Saturday, June 21, 2008

Science - Mr. Ford's Undertaker?

I deliberately did not complete my post on chp 2 of Lennox's book. That's because I wanted to spend an entire post quoting the section with which Mr. Lennox closes that chapter. See if the distinctions Lennox makes in the following are helpful; I know I found them helpful one busy day in Ukraine.

God – an unnecessary hypothesis?

This section is a strong finish to the chapter and so I will quote most of it. The explanatory success of science has led many to believe that, because “we can understand the mechanisms of the universe without bringing in God, we can safely conclude that there was no God who designed and created the universe in the first place” (p.44). To show the logical fallacy behind such reasoning Lennox brings out an illustration he has also used in Christianity: Opium or the Truth (coauthored with David Gooding):

Take a Ford motor car. It is conceivable that someone from a remote part of the world, who was seeing one for the first time and who knew nothing about modern engineering, might imagine that there is a god (Mr. Ford) inside the engine, making it go. He might further imagine that when the engine ran sweetly it was because Mr. Ford inside the engine liked him, and when it refused to go it was because Mr. Ford did not like him. Of course, if he were subsequently to study engineering and take the engine to pieces, he would discover that there is no Mr. Ford inside it. Neither would it take much intelligence for him to see that he did not need to introduce Mr. Ford as an explanation for its working. His grasp of the impersonal principles of internal combustion would be altogether enough to explain how the engine works. So far, so good. But if he then decided that his understanding of the principles of how the engine works made it impossible to believe in the existence of a Mr. Ford who designed the engine in the first place—in philosophical terminology he would be committing a category mistake. Had there never been a Mr. Ford to design the mechanisms, none would exist for him to understand.

It is likewise a category mistake to suppose that our understanding of the impersonal principles according to which the universe works makes it either unnecessary or impossible to believe in the existence of a personal Creator who designed, made, and upholds the universe. In other words, we should not confuse the mechanisms by which the universe works either with its cause or its upholder.

Michael Poole...puts it this way: '...there is no logical conflict between reason-giving explanations which concern mechanisms, and reason-giving explanations which concern the plans and purposes of an agent, human or divine. This is a logical point, not a matter of whether one does or does not happen to believe in God oneself.'

In total disregard of this logical point, a famous statement made by the French mathematician Laplace is constantly misused to buttress atheism. On being asked by Napoleon where God fitted into his mathematical work, Laplace, quite correctly, replied: 'Sir, I have no need of that hypothesis.' Of course God did not appear in Laplace's mathematical description of how things work, just as Mr. Ford would not appear in a scientific description of the laws of internal combustion. But what does that prove? That Henry Ford did not exist? Clearly not. Neither does such an argument prove that God does not exist. Austin Farrer comments on the Laplace incident as follows: 'Since God is not a rule built into the action of forces, nor is he a block of force, no sentence about God can play a part in physics or astronomy...We may forgive Laplace – he was answering an amateur according to his ignorance, not to say a fool according to his folly. Considered as a serious observation, his remark could scarcely have been more misleading. Laplace and his colleagues had not learned to do without theology; they had merely learned to mind their own business.'

Quite so. But suppose Napolean had posed a somewhat different question to Laplace: 'Why is there a universe at all in which there is matter and gravity and in which projectiles composed of matter moving under gravity describe the orbits encapsulated in your mathematical equations?' It would be harder to argue that the existence of God was irrelevant to that question. But then, that was not the question that Laplace was asked. So he did not answer it (pp. 44-5).

1 comment:

Margaret said...

to the e o:
I agree that biblical interpretations should not be taught as science. But would you not agree that Lennox's explanation of the difference between how a thing works and how it got there in the first place is worth learning? The first is properly science; the second derives from science. It does not presuppose anything, but it makes you think. Isn't that worthwhile?

To Mike: Thank you for quoting this. I doubt that it could be made any clearer.