Where’s the evidence?

13,978,000,000 years ago the Big Bang started our universe. The scientists tell us with great excitement that they have finally detected the initial gravity waves dating the vast expansion which took place. A leading physicist described it as “one of the most important scientific discoveries of all time”. Moreover it provides strong evidence for the existence of a myriad of other universes – perhaps infinite in extent.

This discovery (already questioned, I see, by other scientists) will have no effect on our belief in God. But I want to use it as an introduction to the conflicts between science and faith. Fortunately scientists who oppose religion as a source of truth on principle are a vocal minority; their soul mates are the believers who, by knee-jerk, dismiss any science which appears to contradict their faith.

Religion, qua religion, is not concerned with such questions as the Big Bang. The proposition is simple: God created everything which exists. We have of course attempted to communicate this proposition through expressing it in stories fitted to the understanding of the original readers. And we have made the understandable mistake in the past of thinking that these stories give us literal accounts. Today, the Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture is able to describe this as “bad science and bad exegesis”.

Science, at least in its propaganda, makes a similar mistake. The questions that it asks are concerned with material causality and it is rightly held that these can only be answered though empirical evidence. Thus they can establish the boiling point of water or the gravitational waves of the universe, but they cannot establish the first cause of creation because that is not susceptible to empirical investigation. They have forgotten Aristotle’s dictum: “It is a mark of the educated man and a proof of his culture that in every subject he looks for only so much precision as its nature permits.” There is a rude arrogance in the claim that one’s chosen methodology defines the limits of accessible truth.

The questions which science asks and the questions which both religion and philosophy ask are different. They do of course bear on each other in different ways. But we need to be clear that science addresses the material elements of causal sequences, and the other two address the immaterial elements of our condition. Let’s look at some examples.

Freewill is a problem for scientists because, by definition, it is uncaused. So the idea has developed that a myriad of causes, dating back indeed to the Big Bang itself, are in operation. Thus our decisions are all determined. At first sight this is plausible. We are aware, when we make a decision, that we are influenced by our temperament, and by our emotional reactions to circumstances. And, if we are reflective, we realise that many of our motivations are unconscious. Scientists go further, and tell us that, since our rational and emotional responses are presented to us only through our brains, there is no room, nor need, for free decisions. It is as if that violin sonata we enjoyed must be attributed only to the violin, which made the music. The violinist is an unnecessary hypothesis.

It does not occur to them that their conclusion is self-refuting. If our decision is in fact only the end term of a vast chain of random causes, we have no reason to suppose that it is true. Random causes can only underpin random conclusions. They cannot even verify the claim that there is no free will.

Related to this, is the question of moral responsibility. I have noticed that non-believers are inclined to be shirty when it is suggested that they have no morals. But they certainly do have morals, and frequently they demonstrate this by their moral disapproval of religious doings. Of course they have to choose between being morally responsible and denying free will; they sometimes forget that they cannot have both. And when they are asked the source of their sense of moral obligation, they tell us that it is because they wish to be treated well by others, or that they are happy in a society which has acceptable moral standards. These are good reasons but unfortunately they are utilitarian, and so do not address right and wrong. Fortunately, they rarely practise what they preach.

A similar difficulty occurs with the question of consciousness. Even scientists recognize this as a hard problem. How does the vast amount of processing generated by the brain get converted into our sure sense of personal awareness? How is it that I experience myself not as thoughts or feelings but as an entity which has thoughts and feelings? The mechanisms of the brain which support consciousness are important to explore but the phenomenon of self-reflection lies outside scientific explanation. Indeed, we have to assume it before we can examine it.

Non-believers are inclined to claim that religious faith can be ignored because it depends on subjective inclination rather than evidence. We need perhaps to point out to them that their ability to make free decisions, their recognition of moral obligations, and their awareness of their conscious selves are all hard data, calling for an explanation. So when it is suggested to me that my beliefs are superstitious because they go beyond the evidence, I am inclined to point out that it is they rather than I who have chosen to exclude the very evidence on which all empirical evidence depends.

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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37 Responses to Where’s the evidence?

  1. overload says:

    One of the fundamental teachings in Buddhism is said to be dependent origination. Birth, which brings into play old-age, suffering and death, is the last of a string of dependent causes which have an “inconceivable beginning”: name-and-form is dependent upon consciousness; consciousness is dependent upon name-and-form. — http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.15.0.than.html
    This teaching can apparently be applied more specifically to contemplating rebirth. In this case things are seen slightly differently, and the origin of consciousness is said to be fabrications, which themselves are dependent upon ignorance. — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelve_Nid%C4%81nas
    I’m curious as to whether ignorance is/was always a necessary prerequisite condition for birth, and whether all or any of this adds to our understanding of “the only begotten Son of God”, through whom “all things were made”? Surely God cannot be ignorant.
    Another thing to note in relation to all of this: in Hebrews, the man Melchizedek said to be “made like unto the Son of God”, “without beginning of days or end of life”.

    • jimbeam says:

      “God cannot be ignorant”. This indicates the mystery (perhaps reason can touch this but never grasp it?) of the Son who is and was “fully God”, and was “fully human”. Hebrews 5:8 says: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him”. So, although Jesus “never sinned”, this passage tells us that he was ignorant according to his humanity, and perfected by the cross. Perhaps sustained ignorance is in some way necessary for God to associate with all human sin and weakness?
      On the other hand I suggest that prince Gautama was born both ignorant and merely human. Yet on attaining Nibbana (“fire gone out”), he became (the, or rather, a) Buddha (“awakened one”): now fully God (“made like unto the Son”) and also no longer subject to ignorance according to his humanity.

  2. Zara says:

    This is a very interesting post, Quentin! In truth there are a large number of things that scientists take on assumption. For example, they have decided that conciousness itself does not exist at all (no, really!) simply because it is forbidden by their primary belief in a random mechanical universe (now there is a bit of double-think for you!) which is composed of 100% inorganic material that somehow has a habit of turning into living organisms all by itself (except we have no idea how that happens and the idea itself is insane). Honestly, they have a problem with spontaneous multiplication of food, but they don’t have a problem with life arising out of random chemical interactions? If you are waiting for purely random atomic interactions to create even the simplest of the simplest quasi-proto-lifeform parts, even assuming the planet they are on can support them, you will watch the universe burn itself out a hundred or more times over. And that doesn’t even count actual lifeforms themselves, we’re just talking about the inert sub-components that then have to successfully collide many millions more times more times until they generate something which apparently has enough of a wish to survive that it hangs around long enough to invent eating and reproduction. And even that doesn’t count the infinite magnitudes of chance it would take for a universe to come into being where there was anything larger than a subatomic particle, let alone a universe that is actually capable of supporting even the most basic lifeforms. The infinite, undetectable, universes theory they use to hand-wave all this should be seen for exactly what it is – quasi-magical hokum dreamed up to patch the gaping crater where their argument ought to be.

    Then there are the so-called ‘constants’ (speed of light, gravity, etc), which they believe are fixed because scientists once thought God fixed all the rules of the universe at the beginning and they forgot. Indeed, they believe far more impossible things before breakfast than the White Queen herself! When they find out how something works, they stop at ‘how’. And that is fine, that is science’s function. The problem is they think that the how not only overrules the why, but does away with it completely. We know more about the ‘how’ of the brain every day, but we know nothing of the ‘why’ beyond a few hazy guesses.

  3. Alan says:

    If I have the environmental influences of everything that contributes to my decisions, plus the free will to make that decision one way or another, what has that free will added by way of confidence in that decision and how could you tell? Verification seems challenging to me either way.
    Although I don’t believe in a God my behaviour is, in many respects, fairly similar to that of most Christians. It seems to offer a reasonable amount of utility too though. I’m not sure what unfortunate behaviours someone might adopt which would clearly offer more utility.
    From what I’ve read about science’s examination of consciousness it remains an area of research with some recent progress but nothing very definitive to date. Not seen any mainstream consensus that suggests it doesn’t exist at all.

    • Quentin says:

      “Verification seems challenging to me either way.” Correct, of course. The difference lies in the fact that the determinist has abandoned any basis for a claim that what he says is true. His conclusion is not an outcome of human judgment but an outcome of a chain of causality over which he has no control. He cannot claim both to be free to judge while denying his freedom to judge. He must settle for one or the other. The believer may well be wrong about his freedom in any particular case but he cannot be criticised for contradiction.

      That you should be a decent person is no surprise. The Christian believes (and Scripture confirms) that non-believers have a built-in capacity to distinguish right from wrong, and a recognition that they must seek the one and avoid the other. The mystery to be solved here is the source of this moral responsibility which we require of ourselves and of others. The believer holds that this is because we are all created “in the image and likeness of God. The non-believer must find another reason.

      • jimbeam says:

        Quentin, you make the assumption that because Alan’s behaviour is similar to “most Christians”, therefor he is a “descent person”. If Alan does not believe in God then presumably his definition of a Christian is one who wears the name tag, so to speak. A Christian on the other hand might define a Christian as one who believes in Christ as their saviour and perfecter, and therefor also follows (or at least seeks to follow) Christ in all that they are and do.

      • Peter Foster says:

        “Freewill is a problem for scientists because, by definition, it is uncaused. So the idea has developed that a myriad of causes, dating back indeed to the Big Bang itself, are in operation. Thus our decisions are all determined.” (Quentin’s introduction)

        Karl Popper in his very readable book, “The Open Universe”, surveys the various theories of determinism. The idea of determinism is of religious origin connected with ideas of divine omnipotence and omniscience which imply that the future is known to God now and knowable in advance, and therefore fixed in advance. Since St Augustine, at least, Christian theology has for the most part taught the doctrine of indeterminism; with the exception of Luther and Calvin.
        One form of scientific determinism is described by Laplace: the world consists of corpuscles acting upon one another according to Newtonian dynamics and a complete and precise knowledge of the initial state, positions, velocities etcetera, at one instant of time should suffice for the deduction of its state at any other instant.

        Popper offers convincing arguments for indeterminism.

        All his arguments are accessible but the essence of one I prefer is as follows: An indeterminate physics is not enough to make room for human freedom. We need at least the causual openness of what he calls World 1 towards World 2, as well as the causual openness of World 2 towards World 3, and vice versa.

        By ‘World 1’ he means the world of physics: of rocks, and trees and physical fields of forces.
        By ‘World 2’ he means the psychological world of the human mind, but also of the minds of animals.
        By ‘World 3’ he means the world of the PRODUCTS OF THE HUMAN MIND: abstract things, such as problems, theories and arguments, including mistaken ones; works of art, ethical values and social institutions.

        But we can see that World 3 can produce an effect in World 1.
        Aeronautical theories are products of the human mind in World 3; however, they result in an aeroplane.
        An aeroplane is an object in World 1 whose existence is NOT a deterministic outcome of World 1 through its laws of physics.

      • overload says:

        In Buddhist teaching, the 5 ‘aggregates of clinging’ are the clump/pile/mass of phenomena which make our self (or rather ‘not-self’), and by which we are kept in the chains of ignorance as we cling to these things, craving for satisfaction (including ‘rebirth’), or aversion, according to constructs of these ‘aggregates’, which are by their very nature empty and impermanent. So we have:
        1. Form
        2. Feeling (as dependent upon 6 sense bases, mental senses being the sixth)
        3. Perception
        4. Fabrications; or mental formations; or mental volition/will
        5. Consciousness

        It might be that the order is significant.
        Forgive me for including a bulk quote, however I hope this might elucidate something of Buddhist teaching:

        “Monks, from an inconceivable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, although beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating and wandering on.
        It’s just as when a dog is tied by a leash to a post or stake: If it walks, it walks right around that post or stake. If it stands, it stands right next to that post or stake. If it sits, it sits right next to that post or stake. If it lies down, it lies down right next to that post or stake.
        In the same way, an uninstructed run-of-the-mill person regards form as: ‘This is mine, this is my self, this is what I am.’ He regards feeling… perception… fabrications… consciousness as: ‘This is mine, this is my self, this is what I am.’ If he walks, he walks right around these five clinging-aggregates. If he stands, he stands right next to these five clinging-aggregates. If he sits, he sits right next to these five clinging-aggregates. If he lies down, he lies down right next to these five clinging-aggregates. Thus one should reflect on one’s mind with every moment: ‘For a long time has this mind been defiled by passion, aversion, and delusion.’ From the defilement of the mind are beings defiled. From the purification of the mind are beings purified.”

      • Quentin says:

        I fear that I am not well-read in Buddhism, although I have an overall picture. But I know it to be an understanding of our existence which many have found enlightening. And I have benefitted directly from meditation methods which are attributed to Buddha. I know that many Christians have felt that it has much to teach us, helping us ultimately to understand through others’ eyes different dimensions of the things of God.

      • jimbeam says:

        Jesus tells us we find our true self in him as the way truth and life. So by the incarnation, the cross, and the grace of his living spirit, we have been given, if only we believe it (its already there), free identity, and free will. We must however accept and embrace slavery to the cross, and we will do so if we truly believe.

      • Alan says:

        “His conclusion is not an outcome of human judgment but an outcome of a chain of causality over which he has no control.”

        This does not appear to me to make the outcome any less trustworthy than its similarly unverifiable counterpart. Each has potential and each lacks surety. I would suggest that random causes may produce predictable, if not absolutely certain, events/outcomes … if I’ve any ability to judge/tell at all of course!

        “That you should be a decent person is no surprise.”

        As it would be no surprise to the more Utilitarian view that decent Christian choices about the right and the wrong way to behave – as led by something like the Golden Rule for example – would have a reasonable degree of utility that they might quite naturally recognize and therefore choose to employ.

    • Quentin says:

      “… if I’ve any ability to judge/tell at all of course!” I think your phrase encompasses the answer. You naturally accept possible fallibility, but you feel entitled to express your opinion because you have weighed the question in your mind and concluded with the help of your reason how matters stand. Your secular self may well go through the same process. but at the end finds itself denying any agency other than the culmination of preceding causes.

      The Golden Rule is, I think, dangerous to your argument. If I set it out as “behave to others as you would have them behave to you”, my response to this would be “why?” You may prefer to maintain that your reason is self-regarding, but I suspect that it involves a sense of duty, of kindness, of concern etc for others. It may of course also be utilitarian, e.g., you expect a favour in return or you would benefit from a society which behaved according to the Golden Rule, But I imagine that the overarching motive would be concern for the other person or people involved. On that loving concern, Jesus said, hangs the law and the prophets.

      • Alan says:

        If attitudes such as a sense of duty, kindness and concern for others encourage behaviours that have some practical value then, so long as they are common enough traits, I wouldn’t need to actually expect a favour in return for them to still deliver such – or tend to at least. Hard for me to imagine a lack of those attitudes, or some opposite of them, being nearly as effective. Not sure though.

      • Quentin says:

        It is not a coincidence that caring concern results in utility. Catholic moral teaching rests on Natural Law. That is: we should act in accordance with our nature. For example, if we hold that telling the truth is good because it corresponds to our social nature, we will not be surprised if society is damaged by a propensity to tell lies.

        If, say, a politician misleads us by telling a lie, we do not accuse him of just a technical fault, we hold him morally responsible, and blame him for doing wrong. But perhaps you don’t do that?

        Do you, in your philosophical moments, see man as a purely material object, or do you at least sometimes suspect that he (you?) has qualities which transcend the material?

      • Alan says:

        “…we will not be surprised if society is damaged by a propensity to tell lies.”

        A behaviour that damages a society I depend on seems more serious than a “technical fault” to me. I would want to discourage it at least and a ticking off might not server that purpose.

        “Do you, in your philosophical moments, see man as a purely material object, or do you at least sometimes suspect that he (you?) has qualities which transcend the material?”

        I have been struggling to answer this question. The main problem I am having is that I don’t know what it means for something to “transcend the material”. I have asked a couple of people their view and they differed in opinion.

        While I have had other thoughts perhaps it is best I just give an idea of my first reaction.

        I think it possible there is more to us than the material, but if I have any suspicion at all about man/me it is that the material might yet hold some surprises for us. It seems premature to me to relegate the material to second place in its potential to hold answers.

      • Quentin says:

        Yes, ‘transcend the material’ is really a bit of shorthand, but I think we can come at it another way.

        If we imagine that a human being is no more than material we must think of him, and his actions, as entirely the result of cause and effect. He may experience himself as a free agent but in fact he is an agent determined by his past. We cannot use the term ‘responsibility’ in his case because responsibility requires the ability to choose.

        If, on the other hand, you believe that you are responsible for taking or refusing an action, then you must believe that some non-material factor is involved. (The word ‘spiritual’ can confuse because of its association with religion.)

        Whether the word ‘transcends’ is appropriate here depends on whether you hold that this non-material factor through which you choose to steer your material actions is on a higher plane.

        Incidentally, I think that Christian definitions are open to misunderstanding because we distinguish the material and the non-material so clearly. But in fact orthodoxy requires us to see a human being as a single entity which is both material and non-material. Discovering more and more about human nature requires us to take both into account.

  4. PATSY STEVENS says:

    Though this might interest U, a change of reading/thought!!


  5. Iona says:

    “Love is the one thing that cannot hurt our neighbour” (following-on from Quentin’s August 11th, 3.37 p.m. comment above). – It’s from one of the NT “Letters” but I can’t remember which.

  6. jimbeam says:

    “Love is the one thing that cannot hurt our neighbour.”
    In other words, God’s spirit—who also lives within us—is always kind.
    Nice. ?
    It was God’s spirit who killed Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5).
    Further, Jesus did not pretend to say to the Pharisees: “Peace, peace! I Love you! God’s spirit lives within you!” Yet did he in truth say this to them?

    I was just looking for the peculiar story of Elisha who, when insulted by some children for being a bald head, cursed them in God’s name, and a bear came out of the woods and killed them. Instead I found the story of Jehu with his troops on his way to kill Jezebel (2 Kings 9):
    The King(Jezebels son)’s messenger: “The King wants to know if you come in peace.” Jehu: “What do you know about peace? Fall in behind me!”… And then Jehu to the King: “How can there be peace as long as the idolatry and witchcraft of your mother, Jezebel, are all around us?”
    Jesus warns us about Jezebel in the letter to the 7 churches.

  7. Ignatius says:

    ““Love is the one thing that cannot hurt our neighbour.”
    In other words, God’s spirit—who also lives within us—is always kind.
    Nice. ?”
    Seems to me Jim Beam we have a non sequitor on our hands….Love cannot hurt our neighbour that’s true, but we might hurt our neighbour, gas him, bomb him, betray him, murder his family etc etc. What is it you are trying to say?

    PS I like the story of the bears, I think it was a whole gang of them not just one that came out of the trees.

  8. jimbeam says:

    The Church remembers daily the cross; the baptised partake in the blood of Jesus shed for us, and his body, in the hope of his second coming — “Maranatha, quickly”.
    In the Roman Catholic Church how deeply entrenched — and how damaging and obstructive — is the misconception (both blatant and subtle) that Jesus died for us so that the one body — delimited as the RCC and/or enlarged to include the whole of this world — might have dominion and success with hope of worldly peace? (Thank Christ for what the RCC does have of these things so much as they serve as instruments of his salvation, unity and growing in love, and means to broadly and effectively proclaim the gospel.)
    I know fairly clearly what I think about this. Often not sure what other Roman Catholics (including Pope Francis) think, or indeed if you know what you think?

  9. jimbeam says:

    Sorry, I said “Papa” Francis; not wishing to undermine his position of authority in Church governance, none the less, according to todays (and last saturdays) reading from Matthew, I should rather have said “brother” (or perhaps “bishop”/ “elder” would be appropriate).

  10. tim says:

    But then we might not have understood who you meant.

  11. tim says:

    “As it would be no surprise to the more Utilitarian view that decent Christian choices about the right and the wrong way to behave – as led by something like the Golden Rule for example – would have a reasonable degree of utility that they might quite naturally recognize and therefore choose to employ.”
    Utility for what?

    • Alan says:

      I imagine it being for avoiding the sort of damage Quentin refers to when considering what a propensity for lies would do to society. Similarly I have often heard Christians talking about how much better they believe the world would be if more people shared, for example, a stronger love for their neighbour or how things are “going to hell in a handbasket” because certain values aren’t more widely held. To that better end or against that worse end.

      • Quentin says:

        Yes, this is right. But there is another step: if I don’t tell lies because of the damage it does to society then I must look at my motive. Is it simply because I benefit from being in a ‘truthful’ society (a quid pro quo, in fact) or do I include my wish for society to benefit from my honesty? I say ‘include’ because both motives may be present.

  12. pnyikos says:

    Sorry to be so late in commenting on this fascinating theme. I’ve been extra busy lately, especially with the start of the academic year here over a week ago.

    First, for anyone struggling with determinism, I would heartily recommend a chapter “Cybernetics and purpose: a critique” but especially an appendix to the chapter, “Materialism, Determinism, and the Mind,” in a book, The Phenomenon of Life by one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, Hans Jonas. Alas, the only online excerpts I’ve found are a lot less extensive than they used to be, and so the one on which I used to rely barely gets into the chapter and omits the appendix.

    In his appendix, he explodes the search for a system of “mental determinism” which tries to base all our behavior in motives, emotions, etc. His conclusion is that the complete failure of this project puts determinism back where it rightfully belongs: in the physical play of purely material processes. But there it runs into the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the possibility that we, by sheer force of our will, can choose which of various quantum indeterministic effects a certain state of our brain will give rise to.

    William James, another world-class philosopher, took a completely different tack, writing a many-faceted essay on the baleful effects determinism can have, including of course the denial of moral culpability but also getting into a lot of less obvious effects.

  13. pnyikos says:

    My wife brought back a diocesan newspaper from London and I was delighted to see this essay printed there. You did very well within the space constraints of the column, Quentin. The only statement really calls for amplification is this: “Moreover it provides strong evidence for the existence of a myriad of other universes — perhaps infinite in extent.”

    The evidence is very indirect, and depends on adopting certain underlying assumptions about “multiverse” hypotheses. In the main Wikipedia entry one can read one classification, by Max Tegmark, into Level I through Level IV multiverses.

    The simplest are the Level I multiverse hypotheses, which have to do with one grand space-time continuum forever expanding, with big spaces between what I call “island universes.” [This is an obsolete term for galaxies, which I would like to redefine to include what we normally think of as our universe, as one of a staggering number of universes.] I think this is what the new evidence is about — the effects on our “island universe” by one or more other “island universes” that arose through their own “big bangs” at a somewhat different time.

    According to one hypothesis, all these “big bangs” have their source in an amazingly fecund and powerful entity called a “false vacuum” which decays into the ordinary “quantum vacuum” that now prevails in our “island universe” and started prevailing in it once the hyperinflationary period drew to a close.

    The problem with Level I or even Level II multiverses is that they really give too little variation to the fundamental physical constants to explain the amazingly favorable ones that govern our island universe and were the subject of a book by Cambridge University Professor and Royal Astronomer Martin Rees, Just Six Numbers . An introduction can be found here:

    Click to access Just6nur.pdf

    Our universe is so incredibly favorable for life because these six constants happen to be what they are. The mystery of how it happened can only be dispelled in one of two ways: belief in a near-omnipotent creator, or in an infinity of universes with all kinds of imaginable or unimaginable properties, the Level IV concept. Rees opts for the latter, but everyone is free to differ. The one belief that is essentially untenable is that our little, young (ca. 13 milliard years) island universe is described in Carl Sagan’s words, “The cosmos is all there is or was or ever will be.” [In fairness to this opening sentence in his book, Cosmos, he might have been giving his definition of the word “cosmos” without identifying it with our island universe; however, our island universe is all he ever writes about in the book.]

    • Alan says:

      Interesting stuff pnyikos.

      Sometimes I wonder at the perspective that places life as the goal of this “fine tuning”. Are we certain enough about the alternatives to identify the values in our universe as being that special/significant? Of course it looks to be important to us – we depend on it – but I remember reading some speculation that complexity might also be possible in entirely different conditions.

      • pnyikos says:

        I do not doubt that complexity is possible in entirely different conditions. However, “the values in our universe” that I had in mind were simply this: the existence of entities in the universe capable of experiencing and understanding, in however imperfect way, their surroundings and/or themselves. Obviously this goes way beyond our species or even life as we know it.

        Alan, was your wording, perhaps, influenced by people knocking down the idea that the cosmos was created with Homo sapiens sapiens in mind? That is the theme I keep seeing in blog after blog, and usually the people it is directed at are Biblical literalists, who do still seem to cling to this idea in defiance of the space trilogy of C.S. Lewis and much else.

        Anyway, that idea is worlds apart from what the fine-tuning arguments are really about in the hands of knowledgeable people like Martin Rees or Kenneth Miller — or myself.

      • Alan says:

        I was considering those fine-tuning arguments that I had come across in passing. Perhaps made with our own “special place” in the universe in mind, but not with it being specifically the focus of the case made – at least not as far as I could tell. If there is a different argument that is being made then I’ve probably not seen it.

  14. overload says:

    Re. utility and free will

    Ok, so it seems we are talking about the utility of love — love as the means and the end? (The flip-side of this coin being the terminating/escaping of the utility of sin/delusion.)
    I am interested how this ties in with the notion of free will. Summing up something of this discussion and thinking aloud I will attempt to define it here:

    God is free will.
    I “have” free will so much as I have God and God has me. God lives “over, within and through all things”, so, in considering the universe(s) as constructs of the “aggregates of clinging” I mentioned earlier in reference to Buddhist teaching, God is not dependant upon any of these aggregates, and yet there is apparently a necessary (or from God’s point of view not necessary, rather, chosen) dependence (or clinging) to these things so that we might utilize love and choose him.

    God alone is free will, so we can only choose God according to a relative capacity to make choices, which is itself dependant on God choosing us (as indeed the OT and NT say again and again from various perspectives). According to reason, we do not and cannot know to what extent God chooses us according to the “aggregates of clinging”, since we discern this choosing in-and-according-to the aggregates. So the whole concept of will and choosing and self/selves (inc. God) disintegrates somewhere around this point.

    If I already utilize love and seek/desire further utilization of love; this does not in itself determine that I have the freewill to choose love — so long as I believe in “my self” and believe myself to be a free agent. Along the line of “self”, this cannot change until I believe myself as inseparable from the will and self of Jesus.

    • pnyikos says:

      My perspective on free will is completely different from yours. It was impressed on us in the Catholic schools I attended, starting with the third grade, is that sin is something we choose with our own free will, and a sin cannot be mortal unless full consent of the will is given. If God alone were free will, He would be sending people to hell for acts for which He alone (or circumstances of emotion, psychological background, physics of the brain, etc.) is responsible.

      I came to realize [American spelling] this at the age of 19, and even thought, “If my body or my soul are responsible for my sins, then let THEM be sent to hell or purgatory, but not ME!” But help came from an unexpected quarter. I recalled the philosophy of David Hume, whereby there is no such thing as causality, but only constant conjunction of one thing from another. Taken by itself, this is just jumping from the frying pan into the fire, but a modification carried the day for me: there might be free will decisions of mine for which there is no cause EXCEPT me — ME!

  15. overload says:

    Alan and Pnyikos, if I have grasped what you are talking about:
    As according to Catholic teaching, and as in my first comment on this page, there is a different argument made; this might be a different mode of thinking (or knowing) rather than necessarily being at odds with scientific reasoning and empirical knowledge.

    Pnyikos, thanks for the reply. Your words are a pragmatic reminder to me of how — so much as I am bound by false belief(s) — I cannot take God for granted, must test/examine what it is I truly believe (not just think I believe), and consider my own responsibility.

    The issue of who goes to hell and who does not and why, is a disturbing one.

    According to Buddhist teaching there is nothing (except the state which is “unmade, unborn, incorruptible, imperishable” — to the Jew “I AM”; to the truly Catholic Christian perhaps “LOVE IS”) which is permanent and unchanging, or even exists at all in any real sense. Thus gross-material universes such as our own, and fine-material heavens, and immaterial heavens, and hells, and any beings/fabrications of consciousness that constitute and depend upon these spheres for their existence, are all subject to death and rebirth (except some tier(s) of heavenly beings who are subject only to slight conceit and ignorance until death, so are not subject to rebirth). Only by extinguishing the fire of craving for self is one unbound from ignorance and the delusion of self, entering the “deathless”.

    As to freewill, and the fairness of God in fundamental reality, perhaps these quotes from Romans 9 are clearest:
    “I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.” So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it.
    Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into?

    • milliganp says:

      Overload, there is danger in your choice of translation of Romans of creating an inappropriate understanding of Paul’s doctrine – a more common translation uses the phrase “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?” Using the word garbage would arouse in most people a sense of God deliberately demeaning a human being. The fact is that common pottery or a garbage bin have a use and are as necessary as decorative works. Paul’s point is that God chooses how each of us fits His plan and we are called to live out whatever purpose God has given us.
      However this can’t be taken out of context of our creation in the image of God, the pots have different uses but share a common bond of being the work of the creator and being made of the same substance.

      • jimbeam says:

        Jesus himself made the perfect garbage jar.
        No doubt the Bible is a lethal weapon. Used with God’s spirit it can bring someone to their knees in an instant. Used presumptuously it might lead someone astray, or turn them fearfully/hatefully/bitterly/indifferently away from Christ (this might happen anyway). Watering down its meaning (not to say this is necessarily what you are doing here) could also potentially have tragic consequences.
        I pray God use my and your and our weaknesses (ie. capacity and tendency to speak presumptuously) to proclaim and share his name.

  16. milliganp says:

    Perhaps it’s a topic for a further blog but, returning to this subject after watching a number of “pro-atheism” videos on YouTube, TED etc, it is obvious that there is a deeply anti-religious movement in the US scientific community, In particular Neil deGrasse Tyson sets himself up as the US answer to Dawkins.
    In the US there is an obvious clash between religion and science because so many fundamentalist Christians support creationism and, in particular, young earth creationism – and so constantly deny evolution, astrophysics and global warming as they all clash with the creationist world-view. However the “scientists must be atheist” camp allow for no place for even reasoned religion. They also present all other branches of learning as “less intelligent” than science (because their leading intellectuals are less atheist than the scientific community).

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