Questions like “why do I exist?”, “does my life have purpose?” are religious or philosophical questions that science doesn’t claim to answer. But Richard Dawkins seems to think that science does answer the questions of purpose and meaning.
However one views this, it is odd and can only mean that either Dawkins’ quest for purpose is microscopically shallow or that science has become his religion – or, as I suspect is the case, a combination of both.
The complete video from which this version of scientism’s answer to an Alpha invitation – delivered with all the bright-eyed fervour Dawkins can muster – is extracted can be found here.
At the end of the interview, it sounds as if the interviewer says: “Bishop Dawkins, thank you very much”? Obviously a Freudian slip.
Roger Penrose in his book, “The Emperor’s New Mind” effectively demolished the idea that thinking is algorithmic; the belief that artificial intelligence is possible using current computational mechanisms, is also a casualty of Penrose’s reasoning.
Penrose, not being a theist, places more faith in the role of quantum mechanics in the operation of an apparent Cartesian version of free will than, say, a Christian, who might be more inclined to view free will as the result of being made in God’s image.
Some interesting new research on animals shows that, whether his quantum explanation is correct or not, Penrose’s notion that the operation of the brain is not merely algorithmic is confirmed.
From the BBC:
The free will that humans enjoy is similar to that exercised by animals as simple as flies, a scientist has said.
The idea may simply require “free will” to be redefined, but tests show that animal behaviour is neither completely constrained nor completely free.
The paper, in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggests animals always have a range of options available to them.
“Choices” actually fit a complex probability but, at least in humans, are perceived as conscious decisions.
The idea tackles one of history’s great philosophical debates, and Bjoern Brembs of the Berlin Free University brings the latest thinking from neurobiology to bear on the question.
What has been long established is that “deterministic behaviour” – the idea that an animal poked in just such a way will react with the same response every time – is not a complete description of behaviour.
“Even the simple animals are not the predictable automatons that they are often portrayed to be,” Dr Brembs told BBC News…..
Christof Koch, a biologist from the California Institute of Technology and frequent author on topics of free will and biology, said that the work hits at the heart of “one of the oldest problems in philosophy”.
In writing about Dr Brembs’ research, he suggested that “the strong, Cartesian version of free will—the belief that if you were placed in exactly the same circumstances again, you could have acted otherwise—is difficult to reconcile with natural laws”.
“There is no way the conscious mind, the refuge of the soul, could influence the brain without leaving tell-tale signs. Physics does not permit such ghostly interactions.”
That last sentence betrays a thoroughly unscientific preconception: that the numinous doesn’t exist. If it does exist, there isn’t any scientific reason for supposing that it could not interact with nature – physics – or, rather physicists – no matter how they exercised their free will, would have little choice but to admit it.
Stephen Hawking meanders into questions of philosophy and tries to answer them with answers from science. Brilliant though he undoubtedly is, he uses as his starting point the assumption that “God does not exist” and proceeds to tautologically demonstrate his assumption “scientifically” – a prime example of scientism.
The BBC has a good article refuting Hawking’s “necessity” argument:
The Stephen Hawking story is front page news today, with radio shows and news programmes also carrying it. But what is the story? If you trust some press coverage, Hawking claims that modern science forces the conclusion that “God did not create the Universe“. If you read other press coverage, he has concluded that “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.” These are two very different claims. The first claim is as difficult to prove (some would say as impossible to defend) as the claim that God did create the Universe; I suspect Hawking is actually arguing for the latter claim. But notice that the former claim is not logically entailed by the latter.
Let’s consider the claim that God’s existence is not “necessary” to explain the existence of the Universe. Even if Hawking is right — and it is evidentially too soon to say — that M-theory can explain the “spontaneous creation” of the Universe, without any assistance from a divine being, it does not follow from that claim that God’s existence is “unnecessary”. All one could argue is that one can offer a coherent causal explanation for the Universe which does not make reference to God’s existence. But God’s existence may still be considered “necesary” for non-scientific reasons. I’m not suggesting that God’s existence is neccessary even at the level; merely that some could mount a coherent case for the necessity of God as a “personal” or “teleological” explanation regardless of the causal implications of M-theory.
Take what Hawking says about M-theory. He writes: “According to M-theory, ours is not the only universe. Instead, M-theory predicts that a great many universes were created out of nothing. Their creation does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god. Rather, these multiple universes arise naturally from physical law.”
Set aside the question of why a multiple-universes-ex-nihilo explanation would be more acceptable than a single-universe-created-ex-nihilo explanation. Instead, focus on the physical law that spontaneously gave rise, according to Hawking, to multiple universes. Why those laws rather than some others? Who or what determined that our universe is “governed” by these physical laws rather than some others? This, perhaps, is a variant of the classic philosophical question: Why is there something rather than nothing in the universe? Hawking’s answer appears to be a variant of the classic agnostic response: There just is. But people of faith are quite within their epistemic rights in regarding that answer as insufficient. The physical laws which gave rise to the universe (whether a single universe or a muliplicity of universes) are themselves in need of a full and final explanation. Hawking has given no reason at this stage to rule out a religious explanation. That’s not to say that a religious explanation is the best possible explanation for the physical laws at work in the universe, but it does mean that these are still open questions. In an excerpt from his book published in The Times today, Hawking confidently dismisses the entire discipline of philosophy as “dead”. He might usefully reconsider that brash allegation.
One of the problems of multiverses and M-theory is that they are scientifically unverifiable, a fact that makes them rather useless as a scientific theory.
A second problem is that they defy the principle of Occam’s razor: the simplest explanation is the most likely one to be true.
Thirdly, a theory that predicts a probable infinite number of universes in an attempt to escape the necessity of God’s creating this one, has the following flaw:
- In an infinite number of universes there are an infinite number of possibilities; therefore, at least one universe must have been created by God – a being, whose attributes cannot be exceeded by any other being.
- Since a God that created all multiverses would be greater than a God that created only one, then God must have created all.
- God created our universe.
Dr. William Lane Craig lists them:
As they meet in Melbourne to celebrate their lack of faith:
More than 2,000 atheists from around the world are gathering in Melbourne, Australia, to celebrate their lack of religious belief.
It is thought to be the world’s largest gathering of atheist thinkers. There is a determination to avoid what one session calls Atheistic Fundamentalism, says our correspondent.
Participants will be urged to avoid “missionary zeal” in their determination to promote their non-religious message to the world.
As this article notes, Dawkins’ brand of neo logical positivist scientism rests as much on faith as Christianity, Judaism or the foam-flecked ravings of a benighted pagan animism – also known as Anglican-nouveau:
The truth is that science, like religion, starts off beyond reason and then becomes rational. Science is based on faith that the universe is rational. No scientist would begin to do science if they presupposed the universe is beyond understanding. The scientific search for the most simple and elegant theory is motivated by faith that such a theory exists. Charles Townes, a Nobel Prize winner for physics, said: “Science is so successful we are enthralled. Many people don’t realize that science basically involves assumptions and faith . . . nothing is absolutely proved.”