Archive for the ‘God’ Category

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence

February 12, 2008

Yesterday I listened to physicist Lawrence Krauss from Case Western University speak.  He said:

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

For example, there is no evidence of God, but that does not allow us to conclude that there is no God.  That is, the absence of evidence for God is not evidence of the absence of God.

Searching for that deeper meaning to life? The key to the universe has been found!

January 1, 2008

Throughout history, prominent thinkers have been convinced that the everyday world observed through our senses represents only the surface manifestation of a deeper hidden reality, where the answers to the great questions of existence should be sought.

So compelling has been this belief that entire societies have been shaped by it.  Truth seekers have practiced complex rituals and rites, used drugs and meditation to enter trancelike states, and consulted shamans, mystics and priests in an attempt to lift the veil on a shadowy world that lies beneath the one we perceive.

Attempts to gain useful information about the world through magic, mysticism, and secret mathematical codes mostly led nowhere.  But about 350 years ago, the greatest magician who ever lived finally stumbled on the key to the universe — a cosmic code that would open the floodgates of knowledge.  This was Isaac Newton — mystic, theologian, and alchemist — and in spite of his mystical leanings, he did more than anyone to change the age of magic into the age of science.

The word science is derived from the Latin scientia, simply meaning “knowledge.”  Originally it was just one of many arcane methods used to probe beyond the limitations of our senses in the hope of accessing unseen reality. The particular brand of “magic” employed by the early scientists involved hitherto unfamiliar and specialized procedures, such as manipulating mathematical symbols on pieces of paper and coaxing matter to behave in strange ways.  Today we take such practices for granted and call them scientific theory and experiment.

We really are in possession of the key to the universe.  The ancients were right: beneath the surface complexity of nature lies a hidden subtext, written in a subtle mathematical code.  This cosmic code contains the secret rules on which the universe runs.  Newton, Galileo, and other early scientists treated their investigations as a religious quest.  They thought that by exposing the patterns woven into the processes of nature they truly were glimpsing the mind of God.

Cosmic Jackpot by Paul Davies

Here’s how Einstein judged a scientific theory

December 12, 2007

When judging a scientific theory, his own or another’s, he asked himself whether he would have made the universe in that way had he been God.

Albert Einstein Creator and Rebel by Banesh Hoffmann

An interventionist God, or a hands-off God?

December 4, 2007

MIT professor Alan Lightman was interviewed on NPR recently (starts at 12:15 minutes into the audio file and goes to 13:36). He said something that I found particularly interesting about two different viewpoints about God. I transcribed part of his talk:

  1. There is a kind of religious belief that is completely consistent with science, and this is if you believe in God, and God can be all powerful, as long as God does not intervene once the Universe is created, as long as God can create the laws of nature and the design of the Universe, as long as God then “sits down” so to speak, then that kind of religious belief is completely compatible with science. What science requires is a set of laws of nature or rules that govern phenomena, that are repeatable, that are predictable, that follow cause-and-effect relations.
  2. If, however, you believe in a God that, from time to time, intervenes and violates the laws of nature, for example, a God that can perform a miracle at this instant, that can make this table start floating for no reason, then that kind of belief is completely incompatible with science because then science cannot then make predictions based upon laws of nature, there is some external agency that can act at will in an unpredictable manner, and that would put scientists out of work. Some people call this the interventionist version of religious belief.

“God” is unclassifiable

October 21, 2007

Every proper name represents an object of a certain kind and belongs to one or more classes of objects that can be defined.  Thomas Aquinas can be classified as a medieval theologian, philosopher, and a human being.  “Zeus” and “Apollo” are proper names that designate unique objects, but they are also objects that belong to the class known as gods worshiped by the ancient Greeks, a class that includes Aphrodite and Pallas Athena as well.

When we use “God” as a proper name, we are using it to designate an object that is not only unique, as every other singular individual is, but one that is also unclassifiable.

How to Think about God by Mortimer J. Adler

What does the word “God” mean?

September 24, 2007

I am starting to read a book How to Think about God by Mortimer J. Adler. The purpose of the book is to answer the question Does God exist? The author approaches the question very rigorously. In the first section he makes some initial remarks about proceeding in a rigorous fashion, and then I got to this:

“In the preceding pages, the word ‘God’ has been used again and again, and used without explanation of its meaning. What went through your mind, I would like to ask the reader, when you read sentences containing the word? Were you stopped by it because it was as meaningless to you as a word in a foreign language, or as a word not in your vocabulary?”

This startled me. It never occurred to me that there might be different meanings of the word for different people, or no meaning at all for some people.

He argues for the importance of clearly articulating what the word “God” means if headway is to be made in answering whether God exists:

“Everyone concerned with the question whether X exists must attach the same meaning to the word that names or designates X; and that meaning must be made as clear and precise as possible. Scientific inquiries, in which the X in question may be a certain kind of elementary particle or a certain celestial body, would not proceed without first giving as much clarity and precision as possible to the word that is used to name or designate X.”