Monday, August 24, 2015

6 Arguments For the Existence of the Non-Physical

I often hear materialists suggest that there is "no proof" for the existence of anything immaterial. Leaving aside the fact that the smaller material things get the less "material" they actually seem, is there no other way to evidence the non-physical?

We can begin by trying to define what actually constitutes physicality.  By and large, what we mean when we say that something is physical is that it exists a) in time and space or b) in a mind. To discover the immaterial, therefore, is simply a matter of demonstrating the existence of that which is nether a nor b.  To explore this I am drawing from the work of my favorite theological philosopher, Edward Feser in his superb book, The Last Superstition. Here are some examples:

  1. The "one over many" argument.  While there may be very many examples of triangles such as scalene, obtuse and isosceles and many shades of blue such as cobalt, turquoise and ultramarine, "triangularity" and "blueness" are not reducible to any particular triangle or blue thing.  Indeed, even if there were no physical examples of any triangle or anything blue, they would still be truths that could come to be exemplified in the future.  They also can, and many times are, exemplified even when no human mind is aware of them.  Hence, triangularity, blueness and many other "universals" are neither material nor dependent on a human mind for their existence.
  2. The argument from abstract objects.  Geometry deals with perfect lines, angles, circles, etc and discovers objective facts about them.  As the facts are objective, we haven't invented them and they could not be altered (like material things).  Clearly then, they do not depend of our minds. Also, no physical objects have the perfection that geometrical ones do so clearly they do not depend on the material world.
  3. The argument from mathematics.  Like other universals, math is necessary and unchangeable - exactly the opposite of material things.  2+7=9 was true before there was a physical universe or any mind to apprehend it and would be true even after both were long gone. Another interesting twist with this one is though there is an infinite series of numbers, there is only a finite amount of physical things and mental events.  Therefore, the series of numbers can't be equated with the physical or the mental.  Take 10 minutes to listen to mathematician David Berlinski discussing this here.  
  4. The argument from the nature of propositions. A proposition like "Kurt Cobain is a member of the 27 Club" would remain true even if the entire world and all the minds in it suddenly went out of existence.  Interestingly, even if no mind or material world had ever existed, the proposition "there is neither a material world nor any human mind" would still be true - proving that it is neither material nor mental.
  5. The argument from science.  Science is the business of discovering objective mind-independent facts (though that often is not really the case).  As such, to accept the results of science is to accept the notion that there are such things as mind-independent universals.  Here's an interesting video of MIT physicist Gerald Schroeder discussing the implications of the laws of nature as universals.   
  6. The argument from words and concepts.  How is it that I understand what you mean when you say "puppy?" Clearly, there is a universal understanding of a word that is shared over and above our various utterances of it.  If one were to argue that there is no standard conception of what various words mean then we would run into some serious problems, such as the fact that it would render all communication impossible since we would never be truly using the same words - even, perhaps, when speaking to ourselves!  Would it be possible to suggest that I think about my own Pythagorean theorem and you think about yours (which is different from mine)? Obviously not.  Rather, we are sharing one universal notion.  One that is neither physical nor mental.

Granted, all of this is a tad heady and it should be acknowledged that there is a good deal of philosophical back and forth about this approach - which I think doesn't at all defeat the premise.  I strongly suggest picking up The Last Superstition and giving it a careful read.  Each chapter builds on the previous in a deep but accessible presentation that lays out what I consider to be as air tight a case as can be made for something.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Modern Science: The Best Evidence for God To Date

A reader on this post which outlines some of  the issues posed to the materialist world-view due to the "Fine Tuning" of the Universe argument kindly linked a series of posts on the website called God vs. The Multiverse.  The four posts take a few minutes to read and absorb but I think that they're well done and outline the issue (and its implications) in its fullness.  

They start off by defining their terms and their goal:

In the proof, we will use inductive reasoning from the fine tuning of the constants in nature and the initial conditions of the big bang, to infer an Intelligent Designer of the universe.  What we mean by 'proof' is that a reasonable person would logically draw the same conclusion after understanding the arguments.  We do not mean 'proof' in the sense of a mathematical proof or deductive reasoning, but rather in the sense of a rational argument.

Our main objectives are to show a path in studying the deep wisdom in the creation as revealed by modern science, and also to present a proof of God from the constants and initial conditions. Because of this dual objective, we will be including many interesting ideas from modern science that are related to the proof, even though it is not contingent upon them.  We will try to be clear about what is necessary for the proof, and what is only to provide a direction to understanding the great wisdom in the universe, as revealed through modern scientific knowledge.

They then go on to explain what is meant by a "Cosmological Constant."  They are the numerical ratios that govern "how heavy an electron is, how fast light moves, how strong gravity is, etc.  All these things are finite quantities, which have particular, unchanging values that we only know through measurements and observations. These quantities are called constants."

Scientists have long wondered at the values at which these ratios are set.  They seem to be quite random.  Where do they come from and why are they so utterly precise that if they were the slightest bit different then the universe as we know it could not have formed and life would not exist?  This has given many scientists sleepless nights.  Theoretical physicist Richard Feynman emoted about this conundrum, saying:

Immediately you would like to know where this number for a coupling comes from: is it related to pi or perhaps to the base of natural logarithms? Nobody knows. It's one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man. You might say the "hand of God" wrote that number, and "we don't know how He pushed his pencil." 

They give some good examples of the mystery of these constants:

Stars produce energy by fusing two hydrogen atoms into a single helium atom. During that reaction, 0.007 percent of the mass of the hydrogen atoms is converted into energy.  If the percentage were 0.006, the universe would be filled only with hydrogen.  If it was 0.008, the universe would have no hydrogen, and therefore no water and no stars like the sun. Bingo!

There are about 25 of these constants and simply put, they refute the notion that life as we know it is random. On the contrary, they demonstrate clearly, scientifically, that the universe is the result of design.   Materialist scientists recognized this, and didn't much like it.  But instead of owning up to the overwhelming brute fact of design, they did something rather brilliant - they pushed the problem back - so far back, in fact, that it can never be proven or refuted.  They posited the existence of the "Multiverse" - a hypothesis that posits that perhaps there are an infinite number of interconnected universes, all with different properties.  With that being the case it's not remarkable at all that our particular universe has all of these fine tuned peculiarities - but rather to be expected!  Problem solved.  Or is it?

There are quite a few issues with the Multiverse theory, such as:

  • It's non-scientific.  In as much as it is impossible to test, it cannot officially fall within the purview of science.  Yet the same folks who insist that theology must provide testable, scientific proof are generally content accepting this un-provable notion.
  • It's incoherent.  Belief in an infinite number of universes sets up necessary logical contradictions.  For instance, in as much as a God is a logical possibility, in one of the universes there must exist an infinite God who actually created the Multiverse itself (and in another there would not be).
  • It doesn't follow Occam's Razor - the problem-solving principle created by William of Occam in the 14th Century.  Occam encouraged us to select the least complex of competing hypotheses. The preceding two points highlight the unnecessary complexity introduced by the unsubstantiated belief in a multiverse. 
So there you have it.  As things stand, either there is a Designing Agent (that some of us choose to call God) or there are an infinite number of universes - one of which contains an Infinite God in any event.

Which way do you prefer?