The God hypothesisEdit
[This article needs tidying up. Expression is sloppy in places and some important ideas may be missing].
‘Possibly what we believe about God derives from our fears and desires’ (Boulton, 2006 p. 21).
Can we use Science to study God?Edit
Ignatius Loyola, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Ignatius_Loyola founder of the Jesuits, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesuit called for the ‘sacrificium intellectus’, the sacrifice of the intellect, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacrifice_of_the_intellect so that the follower thinks what his or her religious superiors think. This concept was taken up by the existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%B8ren_Kierkegaard who thought that an act of faith requires a leap into the void, amounting to a sacrifice of intellect and reason. This is not the position taken by current Catholic theology or Quaker thinking. This wiki takes an almost contrary position, calling for critical and scientific study of God and religion.
In ‘God the Failed Hypothesis’ Victor Stenger (2007) subjected mainstream claims for the existence of a monotheistic God to critical and scientific scrutiny. In a series of chapters he shows that the existence of God would suggest certain realities in the world that could be verifiable by scientific inquiry; but the data don't support these claims, which, he argues, provides evidence that no God exists. The claims he examines include the creation of the universe by an intelligent designer, the truth value of revelation, the efficacy of prayer and others. This paper does not examine all of Stenger’s arguments.
Some philosophers maintain that the universe is an illusion, and has no real existence. Science assumes the reality of the external, objective world, but it seems that ‘the notion of a pre-given, observer-independent reality is untenable’ (Dalai Lama 2005 p.67). Matter cannot be objectively perceived apart from the observer. Matter and mind are co-dependent. It is theoretically possible for matter to exist apart from any observer, but that notion literally does not make sense. Making sense can only happen if there is a mind (or something equivalent) to do the sense-making. Similarly, the notion of a god existing independently of human observation is theoretically possible but does not make sense. Without a computer, data does not compute.
Buddhists argue that ‘nothing can be by itself and alone’ (Hanh, 2007: p.154) including God. We do not and could not have empirical or valid knowledge of a self-existing creator God. If there is a God beyond the expanding universe or before the Big Bang, completely outside the Universe as a system, then we can have no knowledge of it and so cannot usefully say anything about it. The existence of such a being cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed through empirical observation or scientific method (though, as I shall argue below, this does not exclude the possibility of scientific inquiry into an interdependent God).
If God intervenes in nature, through revelation, through miracles, by becoming incarnate in human form or in some other way, then we can have knowledge of God, directly or indirectly through these effects. However, both Buddhist philosophy and the general body of Western science observe that every observable effect has one or more causes, which themselves are caused by something in the natural universe. If we observe any effect, such as the existence of a Bible, a story of sight restored to a blind person, a man who reportedly raised himself from death, or any other remarkable event, we can ask what evidence there is that the story is true, what its causes are, and under what conditions those causes are said to operate.
One of the principles guiding scientific inquiry is Occam’s razor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam's_razor is often phrased as ‘All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best.’ Briefly, the principle is that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Simplest is not defined by the number of words it takes to express a theory, but refers to the theory with the fewest assumptions. In an explanation, hypothesis or theory, we should not use any entity which is not necessary, and in particular, we should eliminate those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanation, hypothesis or theory. In other words, when competing theories are equal in other respects, we should prefer the theory that introduces the fewest assumptions and entities.
When applied to the existence of God (as a supernatural creator) it can be argued that, if we assemble all the available scientific knowledge and theory about the origins of the Universe, adding or subtracting the concept of God does not add anything to the explanation, so should be dispensed with.
It seems ironic that Occam himself was a Franciscan Friar and a theist. He wrote, ‘No plurality should be assumed unless it can be proved (a) by reason, or (b) by experience, or (c) by some infallible authority’; referring in the last clause ‘to the Bible, the Saints and certain pronouncements of the Church’ (Hoffmann 1997). However, in Occam’s time (about 1286 to 1347), centuries before the invention of experimental method, infallible authority guided by God may have been the most parsimonious explanation for many phenomena.
Boulton, D. (2006). The Trouble With God: Building the Republic of Heaven: O Books.
Dalai Lama, G. T. (2005). The Universe in a Single Atom: How Science and spirituality Can Serve Our World. London: Abacus.
Hanh, T. N. (2007). Living Buddha, Living Christ (2nd ed.). New York: Riverhead Books.
Hoffmann, R., Minkin, V. I., & Carpenter, B. K. (1997). Ockham's Razor and Chemistry. HYLE International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry, 3, 3-28, retrieved from http://www.hyle.org/journal/issues/3/hoffman.htm 15 September 2010
Stenger, V. J. (2007). God the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist. New York: Promethius.