God and science

[From Bruce Nevin (2000.0818.1150)]

Hypothesis: the universe is coherent and reasonable. We can figure out more and more about it. We can never figure out everything about it. Why?

1. The ultimate reason is that we ourselves are in it. We cannot observe that in ourselves which is doing the observing.

2. Even well short of that limit, we cannot observe without altering that which we observe.

There are other limits that seem ineluctable. (Delicious word, thank you Mr. Joyce. Means "that cannot be wrestled away from.")

3. We are limited to the universe of our perceptions, extended by various analog-producing devices. Within these limits, we create models, test them more or less adequately, and infer that they are analogous in relevant ways to what is Really Going On.

4. For example, we may be able to model some supra-human or supra-organismic critter such that our relation to it or them is analogous to the relation of our cells to our multicellular bodies. Whatever perceptions it is controlling must remain uncontrolled by us and therefore probably must remain imperceptible to us. (If we controlled the same perception we would inevitably come in conflict. But presumably we couldn't: imagine a liver cell controlling the location of the spare change in your pocket. It hasn't the means and why should it care.) There are effects in our universe of perceptions, presumably, but they may be population effects (epidemiological, cultural) or over so long a time scale that we don't grasp them, and so on. This is almost beyond the pale of what science may take an interest in.

5. Unquestionably beyond the pale, there may be unnumerable kinds of critters moving around, among, and through our bodies that don't interact with us nor we with them, mutually imperceptible. This is beyond the interest of science, because there are no effects in our universe of perceptions.

6. We may infer that all our motivation (reference values of controlled perceptions) is rooted ultimately in intrinsically set references for some biologically fundamental controlled variables. This may be persuasive or not, depending, I suppose, on what other variables are controlled by the person considering it. Is it demonstrable? Is it capable of proof? Certainly no more than science proves anything else, in some ultimate sense. And actually, less so (see 1-3, above).

Which is to say that there is more than enough of Mystery for God to dwell in, no matter how successful science may be.

Now suppose, for whatever reason, you "believe in God". (The scare quotes are meant as an umbrella over the various meanings of the phrase.) Interjecting God as a causative factor in science is a bad thing to do for science, and it betrays lack of faith in God. Why?

It is a bad thing for science because it is an uncontrollably powerful hypothesis. The whole point of science is to figure out what we can figure out on our own from our rather parochial (pardon the term) perspective within the universe.

It betrays a failure of faith. It betrays a conviction that if I don't include God in an active role in science then I am denying the existence of God in the universe described by science. But why should that matter? The universe as described by science is necessarily incomplete and always will be (see above). Science is necessarily and inherently an open-ended *process* of gaining greater understanding within our universe of perception.

A need to "deify" science by including God among its hypotheses betrays a prior "deification" of science as a basis for authoritative knowledge. Science gives us "the best we can get, and we know it's imperfect, but we're working on it." Ernst Nagle said that doing science is like being on a voyage on a ship in a storm while tearing the ship apart and rebuilding it by recombining its own materials with new materials found along the way. This kind of insecurity is just unacceptable to some folks.

Practice of science without including God among the hypotheses of science is not a denial or rejection of God. It is an expression of faith that Creation is our home and we can be at home in it.

It betrays a conviction that God is irrational. That the ongoing creating and sustaining of the universe is inscrutable, that we cannot make sense of it with science. I have indicated above what I think are some ineluctable limits of science. That doesn't mean the whole (including what we can't know) is irrational or incoherent.

Following the dictum about being made in the image of God ("male and female made he [or rather, they, elohim, feminine plural noun] them"), we infer that God is rational. We just don't know all the premisses.

When we get the notion that we do have all the axioms nailed down that we get into trouble, and that applies equally to religionists and to scientismists.

  Bruce Nevin