Saturday, December 01, 2012

Is nature by itself sufficient evidence for god?

By Mathew Goldstein

In his February 29, 2012 Huffington Post article Why I Am an Accommodationist, Robert J. Asher, a paleontologist specializing in mammals who is currently Curator of Vertebrates in the Cambridge University Museum of Zoology, seeks to reconcile theism with the available evidence and demonstrate that theism and the evidence have a cooperative relationship. His tactic is to assert that god doesn't leave behind any evidence. Instead, god acts through nature. Therefore, nature is itself the only evidence we have for god. Nature is the proximate cause mechanism while god is the ultimate cause agency.

Having started by conceding that no evidence for a god exists beyond nature itself, Robert Asher has already lost his argument that he is properly justified in believing that a god exists. Going from observing that nature exists straight to therefore god exists is far too big a leap. We cannot jump that far without begging the question. After all, nature doesn't feature any immaterial, immortal, willful, agents that operate outside of time and location constraints. Best fit with the overall empirical evidence is the only proper justification we have for believing something exists. By positing a new ontology (immaterial, willful, agent) that is outside of the framework of any ontology that is found within nature, Robert Asher is arguing from an ideology first perspective. Nature exists therefore god exists is not a viable argument for god (from an evidence first perspective) because all of the evidence we have from nature is that willful agents are inherently materialistic (catabolic, anabolic), temporary, and finite.

A second problem with Robert Asher's argument is that nature has no demonstrated need for a supernatural, or even a nonnatural, ultimate cause. We need a proper motive, rooted in the available empirical evidences, for asserting a cause of a particular sort is needed. If nature is self-contained, if everything in nature has only natural, non-ultimate causes, then why believe that a supernatural god is an ultimate cause? Natural, non-ultimate causes are the only type of causes known to exist. We have not encountered evidence of a supernatural cause, let alone of a cause that has the special quality of being "ultimate". So we have no proper basis for assuming that there is a supernatural, or an ultimate, cause.

Theists such as Robert Asher appear to have a tendency to think that the naturalistic framework which is evidenced is insufficient, to the point of being impossible, for ever providing a needed explanation for our universe. They then tend to claim that only a non-evidenced and counter-evidenced supernaturalistic framework is sufficient, to the point of being necessary, to provide a needed explanation for the universe. But that is a reversal of the correct sequence for determining what is true. We shouldn't start with an insistence that we must claim to have an explanation, right now, prior to our having the supporting evidence. Instead, we should start with the evidence and go only where the evidence takes us. Otherwise we are fooling ourselves into thinking we know more than we do. We can manage fine without falsely claiming to have ultimate explanations that we don't have, so why this insistence on believing that a god exists?

Furthermore, we need to put aside mere human intuitions regarding what is plausible, implausible, possible, and impossible because our intuitions here have consistently been wrong. Most of modern knowledge is nonintuitive, There is essentially nothing in science textbooks that matches what people believed on intuition alone. What we know about how the universe works we discovered only by following the empirical evidence, often reaching conclusions that, without the supporting evidence, would be nonintuitive or counterintuitive. Instead, it is those assertions that are outside the framework of the laws of physics which are the more implausible and the more likely to be impossible relative to competing assertions which reside inside this framework. Theism is outside this framework and it is rooted in human intuition, which are two big strikes against theism.

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