Is the Universe a Causally Closed System-and What About our Brains?

Well, we finally get to it.  All this time, this is what Bernard has really been arguing.    All the convolutions, contortions, circling, and looping could have been prevented if only at the very first, it would have been asserted: The universe is a casually closed system, therefore…”  So now, let us look at that assertion.  Is anything that follows such a “therefore” based upon settled science?  Is it a fact, like the earth-is-round sort of fact?  Is it even a widely agreed upon assertion in physics and the philosophy of science world?  If one doesn’t believe the universe to be causally closed, does such a view clash with science?  The other challenge Bernard has put forth has to do with our brains and whether or not, given evolution and natural selection, our brains can track or align with moral/spiritual knowledge.  So, let’s just put all this to rest.
Before I go any further, I want to make something very clear.  To everything I write further in this post, to the links, to the quotes, I know there are reasonable counters and responses.  There will be people who disagree and have reasonable reasons for doing so.  Because someone can cite other authorities and so on is a foregone conclusion—I know they can, and, I have probably read most of them.  But that only goes to prove my point here.  What we have heard over and over is that certain beliefs or certain ways at arriving at religious or philosophical conclusions clash with “science”.  What will become very clear, and is the point of this post, is that any supposed “clash” is not with science (or empirical facts) but with differing philosophies, narratives, or world-views.  Any imagined clash is with the way we should “see” or interpret the empirical facts and findings of science.  When it comes to meaning and how any fact fits within a holistic narrative/world-view, science is silent.  That isn’t even the place of science or its sphere of expertise.  To think it is, is called scientism.
Thus, before anyone gets bogged down in some counter fact or authority- please remember the point of the post.  I know there are reasonable countering arguments; anyone familiar with this discussion knows that.  So before there are any knee-jerk, time wasting responses regarding what the science or facts “really” are and mean and why everyone else’s view is wrong, they must respond to this point: My claim is this—none of these areas are settled science.  These are disputed areas and the differences are philosophical not scientific.  To assert this boils down to a clash with science, is just factually incorrect. 
First we will look at the challenge from physics or the causal closure argument.  For some back ground to these questions and topics, we first need to look at something called causal determinism.  For that, this link (neutral academic source) will help us.  I would suggest that anyone interested, read the entire essay.  But first, very early on in Bernard’s argument, he told us the following:

“- Physical states change in such a way that is consistent with the fundamental equations of physics. So, for any current physical state, the arrangement is consistent with the prior physical state. This is essentially a deterministic system, give or take the random fluctuations described at the quantum level.”

Interestingly enough, before we even get to quantum mechanics, in classical mechanics alone there is room for indeterminism, so we need to ask if the above is even an accepted premise of current physics, not in general, but as it relates to the context of this discussion.  From the link noted above:
“John Earman’s Primer on Determinism (1986) remains the richest storehouse of information on the truth or falsity of determinism in various physical theories, from classical mechanics to quantum mechanics and general relativity. (See also his recent update on the subject, “Aspects of Determinism in Modern Physics” (2007)). Here I will give only a brief discussion of some key issues, referring the reader to Earman (1986) and other resources for more detail. Figuring out whether well-established theories are deterministic or not (or to what extent, if they fall only a bit short) does not do much to help us know whether our world is really governed by deterministic laws…”
“Despite the common belief that classical mechanics (the theory that inspired Laplace in his articulation of determinism) is perfectly deterministic, in fact the theory is rife with possibilities for determinism to break down.”
What we can take away from the quotes above and the entire essay (and many more like it), as a whole, is that whether or not there is causal determinism is most definitely not a settled matter of science/physics, and certainly not philosophy.  It. Just. Is. Not.  In fact this is noted in the preface of the essay on the subject:
“In both of these general areas there is no agreement over whether determinism is true (or even whether it can be known true or false), and what the import for human agency would be in either case.”
So next let’s move to this link regarding causal closure in general.  Again, with Bernard’s premise above in view, we read:
“My response to the causal closure argument assumes Feynman’s and Chalmers’ iffy picture of micro-entities that, in addition to being iffy, is also deterministic in the sense that no effect will occur in any micro-entity unless some causal event determines or necessitates that effect to take place. Might there not, however, be random (non-deterministic) changes in the system of micro-entities as well as the deterministic ones? In other words, while sometimes a neuron fires because it gets deterministic causal input from the neurons with which it is connected, at other times it fires at random (without any deterministic cause), perhaps as a result of random quantum fluctuations in a chaotic system that are magnified at the neuronal level.
If we assume for the sake of discussion that neurons do sometimes fire randomly, is it possible to distinguish sharply between those firings that occur randomly and those that occur as the result of being causally determined by a mental event of a soul? After all, the two kinds of firings are alike to the extent that neither has a physically deterministic cause. I believe that it is possible to make this sharp distinction between the two kinds of firings. The way to make the distinction is in terms of contexts that are known, in the case of ourselves, through first-person experience and, in the case of others, through third-person observation. All one need do is ask how plausible it is to maintain that every time a person purposefully chooses to do something such as move his fingers to type, an initial neuron just happens to fire at random (as a result of quantum fluctuations, etc.) with the result that finger movements occur that perfectly mesh with or map onto those that are intended by that person. Because such repeated coincidences would literally be, dare I say, miraculous, the only plausible view is that the neuron must not be firing randomly but because of the causal input from a soul choosing to act for a purpose.”
Now, again, whether one disagrees with the writer or not, what is at issue here is not the science or some fact.  This issue is this: How should we view this information, and what might the information tell us in relation to questions about free-will, ethics, God, and the spiritual.  But it is absurd to think one could throw out (especially to anyone familiar with these arguments/debates) a premise like Bernard’s as if, one, what the facts or understanding of those facts/theories meant philosophically were widely agreed upon and understood as “science”, and two, as if we still didn’t need to bring such a premise into the philosophy of science discussion where we see much is still disputed by reasonable people.
Finally, we will consider this link (Again, please read the entire essay) and these portions:
‘Miracles are often thought to be problematic, in that God, if he were to perform a miracle, would be involved in ‘breaking,’ going contrary to, abrogating, suspending, a natural law.  But given this conception of law, if God were to perform a miracle, it wouldn’t at all involve contravening a natural law.  That is because, obviously, any occasion on which God performs a miracle is an occasion when the universe is not causally closed; and the laws say nothing about what happens when the universe is not causally closed.  Indeed, on this conception it isn’t even possible that God break a law of nature. (pp. 82-83)’-Plantinga
“As I understand him, Plantinga is saying that a miracle is not a divine suspension of a law of nature, but a divine suspension of causal closure.   Conservation and other natural laws apply to isolated or closed systems (78).  God cannot intervene without ‘violating’ closure; but that does not amount to a violation of a law since the laws hold only for closed systems.  ‘It is entirely possible for God to create a full-grown horse in the middle of Times Square without violating the principle of conservation of energy.  That is because the systems including the horse would not be closed or isolated.’” (79)
“But isn’t it a proposition of physics that the physical universe is causally closed, that every cause of a physical event is a physical event and that every effect of a physical event is a physical event?  No, says Plantinga.  Causal closure is a “metaphysical add-on,” (79) not part of physics.  That’s right, as far as I can see.  I would add that it is the mistake of scientism to think otherwise.
Whether or not God ever intervenes in the physical world, I do it all the time.  It’s called mental causation.  That it occurs is a plain fact; that mental causes are not identical to physical causes is not a plain fact, but very persuasively arguable, pace Jaegwon Kim.   So if a frail reed such as the Maverick Philosopher can bring about the suspension of causal closure, then God should be able to pull it off as well.  (This comparison with mental causation is mine, not Plantinga’s.)”
This essay brings up another issue I don’t think Bernard has dealt with adequately if at all, especially in light of his peculiar brand of agnosticism.  If one is open to the possibility God exists, one then has to be open to what that logically entails.  One cannot say something like, “Yes, God may exist, but I will now lay down the boundaries of which this God may or may not cross, regardless of that existence.”  What?  Sorry, but it just doesn’t work that way unless one has no conception whatsoever of what, at least the Christian understanding of God, entails.    
The questions can miracles happen, can our prayers be recognized, are we souls, is there life after death, is morality objective, are all subsidiary to the greater question: Does God exist?  By definition, if God exists, then all those things are possible or true, by logic alone.  So to claim one is agnostic as to God’s existence, but not agnostic regarding miracles, or not agnostic regarding whether we could ever know anything about this God or experience this God, is to assert a logical impossibility.  Obviously if the premise is: “God may exist”, then the conclusions “miracles would then be possible” and it would also be possible to know something of this God, are logical ones.  By definition (what the name “God” means and implies) and logic, the conclusions just noted would follow the premise: “God may exist.”  Conversely, this conclusion, “We cannot know anything about this God or experience this God” cannot logically follow from the premise, “God may exist.”
Further, it would entail a belief that even if this God did exist, this being’s very creation was more powerful than this Being and able to shut this Being out.  This is logically impossible, if we are speaking of the Christian God and not some straw-man or a god that is more like a super-hero than the infinite “ground of all being”.

Putting that problem of logic aside (which atheists do not commit, but only someone claiming a split sort of agnosticism like Bernard’s) and getting back to this link and Plantinga, I very much agree with this statement:
“No, says Plantinga.  Causal closure is a ‘metaphysical add-on,’ (79) not part of physics.  That’s right, as far as I can see.  I would add that it is the mistake of scientism to think otherwise.”
Again, the only issue at hand here is this:  I don’t care if you agree with me.  I may be wrong.  Plantinga may be wrong.  You may be wrong.  What one cannot say however, with any degree of accuracy or, in fact, integrity, is that the claim: (the universe is casually closed) is a matter of settled science and fact.  Thus, to the claim the universe is not casually closed, one may disagree, but to tell us such an assertion clashes with science is to admit one is ignorant of both science and philosophy.
Additionally, we come to this link, also from Stanford:
“The Completeness of the Physical: Every physical effect has a sufficient physical cause.  When you trace the causal history of any physical effect—that is, of anything physical that has a cause—you will never need to appeal to anything non-physical. The physical universe contains within itself the resources for a full causal explanation of any of its (caused) elements, and in this sense is “complete”. The point applies, then, to whatever might occur to or within our bodies. Any instance of bodily behavior has a sufficient physical cause, which itself has a sufficient physical cause, and so on. In tracing the causal history of what we do, we need never appeal to what’s non-physical…” (Sec. 2.4)
Such is exactly what Bernard has been asserting.  But after noting the above, the writer goes on to ask:
“For simplicity, let us stay with the principle [as noted above] as formulated at the outset. Why think that it’s true? Perhaps it is a conceptual truth: for an effect to be physical is, at least in part, for it to have a physical cause. This defense turns on the proper analysis of the concept physical, itself the subject of a contentious literature (see physicalism). Here we just note that the principle does not seem analytic; it appears to be a substantive, empirical claim about the causal structure of the universe… We will look at challenges to Completeness in a moment, but note for now that the premise by itself does not preclude the efficacy of souls. Even if every physical effect has a sufficient physical cause, some physical effects might have non-physical causes as well…”
“…Others argue that physical science, far from supporting the principle [the one noted above, the same one Bernard is asserting], may in fact undermine [emphasis added] it. Hendry (2006) finds indications of “downward causation” in chemistry, while Stapp (2005) culls evidence from contemporary physics suggesting that there are, contrary to Completeness, causal gaps in the physical world, gaps filled in by the mental (see also Sturgeon 1998; Davies 2006). Emergentists in general deny the principle, either on scientific grounds or by appeal to our conscious experiences of agency (see emergent properties, esp. §4). And although the death of emergentism has been declared more than once on empirical grounds (McLaughlin 1992; Papineau 2000), the view continues to attract philosophers and scientists. (See, e.g., the contributions to Clayton and Davies 2006; Bedau and Humphreys 2008; Macdonald and Macdonald 2010.)”
Does any of the above sound like settled scientific fact to anyone?  Of course not.  Anyone familiar with the discussions in these areas knows that.  Also, we notice in the above the mistake Bernard commonly makes.  He assumes that just noting regularity means, or should be interpreted to mean, the universe is causally closed.  Well, it doesn’t.  That is a philosophical add-on.  So, Bernard’s physics and causal closure challenge fail.  They fail in proving we cannot know anything about the spiritual and they fail when being asserted as scientific fact and proving a clash.  They also fail in the sense I have never made an argument about anything spiritual “getting in” our brains/minds in the first place.  Christians believe our minds, our conscious selves, to be spirit already and always.  We then believe our minds/brains can learn more about the spiritual through the sources (existence) and means (education/holistic process) available to all of us.  Thus, Bernard’s challenge in this area just fails all the way around.
Now we will look at the challenge from evolution or natural selection.  Here was another one of Bernard’s early premises (and remember- his entire argument rests on these premises) and it is an evolutionary/natural selection challenge:
“- The process that has shaped the physical human brain is that of evolution. Design features have been shaped as the result of differential survival rates over time.”
What Bernard then took the above premise to mean, in the context of our discussion, was this:
“How did selection produce a brain with architecture that is responsive to non-pragmatic truths? Why not try to answer that?”-Bernard
“So, the question becomes, how could we have evolved, under selection, brain architecture that responds to non-pragmatic truths?”-Bernard
“Specifically, the evolved brain appears to leave no mechanism by which we could reliably track moral truths.” –Bernard
“My argument is based upon selection. It states, if we accept that selection is the process behind brain design, then this necessarily limits our notion of the ability of the brain to perform certain functions. Specifically, we should not expect the brain to be designed to carry out complex tasks for which there is no pragmatic trade-off.” –Bernard
So let’s look at this premise and what Bernard thinks we should conclude or infer from it.  To do that, let’s reference again, this familiar essay from a neutral academic source and see how Bernard’s premises and statements square with what the current thinking is on that issue, which is also based upon the same biology and science available to all of us.  So let’s contrast the following with Bernard’s above premise and statements:
“So far, we have focused on scientific projects that treat morality in the empirical sense as calling simply for causal explanation, as by appeal to evolutionary influences. This is unexceptionable with regard to the origins of the general human capacity for moral judgment: clearly some causal explanation is required, and an evolutionary explanation is plausible. But things are much more complicated when we consider the explanation of the actual content of moral judgment, feeling and behavior.
For example, human beings have (and share with other primates) a strong, emotionally-laden sense of basic fairness, resentment of cheaters, and a desire that they be punished, all of which finds expression in both cultural norms and individual moral judgments. You might experience such feelings if you’ve been the victim of a scam, morally condemning the perpetrators, and this might seem a good candidate for causal explanation in terms of evolved psychological traits [this would go for our feelings/thoughts of love too, by the way].
However, here is the pertinent “caution” to the above:
Caution is needed here, however. Our moral judgments [or ethics—which would go to torture or any ethical matter] and resulting behaviors [which would include love] cannot just be assumed to be mere causal upshots of some such biological and psychological forces, on a par with the cooperative activity of bees or the resentment felt by capuchin monkeys over unequal rewards for equal work. When a rational agent makes a judgment, whether in the sphere of morality or in such areas as science, mathematics or philosophy, the proper question is not in the first instance what caused that judgment to occur [thus having nothing to do with brain states or “alignment”], but what reasons the person had for making it—for thinking it to be true. It is those reasons that typically constitute an explanation of the judgment. They explain by bringing out what the person took (rightly or wrongly) to be the justification for the belief in question—the considerations showing the belief likely to be true. All of this complicates the explanatory project in relation to the thoughts, feelings and actions of rational agents.” (Sec 2.4)
And of course, that love and morality are “merely causal upshots” is exactly what Bernard assumes, throwing any such caution to the wind as it were.
And then we come to these pertinent points in the essay:
“At one extreme, someone might deny that the autonomy assumption applies to the moral domain at all: we either lack these capacities in the domain of moral thought, or at least never exercise them. Such a claim seems to have little plausibility, however. Why should it be that human intelligence and innovation know virtually no bounds in other domains—as illustrated by feats of autonomous inquiry and creativity in quantum field theory, algebraic topology, modal metaphysics, or symphonic composition—and yet when it comes to moral thinking [emphasis added] we remain stuck in ruts carved out for us by evolution, slavishly following patterns of thought prescribed for us by evolved, domain-specific mechanisms, with all of our cultural developments providing mere variations on those themes?
The very fact of human self-consciousness makes such a picture unlikely: for as soon as we are told that our thinking is constrained along evolutionarily given paths, our very awareness of those influences provides the opening to imagine and to pursue new possibilities. If you are told, for example, that you are evolutionarily conditioned to favor your group heavily over outsiders in your moral judgments, you are able, as a reflective agent, to take this very fact into account in your subsequent moral reflection, deciding that this favoring is unwarranted and thus coming to a new, more egalitarian moral view.” (Sec 2.5)
And here is more:
“On the face of it, the mere fact that natural selection would not have ‘designed’ our moral faculties to track moral truths accurately (as it plausibly designed our perceptual faculties to track facts about medium sized objects in typical human environments) is not obviously problematic. There are, after all, lots of cases where we seem to be able to grasp genuine truths even though those truths play no role in the story of how our basic mental capacities evolved. We are able to grasp truths of quantum field theory or higher dimensional topology or, for that matter, philosophy [emphasis added] (or so we are assuming in even engaging in this debate) even though those truths had nothing to do with why the basic mental capacities underlying these abilities evolved in Pleistocene hominins… Philosophers who endorse some form of moral realism [my position] have typically believed that we’ve done the same thing in grasping moral truths.” (Sec 4.1)
Bernard has tried to argue that this “truth tracking” ability (which is what I think he means by “alignment”) only goes to areas of mathematical or empirical knowledge and could only serve pragmatic needs, i.e. survival.  This is clearly false as it goes to philosophical knowledge and very abstract knowledge as well.  This is so obvious that the Stanford source notes we must include this type of knowledge, because of the very discussion at hand: “or so we are assuming in even engaging in this debate…”  Thus, it is a self-defeating argument to suggest this truth tracking ability only goes to empirical or mathematical knowledge, as one is making a philosophical argument (neither a mathematical nor empirical argument) to pronounce the very assertion!  Further this also goes to the issues of music, song, poetry, literature, art, romantic/self-sacrificing love, or beauty as none of those areas have ever convincingly been shown, or proved, to serve only, or just, pragmatic or survival needs.
Additionally, there is this from the same Stanford essay:
 
“These issues remain challenging and controversial. But the controversies are as much ongoing philosophical ones as scientific ones and it is therefore unlikely that scientific results will settle them. Science will plainly not settle, for example, whether or not there are moral truths; and if there are, they will likely play an explanatory role with regard to at least some of our moral beliefs—something we will miss if we approach these issues from an exclusively scientific point of view.” (Sec 2.5)
Bernard also made a lot of hay regarding brain states and their being properly aligned.  In that area, speaking specifically to claimed religious experiences, the only area brain states would be pertinent, we come to this link, also, a Stanford source:
“There are general problems with all kinds of naturalistic explanations as defeaters [for those claiming religious experiences]. First of all, as Gellman (2001) points out, most such explanations (like the psychoanalytic and socio-political ones) are put forward as hypotheses, not as established facts. The proponent assumes that the experiences are not veridical, then casts around for an explanation. This is not true of the neurological explanations, but they face another kind of weakness noted by Ellwood (1999): every experience, whatever its source, is accompanied by a corresponding neurological state. To argue that the experience is illusory because there is a corresponding brain state is fallacious. The same reasoning would lead us to conclude that sensory experiences are illusory, since in each sensory experience, there is some corresponding neurological state that is just like the state that occurs in the corresponding hallucination. The proponent of the naturalistic explanation as a defeater owes us some reason to believe that his or her argument is not just another skeptical argument from the veil of perception.”
What Bernard doesn’t seem to understand is that corresponding brain states are present for every experience and throughout every process of reasoning as one considers and reflects upon the information we all have, regardless of what we eventually end up concluding regarding that information.  Even if we conclude all ethics are subjective or that we cannot know anything about God or the spiritual (or the opposite), there is a corresponding brain state. There are corresponding brain states either way.  Additionally, if we conclude our felt experience of wonder at the night sky, or birth of our first child, is nothing more than a process of neurons firing in our brains and subsequent physiological changes, or if we conclude we are experiencing something more than just our physical reaction, there are accompanying brains states with each conclusion and experience.  The fact brain states correspond to our felt experiences and reasoning does not then address the truthfulness or falseness of those philosophical conclusions or experiences.  Those are entirely different questions.  This is a straight away error of logic and also a misunderstanding of what brain states can tell us and what they cannot.
Now, these are only a handful of sourced I’ve cited.  Clearly, this is a blog post and not an exhaustive academic reply.  However, I’ve cited enough to get a sense of where the current conversation is as to the science and philosophical thinking surrounding these issues.  What then can we reasonably conclude?
First of all, we can conclude that these points go to both the recent discussions of love and what love means and to the prior discussions regarding objective morality (and Bernard’s apparent obsession with torture examples), so these points encompass both those discussions.
Second, we can conclude that both of Bernard’s premises, understood within the context of the conversation, are highly, highly debatable.  Moreover, they themselves, one could argue, possibly clash with science (as noted in the one entry).  In fact, we should note it has been Bernard who has told us he couldn’t agree in some areas as to the Stanford source noted herein regarding natural selection and our brains or the neutral academic source (IEP) cited here in reference to this post.  So it seems painfully ironic Bernard would be the one here telling other people their views clash with science.  He may want to worry about his own views first and pull that beam out of his own eye.  An ancillary problem for Bernard is that if he just comes out and asserts my sources are wrong, all he does is prove my very point, that these are not settled areas of science.  If something is not settled in science, there can be no clash.
Third, we can conclude that Bernard holds beliefs that are not commonly held, one of which is that even if God or the spiritual exist, we can know nothing about either (to note that such is not a commonly held view is quite the under-statement!).  This is a faith-based philosophical assertion and one that, while considering the empirical and scientific evidence (as my views do as well), is not proved by the empirical or scientific proof (as mine is not either), as in settled, widely agreed upon, fact.  This would also mean that Bernard’s agnosticism is not a matter of “taste” but of faith-based philosophical assertion, which he has confused with “science”.
Fourth, since he feels his views are based upon scientific fact and not just a matter of philosophical disagreement, he must assume those who claim knowledge of the spiritual, or of God, are not telling the truth, delusional, illogical, or ignorant of the science.  None are a very tolerant or generous view of the deeply held views of others, especially toward those who know the science (Collins, Polkinghorne, Andrew Pinsent, Stephen Barr, to name just a few) better than he.  To claim they are ignorant of the science or their views clash with the science they know better than he is just laughable.  It is silly.  For instance, I would never question Dawkins’ or Dennett’s understanding of the science, only their philosophical interpretations of the science.  To do otherwise, would be like someone who played a little ball in high school sitting in the stands at a major league game and claiming the professional on the field, the one who was drafted and made the team, was ignorant of baseball.  One simply has no standing to make such claims—it is petty and immature.  Only someone out there on the field, playing at the same level, would have any standing to make such a claim (and, of course, they never would).  So then, are all these people just not telling the truth, delusional, illogical, ignorant, or dumb?  What?  Bernard has never told us.  I wonder why?  I don’t know; it probably has something to do with “taste”.  I would rather a person just be honest–that is my taste.
Finally, and most importantly, to bring this all home, we can conclude that these disagreements are philosophical and not scientific.  Thus, as noted already, for anyone to claim that the view asserting morality to be objective, or that love has a spiritual aspect, or that we can know something of the spiritual if it exists, to be views that “clash” with science is to reveal an ignorance of both science and philosophy.  I don’t know what else to say, except this: Whether to Bernard or anyone else out there who would assert Christian views clash with science: Sorry, but I don’t think you know what the hell you are talking about. 
I think I have now addressed every major objection that Bernard has ever brought up over the many discussions we have now been through.  I welcome any response and I apologize up front for any statements or assertions attributed to Bernard that he feels did not convey his position correctly and he is welcome to put any such misunderstandings on my part straight.  I will add some caveats however to any responses: I will not respond to any comments that are not accompanied with the quote in the post their comment or question is referring to.  Additionally, please read the post carefully, because if I specifically addressed in the post, or one of the sources cited addressed, whatever a comment or question might be referring to, I will simply reply: “See post.”

P.S For the background to this post and conversation see here, here, here, and here, along with the comment sections. 
This entry was posted in Alvin Plantinga, Causal Closure, epistemology, Evolution, love, Natural Selection, naturalism, physics, spirit. Bookmark the permalink.

284 Responses to Is the Universe a Causally Closed System-and What About our Brains?

  1. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “If a person believes in a miracle that is not acknowledged in science's data set, then there is a clash between the belief and science.”

    You presuppose that science would or even could acknowledge such in its data set. No one expects it to. Further, you are simply still just talking about what you think it would mean “if”. Whether it is “if” a person actually believes, or whether we are speculating as to “if” one were to happen, since you are agnostic, all you can address is what you think it would mean for science. No scenario of “ifs” is going to change what you can address here. You can only address what it would mean for science. And, it doesn’t need to mean what you think—that isn’t the only reasonable possibility. You are not addressing the main problem you face here, which is a result of your agnosticism.

    You addressed the clash yourself at this very point, the point of what it would mean for science. Whether it is what you think is an unverified miracle, or we are speculating, you still have to come back to what you think it would mean for science. And we just disagree there as to what it has to mean. I don’t think it means what you think it has to mean and that disagreement hardly rises to denoting a clash with science, although it does clash with your personal view as to meaning.

    Or perhaps you want to tell us that “science” has proven Jesus did not rise from the dead? If so, then you are not agnostic regarding the central claims of the Christian Church, but a decided person in that regard. Is that the case? It would mean being an atheist as to the Christian God or at the very least a person who believes in causal closure because that is what is held by those who believe that even if God did exist, that being cannot causally act in the physical universe (miracles, resurrections). So, against what you have told us so far, is that where you want to go?

    If not, then all you can talk about is what you think it would mean for science “if” a person actually believes such of “if” one were to happen, has happened, or will happen. Thus, nothing about our conversation up to now has changed at all.

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  2. Darrell says:

    Hi JP,

    “If this is not true…”

    Wait, do you not believe all the sources that note it is a metaphysical “add-on”, a belief, an idea, or principle? Can you give us a source, even something as simple as Wikipedia, like I gave you, that supports you?

    Although if you can it will just prove my point it is disputed, but I doubt you can even find one. Certainly not from a neutral academic source. And your question regarding a model admitting non-physical causes only shows you don’t understand what causal closure means as you assume the very models tell us something about closure. Mathematical models, at any level, do admit to the universe being open or closed. That isn’t even something pertinent to what they describe or are asked to do.

    So we need to get to the bottom of what you think causal closure means. If you think the equations of physics mean, or equal, or entail causal closure then you don’t understand the term as far as it’s used in the literature. I don’t have to prove something regarding a term you are not using correctly.

    If you truly thought causal closure was the same as the equations of physics, you would not then be agnostic as you have already told us you were. If the equations of physics were the same as causal closure, there is no way the Stanford source would have asked, “Why think it true?” You have yet to address these points.

    But I think this is just a simple misunderstanding on your part regarding what the term means and how it is used.

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  3. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    The Stanford source doesn't disagree with what I'm saying at all. In fact, it barely touches on what actual models in physics are saying.

    Note also that is says the following, which totally agrees with me: “Were Completeness false owing to the routine intervention of souls, physiology would have discovered anomalies within the human body, events that have no physical explanation. But a century of increasingly detailed investigation has revealed no such anomalies. It appears as if the causes operating within our bodies are entirely physical”.

    We must also distinguish between what current science says and the eventual status of closure (completeness) applied to the whole universe. The clashes are between some beliefs and current science. For example, to follow the quote, with the belief that a soul routinely acts on the body (to cause movements or speech, etc.) No such action has ever been detected.

    If completeness has to go, then something is wrong with our physics or biology. Which is possible – I have not denied this possibility. Why is it so hard to recognize that current science may not be entirely correct?

    Like

  4. Hi Darrell

    Yes, I am arguing that if a person believes a particular miracle (let's say the resurrection) has occurred, the one holds a belief that is contrary to science, in that science tells us what to expect in the case of death, and it is not resurrection after three days.

    Now, you wish to argue this isn't really a clash. And my question is, under this definition, could anything be thought to clash with science? If a parent believes restricting their diet to meditation and air will not kill them, does their belief clash with science? Under your definition, presumably not (as they will argue the body will be nourished by a system not subject to the casual closure of the scientific models, and hence their beliefs do not clash, as science has nothing to say about these cases).

    Is this really what you mean by not clashing? Does the parent's belief clash with science? Yes or no? Why not address this point, which has been raised throughout the conversation?

    Bernard

    Like

  5. Burk says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    “But that is exactly where you identified the clash “if” a miracle were to happen. My goodness, those are your very own words. Now the question you would need to ask yourself is what would change in your argument “if” we were to believe that Jesus was indeed resurrected.”

    You've moved the goal posts again. “If a miracle were to happen” … then obviously science would be OK with that, change its stock of theories and facts, and move on.

    But “Did a miracle happen?” is an entirely different question. Here, the occurrence is doubtful, not certain, and the evidence for it, as I understand all past claimed miracles, is poor, at least in modern terms. Thus our judgement about whether a miracle has happened is all about evaluating evidence, part of which is about whether science as currently constructed, which has most of our organized rigorous information about how the natural world operates, clashes with that supposed claim. This is quite apart from issues of universal causal closure, the scientific knowledge of everything, and the formal possibility of anything happening contrary to our knowlege of reality.

    I am sure that you understand all this. So we all are just trolling each other now.

    Like

  6. Darrell says:

    Sorry, this should have read: “Mathematical models, at any level, do “not” admit to the universe being open or closed. That isn’t even something pertinent to what they describe or are asked to do.”

    Like

  7. JP says:

    Hi Darrell, I think one of your comments didn't make it. Your last appears to be a correction to this missing comment.

    Like

  8. Darrell says:

    Hi JP,

    “The Stanford source doesn't disagree with what I'm saying at all. In fact, it barely touches on what actual models in physics are saying.”

    You miss my point. If the equations of physics just meant or equaled “completeness” or “closure”, there is no way in the world they would then ask: “Why think it true?”

    “Note also that is says the following, which totally agrees with me: ‘Were Completeness false owing to the routine intervention of souls, physiology would have discovered anomalies within the human body, events that have no physical explanation. But a century of increasingly detailed investigation has revealed no such anomalies. It appears as if the causes operating within our bodies are entirely physical’.”

    The Stanford writer is simply noting sources that make the above argument. It also notes sources that don’t think science supports closure or completeness. The Stanford writer is not telling us the above is true or even the settled opinion. The above only goes to prove my point that these are disputed matters and if closure or completeness were simply the equations of physics, there would be no dispute, right?

    Again, the problem here with your argument is that you think physics=closure- that they are the same thing. They are not. Closure or completeness (at any level) is a metaphysical idea. So you are making a fundamental error due to misunderstanding the term.

    I notice you can provide no credible source that agrees with you that closure is simply the equations of physics and not a philosophical idea. I also notice you haven’t addressed why in the world you would be agnostic as to closure if it is the same as 2+2=4.

    Like

  9. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “Yes, I am arguing that if a person believes a particular miracle (let's say the resurrection) has occurred, the one holds a belief that is contrary to science, in that science tells us what to expect in the case of death, and it is not resurrection after three days.”

    So, in your mind, you think the science would be wrong. Yes, we know that. We just had a conversation about what you think it would mean. I disagree. Science could care less if someone rose from the dead. The only people who would care are those who thought the universe was causally closed. Further, as you noted yourself, you do not speak for science. Any miracle is not contrary to “science” per Huxley, whom you said you agreed with. Well, if so, quit asserting the exact opposite. A belief in resurrection is not contrary to science but to causal closure, but I repeat myself.

    I notice you did not address your other option:

    Or perhaps you want to tell us that “science” has proven Jesus did not rise from the dead? If so, then you are not agnostic regarding the central claims of the Christian Church, but a decided person in that regard. Is that the case? It would mean being an atheist as to the Christian God or at the very least a person who believes in causal closure because that is what is held by those who believe that even if God did exist, such a being cannot causally act in the physical universe (miracles, resurrections). So, against what you have told us so far, is that where you want to go?

    If not, then all you can talk about is what you think it would mean for science “if” a person actually believes such or “if” one were to happen, has happened, or will happen. Thus, nothing about our conversation up to now has changed at all.

    So you see my point then. All you can comment on is what you think it would mean for science. We disagree. There are other reasonable ways to view what it would mean for science. That we disagree here is a very small thing and hardly a clash with science.

    Are we done?

    Like

  10. Hi Darrell

    Although science does not prove Jesus did not rise for the dead (or that the moon is not made of green cheese, for that matter) its best models suggest this is not the case. So, while you are understandably reluctant to confirm it, it seems you also think the following beliefs do not clash with science:

    The earth is flat.
    I can jump off a cliff and float.
    Flying unicorns were responsible for 9/11
    One can use will power to grow a third leg.

    All of these beliefs are consistent with science? After all, they could all be framed so as to occur if the universe is causally open. Is this what you mean to say?

    Bernard

    Like

  11. Darrell says:

    Hi Burk,

    “But “Did a miracle happen?” is an entirely different question.”

    Not in the context of our conversation. You forget Burk that you as a committed atheist can just come right out and say all this is bunk and it never happened, can’t happen, and never will happen. But Bernard and JP cannot do that. They are supposedly agnostic.

    So they can’t say the resurrection of Jesus didn’t happen. All they can say is, well, if it did, then our science is wrong. However, whether it makes our science wrong or not is a disputed claim. That is the whole point of these articles, essays, book chapters, and the continual conversations that go on in these areas. Those are disputed questions and neither Bernard nor JP speaks for “Science” and nor do you or I. If you guys don’t think these are disputed questions disputed by reasonable people who know the science as well or better than anyone of us, then you simply do not know what you are talking about.

    What you guys don’t seem to understand is that I am not trying to prove miracles have happened, happen now, or even making that case. This has never been a conversation about proving miracles to the satisfaction of empiricists—I don’t play that game—that game is for fundamentalists, whether modern or secular. The whole conversation revolved around Bernard’s claim that even if God or the spiritual existed, we could know nothing of either. That is normally the argument from causal closure or completeness of the physical. But then Bernard told us he was agnostic as to closure. Well, the game was given away right there. All one can talk about then is what they think it would mean for science, whether if someone actually believes a miracle took place or if we are speculating as to “if”. It makes no difference at that point.

    Like

  12. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    I’m going to take it then you realize all you can comment upon is what it would mean for science and that we disagree as to what it would mean. I think Huxley takes the more reasonable view than you, but I see where your view is coming from. Regardless, these differences hardly mean people’s views clash with science (simply because they disagree with you over meaning) and hopefully you can see that now.

    I believe, like Mackie, that “The laws of nature … describe the ways in which the world—including, of course, human beings—works when left to itself, when not interfered with. A miracle occurs when the world is not left to itself, when something distinct from the natural order as a whole intrudes into it.” (Mackie 1982: 19–20)

    I also believe, as noted by the Maverick Philosopher, that “Whether or not God ever intervenes in the physical world, I do it all the time. It's called mental causation. That it occurs is a plain fact; that mental causes are not identical to physical causes is not a plain fact, but very persuasively arguable, pace Jaegwon Kim. So if a frail reed such as the Maverick Philosopher can bring about the suspension of causal closure, then God should be able to pull it off as well.”

    If you think that such means anything goes or anything can happen, well, that is your opinion. No one else does. Logically that does not follow. One would have to hold some presuppositions regarding what a causal agent was like to even address or speculate about such a thing. You can hold none, because you are agnostic. So you have no idea if it means because a causal agent could do something, intervene, that it meant such a causal agent could or would do anything. You would first need to know something about the causal agent to think anything might then happened if such an agent were to intervene. Is this really what you are left arguing here? Please.

    Cheers.

    Like

  13. Hi Darrell

    “If you think that such means anything goes or anything can happen, well, that is your opinion. No one else does. Logically that does not follow. One would have to hold some presuppositions regarding what a causal agent was like to even address or speculate about such a thing.”

    No, I don't think it means anything can happen. Rather, I think that at the point we hold something like the resurrection is consistent with science, then logically we must hold all others beliefs are equally consistent. You seem to be arguing otherwise, so let's follow through on that.

    If we start with the resurrection, you accept science suggests that upon death, there is cellular decay that as time passes makes death irreversible. However, you would argue that this is consistent with science because in some cases physical entities do not behave in the predicted manner. Specifically, in the case of Jesus, either there was no such decay or the decay was reversed, and this was because the universe is not causally closed, and so an external intervention is possible to make the physical world to configure in unexpected ways.

    If this is what you mean with consistent with science, then any belief can be made consistent using the same tactic. So, imagine I believe that while I slept my house levitated, rotated 3960 degrees and resettled, and this was a miracle. Now, no scientific formula predicts such behaviour, it seems to be at odds with our physics, but no mind. Because I believe this to be a miraculous event, operating outside our causal laws, it is, by your definition a belief that is consistent with science.

    Now you no doubt think it an awfully silly belief, so do I, and one with no sensible reason to believe, but that is not our issue here. The issue here is whether it is consistent with science, and I am arguing that by your sense of what constitutes consistent or a clash, it does.

    So, you can say your beliefs do not clash with science, but if this is how you define clash, then no beliefs clash with science, for the reasons given above. And this is why I prefer to describe the difference between your beliefs and science's predictions as a clash, because otherwise you have the absurd situation where you must also say 'a belief that gravity will not hold if I jump off a cliff would not clash with science.' I can see no way around this. It appears to be a logical implication of the way you have constructed your defence. Perhaps you can explain why it isn't so.

    Bernard

    Like

  14. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “No, I don't think it means anything can happen. Rather, I think that at the point we hold something like the resurrection is consistent with science…”

    But I’ve never said it was consistent. I don’t even know what that would mean. How would a miracle be consistent with science?

    Given Mackie’s definition, why would we expect a miracle to be consistent with science? We don’t expect science to take miracles into consideration in any way whatsoever so how could they be consistent? Science doesn’t care if a miracle is consistent or inconsistent. Period. Science doesn’t care if the universe is causally open or closed. Only people do—only people care about these questions. And the only people who think a miracle causes problems for science are those who think science proves the universe is causally closed. You are telling us what you think it would mean, that it would be inconsistent, we know this already. I disagree. My disagreement, of itself, does not constitute a clash with science.

    And your line of thought does seem to suggest you think a miracle happening could mean anything could happen, that the moon could be made of cheese, that things could levitate and so forth. Why would that follow unless you knew something about the causal agent behind the miracle?

    Bernard, we have already agreed where we need to agree, where it was pertinent to what originated this discussion to begin with. You told us that while God or the spiritual may exist, we could know nothing of them. That is the argument from causal closure. When pointed out, you then told us you were agnostic as to closure. Therefore, we may know something of that God or the spiritual if they exist. You then said, well, yes, we could, but the clash would come from what it would mean for science if that were to happen. That is what you are still telling us. We had this conversation already.

    Look, we don’t have to agree as to what it would mean for science. Reasonable people disagree as to what it would mean and these are philosophical disagreements. And just because they disagree with you doesn’t mean their views clash with science. You are just repeating yourself at this point.

    Cheers. (How many times will I have to say this…?)

    Like

  15. Burk says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    “However, whether it makes our science wrong or not is a disputed claim.”

    No, this is manifestly false. All sorts of parts of our current science would certainly be wrong, and thus need to be fixed. The Huxley quote does not address this at all, but only says that were it so, so would science get fixed to suit. Citing Huxley puts the cart before the horse. I can very well speak for science in this case, being well-versed in it. But don't take it from me.. take it from any other scientist as well.. they wouldn't dare propose miracles to be part of their specialty, only as parts of someone else's(!)

    I have no beef with your other claim, that if god and the spiritual existed, we could know about it. That is precisely why it is very unlikely to exist. For all the deliverances it has supposedly given us and the miracles it is supposed to be responsible for, the signs should be patently obvious, even to scientsts! The negative of all that is suggestive that the claim is likewise vacuous.

    The issue then is whether, on its own terms as currently rather far-back-peddeled, the supernatural and god are, for the agnostic, something that would necessarily make itself felt in some way, or could, while still being real, be quite ignorable. I think the answer to that is that, once the claims of religion are so diluted to talk about an invisible god who does everything and nothing at once, and only did miracles long ago, and does not interfere visibly with the lawful motions of our reality, etc., the answer is yes indeed.

    But that doesn't give a believer license to claim that they do know something (in a publicly claim-able sense) about those things that others so studiously and successfully ignore. For knowledge requires, in our skeptical age, a bit more than the bare claim. It requires evidence. This all goes back to William James, in his conclusion that while religious believers clearly are posessed of some kind of certainty, (whether from true knowledge or false), their claims have no logical claim on anyone but themselves, due to the subjectivity and lack of evidence surrounding the claim.

    But on the final question of whether some (believers) could know something that the rest of us do not… One frankly has to be agnostic on the question. There are all sorts of psychological and other arguments that tell me that this is highly, extremely unlikely. Also, the whole god thing is so undefined and formless. But again it is a negative for those of us on this (dark) side to prove. So I wish you well in your knowledge, whatever it is, and hope it proves beneficial.

    Like

  16. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    If the equations of physics just meant or equaled “completeness” or “closure”, there is no way in the world they would then ask: “Why think it true?”

    You are confusing the current models in physics (which assume closure in their formulations) with the closure of the entire universe. Physics doesn't (yet?) describe the whole of the physical reality. And physics may be wrong, as has been the case in the past.

    It is a fact, however, that nowhere in physics can we find evidence for a non-physical causal source. This is empirical evidence in favour of completeness, if you wish. But this does not prove that the physical universe if causally closed – although it's certainly significant. What they ask in your source, among other things, is whether or not this is sufficient evidence to accept total completeness.

    Again, the problem here with your argument is that you think physics=closure- that they are the same thing.

    I am not saying this at all. You always fall back to the idea of the causal closure of the universe. I don't know about this, as I have told many times.

    Moreover this is irrelevant to the existence of clashes. My claim is that there are clashes between some beliefs and current physics.

    I notice you can provide no credible source that agrees with you that closure is simply the equations of physics

    This is not my claim.

    Not however that none of your sources contradicts what I'm saying – that no current model in mainstream physics leaves room for a non-physical causal influence. In other words, all current models assume sufficient physical causes.

    Like

  17. Darrell says:

    Hi Burk,

    “However, whether it makes our science wrong or not is a disputed claim.”-Darrell

    “No, this is manifestly false.”

    If it were, you would have taken issue with the Stanford source where it asks regarding causal closure or completeness, “Why think it is true?”

    When I say it doesn’t make our science wrong, I mean there is nothing wrong with our science either way. There is only something wrong with the belief in causal closure or completeness. And whether the physical is causally closed or not is clearly a disputed question. That is manifestly true and really my only point. I’m not trying to settle that question or prove anything (read the post!).

    Also, if it were manifestly false, why haven’t people like this: http://www.slate.com/bigideas/are-miracles-possible/essays-and-opinions/owen-gingerich-opinion

    Received the memo? No need to respond to the link, I know you will have an answer for everything he suggests but that isn’t the point. Again, miracles come down, not to what does “science” say, science could care less, but to causal closure. If one is agnostic as to that question, he cannot say whether or not Jesus rose from the dead; he can only say “if” Jesus did, the universe is causally opened. As Dr. Owen Gingerich notes, science is silent. Science could care less whether or not Jesus rose from the dead—only people care and they care because it might change their conceptions of science, of truth.

    Like

  18. Darrell says:

    Hi JP,

    “You are confusing the current models in physics (which assume closure in their formulations) with the closure of the entire universe.”

    Unless you are telling us that the closure you are speaking of has nothing to do with causal closure as described in the literature, you are the one confusing the two. If you are telling us that it is a type of closure that doesn’t mean “causally” then your point is irrelevant to the discussion. So, take your pick.

    Again, the problem here with your argument is that you think physics=closure- that they are the same thing.-Darrell”

    “I am not saying this at all. You always fall back to the idea of the causal closure of the universe. I don't know about this, as I have told many times.”

    Then you are not speaking to anything that would be relevant to the discussion.

    “Moreover this is irrelevant to the existence of clashes. My claim is that there are clashes between some beliefs and current physics.”

    No, it is the only aspect that is relevant. There is only a clash with current physics or any physics if you think physics equals closure, universal or otherwise. I’ve explained what closure means and you have the sources—if you are talking about some other type of closure that is all well and good, but if it doesn’t tell us anything about whether or not there is causal closure it is irrelevant.

    Above you tell us you are not saying such. Then whatever it is you are saying is not pertinent. I still don’t know then what point you are trying to make. The only reason anyone brings up physics in relation to these questions and disputes is to argue causal closure. If you are saying, well, I don’t know about that type of closure, but physics does mean this other type (what type?), but it can’t rule out the type you and the literature is talking about, then what are you trying to get across here? How would it be relevant?

    “Not however that none of your sources contradicts what I'm saying – that no current model in mainstream physics leaves room for a non-physical causal influence. In other words, all current models assume sufficient physical causes.”

    The above is just a regurgitation of this:

    “The Completeness of the Physical: Every physical effect has a sufficient physical cause. When you trace the causal history of any physical effect—that is, of anything physical that has a cause—you will never need to appeal to anything non-physical. The physical universe contains within itself the resources for a full causal explanation of any of its (caused) elements, and in this sense is “complete”…In tracing the causal history of what we do, we need never appeal to what's non-physical…” (Sec. 2.4)

    It is not a matter of contradicting. It is the small matter of them then asking: Why believe the above is true? Do you believe the above to be true? Because it then goes on to note there are some scientists who think science undermines the above. Do you agree with them? Do their views clash with science?

    Finally, no one expects mathematics to leave room for non-physical causes. So what? That tells us absolutely nothing as to causal closure-the only relevant issue.

    Like

  19. Hi Darrell

    So, your beliefs are not consistent with science? Okay, but you think they don't clash. Then, for the reasons given in the previous comment, neither does my belief my house levitated last night. Are you saying this belief also doesn't clash with science? If not, whence the difference?

    Bernard

    Like

  20. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    There is only a clash with current physics or any physics if you think physics equals closure, universal or otherwise […]

    Ok then.

    To be perfectly clear, suppose a model in physics makes a specific prediction and someone holds the belief that events will turn out otherwise. Do you really claim that there is no clash between the model and the belief?

    What I have been saying is that there is one.

    Like

  21. Burk says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    “When I say it doesn’t make our science wrong, I mean there is nothing wrong with our science either way. There is only something wrong with the belief in causal closure or completeness.”

    Well, your meaning doesn't match your words. If you mean universal causal closure, say so, and don't say “science”. Miracles contravene science in clear fashion.

    As for the Gingerich piece, he is moving the goal posts as well. If the birth of a baby is a miracle, that is a figure of speach for something very nice. But it is a fully natural process, well within our scientific understanding, quite unlike a resurrections, fishes and loaves multiplication, souls, etc.

    ” As for the biggest miracle of all, Christ’s resurrection, science does not answer.”

    Sure it answers… it is impossible per our current science, full stop. To believe otherwise is a self-serving claim in consistency with an important knowledge tradition that is simply untrue. Or a plea of ignorance, which is just as bad.

    Like

  22. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “So, your beliefs are not consistent with science?”

    I didn’t say that—read my previous response(s). Beliefs about miracles and an actual miracle are two different things. A miracle, by definition, is not something science can address, so using the word “consistent” makes no sense. Science has nothing to say or do with this conversation. The only area that does is causal closure and we are well past that.

    And…

    Given Mackie’s definition, why would we expect a miracle to be consistent with science? We don’t expect science to take miracles into consideration in any way whatsoever so how could they be consistent? Science doesn’t care if a miracle is consistent or inconsistent. Period. Science doesn’t care if the universe is causally open or closed. Only people do—only people care about these questions. And the only people who think a miracle causes problems for science are those who think science proves the universe is causally closed. You are telling us what you think it would mean, that it would be inconsistent, we know this already. I disagree for the reasons noted above. My disagreement, of itself, does not constitute a clash with science. If you think it does, you are the only person on the planet who does.

    And your line of thought does seem to suggest you think a miracle happening could mean anything could happen, that the moon could be made of cheese, that things could levitate and so forth. Why would that follow unless you knew something about the causal agent behind the miracle?

    Bernard, we have already agreed where we need to agree, where it was pertinent to what originated this discussion to begin with. You told us that while God or the spiritual may exist, we could know nothing of them. That is the argument from causal closure. When pointed out, you then told us you were agnostic as to closure. Therefore, we may know something of that God or the spiritual if they exist. You then said, well, yes, we could, but the clash would come from what it would mean for science if that were to happen. That is what you are still telling us. We had this conversation already.

    Look, we don’t have to agree as to what it would mean for science. Reasonable people disagree as to what it would mean (for instance whether it is consistent or not) and these are philosophical disagreements. And just because they disagree with you doesn’t mean their views clash with science. You are just repeating yourself at this point.

    Cheers. (How many times will I have to say this…?)

    Like

  23. Darrell says:

    Hi JP,

    “There is only a clash with current physics or any physics if you think physics equals closure, universal or otherwise […]”-Darrell

    “To be perfectly clear, suppose a model in physics makes a specific prediction and someone holds the belief that events will turn out otherwise. Do you really claim that there is no clash between the model and the belief?”

    Who holds they will turn out otherwise? The only being that could do that would be God, right? Or, let’s say, the model of physics makes a specific prediction regarding the trajectory of a ball catapulted through the air, its speed, arc, and distance. We have those numbers and information. If I hold the belief and intention, agency, that in the middle of that arc I plan to jump up and catch the ball how does that belief and action clash with what our model predicted? There is not a person on the planet who would say that what just happened was a clash with our model. Rationally and logically, we could then not say the same regarding a miracle with God as the causal agent. If there is no clash with human agency, there can be none with God.

    I also notice you addressed very little of my last response. You clearly either misunderstand causal closure or you are referencing some type that wouldn’t even be relevant to the conversation. Which is it? You also have never addressed the Stanford quote and why they would ask, “why suppose it true” nor what you think of those scientists noted who think science actually undermines the very principle you are citing here to make your case.

    Like

  24. Darrell says:

    Hi Burk,

    “When I say it doesn’t make our science wrong, I mean there is nothing wrong with our science either way. There is only something wrong with the belief in causal closure or completeness.”-Darrell

    “Well, your meaning doesn't match your words. If you mean universal causal closure, say so, and don't say “science”. Miracles contravene science in clear fashion.”

    I mean exactly what is noted in the literature. Miracles do not contravene science. They contravene causal closure.

    “As for the Gingerich…”

    Wow, talk about missing the point. Look, I am not trying to prove anything about miracles or even whether or not causal closure is true. The point (see post!) is that these are not scientific disputes—they are philosophical. Causal closure is a metaphysical belief. It is not a scientific fact. If the physical is not causally closed at any level, then causal agents (whether God or life in general) can intervene. Humans do it all the time, thus the Maverick Philosopher’s quote in the post.

    What a miraculous intervention would mean for science is precisely nothing. Just as it wouldn’t if a human intervenes and stops a fan from spinning. Well, it would mean one thing—that there was causal openness. And science could care less which is true.

    Bottom line: These are philosophical clashes, not ones of science. That is simply (how ironic) an empirical fact.

    Like

  25. Hi Darrell

    No, you're not quite following. You write:

    “And your line of thought does seem to suggest you think a miracle happening could mean anything could happen, that the moon could be made of cheese, that things could levitate and so forth. Why would that follow unless you knew something about the causal agent behind the miracle?”

    I'm saying nothing about what a miracle happening means. I'm simply justifying my claim that your belief in miracles clashes with science. If your belief in a miracle does not clash with science, given the reasoning you employ, then neither does my belief in my house levitating. Exactly the same defence can be employed.

    “You told us that while God or the spiritual may exist, we could know nothing of them. That is the argument from causal closure.”

    Here's where we go wrong so often. This is not what I told you. Rather, I told you that if we could know anything about the spiritual, it would require the physical world behaving in a way that clashes with, or is inconsistent with science. You agree with the substance (you accept miracles mean matter behaving in ways not described by science's equations) but choose not to call it an inconsistency or a clash.

    Now I'm simply pointing out the lexical implications of not claiming this a clash. You are now forced to say my belief in the levitation of my house also does not clash with science. Yo my ear, this sounds like an abuse of common usage. So, do you seriously believe my belief that my house levitates at night does not clash with science? Yes or no? (You have been avoiding questions of this type throughout the conversation).

    Bernard

    Like

  26. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “If your belief in a miracle does not clash with science, given the reasoning you employ, then neither does my belief in my house levitating. Exactly the same defence can be employed.”

    What defense? I’m not defending anything. Do you believe houses can levitate? I don’t. I’m not defending anything about miracles. Our discussion never had anything to do with that. Do you know something about a causal agent who would deem it important to levitate a house? Anyway, my belief in miracles doesn’t clash with science, only causal closure. Science could care less. There isn't an entity out there called “Science”. My beliefs clash with those who believe in causal closure. Since you are agnostic, nothing I've noted should be a problem for you. I'm sorry you have the conception of science you do, but not all do. And just because they disagree with you as to meaning doesn't mean their views clash with science–you don't speak for science. But I repeat myself and you even agreed with me. Why are we still talking about this?

    “…I told you that if we could know anything about the spiritual, it would require the physical world behaving in a way that clashes with, or is inconsistent with science. You agree with the substance (you accept miracles mean matter behaving in ways not described by science's equations) but choose not to call it an inconsistency or a clash.”

    Right, you agreed we actually could know something about both (because you are agnostic regarding closure–wow–that could have save a lot of time knowing that!) only that it would then mean certain things, in your mind anyway, regarding science. We know that. We know what, in your mind, not the mind of “science” you think it would mean. I don’t think science is supposed to describe what would happen during a miracle. I also don’t see a clash with science if a miracle were to happen, only with causal closure.

    Thus, we are exactly where I have said we were several times now. We had this conversation already. We disagree as to what it would mean for science if a miracle were to happen (or has happened). We know that. We also know that the disagreement over meaning can’t possibly be a clash with science as it calls nothing into question as to “science” only the meaning for science if a miracle were to happen or the question of causal closure. And if you think this would then also mean anything could happen, like a house levitating, then you must know something about the causal agent behind such an event? Right, you don't, you are agnostic, so your speculation is meaningless. But hey, if that is what causal openness would mean for you, then go with it…just make sure none of those houses fall on you!

    Can I say “Cheers” or is there more? I never know…

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  27. Hi Darrell

    “I don’t think science is supposed to describe what would happen during a miracle. I also don’t see a clash with science if a miracle were to happen, only with causal closure.”

    But do you think your belief that miracles have happened clashes with science? This is quite a different question. If a miracle did occur, it would not clash with science. We agree on this. I'm saying your belief that miracles do indeed occur clashes with our current scientific understanding of the world. You say it doesn't, because you don't think science has anything to say about miracles.

    Therefore, if somebody believes their house levitates at night, that belief does not, to your mind, clash with science? Is that really what you mean? I think that's a misleading use of the term clash, but you're welcome to your own terminology.

    But please be explicit. Do you think my belief that my house miraculously levitates at night (were I to have such a belief) would clash with science. Yes or no? (I see you're still avoiding this question. The reason why is obvious.)

    Bernard

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  28. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “I don’t think science is supposed to describe what would happen during a miracle. I also don’t see a clash with science if a miracle were to happen, only with causal closure.” -Darrell

    “But do you think your belief that miracles have happened clashes with science?”

    Again, “if” one happens or has happened doesn’t change anything (I repeat myself). Any clash is with causal closure, not science, for all the reasons I’ve given you already.

    “Therefore, if somebody believes their house levitates at night, that belief does not, to your mind, clash with science?”

    People can believe whatever they want—such is irrelevant to our conversation unless you mean that if there is causal openness, anything can happen. You have told us that such is not your point, so what is your point? If someone were to tell me their house levitates at night, I would ask, “Wow, where can I get one of those?”

    Are you agnostic regarding levitating houses? I would say you are not. So why be agnostic regarding Jesus rising from the dead? Burk may be wondering the same about your position.

    Now, you may say, well, he may have risen and houses may levitate, but such would clash with science. Well, it would all depend upon whether you believed in causal closure or not. If you believe in causal closure, then no causal agent (non-physical) can intervene to raise a dead body or levitate a house. Case closed. However, if you believe in causal openness or are agnostic, then a causal agent obviously could do both and the clash would not be with science, but with causal closure (but I repeat myself).

    Now, if a person without reference to a causal agent just told me out of the blue his house levitated at night, I would look for the quickest exit. However, if he told me that God levitated his house every night, I would say, “Wow, why would God do that—but anyway, I will be by tomorrow night to see that.” Upon showing up we would then see I guess if God does such things. I don’t think God does, because the Christian God is not capricious or random—we know something about this God. Because God can do something doesn’t mean such a being will.

    So your argument about levitating houses and jumpers (unless you are simply making the argument that Christian beliefs are held by delusional people!?) run into the causal agent aspect and who that agent is. You have told us you are not bringing it up to say that if the there is causal openness anything can happen, but to say what is the difference as to a clash with science. Well, if we were to believe that God, for some reason levitated a house (but we don’t, because we know something about the causal agent) the clash would still only be with causal closure, not science, just like my catching a ball in flight would not clash with science, but causal closure. But I repeat myself.

    Does that help?

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  29. Hi Darrell

    Good, then we are in perfect agreement. Your beliefs do not clash with science, in precisely the same way that beliefs in flying unicorns, levitating houses and using crystals to cure cancer do not clash with science.

    This feels like an unfortunate use of the word term (it is likely to mislead those who feel that flying unicorns are something science does not sanction) but word choice is your own.

    I will continue to use the word clash, but we can both understand what I mean by this. That it is a belief in the same category as flying unicorns and levitating houses when it comes to its compatibility with the current science.

    Bernard

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  30. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “Good, then we are in perfect agreement.”

    No, we are not, for all the reasons already noted, which I guess you are choosing not to address at this point. If you are agnostic as to causal closure, then you are open to all the things you note being possible (even that a house may have levitated 2000 years ago). If they were to happen, all it would mean is that there is no causal closure. That you think it would mean a causal agent could then do all these other things you mention would only be relevant if you knew something about this causal agent—if you knew why this agent would levitate houses and create unicorns. But you don’t, you are agnostic, therefore it is an entirely meaningless point, but I think you knew that. Still, if that is what you think it would mean if there were causal openness, that is sort of your problem, not mine, and you are welcome to your personal belief there, but it is not the opinion of “science” nor does it logically follow from a belief in causal openness.

    A miracle would clash with causal closure not science, thus how could there be a clash with science? Unless you think causal closure and science are the same thing, I don’t even see why you would disagree. Because I see where the clash lies differently than you is hardly a clash with science. So yes, we do disagree, but the disagreement is purely philosophical and probably semantic; it has nothing to do with science. I think a miracle takes nothing away from science, only causal closure. I think science provides the best model of how the physical world works and operates when left to itself and is not meant to account for or predict miracles. Unless your conception of science has causal closure as an intrinsic aspect, then for a miracle to happen (or have happened) shouldn’t change anything as to your view of science (Huxley's point). My sense is that you are not truly agnostic as to causal closure and is probably why you are having such a hard time here. Just a theory. Also, see post. Every conclusion stands.

    As the host of my own blog, I will let you respond to this and then I will post my final thoughts and that will close this comment thread—there will be no further comments afterwards.

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  31. Thanks Darrell

    “No, we are not, for all the reasons already noted, which I guess you are choosing not to address at this point. If you are agnostic as to causal closure, then you are open to all the things you note being possible (even that a house may have levitated 2000 years ago).”

    We do agree, weird though you may find that. It is a good place to have reached. There was very little in your original post I disagreed with. The trouble arose because you thought my case rested upon causal closure. It never did.

    I simply sought to clarify that when you mean your beliefs do not clash with science, you meant it in the same way that we might say levitating houses, quack cures, mischievous elves and airborne unicorns do not clash with science. I think common usage would see these all as clashes, in the sense that the believer in every case prefers tradition, intuition and pure whimsy over the scientific tradition of careful observation, extrapolation and testing. Ask a person in the street whether fairies and talking horses clash with science, and my guess is they'd say yes.

    And that is all we have here, a difference in preference for the word we would use to describe a process we are in total agreement on. And agreements are good, are they not? As always I thank you for your willingness to engage with those who see the world differently. The alternative played out yesterday on the streets of Paris, and will play out again many times over, I'm afraid. So full respect and peace to you, my friend. Go well.

    Bernard

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  32. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “I simply sought to clarify that when you mean your beliefs do not clash with science, you meant it in the same way that we might say levitating houses, quack cures, mischievous elves and airborne unicorns do not clash with science.”

    No, I did not mean it in that way—sorry, any “clarification” was an illusion or simply what you wanted to hear. You are equating two different categories of beliefs. In the literature, miracles are always tied to a belief in God or the spiritual; they are never equated with any of the other things you mention above, which is why I noted the importance of knowing something about the causal agent or the context, which you never addressed. Ask a person on the street whether God existing, Jesus rising from the dead, or miracles clash with science and my guess is they would say “no”, only a science that also happened to be atheistic. Conversely, if you asked them about unicorns, elves, and the rest, since they wouldn’t believe in those things, the question wouldn’t make much sense. Miracles, in the context of this conversation and in the literature, are equated with God existing (or not). Your other examples are equated with delusion or comedy. Your equating of the two here is not only a contextual and philosophical category mistake, but also rather insulting and disrespectful.

    Further, it reveals an illogical aspect to your agnosticism. If you think God existing, Jesus rising from the dead, and miracles clash with science (although you are agnostic as to God’s existence, etc.) in the same way that unicorns, elves, levitating houses clash with science, then why in the world are you agnostic regarding God and miracles? Or are you also agnostic regarding unicorns and elves? Come on. I doubt you are.

    (Continued)

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  33. Darrell says:

    (Continued)

    And why don’t you simply tell Christians that their beliefs are no more true or accurate than unicorns existing or on the same par as those things, things no one believes in, things that have never changed lives or cultures? Why not tell them that believing in unicorns, in your mind, is the same as believing in God as far your conception of science goes? What you don’t seem to realize is that the inherent nature of your argument is disrespectful to those who have died, been imprisoned, or treated horribly because they held their faith in Christ deeply and would not confess otherwise. There are no Mother Teresa’s who arose out of a belief in unicorns, no cultures, no hospitals, no orphanages, nothing of all we think good in this life. Frankly, you should be embarrassed to compare the two, but maybe that will come with time. I don’t think you mean it intentionally—out of animus (I hope not anyway); I hope we can chalk it up to a lack of social grace, awareness, or “taste” if you will.

    We did agree that causal closure is a metaphysical belief and not “science” or physics. We did agree you do not speak for science, only your own conception of science (thus you and I clash—not science and I). We did agree you are agnostic as to God existing and causal closure therefore, logically, we can know something about that God—we can have access. At one point you told us: “One need not dismiss the possibility of a transcendent reality to dismiss the possibility of our having access to it. I dismiss the second, but remain agnostic as to the first.” Well, we learned you are agnostic as to both. So, that is progress.

    Our only disagreement was regarding what it would mean for science if a miracle were to happen (or has happened). You thought it would mean something about science being wrong or it would take something away from science. I thought it would mean something was wrong with causal closure and our conceptions of science, but would take nothing away from science as science. That is a small disagreement in my mind. What we could not find, in my view, was a clash with science; we could only find a clash with causal closure—something I always noted was a clash.

    (Continued)

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  34. Darrell says:

    (Continued)

    Finally, my thanks to Bernard, (also JP and Burk) for his comments and conversation. Just because we disagree, doesn’t mean I don’t respect your points and questions—I certainly would never suggest your views clash with science (although some might). Your position is a reasonable one. I just wish that sentiment could have been reciprocated (as it would appear nothing has changed as to your belief my views clash with science). Oh well. Others can decide that for themselves. Please forgive any perceived dismissiveness, rudeness, or misunderstanding on my part—I apologize.

    To conclude:

    See post. See all the other posts. Those conclusions stand. Love is mysterious, God is love, morals are objective, and any beliefs to the contrary are founded, like mine, on faith, not science. Here is the most important point: No one should be able to use the umbrella label “Science” or the “Bible” or whatever, to give their personal perspectives and opinions the authority their arguments do not merit or to confuse us as to who is really speaking. It is not “Science” or the “Bible” speaking. We are speaking. You are speaking. I am speaking. We are saying, “This is what I think this means.” To confuse that with speaking for “Science” or the “Bible” as if we were just Moses (or Dawkins) bringing the thoughts of God or “Science” down (whether from the mountain or our high horse) and directly to the people, unmediated by us, is the fundamentalist sensibility and error. And frankly, that sensibility was too often on display throughout this conversation. The last thing we need in this world, especially now, and the one thing we need to see diminish is that sensibility. If these posts and conversation have given even one small impulse of encouragement to that end, this was indeed worth it.

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