when theologians peer inside an empty box…
A few days ago, one of my readers asked me to look into arguments for creationism from a certain Dr. William Craig who supposedly only uses science and calls the scientific method a theologian’s best friend. Now, after having played this game for a year, it seemed pretty obvious to me that this was not going to be the case since creationists often don’t seem to know what the word science means and use it with wholly unwarranted ease and frequency. Then again, I’m a skeptic, so before I can honestly judge something, I need to see it. And sadly, my instincts weren’t wrong. As much as it would excite me to see a reasonable, logical argument for a deity, it seems there are none to be found and Dr. Craig’s cosmological musings have been used so much, you can almost see scuff marks from centuries worth of wear and tear by other theologians if you look closely enough.
Essentially, his premise is a sort of logical reductionism which can be summed up thusly. The universe had a beginning, therefore, something exempt from the laws of causality had to create it. Now where have we heard this argument before? Oh yeah, from everyone and their second cousin twice removed attempting to wedge in that final theistic trump card of causality. Far from being a skilled debater for Christianity, as he’s been called, he’s presenting the same, tired old argument by dressing it up in pseudoscientific eloquence intended to give credence to an incomplete thought. Sure, our universe does seem to abide by laws of causality and yes, we’re pretty sure it had a beginning of some kind. However, how does this justify the existence of an omnipotent god that created everything with absolutely no regard for the same basic laws of causality everything else obeys?
This pattern of thought is called a non sequitur, which is Latin for “does not follow” and it’s a type of fallacy so often used by politicians and demagogues to obfuscate the gaps in their arguments. Of course Dr. Craig has this objection deftly covered by this little gem of absolutist reasoning…
The universe couldn’t have been brought into being by a mechanically operating set of necessary and sufficient conditions.
Says who? What’s the justification for this assertion? Where is the tangible, mathematical proof that nature is incapable of bringing anything into being? Everything from supermassive black holes to life seems to come from mechanical processes that exist within certain tolerances permitted by the laws of physics. Why can’t we extend an existing phenomenon rather than try to forcefully jam a glaring violation of absolutely everything we know about the universe so far? Ah, of course, we need to justify a belief system that relies on this violation of physical laws and therefore, we have to declare that any other explanation is categorically impossible. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not seeing any science being applied so far.
All in all though, this is an interesting illustration of the real difference between scientists and theologians. As noted in a previous post, the job of a theologian is to describe that which is by definition beyond them, kind of like a blind person lead into a room and asked to describe what the color blue tastes like. Imagine that we’re dealing with people who have synesthesia and even though they’re blinded, the color blue does prompt their brains to simulate a taste. Every synesthete will have a unique taste and we’ll end up with a spectrum of ideas for how blue tastes. Here’s when scientists would note how people perceive the color and not how those who don’t experience the condition either shrug in confusion or joke that it probably tastes like blueberries. They’d also want to do more tests on the synethetes, find what other colors taste like to them and publish the results in a study on the phenomenon to be read and analyzed by their peers, adding to our knowledge of the world.
By contrast, theologians would take the anecdotes about the synethetes’ experiences and write endless, and ultimately meaningless tomes about all the different ways the color blue tastes and how surely, somewhere in this gamut of responses must lie the majesty of the color blue and all it has to offer humanity. Unlike those ill mannered heathens who want to see what the color red tastes like or what emotions the taste of blackberries triggers in a brain capable of tasting colors or seeing music. Their contribution to our knowledge of the world in a tangible, practical, directly applicable way? Pretty much zilch.