“…human beings are also inevitably programmed to ask, “Why?” as we’ve heard it. But the “Why?” question is ill-posed, because it presumes purpose; it presumes the answer to the question before you ask the question. … And science tells us there’s no evidence of purpose. …and, therefore, science, by telling us there’s no need for purpose, has refuted the need for God, and that’s why you should support our position.”
Krauss’s purposeless existence, like many human constructs, only works if one does not think about it too deeply or ask the sort of questions that humans tend to ask (programmed by what?), but cows—in their infinite wisdom—never do. In the end, he seems to advocate the idea that we create meaning with the full knowledge that it is imaginary. I have to ask, in what way is an imaginary purpose any better than none at all? He also does not explain what it means to say that, through a random and purposeless evolution, this one life form—mankind—is programmed to do anything, much less see patterns.
There are areas in which even Krauss and company do not carry their questions or consider the consequences of their purported appreciation for reality. Some of these are areas of critical importance to our daily existence. It’s fine to philosophize about purpose and meaning and determinism where it relates to the substrate of physical laws, but that’s just mental masturbation (you will pardon the phrase) if it has no impact—much less a beneficial impact—on human existence.
Krauss might argue that worrying about having a beneficial impact on human existence is to instill false purpose and therefore a false ideal. This harks back to that form of environmentalism that completely separates mankind from nature as if he is something superimposed arbitrarily on it from the outside and is a pernicious interloper that Nature would be better off without. Krauss, though, does not argue that man is unnatural as much as that he is irrelevant. Practical human application seems to have no place in the dialogue.
That is what I find the most disappointing about Krauss’s talking points. They fail to yield practical consequence for my life or any other.
I would ask Krauss for two things:
- To show some evidence to support his various contentions about life, the universe and everything, including that science refutes God and says there is no evidence of purpose.
- To illustrate how his philosophy of reality informs, benefits or transforms life on this planet.
All in all, he fails to show how his idea of reality impacts the reality in which any of us actually live. If we all believed life to be without purpose, and human beings to be marginally smarter animals, in what way does that make our lives more livable, valued, happier, fulfilling or productive?
In response to Krauss and Shermer’s reductionist ideas, Ian Hutchinson offered an argument against scientism that I wish he’d enlarged upon:
Claiming more for science than is warranted by its competence does not promote science; it damages it. Talking as if science is all the real knowledge there is, that — as this scientistic motion does, alienates from science people who know better than to accept such an unjustified metaphysical extrapolation. It alienates intellectuals, particularly from other nonscientific disciplines, and so gives rise to the culture wars that have roiled the academy for the last few decades. And it alienates nonintellectuals whose opinions are more intuitive and practical but who know that their life is more than some reductionistic description in terms of atoms and molecules.
I think he’s right. I think that scientism—as a dogmatic outgrowth of science—is as damaging to real science as religious dogmatism is to real religion.
What do I mean by “real religion?” Abdu’l-Bahá, I think, makes this clear in a talk he gave at the Temple Emmanu-El in San Francisco in 1912.
“…when we speak of religion, we mean the essential foundation or reality of religion, not the dogmas and blind imitations which have gradually encrusted it and which are the cause of the decline and effacement of a nation. These are inevitably destructive and a menace and hindrance to a nation’s life…”
The Other Side of the Mountain
Except for that brief excerpt above, I have given the religious side of the debate short shrift other than to critique the (to me) dubious choice to play defense using specifically and sectarian Christian doctrine as equipment. I appreciated a number of their points. For example, Dinesh D’Souza’s response to the question of faith:
If I can add a big thought to that, it is — you ask if [faith is] scientific, and I would say no. Faith is not scientific. But faith is completely rational. Why? Because where empirical evidence can’t go, it’s not unreasonable to believe on faith. Let’s say, for example, you’re making any kind of a decision, whether to invest in Brazil or whether to propose marriage. You bring in all the evidence you can. And yet if you’re asking the question, will I make money? Or what will life be like with this woman over the next 30 years? You’re never going to have a full answer. Now, you can say, “I’ll be an agnostic and wait for the data to come in.” But the data will never come in. She’ll marry someone else, and you’ll both be dead. So you put in all the knowledge you can, and the leap of faith is a completely rational bridge from knowledge to action.
While I would disagree with D’Souza that faith is unscientific, I completely agree that it is a rational response to the human reality. I disagree with the first point because the model of faith suggested by the sacred texts uses the principles of the scientific process—hypothesize, test, assess and adjust. This is most clearly expanded upon in the writings of Bahá’u’lláh, but Christ also advances the idea, a number of times, that one must apply reason to observation to inform spiritual decisions about what is true or false. (Matthew 7: 15-18 et al)
His second point is well taken: We are often called upon to act in the absence of empirical data or foreknowledge of the results (fruits) of a decision. If we wait for certitude based completely on empirical facts, life will pass us by. Buddha gives a marvelous allegory about this involving a man who’s shot by a poisoned arrow and insists on knowing everything about the arrow, the poison and the shooter before he will allow the physician to heal him. Buddha’s summation: “Well, that man would die. But he would die without knowing any of these things.”
But not only will we not progress without the faith to act, the scientific process itself would be hamstrung if scientists had to base everything on empirical fact and leave the rational process of inference out of the equation. Some of the most important scientific statements are not proven facts, but rationally inferred “truths”. Take E=mc2, for example. It is a far more important statement, scientifically, than “the this screen is white”, but it is an inferred statement, not one that can be directly observed through the human senses.
And this is something else that disappoints me about the A Team’s presentation: they neglect to acknowledge that, even within the realm of science, there is more than one way to “know” things. They perpetuate the myth that science is about provable facts and only provable facts and moreover, that science can prove anything worth proving. This, as Ian Hutchinson notes above, does not promote science, it damages it.
Next time: Episode, the last: Stirring the Particles