Scientific and other explanation

DafydDafyd Shipmate
There appears to be some confusion in the MPaul thread in Hell about the relationship between scientific explanations and religious statements. Colin Smith appears to think that there is some kind of conflict between 'God created space, time, and gender' and science. That 'God created space, time, and gender' is a kind of statement that displaces proper scientific explanation.

Let's talk about why this is wrong. Warning: analogy follows.

Consider the following sequence of numbers:
-4,3.-1,2,1,3,4,7,11,18,29,47,...
The sharp-eyed reader will of course spot that each number is the sum of the previous two numbers (as with the Fibonacci sequence), but that n(5), the fifth number in the sequence, is 3 rather than 1. Now basic arithmetic tells us that if n(1), the first number in the sequence, is -4 and n(2) is 3, then n(0) must be 7 and n(-1) must be -4, and so on back. The choice of a particular starting point within this sequence is arbitrary. (I've deliberately not set n(1) to equal 1 to emphasise this point.)
Now we can ask, why is n(5) 3 and not 1? On one level, the answer is simply that 3 is the sum of the two previous numbers, n(3), which is 2, and n(4), which is 1. This level is roughly analogous to scientific explanation. The value of every number is entirely explicable in terms of the two previous numbers.
At the same time, there is another answer, which is that I decided to use the Fibonacci sequence relationship i.e. n(x)=n(x-2)+n(x-1) but deliberately picked a seed that isn't in the Fibonacci sequence. This is at least on the surface a valid question. It is not a question that can be answered in terms of arithmetic, and it's not a question that arithmetic can even pose. But, it in no way displaces or renders invalid or incomplete the arithmetical answer. The arithmetical answer is entirely complete in its own terms.

Another analogy.
The Tvtropes website makes a distinction between answering questions about literary works in Watsonian terms and in Doylist terms. So, if we ask the question, Why did Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty fall off the Reichenbach Falls, we can answer on one level, the Watsonian, that Moriarty wanted revenge on Sherlock Holmes, they struggled, the force of gravity did its work. Or we can answer on another level, the Doylist, the Arthur Conan Doyle wanted to kill off Sherlock Holmes, and he thought that this was an appropriate way to send him off (and possibly he secretly realised he wanted to leave room to bring Holmes back to life by not leaving a corpse).
Now, as far as Watson is concerned, the Watsonian level of explanation is entirely sufficient. (At least in so far as this question is concerned. There are loose ends like how many times Watson has been married that aren't so covered.) As the Sherlock Holmes stories are not postmodern, there is no scientific experiment that Watson could do that would tell him that he's a character in a series of fictional stories. The Doylist explanation doesn't invalidate the Watsonian explanation. Nor is the Watsonian explanation incomplete in its own terms. The answers, because Doyle wanted to kill Holmes off, and because of gravity, are equally good answers to the question and neither invalidates the other.

Science corresponds to the Watsonian level of explanation in this analogy. And it's entirely complete within its own terms. To say that there may potentially be a Doylist-type level of explanation of the world as well doesn't mean that science is incomplete. Nor is it a trespass on scientific ground. You can of course say that there is no Doylist-level of explanation of the world. But that's not a scientific statement, but a philosophical statement. It might be true, but it requires philosophical argument not scientific argument. And even if there is a Doylist-level of explanation it wouldn't show up in science, since Doylist-explanations are irrelevant to science and science just finds Watsonian explanations. (And this is not in any way a criticism of science as such.)

(I'll just note that the analogy so far implies that any Doylist-explanation refers to a personal creator. That's not actually true. Kantian philosophy, according to which space and time and number are ways in which rational beings structure their experience, but are not part of the thing-in-itself, is a Doylist-level philosophy without any direct reference to any personal being. Buddhist philosophy is as I understand it equally Doylist without any personal being.)
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Comments

  • Very enjoyable, Dafyd. It reminds me of methodological and philosophical naturalism. Scientific method ignores God, but this does not imply that there is no God. Or to reverse this, science focuses on nature but this doesn't imply that there is only nature. However, I think some atheists are tempted to jump the gap, as it were. If we can describe gravity without 'this hypothesis', why do we need it at all? Poor argument.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Riiight. I'm sure I should get me coat. But. God explains nothing. Least of all Himself. Nothing in reality needs Him. Apart from emotionally. Not as a ground of being. Nothing. Photons don't attenuate. Protons never decay. Our twinkle of a universe of infinite from eternity has a quadrillion years to go. For a start. It would be nice if someone nice were thinking all this and more for sure. Stuff is infinite from eternity. That's ineffable. God is bigger and older. I really, really want Him to be. So? Science lacks for nothing compared with God as an explanation. And is a tad simpler. More Occamian. Occamic.
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    IOW the Watsonian answer is complete in its own terms. No Doylist explanation is required.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Quite.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    edited April 16
    BroJames wrote: »
    IOW the Watsonian answer is complete in its own terms. No Doylist explanation is required.

    Of course it's not required. By definition. That's not the issue. The issue is: is it true?
  • True or useful?
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    edited April 16
    To Christians, true. From within the story, from the Watsonian point of view, it has no utility, because all that matters to the Watsonian are Watsonian terms.
  • To Christians useful. We cannot know true. A dog might well meditate on the mind of Newton (as C. Darwin suggested), but should be loving and obedient to its humans, often thinking it's also one (as methinks).
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    To Christians useful. We cannot know true.

    Defeatist and irrelevant at the same time. We have revelation.

  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    Assorted:

    --There's an idea that God created because She was lonely. My fave riff on that is James Weldon Johnson's poem "The Creation" (Bartleby). Starts out:
    AND God stepped out on space,
    And He looked around and said,
    “I’m lonely—
    I’ll make me a world.”

    When I was a kid, I saw a symphonic performance of this on TV. In the poem, God gets down in the mud to make people, and so did the actor/dancer who performed it. (No actual mud was harmed in the making of the performance. ;) ) I just tried finding it online. So far, no luck.

    Andrew Greeley wrote, in one of his Fr. Blackie mystery novels, about God as a lonely teen-aged girl, striking matches to create worlds, hoping one of them would give her "friends to hang with". :)

    --IIRC, the novel "Sophie's World" gets into some Watson/Doyle levels of reality, though not in those terms. Personally, I found the book a little too didactic about philosophy. But there was interesting stuff about crossing from one level to another.
  • SusanDorisSusanDoris Shipmate
    I'm afraid I do not follow all the details of the Watson Holmes analogy, but I am well aware that a study of philosophy and its ways of discussion is something my life has lacked. I think, though, that the point where science and religion conflict is when a totally faith belief is stated as being true and objective. I realise that this might lead to definitions of truth, but I don't think it does just here.
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    Susan--

    This may be a Watson/Doyle detail you've already gotten...but I think the gist is that Watson and Holmes have a life together; Watson writes about that life, though sometimes with tantalizing contradictions and possible discrepancies; and Doyle writes about all of that.

    Within their fictional world, Watson and Holmes don't know about Doyle, and don't need to, and they do just fine. (Unless the occasional references to "Providence", etc., are actually references to Doyle.) Doyle made their world and knows their world.

    Of course, you can keep climbing those levels. E.g., who made Doyle and his world? That's what the book "Sophie's World" plays with, among other things.

    If you want to do a little exploring of philosophy, you might try "The Tao Of Pooh" by Benjamin Hoff. Fun discussions of philosophy with and about Winnie the Pooh. Was wildly popular for a long time.
  • RussRuss Shipmate
    Dafyd wrote: »
    As the Sherlock Holmes stories are not postmodern, there is no scientific experiment that Watson could do that would tell him that he's a character in a series of fictional stories. The Doylist explanation doesn't invalidate the Watsonian explanation. Nor is the Watsonian explanation incomplete in its own terms...

    Does this imply that a functional agnosticism is the only rational position for Watson to adopt ?

    As his highly-rational friend might point out. We can imagine his response.

    "Good God, Holmes, you don't mean..."


  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Doyle has not seeded our Fibonacci with anything non-Fibonacci. Furthermore He has not written us, does not write us. The only writing He does is the coin toss possibility as the (superfluous) ground of being (non-theistic evolution does all the rest), including of the unconnected transcendent (they never come back) and incarnation, which also requires the written angelic realm orthogonal to ours.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    To Christians useful. We cannot know true.

    Defeatist and irrelevant at the same time. We have revelation.

    We can bet on it. Declare it true. Then we have to make it work.
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Doyle has not seeded our Fibonacci with anything non-Fibonacci. Furthermore He has not written us, does not write us. The only writing He does is the coin toss possibility as the (superfluous) ground of being (non-theistic evolution does all the rest), including of the unconnected transcendent (they never come back) and incarnation, which also requires the written angelic realm orthogonal to ours.

    That may well be, as far as *our* Doyle/God.

    But I'm wondering what the real, this world, Arthur Conan Doyle would think of your paragraph. ;) He got so sick of Holmes that he killed him off. Eventually, there was such a hue and cry from distressed fans that he brought Holmes back. Also, Doyle got into metaphysics (with Mme. Blavatsky, IIRC), especially during his time away from Holmes.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    He got in to desperate cognitive bias. Something only God is free of.
  • Russ wrote: »
    Does this imply that a functional agnosticism is the only rational position for Watson to adopt ?

    As his highly-rational friend might point out. We can imagine his response.

    "Good God, Holmes, you don't mean..."

    For me, also, functional agnosticism is the only rational position. I'm an atheist because I have an aversion to the idea of a personal God and so prefer to believe there isn't one.
  • HugalHugal Shipmate
    The basic theory holds well. The world of the book is complete in and of itself. It needs nothing else to function. That does not mean there is no author who has a bigger point of view. There are several beliefs that believe in a God who created the world and left it to itself. The theory also allows for an interventionist God who still intervenes.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Golden Key wrote: »
    Assorted:

    --There's an idea that God created because She was lonely. My fave riff on that is James Weldon Johnson's poem "The Creation" (Bartleby). Starts out:
    AND God stepped out on space,
    And He looked around and said,
    “I’m lonely—
    I’ll make me a world.”

    When I was a kid, I saw a symphonic performance of this on TV. In the poem, God gets down in the mud to make people, and so did the actor/dancer who performed it. (No actual mud was harmed in the making of the performance. ;) ) I just tried finding it online. So far, no luck.

    Andrew Greeley wrote, in one of his Fr. Blackie mystery novels, about God as a lonely teen-aged girl, striking matches to create worlds, hoping one of them would give her "friends to hang with". :)

    --IIRC, the novel "Sophie's World" gets into some Watson/Doyle levels of reality, though not in those terms. Personally, I found the book a little too didactic about philosophy. But there was interesting stuff about crossing from one level to another.

    We do project on Him so. Triune God can never be lonely even if He never created. But He has. Forever. Heaven has always been full. And growing.
  • mousethief wrote: »
    To Christians useful. We cannot know true.

    Defeatist and irrelevant at the same time. We have revelation.

    Neither of those. Inspiring and comforting. We've a chance to be part of the whole.
  • SusanDorisSusanDoris Shipmate
    Golden Key wrote: »
    Susan--

    This may be a Watson/Doyle detail you've already gotten...but I think the gist is that Watson and Holmes have a life together; Watson writes about that life, though sometimes with tantalizing contradictions and possible discrepancies; and Doyle writes about all of that.

    Within their fictional world, Watson and Holmes don't know about Doyle, and don't need to, and they do just fine. (Unless the occasional references to "Providence", etc., are actually references to Doyle.) Doyle made their world and knows their world.
    Thank you, yes, I hadn't thought of it that way. I was never a fan of the stories although in more recent years I read an audio copy of abiography of Conan Doyle which I found very interesting
    Of course, you can keep climbing those levels. E.g., who made Doyle and his world? That's what the book "Sophie's World" plays with, among other things.

    If you want to do a little exploring of philosophy, you might try "The Tao Of Pooh" by Benjamin Hoff. Fun discussions of philosophy with and about Winnie the Pooh. Was wildly popular for a long time.
    Yes, I loved that! Note to self: get an audio copy and read again ... done that - it's on its way!

  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    The significance is that Holmes’s and Watson’s ignorance of Doyle’s existence, and his inaccessibility from their world doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist, or doesn’t matter.

    They will only know or guess about Doyle if in some way he chooses to write himself into the story.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    It matters. But for a story about Him writing Himself in to the story, a story without that would indicate things about His nature different to the story with Him in it. The latter nature would have an element of care in it. Vaguely wanting us to know that existence might have purpose. The former would have a Zen nature. As for the reason for material existence, it would seem that transcendence cannot be populated by fiat.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Is there any reason for Watson to prefer a Doylist explanation of his universe to a Wellsian one? (i.e. that everything that happens to him, and indeed everything he does, is because it was written by H. G. Wells.)
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    From Watson’s POV Doyle and Wells are equally inaccessible, so, at one level, no. OTOH a Wellsian explanation would be an error, and any interaction between Watson and Wells could have no impact on Watson’s world, unless you also posit some interaction between Wells and Doyle. Furthermore, although Doyle could write Wells into Watson’s world, in that world Wells would cease to be fully himself instead becoming, at some level, a creature of Doyle.

    [This is fun, this analogy. :smiley:]
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    As far as Watson is concerned Wells and Doyle are functionally identical.
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    Experientially from Watson’s point of view, yes, because Watson is unaware of the function of either of them. Though in fact Doyle has a major influence in Watson’s world and Wells has none at all.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    SusanDoris wrote: »
    I'm afraid I do not follow all the details of the Watson Holmes analogy, but I am well aware that a study of philosophy and its ways of discussion is something my life has lacked. I think, though, that the point where science and religion conflict is when a totally faith belief is stated as being true and objective.

    Only if science has a 100% lock on truth. Which is a faith position, and far from objective.

  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Another interesting question is whether a Meyerist explanation (Watson is in a book written by Nicholas Meyer) is a valid explanation or an "error", as BroJames puts it. Does this make a difference to Watson? Or to us, if we're handed a Watsonian text with the cover removed?
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    BroJames wrote: »
    Experientially from Watson’s point of view, yes, because Watson is unaware of the function of either of them. Though in fact Doyle has a major influence in Watson’s world and Wells has none at all.
    Watson has no way of referring to either except as possible author of his world. Which means that whatever name Watson calls them by is neither right nor wrong. Watson has no way, unless the Sherlock Holmes stories get postmodern, of meaningfully forming the thought, our creator is either also the creator of The Lost World or also the creator of War of the Worlds. And therefore he can't be wrong about it.

  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate
    SusanDoris wrote: »
    ...I'm afraid I do not follow all the details of the Watson Holmes analogy, but I am well aware that a study of philosophy and its ways of discussion is something my life has lacked. I think, though, that the point where science and religion conflict is when a totally faith belief is stated as being true and objective.
    You might benefit from a study of philosophy, then.
    mousethief wrote: »
    Only if science has a 100% lock on truth. Which is a faith position, and far from objective.
    Ahh-men.

  • SusanDorisSusanDoris Shipmate
    Rossweisse wrote: »
    SusanDoris wrote: »
    ...I'm afraid I do not follow all the details of the Watson Holmes analogy, but I am well aware that a study of philosophy and its ways of discussion is something my life has lacked. I think, though, that the point where science and religion conflict is when a totally faith belief is stated as being true and objective.
    You might benefit from a study of philosophy, then..
    You are right and it is something I would have done if I had retained any focal vision.

    [quote[]
    mousethief wrote: »
    Only if science has a 100% lock on truth. Which is a faith position, and far from objective.
    Ahh-men.

    [/quote]Agreed, but then science always has the 0.01% gap left for later findings to change the Theory, and that is why believing that the scientific method is the best way of finding objective truth should not be labelled a faith belief.

  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    The scientific arguments all seem to be coming out as very negative. Does science have anything to say about the nature of God? Apart from the C 18th view that creation itself suggests the existence of a master designer. And Psalms 19 and 139 seem to make that point too.
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    Rublev wrote: »
    Does science have anything to say about the nature of God? Apart from the C 18th view that creation itself suggests the existence of a master designer. And Psalms 19 and 139 seem to make that point too.
    God can presumably make the universe any way God wants. That means that every possible universe is compatible with being made by God, so no feature of the universe can serve as evidence that the universe was made by God.
    If you want to argue that the universe suggests the existence of a master designer, you have to be able to say what a universe without a master designer would look like. But if God exists, then such a universe couldn't exist - if such a universe could exist, then God could make it - and if this universe requires a creator to exist then any possible universe requires a creator to exists. God is the explanation that there is something rather than nothing, but not an explanation for why we have this something rather than any other something. So one can put forward an argument for God from the existence of the universe or from features of the universe so general that every possible universe must have them; but not from any specific feature of the universe.
    In any case, the eighteenth century argument that the universe suggests a master designer trespasses a bit too far into the territory of science I think. It implies that there's no scientific explanation for whatever order or regularity we see in the universe.

  • SusanDorisSusanDoris Shipmate
    Dafyd wrote: »
    Rublev wrote: »
    Does science have anything to say about the nature of God? Apart from the C 18th view that creation itself suggests the existence of a master designer. And Psalms 19 and 139 seem to make that point too.
    God can presumably make the universe any way God wants. That means that every possible universe is compatible with being made by God, so no feature of the universe can serve as evidence that the universe was made by God.
    If you want to argue that the universe suggests the existence of a master designer, you have to be able to say what a universe without a master designer would look like. But if God exists, then such a universe couldn't exist - if such a universe could exist, then God could make it - and if this universe requires a creator to exist then any possible universe requires a creator to exists. God is the explanation that there is something rather than nothing, but not an explanation for why we have this something rather than any other something. So one can put forward an argument for God from the existence of the universe or from features of the universe so general that every possible universe must have them; but not from any specific feature of the universe.
    In any case, the eighteenth century argument that the universe suggests a master designer trespasses a bit too far into the territory of science I think. It implies that there's no scientific explanation for whatever order or regularity we see in the universe.
    Oh, I do wish I could write even half as well as that most interesting post.

  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    Thank you, that's very helpful. I have been looking this up online but they didn't put the argument in this way. Is science naturally ordered and regular, or is it random and chaotic with any order only being a temporary state?

    That there is something and not nothing sounds convincing to me. And so does the anthropic argument that the world is fine tuned to develop and support life. And that no scientist can explain how complexity could have happened in the first place seems to indicate a strong case for the existence of the Creator God.
  • Rublev wrote: »
    Thank you, that's very helpful. I have been looking this up online but they didn't put the argument in this way. Is science naturally ordered and regular, or is it random and chaotic with any order only being a temporary state?

    That there is something and not nothing sounds convincing to me. And so does the anthropic argument that the world is fine tuned to develop and support life. And that no scientist can explain how complexity could have happened in the first place seems to indicate a strong case for the existence of the Creator God.

    I thought the straightforward reply to something/nothing is that nothing cannot exist. Hence, there is no such thing as oblivion, as it would be something.

    On complexity, you have plunged into God of the gaps. If science has not explained X, you can't just assert therefore God. This is classic God of the gaps. An obvious example is gravity, which is difficult to explain. So does God pull everything downwards?

  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    God of the gaps is the modern version of Hic Dragones. In scientific theory complexity is moved progressively backwards but it is not explained. The discoverer of the theory of gravity, Isaac Newton, thought 'the most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being.'
  • SusanDorisSusanDoris Shipmate
    Rublev wrote: »
    Thank you, that's very helpful. I have been looking this up online but they didn't put the argument in this way. Is science naturally ordered and regular, or is it random and chaotic with any order only being a temporary state?

    That there is something and not nothing sounds convincing to me. And so does the anthropic argument that the world is fine tuned to develop and support life. And that no scientist can explain how complexity could have happened in the first place seems to indicate a strong case for the existence of the Creator God.
    If I had not read dafyd's post, I might have asked the infinite regression question, i.e. if God made something, who made God, etc, which somewhat resembles the God-of-the-gaps point.
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    SusanDoris wrote: »
    If I had not read dafyd's post, I might have asked the infinite regression question, i.e. if God made something, who made God, etc, which somewhat resembles the God-of-the-gaps point.
    If so, I do wonder whether the post you think you read has much to do with what I actually posted.

  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    God is uncreated and exists outside time and space. But in the incarnation Christ entered in it. According to Genesis God spoke creation into being through the Word. Some theologians make a link between Intelligent Design and the Logos theology of John's gospel. But at present science cannot explain how the universe was made or who made it because these are not questions that can be addressed through the methods of science.
  • HugalHugal Shipmate
    If we accept a God that is not human (but he made us similar to himself) then the idea of him being born, living and dying may not apply. He need not be subject to human limitations. Of course that relies on acceptance of both a God and one that is not human.
  • Rublev wrote: »
    God is uncreated and exists outside time and space. But in the incarnation Christ entered in it. According to Genesis God spoke creation into being through the Word. Some theologians make a link between Intelligent Design and the Logos theology of John's gospel. But at present science cannot explain how the universe was made or who made it because these are not questions that can be addressed through the methods of science.

    True. But that assumes those are questions that have answers. And it's presumptuous for anyone to claim they know what the answers are.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited April 17
    God is pure spirit whereas humans are enfleshed spirits who are made in the image of God. In the incarnation Christ became enfleshed. So did the incarnation event change God?
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Not in any qualitative way, no. Christ was the enfleshed. He didn't become it. There was no he before the flesh. Unless you are saying that the second person of the undivided (pre-)eternal (trans-infinite) Trinity collapsed to a sperm two thousand years ago? In what way are we spirits?
  • Rublev wrote: »
    God of the gaps is the modern version of Hic Dragones. In scientific theory complexity is moved progressively backwards but it is not explained. The discoverer of the theory of gravity, Isaac Newton, thought 'the most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being.'

    Well, if you are happy to accept such assertions, go for it. I find it nonsensical, or an appeal to magic. This reminds of Laplace, who actually developed "celestial mechanics", as it was called then, and who is supposed to have replied to Napoleon, that God was not required in his calculations, contra Newton. Contemporaries also found the tides perplexing, so I suppose you could ascribe them to God, where again Laplace produced complex and beautiful equations, which described tides more accurately.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    @Colin Smith

    I don't mind being presumptuous. Neither scientists nor theologians want to wallow in medieval ignorance. So in order to reach the answer we must first put the question. St Paul wrote, 'For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part but then shall I know even as I am known' (1 Cor 13: 12). Perhaps the thought of answering all your questions one day might interest you?
  • I thought that the question of how the universe came into being is tackled by scientists. There is no definitive answer, but there sure are some interesting discoveries along the way. As to who made it - question begging.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    @Martin54

    The pre existent Word was with God in spirit and partnered with Him in creation (John 1: 1-3). Christ took on flesh in the incarnation (John 1: 14) as the willing assent of the human Mary combined with the divine power of the Holy Spirit.
    Humans were created in the image of God (Gen 1: 26). We are spiritual beings having a human experience. As Jesus did.
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