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Scientism and God’s Existence (Video)

Sistine Chapel

Fr. Robert Barron comments on the explanatory limitations of science when it comes to the question of whether God exists:

"To appeal to matter or science is to appeal to something that is, by its very nature, contingent. What we have to come to, finally, is some reality that is radically other than the universe...Philosophy can shed some light on God but the one thing the sciences can never do is eliminate the possibility of God."


(Image credit: Potolok)

Bishop Robert Barron

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Bishop Robert Barron is Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He is an acclaimed author, speaker, and theologian. He’s America’s first podcasting priest and one of the world’s most innovative teachers of Catholicism. His global, non-profit media ministry called Word On Fire reaches millions of people by utilizing new media to draw people into or back to the Faith. Bishop Barron is also the creator and host of CATHOLICISM, a groundbreaking, 10-part documentary series and study program about the Catholic Faith. He is the author of several books including Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (Crossroad, 2008); The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path (Orbis, 2002); and Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Image, 2011). Find more of his writing and videos at WordOnFire.org.

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  • Mark Hunter

    The religionist proponent Fr. Barron claims that science seeks to disprove God. Very few scientists do that. Most hold that that there is just no evidence for God, which he admits the science could in theory measure.

    Bringing up Lapace's supposed retort to Napoleon when asked why God isn't needed in his seminal work on Planetary Dynamics is telling as religionism advocates like Fr. Barron seem to yearn for the days when all explanations of the physical world relied on a divine explanation in full or in part. But those days are gone. Science is finding more explanations of how the world, how the mind, how the cosmos is working everyday. Will it ever find all the answers? Probably not, but science in its modern incarnation is only a few centuries old, so don't could it out completely.

    Note : I used the words religionist and religionism in response to Fr. Barron's use of scientisitic and sciencism. None of those four words is real, and are meant to be taken as derogatory. I will henceforth not use those words (despite asperations to be a notorious atheist) as long as religious posters here don't disparage scientific posters. There two adjectives we can both agree on.

    • Michael Murray

      Yes agreed. I stopped reading when I read the title "scientism". Yawn. I though this was supposed to be a friendly place for atheists. It never does work out that way does it.

      The facts for me are simple. The scientific method is the only reliable way humans have discovered to find out how reality behaves. This isn't a belief or a philosophy. The evidence is all around us. Ironically on the very devices we are using to have this discussion.

      Interesting that there have been no replies, except from atheists, to physicistdave's post



      • Mark Hunter

        "Scientism" in this title, "notorious atheist" in the previous. Language is very important, even for us scientific types.

        The scientific method is an approach not limited to science. All forms of human inquiry would benefit from its self critical, open, evidencial system where finding error is not shunned but rewarded with the highest accolades.

        I hope PhyscistDave continues to post and perhaps a dialog can be nutured with believers.

        • Michael Murray

          I wasn't keen on notorious atheist either but it's part of the book title "There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind," So I guess the blogger can use that as a justification. At least they didn't call him "strident"!

          • Mark Hunter

            Possibly, but as the moderator told be " as I said before the book is simply ancillary to this interview. If you're interested in commenting, please engage this interview instead of the book" The word notorious wasn't in the interview.

          • Michael Murray

            Good point.

          • Ben

            Bear in mind Flew was bullied into putting his name to that book when he was developing dementia, so it wasn't his willing choice of title.

        • Mark, you say "The scientific method is an approach not limited to science."

          I'm curious how you define "scientific method" and "science."

          • Mark Hunter

            Science is a collective name for inquiry into physics, biology, chemistry, etc. The scientific method, named perhaps because science came up with this method of inquiry first can apply to all fields that seek to allow open inquiry, self critical, evaluating evidence, and seeking error in one's knowledge base.

            In the realm of theology, Biblical studies have adopted the tenets of scientific inquiry and we now know much more about the historical period upon which the Bible is based than we did a century ago.

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            "The scientific method, named perhaps because science came up with this method of inquiry first can apply to all fields"


            I respectfully disagree with this statement. Science did not come up with the Scientific Method. Science is just an abstract idea. Scientists developed this way of inquiry of which all were religious and a vast majority Catholic.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • Mark Hunter

            Point taken. I should have said scientists rather than science. And whether most were Catholic or not I leave to the historians, but most scientists now are not believers in God ( http://www.pewforum.org/Science-and-Bioethics/Scientists-and-Belief.aspx )

          • Longshanks

            With respect, this is wrong.

            This method of inquiry was developed we don't know when, but our first records are from a time when many were religious many were not, and the majority were polytheistic.

            Gotta love 'dem greeks.

        • Edit: I'm actually curious about your thoughts, my intro sounds too combative and I'm sorry!

          Hey Mark, do you think that our knowledge can only come from the scientific method approach? Is that the limits of our epistemology?

          I don't like the word scientism at all for one, because it's a made up word, and for two, you're absolutely right that it's pretty much just a label made to make people sound silly.

          Having said that, if you think that knowledge can only be obtained through the scientific method, and by no other way (I'm not saying "you" you, but a general "you") isn't that beyond being scientific? My thought is that science is a way to knowledge, but not the sole way. For people who do think it is the sole way, it seems like a sort of "faith" in science that goes beyond what even most scientists would say that they have. That could be the "scientism" he's trying to explicate, though I still want a different word.

          • Michael Murray

            I don't think it's faith so much as not having seen anything that works anywhere near as well.

          • What about logic? What about intuition? Both are independent ways of coming to knowledge, and both work well with scientific method but are very distinct from it.

            If the scientific method was the only way of coming to knowledge, the entire philosophical branch of epistemology is worthless, and I'm not quite ready to throw that out.

          • Mark Hunter

            I didn't say "only", I said best. Flying is the best way to get from New York to LA, but not the only.

            We can all compose of list of ways to gain knowledge, but I contend that the method that modern science has developed (and other disciplines are adopting) is the most reliable not to get absolute knowledge, but to get knowledge where you're not unnecessarily fooling yourself.

          • I don't disagree at all. But it seems Fr. Barron is talking about people who claim that science is the only way to get knowledge (Science is on the verge of discovering everything about the universe).

            I just don't think Fr. Barron is attacking all atheists with the term scientism, only the ones who believe science is the be-all-end-all of epistemology.

          • Mark Hunter

            No scientist would ever say science is on the verge of discovering everything about the universe. (If they do ask them to explain turbulent flow) But some claim that science is on the verge of explaining how the universe came to be. (To me I remain skeptical of claim, currently)

            Once again, science is not the be-all of epistemology only that it is, in my opinion, the best way to knowledge as it's the best way to keep you from knowingly fooling yourself into accepting something that demonstrably not true.

          • Wait, did you watch the video? The man who prompted Fr. Barron to make this video is a theoretical physicist who claimed in a book he just published that science is on the verge of explaining "everything".

          • Octavo

            I think that's a misunderstanding of Sean Carroll's perspective.

            If you have an hour, this should help: http://youtu.be/Vrs-Azp0i3k

          • I don't right now, but I'll watch it tonight!

            And while it may be a misunderstanding, it was that stance he was referring to as "scientism".

          • Mark Hunter

            I did watch the video and I haven't read Dr. Carroll's book but I would be very surprised to hear that he was going to explain "everything". My guess is the everything is how, in his theory, the universe was created. Important as that is, it's a small part of understanding the universe.

          • Unless that was a No True Scotsman... ;)

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            "No scientist would ever say science is on the verge of discovering everything about the universe." Agreed, but you have to admit there are many atheists (specifically the non-scientist atheist) who believe the Scientific Method IS the only way of acquiring knowledge about reality.

            Atheism, like religion suffers the tribulations of fundamentalism.I think Fr Baron was talking about these fellows. Although I also understand your feelings when the word Scientism is used. They are akin to when all Christians are grouped with the Westboro Baptist Church, or all religious believers are accused of been able to fly planes into buildings. Both generalizations do not contribute to the dialog.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"

            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • Longshanks

            "No scientist would ever say science is on the verge of discovering everything about the universe."

            This. So much.

          • Linda

            Flying is the fastest way to get from New York to LA. the *best* way is subjective. If you're John Madden, it's by bus.

      • Michael, nobody is forcing you to participate in these forums. If they are unfriendly and yawn-inducing, feel free not to comment.

        You say, "The scientific method is the only reliable way humans have discovered to find out how reality behaves." I'm curious whether you arrived at this conclusion using the scientific method.

        • Michael Murray

          Pretty much. I look around me at the history of attempts to understand the world. Science clearly wins. It's historical evidence gathering so if you want to be pedantic then shoot it down as not science.

          On the website you advertised it as a place to discuss with atheists. The word scientism is pretty much a red rag to an atheist bull I'm afraid as are phrases like notorious atheist. Not welcoming particularly but it's your call.

          • Hurlbut

            Not everything is amenable to scientific inquiry, as long as by "science" we mean "the natural sciences, like physics, chemistry, biology."

            For example, we could try to inquire about what type of knowledge gathering is the most effective. You say science. Regardless, what you are doing here is epistemology. Which is a branch of philosophy. Philosophy is more fundamental than science, and is a different and non-competitive way of knowing.

          • Mark Hunter

            Name a realm of human inquiry than is not amenable to inquiry that is open, self-critical, evidence based, and places priority in finding mistakes in one's knowledge base.

          • Hurlbut

            I never said there were any.

          • Mark, perhaps I'm misunderstanding your last comment--and if so, please correct me--but it seems you're suggesting that the scientific method is any inquiry which is "open, self-critical, evidence based, and places priority in finding mistakes in one's knowledge base." If that was your intent then you've simply re-defined the term.

            The Oxford English Dictionary defines the scientific method as "a method or procedure that has characterized natural science...consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses."

            Your definition ignores some of the method's most defining characteristics: its exclusive focus on the natural world and its emphasis on empirical observation, measurement, and testing.

          • Mark Hunter

            Sure, but take the essence of the scientific method and expand it to other domains.

          • Mark Hunter

            I'm free to redefine scientific method in a more general way because you used scientism, a word that is not in the OED. The essence of my definition is the scientific method. That it is only used by some disciplines is their choice.

          • Hurlbut

            Mark Hunter, the word "scientism" has too many negative connotations and is flung around too much. The correct term is "positivism". That is in the dictionary.

          • Mark Hunter

            Possibly, but positivism, dare I say, has more of a superficial "positive" connotation than scientism and doesn 't serve the purpose.

          • The essence of the scientific method is is a test-hypothesis structure, where the hypothesis is tested through controlled, observable tests.

            That's all it is. Anything other than that which you've defined is simply intellectual honesty, which I'm good with! But it's not scientific method.

          • And by good with I mean "Is imperative to coming to any sort of knowledge." Didn't mean to understate the importance of what you are talking about.

          • Mark Hunter

            But intellectual honesty is essential for the scientific method to work. Fortunately there's checks on research and any scientist who demonstrably cheats is effectively finished in science.

    • TheodoreSeeber
  • Vuyo

    Very interesting and it actually made sense. I think though that most atheist are agnostic in that they believe that God probably doesn't exist but they don't know for sure.
    I've heard people like Dawkins talk about when they look at the vastness of the universe or the intricacies of nature they have a spiritual moment and are sometimes moved to tears. I don't doubt that but I wonder why he is so moved. It's hard for me to just look at the moon or the Andromeda and start crying. I might if it triggers a memory of a time I spent with my son looking at said bodies but not the bodies themselves. Or if I think about the creator of the universe and how great and awesome He is and how He considers little insignificant me in His plans.
    Can science explain that?

    • Michael Murray

      Which bit would you like science to explain ? Sorry I don't understand your comment.

    • Mark Hunter

      Technically all atheists are agnostic (Richard Dawkins talks about that in the God Delusion) but that agnosticism is at the same type as we are all agnostic about homeopathy or astrology. Both probably don't work but can prove it for sure.

      As for an atheist sense of awe or spiritual experience. Science gives that to us. We have awoken in this universe, we spend out short four score years and then we disappear. In in our brief time we have this fascinating universe to experience.

      Richard Dawkins touches on this in the first few paragraphs of the God Delusion. It's worth the read if you haven't read it before.

  • Meta-N

    Counter point; Here is a video promoting naturalism (positive Scientism)


    What other naturalism videos would be appropriate for this discussion?

    • Meta-N - I'm glad you shared this video because it captures the crux of the issue, while avoiding the term "scientism" which some here have found offensive. Naturalism or positivism would suffice to describe that "world view" that surpasses anything the natural sciences can themselves affirm.

      My first challenge to you would not be about God or religion. Comte's positivism, a forerunner to today's naturalism, sought to extricate man from metaphysics as well as theology, but included dreams of a fetishistic religion of Humanity to satisfy man's emotive, poetic aspect, a religion modeled on Catholicism, with hymns and sacraments - a "Catholicism without Christ." http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/comte/#RelHum

      Why? Because man is a poetic creature. He once applied poetic thinking to scientific problems, resulting in superstition - but now he does the reverse. 21st century naturalism, as this video shows, wants nothing to do with ghosts or goblins - even Comte's fetishism fails the test. Nothing unscientific passes for truth or even meaning. My question is, how do you, a lifelong naturalist, account for and deal with this poetic aspect of the human person, which drives not only the search for God, but the search for the self and the other, for the truth of my life and how to live it, if these are manifestly non-material, non-scientific matters? (Notice I'm not saying that without God these impulses are not possible - just the opposite. The problem for naturalism is precisely that they continue to inhere in man, but suddenly without precedent or object, or the tools to adjudicate them.)


      • Meta-N

        Matt - Thank you for the follow up. As a life long naturalist I have never suffered for a lack of poetry in my life. A life enriched with, love, children, art, books, etc... I've experience loss too.

        Regarding goodness, Bill Clinton recently summed up my feelings (on TV promoting his charity) with something along the lines of "when you do good things it makes you feel good".

        I can offer you one revealing aspect of naturalist morality. I have only one life to live. All of my actions have permanent consequences. There is no salvation, redemption, or a second chance to set things right. Sobering implications when you thing about it.


        • Thanks for your response! I would press you a bit more though - under a naturalistic world view, can these phenomena (which are all too human) be regarded as true in any meaningful way? Love and art feel enriching, doing good things feels good, the here and now feels significant. But pushed to the boundaries of the metaphysics of scientism, and cross-checked against its precepts, these things finally lose their aura of weight and validity. They are your subjective impressions, feelings, and assessments, but you can't test them scientifically or show them to be true deductively. Their inverse just as well may be true.

          I'd end with this last thought: throughout history, people have made the mistake of treating scientific problems with "poetic" (i.e., intuitive, right-brained, inductive, etc.) knowledge, resulting in superstition and, even today, fideism. We would probably agree on that. Could it be that there is an equal and opposite error - applying a scientific mentality to every existential or philosophical problem man confronts? This is what I (and Fr. Barron) would deem to be the danger of "scientism." I think we need both scientific knowledge and poetic knowledge, and we flourish when the two work in harmony. Peace!

    • What other naturalism videos would be appropriate for this discussion?

      See the list of Moving Naturalism Forward conference videos I put here: http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/2013/02/watching-naturalism-move-forward.html

  • Octavo

    Maybe I'm missing something crucial from this argument, but it sounds like he's saying that matter can't be any sort of ultimate cause because it changes from state to state.

    Does this mean that God never changes from state to state? He never becomes angry, drowns the world with floods, and then repents of his wrath? Yahweh, as depicted in the Pentateuch and the prophetic writings, is a being of mercurial passions and moods who does not seem to match this non-contingent being described by scholastics.

    Furthermore, since the description of this being entails the operation of a vast mind, we run into another problem. All minds that we have encountered, according to neurologists, are contingent upon matter - the brain. The only objection I've ever heard to this argument is just a denial of the entire field of neuroscience.

    ~Jesse Webster

    • Luke Arredondo

      Hi Octavo,

      Just a quick comment on one part of your post, though the second paragraph definitely deserves a response as well.

      It's interesting that you bring up the point about minds being contingent upon matter. This certainly seems to be the case; nobody has ever encountered a mind without there also being a brain. And none of us has a mind which functions wholly without the presence of a brain. I had a great teacher in an epistemology class who brought out this issue and one of the things I remember about our discussion of the mind/body or mind/brain problem is that we can't merely say that the mind = the brain. And to be sure, you didn't imply that, except to say that the only possible objection is to reject neuroscience.

      First, I don't want to reject all of neuroscience, any more than Fr. Barron wants to reject all science. I simply want to say that the mind does make use of the brain and certainly requires a brain, at least in human beings. However, there is still a distinction between the mind and the brain. Someone can have a partially functioning brain which limits their motor skills or pain reception but they can still have a fully functioning mind.

      Perhaps the biggest or trickiest issue is psychological or mental disorders where there is a problem with someone's brain chemistry but yet they are able to recognize the problem. In other words, if the brain merely was the mind and there was no distinction, it would seem to me that it would be impossible to account for those individuals who suffer severe psychological problems to ever want to be freed from them or to desire to live and behave in a different fashion than their disorders often cause them to live and behave.

      This is interesting because it seems to draw a clear distinction between the functioning mind and the impaired brain. One is in a sense raised up as a contrary to the other, the mind still being able to function and to seek relief from the brain's maladies.

      So I think one can say that there is more to the mind than merely the matter of the brain and yet not reject neuroscience. In point of fact, the ability of neuroscience to pin point parts in the brain which may cause certain behavioral and/or psychological problems seems to actually make an argument in favor of the distinction between mind and brain.

      • Mark Hunter

        But surely as we say blood circulation is not the heart and gas exchange is not the lungs but blood circulation is what the heart does and gas exchange is what the lungs do, the mind is what the brain does.

        You can argue that the mind is not what the brain does exclusively, but the lungs serve other non respiratory functions as well.

      • Octavo

        The impression I get from your examples is that the array of processes we call the mind is just part of what the brain does. The brain and the mind is sometimes described as modular. Some modules can be aware of damage done to other modules, and sometimes they can not. One example of the latter is what happens when the corpus callosum is cut. A summary of the results can be found here:

        "So I think one can say that there is more to the mind than merely the matter of the brain and yet not reject neuroscience."

        If you don't mind the question, what do you think is the non-brain component of mind, and how does it interact with the brain component?

        • Luke Arredondo

          Hey Octavo,

          Thanks for your reply. I don't have any professional or even amateur knowledge of brain functioning, but was just stating what I thought was a good distinction. Your question is good, though.

          I would say that the non-brain component of the mind, while difficult to define would include things such as joy, peace, humor, and love. Those experiences, while certainly involving the brain, just don't seem to be reducible to the material level. I know that those experiences can in some way be measured or observed in terms of brain chemistry, but I don't finally think that the brain alone causes such things.

          These experiences aren't a material occurrence that is the result of certain circumstances. Many people, for instance, have plenty of resources and from an outside point of view seem to have everything one could ever need, yet they are not at peace. Similarly two people can hear the same joke in the same context and both not find it funny. And certainly love is more than (though it involves) a biological reaction.

          I think in the end, from my perspective, it doesn't seem plausible that these experiences could be purely the process of the brain. Especially because so many people could be in the same situation and not all respond in the same way. I think it is the mind which makes these experiences possible, though certainly those experiences make use of the brain.

  • Scott McPherson

    The argument from contingency is what is known as a cosmological argument. It’s one of those arguments where the logic is sound but the premises are not. There are many objections – for a good overview and references, see http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/

    In regards to why matter/energy is in one configuration rather than another, well, the quantum world doesn't work like that. In the quantum world, particles can be in more than one place at the same time. The full set of configurations is known as the wave function of the particle. There is no explanation needed why it’s in one configuration because at the heart of the matter, it’s not. It’s in all configurations at once.

    What Hawking (with Hardle) has been promoting is a model that treats the universe like a quantum particle at the beginning – all configurations of the universe have the possibility of existing at once. It’s a wave function of the universe. No extrinsic explanation (such as God) is needed to determine what configuration the universe is in, as it was in all of them in a sense. No extrinsic explanation is needed to determine what “caused” the universe as it was just there (it has no temporal boundaries). Hawking has been revising this model over the years. That’s what Hawking means when he says that God is not needed to explain the universe. He doesn't rule God out, but under his model he is not necessary and adds another layer of complexity.

    Not that this explanation is the truth; it’s just a mathematical model right now. Interestingly, some of the consequences of this model are testable, although one would need to find wormholes.

    As for the claim that science cannot disprove God, that is correct in the deductive sense (it is impossible to deductively prove a negative). It is not correct in the inductive sense, and arguments have already been made.

    For morality, much of our morality can be seen as logical outcomes of evolution. For example, altruism is most likely a trait developed by evolution (see http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/altruism-biological/) Same with why we think some things are beautiful – you might have heard about how people find symmetric faces more beautiful – this comes from evolution as well.

    • Mark Hunter

      My Phil 101 teacher explained to us that in most philosophical arguments the logic is sound, it's the premises that need to be questioned.

      I think the Hawking model, what I can understand of it as my background was condensed matter physics, is still much to tentative and Hawking has a track record of being a bit too speculative. But hey, he's a theoretical physicist, so he's bound to be right occasionally. :->

    • StacyTrasancos

      You could also call into question the premise of materialism. No cogent demonstration that proves all existence is owed to matter and voids has ever been advanced. It is assumed to be true, but not proven to be true.

      • Scott McPherson

        Physicalism is a better descriptor as materialism doesn't account for fields. But in any case, matter, energy and fields are all that has ever been found. I think that is a pretty good argument. You could call that into question, but you would have to show evidence. You would get a Nobel for sure if you did.

        • StacyTrasancos

          Physicalism is another word for materialism, it still reduces all reality to physical things, even the fields that arise from them. It's easy to disprove. What makes a birthday cake a birthday cake has nothing to do with the matter that makes it up. You don't need to appeal to prizes to figure that out. A 5 year old gets that much. :-) Well, just saying.

          • Scott McPherson

            If you are talking about subjective qualia, it has never been shown anything other than our physical brain has anything to do with them. If your five year old can conclusively prove it is something else, there is a chair at Oxford waiting for him or her.

          • StacyTrasancos

            Not not qualia -- meaning, reason, idea, understanding.

            Do you mean to tell me that you are here arguing and you admit that you are in no way free-thinking in your arguments? You can show this proof to yourself. If you really believe what you just said, you are forced to admit that you don't know what you are talking about. You're just matter obeying the laws (whatever they may be) of physics. Oh dear!

          • Scott McPherson

            I'll admit I don't understand your current argument. Care to spell it out?

          • StacyTrasancos

            Do you know what qualia are? Philosophers use that word to describe how things appear to your mind through your senses, how things look, taste, feel, smell, and sound. You thought I was talking about the qualia of a birthday cake, the fact that the atoms that make it up cause your sense of taste to inform you brain that you tasted something. Qualia = sense experience. I was not.

            I was talking about reasoning beyond the senses. What makes a birthday cake meaningful - not how it tastes or smells or appears. What it is, as something meaningful in the mind. A dog, for instance, has no clue that a birthday cake is to celebrate his birthday. He just likes to eat it, maybe.

            If you think that ALL THINGS are reduced to the physical realm, even fields that arise from the physical realm, then you are a materialist. Follow so far?

          • StacyTrasancos

            I've got to run, so I'll finish. If you really think that all things are reducible to the matter and fields that arise from it, you cannot possibly also think you are capable of "free thought" since you are admitting it is impossible. That alone should suggest to you that it might be philosophically reasonable to explore the question of immaterial realities. Thanks for the discussion! Speaking of that 5 yo -- she's hungry. Got to go! :-) Back later.

          • Scott McPherson

            Actually I can. I lean towards compatibilitism myself.

          • StacyTrasancos

            What does lean toward compatibilism (no extra "it") mean though? As a matter of discussion, defend that. You started by bringing up physicalism over materialism and Nobel prizes, then "never been shown" and Oxford. Now you say compatibilism! It kind of seems like you are moving from one thing to another to figure out a way out of the materialism problem.

          • Scott McPherson

            I don't think there is a problem. Since I can't link with my phone, just do a search for compatibilitism.

          • StacyTrasancos

            I know what it is, I just don't know how people defend it. So I ask for *your* defense of it -- in your own words. I've read the lengthy "it happens because nothing else could have happened, but it still happened by the person's free choice" stuff, but that's all sounds like yet another version of materialism to me.

          • Scott McPherson

            That's going to take a longer post than I want to do on a phone. I'll get back to you tomorrow. I have to say I am enjoying this discussion though.

          • Scott McPherson

            Ok, first, I said I was leaning towards it, not that I agree with it. To completely agree with it one needs to accept determinism. This is tricky for me, as on one hand quantum systems have been shown to be non-deterministic and completely random; on the other hand special relativity leads to a 4-d block universe where everything has already "happened" in a sense. Until (and if) quantum mechanics and relativity are unified, this is all an open question. However I am assuming that in some sense the 4d block universe will be represented in some sense, although for me this seems to lead to a type of many-worlds scenario. If that is true, then that makes a mash of free will - do you have free will if you have a choice between a and b, and there exists two universes where which reflects both?

            This question also leads into consciousness, and although this is off the track somewhat it is reverent to my own personal opinion of the matter. Current research strongly suggests (some say prove, although I wouldn't go that far) that consciousness is not involved directly in decision-making. If you look at brain activity, we seem to make choices and then become conscious of it after the fact. Then our brain sort of backdates the event in our memory to make it seem like the conscious part of us made the choice. While seemingly wacky, it does seem to work that way. So, first of all, if your definition of free will includes how your conscious brain makes the choice, then I don't think we have free will at all. If I had to guess, I would say that our conscious brain leads to to set goals and desires which our unconscious brain uses to determine choices. So free will consists of prior chemical processes.

            Back to the main question, I don't think we are pre-programmed to think we have a choice, and are destined to pick it anyway (that is Sam Harris's belief by the way). If we we looking at the choice from "outside" the 4d block universe, it would look like any choice we made was set in stone, and Sam Harris would be correct. However, I think that ultimate shape of the block was determined in part by all of the various choices people make as well as the random fluctuations of the quantum universe. The dilemma I think people have between determinism and free will is based on a misunderstanding of causal events.

            A thought experiment I have been thinking of involves a person all alone in a room who has to make a choice. The room however is so far away from anything else that no matter what choice is made, nothing else in the universe can be aware of it. Assume it is set in the far future, when expansion has increased, so light from the room will never reach any other thing in the universe. The rest of the universe will never know what choice was made. If this seems similar to Schrodinger's cat, it is because it is. I expect that the room is forever in a superposition in regards to the rest of the universe. So somehow quantum effects are relevant to this, but like I said, we may have to wait for a unified field theory.

          • Scott McPherson

            Yes, I follow. You seem to espouse Platonism in the Augustine sense.

          • StacyTrasancos

            No. Aristotle in the Aquinas sense. It's the most defensible to a 5 year old.

          • Stacy, in the Evolution of our ancestors going back to, say fish, when did qualia first appear, and how did that happen? Also, as you built yourself from a single cell, when did qualia first appear, and how did that happen?

      • Octavo

        I'm not sure I'd go with your definition of all existence being matter and voids, but have you read up on quantum field theory and the standard model of physics? That can give you a better idea of what's being advanced.

        • StacyTrasancos

          That isn't my definition, it's the definition of materialism (and all its other names). If you believe that all reality is reducible to physical/material/corporeal (pick the word) things, you are a materialist. A field arising from the material thing is still explained by materialism. It's the same thing as saying that the mind is really just a field produced by the brain. I'm not a materialist, btw.

          • Octavo

            QFT describes fundamental particles and forces as fields.

            I think that QFT and the standard model of physics is the closest thing we have

            "No cogent demonstration that proves all existence is owed to matter and voids has ever been advanced."

            With the recent discovery of the Higgs-Boson, the particle smashing of the Large Hadron Collider has demonstrated that QFT and the standard model are very very accurate. Physicists don't yet know everything about every field that can exist, but our knowledge of the fields that are strong enough to interact with the matter in our bodies is very very well understood.

          • Mark Hunter

            When some one can demonstrate an effect not encompased by matter and energy I'll listen. Like scientists are doing now with "dark matter" and "dark energy", what ever they are. Science is open to it, just there is no evidence or hint of evidence as we got for dark matter and dark energey.

      • But none of that is necessary. By sticking to methodological naturalism we find natural explanations for the world around us, and test the ability of the method to do so. We need not assume that everything will be explained, in fact, we know there are physical limitations to our brains, so there are truths that are provably too complex for us to understand. However, we have no way to know what brains in the future will be able to process, so it matters not so much.

  • stanz2reason

    Brandon... is there any way to post a text transcript of this video? I'd love to point out everything that is wrong with what this guy is saying, but I don't have the time to re-type it all.

  • A few people on the reactionary end of the religious spectrum have a problem with science. Why should this be a problem?

    In the case of Christianity, the answer is that a disproportionate number of the anti science reactionary cranks are in high leadership positions within their denominations.

  • Mark Hunter

    "Philosophy can shed some light on God but the one thing the sciences can never do is eliminate the possibility of God."

    I have posted here (in a different article) a number of events that would cause me to doubt or even abandon my atheism. I asked the religious to give examples of any evidence that would cause them to doubt or abandon their religious beliefs. Is that even possible with religious belief?

    • StacyTrasancos

      Some people live in perpetual doubt. Some people do all they can to investigate and at some point make a decision to believe whether something is true or not true. I think religious people fall into the latter category because it seems a waste of time to go through your whole life in regress and doubt. (I am not very sympathetic to Descartes, by the way.)

      That's all the answer I could give you. I made a choice to decide and move onward, and have never regretted it. Instead I learned a lot more than I ever expected, even when life was hard. Why would I now decide that to live a life of doubt is better?

      • Scott McPherson

        Science never decides what is true. It is always in a state of perpetual doubt. Good thing too or the treatments that saved mf life when I had cancer would never had been developed. I'll take that over certainty any day.

        • StacyTrasancos

          Doctors and scientists necessarily deal with truth. They have to decide daily what is true and what is not. That is what leads to the act of treatment and discovery. I think some people get objective truth confused with subjective opinion. You can operate in the world of both, in fact, as human, you must.

          • Scott McPherson

            The medical field doesn't decide what is true. They make tentative conclusions based on evidence. If they didn't., it never would have been discovered that some ulcers are supposedly caused by bacteria instead of stress. Even this is not considered the truth, as this theory can also be overturned in the future. Perhaps it isn't H pylori itself, but an enzyme created by it for example.

          • StacyTrasancos

            You are missing my point, probably not on purpose. A search for truth, which science and medicine certainly are, doesn't not mean that every single little thing they know at any point in time is absolutely whole truth. But it does mean that the one who searches must believe that truth can be known, and must believe that certain things are in fact true. Again -- not everything. Some things. To separate science from search for truth is a monumental error which renders science as meaningless as one's M&M preference.

          • Scott McPherson

            As paste isn't working on my phone, do a search for "seed magazine truth and science" for a good discussion on this.

      • Mark Hunter

        It's not so much doubt as questioning and leaving room for change. For example I don't doubt the first law of thermodynamics, but would be open to evidence that indicated it could be broken under some circumstances (mind you it would have to be very good evidence). To live in constant doubt would be horrible. Science, or no are of human study, could not proceed. On the other hand being open to evidence that would call one's assumptions into question and therefor introduce doubt or indeed change is another issue.

        • StacyTrasancos

          My guess is that you do not doubt or question the scientific method? Is that right? If so, then you understand why we/I do not question God's existence. Once we know, we know. I understand your position, having been there, but I'm only trying to explain my position now since you asked.

          • Mark Hunter

            Sure I would question it if it started leading to results that were at wildly varying. If one person tested an experiment and measured a proton as being heaver than an electron and another the opposite and one could get no consistency, I would question that the scientific method could ever lead to a reliable body of knowledge.

            It would be the same if logic started changing depending upon who or when it was used. One would quickly abandon it as a means to arriving at any sensible knowledge.

          • But Stacy, the Scientific Method is just that, a method not a being, or even just a thing. We know how it works and why it works, and if it did not work we would change it so that it did.

          • Vicq_Ruiz


            You can question every physicist in the world about the atomic structure of silicon and get the same answer.

            You can question every meteorologist in the world about how hurricanes are formed and get the same answer.

            You can question every astronomer in the world about how we position stars on the main sequence and get the same answer.

            If we could question every cleric in the world and get the same answer about God's nature and relationship to man, then I would accept those as proven facts as well.

          • StacyTrasancos

            I don't have time to get into it, but you might be intrigued by de fide dogma of the Catholic Church.

          • There is simply no comparison between peer review in the sciences and "peer review" in declaring, compiling, or explicating Catholic dogma. Some people have, I think, been oversimplifying the idea of peer review in the sciences. It is not the function of a reviewer to declare a scientific paper "the truth." Much scientific work reported in peer-reviewed publications fails to hold up in the long run. But that is part of the reason scientists publish—not to increase the amount of scientific "dogma," but to put their work and their conclusions "out there" to be evaluated, tested, retested, and very often found not to pan out. A new scientific paper can be revolutionary. There are no revolutionary new dogmas! There would be no scientific breakthroughs or revolutions if peer reviewers made sure that new papers did not contradict anything that came before. That, however, is what "dogma peer reviewers" must do. A revolution in science is a great and exciting step forward. A "revolution" in dogma is heresy!

          • StacyTrasancos

            David, with all due respect, I truly mean no disrespect, I don't get the impression you even read what I wrote before you responded. If anything I say is going to get a "There is simply no comparison ..." statement followed by a strawman retort, I'll pass on the discussion.

            You are right that one paper is not the definition of scientific truth, but I never even remotely suggested that it was.

            You might enjoy Stephen Jay Gould's NOMA hypothesis, and while I don't agree with the non-overlapping part, I understand why he would agree with it. For you, though, you might appreciate that he does see science as a magisterium, or domain of teaching authority. http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_noma.html

          • Stacy,

            Here's where I disagree with you about peer review in science as opposed to "peer review" in religion. Of reviewers, you say, "They are guardians of truth." I don't believe that to be true of reviewers of scientific papers, but it does strike me as true (sort of) of those who "peer review" religious writing.

            In doing a peer review of a scientific paper, the reviewer is looking more at method than at "truth." A truly great scientific paper will call into question something that has previously been held to be true. Einstein wasn't a great scientist because he proved that the great scientists that preceded him were right. He was great because he showed where they were incomplete or wrong.

            Gould's idea of non-overlapping magisteria is interesting, but where I disagree with you is in your apparent belief that these two types of magisteria are equivalent. For example, you say, "But, you say, theology, doctrine, and dogma are not science. Oh yes they are, they are science in the broadest and truest sense. They are knowledge built up on principle, unshakable axioms. For theology, those axioms are Divine Revelation, and one thing the Church does that other scientific disciplines do not do is to order the knowledge by level of certainty." However, theology, doctrine, and dogma are *not* science in the same way that physics, chemistry, and astronomy are science. The latter deal with *empirical* matters. Science built on empirical observations is quite another matter than "science" built on "Divine Revelation."

            Gould may have had the greatest respect for religion, but I remember reading one of his essays in with he referred to "exobiology" (the study of life elsewhere than on earth), and he referred to it as "the OTHER great subject without a subject matter." It took me a moment to realize that he was making an amusing remark at the expense of theology, which he considered to be a subject without a subject matter." So science and religion may both have their own non-overlapping magisteria, Gould also mentions " the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty." But I think it's more than fair to say he would not consider all the many possible magisteria to be equivalent, and certainly not scientific in the sense of the physical (empirical) sciences.

          • StacyTrasancos

            Reviewers as a whole serve to guard the discipline. They are authorities, guardians of truth. (If you think science is not a search for truth, you are dead wrong. Sorry, a lot of people around here keep saying that and I frankly find it dismal. What's the point of building a body of false knowledge?)

            Theology is a science, a body of systematic knowledge.

            "I disagree with you is in your apparent belief that these two types of magisteria are equivalent." I never said they were. A magisteria is a "domain of teaching authority." And the Church Magisterium is definitely that, moreso than anything you'll find in the field of physical sciences.

          • Andrew G.

            An illustration of the problem:

            In the early 70's a doctoral student, a Catholic, studying at a Catholic university, submitted a thesis which was accepted by his examiners; but it came to the attention of a certain theology professor, who responded with something like "no Catholic could write such a thing" and managed to torpedo the student's candidacy, ultimately forcing him out of the university entirely.

            The student ended up finding another university, completing the doctorate, and eventually, after considerable time in the academic wilderness, getting a decent professorship. In the 20-odd years following the publication of the thesis, it went from nowhere to substantially shifting the foundations of its field, with the former position now almost universally rejected.

            The theology professor who rejected it? He went on to become Pope.

            (The student was Thomas Thompson, now emeritus professor of Old Testament Studies at Copenhagen; the thesis was a criticism of the then-current belief that archaeology supported the Patriarchal narratives, which is now pretty much universally rejected.)

          • StacyTrasancos

            I don't see what problem that illustrates.

          • Andrew G.

            The distinction between the concepts of review in real academic fields, compared to dogma.

            Thompson's paper was a legitimate contribution to the fields of Old Testament history and Biblical archaeology; it was opposed to the prevailing views of the time; by proper academic standards it was acceptable whether or not it turned out to be correct in the long run. Ratzinger's interference was not based on any legitimate academic grounds but solely because he objected to the content.

          • StacyTrasancos

            But that example doesn't demonstrate that at all.

            "Minimalism was not a unified movement, but rather a label that came to be applied to several scholars at different universities who held similar views, chiefly Niels Peter Lemche and Thomas L. Thompson at the University of Copenhagen, Philip R. Davies, and Keith Whitelam."

            If anything this example shows the wisdom of Ratzinger. You need more than a cursory glance at Biblical scholarship to understand the basis of his rejection.

            "Ratzinger's interference was not based on any legitimate academic grounds but solely because he objected to the content." <---Could you cite your source for that claim?

          • Andrew G.

            My source is Thompson's own account as published at Bible and Interpretation.

            The status of minimalism as a movement is not at issue here. Thompson was an important early critic of the historicity of Abraham and the other patriarchs; it is now fully accepted by archaeologists that the patriarchal narratives are not historical.

          • StacyTrasancos

            Could you point me to the part that explains how Ratzinger's interference was not based on any legitimate academic grounds but solely because he objected to the content? I know he seems hurt by the comment about a Catholic not writing that, but that doesn't address the academic question. Why did Ratzinger say a Catholic wouldn't write that?

            Also, if minimalism is not even a serious movement anymore, how can you say that it is fully accepted? The patriarchal narratives claim was the movement.

            This document explains legitimate academic freedom for theologians. It is from about the same time period. There was almost a century of the Modernist movement within the Church, and it sounds like Thompson subscribed to those idea. They were already declared false, and he probably knew it, so I don't buy the "poor rejected me" pitch. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_jp-ii_apc_15041979_sapientia-christiana_en.html

          • Andrew G.

            Every other academic reviewer accepted the dissertation - in fact it had already been approved by the Tübingen faculty before Ratzinger got involved - so there is no reason to suspect any legitimate academic defect.

            You clearly have no idea what biblical minimalism is about. The Patriarchal narratives are only a tiny part, not the whole; minimalists reject or criticize essentially the entirety of the OT as a historical document, treating it as a post-exilic theological work that preserves no more than fragments of the actual historical events.

            Biblical archaeology during the Albright period tried to argue the opposite position: that the patriarchs, the exodus, and everything following were historical more or less as written in the OT. This position is now considered untenable; 30-odd years of archaeological work moved the boundaries from "patriarchs were historical" all the way down to "David might have been historical but may or may not have actually ruled over a united Israel". The patriarchs, the Exodus, the invasion and settlement, the pre-monarchical period, are all contradicted by the evidence. What's left to pin down is whether there ever was a united monarchy; how accurately the events of the separate kingdoms down to their eventual conquest are preserved; and other issues from that time period.

          • StacyTrasancos

            Andrew, I'm trying to keep this focused. You seem to be saying that since Ratzinger rejected a paper, he is a corrupt academic. But you've offered no explanation of what he rejected or why, you've actually offered links that indicate many more people besides Ratzinger took issue with the paper and this man's credibility.

            You gave this as an example for how Catholics do not peer review, I think (that's still not clear).

            I'm sorry, but one paper being rejected doesn't even remotely demonstrate it.

            Plus, I was talking about dogma. I wasn't talking about universities, which are not dogmatic authorities (though they do inform and advise).

            Last, yes, I apologize for not being a minimalist expert. I was only asking for something of substance regarding your claim. Just saying "universally rejected" doesn't make it so. Do some archaeologists believe the Bible is wrong? Oh I'm sure they do. Is it a closed case of investigation? I hardly can believe that.

          • Andrew G.

            It only makes sense to describe the Bible (in this case specifically the OT) as "wrong" if you interpret it as an attempt to record a historical narrative (or something mostly historical). In this sense, the conclusion that the OT is not historical for events prior to, roughly speaking, the time of David, is indeed a closed case. (That's not to say that more evidence can't be found, but that the existing evidence suffices to completely rule out the OT narratives, most clearly in the cases of Exodus and Joshua.)

            In contrast, the "minimalist" position is that the OT is not an attempt to record actual history. This position also has its problems, in that especially for the 800s to 600s BC there are some close correspondences between OT accounts and archaeological finds. This seems to rule out the idea that the OT was entirely post-exilic; even if it was composed then, it must have drawn heavily on historical records.

            And of course other people took issue with Thompson; he was (along with Van Seters) effectively overturning significant parts of Albright's work, so of course he was opposed by Albright's followers. He was arguing against the existence of a historical Abraham, so of course he was opposed by literalists and conservatives of all stripes. But the value of his work is unchallenged; any account of the development of the field is likely to mention him. If his work had been flawed in such a way that it should not have passed review, why would it have made a significant impact on the field?

            The point about academic review is that it isn't, when done properly, about the content of the work, or even whether its conclusions are correct (which typically only posterity can decide). To reject a thesis because you don't like the conclusion, or you think it conflicts with your conception of the religious beliefs that you think the author should hold, is a demonstration that you adhere to dogma in preference to truth.

  • ZenDruid

    Science does not involve itself with discussions on whether God exists. The same goes for Mickey Mouse, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and so on.

    • Dcn Harbey Santiago

      However, atheists demand scientific evidence for the existence of God from believers, something Disney has never done.

      "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
      Deacon Harbey Santiago

      • Mark Hunter

        When members of the Mickey Mouse fan club start demanding society conform to its precepts, then we'll start demanding it.

      • ZenDruid

        Atheists are like scientists in that both groups tend to be skeptical. Plot the two in a Venn diagram, and they would largely overlap.

        Do the same with 'gods' and 'cartoon characters' in terms of veracity, and only special pleading would suggest that they would not overlap.
        My point is that religions have their roots in storytelling. Does the story make you feel good? That's nice. Does it put money in the bank? Only for the storytellers.

        "The Dude abides."

        • Unless you have numbers to back up the scientist/atheist Venn Diagram claim, that's a hasty generalization, which is fallacious. Or it's an appeal to probability, which is also fallacious.

          If you don't have the numbers, then your whole post is a little meaningless.

          • Mark Hunter

            Not that I understand what ZenDruid is saying but here's a survey that shows that believe in God by scientists is about 33% as compared to 83% in the general public.


            There's also belief in higher power but God/Science knows what that means.

          • I guess it's meant to ask about Deism, but who knows. Does Deism count as skepticism?

            Regardless, I think the only way this site will be productive is if the people police each other and call out fallacies as they come.

            There may be some selection bias in the Pew study though. Only scientists who are members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science were polled as "scientists". I don't know much about the group, so I don't know if the AAAS is hostile towards theistic scientists or not.

          • Mark Hunter

            Not that I know of. It's the association that represents over 100,000 scientists in the US.

          • I saw that too, and if you read down to the footnote, they make the disclaimer that it 1 Discussion of the beliefs of scientists is based on a survey of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which partnered with the Pew Research Center on the survey. AAAS is the world's largest general scientific society and includes members representing all scientific fields. However, the survey of AAAS members may not be representative of all scientists in the U.S.

            But they're the numbers we've got, so let's use 'em. I just like to figure out all possible influences and variables of a study (I work in politics, what are you gonna do?) It's my takeaway from the scientific method, Mark haha

          • Also, if you scroll down, you see it's a 42-32 split in favor of theistic scientists in the young crowd (18-34), with 24% saying "deist".

            Which strikes me as the complete opposite trend in the general population.

          • Mark Hunter

            That is interesting. In the general public younger generally equates to less belief.

          • Right? I wonder why this is the reverse. Also, the older scientists get, the more atheistic they are as a group. Maybe the barriers between science and religion are being broken back down ;) You'd better hope not.

          • stanz2reason

            Perhaps this is the wrong way to think about it. Maybe it's that younger people are more likely to still be under the influence of the beliefs of their parents, and the longer they study the world and learn to make up their own minds the more likely they'll realize that myth and superstition belong around a campfire or movie theater and not in serious discussions about the world or the creation of public policy.

          • That doesn't correlate to atheists or nones making up a larger percentage of the general population. The proportions are switched which is exactly the opposite of what your conjecture would imply were it true.

          • stanz2reason

            I'm not making any suggestions in terms of the general population. I'm suggesting a possibility to why the subset of the population which is identified as 'scientists' would appear to run opposite the trend seen in the general population. A 60 year old with 40 years of additional study and life experience might be further from the influences of a religious upbringing than a 20 year old. Just a theory of course. Its important to also point out that the percentage of 'scientists' who don't believe in god is, in all age groups, already significantly higher then the general population.

          • ZenDruid

            I invite anyone who has good numbers to plot them. Prove me right or prove me wrong, I will accept good data. I offer a speculation, not a fallacy.

          • Fair enough, I may have been too quick to condemn. I get more trigger-happy as it gets closer to 5pm. See the link Mark Hunter put up, and my comments for a quick analysis, and then read it yourself, it's pretty interesting.

  • Bill S

    I think Father Barron likes to hear himself talk. You can't have it both ways. You either have this uncaused cause that science can't still not explain or you have this demanding jealous God who tells us not to worship any other gods and who hates sins like abortion, gay sex, etc. you can't have both.

    • I don't see how that follows at all.
      Why cannot God BOTH be an "uncaused cause" and also a personal God?
      That is, a God who has ordered our lives towards certain ends (for example: for love, for meaningful relationships, happiness), and towards which we either are drawing closer to, or moving further away from.
      Maybe you could elaborate more on where you see the contradiction.

      • Bill S

        What I am saying is that the God of the Bible is too "human" with his petty concerns about people worshiping idols, etc. When you look at the Big Picture, the Biblical God looks more like a fictional character made up by people who don't have a clue about a 14 billion year universe and an insignificant 4 billion year old planet. To credit all creation to a man who lived a mere 2 thousand years ago doesn't make any sense.

  • First off, be sure to watch this video by Sean Carroll so you understand the argument that Robert Barron has caricatured in this presentation. Others have already commented about Barron's lack of understanding of how "matter" really works and how our understanding of modern physics falsifies the premises of the old arguments from cause. I am going to let that go without further emphasis (though I could) and move on to something else that was a rhetorical sight of hand: truth, morality, beauty and meaning itself.

    Robert Barron tells us that these things are beyond the reach of the Scientific Method, but he does not tell us why or give us any supporting evidence for his assertion. These are not physical things, and in that sense, they are not the subject of, say, Physics, but rather, they are about what people believe about the physical world. Philosophy defines what the terms cover, but what people think about these, and why, are subject to research through the Scientific Method, and have been for some time.

    The big change from the time of Aristotle is that we know what life was like back before our ancestors were anything like modern humans. We know for sure that back when our ancestors were simple amorphous multicelled organisms, truth, morality, beauty and meaning did not exist in this world. As time went on and Evolution produced more complex control systems for our ancestors, these properties emerged, over the billion or so years on the way to us.

    Perception of beauty came first thanks to the evolution of sex (see Matt Ridley's book The Red Queen for a great description of how that happened). Perception of truth had to wait for brains to develop to the point where representations of the external world were being used internally to guide actions. What was perceived as moral has roots in the evolution of feelings conducive to cooperative behavior that made living in groups safer and more reproductively effective than being alone and unfettered. The feeling of meaning came latter when symbolic representations bridged the gap between the inner representations of the worlds of some of our ancestors to those of others. In all these cases we can study how and when these developed using the Scientific Method, not with the presumption of any particular solution, but with the best chance of finding new understanding.

    • Susan

      Excellent video, Q. Quine. One worth watching repeatedly. Thank you for linking that.

      >Robert Barron tells us that these things are beyond the reach of the Scientific Method, but he does not tell us why or give us any supporting evidence for his assertion


    • mally el

      "We know for sure that back when our ancestors were simple amorphous multicelled organisms, truth, morality, beauty and meaning did not exist in this world."
      Do we? Or is it just an unproven belief?
      It is also possible that the theory of evolution is baseless and than human came into existence as we are today?
      Can physics tell us for sure that there is definitely no realm in which gravity and time as we experience it does not exist? Thousands of people who have had near-death experiences describe conditions in which our time and gravity do not exist.

      • From mally el:

        "We know for sure that back when our ancestors were simple amorphous multicelled organisms, truth, morality, beauty and meaning did not exist in this world."
        Do we? Or is it just an unproven belief?

        Yes, common descent from early single cell life is an established fact that the Theory of Evolution explains (and the RCC accepts as true).

        It is also possible that the theory of evolution is baseless and than human came into existence as we are today?

        No, the evidence from around the world makes that impossible.

        Can physics tell us for sure that there is definitely no realm in which gravity and time as we experience it does not exist?

        Physicists have found plenty of realms where gravity and time are different from what we usually experience, such as on the space station, or for material close to a black hole, but so far, no place where they don't exist at all.

        Thousands of people who have had near-death experiences describe conditions in which our time and gravity do not exist.

        Under extreme stress some people's brains put down memories of dream states that later are reported as if actual waking experience. No evidence has been produced that these memories correspond to anything more real than our common experience with dreams, even when the memories are reported as seeming more realistic that conventional memories of dreams.

        • mally el

          Since there is no evidence - just speculation - that they are dreams, it is equally possible that they are real experiences.

          • Michael Murray

            And experiments are being done. But the results are not in yet.

          • Mark Hunter

            Unlike religion?

          • But dreams are known to happen supported by known medical science. Claims to something else are not supported by any known mechanism, and as being extraordinary, would require extraordinary evidence not to be cut away by Occam's razor. Descriptions of dreams do not constitute evidence for real events, and Hitchens famously reminded us: "That which is asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence."

          • mally el

            Can be dismissed is different from must be dismissed. Dreams do happens and so do NDEs. Just because one does not understand something does not mean that its existence should be dismissed.

          • What can be dismissed is that there is any supernatural component to NDEs as there is no evidence for such. Zeus could be up there throwing lightning bolts, but we don't spend much time looking for him because natural explanations have been produced and tested. If there really is a supernatural part we need to see the evidence.

            Got evidence?

          • mally el

            The only reason we could predict, search and test is because of the very reliable nature of the world, including all the laws. What supernatural component are you looking for? When I throw a ball and I know it will fall. I know that gravity is behind it, but I do not go about looking for this phenomenon or to try and measure it - whatever it is. And I am not talking about its effects in and through matter.

      • Michael Murray

        Do we? Or is it just an unproven belief?

        If you really mean this question can I encourage you to have a look at the theory of evolution ? There are lots of popular accounts. You don't have to read Dawkins. The theory of evolution by natural selection is one of the greatest intellectual achievements of humankind to date. It's a tragedy not to understand it and unlike things like quantum field theory it's possible for a non-scientist to get enough of an understanding to appreciate it.

        • mally el

          I am not interested in popular accounts or conclusions based on consensus or the philosophical beliefs of scientists.
          I have for quite some time believed that the phenomenon we call gravity exists everywhere and works in and through matter. Electric fields are slightly different. I am not disputing these important studies and findings. I am simply saying that there are other truths outside the scope of physics. Physics still has to tell us why the world came into existence and how. What time did it take for time to evolve? Oh, there is so much more.

          • Michael Murray

            That's a shame. Ironic in a way as that consensus you reject is the reason you can type on your computer and we can have this conversation.

        • Mark Hunter

          Read Kenneth Miller, "Only a Theory". He's a practicing Catholic and gives a very good account of evolutionary theory.

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks Mark but just so you know the question was mally el's not mine.

    • So, I agree -- it is (in principle, anyway) possible to describe ALL of the operations of physical reality through the process of physics (working on the lowest levels, as well as the higher, emergent levels).

      But I still want to ask the questions: So what? What ultimately conclusion follows from that? And what does that have to do with atheism?

      What does a complete, sufficient explanation of the physical universe tell us about whether God is real or not? We are still left with Leibniz' question: Why is there something rather than nothing? I think that is still a very meaningful (and non-scientific) question.

      In addition: We still want to ask the question: "What For?"
      We still have to decide what to do with that knowledge. Knowledge of nuclear fission leads to creating the A-Bomb, just as much as it leads to creating energy resources.

      Sean Carroll says in one quote (I think it was apart of a different talk): "Understanding the fundamental nature of reality is a necessary starting point for productive conversations about morality, justice, and meaning..."

      I completely agree. It IS a necessary starting point -- but not necessarily the ENDING point. Of course, we ALL benefit from speaking a common scientific language, especially in the areas of medicine, environmental technology, etc. But we still have to have a conversation about "meaning, morality, justice, wisdom" -- which lies outside the immediate scope of scientific knowledge. We still have to make good choices.

      Science gives us the best raw material for making those choices (like all of the keys of a well-tuned piano) -- but it doesn't automatically determine for us which choice to make. We still need a "musical score" (to give a rough analogy) to tell us which keys to play. Or, as one person put it --- even a complete, sufficient understanding of the operations of a wireless radio does not invalidate the important choices we still must make about the programming we broadcast. Here, not only do we benefit from the insights of moral philosophy, but also religious understandings of the person, family, society, his inherent value, dignity, the importance of fidelity, trust, commitment, etc.

      • Thanks, Dan, those are good observations. What we have learned from looking at the physical world allows us to drop so many of the superstitions that have been passed to us by our ancestors. Over thousands of years human civilizations have created thousands of deities that have moved from being worshiped to being shelved in mythology. We are now turning our analysis of physical evidence to ourselves to try to learn why we do that, and why we do the other things that make up our lives.

        You mention one of the very important areas that needs our thinking. We need to think about how we want to act so as to produce the kind of world in which we want to live and raise our children. We can no longer operate as separate families on some infinite frontier but must recognize that we run "spaceship Earth" together, and are stuck with each other. Science helps us look into our natural strengths and weaknesses, and we must look to knowledge from real world evidence to help us make our futures.

        Hume showed us that there is no objective answer to morality, but that does not mean that we can't work together to make things better (see http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/2012/09/betterism.html ). The unattainable perfect need not be the enemy of the good. We need to work together on this, but the superstitious nature of religion is a stone in the road to the future. I am reminded of the stones that the religious people of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) carved in expectation that their deities would come and save them from the overpopulation that stripped the resources of the island. We must be sure that what happened there on an island in the Pacific is not a model for what will happen to this island Earth.

        • Yes - I hate superstition, too -- which is why I abandoned young-earth creationism early on!

          I'm also a physicalist as well -- I don't think a Cartesian dualism is necessary for answering the mind/brain problem. Recent understandings of emergence and top-down causation can potentially explain this problem just as nicely.
          And YET: I still regard this physical, material world as ultimately an exquisite creation by God. I don't see a conflict between having a sufficient, local, physical explanation -- and God as the ultimate or "meta" explanation.
          Now - this is another discussion:
          Using science for the improvement of mankind and "helping each other". Again -- it is not obvious (based on scientific discovery alone), WHY this is important. HOW are we to decide what to "value" more than other things? Are we to take that as a brute fact?

          • Dan, all moral systems require making some assumptions for basic axioms. I go with what will result in the kind of world I want to live in. I don't kill people because I don't want people to kill me, and that includes polluting my environment. Even if there were any evidence of the existence of any deities, we would still have the problem from Euthyphro, so we would still have to decide what we want to be right and wrong.

          • But the REASON you want to "go with what will result in the kind of world I want to live in" is because you are hard-wired for meaning, for love, for relationships. You recognize that choices matter, others matter.

            Now I think it is perfectly possible to come up with a "secular" basis for values -- but that's simply because we all participate in a that universe morally structured and morally meaningful.

            It really DOES matter how we treat others -- not simply for the sake of survival (ie. keeping from killing or being killed), because it is part of a larger picture of happiness, satisfaction, love, joy, etc.

            I simply take that one step further and suggest the reason WHY we live in such a universe is because it is ultimately a creation of God. In other words, that kind of universe to me "fits" a theistic reality, rather than an atheistic one. It's something that we could have a larger discussion about --- but I'll have to leave it at that for now.

            I don't really loose much sleep over Euthyphro's dilemma, I have to say.


          • Dan, I am happy that the difference does not make a difference, and that is the case as long as you or anyone else does not claim a religious justification for a specific moral position (which, sadly, people usually do).

  • At the beginning, Fr. Barron makes a lot of unsubstantiated assumptions about what science can and can't ultimately prove. From there, he goes back to the old Prime Mover question which has been dealt with on before on this site. He concludes by saying that science can't disprove God. (I hope he doesn't mean that that proves God.) He may be right. But when more and more things are explained without any reference to God, it seems like all he can do is implicitly fall back on the God Of The (ever narrowing) Gaps argument.