Saturday, March 28, 2015

False stereotyping of science

By Mathew Goldstein

In the past I have summarized Sean Carroll's argument for atheism. Another one of my favorite atheist philosophers is Victor Stenger. Following is my summary of Victor Stenger's argument for atheism copied from his University of Colorado presentation titled Can Science Study the Supernatural?

Scientists use only methodological naturalism primarily because it works. But it may not always be so. Scientists will go wherever the data leads. Furthermore, methodological naturalism can be utilized to investigate God.  Nothing prevents science from considering non-natural causes.

Take empirical data in the normal scientific way. If no natural explanation is even remotely plausible then we may entertain the possibility of a supernatural process. For example, suppose independent experiments showed conclusively that Catholic prayers heal the sick while Jewish, Protestant, Muslim prayers have no effect. While many published prayer experiments are poorly done and unconvincing, a few are double-blind and "good science": Mayo Clinic 2091, Duke University 2005, Harvard, Mayo, ... 2006. No significant effect found. The world looks just as it would be expected to look if there is no God who answers prayers in any significant way.

All observations have plausible natural explanations, but they need not have them. Observations could have determined that the laws of physics were violated in creating the universe. That the age of the earth was too short for evolution. That the universe and life really showed evidence of design. That the human mind was shown to have extraordinary powers. That revelations contain new information. That natural events followed moral law. That lightening just strikes the wicked. That jails are filled with atheists while believers live happy, prosperous lives surrounded by loving family and pets. Such observations would support the God hypothesis.

Intelligent design, like intercessory prayer, like astrology, etc. is testable, tentative, falsifiable. Scientific studies find that the world looks just as it would be expected to look if it contains living organisms that are not designed but the product of the jury-rigged processes of evolution. The overall universe is mostly random. 96% of matter is dark matter or dark energy which has little structure. Photons in the cosmic microwave background are random to 1/100,000 and outnumber atoms a billion to one.

The universe looks just like it would be expected to look if it is not designed with humans in mind.  Contrary to what some people claim, science can investigate the supernatural and the outcome is not neutral or silent vis-a-vis the God hypothesis.

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