Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Science vs. Scientism

In a recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal entitled “God and Science Don’t Mix”, the cosmologist Lawrence Krauss argued that science implies atheism, or at least Deism. His argument can be summarized as follows:

  • Science tries to explain nature without calling on miracles or Divine Providence.
  • Science has been very successful.
  • This proves there's no miracles or Divine Providence.
  • The big religions assume there is.
  • Therefore they’re all false.
  • Also, look at Iran to see how bad religion is.

There are many flaws with his argument, and I will discuss some. The fact that science assumes there are no miracles does not mean there never are. Scientists study nature, but their may have been rare, supernatural events in the past. How does science disprove that possibility?

It may be hard to observe Divine Providence, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. I wrote to the Wall Street Journal:

Lawrence Krauss’s argument is similar to that of the 19th-century Materialists. They claimed everything was made of atoms, and if given enough information, the entire past and future could be predicted. Such a proposition left no room for free will or Divine providence. The development of Quantum Mechanics in the 20th century showed that, in truth, nothing could be predicted with exactitude; the smallest particles operated by apparent randomness. This randomness provides a hidden mechanism for God to intervene in the world.

While the letter isn’t exactly publish-quality, my point is clear: The Deism of the 1800’s cannot be justified when facing the mystery of the Quanta.

It would be helpful to compare the attitudes of the two greatest physicists of all time - Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. Einstein had a similar attitude as Mr. Krauss'. To quote an article from Time Magazine:

But there was one religious concept, Einstein went on to say, that science could not accept: a deity who could meddle at whim in the events of his creation. "The main source of the present-day conflicts between the spheres of religion and of science lies in this concept of a personal God," he argued. Scientists aim to uncover the immutable laws that govern reality, and in doing so they must reject the notion that divine will, or for that matter human will, plays a role that would violate this cosmic causality.

Einstein strongly believed in absolute determinism, and felt that science precluded both the notion of Divine Providence and of freewill. He felt such an attitude made it easier to forgive both others and himself for wrongdoings. He held these philosophical convictions so strongly that even as the evidence mounted for the new physics, Quantum Mechanics, he refused to accept it. To his dying day he believed that “God does not play dice with the cosmos”. In another case, which Einstein later called his “greatest mistake”, he fudged his relativity equations to maintain a belief in an eternal universe. Einstein may have felt his beliefs were principles of science, but they were just examples of the bias of scientism.

Isaac Newton was, in many ways, the father of science. His theory of gravity united the heavens and the earth. Did this discovery cause him to reject his religion? Actually yes, but he didn’t become an atheist or Deist. After discovering the unity of the universe, Newton rejected the Christian trinity as idolatry, and accepted the One God of Moses. He even risked his career by refusing to take Christian oaths.

Newton realized the order and unity of nature do not point to atheism, but rather to the One Creator. God and science get along just fine, it’s God and scientism that don’t mix.


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WFB said...

...i don't think they read your post

WFB said...

according to wikipedia on newton's religious views:
Richard Westfall, the leading biographer says: "Well before 1675, Newton had become an Arian in the original sense of the term." Westfall adds, his views "remained unaltered until his death."[1] "Arianism" was an ancient Christian heresy, and was no longer an organized religion with well-established doctrines. Newton kept it secret because heresy would lead to termination of his appointments at Cambridge University and the Mint. Nevertheless, says Westfall, "He identified himself with Arius, both intellectually and emotionally."[2]
עכ"ל wikipedia. if this is true, it means that newton did not reject jesus as a divinity...

WFB said...

however, if it makes you happy, the muslims also make your argument (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=930571660745143381)

BBC - 'Newton: The Dark Heretic' Aired 2003 'Heretic' in the sense that he disbelieved in the concept of the Trinity. A very interestin...all » BBC - 'Newton: The Dark Heretic' Aired 2003 'Heretic' in the sense that he disbelieved in the concept of the Trinity. A very interesting documentary revealing a hidden and truly enlightened side to one of the greatest minds that western civilisation has known. His deep study of science led him to a firm conclusion that there is a Creator and based on his study of early Christian history, he was convinced that the concept of The Trinity was a falsification of the pure message of monotheism that Jesus preached. Newton vehemently rejected the corruption of the Christian establishment and the innovation that is the divinity of Jesus, his belief was the revealed God is one God. During his life he was forced to keep this belief secret for fear of being labelled a heretic and after his death this information was carefully suppressed. The documentary also highlights the point that in the absence of study of the final divine revelation no matter how great the mind the knowledge of the unseen can not be deciphered as is illustrated by the fact that Newton spirals into a hopeless search for the truth by vigoursly engaging in the art of alchemy! File can be downloaded from http://www.islamictorrents.net/details.php?id=6870«

Glunker said...

he believed jesus was created by God and totally subject to Him, but still some sort of power that did God's will. i think that fulfills the 1st of the 7 mitzvoth.
see the discussion in "the columbia history of philosophy", especially this quote from newton.
there are many interesting quotes form Newton relating to science and Monotheism. eg:

It is the perfection of God's works that they are all done with the greatest simplicity. He is the God of order and not of confusion. And therefore as they would understand the frame of the world must endeavor to reduce their knowledge to all possible simplicity, so must it be in seeking to understand these visions.

from here ע'ש

Glunker said...

the quote from i meant to link to from the CHoP meant is here.

Glunker said...

The wsj published some responses, and many said similar stuff. but they didn't deal with the fact that he was willing to accept a deistic God. i addressed his main argument.

the link is currently at:

joshua said...

I like the post. You write beautifully. Keep writing!!

This is Joshua from
Israeli Uncensored News

Toviah said...

Why should it matter what scientists, however great they are, believe about God? Ultimately, all of the important questions about God are philosophical questions, not scientific ones. Trying to look for approbations from prominent scientists for a particular conception of God is an exercise in futility.

The question of the existence and nature of God has been debated among philosphers for millenia, and arguments have been constantly made, reformulated, and refuted from both sides. It is astounding to me that in the modern context, people who have little or no philosophical background keep rehashing the same arguments over and over again, as if they will be able to convince the whole world that they're right.

Glunker said...

umm.. who are you arguing against? It sounded like an argument against Lawrence Krauss.

Toviah said...

I'm arguing against anyone who doesn't have a background in philosophy making arguments about God. That includes Krauss as well as yourself.

Proofs should be made as formal logical syllogisms that take into account prior proofs and disproofs as well as possible counter arguments, not with name-dropping or cute analogies.

Glunker said...

It seems like you've been taking Prof. Johnson, but there's still room for articles written in normal language.
I don't think either of us really used name-dropping or cute analogies, and I don't see how you know how strong our philosophical backgrounds are.
My point was that krauss was basically propounding the obsolete philosophy of the 1800's materialists, and the whole argument wasn't very strong to begin with.
I then showed how Einstein had made a similar philosophic argument, and it caused him to go against science. On the other hand, Newton's discovery of physics led him to monotheism. This helps demonstrate that there's nothing in science against God, He just doesn't fit with krauss's philosophy.
I think this is something you should probably agree with.

Toviah said...

I agree that Newton believed in God. I agree that Einstein had difficulty with a God that interferes with nature. However, these are trivia facts and are wholly irrelevant to the question of the existence of God. It is well known that many scientists have been lead both toward and away from religion as a result of their scientific studies. This is also wholly irrelevant.

There are hundreds of people who have written articles like Krauss's, and hundreds more have written articles like yours. Ultimately, there are two sides as to whether science overrides the need for a God, and ultimately people will believe whatever they believe. It is of these types of arguments that Koheles said "Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body".

Perhaps I was being presumptuous in my assesment of Krauss's and your background in philosophy, but usually it's pretty easy to tell based on the terminology used and the content and form of the arguments made.

Glunker said...

I was not discussing the existence of God. I was just dealing with krauss's claim that science argues against God. He took an approach like Einstein and it was wrong.
The fact that Newton believed in God doesn't prove God's existence but it does help weaken krauss's claim. Krauss thinks one can't proceed with scientific discovery if he believes God can be involved in nature. Newton seems to have been pretty good at scientific discovery.
When I read an article I thought was weak, I thought it was important to reply to it, even if books have been written on the topic.
On the other hand, this discussion doesn't seem to be focused on important points, isn't leading to any end, and is getting weary. And I'm hungry.

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ilona@israel said...

"Science has been very successful." - he lies to himself. theory of Darvin is very problematic, and it seems it proved that its wrong. as for other issuies- there bunch of things that science is not able to explain...