Friday, July 10, 2009
Circular Logic is No Logic
Most people, it seems, are like the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Arthur slices the Black Knight’s arm off, and the Black Knight proceeds to argue that the severed arm now lying on the ground isn’t his, and no amount of pointing at the bloody stub at his shoulder will convince him otherwise.
Rational compulsion towards an idea is hampered by two facts:
1. Any truth, however unassailable, can be denied.
2. Any falsehood, however unbelievable, can be believed.
At first, such a notion seems counterintuitive. You’d think that there are at least some things about which we can all agree. Who, for instance, doesn’t believe the Earth is round? Surely no one in his right mind would disbelieve such a thing, especially when we’ve all seen photographs of the earth, taken from space, which clearly show a round Earth. Game, set, and match, right?
Yet, go to California, where you’ll find the Flat Earth Society. I once saw an interview with a member. He not only steadfastly maintained that the Earth is indeed flat as a pancake, he even had an explanation for the photos: As Einstein demonstrated, space is curved; and thus any photo of the Earth shot from space would doubtlessly show a round Earth due to the curvature of space. Never mind that this is not at all what Einstein meant when he said that space is curved. Never mind that we have lots more evidence as to the shape of the Earth than just a pile of photographs. Never mind that science has corroborated time and time again that the Earth is round. It’s flat, dammit, and that was that.
Mind you, the man was no nut-case wearing aluminum foil on his head, warning of the coming apocalypse and spouting nonsense like “Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy.” Other than in his assertion that the Earth is flat, he seemed like a calm, thoughtful, temperate individual.
And if the sphericity of the Earth can be denied, how easy is it to deny that the universe is a product of Intelligent Design? Quod volumus, facile credimus—we easily believe what we want to believe.
Take, for example, the notion that science has to be naturalistic. While it’s true that science begins with the material world in undertaking any scientific investigation, there’s no reason at all why science must be limited to the material world in generating its answers or formulating new hypotheses and theories. In fact, scientists churn up ideas all the time that have nothing to do with the observable world—multiverse theory, extradimensionality, wormholes to other universes, directed panspermia, etc. Oddly enough, these same people will often maintain that the difference between science and religion is that science is based upon fact and observation, while religion is based on faith—despite the fact that there is not one shred of evidence that there is more than one universe or that ancient astronauts seeded life on our planet.
But, posit that the universe is best explained by the existence of an inscrutable designer who created it ex nihilo, and you’ll be deafened by all the scientists harping that you’ve somehow crossed the bounds of science. And yet note: all they will ever do or can ever do is make the claim; they can never, by any reasoned argument, establish what these bounds are and what has to occur to constitute crossing them. It’s not because they’re incapable of formulating the argument, but because no such argument can possibly be made. There is no philosophical support whatsoever for the notion that science has to be naturalistic. Such a notion is a mere second-order proposition about science rather than a first-order proposition coming from science itself.
Try sorting out their logic. What is it that makes multiverse theory scientific but makes the God hypothesis unscientific? We’re often told that scientific formulations are testable. So what test has any scientist ever conducted—or could ever conceivably conduct—that leads him to suppose the existence of multiple universes? (Hint: answer is “none.”)
Okay, then, the materialist says. Real science is also falsifiable. But that simply leads to the same obstacle as before: how is multiverse theory falsifiable, even in theory? You could only verify the notion by demonstrating the existence of at least one other universe—but you could never prove that there aren’t any more universes than our own, because it’s impossible to disprove a negative.
And even if the materialist concedes that there is no way of testing or falsifying multiverse theory, he’ll merely conjure up some “Yeah, but…” strategy to obscure the weakness of his position. Yeah, but, he’ll say, that doesn’t mean we have to believe the universe came into existence because G*d said so. This, of course, is a mere non sequitur, which doesn’t address the notion of the multiverse at all, but only seeks to turn the discussion into some altogether else—namely, whether there’s a God. And if the non-materialist takes the bait, the materialist will simply counter with That’s a non-issue. Talk about G*d is religion, not science.
This, of course, merely begs the question: Does science have to be naturalistic? Only if we accept as a given the very point the materialist is arguing can we say that talking about God is unscientific. Again, this is a second-order proposition about science.
Rather than being fundamental to science, the notion that science has to be naturalistic is so subjective, there’s difficulty in hashing out just what the term even means. Ask a materialist to define “natural.” He’ll say something like, Well, natural means it’s found in nature, what we can see all around us. And God? Well, God isn’t found in nature. How do you know? Well, because you can’t see him. And you can see other universes? Well, no. So you do you know God isn’t found in nature? Well, he’s supernatural. And what do you mean by “supernatural”? Well, that’s anything that isn’t natural.
And this is nothing more than a tautology, a fancy way of saying the same thing twice—which is to say: it says nothing at all. A simple mathematical substitution demonstrates this:
1. Natural = that which belongs to nature.
2. Supernatural = that which isn’t natural.
3. So, Supernatural = that which isn’t that which belongs to nature. In other words, “supernatural,” whatever it is, is that which we don’t identify as “natural,” whatever that is. The distinction is wholly arbitrary.
The discussion continues: Yes, but why don’t we identify God as natural? Because he isn’t. Yes, but why not? Just because. So, how do we distinguish the supernatural from the natural? Because the supernatural isn’t observable in nature. And the multiverse is? No, but at least the multiverse is scientific. Why? Because the multiverse is natural, while God is supernatural. How do you know? Never mind about that. I just know. We’re no closer to finding the answer than when we started.
Similarly, we’re supposed to exclude God from any scientific discussion, because “that isn’t scientific.” And why isn’t it scientific? Because God is supernatural. And why is God supernatural? Because otherwise we couldn’t exclude God from scientific discussion. And ‘round she goes!
And that’s the real reason why entertaining notions like God is considered unscientific, while untestable and unfalsifiable notions like the multiverse are acceptable. The multiverse, directed panspermia, and the like are all in the anything-other-than-God category, and so are allowable. We must exclude God from scientific discussion, because otherwise we can’t exclude him. Rrrrright…
Why, then, does the materialist say that all science has to be naturalistic? Answer: just because. Ipse dixit.
Thus, the materialist’s position isn’t supported by reason at all, but by simple bluster. How does the materialist know he’s right? He simply has faith that it is so. It is the evidence of things unseen, like the multiverse.
But I thought that science is based on fact and observation, while religion is based on faith. If it is, the materialist needs to turn in his lab coat for a surplice and cassock. If it isn’t, he needs to wise up.
But he won’t. Quod volumus, facile credimus.