A Thought Experiment

 

I used to subscribe to Skeptic magazine. I love science. I enjoyed reading the likes of Martin Gardner, the former Mathematical Games columnist of Scientific American. Martin was then replaced by Douglas Hofstadter who was even more brilliant. (His books are powerful play for mathematical/musical/linguistic minds, especially the original Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid.)

I also enjoyed James Randi, Isaac Asimov, and Michael Shermer.

Yet none of them believe in the Soul or in God. They can look at a little girl holding a doll, and feel nothing odd or irrational in pointing at the doll and saying, “That has obviously been designed by a creative mind” and then point at the girl and declare, “That is not the result of a design by a creative mind.”

I finally had to end my subscription to Skeptic. Why? I simply got tired of the rather sloppy, hypocritical, unscientific attacks on believers in Soul or God.

Specifically, I got tired of rationalists who could attack the leap of faith (and anecdotal experiences) of many Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and others, when these same rationalists failed to recognize their own leap of faith denying the existence of Soul or God.

I can understand if they say there is no scientific proof, and that they simply do not know. But they abdicate their right to claim to be scientific when they declare that there is no Soul or God.

The Micro-Scientific Method

Many authorities, particularly rationalists, insist that reality is best explained consistently through the Scientific Method of experimentation. Anecdotal evidence is always suspect, so consistent results of experiments conducted by a variety of researchers offer better evidence for the truth of a proposition. Never mind that science is essentially a series of anecdotal experiences.

(Really, when was the last time you had direct, first-hand experience with anything “scientifically proven”? Almost all that you believe to be scientifically proven is really based on the authority of anecdotal stories. How often have you opened the newspaper only to discover that the latest studies show that all previous studies are wrong? How often have you believed the new anecdotal scientific story has proven that the previous anecdotal scientific story is wrong? Is your belief “scientific”?)

I call this the Macro-Scientific Method. It’s the staple of our media diet of statistics and research and studies. It carves out a very particular, very narrow domain of experience and declares that to be truth. Don’t get me wrong. The Macro-Scientific method goes far in the “hard sciences” in revealing material truths. Especially when it comes to medical science.

But there is also a Micro-Scientific Method, which carves out a far larger domain of experience and truth. This Method centers on one’s own personal experience rather than on authoritative studies.

I know what thoughts I had 10 minutes ago. What those thoughts are can only be known by me. I cannot scientifically prove them to anyone. If I tell anyone, that’s declared to be anecdotal. But they’re still true.

The hubris of the rationalists at Skeptic magazine is that they can selectively negate all that is provable through the Micro-Scientific Method, through direct, personal knowing. To negate Soul and God and everything else outside the scientific domain, all that they have to do is start from the position that nothing is true except what is scientifically provable. It’s a perfect gotcha.

Why not start from the position that everything is possible, and only negate what is scientifically proven not to be so?

Oops. Sorry. That would allow too much possibility.

The Two Traditions

We dwell in the western tradition that goes back to the Greeks. We center ourselves in the philosophical tradition that starts with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and goes through Augustine, Erasmus, Bacon, Descartes, Newton, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Mill, Darwin, Marx, Freud, James, Wittgenstein, and Turing.

The philosophical tradition is primarily one of interpreting reality with the mind.

The other tradition is the initiatory tradition. This is the tradition of enlightenment, conversion, direct knowing, revelation, learning from the feet of an inspired master, or directly from Spirit of God or something.

The initiatory tradition bypasses the mind and supplies knowing directly, through some kind of direct experience, often inexplicable, beyond language, and sometimes sending someone into such a state that rationalists want to lock them away. It’s very unscientific because it’s exceedingly personal and unprovable to others.

The initiatory tradition interprets truth outside the mind. Perhaps directly by this thing called Soul.

Of course many people combine both traditions into any number of combinations.

People, especially rationalists, look at this world and the so-called problem of evil (most often encapsulated in the statement, How can a God allow children to suffer?) and declare that there can be no God. There is no way to reconcile a loving God with the nature of this world.

Maybe not. But let’s try an experiment.

Forget all that you know. Forget all that you believe regarding science and religion and philosophy. Detach yourself from your cherished anchor points. Try this thought experiment:

Suppose you were an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being. Suppose you had the impulse to create. The question that begins the thought experiment is simple.

What would you create?

And then ask yourself, Is there a divinely inspired construction that provides a lovingly grand reason for suffering and also ensures that every Soul makes it?

Relax. It’s only a thought experiment.

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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  1. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    The raising of natural philosophy (AKA Science) over all other philosophy is a grave error. You are doing a great job here on noting that there is real human experience.

    I have up on Skeptical Inquirer when they decided that Anthropogenic Global Warming was real, despite the purveyors of that nonsense engaging in the very sorts of manipulation of data the SI would complain about in say, Uri Geller.

    As far as putting myself into the shoes of God? I Cannot because I am not an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being. To Quote God:

     

    38 Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

    2 “Who is this that obscures my plans
        with words without knowledge?
    3 Brace yourself like a man;
        I will question you,
        and you shall answer me.

    4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
    5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
    6 On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
    7 while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels[a] shouted for joy?

    A being who is as you described cannot be known or understood. Most atheists’ don’t like God as It must be, so they reject It.

    • #1
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Wonderful post, Mark. Rich and inspiring. Thank you.

    • #2
  3. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Mark Alexander: I can understand if they say there is no scientific proof, and that they simply do not know. But they abdicate their right to claim to be scientific when they declare that there is no Soul or God.

    Precisely. This is why I call myself an agnostic, rather than an atheist, and why I’m more frustrated by scientifically literate unbelievers who cast aspersions on faith than I am about believers who attempt to invoke science in defense of their theology. Both are doing it wrong, but at least one should understand the limits and appropriate application of science.

    • #3
  4. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    In addition to the two traditions you mention is the praxeologic tradition.  

    It was named by its most prominent proponent, Ludwig von Mises.  It subsumes experimental science as a special case of a broader scientific method. One could say that it divides your philosophical tradition into two mutually exclusive traditions: Platonic idealism and Copernican/Kantian realism.

    • #4
  5. KevinKrisher Coolidge
    KevinKrisher
    @KevinKrisher

    There can be no scientific proof of the existence or non-existence of God, because the existence of God is not a testable scientific hypothesis. 

    Here’s a thought experiment. What would you accept as absolute, indisputable proof of God? Please keep in mind that it would have to prove the existence of the Creator of the universe, and could not be a manifestation of, say, an extraordinarily powerful and previously unknown alien race.

    Can’t come up with one? Nobody else can either.

    There’s plenty of evidence for the existence of God, and it’s perfectly rational to believe on the basis of a preponderance of the evidence. But proof that is scientific, or that meets a similarly high standard of evidence? That is almost certainly beyond mortal humanity’s capability.

     

    • #5
  6. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Very good post, Mark.  Nearly every word is quotable.  Especially “But they abdicate their right to claim to be scientific when they declare that there is no Soul or God.”

    I would say that God is Spirit.  I haven’t found a good definition of spirit, but we can get close to an understanding of what it is not.  It is not necessarily created, and it is immaterial, but it can create both that which is spiritual and material.  Spirit has facets (some of which translate into speech poorly) such as love, truth, creativity, power, authority, immortality, reason (including perhaps science and math, if it can ever be fully understood by finite minds), language, justice, anger and hatred, compassion, passion, prudence, patience, providence, and communion; all of these are immaterial: they cannot be weighed and scrutinized, but they can be perceived and experienced.

    It is a curious omission that among human beings, science — aside from not being able to weigh these things — does not even recognize them.

    • #6
  7. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Mark Alexander:

    Specifically, I got tired of rationalists who could attack the leap of faith (and anecdotal experiences) of many Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and others, when these same rationalists failed to recognize their own leap of faith denying the existence of Soul or God.

    Not to mention that faith, whether or not it’s a leap, is trust, and that trust in the Uniformity of Nature or in the Principle of Induction (either or both, but it’s got to be at least one!) is the foundation of science.

    • #7
  8. Roderic Reagan
    Roderic
    @rhfabian

    Mark Alexander: People, especially rationalists, look at this world and the so-called problem of evil (most often encapsulated in the statement, How can a God allow children to suffer?) and declare that there can be no God. There is no way to reconcile a loving God with the nature of this world.

    God loves us, but He created us with independent minds and free will, which made it inevitable that we’d grow apart from Him.  That is, that we’d sin.  The nature of sin is that often innocent people are hurt.  But if we have free will then our choices must stand, otherwise there is no free will.  

    And so it is that over the centuries all of creation has become corrupted by our bad choices even to the extent of diseases arising that kill millions, and suffering abounds.  It will not be corrected until Christ returns.  Even then there are many men and women, perhaps most, who will choose not to return to God. 

    God does not cause people to suffer.  People cause people to suffer.    He does not send people to Hell.  They send themselves.  

    • #8
  9. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    In addition to the two traditions you mention is the praxeologic tradition.

    It was named by its most prominent proponent, Ludwig von Mises. It subsumes experimental science as a special case of a broader scientific method.

    Max Planck observed that science progresses one funeral at a time.

    • #9
  10. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Mark Alexander:

    Suppose you were an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being. Suppose you had the impulse to create. The question that begins the thought experiment is simple.

    What would you create?

    The androids from Nier Automata obviously. Also, Chinese unicorns. 

    • #10
  11. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):
    Nier Automata

    One review of the game says this. Is it justified?

    Just as Shakespeare wrote plays of genius masquerading as entertainment for the masses, so Yoko Taro has crafted an epic work of genius under the guise of “just another action hack and slash”. After having played through 45 hours and having seen all five of the main endings (and having my save file deleted by the game…wait, what?!), I am here to tell you that there are going to need to publish new editions of “1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die”, because this is one of the greatest games ever made. Yeah, yeah, overblown hyped-up hyperbole much? Well this game sold all of what, 2 million copies in a YEAR, when say, Horizon Zero Dawn sold more than that in about a MONTH. So yes, my ridiculous yelling about how good this game is, is COMPLETELY justified.

    • #11
  12. navyjag Lincoln
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    Way above my pay grade.  I was raised a Catholic. In Catholic schools through high school. With the 6:30 masses crushing my knees in the pews in my monastery HS when I was 15. Did I miss anything?

    • #12
  13. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    KevinKrisher (View Comment):

    There can be no scientific proof of the existence or non-existence of God, because the existence of God is not a testable scientific hypothesis.

    Here’s a thought experiment. What would you accept as absolute, indisputable proof of God? Please keep in mind that it would have to prove the existence of the Creator of the universe, and could not be a manifestation of, say, an extraordinarily powerful and previously unknown alien race.

    Can’t come up with one? Nobody else can either.

    There’s plenty of evidence for the existence of God, and it’s perfectly rational to believe on the basis of a preponderance of the evidence. But proof that is scientific, or that meets a similarly high standard of evidence? That is almost certainly beyond mortal humanity’s capability.

     

    This is basically Dr. Peterson’s point. Without faith, nothing can prove to you the existence of God.

    • #13
  14. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    KevinKrisher (View Comment):
    There’s plenty of evidence for the existence of God, and it’s perfectly rational to believe on the basis of a preponderance of the evidence. But proof that is scientific, or that meets a similarly high standard of evidence? That is almost certainly beyond mortal humanity’s capability.

    Oh, I’d say it meets a plenty high standard of evidence. Better than most science even. It’s just not the same thing as science.

    • #14
  15. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    KevinKrisher (View Comment):
    There’s plenty of evidence for the existence of God, and it’s perfectly rational to believe on the basis of a preponderance of the evidence. But proof that is scientific, or that meets a similarly high standard of evidence? That is almost certainly beyond mortal humanity’s capability.

    Oh, I’d say it meets a plenty high standard of evidence. Better than most science even. It’s just not the same thing as science.

    Let’s spend the next 8 pages arguing about exactly what you mean by that. 

    • #15
  16. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    KevinKrisher (View Comment):
    There’s plenty of evidence for the existence of God, and it’s perfectly rational to believe on the basis of a preponderance of the evidence. But proof that is scientific, or that meets a similarly high standard of evidence? That is almost certainly beyond mortal humanity’s capability.

    Oh, I’d say it meets a plenty high standard of evidence. Better than most science even. It’s just not the same thing as science.

    I’m not a religious scholar nor an expert on Christian doctrine. Doesn’t scripture inform Christians that faith is required because there are things of God that are not for us to know?

    • #16
  17. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    KevinKrisher (View Comment):
    There’s plenty of evidence for the existence of God, and it’s perfectly rational to believe on the basis of a preponderance of the evidence. But proof that is scientific, or that meets a similarly high standard of evidence? That is almost certainly beyond mortal humanity’s capability.

    Oh, I’d say it meets a plenty high standard of evidence. Better than most science even. It’s just not the same thing as science.

    Let’s spend the next 8 pages arguing about exactly what you mean by that.

    The first two sentences are summarized by two words: epistemic parity.

    The third sentence: I explain here, but it is indeed several pages.

    • #17
  18. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    KevinKrisher (View Comment):
    There’s plenty of evidence for the existence of God, and it’s perfectly rational to believe on the basis of a preponderance of the evidence. But proof that is scientific, or that meets a similarly high standard of evidence? That is almost certainly beyond mortal humanity’s capability.

    Oh, I’d say it meets a plenty high standard of evidence. Better than most science even. It’s just not the same thing as science.

    I’m not a religious scholar nor an expert on Christian doctrine. Doesn’t scripture inform Christians that faith is required because there are things of God that are not for us to know?

    I’d have to say “Yes.”

    That is–if “know” means having some solid comprehension or knowing firsthand or something like that.

    If it just means something like having a justified or warranted true belief, that’s different.  More here and here.

    • #18
  19. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    KevinKrisher (View Comment):
    There’s plenty of evidence for the existence of God, and it’s perfectly rational to believe on the basis of a preponderance of the evidence. But proof that is scientific, or that meets a similarly high standard of evidence? That is almost certainly beyond mortal humanity’s capability.

    Oh, I’d say it meets a plenty high standard of evidence. Better than most science even. It’s just not the same thing as science.

    I’m not a religious scholar nor an expert on Christian doctrine. Doesn’t scripture inform Christians that faith is required because there are things of God that are not for us to know?

    Yes, that’s certainly part of it.  Faith and belief are essentially the same word, or have the same meaning.  First of all God wants to be simply believed when He says something.  Faith also has a stronger connotation of a future happening, of a future fulfillment of an expectation, such as the sun rising, or the boat floating, or the fulfillment of a promise, such as a resurrection to immortal incorruptible bodies after death.

    There are also what are called “mysteries” which are unrevealed or potentially unknowable truths that we must believe or have faith in their existence without seeing them, but being assured that they are true nonetheless.

    • #19
  20. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    There are more ways of knowing truth than natural philosophy AKA Science. The idea that only science can tell us truth is, of course, nonsense. It is elementary nonsense believed strongly, with no evidence, by very smart people who put great stock in evidence. 

    I find it fascinating, for instance, the atheists who are convinced we are living in a simulation because of a logic chain. There is no evidence of this at all. Indeed, it would be impossible to prove in a good simulation. But they believe it nonetheless while scoffing at faith in God. 

    The same sort of thing goes for the infinite universe assertation. We can’t prove it, we have no evidence of it, but people have faith in it. They are in fact driven to it in part because our universe seems so perfectly tuned for us to exist. By having an infinite amount of these things, we don’t have to be fantastically unlikely. Eliminates God, which at the end of the day, is really, really important to a lot of atheists. 

     

    • #20
  21. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    KevinKrisher (View Comment):
    There’s plenty of evidence for the existence of God, and it’s perfectly rational to believe on the basis of a preponderance of the evidence. But proof that is scientific, or that meets a similarly high standard of evidence? That is almost certainly beyond mortal humanity’s capability.

    Oh, I’d say it meets a plenty high standard of evidence. Better than most science even. It’s just not the same thing as science.

    I’m not a religious scholar nor an expert on Christian doctrine. Doesn’t scripture inform Christians that faith is required because there are things of God that are not for us to know?

    Yes, that’s certainly part of it. Faith and belief are essentially the same word, or have the same meaning. First of all God wants to be simply believed when He says something. Faith also has a stronger connotation of a future happening, of a future fulfillment of an expectation, such as the sun rising, or the boat floating, or the fulfillment of a promise, such as a resurrection to immortal incorruptible bodies after death.

    There are also what are called “mysteries” which are unrevealed or potentially unknowable truths that we must believe or have faith in their existence without seeing them, but being assured that they are true nonetheless.

    His Grace is the ultimate mystery to me. If I can accept that I am given His Grace, then, really, I don’t have to care about other mysteries. Hard lesson for me. It took 45 years, and I don’t always remember it. 

    • #21
  22. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    KevinKrisher (View Comment):
    There’s plenty of evidence for the existence of God, and it’s perfectly rational to believe on the basis of a preponderance of the evidence. But proof that is scientific, or that meets a similarly high standard of evidence? That is almost certainly beyond mortal humanity’s capability.

    Oh, I’d say it meets a plenty high standard of evidence. Better than most science even. It’s just not the same thing as science.

    I’m not a religious scholar nor an expert on Christian doctrine. Doesn’t scripture inform Christians that faith is required because there are things of God that are not for us to know?

    Yes, that’s certainly part of it. Faith and belief are essentially the same word, or have the same meaning. First of all God wants to be simply believed when He says something. Faith also has a stronger connotation of a future happening, of a future fulfillment of an expectation, such as the sun rising, or the boat floating, or the fulfillment of a promise, such as a resurrection to immortal incorruptible bodies after death.

    There are also what are called “mysteries” which are unrevealed or potentially unknowable truths that we must believe or have faith in their existence without seeing them, but being assured that they are true nonetheless.

    His Grace is the ultimate mystery to me. If I can accept that I am given His Grace, then, really, I don’t have to care about other mysteries. Hard lesson for me. It took 45 years, and I don’t always remember it.

    Yeah, but I can see His Grace.  All around me, every day.  Not that I don’t still complain.  But I try to remember to give thanks and stay grateful.

    • #22
  23. KevinKrisher Coolidge
    KevinKrisher
    @KevinKrisher

    The fallacy of  the proposition that “only science can tell us truth” is demonstrated by the proposition’s internal contradiction. The truth of the proposition cannot itself be demonstrated scientifically. Therefore – by the proposition’s own standard – it must not be true.

    The most that anyone can say is “I will not accept as true anything that cannot be proven through science,” which is more of an attitude than a reasoned judgement.

    • #23
  24. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    KevinKrisher (View Comment):

    The fallacy of the proposition that “only science can tell us truth” is demonstrated by the proposition’s internal contradiction. The truth of the proposition cannot itself be demonstrated scientifically. Therefore – by the proposition’s own standard – it must not be true.

    The most that anyone can say is “I will not accept as true anything that cannot be proven through science,” which is more of an attitude than a reasoned judgement.

    Is that the ghost of Gödel or Heisenberg or Schrödinger hovering nearby?

    • #24
  25. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    KevinKrisher (View Comment):

    The fallacy of the proposition that “only science can tell us truth” is demonstrated by the proposition’s internal contradiction. The truth of the proposition cannot itself be demonstrated scientifically. Therefore – by the proposition’s own standard – it must not be true.

    The most that anyone can say is “I will not accept as true anything that cannot be proven through science,” which is more of an attitude than a reasoned judgement.

    Science is the pursuit of Truth in the physical world. 

    • #25
  26. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    KevinKrisher (View Comment):

    The fallacy of the proposition that “only science can tell us truth” is demonstrated by the proposition’s internal contradiction. The truth of the proposition cannot itself be demonstrated scientifically. Therefore – by the proposition’s own standard – it must not be true.

    The most that anyone can say is “I will not accept as true anything that cannot be proven through science,” which is more of an attitude than a reasoned judgement.

    Is that the ghost of Gödel or Heisenberg or Schrödinger hovering nearby?

    There’s definitely some Hume, Reid, Kant, James, and Plantinga hanging around here.

    • #26