Monday, 12 August 2013

Science, Philosophy and God

Noted Christian philosopher, Dr. William Lane Craig and atheist scientist, Prof. Laurence Krauss, will be debating at Sydney Town Hall tonight. I will be there. Richard Schumark, of the Centre for Public Christianity has written this piece, in anticipation of the debate.

I think Schumark (if you read this, forgive me, is it Mr. or Dr.?) makes some excellent points. For example, he points to the stupidity and downright intellectual laziness of imagining science and philosophy to be in competition. Science relies upon philosophical conclusions, you cannot, for example, perform an experiment unless you take the laws of logic as given, and those laws could not possibly be scientifically proven, they rellie on philosophy.

I think, however, that Schumark makes some arguments about the relationship between philosophy and science, that are more than a little wide of the mark. He writes:

“In the same way Craig’s claim is necessarily scientific in the sense that he marshals arguments for how all the available evidence points to the likelihood of there being a divine designer and creator.”

That may be true of some of Craig's arguments, but not of most of them. Take, for example, Craig's signature argument, the Kalam Cosmological Argument (not, I must stress, and argument I'm a fan of). While Craig does sometimes use scientific claims the bolster his second premise, the argument is not scientific at all. Schumark suggests it is because Craig “...marshals available evidence...” but marshalling evidence is not peculiar to natural sciences but to any rational activity.

Science is based on testable hypotheses. You put forward a scientific theory and then expect the world (or the particular part of the world you are experimenting on) to act one way if your theory is true and a different way if your theory is wrong. Classical theists don't claim the world would act differently without God, we claim that the world wouldn't exist without him. Our claims are no more subject to scientific testing than the laws of logic are.

Schumark, goes on to say that he doesn't think God's existence can be proven with full scientific rigour. If he means that God can't be proven by the scientific method, he's right, however, the claim of classical theists is that God's existence can be proven philosophically, and that these philosophical proofs are more, not less, certain, than scientific ones.

Schumark, however, seems to think that a God whose existence can't be certainly proved is plus for Christianity. He suggest that a God who left “hints” of his existence but no certain proof is more in keeping with a “personal and relational God.” He even quotes, with approval, philosopher Paul Mosser and arguing that this is exactly what we would expect of a God who values relationships first and foremost.

I have to say, I can't see why we would think that. I'm personal and I place a high premium on relationships and when I want a relationship, in either the friendly romantic, or any other sense of the word, with someone, I don't leave cryptic hints that I might exist lying around for that person to find. If possible, I generally walk up to them, say hello and introduce myself, thus, unless they have some reason to fear they are having a psychotic episode, they are generally left in no doubt of my existence.

Also, while Schumark doesn't explicitly say, I assume, given where his article is posted, that he is a Christian. In that case, I have to say that the God he believes in, the one leaving us with hints but no definitive proof of His existence, does not sound to me at all like the God revealed in the scriptures. In, for example, the first chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, it is declared that God's existence is clearly revealed in creation, leaving unbelievers “without excuse.” It is to this clearly existing God that traditional Christian philosophy points.

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