Should believers use science to make the case for God?

Responding to Eric Metaxas's recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal concerning the scientific evidence suggesting a creator, Francis Beckwith writes at The Catholic Thing that Metaxas "confuses a question of natural science with a question of natural theology." 

Beckwith asks:

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Is the rational basis for believing in His existence really dependent on the deliverances of modern science? Should one calibrate the depth of one’s faith on the basis of what researchers tell us about the plausibility of the “God hypothesis” in recent issues of the leading peer-reviewed science journals? The answer to all three question is no, since God is not a scientific hypothesis. For this reason, it is equally true that advances in our scientific knowledge cannot in principle count against the existence of God.
 

Professor Beckwith invites the reader to "suppose in a few years scientists tell us, after further research, new discoveries, and confirmed theories, that the arising of life in the universe is not that improbable after all. What then happens to Metaxas’ God? He is now superfluous, and Metaxas would have to concede that theists are once again irrational, as they apparently were when the (temporarily obsolete) God hypothesis was down for the count the last time science threw its best punch."

I understand what Prof. Beckwith is saying, and I am grateful he has made this important distinction. I think most would agree, in the words of the title of his post, that "God is not a scientific hypothesis." However, I'm not sure Metaxas goes as far as Beckwith thinks he does.

I don't read Metaxas as arguing that God's existence is "dependent on the deliverances of modern science" (Beckwith's words) or as urging people to calibrate their faith based on current data in astronomy and astrophysics. Rather, I understand Metaxas to be advancing a more limited claim (and a claim, to be fair, which has been around for some time): the claim that the case for God's existence is helped in big ways by what we know about the origin of organic life and the origin of the universe. That's it. I don't read Metaxas as staking God's existence on that data, such that if the data were disproved or radically altered, Metaxas would be without an argument for God.  

Robert Spitzer, S.J., in his New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy, drawing upon basically the same data as Metaxas, makes a similar point. After reviewing the research and breakthroughs that show how unlikely it is that a universe like ours—i.e., one hospitable to human life—should have come about, Spitzer notes that the "enormity of the differential between non-anthropic and anthropic values of our universe's constants may be likened to a monkey typing out Hamlet (without any recourse to the play) by random tapping on the keys of a typewriter. Needless to say, it requires belief to explain this occurrence by pure chance." He goes on:

If one were to come into a room where such a monkey had been typing randomly for a month, and were to discover twelve sheets of perfect Shakespearean prose, one could reasonably and responsibly believe that someone intelligent (and possessing a fine knowledge of Shakespeare) had snuck into the room and helped the monkey. Alternatively, one might believe that the monkey had a random stroke of luck that allowed a conspiracy of coincidences unimaginably remote to occur by pure chance. In one case, one believes in an intellect that one did not see. In the other case, one believes that an unbelievably improbable occurrence took place by pure chance. 
 

Either way, Spitzer notes, someone has to make a choice: Either one believes that there is intention—mind—behind the creation of the text, or there is not. The analogy makes it clear. For Spitizer, "it would seem that the immensity of the difference between anthropic and non-anthropic values of our universal constants provides reasonable and responsible rationale, for belief in supernatural design." 

Metaxas framed it similarly: "Doesn't assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?"

In other words: What is a more reasonable belief? Belief in pure chance, or belief in a Creator? I think Metaxas is basically saying what Fr. Spitzer and others have said: given the information we now have, it seems that God, and not chance, is the more sound explanation.  

Read Prof. Beckwith's column in full here.  

 

 
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John Fitzgerald
3 years 4 months ago
I think it's the case that, given enough time and monkeys one will eventually type out Hamlet. Is there a statistical argument to the contrary?
J Cosgrove
3 years 4 months ago
Yes, it would take an infinite number of universes and an infinite number of monkeys to even get a few verses of Hamlet let alone the whole play. This is the ruse that atheist play, namely that it just takes enough random events to get anything when the opposite is true. The numbers are staggering to just get simple things. See the short video above on the fine tuning of the universe. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpIiIaC4kRA
John Fitzgerald
3 years 4 months ago
Thanks for the video. I'll watch it. Regarding your point that science can't explain certain things, I think you need to add the word "now" or "yet." There will be advances in our understanding.
J Cosgrove
3 years 4 months ago
your point that science can't explain certain things, I think you need to add the word "now" or "yet."
I always do and am a science junkie and have read and listened to several lectures on the history of science. Science has explained some amazing things and we are certainly no where near knowing everything. But there are certain areas that science has continually come up empty and that is on origins in the area of life. A typical cell contains incredible complex machinery which defies the laws of nature in how it could originate. The one thing life contains that is no where else in the universe is information which is encoded mainly in DNA and in its epi-structure but also in other parts of the cell. So I emphasize that it is the origin of information for which science has no answers or even a credible beginning. Thus, the origin of life, the origin of complex life forms and the origin of consciousness are mysteries since they depend on this very complex information arising out of random events. It is similar to the monkeys typing Shakespeare. It just cannot happen by random events or random pushing the keys of a typewriter or today a key board. It can easily happen through the design of an immense intelligence. Maybe science will in the future discover how this information could have happened naturally but the mathematics argue strongly against it. This is what the atheist keeps hidden from the average person as they demean religion as superstition. All the while their belief system is even more incredibly unlikely. I never met an honest atheist. They must distort to justify their beliefs.
Roberto Blum
3 years 4 months ago
maybe you haven't read "Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter" by Terrence Deacon. In this book you get a probable and rational naturalistic hypothesis to explain the emergence of complexity (CAD) and information in matter, meaning life and mind as epiphenomena. How can you afirm that " I never met an honest atheist. They must distort to justify their beliefs." I suppose you are able to read others' minds which of course is something only God can do. Well, maybe you too can. Congratulations.
Roberto Blum
3 years 4 months ago
Even if the monkeys used a simple typewriter, in an infinite time span, of course they would be able to write Hamlet and all of Shakespeare's works. However, evolution is not just monkeys and typewriters. Evolution builds upon random changes (which the monkeys typing would produce) producing diversity and kept or destroyed by their responses to the challenges of its environment. For example, suppose a monkey typed randomly "a", "c", "t", which is not improbable at all, the word ACT remains and then it might by the same random process type "I". There you have "ACT I". Upon this, then randomly it might appear by the same process the next line "SCENE 1" until the whole Hamlet is written. Of course a simple typewriter would not be able to choose which of the written lines to conserve and which to discard, but if you have a simple english language text processing program, the monkey would be able to write all of Shakespeare's works in a limited -- not infinite -- time span. Of course it might be asked who produced the english text processing program. But the basic rules of this specific universe in which we live are much more simpler than the rules of the english language. It seems that we have, not an infinite number of universes, but rather a large, very large number of them, for example some have calculated that the number is 10 elevated to the 500th power. If this is even aproximately true, it is not beyond reason to admit the random appearance of our universe with the basic rules that permit and promote the evolution of everything slowly building upon the previous and simpler phenomena, first light, then atoms, atoms clouds, galaxies, stars, planets, life and conscious intelligence all of which are of course informatic phenomena. Before Descartes opened the door to rationalism, it was easy to accept that the Cosmos (order) itself was proclaiming the "glory of God," but once we accepted the kingdom of reason and of its daughter, "science," God's glory is no longer evident to humankind. Now we are commited to understand the world in a rational-scientific frame of mind which does not require belief in any deity. Atheism is the default position of the modern mind. So where is the "niche" for faith? I believe this is the most important question that a catholic has to address for himself and the Church for the whole human race. Maybe we have to analyze what do we mean by faith. Is it just a belief, meaning an intellectual assent of some proposition, or is it more a vital committment to the building of the Kingdom, here and now? If faith in God is just the intellectual assent to the proposition "God exists," then it has no sustainable ground, but if faith is a vital commitment to the building of the kindom of peace and justice here and now as Jesus proclaimed, we catholics can live assured that our lives have a meaning, a trascendental meaning.
J Cosgrove
3 years 4 months ago
Even if the monkeys used a simple typewriter, in an infinite time span, of course they would be able to write Hamlet and all of Shakespeare's works
Of course my statement was hyperbole. Guilty of using it to make a point.
Evolution builds upon random changes (which the monkeys typing would produce) producing diversity and kept or destroyed by their responses to the challenges of its environment.
That is what we are told but it is not true. Real evolution is the building of novel proteins that must fit into an organized system with other proteins that must be such that they interlock and work with each other. The mathematics of building such proteins is truly astronomical and defies imagination as to how unlikely such a system would be. So even if one had 10 to the 500th power in number of universes it could not happen in even one of them by random or chance events even if given trillions of years for each. In such an array of universes the monkeys would produce the first couple verses of Hamlet and every other piece of literature in the history of the world plus a large number of unknown of other literary masterpieces of which none have never been written, They would however be dwarfed by gibberish. We would actually get all of Hamlet but in pieces but there would be no way to know which went with each other piece. For that there would have to be an intelligent designer to choose. An intelligent designer is the perfect implementation of Occam's razor.
J Cosgrove
3 years 4 months ago
I agree with Metaxas.
The answer to all three question is no, since God is not a scientific hypothesis. For this reason, it is equally true that advances in our scientific knowledge cannot in principle count against the existence of God.
There are a lot of issues here. Why cannot some aspects of a creator be subject to science. Science is just the application of reason and logic to the evidence we see in the world. We are being scientific any time we apply logic to evidence. The answer is of course we can apply reason to the evidence for God. Here is one translation of Psalm 19
The heavens declare the glory of God, the vault of heaven proclaims his handiwork, day discourses of it to day, night to night hands on the knowledge. No utterance at all, no speech, not a sound to be heard, but from the entire earth the design stands out, this message reaches the whole world.
Yes, God's design is screaming at us. Yes, the universe is screaming design and design by an incredible intelligence. Yet, the hostility of many Catholics to Intelligent Design is amazing. I think they should read Psalm 19. The flip side of this argument is does science support the non existence of God. We have heard a lot from people including people on this site that science dispels a belief in God and especially religion. Nothing is more nonsense because science can not explain origins. Science has a great track record of explaining things once they exist and are subject to the basic forces of nature but it has an extremely poor record of explaining origins. Science can tell you why the solar system formed once there was matter and the basic laws of physics but it cannot tell you why these laws exist. Some mysteries for which science has no answer
origin of the universe origin of life origin of advance life forms or macro evolution origin of consciousness
These are all mysteries. Then there are other existential questions such as why does anything exist. Existence is probably the greatest mystery of them all. And how did Earth happen. This is a mystery too. Earth is incredibly fine tuned too. For a great video of the fine tuning of the universe see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpIiIaC4kRA For a great video on the fine tuning of Earth see the video the Privileged Planet https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClarWNaCEVM Catholics should not be shy about using science to support their beliefs. The dirty secret is that science destroys atheism. But one caveat: science does not point to the Judeo/Christian God. For that we need revelation and logic. Christianity is a revealed religion. Without that we would just be Deists.
Bruce Snowden
3 years 4 months ago
Considering as Scripture says, "No one has ever seen God," I think it useful to make expeditious use of any means to try to pick up his "beeping" so to speak, including the scientifically rooted case whatever it may be, since as the Omnipotent "Handler" of whatever that "Is", not only are the "sounds of God" everywhere saying, "Let us make ...", but also "Divine Fingerprints" - sounds and prints swirling about including those detected through microphones, microscopes and telescopes of Faith, yes, the reasonableness of Faith, providing ""evidence" as Scripture says, "of things not seen."
Matt Emerson
3 years 4 months ago

Bruce -- thank you, well said.  "Telescopes of faith": I like that phrase.  

Bruce Snowden
3 years 4 months ago
Thanks, Matt. The Invisible God has placed innumerable "telescopes of Faith" and "Reason' in human hands expediting the use of his favorite game, "Hide and Seek" the game that children play, focusing on his Word, "Unless you become as little children ..." wherein he hides as we seek, or we hide as he seeks. Examples abound on spiritual and material levels. Again, Thanks and Happy New Year!
Roberto Blum
3 years 4 months ago
Has Occam's razor become dull and obsolete? Which is the simpler explanation for the existence of our universe, God or Chance? If we answer God, we have to ask who made God? and so on ad infinitum. Chance on the contrary is the end of the road.
William Rydberg
3 years 4 months ago
I suggest that the Catholic seeker first refresh themselves on a basic Catechetic. Here is a link its free and the subject of the talks is [Science & Religion: Compatible or Combative?]: http://www.instituteofcatholicculture.org/science-religion-at-war-the-gift-of-faith-the-birth-of-science/ Enjoy!
Egberto Bermudez
3 years 4 months ago
new
Egberto Bermudez
3 years 4 months ago
New Matt, concerning your question: “In other words: What is a more reasonable belief? Belief in pure chance, or belief in a Creator?” The answer is not an either or proposition, it is both: chance and Creator. I find Marie George’s explanation very interesting and convincing: “The fact that random processes can result in living things arising from non-living things presupposes the existence of not just any sort of matter, but one which has the potency to be formed into living things. Further, not just any sort of agents will do, but there must be ones apt to impart the appropriate forms to the appropriate matter. In addition, in order for the supposedly randomly formed living things to survive and reproduce, there must be a habitat favorable to them, and the possibility of its development also needs explanation. Just as it is luck that one gets a royal flush, but not that one can get it - the deck is designed that way, so too it may be luck that this or that organism appear, but it cannot be luck that it is able to appear. And this is true even if there are many universes. For even if the combination of factors which gives our universe its life-bearing potential have been 'dealt' into it alone, and not to any others, these factors still must have a specific design if they are to make life possible. If there are no queens and kings, having five billion cards games going instead of just one still won't get one any closer to drawing a royal flush.” http://www.unav.es/cryf/paley.html In addition, I find Fr. Spitzer’s Shakespeare analogy persuasive. Nevertheless, there is another Shakespeare analogy that it is even more convincing and goes deeper, the analogy that physicist Stephen Barr proposes: “A helpful analogy compares God to the author of a play. The playwright is the cause of the entire play in all its aspects”he pens its every character, event, and word. Call this “vertical causality.” But it is also true that within the play, one thing causes another. Call this “horizontal causality.” The two causalities are not in competition. Consider this question: In Hamlet , did Polonius die because he was stabbed through a curtain or because Shakespeare wrote the play that way? The question is silly, of course, for the answer is both . The stabbing is the cause within the play, while Shakespeare is the cause of the play and all that happens in it. Similarly, there are causes within nature, which are studied by scientists and others, while God is the cause of nature. Theology traditionally refers to “primary” and “secondary” causality rather than vertical and horizontal causality. We see, then, how idle it is to ask whether some species of beetle exists because it evolved or because God created it. The species of beetle evolved because God wrote the script that way. And, indeed, each individual beetle only exists because God wrote it in as one of the dramatis personae . The Book of Wisdom declares that God “reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other and orders all things.” His providence is not just some general oversight of the world, leaving the details to be worked out by someone else. Rather, he is the direct cause of every detail of the universe, just as Shakespeare wrote every syllable of Hamlet . God orders all things, whether the falling of a sparrow or the hairs of your head, which are numbered. This is the doctrine of “particular providence,” taught by both Catholic and Calvinist.” http://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/12/chance-by-design
J Cosgrove
3 years 4 months ago
I find Marie George’s explanation very interesting and convincing: “The fact that random processes can result in living things arising from non-living things presupposes the existence of not just any sort of matter, but one which has the potency to be formed into living things.
Both Marie George and Stephen Barr are committing the fallacy of what is known as "Begging the Question." They are assuming a truth of a proposition and arguing from that proposition when what has to be established before they can do so is the truth of the proposition. What are they assuming as true?
Namely that chance events led to life and evolution.
I have been following the evolution and origin of life controversy for over 20 years. Both Prof. George and Prof Barr mischaracterize it. Both should know better and one should ask why they do so. Can life and major evolution events happen by chance? This is a science question and the evidence indicates that there is no known means for either to happen. Not only is there no known means how it could happen but science itself says it is extremely unlikely to have happened by random or chance events. How unlikely, well if one wants to use exponential notation then it is 10 to a power of several million or probably much higher, a number so large that it could never be written down let alone could lead to chance events in our universe accounting for life and major evolution events. Some one below quoted the possibility of 10 elevated to the 500th power as the number of possible universes that are available. (a figure closely related to string theory) This is 10 followed by 500 zeros. A number so large that it is assumed that anything could happen in one of these universes, There is no evidence of such a thing but even if so it can explain nothing that happens in this universe. So that is the basic question could life arise and could it advance by small random changes over long periods of time. Ever since Darwin, we have been led like a sheep to slaughter by this tether believing it is true. But the math and natural processes argues against it but we have the continual procession of advocates of Darwin saying you are just ignoring the possibility that it will some day be shown. Yes, that is a possibility but will these advocates of Darwin ever admit their dirty little secret: namely, that they do not have a clue how it could happen by chance or random events. No!!! So what should the Church do in this debate. They are paralyzed like a deer in a headlight by the Galileo affair when essentially the Church and the pope in the 1600's got science right and Galileo actually got it wrong. The modern Church does not want to look like it is so backwards as to look anti-science that it has compromised itself more than it did during Galileo's time with false information. We should use science as one piece of information on how God decided to implement the world. We should not impose on God, just how He should have acted. Isn't this the sin of the Garden of Eden, trying to be like God or one up Him. There are a lot of very serious theological questions buried in all of this. And this is what many are hiding when they take the tack that random events account for nearly everything. Yes, random events account for most of what we see in the universe. But everything? Definitely not. As I said below, it cannot account for origins in the area of life and that is really the question that is being asked when one asks if science and religion are compatible.
J Cosgrove
3 years 4 months ago
Eric Metaxas has responded to his critics: Here is the original article which sometimes is available without the subscription http://www.wsj.com/articles/eric-metaxas-science-increasingly-makes-the-case-for-god-1419544568 Apparently many liked the article
Well, the response to the column was overwhelming. The piece really went viral and garnered more “likes” on Facebook than any article the Wall Street Journal has ever published--over 350,000 as I read this now! I find that amazing and more than a little humbling.
Here is his response on his website http://www.breakpoint.org/bpcommentaries/entry/12/26659
Egberto Bermudez
3 years 4 months ago
I think that you, Mr. Cosgrove, Eric Metaxas and I would agree with the author of the Book of Wisdom (Ws 13:1-9) in the Bible: Foolish by nature were all who were in ignorance of God, and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing the one who is,* and from studying the works did not discern the artisan;a 2Instead either fire, or wind, or the swift air, or the circuit of the stars, or the mighty water, or the luminaries of heaven, the governors* of the world, they considered gods.b 3Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods, let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these; for the original source of beauty fashioned them.c 4Or if they were struck by their might and energy, let them realize from these things how much more powerful is the one who made them.d 5For from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen. 6But yet, for these the blame is less;* For they have gone astray perhaps, though they seek God and wish to find him. 7For they search busily among his works, but are distracted by what they see, because the things seen are fair. 8But again, not even these are pardonable. 9For if they so far succeeded in knowledge that they could speculate about the world, how did they not more quickly find its Lord? The message of this text is clear: “from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.” I am sure Metaxas, you and I fully agree with the author of the Book of Wisdom and with St. Paul: “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” (Rm 1: 19-20) Also, it seems clear that both St. Paul and the author of the Book of Wisdom are not engaging in science but are doing philosophy, metaphysics. Where I disagree with you and Metaxas is that you seem to be saying that there are certain phenomena that can only be explained as miracles. Yes, the anthropic coincidences and the fine tuning of the universe are sources of amazement to me, and signposts or footprints of the Creator. Nevertheless, I would hesitate to call them miracles. Would it be reasonable to resort to a direct divine intervention every time that we run up against the limits of what natural science can explain at this moment in time? You seem to be suggesting that the Creator is somehow competing with the powers of nature and with science (with all due respect, this is, perhaps, the same position that some of the new atheists, like Dawkins, are taking). On the contrary, the more science explains and discovers the laws of nature and its powers, the more glory to the Creator. Science will never be able to eliminate the question of why the universe is orderly and lawful but it has shown us more and more how deep that order and lawfulness is. Other questions that science will never be able to eliminate or to answer are: Why is there something rather than nothing? ; Why is the universe intelligible? (No intelligibility=no science); Why be moral? , etc. Yes, I believe in miracles, but miracles would make no sense unless there is a ‘natural order’ to begin with. At the same time, I think that ordinarily God acts through nature, this was also the view of theologians like Francisco Suarez and St. Thomas Aquinas. Therefore, I hesitate before easily jumping to call anything that is happening in the ‘natural order’ a miracle. All of these doesn’t mean that the choice we face is either “pure chance” or a Creator but between “pure chance” on the one hand and “Creator + chance” on the other hand. It is evident that “chance” or “randomness” have and important role to play in our physical universe. I think that Prof. George (a philosopher with a graduate degree in biology) eloquently makes the connection by expressing the following philosophical comment: “Just as it is luck that one gets a royal flush, but not that one can get it - the deck is designed that way, so too it may be luck that this or that organism appear, but it cannot be luck that it is able to appear. And this is true even if there are many universes. For even if the combination of factors which gives our universe its life-bearing potential have been 'dealt' into it alone, and not to any others, these factors still must have a specific design if they are to make life possible. If there are no queens and kings, having five billion cards games going instead of just one still won't get one any closer to drawing a royal flush.” Now, I am sure that Eric Metaxas and you are saddened to see, every so often, how brilliant scientific minds have been unable to distinguish between science and scientism and have fallen into the trap of using their scientific knowledge as a weapon for the promotion of an ideological agenda masquerading as science. It is important to remember that science does not make assertions about ultimate questions, it only provides what physicist John Polkinghorne calls “boundary questions,” but these are philosophical in nature. Hence, I would like to share with you an excellent quote from Oracles of Science: Celebrity Scientists versus God and Religion by Karl Giberson and Mariano Artigas, that clearly explains the difference between science and scientism: “There is a world of difference between the ‘methodological naturalism’ used in the sciences (seeking natural explanations) and an ‘ontological naturalism’ that denies the reality of anything outside the reach of science. While methodological naturalism has no problems, except for creationists and the advocates of Intelligent Design, scientific naturalism is self-defeating. The claim that nothing exists aside from what can be studied by the scientific method is a philosophical position. If you want to determine what science is and how far its reach extends, you must place yourself outside science, taking a philosophical perspective. But if there is no territory outside science, how are we going to stand there?” p.234 http://www.amazon.com/Oracles-Science-Celebrity-Scientists-Religion/dp/0... This is how Dr. Francis Collins, who was Head of the Genome project explains scientism: “Science is not the only way of knowing. The spiritual worldview provides another way of finding truth. Scientists who deny this would be well advised to consider the limits of their own tools, as nicely represented in a parable told by the astronomer Arthur Eddington. He described a man who set about to study deep-see life using a net that had a mesh size of three inches. After catching many wild and wonderful creatures from the depths, the man concluded that there are no deep-see fish that are smaller than three inches in length! If we are using the scientific net to catch our particular version of truth, we should not be surprised that it does not catch the evidence of spirit.” (p.229) In conclusion, God, as theologians, philosophers, and people of faith understand Him, cannot be an object of scientific inquiry. The scientific method can neither exclude nor include God. If we want to make a judgment about the existence of God, we have to go beyond science [even if the data of science is our starting point] and become philosophers. I finish with another quote of Dr. Collins: “Science is not threatened by God; it is enhanced. God is most certainly not threatened by science; He made it all possible. So let us together seek to reclaim the solid ground of an intellectually and spiritually satisfying synthesis of all great truths. That ancient motherland of reason and worship was never in danger of crumbling. It never will be. It beckons all sincere seekers of truth to come and take up residence there.” (p.234) http://www.amazon.com/Language-God-Scientist-Presents-Evidence/dp/141654...
J Cosgrove
3 years 4 months ago
Thank you for your long reply. I think you are right that you and Mr. Metaxas and myself share many things in common. But I also believe you misunderstand several things about my position and Eric Metaxas. I have not read Mr. Metaxas's book and have just ordered the kindle edition of his book. So I cannot comment on what is in it yet. He claims to define miracle in his book so I will wait till reading it before commenting on this term. It is however, a term that is continuously and frequently used by the Catholic Church to describe God's relationship with the world. There has been thousands of books, thesis, articles written on the subject so it is not one that is 100% agreed on. Let's just say that the Church believes in miracles, or God's overturning the laws of nature for purposes we may not understand. So to use your claim that God operates through natural processes nearly all the time is not one the Church holds.
I think that ordinarily God acts through nature
What do you mean by that? That God foresaw from all eternity that someone would need to be cured of cancer at some time in say 1989 and set in motion the forces that would heal that cancer at the Big Bang? My guess is that neither Aquinas or Suarez would hold to that view if they were privileged to knowledge of modern science. Could God have created such a world. We have to assume that He could but is that the one He created. What about the concept of Grace? Is this best explained by God acting through nature? Is transubstantiation best explained by God acting through nature? Are prayers ever answered? When they are, is the explanation that it was done through nature from conditions set in motion at the Big Bang? My Catholic educations says no. God intervenes as He sees fit and often in ways we cannot comprehend. Are you suggesting that He doesn't?Now to science and methodological naturalism and ontological naturalism.This discussion could involve thousands of pages of nit picking differentiation between the meaning of these terms. For example, there is no definitive definition of just what science is. I prefer a simple but broad definition of science from Wikipedia as
Science (from Latin scientia, meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about nature and the universe.
We tend to associate science with what are called the hard sciences of physics and chemistry which are processes driven by the four basic forces of nature. We tend to include in it other disciplines that are directly linked to these physical and chemical processes, such as biology, astronomy and geology but these are a little further from the effect of the basic forces than are physics and chemistry especially biology which is based on information processing and is unique because of this. Rather than get into the minutiae of methodological and ontological naturalism, let's just say few in the world understand the difference between these terms and thus, nearly all take away from their science courses that there is no need for explanations outside the natural world. It is all explained by natural processes. So while the philosophers of science can distinguish between the two terms, science in reality uses them as if they meant the same thing. The current world of science is very dishonest about itself. It gives the impression that science is marching on and filling in all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of nature and is just a matter of time before it will get to everything. That is what Eric Metaxas and myself and millions of others are arguing against, the dishonesty of science practitioners about what is known and what are the likely explanations for certain phenomena. This is what is at issue. In my science background, I was pointed continuously to the scientific process which is a four step process and most science research is organized on this basis. This
1. The statement of the problem or the background and how one plans to investigate it. 2. A statement of the methodology one uses to investigate a problem. 3. The results of the investigation in terms of data collected which often includes some type of mathematical or statistical analysis. 4. The conclusions or implications of the research which is often a subjective appraisal of the results and the possible need for further investigation.
It in this last step that modern science is dishonest and distorts what is known and can be logically concluded. Because science is wed to ontological naturalism, they cannot suggest that a non-natural explanation exists for the results found in step 3. If they should do so, they are immediately ostracized from their community and if they are not tenured will not get it and if they have it will be prevented from getting further funding. So your distinction between methodological and ontological naturalism does not really exist in the world of Western Science. There are forces arguing against this reality but it is not Francis Collins, or Karl Giberson. In fact these two scientists are part of the problem. Your link to Giberson's book is broken. Here is the full link. http://www.amazon.com/Oracles-Science-Celebrity-Scientists-Religion/dp/0195310721 I have ordered this book from Amazon and will see what he says. Collins' book is at http://www.amazon.com/The-Language-God-Scientist-Presents/dp/1416542744
Egberto Bermudez
3 years 4 months ago
Mr. Cosgrove, thank you for your comments and for your corrections, I would like to share with you an address delivered by the late Spanish physicist and philosopher of science Mariano Artigas at the University of Chicago in which he proposes philosophy as a bridge between science and religion. Here is the link http://www.unav.es/cryf/themindofuniverse.html The ideas of this article were fully developed in a book, "The Mind of The Universe" http://www.amazon.com/Mind-Universe-Understanding-Science-Religion/dp/1890151327/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1421680844&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Mind+of+the+Universe
J Cosgrove
3 years 4 months ago
Mr. Bermudez, Thank you for the link. I have read it. Dr. Artigas makes the same mistake that Dr. George and Barr make. He begs the question. He assumes as proven what has to be proved. There is no evidence of self organization in nature outside what is provided by the four basic forces. There may be other forces we do not know about such as what causes charge and spin of sub atomic particles, what causes the fouir forces to reach out to other particles and interact with them such as how does gravity and magnetism actually work. These might be discerned in the future to provide insight as to why particles behave as they do. There is a lot to learn. However, there is no evidence of any self organization taking place in the formation of life and the information processing that takes place within life. All that has been found argues against such a process taking place and it being mathematically impossible unless it was directed by an intelligence. My experience with watching these debates is that for some they desperately want a God of a certain form and then assume that this God exists and then adjust their science to that pre-conception. I have no problem with such a God but apparently He did not behave as these philosophers want Him to have behaved. The world we see that He created is much different from the one desired by these philosophers. Because of this we have these arguments over just what God has done. Artigas's article is long and apparently is a summary of his book. But the weakness of his approach is that he assumes something to be true which is most likely impossible in the universe that God created. Just as an addition, Artigas thinks that Intelligent Design is valid but claims it is not scientific. I find this baffling for two reasons, his conception of ID fits my conception of science and secondly, it implies intervention is likely and his thesis of self organization is invalid and needs help.
Egberto Bermudez
3 years 3 months ago
Reply Mr. Cosgrove, I am glad that Eric Metaxas article has been successful in generating so many positive responses and, I would not have any problem with the following statement of clarification to his critics: “The scientific findings I cited aren’t “proof” that compel belief in God’s existence but “signs” pointing to that possibility and inviting you to follow them to see where they might lead.” All of this proves that people are sick and tired of the myth that scientific materialism or naturalism is the default philosophy of science. That science and religion or that science and faith are in conflict is also a myth, the only true conflict is precisely between religion and scientific materialism. God as Logos, as Reason itself can never be in conflict with science, because He made it all possible. Nevertheless, we should not fall into the “God of the gaps” fallacy. Yes, God is the “Author of Nature” but He is not competing with His creation nor with science, we should not be looking for him only in the gaps of our knowledge of nature or in the gaps of our scientific understanding of the world. The idea that change and accident play a role in nature was taken up by St. Thomas Aquinas in Book 3 chapter 74 of his Summa Contra Gentiles. Here is the link: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles3a.htm#74 There are many examples of self-organization in nature. One good example is: when a liquid crystallizes, the atoms go from moving aimlessly to having an orderly pattern. They spontaneously arrange themselves in evenly spaced rows and columns. I think that when Artigas, Barr and George mention God, they are talking about the One that said to Moses: “I AM WHO AM,” Ipsum Esse Subsistens, according to St. Thomas Aquinas. Francis J. Beckwith explains this very clearly in his article: “God – as understood by the Catholic Church and by most other theistic traditions – is not a being in the universe, a superior agent whose existence we postulate in order to explain some natural phenomenon, but rather, Being Itself, that which all contingent reality depends for its existence.” Finally, I agree with you about Fr. Joseph Koterski, S.J., he is a great teacher, his course on The Ethics of Aristotle is one of the best.
J Cosgrove
3 years 3 months ago
Nevertheless, we should not fall into the “God of the gaps” fallacy. Yes, God is the “Author of Nature” but He is not competing with His creation nor with science, we should not be looking for him only in the gaps of our knowledge of nature or in the gaps of our scientific understanding of the world.
I will make this brief since this thread is only a conversation between two persons and maybe the topic can be broached in the future when science and religion gets brought up again. In no place did I evoke a God of the Gaps argument. It is an invalid attempt by some to discredit a logical and rational approach to certain areas of science. It is the argument of atheism used to prevent alternative explanations that may be outside of nature. It is also used by some theists to defend a certain theology about God, namely that He is no longer involved in His creation once it was started. A theology that is contrary to science and the Church doctrine for 2000 years. In the history of science there is really only one instance where the God of the Gaps was invoked by a credible scientist and that was by Newton, who hypothesized that God's creation could not lead to a stable solar system and needed an occasional adjustment by way of comets to keep the planets in line. This led to the famous LaPlace quote to Napoleon about the need for God after he solved the problem
Je n'avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là. ("I had no need of that hypothesis.") Napoleon, greatly amused, told this reply to Lagrange, who exclaimed, Ah! c'est une belle hypothèse; ça explique beaucoup de choses. ("Ah, it is a fine hypothesis; it explains many things.")
LaGrange may be the one with the best insight here. Also self organizing is a concept used to explain the unexplainable and it is an example where science is just waived away by reference to something as just self organized. Another term that is used is that it just "emerged." Self organization and emergence are just God of the Gaps explanations for things which have no explanation within science or maybe no possibility. Again the basic issue with life is information and there is no example or way to explain how information could arise. Of course, La Grange had a relevant hypothesis.
Egberto Bermudez
3 years 3 months ago
New Mr. Cosgrove, let’s agree to disagree about ID; nevertheless, there is something that I would like to clarify. The fact that God acts ordinarily through the laws of nature, through secondary causes is in no way contradictory to the view that He can and sometimes does act outside the course of nature. In addition, God is continuously involved with His creation, He is continuously sustaining it because God is Being Itself and nothing would be able to exist without His acting. In other words, God keeps in being everything that is. Good bye, it has been a pleasure to have a conversation with you.
Matt Emerson
3 years 4 months ago

Thanks for drawing attention to this.  

John Barbieri
3 years 4 months ago
If someone can offer definitive proof of the existence of G_D or even of the origin of life, great universities and cities will surely be named to honor that person who will rank as one of humanities greatest benefactors. Until that time, we can only speculate. Such speculation -- no matter how well intentioned -- should not be confused with actual knowledge. If and until such knowledge ever becomes available, we can "behold the marvel in the night sky" and look at the cell in wonder!.
Bruce Snowden
3 years 4 months ago
Hi, Mr.Barbieri, "Behold the marvel in the night sky" (and} "look at the cell in wonder!" a pretty good definition of human nature searching for the "Invisible One" Whom "No one has ever seen" ... "wonder and awe" the "Awesome One" who makes us wonder, who makes us wonder,why should we wonder at all, innately I would say showing the need or at least the desire not just to know, but to BELIEVE in the Unknowable One! This touches the very essence of the "I Am Who I Am!" Look there and see the One "No one has ever seen" gasping and grasping gratifying mystery!
John Barbieri
3 years 4 months ago
Thank you for your kind words, Mr. Snowden. If memory serves me correctly, Abraham Joshua Heschel once prayed: "I did not ask You for success, but rather for a sense of wonder! And You heard my prayer!"
Bruce Snowden
3 years 4 months ago
Hi Mr. Barbieri, You've got it! In that "sense of wonder" as Heschel said, the Invisible One is found and with eyes wide open and mouth hanging loose we say "Wow!" another word for the unsayable - G - D!
Charles Erlinger
3 years 4 months ago
The expression "faith in chance" seems very problematic to me. I can understand "faith in God" to mean confidence in the truth of God's revealed promise to us humans, but putting "faith in chance" in an either/or position of comparison and contrast as though the two expressions were cognitive equivalents, as is often done in these kinds of discussions, just seems inappropriate. Chance, as we know, is a mathematical construct, and a short-hand way of referring to the otherwise unknown cause of physical phenomena. There are many observed phenomena for which we have no known efficient causality. These phenomena are described in probabilistic terms for purposes of establishing an expectation of their occurrence, not for establishing the physical cause of their occurrence.
Bruce Snowden
3 years 4 months ago
Hi Mr. Cosgrove, Acknowledging myself to be a person who knows a little about many things, but not very much about anything, but grateful for truth wherever that light shines. I must admit I do tend to think that ordinarily God does act through the nature of whatever is,whether supernatural, or natural. it's all about life - about growth, preservation, productivity. healing, supernaturally stimulated through the agency of Divine Grace, naturally through material agency fingerprinted graciously by Divine touch of what may be called "naturally stimulated Divine Grace" linked to Augustine's assertion that, "Everything is Grace." However it happens, all healing radiates from God, supernatural or natural. God only, the source, according to Divine determination. Too simple?
J Cosgrove
3 years 4 months ago
Mr. Snowden, I think you do not understand by what I mean by nature or what the others mean when they invoke it. It means that God had no part in what happens or happened in the past except for three events. Any involvement by God was at the time of the Big Bang (first event) and then he went on vacation and only reemerged for the conception (2nd event) and resurrection of Jesus (3rd event). No works of the Holy Spirit, no speaking in tongues, no answers to prayers, no transubstantiation, no burning bush or appearances to any saint (such as to Paul on the way to Damascus) or by the Blessed Mother, no miraculous cures, no miracles period etc. and definitely no Grace. This is the implication of ascribing to nature all that we see when God created the universe in event #1 of his three interventions.
Bruce Snowden
3 years 4 months ago
Hi Mr. Cosgrove, It seems to me incredible that anyone should link God's activity in nature to just the three events you mentioned. Why just three, not one hundred three or an incalcuable number, the latter most probable it seems to me? God knows the infinite number of gains of sand that ever were, are now, or ever will be, the same for every leaf on every tree that ever was, are now, or ever will be. God personally knows and sustains all natural movement through the ministry of agencies, evolution the prime agent- mover, having given nature the ability to structure and restructure itself, with God as the "wind" in the sails of nature giving it forward thrust, verifying it seems to me Chardin's insight that, "God makes things make themselves!" God is ever totally involved in the works of his hands, naturally and supernaturally Maybe you'll say, "He still doesn't get it!" Well, conversation is like viewing life through a Spectrum with many colors emanating therefrom, each color different, yet possessing intrinsic and intimate relationships one to the others..At least so it seems to me.
J Cosgrove
3 years 4 months ago
Mr. Snowden, What I believe and what I am pointing to that others are claiming are very different. I believe God is continuously involved in the guidance of our world and certainly not just three times. But others who claim to be Christians claim this limited involvement. I disagree with them and one reason I do is that the science does not support such a view and not because it is unacceptable to me. This OP is about science and its ability to shed some light on God and His nature. Obviously, I think it does. But I happen to believe that while it does, it is only to a limited extent. We still need revelation to understand Him even more but even that is extremely limited. Others are arguing very strongly that science has no part in validating God or His nature. Let the reader decide. I maintain that those who espouse this second point of view which I don't agree with, always distort what science has discovered or is capable of discovering. In other words their point of view on science is determined by their world view and not by the science itself. Why would they do this? And this includes a lot of Catholics. As I said I have been watching this debate for about 20 years and pretty much know most of the players in it though there is always something new to learn. Science is amazing but it has huge holes and the biggest holes have to do with life. And these holes seem to get bigger not smaller as we learn more.
Bruce Snowden
3 years 4 months ago
Hi Mr. Cosgrove, O,K,, "What I believe and what I am pointing to that others are claiming are very different," And, "We still need Revelation to understand ...". I get it. Thanks for sharing Faith and Reason with me. Respectfully, accept as concluded my conversation on the topic, even though I have more to say of what I dimly see, "like men walking around as if they were trees!" Or is it the other way around? But enough said.
Matt Emerson
3 years 4 months ago

Thank you to readers for these informed and illuminating comments. I'm learning a lot by just following the discussions.  

J Cosgrove
3 years 3 months ago
Since this OP is up again, it will be up for a couple days so that sustaining it on the list for a few more hours is not affected by other comments, I will point to an assessment of the issue by a Catholic who writes frequently on this topic. The ID movement of which Metaxas approves is very much a movement supported by many Catholics. It is portrayed in the popular press as another version of Young Earth Creationism (YEC) in order to discredit it but nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, YEC's are major supporters of ID but many of the driving elements of ID are Catholic who do not support their religious or scientific beliefs. One such person is Vincent Torley who is an Australian living in Japan. Dr. Torley writes frequently on ID issues with a Catholic slant. Here is a short podcast about the Metaxas article and whether God is subject to an examination by science. http://intelligentdesign.podomatic.com/entry/2015-02-02T17_33_36-08_00 This podcast is produced by the Discovery Institute which is a major proponent of Intelligent Design and which has several Catholics as members. Students at Catholic colleges and high schools should be exposed to these issues as well as their teachers.
Egberto Bermudez
3 years 3 months ago
New I would like to reflect on the following quote from the article: ‘For Spitizer, "it would seem that the immensity of the difference between anthropic and non-anthropic values of our universal constants provides reasonable and responsible rationale, for belief in supernatural design."’ Is Fr. Robert Spitzer S.J., a professional philosopher with an impressive knowledge of physics, reaching a scientific conclusion? I don’t think so, I think he is reaching a philosophical conclusion. I don’t know what Fr. Spitzer thinks about the ID movement. Perhaps Sean Salai S.J. could interview him and ask the question. I don’t think that the majority of believers who are critical of the ID movement are philosophers nor theologians but scientists, some notable examples are: biologist Kenneth Miller (Catholic), and physicists Stephen Barr (Catholic) and John Polkinghorne (Anglican). For them the ID movement is not science but natural theology or philosophical theology. Therefore, the crucial question is: Is the ID movement science (in the way that the term has been used since the XVII century)? Or is it reasonable philosophy? For the debate between Stephen Barr and Michael Behe, here is the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knEY1wKODR0 Prof. Kenneth Miller's Laetare Medal Speech at Notre Dame Commencement 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FE6uOqN2OA Also, Prof. Miller and The Faith of Science http://americamagazine.org/content/ignatian-educator/dr-kenneth-miller-and-faith-science For John Polkinghorne’s views, here is the link http://biologos.org/blog/john-polkinghorne-on-natural-theology-part-i
J Cosgrove
3 years 3 months ago
Is Fr. Robert Spitzer S.J., a professional philosopher with an impressive knowledge of physics, reaching a scientific conclusion? I don’t think so, I think he is reaching a philosophical conclusion.
I am sorry but this is science. All the tools of scientific investigation have been used to provide evidence. Then one makes a logical conclusion about that data. That has been science since before history has been recorded. The argument that ID is not science is one of the most absurd arguments against it that I have seen in the 20 years that I have been aware of it and have been following it. People who support ID use every tool that science has and then make conclusions about the data that has been discovered. In fact ID is better science than what is practiced by most scientists today and are certainly better scientists than Drs. Miller and Barr. I suggest that anyone wanting to find out about the science of ID, read the books by Stephen Meyer and Michael Behe. Their books are impeccably logical and exhaustive in their coverage of their topics. And you will learn all the scientific issues surrounding the origin of life and evolution. Nearly all that passes for evolutionary biology today is either trivial or philosophical in its conclusions as opposed to ID which is on firm logical and empirical ground. Not what is conveyed in the popular press but true nevertheless. It is interesting why ID is so distorted by objectors to it. That should be the question that is explored.
Egberto Bermudez
3 years 3 months ago
New Mark Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker who has studied a lot of philosophy and theology. In addition, he has the gift of explaining difficult things in a clear and accessible way. In two of his articles, he has explained why many Catholic philosophers, theologians and scientists while accepting the Argument from Design are critical of the ID movement. 1) Intelligent Design vs. the Argument from Design http://www.ncregister.com/blog/mark-shea/intelligent-design-vs.-the-argument-from-design 2) Evolution as Evidence from the Argument from Design http://www.ncregister.com/blog/mark-shea/evolution-as-evidence-for-the-argument-from-design
Egberto Bermudez
3 years 2 months ago
New Before we ask the question: “Should believers use science to make the case for God?” There is a prior question that we have to answer: “Who God is and who God isn’t?” It seems clear to me that God, as theologians, philosophers, and people of faith understand Him, cannot be an object of scientific inquiry. The scientific method can neither exclude nor include God. If we want to make a judgment about the existence of God, we have to go beyond science [even if the data of science is our starting point] and become philosophers. This is precisely what Fr. Robert Barron has explained in a clear and succinct way in some of his YouTube videos. 1) Who God is and who God isn’t? http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/video/who-god-is-and-who-god-isnt/289/ 2) Thomas Aquinas and The Argument From Motion http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/video/thomas-aquinas-and-the-argument-from-motion/4534/ 3) Scientism and God’s Existence http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/video/scientism-and-gods-existence/255/ 4) Atheism and Philosophy http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/video/atheism-and-philosophy/4611/
Egberto Bermudez
3 years 2 months ago
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