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Bob MacDonald

I concur with your reasoning. There is a problem with the analogy of big bang - there was no atmosphere, so it must have been more like a great light. It moves me that the ancient poet spoke first about light. That was prescient (speaking as a time based creature). The neat thing about the math of science is that it all works also if the direction is time is reversed. For me that makes you-know-what the real great light and the glorious centre of the space-time universe. You might even say that the crucifixion gives off more than a substantial Hawking radiation. We call that the Spirit.

Esteban Vázquez

John, you always write the posts that I wish I had written myself (on this, on inerrancy, on translation, even on definite redemption)! But in the end, I'm glad that it is you who write them, because I'm not sure I could match your boldness, or even your coherence. So, many thanks for speaking up for the rest of us. :-)


John, I'm not sure where to start with all this. So I'll make but two points and a random comment. At best, any inference concerning a god or gods based on the laws of science is an inference for the god of the deists. A god that got things going, set the rules and either sits back and watches or has gone on to something more interesting. This is not the god of any religion that I know of.

I can't think of a single scientist, other than perhaps Davies himself, who "squirms" at the thought that "the very notion of physical law is a theological one." It isn't, At least not within any meaningful, consistent, definitions of either science and theology.

As Mike Dunford said in one of the many critiques of Davies Op Ed, written by scientists,

The problem with this neat little argument is that science does not proceed on the assumption that nature is ordered. Science simply does not make that assumption. What science does is to ask the question, "is nature organized in a rational way." Science asks that question - tests that hypothesis - every time someone conducts an experiment. So far, the answer has always been yes. But we don't know that the answer will be "yes" the next time it's asked any more than we know that the sun will come up tomorrow morning.

Random comment: Feynman was wrong and current work in philosophy of science is so far beyond what Feynman knew thought that he might not recognize it. If I may, allow me to recommend the work of Mark Wilson at Pittsburgh or that of Sheldon Smith at UCLA or, from a different perspective, Nancy Cartwright at the London School of Economics (and UCSD) or Mark Lange at Chapel Hill North Carolina as good sources for the cutting edge in the philosophical discussion of the laws of physics. But be ready to deal with differential equations and the hard stuff of science.

Bob MacDonald

I will differ with Duane because I don't think your inference, Mr Chariman, supports his claim re deism; 'sitting back and watching' is not a requirement for a 'god' that 'got things going' - it is only a requirement for the thought process of a man who thinks in time sequentially - a natural process to be sure, but not an adequate 'perspective' (a visual analogue) for glory. Does not he who made the ears hear?



As usual, you are full of interesting observations. Thanks for commenting here.

I like the way you stand up for the philosophy of science as a legitimate discipline. I agree, but I think Feynman's point still stands. It's possible to be agnostic about matters that relate to the philosophy of science, or have weird ideas on that subject matter, and still be a great scientist.

You are exactly right that Davies' god is like that of the philosophers, not like that of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen 22 and 32, for starters). I made the same point.

Then you have folks like Aquinas and, to a lesser extent, Kant, whose thought bridges the gap between these two gods. Are you prepared to argue that A and K's syntheses have no merit whatsoever? I don't think you can get away from Kant's synthesis so easily. Unless you are prepared to base your ethics on thin air.

I think I understand Dunford's comment, but I don't see how it debunks Davies in the least. All Dunford is saying is that all our hypotheses are working hypotheses. I couldn't agree more. This applies to hypotheses of faith no less than hypotheses of science.

Or am I missing something here?



Let me try the issue that I think Dunford is raising from a different angle. Consider two cherished views: one, most basic theological view held by a theologian; the other, the most basic scientific view held by a scientist (within that scientist's discipline of course). Now ask both of them, "What evidence it would take to make you change your mind?" A good scientist will always have at least one answer to that question and will have likely spent a good deal of his or her career testing to see if there is such evidence. On the assumption, and correct me if I am wrong, that the most basic view of a theologian in a monotheistic tradition is that some god exists, I do not think that that theologian will be have a testable answer that question. Most will not have any answer at all. Certainly none of the theologians I have known, and I've know a few, have an answer to that question. They avoid it like the plaque. It is far more likely that they will think that even raising of the question points to a god than that there is any kind of evidence that would point to there not being one. On the other hand, even if a scientist's most basic view involves something to do with, say, some kind of a "doctrine" of a consistent relationship between events over time, they know what will refute it.

Now hear is the most interesting thing, and perhaps the only thing that I will let you hang your hat on. Not a single bit of this has anything to do with the actual existence of one or more gods. As I think you know, I believe the only realm in which that question can be answered is in the realm of probability. But then, that is the realm in which I think all other questions get answered too.

By the way, in case you didn't notice, I am related to one of the philosophers I mentioned in my previous comment.


Perhaps our differences on this matter are wrapped up in the old problem of necessary conditions and sufficient conditions. The "laws" agreement, if it turns out to be a good argument at all, is only sufficient for a god who gets things going and then no longer interferes with his creations. And then there is the relativistic issue that should bother both deists and theists. Is god inside or outside the time cone. Whitehead and his followers like my fiend John Cobb believe that god is inside the time cone and subject to the laws of nature. While I think there are basic problems with Whiteheadian theology, I greatly respect them for their position on this issue. I don't happen to think the "laws" agreement is of much value in any case. But then I didn't bring it up. Every time I hear this kind of an argument, it sounds to me like a mega version a god in the gaps argument. In this particularly case it seems to me to be a god in the biggest gap argument.



is your "fiend" (that's a sweet typo) John Cobb really among those who avoid your testability question like the plague? If so, that's a letdown. I would try again. I think he might have a very creative answer. He's that kind of guy.

Here are three answers off the top of my head. I mean them seriously, and they say something about the nature of the theological enterprise. It is about synthesis to a degree quite beyond other fields of inquiry.

(1) If science demonstrated that the world in which we live is not comprehensible after all, but a sheer mystery, or the equivalent of a Rorschach inkblot into which one might legitimately read anything that comes into one's head, then I would concede that my God-hypothesis had been falsified.
This is my version of the cosmological argument.

(2) If in the wake of an event as terrible as the Shoah, those who suffered because of it the most, the Jews, were to abandon the faith of their ancestors en masse, then I too would abandon my faith. The fact that I continue to meet survivors whenever I attend synagogue, the fact that I can read a book by Frankl or even the writings of someoone who didn't survive, like Anne Frank, Etty Hillesum, and Edith Stein, and find reasons rather for my faith to be strengthened, though sometimes mixed with grave and terrible doubts, as in Elie Wiesel, helps keep my faith intact. This is my version of the argument from history.

(3) If a miracle in the popular (not the biblical) sense were to happen, that is, something that, if both you and I witnessed it, would compel us to believe that the myth of scientology was true, or even that Christianity is true, then I would concede that my God-hypothesis had been falsified. That's because the God I claim or think I know doesn't compel anyone to believe in him. If he did, he wouldn't be worth believing in. That is my version of the argument from miracles.

No, I didn't notice that you list one of your children as a philosopher of science. That is very cool. I look forward to some interesting conversations some day. I'm counting on you to arrange for them. If you do, I promise Betta will do the cooking.



Perhaps I should let this thread go the way of all threads, but you did call me out on Cobb and I must admit to being a little disingenuous. Cobb's answer, as far as he has one and I understand it, is in the general neighborhood of your first answer. For Whiteheadians, god is a logical necessity of their physics and their metaphysics. If their metaphysics or their physics were to be shown wrong then they would presumably need either to give up the concept of god or modify it greatly. But here is the problem with both Cobb's and your answer (I will use your formulation), if the universe were "the equivalent of a Rorschach inkblot," that is incomprehensible, then it is extremely unlikely that there would be any structures, other than illusionary ones, in the universe and therefore it is extremely unlikely that there would be theologians or scientists to worry about such things. One element of this answer is it is the rough equivalent of saying, "If I didn't exist, I wouldn't believe in god." A straw man? Yes, but not the worst one I've seen (or invented). I do think Whitehead's physics has been shown wrong (repeatedly) and therefore his metaphysics is wrong but that sure hasn't kept Cobb and his minions from continuing to believe in God. How Cobb deal with this is another question for another time. In addition, structure in the universe seems rare and unevenly distributed. The vast bulk of the universe may well be more like a Rorschach inkblot than not.

Your second answer is more interesting but not without serious problems as an answer. As I understand what you are saying, it seems to be an argument from authority rather than an agreement from history. In this case, the Jews are the authority. The number of members of any group who believe this or that is not evidence for this or that. I do find it interesting that according to a 2003 Harris poll ( 19% of American Jews where atheists while 4% of those who affiliate with Protestantism, 8% of those who affiliate as Catholics self-described as not believing in god and in Israel 28% of Jews are atheists, (,7340,L-3311779,00.html). Perhaps not big enough numbers to make you change your mind but interesting none-the-less. (I couldn't easily find more recent numbers but I'll bet they haven't changed much.) I remember the one-liner from the early 70s that when something like, "Israel is the only atheistic theocracy on earth."

Your third answer is the most fascinating of all. Like your "cosmological argument," your "argument from miracles" turns a very large segment of traditional Christian belief on its head. I'm not all together sure how you distinguish between popular and biblical miracles. But at least one understanding of your claim is that if you had been an eyewitness to the Resurrection and had other strong confirming evidence that it actually happened, that would be sufficient for you as a Christian to give up your faith in God! Somehow, I doubt this. I would also point out that a god who isn't worth believing in might still exist. I know a committed theist who curses god every day.

On your last point, I'm not so sure that you or I would enjoy discussing these matters with my son for very long. While on subjects that do not involve his specialty, he is a perfectly wonderful person, in the area of philosophy science the conversation all too often quickly dissolves into a discussion of how to convert integral equations that describe physic structures into Green's functions or the like and then noting how these now transformed functions have profound philosophical significance. Even though I do have some mathematical training, my mind tends to go numb somewhere along the way.


To respond in chiastic fashion - this is a poetry blog, after all - I would hope that your son, plied with the right red wine, might utter two or three comprehensible sentences for those of us who've forgotten what Green's functions are.

Your reference to the resurrection is an interesting one. I think you had to be there, as they say. There must be counter-examples, but in general, I think, in all religions, the gods appear only to their own, and are invisible or mistaken for something else by others. I am not thereby claiming that the gods, or God, have the ontological status of Santa Claus. Not at all. At least in the Bible, it's about God being, as Second Isaiah puts it, a "God who hides himself." Monotheistically, it's about God not being tangible, which means I can't take you on a walk somewhere to rendez-vous with him. That's my claim. If I could, and I were able to say, "look, Duane, just like I told you," my suspicion is that I would have settled for a god far less than God, the maker of heaven and earth.

Your comment on the second question citing statistics is appropriate, I think. Yes, you're right, a lot of Israelis are atheists, but I don't think it has anything to do with the problem of evil for most of them.

In my view, it's a sign of intellectual seriousness, and I mean that. I would also see it as a defense mechanism. Here you are, in the Holy Land, contested on all sides, with the ultra-orthodox of both sides taking the name of God in vain every day, from your point of view. You are supposed to be elect somehow, you probably feel that you are, but not in a way you enjoy. At all. To declare God a non-entity in a context in which God is electing you and people are invoking God all the time in intolerable ways is, in some ways, no less and no more than a fitting response.

Well, I agree with you that Cobb's metaphysics are a bit iffy. But I still think he might have a very interesting reply to the testability question, which neither you nor I have yet guessed.

Stephen (aka Q)

I read the Davies article a few weeks ago, and then I read several rebuttals from offended scientists. The scientists made some good points. But I continue to get a lot of satisfaction from Davies' argument:

The very essence of a scientific explanation of some phenomenon is that the world is ordered logically and that there are reasons things are as they are. If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality — the laws of physics — only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science.

I think Davies makes a good point there. Scientists may prefer to turn a blind eye to it, but it's not so different from believers averting their gaze from the problem of evil. Every system has its weakest link.

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    by Justin Anthony Knapp, a fearless Wikipedian (archive)
  • Writing in the Dust
    A collection of quotes by Wesley Hill, a doctoral student in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and a Christian who seeks the charism of chastity
  • גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב
    by David Miller, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Briercrest College & Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ואל-תמכר
    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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