Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Dialogue With an Agnostic on the "Logic of God," Science, Axioms, & Biases (vs. Dr. Jan Schreurs)

[Compiled from e-mail exchanges between myself and Jan Schreurs, June 1999]

Dr. Schreurs' words will be in green.

* * * * *

What we feel God would or would not do is a prejudice (preconceived idea) if it is not based on logic or testing. If we reason it out with solid logic, it remains a bias but it is no longer a prejudice.

I agree, except that you leave out revelation, and attesting miracles, for some reason, which the Christian can never do. Typically, the secularist looks at reality only (or primarily) from the empirical plane. You may no longer believe in miracles or revelation, but we do, so your countering thoughts should at least take that into consideration for the sake of argument. Furthermore, these things can be tested in many ways. Look at the scientific testing, e.g., on the Shroud of Turin, or the many known cases of incorrupt saints, up to hundreds of years after their deaths (St. Bernadette is one; Fr. Solanus Casey, a local Detroit priest who may be canonized is another - he died in the late 50s).

The Bible has faced every imaginable scrutiny (oftentimes from fundamentally hostile, predisposed, and unreasonable critics) and has held its own - far more than I could say for evolution, if I do say so. Archaeology, e.g., is a clear example of a science applied to the trustworthiness of the Bible. And it has only helped our case, believe me. Furthermore, I say that the traditional cosmological and teleological arguments - empirical proofs for God - are stronger than ever in light of the utter evolutionary failure to explain origins and design in a materialistic fashion. So there is a very real sense in which Christianity is more empirically verified than evolutionary science is.

I wasn’t aware that I had excluded revelation and miracles in what came before this, but I was leading up to that anyway, so we may as well tackle it here.

An example of my aggressive "anticipatory" style of argumentation. :-)

A logical creator would not interfere in his own creation.

On what logical (let alone empirical) basis do you believe this and deign to make such a statement? As it is, you are merely arguing in a circle - presupposing the deistic position (as opposed to theism). "God wouldn't do x." - "Why?" - "Because that ain't how God should logically act!" Etc. Job 42:1-3.

If he needs to because it is flawed, he isn’t the omnipotent and omniscient creator you suppose he is.

This doesn't follow (rejecting your rhetorical deistic premise), as omnipotence refers to the power to do whatever God chooses to do. An omnipotent Being may choose to permit things for the eventual greater good in the long run - a sort of "divine utilitarianism" if you will (though that is surely a very poor analogy - I speak anthropomorphically here). Nor does omniscience necessarily rule out "flaws" brought in due to human free will, rebellion, ungratefulness, pride, and sin. An omniscient Being may very well possess knowledge (we say He certainly does) about why allowing sin is better than not allowing it. By definition, such a God knows far more than we do, which is why it is fundamentally silly and illogical to make statements such as your "A logical creator would not interfere in his own creation." I know you don't believe in our God, but that's beside the point. You need to at least make your arguments within our presuppositions (if you desire for them to be either relevant or thought-provoking or effective). I thought your task was to refute our view. You can't do that by smuggling in another view (deism) and then acting as if it were ours, or that it refutes our apologetic.

If he does because he wants to, he wants something the way people who invent gadgets want something (comfort, timesavings, wealth, recognition, admiration, love, etc.) Didn’t Aquinas say that God can have no desires?

He does whatever He does because He loves us (because He is love), and wants to see us saved. God is entirely self-sufficient and self-existent (He needs nothing, and is unchangeable), but that doesn't rule out His love for His creatures, as love is first and foremost a will for another to prosper, have the best life possible, grow spiritually, etc.

Still, you offer arguments in support of divine intervention. Those arguments do not address the logic of intervention by a perfect creator, but whether your God did or did not intervene.

When you give me some logic and reason why you presuppose a deistic god, I will give you the Christian reasons for our view. We're both in the same boat epistemologically in that sense, though of course I accept revelation, whereas you don't.

It seems that you are willing to prove that God is illogical.

Not at all. I'll let the Calvinists do that. :-)

On the other hand, your arguments may be no good.

Really? That's a surprise to me . . .

If God is illogical, there is no way we are going to recognize him based on reasoning. Besides, even if we figure out his wishes for today, there is no way to know what he will want tomorrow.

Agreed; except that the latter assertion applies even if God is logical (His thoughts and ways being far higher than ours).

If God’s logic were so far above ours, we would not recognize his logic and our logic won’t help us at all.

Not His logic: his "thoughts and ways."

God presumably gave us all the logic we need to recognize him when he speaks and acts. So, even if God’s logic is superior to what he gave us, he will say or do nothing [that is intended for our consumption] that we cannot comprehend with the logic he gave us. Else he is in the business of tricking us or hiding from us (see below).

He reveals Himself, but it is foolish to think that we could completely understand everything an infinite, omniscient being says and does.

If God is logical, and powerful enough to have created us, there is no way we are going to recognize him if he tries to hide from us.

Agreed; but He hasn't hidden from us at all - taking the long view of salvation history.

And if he sets out to fool us, he can have us any minute of any day. So we must assume that, if God tries to persuade us, he will use solid logic, which he gave us the power to master. You can take it from there.

He does; God's logic is no different than ours, since logic is an absolute (or, universal - whichever is the preferred philosophical description). That's why God can't make a rock so big that He can't lift it, because that is logical nonsense in relation to an omnipotent being. Hence even God can't "supersede" logic. It is simply the ironclad law of the relationships of ideas.

That’s the difference between prejudice and bias. All prejudices are biases, but not all biases are prejudices.

Agreed.

You may argue that logic itself is biased. And so it is. It is biased toward useful conclusions from proven premises (in prior theorems). That's deliberate.

Logis is simply what it is: the inherent and intrinsic rules of the relationships of ideas to each other.

You may phrase it that way, but I see great dangers lurking. Everything is what it is, no? But logic is a construct of the human mind.

Saying that two planets cannot be in the same space at the same time is not merely in my mind. That is a rule involving both logic and physics. I can't be you and myself at the same time. Same thing. You know: a = a.

It comes in kinds and flavors [e.g. two-valued logic versus three-valued logic].

Well, that's over my head.

Contrast that with something like gravity. No matter which theory of gravity we embrace [some erroneous] the thing itself remains unchanged.

So do the basic rules of syllogistic logic, no?

In short, the various logic systems and math systems are deductive systems based on a bias of people who seek useful conclusions rather than just any statement that could be selected from a list by a random number generator (RNG), for example. Selection by RNG would be unbiased. Reasoning with logic is biased.

I think logic represents an objective reality "out there," not just in our heads.

And even more interesting than the axioms are the rules of inference we accept, but they usually aren’t discussed in introductory logic courses.

Yes; this and the tabula rasa issue: questions concerning the supposed "certainty" of logical positivism and empiricism.

Ultimately, of course, all those theorems derive from freely accepted axioms and rules of inference.

Yes; how to arrive at the axioms is the truly intellectually interesting thing. Logic isn't particularly interesting in and of itself, any more than gravity or molecular properties are. They just are.

But, as Galileo argued against Aristotle, for that very reason logic alone is not sufficient. Our axioms may be wrong. And then even the best logic will lead to incorrect conclusions.

Oh, I agree. And I strongly suspect that Aristotle would, too. No doubt, he was caricatured by his critics, just as we Christians routinely are by our alleged secular "superiors." His later follower St. Thomas Aquinas is always slandered by our Orthodox friends.

Aristotle would have agreed with Galileo if he had all the data Galileo had. But Aristotle was adamant that his logic could solve problems absolutely when data were not to be had. And there he was wrong. And there Aquinas was wrong too. And that is why we call Galileo the father of modern science.

By the way, if some of us misrepresent Aristotle, the scholastics did so far more. Galileo always defended Aristotle against the misrepresentations of the peripatetics. That, of course, while refuting Aristotle’s physics. But Galileo had great respect for Aristotle’s original approach and pioneering trailblazing. It took a genius to get as far as Aristotle did in his days, twenty centuries earlier. But Galileo had little respect for the slavish followers who hadn’t used their eyes and ears since.

No particular comment . . .

So how do we distinguish good axioms from bad? Aha! We test our axioms directly or indirectly when we can. Now, in geometry and the mathematical arts, we cannot test all axioms directly. But we can test the resulting theorems. An example of that is the axiom of parallel lines. Depending on how we postulate the meeting of parallel lines, we get three equally valid geometries [of which we study only Euclidean in high school].

Yes.

Another form of testing is looking for refutations of inductive rules. Once we spot a flying reindeer, our inductive generalization that no reindeer will ever fly goes into the wastebasket.

Indeed. And when we confirm a miracle, the typical scientific disbelief in the possibility of that also goes into the basket. David Hume's argument against miracles - much as it is trumpeted by secularists - was hardly compelling. And remember, Hume was a theist himself, who put forth a version of the teleological argument, if I remember correctly.

Show me one miracle that has been confirmed, as you put it. But yes, the inductive proposition [no miracle ever occurred or will occur] is refuted by one undisputed instance of a miracle.

There are many, many. One famous one at present is the healing of Mother Angelica's legs. There are hundreds of medically-documented miracles. I have some interesting material along those lines in my files. Of course there is the Resurrection, too.

I doubt that we can go into all the subtleties of testing and measuring here, or that we even need to.

But it will involve philosophy and religion at some point, just as evolution itself does.

Hmm… I see how philosophy of measurement might get involved, just as philosophy of science necessarily gets involved when we do science. I’m not quite sure how religion needs to come into play in testing and measuring. Perhaps you can elaborate?

Our philosophy is bound to influence even the way we test a phenomena whose possible category we have ruled out from the outset (or at least show a marked hostility towards its possibility).

I’m only trying to clarify the ideas involved. And the idea is that the tests are objective.

More or less. :-)

Note also that philosophy of science and science go hand in hand. It is only after doing science for a while that we can adjust any preconceived notions we had about science, perhaps inherited from a theoretician who never set foot in a lab. Then we do some more science and make some more adjustments to the philosophy, if needed.

Fair enuff.

They are objective in the sense that their results do not depend on my biases or on yours. That is the strength of science.

But obviously the data is often "slanted" to fit into (unproven) preconceived notions in evolutionary theory, whereas I and other critics don't see that many conclusions follow which we are told do follow. Perhaps you say we are dense, or severely biased. I say we are simply being consistently scientific (and yes, theistic) in our outlook.

All right, even tests can be slanted toward desired results (opinion polls, for example).

This is what I meant.

But scientists do their best to avoid such slanted tests since they are not in the interest of the desired result (usually), which is useful information. When you get clearly slanted tests, in almost all cases that I know of, the tests were not designed by professional scientists but by amateurs who like to claim that their “tests” are scientific.

I can see that.

I don’t have that experience with tests. I suspect that you are referring to reports in the popular literature of lab tests or of field tests. They usually get it wrong. I have been cited by many journalists, after a phone interview or a personal interview, on results that had nothing to do with evolution/creation, and they invariably got the science wrong. At first I couldn’t understand why. But after half a dozen times, I resigned myself to the fact that journalists just don’t understand science.

Ah! Now your pronounced dislike of Muggeridge comes more clearly into focus.

And that is why it is science (and engineering) that has given us all these neat gadgets that we take for granted today.

Those things are proven (as to scientific validity) by the fact that they actually work. The proof is in the pudding. That is real, basic, fundamental, practical science - the understanding and application of physics and properties. Evolutionary theory, on the other hand, is a bunch of ungrounded and unproven grand theories and hypotheses (philosophical and quasi-religious in nature) all mixed in together, with little regard for actual testing and falsifiability (and of course, the prior - unnecessary - hostility to a possible Creator, which we have discussed at length).

Magnetism and electrostatic charging were known to the ancient Greeks, but not understood. So no useful gadgets or machines were produced based on them. It is only in the 18th century that pioneers dared defy traditional explanations and started to develop more rational theories, first as ungrounded and unproven grand theories and hypotheses just like the evolution ideas you despise so much. That, however, led to better testing and better theories and finally to an electromagnetic theory that we couldn’t live without today.

Now, when it comes to guesswork (what hypotheses are in the early stages) I would have far more confidence in the guesswork done by trained and seasoned scientists than in the guesswork done by trained and seasoned historians, journalist, jurists, artists etc. when the matter to be guessed about involves nature. Is that unreasonable?

No. But it is unreasonable for scientists to overstep their academic and philosophical bounds, and start usurping the functions of both philosophy and religion, in terms of ultimates and origins in particular.

When you say that scientists are so proud of their objectivity and you disapprove of their arrogance, you are probably misunderstanding them.

I have seen real arrogance time and again. That is not a misunderstanding. Nor is it confined to scientists, of course. All intellectuals and academics (including Christian ones, and clergymen) are prone to it. But there is a pride in allegedly superior knowledge (or shall I say "wisdom?"). It shows in the way such people discuss religion - the very examples they give which they find compelling as disproofs of Christianity and/or theism (and you manifest some of the same sort of insubstantial examples in this very letter). We see it constantly in the mass media, in how Christianity (particularly Catholicism) is belittled and mocked, and dismissed as a childish mediƦval holdover. Yet any fashionable idiocy such as TM or astrology or radical feminism or radical environmentalism is treated seriously, even though they don't possess 1/100th of the proofs behind them that Christianity has.

I know of no serious scientist (and I know hundreds of them) who takes astrology or New Age fads seriously.

Good.

Feminism and environmentalism are different animals. But I suppose that the epithet “radical” implies irrationality and then any scientist would agree with you (shades of "fanatical" in another context?).

Hopeful . . . :-)

I’m not sure what you mean by TM so I can’t comment on that.

Transcendental Meditation. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; the guy the Beatles were obsessed with till he was caught with Mia Farrow's sister. That turned off Lennon, so that he became a peacenik and then a Marxist radical (consistency or constancy not being one of his distinguishing marks).

They know how gullible and biased we all are (they included). That’s precisely why they rely on objective tests to assist them in sorting the wheat from the chaff.

But of what use is that objective evidence if it is so distorted and minimized, as in evolution? This is why I have maintained for 17 years now that evolutionary science is not all science, but a mixture of science and false (non-theistic) philosophy and wild inductive leaps, akin to religious faith in the misguided zeal and almost fanatical resistance to disproof which its "true believers" exhibit.

And what you find in the mass media is not usually scientific opinion. We are as amazed by what journalists and pop fiction writers tell us as you are.

Judging from their obscene treatment of Christians, conservatives, and pro-lifers. no media innacuracy or incompetence in fact-reporting would ever surprise me.

I said you probably misunderstand the scientists. Another possibility is that you don’t even know what the scientists really say, seeing it only through the filters of mass media.

I see what they have said about the (inadequacy of) evidence for evolution . . .

. . . But I would trust scientists far more than any other class of people when it comes to selecting credible reports about matters concerning nature’s workings and laws.

But of course; as this is their area of expertise. But by the same token, it is not necessarily the scientist who will believe in or understand an out-of-the-ordinary transcending of these laws by a miracle. Scientists don't study the supernatural, by and large. Likewise, it is not their place to be making pronouncements that the supernatural does not exist.

In other words, faith yes, blind faith no. Educated guesses yes, prejudiced guesses no.

In this we are one.

Oops! I hope you remember that educated guesses are biased guesses but not prejudiced guesses?

:-) Hopefully!

By contrast, I have letters in my file from theologians and apologists trying to explain to me why God does not want to be tested or why we cannot test the Catholic claims about the Eucharist, for example. A God who refuses to be tested is not a logical God.

There is a sense in which both things are true. We ought to believe, based on what we already know, and not demand proof all the time (after all, what is faith in the first place? It isn't just the end result of a syllogism). On the other hand, God certainly has given proofs of Himself, in miracles, in the Resurrection, in fulfilled prophecies, in the time-honored wisdom of the moral teaching of the Bible, in changed lives, in the cultural fruit which Christianity has produced (including science itself), etc.

Thanks for a challenging reply to the bias/prejudice/objectivity issue.

You're welcome.

I break it down in pieces because each needs separate detailed argumentation. I hope my division is agreeable to you and that who is writing is obvious from my format.

I can always tell. You are very inventive in such matters. :-)

Let’s look at your arguments briefly.

1. Shroud of Turin. No proof that it was the body of Jesus. Thousands were crucified like Jesus was. Age of cloth in serious question, not because of test results (they put it consistently in the Middle Ages) but because the samples may have been poorly chosen by Church authorities. We have a good idea how the image was made, but it requires a warm body wrapped in medicinal herbs. In other words, the man was crucified but taken off the cross before he died. Then he was treated to heal his wounds. Other medical evidence indicates the body was not in rigor mortis.

I didn't expect you to accept any such possible evidence, because you are a Doubting Thomas (and far worse than that in terms of excessive skepticism). I was giving you the reasons why we believe what we do.

2. Incorrupt bodies of saints. I hadn’t heard about Fr. Solanus before. Would his body by any chance be displayed in a glass-wood shrine instead of being buried like everyone else?

Not that I know of. He is under the ground.

The only cases of “incorrupt” bodies I know of are bodies that have been preserved in fairly airtight cases and not exposed to normal decay processes in open air or in the ground.

So you are saying that being in a vacuum would prevent bodily decay (I'm asking; I don't know - I would have thought not)?

And even if you look at those “incorrupt” bodies, they are not a pretty sight. There is nothing “incorrupt” about them. Unless you call mummies in the pyramids incorrupt too, and why aren’t they saints also?

They are a far cry from mummies. :-) Give me a break. So it looks like your only reply here is the "airtight" one (i.e., in the physics sense, not logically LOLOL).

3. Scrutiny of the Biblical accounts. Even Christians don’t agree on many details of what the Bible says.

So what? As I have stated, you can find a "Christian" who will believe anything these days. I couldn't care less about what some liberal "Christian" claims is the true Christian teaching. I trace my beliefs back to the Apostles and Jesus, just as the early Christians did.

Luke and Matthew are in clear contradiction on events surrounding the birth of Jesus.

Yeah? Prove it!

Six accounts of the Resurrection in the NT are incompatible.

Prove it.

Three conversion stories of Paul are incompatible. Etc. etc.

Forget the "etc's" (though they would no doubt be great fun to explore with you too). Just prove the three you have cited. I want to know if your statements have any backbone, or if they are without real substance (as I strongly suspect).

4. Archeology. You’re right that some passages in the Bible agree with archeological evidence. I know a lot of books that agree far better though.

Like what? And how old are those books?

What you show with this argument is that the writers did rely on their own history and sometimes even on events they witnessed. It has no bearing on what God did or did not do.

God entered into history, taking on human flesh in the Incarnation. This is the whole point.

5. Cosmology and teleology. Those concern proofs of existence, not of divine intervention once God created.

It's not quite that simple, because we Christians say that God continually "sustains all things by his powerful word" (Heb 1:3; NRSV). What science can never prove or disprove is the fact that God created the natural laws (and the universe) which science presupposes and studies, and that He allows them to continue in uniformitarian fashion (excepting miracles). This is a continual involvement in His own creation. Again, of course you reject that outright, but to believe it requires no violation whatever of the laws of science as we know them, and it is just as good an explanation (I think, far better) of the origins of such order as the atheist view of spontaneous order (and diversity) arising out of nothing, chaos (the Big Bang), and then the homogeneity of hydrogen atoms. In other words, Omnipotent Matter in place of Omnipotent God. The former axiom is no more provable than the latter. Why, then, do you materialist scientists assume that it is? On what basis?

Even if we accept the reasoning as proof [many don’t] there is no way to conclude from there that the God of the Bible is the God whose existence was proved. My logic argument would say it isn’t the God of the Bible.

True; they are two different propositions. I would say such arguments are logically consistent with the biblical God. I have never claimed more for the argument than that. It is a philosophical argument for theism, not a Christian apologetic argument, strictly speaking.

6. Other miracles. Ancient texts are full of descriptions of miracles that even Christians don’t accept. The miracles that the Christians do accept have no more proof going for them than the ones they reject.

What would be an example of a miracle which you would accept - please describe for me sufficient evidence and proof to make you believe the event had happened.

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