Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Maker's Marvelous Design

'My husband, a laser physicist, tells me that scientists who study particle physics are more likely to become religious. Scientists are notoriously hard to convince of anything. Yet, when these skeptical scientists see the perfect, natural order of the world, they decide, nano and up, that this world was planned. The marvelous design before them becomes the miracle they need to be convinced.'
--Software developer Tamar Sofer, quoted in The Spiritual Brain--A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul


At 2:33 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

The "intelligent design" notion has a few problems.

If the order of the universe is explained by postulating a creator, then we have a new and less accessible puzzle: how did he/she/it get there, and how did he/she/it get so smart?

How do you apply such a "theory?" Throw up your hands and declare "design" whenever you have trouble explaining something? How is it testable?

What useful or interesting results have been obtained by taking this approach? None that I know of. It is not what they call "fruitful."

Can you imagine where science would be today with that kind of thinking? Answer: just where it was before the scientific era.

Lots of buildings and mitres.

At 2:37 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Before anyone jumps on this, I meant to write:

Can you imagine where THE WORLD would be today with that kind of thinking? Answer: just where it was before the scientific era.

At 2:21 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

From Tristero today at Digby's Hullabaloo:

"(There has been a) wide intellectual assault, advancing arguments that have been refuted long ago (the Argument From Design was debunked at least as early as the Rennaissance, I think). They should be viewed not merely as crackpot notions to be laughed at (although ridicule is entirely called for) but also as a very dangerous rightwing movement. Consider how much time has been wasted fighting back attempts to redefine science as open to non-scientific explanations. It's been an incredibly difficult fight."

At 3:59 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Sorry, Bluster, but I'll let that quote I posted speak for me on the topic. I think it fairly reflects my thoughts as well.

At 2:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bluster: I see what you're saying. I really do. But you're trying to prove or disprove a "theory" using logical thought, when the proponents of that theory would say that's just it -- you CAN'T prove or disprove it logically. If you believe in an intelligent designer (and I think I dislike that term, but I'm not clever enough to come up with something better), then you buy into the idea that "my ways are higher than your ways, says the Lord." It's a different level of thought and ability and is beyond our ability to prove and disprove. My point being: This is yet another apples-and-oranges debate between two sides that will never, ever find any common ground. The intelligent designers (there I go again) can just as easily say they will "disprove" your ideas based on the revealed word of God in Scripture. But that argument would mean nothing to you, just as your arguments mean nothing to them. You could make the argument that you would rather rely on something you can see and experience (and I might agree with you on that), but like I said, it's an eternal stalemate. And as I go back re-read all of this, I realize I'm probably simplifying this into two black-and-white sides, when in fact there are multiple shades of grey when it comes to how you view the origins and design of the universe. But you get my point...I hope.

At 11:51 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Minimalists, or people who are comfortable with not "knowing" final answers can look at science as an ongoing, and probably destined-to-be-incomplete investigation.

Those who for whatever reason must begin with a belief in a deity or deities can approach science as an appreciation of their favored deity through deeper understanding of his/her/its/their mode of putting the universe together.

Both mindsets have been taken by successful scientists. Neither group is spared the hard work of coming up with theories and putting them to rigorous and ongoing testing.

Since the assumption of deity is itself not really testable (at least no one has yet come up with a way to test it,) it is nulled out in the actual practice of science.

Here is Einstein's take on the matter:

"I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."

At 9:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you sum it up well in this sentence: "Both mindsets have been taken by successful scientists. Neither group is spared the hard work of coming up with theories and putting them to rigorous and ongoing testing."

Even those who live their lives by "faith" are, I believe, obligated to test that faith continually, just as a scientist tests a hypothesis and constantly refines his/her conclusions based on observation.

You crystallized my thoughts far better than I could have, Bluster.

At 5:09 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Wow, I love this conversation. And thank you Scott, for taking the time to think through the argument and express it as well as you have, which is an extra treat in a blog comment section (meaning the writing and thinking on display in your comment are far better than anything I've provided in the main section. But then, that's one of the real beauties of this medium). And you moved Bluster to express his views equally well (indeed, far better than I have thus far).

I admit to having been deeply influenced by the Jesuit perspective on all this. The Jesuits, for those not familiar with them, are something of the intellectual independents (some would call them radicals, or even apostates) of the Catholic Church. And they argue, and I've come to agree, that on the deepest level, there really is little conflict, at least in the end, between the search for truth along purely intellectual paths and purely spiritual paths. That in the end, one arrives pretty much at the same place, which of course suggests much about the grand design of the universe.

And when it comes to the testing of faith, the current hubbub over Mother Teresa's apparent lack of faith (at times during her long life) as evidenced in her writings provides one big teachable moment about the very nature of real theological faith, as opposed to the cartoon version. Those who dismiss it tend to imagine that spiritual faith is somehow based on an absence of intellect and a suspension of belief. But those with faith understand that on the deepest level, the mind is forever intent on casting suspictions and doubts on one's own faith. It involves endless questioning, doubt and at times even despairing of god's existence, as it did Mother Teresa. But in the end, one's faith is deepened by that doubt and searching. And yes, by that harnessing of one's intellect on the task of trying to make sense of a realm beyond the senses.


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