Response 2 to
'Theology Achieves Nothing?'
by Paul Hazelden


Introduction

This is a second response to the 'Theology Achieves Nothing?' article, following the 'A Response to 'Theology Achieves Nothing?'' article.

It was followed by another article: 'Response 3 to 'Theology Achieves Nothing?''.

The Response

Hello again,

Here are some thoughts on the subjects we touched upon up till now. Some things below will reinforce my agreement with you, other make other points contrary to yours.

1) By cultural influence, I mean that if you are born in Japan, you are overwhelmingly likely to be a Shinto; If you are born in Iran, you are overwhelming likely to be a Shiite Muslim, etc. So it appears the religious persuasion of an individual is largely a cultural inheritance rather than a universal force or truth. Of course some convert to other outlooks, but that occurs in various directions and doesn't seem to prove anything one way or the other.

2) I agree with you on most of this: I never thought the multiverse theory was very persuasive. The idea behind it is to provide a huge number (or infinity) of universes, so that it will appear a statistical inevitability that one of them will happen to support life. I find this unpersuasive for several reasons (some of which you pointed out):

a) Other universes are not in evidence. If they are in principle un-detectable, how can we assign reality to them? This lavishly violates Occam's Razor.

b) Why do the other universes neatly segregate themselves so that "junk" from "dead" universes don't mess up our universe?

c) I Believe that deep laws of mathematics severely constrain the possible laws of physics. There is most likely only one possible universe ( so it is ours).

d) The point that our universe seems designed for life is obvious-we can only exist in a universe that supports life, so naturally we observe a universe that supports life. This whole line of argument is not productive or meaningful on either side.

The mystery persists of why the only universe we know exists has just the right combination of forces, particles, etc, to make life and consciousness possible.

Beyond this perplexing fact, I do not know where I can take it. It's a very wonderful mystery. Maybe it points to god or some cosmic intelligence force.

3) When we go to sleep, our soul (consciousness) is alive but temporarily resting. It's active in dreams, since that is another facet of consciousness. (As an aside-I believe sleep is not mere passivity but an active process (probably when cell repair, memory consolidation, and other process occur). This resolves the apparent contradiction that older people "need less sleep". In reality, they need as much sleep as ever, but actually get less sleep than they need. They get less sleep because the active process of sleep is less efficient than when they were younger. This is consistent with the fact all other physiological processes become less efficient the older we are.)

4) My comments about supernatural events being tested or replicated is intended to point out an essential difference between supernatural and objective claims. You said:

"You seem to be missing the obvious point that no claimed natural event can be tested or replicated. No statement about the past can possibly be tested, in the scientific sense."

I'm not sure what you mean here. Clearly you can't go into the past to verify something, and I don't say that. What I mean is that claims fall into 2 distinct categories: Some can be repeated at will. Others can't. A supernatural claim, say , claiming I can levitate, calls for verification. Verification requires repetition of the claimed ability. The repetition should be publicly demonstratable, and at will. There lies the difference. Supernatural claims, by their nature, are not repeatable at will. (If they were, they would not be called "supernatural"). No consistent repeatability is known for such claims. If something is not repeatable, it is not testable or demonstratable. On the other hand, other events or phenomena are repeatable. For example, if I claim I can convert water into hydrogen and oxygen gas, that can be reliably repeated to independent observers. Rising from the dead on the other hand, is not a repeatable event. It is a supernatural claim.

A closely related issue is one of competing explanations for a given claim. There is usually a range of possible explanations to be considered. There is a corresponding range of plausibility of those explanations. If the bible (or it's interpreters) claims that Jesus literally rose from the dead (after 3 days of bodily decomposition following violent injury), surely it is reasonable to consider several interpretations of this claim. One is the supernatural one. Another is that a slight of hand occurred (the body was replaced with a look alike or other such thing). Another is literary myth and legend mixed with history, either at the time or later. We know that other literature mixes history and the supernatural. The Iliad and Odyssey have much that is supernatural, yet probably contain real history also. Perhaps the Arthurian legends do. Ancient writings contain much tribal lore which is difficult to disentangle with myths. In general, the historic truth that may exist in ancient writings does not validate their supernatural content. Anyway, there are several competing explanations of biblical writings. So the question of relative plausibility has to be considered. For me, concerning the resurrection, the literary/myth interpretation seems more plausible that the literal rising from the dead. One is inconsistent with natural laws. The other is consistent with natural law and other literary forms. So, for me, the literary myth seems more plausible.

My Reply

Thanks for your response. I'll try to be brief...

"If you are born in Iran, you are overwhelming likely to be a Shiite Muslim, etc. So it appears the religious persuasion of an individual is largely a cultural inheritance rather than a universal force or truth."

Sorry, but I really don't understand the point you are trying to make here. Do you consider it an argument against the truth of religion in general, or of some religion in particular, when you note that people brought up in a particular religious culture will generally share that religious culture? I don't know what you mean by this "universal force or truth" which you seem keen to attack or deny. Many universal truths have not been universally believed: I don't see what difference that makes.

On point 4... You said that supernatural events cannot be tested or replicated. I said that no natural event can be tested or replicated either. It seems straightforward to me. You cannot test an event in the past, and you cannot replicate any event because every event is unique. Apart from anything else, each event takes place at a unique point in the space-time continuum. If I clap my hands twice, I am not repeating one event - there are two events. They may be similar, but similarity is not identity.

As I said before, science is not about testing or replicating events - it is about predicting. To be precise, it is about predicting on the basis of observation. You don't test events, you test hypotheses. If you go along with Karl Popper, you actually seek to falsify hypotheses, and, when you fail in that attempt, you give them the status of provisional truth. It's a good model, even if it doesn't describe what scientists actually do most of the time.

"A supernatural claim, say , claiming I can levitate, calls for verification" In what sense is levitation a 'supernatural' claim? Even if the claim is that I can levitate through the power of my mind, I see nothing supernatural in this. The claim is about physical objects, and falls completely within the realm of science. You seem to be using the term 'supernatural' in a way that I don't understand, and, hence, cannot adequately reply to.

"Supernatural claims, by their nature, are not repeatable at will. (If they were, they would not be called 'supernatural')" Is this an attempt to define the term 'supernatural'? I could be pedantic, and point out that many religious people seem capable of repeating many supernatural claims at will, so does that make them science? And is a hole-in-one on the golf course a supernatural event because it cannot be repeated at will?

I believe that if a person believes in Jesus, then that person receives eternal life. I believe that this claim is both supernatural and repeatable, and I can introduce you to many people who can testify to the veracity of that claim. Of course, their testimony does not prove it to be true - but then, it is a claim about a supernatural reality. How on earth could it be proved, in a scientific sense?

I apologise if I'm getting this wrong, but it appears that you are making a common mistake. You are talking as if scientific proof is the only thing that matters. But everybody knows that this is nonsense.

Assuming you are married, it probably matters to you a great deal whether your wife loves you. You cannot prove this scientifically. It probably matters to you whether the people you know respect and trust you. They may say they do, but they can't prove it scientifically. When you come down to the level of human life, nothing that matters can be proved.

So, while facts and evidence matter to me, the core of my faith is bound up in statements like this: God loves you. You don't have to agree with Him, or even believe in Him, He will continue to love you. And He wants to have a personal relationship with you.

No, I can't prove to you that God exists. But you can't prove that I exist, and you are talking to me. Real life does not work on the basis of proof - it operates on the basis of faith. You believe your wife loves you. You believe your friends trust you. The faith is itself based on evidence. There is no proof that God exists, but there is plenty of evidence.

Many people who claim to be operating on a scientific basis tell me that they know there is no God, and therefore they can reject the evidence I offer. As I see it, they are operating on the basis of blind faith, while I have examined the evidence, weighed it, and am trying to live in the light of the facts. All the facts, not just the ones I like or find convenient.

Paul.

[On to the 'Response 3 to 'Theology Achieves Nothing?'' article]

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