A Conversation for Project: Belief

Belief and Inference

Post 1

BillSD

Belief and Inference

Assumptions and Inference.

Science is based on certain assumptions which are held to be true but which can’t be “proven.” Among these assumptions is that the universe is knowable. Something is really “out there” and our internal subjective awareness--somehow and to some degree--corresponds to that which is external to ourselves. The universe is remarkably intelligible. The more we explore it, the more we realize that its motions are not only ascertainable but predictable as well. Quantum physics, chaos theory, Planck’s Constant, etc. are highly abstract extrapolations from observable reality but we “know” they are “true.” This connection between the universe and the mind has fascinated every generation since Plato and the ancient Greeks. The fact that the connection between inner awareness and outer reality can be expressed mathematically is itself remarkable. Even more astonishing: we can now construct mathematical models and theories only to find that external reality indeed corresponds to these intellectual constructs. The amazing intelligibility of the universe and its correspondence to the human mind demands explanation.

We can infer that if cosmic reality is intelligible to our minds, which are themselves the evolutionary product of the cosmos itself (we are all some kind of star dust), then somehow the cosmos itself is rooted in intelligence. Intelligibility without foundational intelligence makes no sense. Chance, time and evolution have brought about human intelligence and the capacity for subjective awareness, of course, but we who ask “why questions” want some kind of explanation for this. Such an explanation would lie beyond the realm of any particular science, but we are not limited in our thinking by specific scientific modalities. Wider philosophical thinking is required in which roots of existent reality can be explored through inference.

The Anthropic Principle.

We now know that the universe in its origins was characterized by constants so remarkably balanced that carbon-based life and human subjectivity were able to evolve. The universe from the first nano-second of its existence contained, among an infinite variety of other possibilities, precisely the fundamental constants necessary for our existence. This remarkable fact has been called by many scientists the “anthropic principle.” The universe generates from within itself by its own inherent processes a being which is able to interrogate the very cosmos which gave it existence. Moreover this improbable and puny creature, from the depths of its own subjectivity seeks and discovers truth, searches for and creates meaning, discovers and articulates values.

Cosmic evolution occurs therefore within an ordered framework circumscribed by what we know as laws or principles. Random events occur within this framework so it appears that evolution is a product of the interplay between a kind of law and chance. The immense duration of the universe allows for evolution to pursue a rich and enormous variety of options, notable most strikingly in the extravagant profusion of biological diversity.

The statistical probabilities of quantum mechanics which encompasses the entire universe and the innovation wrought by chance at the molecular level of DNA show the interplay of necessity and chance. The natural selection of biological evolution operates within a context which is both random and ordered. The biotic system through innovation and creativity produces a species that is able to grasp the principles operative throughout the entire universe. This species is also profoundly aware of its own subjectivity

The human mind seeks ultimate answers and fundamental meanings, but does so completely within the brain’s physical/biological/chemical system. The search for answers and meaning cannot be completely requited within this system, however. Through the human act of understanding both external and inner reality the cosmos points beyond itself. A simple analogy has been used to explain this. Take a pencil and scribble a meaningless scrawl on it, then begin to write a coherent sentence. There is a continuity between the scrawl and the sentence which a physical/chemical analysis would demonstrate. But there is a radical discontinuity when the sentence begins. Our attention is transposed into a different key. Something very different is at stake both in writing and in analyzing the sentence at the level of meaning. A chemical analysis which showed the continuity and the similarity would be accurate but it would be unable to discern the truly innovative and creative activity of writing a coherent thought. Physical continuity remains but the formation of comprehensible words requires a different kind of analysis.

The analogy points to the fact that something is taking place within the universe which is not completely subject to a closed materialistic interpretation. It is at least highly probable that human subjectivity in all its facets, including comprehending and describing the cosmos points to an overarching subjectivity in which the universe itself is embedded.

Reductionism Insufficient.

Reality is multi-dimensional and cannot be reduced entirely to the physical processes that are present in all the transactions of nature. The reason is that reality is demonstrably more comprehensive than these processes alone. There is also the fact that there are different levels within the exchanges of nature which are not reducible to each other.

Someone with a “bias” toward physics could make the argument that all processes in the cosmos are no more than wave/particle flow. In this view even biology and chemistry do not have their own realities because all is reducible to the quantum flux. The biologist and chemist would quite legitimately object to this as an absurdity, but such a stance is implicit within the logic of brute materialist reductionism.

Moving in the other direction but using the same logic, the biologist or the chemist could deny reality to the behaviors observed by the psychologist or sociologist. The truth is that the physical, biological and chemical components of nature are interrelated and interconnected but not reducible to each other.

Social reality is completely rooted in the above elements—nothing happens in society or in human relationships apart from these processes, but the totality is far more comprehensive than these mechanisms alone. Nothing in the cosmos happens apart from wave/particle flow or lies beyond the reach of gravity and quantum conditions. On our planet—and presumably elsewhere as well—much of what takes place involves chemistry and biology. Physics is thus a necessary but insufficient cause of organic reality—necessary because nothing can take place apart from it, but insufficient because something new is involved in living things. Though all living beings have evolved from stardust, the big bang and its cosmic residue have become something new through the evolutionary process. Evolution moves in the direction of novelty, innovation, profusion and surprise. Reductionism is inadequate to describe what really takes place.

Atoms are contained within molecules, cells within organisms, organisms within ecosystems. There seems to be an “overall ordering of entities –atoms, molecules, cells, genes, etc. into intelligible forms or arrangements…something more is going on in nature and its evolution than simply brute exchanges along the matter-energy continuum.

Nature is a closed matter-energy continuum circumscribed by familiar processes and laws and yet it reconfigures itself in ways that escape the capacity of purely materialistic, mechanistic causality. This organizing principle resides in nature and is verifiable, but it is not completely reducible to a mechanistic explanation. There is more to evolution than reductionistic language can explain. . The ancient Greeks, while they did not possess the science of evolution, had a notion of “teleology” or “final causality” as an organizing principle in nature. This is not a “mystical” or “supernatural” concept, but something like it is required to do justice to the comprehensive reality that is the evolutionary cosmos as we understand it today.
When we enter the sphere of the human and the social, its poverty of explanation becomes readily apparent. A coherent and probable explanation for this is the existence of God.

Belief in God: The Best Inference.

Thus faith in God rooted intellectually in a thorough and inclusive analysis of reality. It is a the most comprehensive intellectual position–one that many people, myself included think is the best inference that can be derived from nature itself.

In this context contemporary science: biological evolution, the operation of randomness, natural selection, quantum mechanics, relativity and chaos theory have all converged to provided a contemporary philosophical basis to rediscover the dynamic and creative aspects of biblical faith which has for too long been articulated in the static categories of western philosophy. In a very real sense contemporary science has enabled a renewal of the future-oriented biblical theology which has always been there, but has been submerged in recent centuries.

Suggested Reading

Haught, John F. God After Darwin.Westview Press. Boulder, 2000.
Jaki, Stanley L. God and the Cosmologists. Scottish Academic Press. 1989
Peacocke, Arthur. Paths from Science Towards God. Oneworld Publications..Oxford, 2001
Peacocke, Arthur. Theology for a Scientific Age.SCM Press, London, 1990
Polkinghorne. The Faith of a Physicist. Fortress. Minneapolis, 1996
Ward, Keith. God, Chance and Necessity.Oxford. 1996















Belief and Inference

Post 2

a girl called Ben

OOOoooh! I like this. I don't agree with it's argument, but I do like it. I would like to include it in the project (so long as the Editors agree) though there may need to be a couple of changes.

Firstly: "atoms, molecules, cells, genes, etc." - genes are out of sequence, molecules<genes<cells.

Secondly: The EG has a policy of no personal opinion, and though it seems to be acceptable to come to an atheistic conclusion it may not be possible to argue to a theistic conclusion. Therefore the following sentances may need to be changed before they make it into the EG: "Thus faith in God rooted intellectually in a thorough and inclusive analysis of reality. It is a the most comprehensive intellectual position–one that many people, myself included think is the best inference that can be derived from nature itself."

Do you feel confident enough to create a Guide Entry with this text? If not, then I can, and GTB can sub it for us. There is an "Add Entry" button somewhere on your page, use that, and copy and paste your original post into it - and let me know the URL of the resulting page.

Thanks for your post. As I said, I would like to include it in the project.

B


Belief and Inference

Post 3

Ste

Hi everyone!

Bill, I'm glad you decided to contribute. If you like, I could help you make this into a format so that other people can view it as an entry.

It's actually convenient to do this as Bill is my Father-in-law! I told him about this project, and he's been dabbling on h2g2 for a while (most notably contributing to the creationism vs evolution project). In fact, seeing as I'm currently at his house right now thieving cookies from him I'll go into the other room and talk to him. smiley - laugh

I'll be back!

Stesmiley - earth


Belief and Inference

Post 4

a girl called Ben

Great! If you would do that Ste, we will include the entry in the project as submitted to the Italics.

All the best

B


Belief and Inference

Post 5

BillSD

Plenty of cookies. Any h2g2 correspondents visiting us are welcome
to share in the cookies.


Belief and Inference

Post 6

a girl called Ben

Well, funny you should mention that....

GTB and I are chatting on MSN now about our tour of the US in the summer, who we want to visit, (who we want to avoid smiley - winkeye) and where everyone is.

Ste is a marked man - the only way he can avoid us is by - well - avoiding us!

But it would be good to know where you are, Ste. If you don't want to post here drop me a line at [email protected] (Note the .co.uk not .com).

B
*always on the scrounge for cookies!*


Belief and Inference

Post 7

BillSD

Ben,

If it is acceptable to come to an atheistic conclusion, why is a theistic one unacceptable? The word "opinion" also has a variety of uses. Atheism and theism--and agnosticism, which simply comes to no conclusion regarding God--are really worldviews. This goes a tad bit deeper than opinion. For example, it is my opinion that both Bush and Blair are absolutely wrong on the proposed invasion of Iraq. This is an opinion. It fits in with a wider worldview, but without changing my worldview, if certain facts were demonstrated I might change my opinion.

So, why is the theistic worldview a problem in this project?

Bill


Belief and Inference

Post 8

a girl called Ben

It isn't a problem on the project as such, which is why I would like you to leave it as it is.

I am interested to see whether or not the Editors consider it to be a problem for the site though. There are double standards about this subject in particular or, more accurately, blind-spots.

Consider it a warning of a possible official response from the italics, rather than an expression of my own opinion, either personally or as the person pulling the project together.

All the best

B


Belief and Inference

Post 9

BillSD

Steve has edited the article and you can find it at A953705.

As for the official response from the italics, I don't know what that means. I put book titles in italics when I submitted it originally. I also had a quotation mark to cite something from one of the books I placed in the reading list.


Belief and Inference

Post 10

a girl called Ben

Sorry - h2g2 jargon.

'The Italics' is slang for the BBC employees who work full-time to run the site.

Entries can be 'Edited Entries' or normal entries. 'Edited Entries' have to conform to a fairly strict set of guidelines, and excluding personal opinion is one of those guidelines. I am putting together a suite of edited entries in this project on belief, and they must conform to the guidelines.

All edited entries go through a process of sub-editing (buy another user of the site) and final editing (by one of the Italics), though a copy of the original entry remains on site for as long as the author chooses to let it remain there.

Sorry for lapsing into slang there. Ste will let you know more about how the site works.

B


Belief and Inference

Post 11

Ste

I can Ben. But I still cannot see why an atheistic conclusion is acceptable, why a theistic one isn't. As Bill says, it is more than opinion. Also, on the whole, the rest of the project balances this out even if it does come to 'theistic conclusions'.

Stesmiley - earth


Belief and Inference

Post 12

a girl called Ben

Hey - hey - hey - I didn't say it was *acceptable* - I don't think that it is.

I was just making a prediction and an assumption - both of which which could well be faulty - about a possible comment from the Editors.

It will be interesting to see if I am wrong - I do hope that I am wrong - but my perception is that atheism is usually seen as neutral, and theism, (or any other belief-in-the-other) is seen as off to one side or the other. This is not to comment on the Editors as individuals, but on institutions like the BBC as a whole.

Please be aware that one of the things I find deeply ironic about the project is that more 'non-believers' have written for it than 'believers', and that a high proportion of the entries are atheistic in underlying assumption. The real irony is that as a Buddhist (mainly) I come into the category of 'Believer', even though that is not particularly obvious from any of my entries.

What I find interesting about this irony is that it suggests that many non-believers or atheists still have an itch that needs scratching, residual scar tissue perhaps. They are not neutral on the subject of religion, even if they say that they are. Interesting stuff.

Anyway - as I said - I do not think that it is acceptable, and I am grateful that you have kept on challenging me about this rather than assume that I meant what I so lazily said way back when. I do remain interested to see what happens when the Italics get ahold of the entry though.

Ben


Belief and Inference

Post 13

Ste

smiley - biggrin I know you didn't, you are assuming that The Powers That Be won't like theistic conclusions. I'm just asking why. If I concluded, which I very easily could have, that God is a purely neurological phenomenon, it would have got through no problems. Because it's atheistic in nature doesn't mean it's more 'neutral', surely? Can we get an official opinion from the italics on this one?

'I do not think that it is acceptable, and I am grateful that you have kept on challenging me about this rather than assume that I meant what I so lazily said way back when. I do remain interested to see what happens when the Italics get ahold of the entry though'
smiley - ok Me too. smiley - cheers

Should this be in the WW, by the way?

Stesmiley - earth


Belief and Inference

Post 14

a girl called Ben

Yep - it should be in the WW.

We will get an italic opinion on each entry as they are done, because although Uni entries aren't scouted, they are still subbed and italicised, if you see what I mean. So we will find out what happens when it happens.

Thanks again to both of you.

B


Belief and Inference

Post 15

Ste

The Writing Workshop (WW) conversation thread is here: F57153?thread=244728

Bill, the Writing Workshop is an area of h2g2 where you can submit your entries and other members of the site come along and make suggestions and give feedback on how to improve the entry. It's up to you whether you take these suggestions on board or not, but peer review is always a good thing.

It's be good to point an italic in the way of the entry and subsequently the conversation, something you could maybe do Ben? smiley - winkeye

smiley - cheers and thanks,

Stesmiley - earth


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