Part 2 of a discussion and critique of John R. Shook’s The God Debates
Behind the logical plausibility of God lies another argument Shook dismisses in The God Debates, namely, the “Theology beyond the World”(3) which argues that “god is the necessary condition for the universe, for its order, and for its intelligibility.”(4) He recognizes that this assertion appeals to the principle of sufficient reason which he takes seriously — except, of course, in this case. He calls this “the argument from pseudo-cosmology.”(5) (“Pseudo” is a word Shook uses frequently for viewpoints he objects to.)
Here is how he sets up the argument.
Everything that exists requires an explanation for its existence [a rough statement of the principle of sufficient reason, PSR]
Nature (a collective label for all natural things) exists, so an explanation is required.
Nothing natural can serve as an explanation for nature, since a proposed natural thing would just count as more nature.
Only something supernatural could serve as an explanation for nature.
It is more reasonable to accept a proposed explanation than to leave something unexplained.
Conclusion. Something supernatural exists to explain nature.(6)
Let’s start with the good news: The God Debates maintains a civil tone amid the often shrill abuse of the real-world God debates. Nothing like the late Christopher Hitchen’s somewhat hysterical contention that teaching children religion is equivalent to child-abuse; no suggestion of Harris’s ominously totalitarian claim that even tolerating religious belief and freedom is intolerable; none of Dawkins’ withering scorn for philosophical texts and arguments he obviously hasn’t read and just as obviously doesn’t understand; and no sign of Dennett’s insulting references to atheists as “brights” (which, by implication, relegates Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Whitehead and Goedel — among others — to the “dims”).
With The God Debates, a new tone emerges, and for this we are grateful. This book sets a better example for atheist-believer discussions — civil and courteous. Yet, for the most part, tone is often as far as it goes, for welcome as it is, Shook’s civil tone does not improve the quality of his arguments. Though he tries to embed his contentions in a typology of religious and secular beliefs and, thereby, tries to give them an aura of scientific objectivity and rigor, all too often he gives straw-man representations of religious and philosophical viewpoints opposed to his.
This is the fifth and final installment in Ian Kluge’s series on Hawking and Mlodinow’s The Grand Design.
The reference to something transcending matter is, of course, a reference to God in His ontological function i.e. God as the source and ground of being, not the “personal” God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This “God of the philosophers” is independent of all physical entities; He transcends it, and is therefore, not subject to the limitations of time, space and causality that restrict material things.
This is the fourth in a series of commentaries on Hawking and Mlodinow’s The Grand Design by Common Ground contributor Ian Kluge.
Doing Away with God
Hawking and Mlodinow propose to do away with God as a necessary part of explaining the existence of the universe. They believe that the three “why? questions” (171) can be answered “purely within the realm of science, and without invoking any divine beings” (172). These questions are (1) “Why is there something rather than nothing?” (2) “Why do we exist?” and (3) “Why this particular set of laws and not some other?” (171).
There are at least two major difficulties with the author’s attempts to answer these questions. The first is that they violate the principle of sufficient reason. In its Leibnizian formulation this principle asserts that no statement is true unless it contains a sufficient reason why it cannot be otherwise. Another variation states that no event X occurs unless there is a sufficient reason why X occurs and not something else, i.e. Y. A sufficient reason is one that makes other alternatives impossible. In concrete terms, the principle means that there must be a sufficient, i.e. necessary reason why cream warms up when I add it to hot coffee instead of turning to ice. Scientific research, of course, is the business of finding sufficient reasons for physical events. Therefore, when the search for sufficient reasons is abandoned science itself has been left behind. …
In this third part of my review of The Grand Design (Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow), I’d like to take a closer look at their theory of “model-dependent realism”(42).
This is one of Hawking’s and Mlodinow’s main contributions in The Grand Design. According to this theory:
a physical theory or world-picture is a model (generally of a mathematical nature) and a set of rules that connect the elements of the model to observations. This provides a framework with which to interpret modern science. (43)
This is the second in a series of discussions of Hawking and Mlodinow’s The Grand Design. Today:
The Logic of Multiverses
Multiverses are another source of logical difficulties for Hawking and Mlodinow. The Grand Design claims that the existence of multiverses can explain why the universe we inhabit is fine-tuned for life without resorting to God as an explanation.
In an infinite array of possible universes, one that contains life is likely or even inevitably bound to appear. Saying that a universe fit for humankind is likely to show up is, in fact, a covert appeal to the laws of probability – which raises the question of the origin of the laws of probability. Are they ‘just there’? If so, Hawking has resurrected God – the only totally independent entity – under another name.
Stephen Hawking’s and Leonard Mlodinow’s The Grand Design begins with a grand or perhaps, grandiose, claim that “philosophy is dead” and goes on from there. The book proceeds to tell us that an infinite stack of multiverses – instead of turtles – explains our allegedly ‘fine-tuned’ existence on earth. For good measure, the authors throw in what they think is a new philosophy of science, model-dependent realism, and, thus, demolish free will.
They also add elaborate faith-statements about M-Theory, which, as Nobel-Laureate Steven Weinberg points out, is not nearly so well established or useful as Hawking would have us believe. The book ends by asserting that gravity, not God, is the reason why there is something rather than nothing. …
As is to be expected, there are far more differences than similarities between the new atheist philosophies and the Bahá’í Writings—though the extent of the similarities and their foundational nature is surprising.
The question remains, however, “Are these similarities enough to allow a meaningful dialogue between the two?”
Can the differences between the new atheists and the Bahá’í Writings be bridged? In other words, is there anything the two can build on together? …
Along with a realist ethics and a realist epistemology, the new atheists and the Bahá’í Writings share a realist ontology. In its simplest terms, ontology is one’s theory of reality, its nature and modes of being. Although ontology seems far removed from ordinary human concerns, all human beings and cultures possess an ontology, although it is usually unconscious. For example, the simple statement, “I shall walk the dog” assumes (a) that an “I” exists in some way, (b) that “I” could make such a decision, (c) the dog exists in some way, (d) that “I” and the dog are distinct and separate entities, exterior to each other, (e) that motion is possible and real and that (f) the city street outside also exists. While this may seem self-evident to some, to others, such as those who believe the world is an illusion, or who believe that the self is an illusion, none of these points are necessarily obvious. …
The agreement between the new atheists and the Bahá’í Writings on ethical realism has far-reaching implications—in the area of epistemology for example. If there are universal, objectively knowable (and innate) ethical standards, then it follows that at least some knowledge is objective, that it is possible to evaluate at least some knowledge vis-à-vis truth and falseness. This lays the basis for an objective epistemology, i.e. the claim that all truth-claims are not necessarily mere individual or cultural constructions without correspondence to reality.
The new atheists’ adherence to an objective epistemology is self-evident from even the most cursory survey of their books; after all, the whole enterprise of science is predicated on the principle that our discoveries correspond to or tell us something about reality. There may be interpretational differences whether this knowledge is about reality in itself or about reality in inter-action with us, but in the final analysis we gain some testable and objective knowledge about reality itself. This agrees with Abdu’l-Bahá’s statement that “the rational soul gradually discover[s] … [and] comprehends the realities, the properties and the effects of contingent beings.”154 In other words, the rational soul does not construct these realities—these “realities” exist independently of the human perceiver. …