Wednesday, March 31, 2010

50 blogs on disbelief - Philosophy and science

50 Blogs on Disbelief
My thoughts on the book, 50 Voices of Disbelief, Why We Are Athiests, edited by Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk. Written as I read them in no particular order. The page number of the essay is provided at the top of each entry.
p. 57 Thomas W. Clark “Too Good to Be True, Too Obscure to Explain: The Cognitive Shortcomings of Belief in God”

This is a philosophical and scientific look at naturalism, the argument that there is no split of the natural and the supernatural. If you look at the universe in the right way, he says, you will come to that conclusion. He uses logic and scientific methods to make his case, explaining them as he goes. Along the way he addresses a few arguments for belief, without specifically naming them. He keeps coming back to naturalism and uses in a couple footnotes.

Although he develops his argument scientifically, he lost me a couple times. There just isn’t room in a short essay to support everything, such as;

“The diversity of the animal kingdom, the complexities of human thought and culture, even consciousness itself- all this can in principle, and increasingly in practice, be traced back through biological, geological, stellar, and cosmic evolution to the Big Bang.”

A pretty big claim. At one point he also admits that among those who use philosophical/scientific/naturalist methods there is plenty of disagreement. Although he says that to point out that they all agree there is no supernatural. He also admits that this approach doesn’t disprove anything. He says this to point out that lack of disproof is not proof, and says,

“If it were, one’s ontology would necessarily expand to include all logically conceivable entities, however scant the evidence for them – an unwieldy universe indeed.”

He introduces a term I found particularly humorous, “unexplained explainer.” Although he doesn’t mention it, this seems to be in reference to the “unmoved mover.” That term is used to describe God or any creator, sometimes even by agnostics. It is required for explanations that assume that everything has a cause, therefore you must be able to trace everything back to some original cause, and at some point you get to an end, a cause that had no cause, the unmoved mover. Of course, that has no explanation.

He spends some time addressing this, then concludes that the naturalist approach is the best one. I will leave it up to you to examine his logic in more detail and decide for yourself. I like his discussion about why our ancestors choose the path they did, leaving us with the legacy of all of these belief systems. I think this can be examined without a discussion of “proof” at all. This essay is more of a scientific proof, so it only touches on these ideas as needed, for example when discussing how a scientific method should be objective, and exclude hopes, he points out religion does the opposite,

“God and his powers, exercised on our behalf, are exactly what we needy, fragile, all too mortal creatures would most want to exist.”

My hope is that we can begin to discuss our hopes and needs and fragileness openly. We seem to spend a lot of time arguing about how others are dealing with it and whether or not one way is better than the other until the arguing itself becomes another way of protecting ourselves from the fears. A scientific approach may be just what we need, but let’s not leave out the value of a good story.

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