Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Missing the point

I hate to say it, but I find the arguments for Intelligent Design to be somewhat unconvincing. I'm afraid I just don't see why the fact that even fairly simple life forms are actually incredibly, amazingly complex, proves anything. I don't see why incredibly, amazingly complex life forms couldn't have developed their complexity through a kind of biological trial and error over a very long period of time. I just don't really see mere complexity as a sufficiently compelling argument for the existence of a designer.

At the same time, I find the answers of the Darwinians equally unsatisfying. I think both groups are locked into a materialist mindset that cannot grasp certain metaphysical ideas. They are looking for proof of God in the wrong place. And they are giving answers that are, essentially, non sequiturs. Religious people understand that the proof for the existence of God has little to do with the question of the origins of the universe or of life. God doesn't live in the universe. The only way He could have created it is to have already existed before it. Physical reality and all the laws governing it were made by God; He therefore can't be part of it.

Darwinians especially seem locked into a silly argument with Protestant fundamentalists over the origins of the physical universe or of life in it. Because they don't know anything about religion or philosophy, (and can't seem to be bothered to look it up on Wikipedia) they they don't seem to understand that Protestant creationists are not only talking scientific nonsense, they are talking through their hats on religion too. I once had to laugh when some nasty little atheist tried to accuse me of being a Creationist because I believed that God made everything. He seemed incapable of understanding that one can believe God is the author of reality without trying to prove that the early verses of the book of Genesis is a literal historical, minute-by-minute account of the first week of existence.

They don't seem to understand that the dumb Proddies arguing this silly theory are just as irritating to intelligent Christians as they are to the scientists.

Creationism is not properly speaking a religious argument about the creation of the universe; it is a political argument for the literal interpretation of the Bible and for sola scriptura. It is, in origin, a fight not with science, but with the Catholic Church. It goes back to the 16th century and is, frankly, very boring and stupid. (Really? I'm supposed to believe that the earth is 4000 years old because of the genealogies? Seriously?) The problem these Proddies have is a basic misunderstanding of what kind of document the Bible is, what it is for, and the way in which it is inerrant. It's neither a history text nor a book about physics or geology.

But this brings me to Intelligent Design, which is not, as far as I can see, an offshoot of this ancient and tired Protestant fight. It really does seem to be a movement springing from scientists who had no previous association with Proddie fundamentalism. And yet, it is still hampered by the same mistakes that both the Creationists and the Darwinians are making. None of them seem able to think outside their materialist box.

God is not in the universe. He made everything and holds everything in existence moment to moment by a continuous, eternal act of His will. The problem everyone seems to have with this question is the difficulty of thinking of things that exist outside physical reality. Outside time and space.

Darwinians and atheists like to say that the universe was brought into being by a big explosion a long time ago. When you ask them what was there before that big explosion, they will say, variously, "nothing" or "another explosion". But these answers are not even addressing the real question. It does not answer, "Where did the explosion come from? What made it happen?" Saying, "It just happened" or things "just exist" is not only unsatisfactory to people like me, it's anti-scientific. It's an expression of belief.

Dawkins once answered the question about where the big bang came from in an interview by saying, "I don't know." Which is at least honest. But when he is saying, "God doesn't exist," and seems to expect people to believe it because he's a scientist, he is making a fool of himself in the same way a plumber would be foolish to make definitive statements about cosmology.

All these people are missing the point. The existence of God really cannot be either proven or disproven by the natural sciences. Dawkins' assertion that God does not exist is not based on evidence, it is not a scientific assertion, it is an expression of religious belief. And I think that the best the ID guys can say is that they believe that such complexity as can be found in the bacterial flagellum, seems likely to point to a designer.

Physical science is only capable of observing objects and systems within physical existence and God, the author of physical reality, does not live there, as an author does not live in the book he writes. When people are looking for evidence of the existence of God, you can't answer them from inside the box of physicality.

Unfortunately for us, natural scientists are no longer trained in philosophy so they don't seem to understand the limits of natural science, and don't seem to know that they can't answer all questions about reality. It's a pity, because it seems clear that the people asking them for proof or disproof of God don't know this either. Modern people have been conditioned to think that questions about what is and is not real can only be answered using empirical science. Philosophy has become so arcane and intellectually corrupt (thanks Descartes) that it would never cross their minds to look for concrete answers there. That there are other kinds of proofs is something that many people, and apparently most scientists, have forgotten or have never known.

Darwinians have failed to even address the real question and it is hard to escape the idea that they are refusing to address it because they know it is outside their competence. It is very difficult to listen to these people talk about religion without thinking them very arrogant, and quite frankly, ignorant. I have always wanted to hear what Dawkins would have to say in response to Aquinas' five proofs. But it seems likely that neither he nor most of his interlocutors have heard of them and none of them, on either side, seem to have any notion that there is any way to address the question without natural science.

They have no background whatever, it seems, in even elementary philosophy. The Darwinian answer, "It just happened," because it ignores the real issue, is trite and unsatisfying. Things do not "just happen". There's this thing in metaphysics called "causality," which is completely observable and which philosophers have called "the cement of the universe". In other words, you can't have physical reality without it.

I myself have been observing things not just happening all my life. Events inside physical reality, existence, are always caused by some other event. All of existence is linked together by this chain and everything that happens also causes other things to happen. This is something that everyone can observe and figure out.

This means that everything that happens and everything that exists is "contingent". Everything is reliant on the thing prior to it in the chain. In philosophy, the word contingent means, "neither impossible nor necessary". A contingent being, therefore, is something that really exists, but depends on something else for its existence. Contingent beings do not exist out of necessity. It is not their nature to exist. I am a contingent being, there was a time when I didn't exist, therefore it is not my nature to exist.

The trouble that both the Darwinians and the ID people are having is that they are trying to demonstrate the existence of God from observing things within that chain of causality, and all they can come up with are things that do not exist out of necessity. Things that are contingent, dependent upon something else in the chain for their existence.

What they seem incapable of doing, perhaps because their intellectual training has been too specialised, is thinking about something that exists out of necessity. What people are asking when they want to know where did the universe come from is not, when was the Big Bang. It is, where and when did the chain of causality start?

The only way to start this chain that is the "cement of the universe," the foundation of physical reality, is to be something whose nature it is to already exist, to exist outside time and space. It has to be something that is not subject to causality, whose existence is not contingent, or dependent on anything else to have started it.

There is only one thing, one being, whose nature it is to have always existed and which will always exist in the future, and this being by its nature cannot exist within the boundaries of the causal chain.

Next time you're discussing the existence of God or the origins of the universe, the thing to ask is not, when did it all start, but how. All things are dependent upon previous things. What, then, is the first thing?