, and are making the falsification based on that ‘summary version’.

    In short, you must have been doing quite a bit of ‘theos’-logical reflection to come to that conclusion. You cannot arrive at a negative ‘theos’ analysis without engaging in ‘theos’ology… The statement ‘there is no god’ is a theological statement equally as much as it is philosophical, scientific or otherwise…

    And, interestingly, you note the compatability of Einstein’s alleged ‘pantheism’ with your views concerning an attribute for the order implicit in the universe.

    Again, the semantic merry-go-round spins and spins…

    🙂

    -d-

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  14. “what kind of theos do you see as non-existing?” I’ve never felt the need to postulate a “god’ for consideration but I have certainly considered the philosophical aspect which could be backgrounds to such beliefs, so perhaps I can approach the question that way.

    I guess that almost any “god” concept implies an intelligent creator and perhaps even a guiding force. Most of these definitions (at least the ones I keep coming across) would be “supernatural,” perhaps implying a “reality” outside reality which we don’t have access to. Well, I have made my attitude clear to such concepts – “supernatural” things don’t exist in any meaningful way. Once we say a “supernatural” event has occurred we say it is part of the real world. We then have to consider it that way and if our ideas/theories don’t explain the event we have work to do investigating the phenomena and adjusting our theories. So, given my concept of reality and the nature of the natural world and “material” phenomena (discussed previously) it’s surely understandable that I shouldn’t believe in any of the whole range of “supernatural” god concepts that exist.

    That might rule out most people’s concept of a god. However, one could still imagine a “non-supernatural” creator of our universe. Gregory Benford describes this concept in “Cosm” (and Richard Dawkins alludes to it in “The God Delusion”). My mind is completely open about this, as it should be for any far-fetched concept in science – we are a long way from collecting evidence for this but it is, in principle, capable of being investigated and known. It is not a “supernatural” god. This is the sort of concept which could arise from a deeper understanding of the way the universe was formed – something which is, in principle, capable of being investigated and known. Given the long way we have to go before we can understand such phenomena or “god”, and the fact that most ideas in such situations are going to be wrong (and need evidence for their refinement), I am quite happy to say “I don’t know” and add “but let’s find out”. In the meantime I am also happy not to commit myself to a belief for which I have absolutely no evidence. That’s why I say it’s not a big deal to be an atheist.

    I think that covers almost all existing god concepts?

    However, the really interesting consideration of the “god concept” is not around the question “Does god exist?” but what role does the concept have in our culture, our social evolution, our psychology, our brain and the effect these have in our social arrangements, our political systems and international relations. That’s where the concept has its effect – often in a bad way (religious violence and prejudice), often in a good way (literature, philosophy and ethics).

    Fundamental to me in all this today is not what I believe but how I am treated. Hence my concern about human rights.

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  15. Hi Ken,

    Sorry – had a few busy days…

    I say, the allusion to a ‘creator of the universe’ is not an allusion I hear of very often from people calling themselves atheists. That’s quite remarkable to hear it.

    I too, am quite happy to say that the creator is “non-supernatural”. In fact, the most natural thing for a creator to do would be to… well… create! I still would call the act of creation a miracle (ex nihilo, etc.), but as you know, I feel no need whatsoever to use the problematic language of ‘super’-natural, etc. To me, the act of creation is at once both awesome and a complete eventuality; this amazing act simply had to have happened…

    I do wonder…

    If we can get past all of these words and semantic issues, do we not find ourselves at a point of agreement which also is the most basic point at which all definitions/postulations/ideas of a ‘god’ begin? Is not the most basic concept of any god always to see that ‘god’ as being ‘the’ creator?

    It seems to me that your problem is not that you struggle to imagine an ultimate force, cause, attribute… creator – rather, your problem seems to be with the word ‘god’ and various ideas that have been attached to that word.

    Further, it would not be false at all to say that some theist positions (some types of ‘open theism’ for example) are basically the same as your position, except they are more vocal about the probability of this ‘creator of the universe’…

    Interesting.

    Best regards,

    -d-

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  16. Oh yes, and your mention of human rights is key. I would even say that your deep and abiding interest in this area is… ‘god’ given… 🙂

    For me, the challenge is that working hard at human rights will most necessarily also mean determining (or discovering) human responsibilities. This is not easy – but, alas, nothing worth doing ever is…

    🙂

    -d-

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  17. Yes, a third comment in a row (sorry!)…

    Your comments about ‘supernatural’ events are also very good. If something ‘supernatural’ occurs, then YES, its not that the ‘laws of nature’ are being ‘broken’, rather its that our ‘laws’ probably were too narrow/small/restrictive than they ought to have been. That’s how I would say it, anyway… Phrases like ‘divine intervention’ and most definitions of ‘miracle’ fall into these sorts of problems. Like God creating things to work a certain way, and then negating His original act of creation from time to time, by ‘interrupting’…

    -d-

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  18. I think I may have been misinterpreted. I don’t believe in any god or “creator of the universe”. I am just saying that I am always open to evidence. I think most atheists are. And, no, my position is not the same as any theists – by definition, surely.

    Similarly, I think my views about “supernatural” concepts and the logic and order of reality (and its potential “knowability”)are being twisted. Concepts like “divine intervention” and “God creating things to work a certain way, and then negating His original act of creation from time to time, by ‘interrupting’…” just have no meaning to me. In fact they sound just like the “supernatural” argument to me.

    Now, the claim that human rights are “god given” comes to the root of understanding of morality. It’s a position I disagree with completely. I suggest that we all come to our moral views in the same way – non-theists are just more honest about it. After all “god given” really means determined by (some) men (usually women are kept out of such matters) and justified by claiming they are given to them by a god.

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  19. OK Ken,

    On the compatability of your beliefs with ‘some’ versions of theism (open theism, etc.), I wasn’t trying to put words in your mouth regarding belief in a universe creator. It’s just that the level of ‘open-ness’ was of note. As for ‘evidence’ for such a creator, I think you’ve already named it – ‘the order implicit in the universe’.

    Re: ‘Supernatural’, I think you’ve mis-understood some of what I was saying. I see such language of ‘intervention’ and ‘interruption’ as problematic and confusing (note the word ‘problem’ in my last comment above)… Like you, if something (however rare or unexplainable) happens, then it need not be labeled ‘supernatural’ – it just means our categories might need to be readjusted, etc. Of course, this doesn’t mean that everything everyone says has happened really is being interpreted accurately…

    On ‘god given’, I appreciate your reaction, but I wrote that as a semi-humorous compliment from theist to non-theist… My view is that God doesn’t play favourites; morality is the domain of ALL – not only the ‘religious’! I wouldn’t think you would have much problem with that.

    -d-

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  20. Order implicit in the universe is not evidence of a creator – although I understand some Christian theology does argue for it as a result of a creator – hence a justification for, and acceptance of, modern scientific naturalist methodology.

    Non-theists arrive at the same conclusion without invoking a creator.

    Although I generally have no time for theology, and I do think the use of the above argument to claim that modern science could not arise without Christianity is just Christian chauvinism, I am interested in the argument. It did parallel origins of modern science and could be said to justify the age of reason and enlightenment. However, it seems to me that large sections of Christianity no longer accept this argument. There seems to be a lot of support for the rejection of order implicit in the universe and the theological argument for it. A desire to return to pre-enlightenment days.

    So, I think there are large sections of Christianity rejecting modern science and its methodology (Evolutionary theory is a prominent example but scientific research on mind and consciousness will, I think, be a new conflict).

    Mind you, it’s not just Christianity (and of course other religions, particularly Islam which may be a lot worse). I think there is a common wishful rejection of science and the scientific method amongst many people who call themselves non-religious. Superstition and the supernatural (and the wish to believe in these) seems to me to be very widespread.

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  21. Again – words.

    Fine, the order implicit in the universe is not ‘evidence’ in one sense. But many very wise, educated, learned, rational, intelligent, qualified and non-wacko people have seen this order as ‘pointing to’ or ‘implying’ or ‘suggesting’ or otherwise ‘making evident’ that the universe is the result of a creator. Implying that the creator not only exists, but has manifestly acted at least once in this way. As for if/when/how/where/why this creator has acted since then – well, that is another question.

    I too think it’s arrogant for Christians (or others) to claim that ‘modern science’ (or whatever) would not have ‘happened’ without them. How silly to claim that on one hand, and that God is ‘seen’ because of creation on the other! As if Christians were the only ones that observed reality!

    I do think that the theological doctrine of Creation does affirm, lead to, promote or otherwise endorse scientific study. My view is that God is the Creator and therefore the ultimate, primary cause for the existence of the universe, and (whether we acknowledge or understand or think about or believe in the Creator/Cause) our ability to investigate, think about, theorise, test, experiement, debate, sharpen, etc. about the universe is itself part of the created order, and therefore also created and caused by the Creator. We are not studying the universe detached from it, but as a part of it. We humans are a fine-tuned bit of the universe that has the ‘privilege’ of analysing other bits that don’t have this ‘privilege’!!! Humans thinking about humans, humans thinking about their own brains, humans thinking about rocks, humans thinking about space and time and matter and energy, humans thinking about where it all comes from and why it is the way it is… One bit of ‘it’, thinking about all of ‘it’. And even our ‘thinking’ is a part of mental processes of our brains which are just another ‘bit’ of the universe, etc. Funny huh?

    So anyway, these kinds of thoughts have repeatedly and consistently (dare I say universally?) led humans of all kinds of cultures, mental capacities, social development, etc. to follow all of their wonderings ‘back to the beginning’ and reach the wondering of all wonderings – where, when, how – etc. I’m rambling…

    My point is that the order in the universe really does point toward a force/thing/attribute/god/creator/thing/reason that ‘did’ the ‘order’-ing… an ‘order’-er…

    Gotta run,

    -d-

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  22. “many very wise, educated, learned, rational, intelligent, qualified and non-wacko people have seen this order as ‘pointing to’ or ‘implying’ or ’suggesting’ or otherwise ‘making evident’ that the universe is the result of a creator.” And ditto the other way. Just shows you can’t really use authority as proof for a proposition. We are all capable of selecting this sort of evidence to justify our most cherished beliefs and social customs.

    It’s actually an interesting question – why does the universe have order. I imagine one day we will be able to investigate this and decide for ourselves. I suspect that will put to rest some of the far-fetched conclusions coming out of the anthropic principle. In the meantime it just seems to be a property of matter (defined in the widest possible way) – we just can’t imagine matter without it.

    I think the god/creator concept has very little relevance to these questions though – if only because very few of the scientists working in this area actually hold to, or discuss, those beliefs. These beliefs seem to have social origins. Certainly in this day and age I think the survival (and in some ways reinforcement) of such “pre-scientific” ideas has more to do with human social evolution than fundamental questions of matter (although these concepts get used in justification).

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  23. I disagree that the opposite is true (regarding your ‘ditto’ remark)…

    All it takes is to add the word ‘not’ in my sentence to show what you’re suggesting…

    “many very wise, educated, learned, rational, intelligent, qualified and non-wacko people have seen this order as ‘pointing to’ or ‘implying’ or ’suggesting’ or otherwise ‘making evident’ that the universe is not the result of a creator.”

    Are you suggesting that intelligent people look at the order and say, “This order makes it clear that the universe is not created.” ??? Yes, it’s not ‘proof’ in one sense, but I submit that in logical and deductive sense, this order is certainly closer to making a creator evident than non-evident. You, however, seemed to be suggesting that the order adds nothing more to the case for a creator (no reference to Strobel intended) than it does to the case against one. I can’t see that…

    And of course, anyone who supposes themselves to possess some kind of chemical, material, mathematical assurance of such things might well be accused of some variety of arrogance. But that brings up different nuances of the word ‘knowledge’ again…

    Your second paragraph:
    First, I would want to say that the universe seems not totally ordered at all levels or in all ways. There seems to be quite a lot of chaos as well. This, I think, makes the order seem all the more striking. Should it not be ALL chaotic? But, for some reason, gravity, attraction, forces, energy, etc. help it not to be completely chatoic…
    (of course, the argument could be made that even ‘within’ the chaos, there is order at another level – i.e. atomic. For example, a tsunami seems pretty chaotic, but the water molecules, the gravitational pull shaping the wave, and the other ‘mechanics’ of a tsunami are all functioning in an ‘ordered’ way…)

    Anyway, next you say that the order just seems to be a property of matter, and that we can’t imagine it to be un-ordered. I would add that without matter even existing (without it being created, I would say), we wouldn’t imagine matter at all! 🙂

    On your last paragraph, I ask this question. If a scientist included these beliefs in their discussions of observations, tests, hypotheses, etc., would they keep their job very long? Probably not. Is this not what many are so keen to accuse them of? It’s rather obvious why they do not discuss them, is it not?

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  24. whoops. must have missed a tag… 🙂

    -d-

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  25. Come on – you are playing with words. Some people look at the order and beauty in the universe and see it as evidence of a “creator.” Other people look at the same and don’t see it as evidence of the creator. I am in the latter group, and it is not a minuscule group by any means. Perhaps both groups have their own reasons, prejudices, cultural background which determine their responses.

    By the way – chaos is in itself order, or results in order. Statistical thermodynamics derives thermodynamic laws from consideration of randomly moving particles. Similarly the gas laws. And quantum mechanics despite the apparent apparent randomness of subatomic particles it is based on produces extremely accurate predictions for verification. So I think order shouldn’t be interpreted either in narrow way, or as only a property of independent parcels of matter rather than inherent in the concept of matter itself.

    ” If a scientist included these beliefs in their discussions of observations, tests, hypotheses, etc., would they keep their job very long?” Actually someone like Frank Tippler does express his Christian beliefs, and argues for their proof using fundamental properties of matter and the cosmos, which is his line of research. However, he does this in books rather than in reputable scientific journals. His books no doubt give comfort to his fellow believer, and they may try to use his arguments. Others, including many Christian, will laugh at his attempts (they are pretty far-fetched. He argues, for example that Christ’s atoms were all converted to neutrinos in an instant to explain his “elevation to heaven” – basing this on the postulated theory of spontaneous decomposition of nuclear particles with a postulated half-life greater than the known age of the universe!). Still, he doesn’t lose his job for this silly belief.

    However, in his scientific writings he has to use evidence and reason. That is the nature of science – knowledge has no value in this arena without evidence and reason (This does not rule out provocative argument and speculation. But I think it must rule out the supernatural by definition). People who arbitrarily throw untestable, unsupported, supernatural beliefs into their scientific work would quickly lose credibility. They wouldn’t be doing science anymore.

    My point is that it is people like Tippler (whatever their religious beliefs) who would be seeing any real evidence of the importance of a “creator.” They are the ones dealing with the fundamental nature of matter and its origins.

    Tippler’s religious beliefs presumably come from experiences outside his scientific investigations. I think, though, that the fact that Tippler is the exception among scientists undertaking this sort of investigation does suggest that very few people at that level get their religious belief by seeing evidence for a “creator” in their work.

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  26. And I’m simply saying that the order points more towards an ‘order-er’ than it points away from one… (to say nothing of the silly idea of ‘proving’ such a thing)

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  27. Well, I think we just have to agree to disagree on that – inevitably such assertions, like beauty, are “in the eye of the beholder.”

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  28. I suppose agreeing to disagree shouldn’t be too surprising when a non-theist and a theist talk! 🙂

    -d-

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  29. Pingback: Agnostic/atheist labels « Open Parachute

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