Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Keith Ward on God

Keith Ward is clearly sophisticated when it comes to an understanding of God, and much of what he said in his Faraday Lecture on Tuesday 27th January, 5.30 pm at Queen’s Lecture Theatre, Emmanuel College, Cambridge, for an hour, I thought was good and largely convincing.

Clearly it can be appreciated from different points of view, including a Muslim perspective.

Now it is good to sit and listen to it for an hour, and I did, and found a problem with the argument, and so I listened longer and took notes to see if my late "Hang on, you said..." was justified. These notes are obviously contestable but I think they are a reasonable summary with a little bit of necessary verbatim when ambiguity could be a problem. The notes were typed into Notetab with the Ultimashell Autocompletion running at the time (which offers choices of words as you type, as a sort of in front spelling/ typing checker). A text editor like this is the most convenient and flexible way of typing and indeed pasting notes. I've added some italics since.

Faraday Lecture, Cambridge

God, Science and the New Atheism

New Atheism views are 100 years ago arguments - popular now, yet religion is weaker. They misrepresent God.

God belief is common sense, natural. Knowledge of ourselves, consciousness, privacy and conscious feeling, and this is existence. We know causality from our own - we intend and sometimes it comes about. Personal and intentional. We assume things that happen have intention. Personal relationships come before impersonal.

Flying spaghetti monster. Bertrand Russell: belief in invisible and intangible teapot. Not a natural belief, arbitrary. We start with original rationality.

They start with scientific, material and leap to faith beyond to space and time.

Why not start from personal, intending universe and leap to impersonal. People did not believe in impersonal laws. No one believed in violations of laws of nature as they didn't have any. Impersonal law is true in a sophisticated sense. Universal impersonal is a dogma: scientists only need to know that things happen regularly in laboratories

Quantum fluctation in vaccum. Newton could not find a vacuum on earth: it was something beyond space and time. This is super-natural reality.

Natural is temporal and spacial. All else is supernatural. Quantum fluctuation in a vacuum is supernatural. Highly mathematical that is timeless and eternal.

Beyond space and time, "wherever that is", says Dawkins: some say there are may spaces and times. Dimensions - not spacial or temporal. Space and time can fracture into small quanta of space and time.

Religious belief is not so far away; common ground with cosmologists. Believers in God that God has in a mysterious way characteristics of knowledge and intention. God is a mind like ours? No theologian thinks that. God does not think one thing after another. God does not think first there is no universe, will make, does make. That involves time.

Not thinking one thing after another. Not time involved. Not a "then" - Augustine denied a time basis. God wasn't doing before he created the universe.

God does not exist at the same time as the universe. Not before, after or the same time.

This does have intelligibility and rationality in some mathematical sense. Multiverse of universes envisages lots of possible states that exist. Reasonable thing to say a line to consciousness of these states. God is not an arbitrary person outside the universe. Daniel Dennet (?) thinks that God is virtually transparent God in the sky. Lets down sky hooks to pull things along.

God is not temporal or physical. Beyond physical science.

Science looks at natural. No such thing as one scientific view of the world. Biologists think cosmologists look into cloud cuckoo land.

Freddy Ayer said have to verify everything; he would have undermined science. Verification meant private experience that confirmed something existence. Can you prove other minds exist? Is anyone thinking - we could not prove it. Ayer did renounce this view, a God vision was renounced too. Logical positivism on to facts but undermined science because it does not just look at the facts.

Hadron Collider - just look at the facts and I'd be no wiser. No clue how to see a Higgs Boson, it is not about just looking closely. They produce sophisticated mathematical models that explain what you see when you look, but the looking isn't open to the untrained eye. Can you identify a gene? You need a theory to know what to look for. Not about common sense.

Laws of nature not seen if you just observed things closely: things look random and uncontrollable. Newton had to assume a vacuum but could not find one: they would obey if you found a vacuum.

Sophisticated, with a hopefully mathematical model. Science will use mathematical model if it can.

Good scientist must be good at mathematics. Which is more real: mathematical models or the stuff they are looking at? Quantum physics - are they real? Mathematical model are probabilities: are they real? Impact of electrons on other things: is that real, or are theories devices that are constructed? Real things are the probabilities going on that are observable.

Many physicists don't care: let's just do. But as a philosopher he thinks it is important.

True reality is not what is observed, the reality is something-other scarcely we can imagine. Are we three dimensional holographs of two dimensions on the edge of spacetime (New Scientist).

Long way from common sense. A construction. May explain but purely artificial: can't say it is real.

We do not know what is real. Such is a metascientific question; cannot be answered by scientific means. May be agnostic about that.

Same question logically as the theological. Is the reality that underlies what we observe as space and time a supra spacial-temporal consciousness that is intelligible, mathematically interested - wise - that brings the universe into being for the sake of instantiating certain hyperthetical possibilities that exist in logical space and form as in universes that could possible ever be? [quote]

Quantum physicists are interested in the religious question: whether ultimate reality is somehow mind-like, intelligible in a deep sense, that the universe is not just purely random.

As happens Ward is committed to the scientific dogma that accepts that there has to be a reason for everything. A cause but not always; a reason, sure.

Reasons: two sorts. Distinction between scientific Nomological (?) and value centred axiologial. The latter is human life and behaviour.

Nomological means general laws and initial states. Regularity of physical behaviour, mathematic models and leads to laws. But only applies to general laws. Exceptions to laws of natures:
before 1925 scientists said same cause same effect but since this is not true. Copenhagen explanation of indeterminancy allows alternatives that is probabilistic. The improbable happens occasionally. Science can live with this.

It doesn't have to be ruled inflexibly. These laws describe things at macromolecular level that's fruitful. Do they tell us the reality?

Physicists do not have to live with a physical reality.

How far committed to materialistic and deterministic view of reality? Not much. Explain things in non nomological way.

Axiological explanations. An explanation for coming to the meeting? Electrons in bodies moving for coming to a meeting misses the point. Why you came. Different reasons for coming or not - future alternatives, evaluated e.g. goal, choose one, hope you enjoy or benefit. Knowledge of alternatives, evaluate, choose, might enjoy.

Laws of economics don't fit real people. Useful if fit most of the time but people will do other things. Nomologically is inadequate.

Intention cannot prove cause but not an absurd belief. Already plausible. Nomological explanations cannot help and show this to be false: these are very narrow, isolated, controlled tests, in laboratories. We have what we see, feel, beyond conceptualising.

We don't know if physical reality is real but how it appears to us that we can control mathematically. Nomological explanation is a technical tool and does not get to ultimate nature of reality.

Uncontrolled conditions do allow some science, but unusual things happen.

Science is real and tells important truths but not ultimate reality. So reality is becoming mysterious. Since quantum physics it has become impossible to think that this universe is materialistic. We imagine reality to be materialistic that follow laws we have constructed - that's reality and nothing else (Francis Crick).

Material particles follow laws that we have constructed. All thoughts, feelings, consciousness, nothing but a vast assembly of nerve cells and associated molecules. Confusion between science and materialistic philosophy.

Scientist does not have to be materialist, quantum physicist should not be materialistic. Don't know what matter is any more. Beyond - a veiled reality. The senses do not give us access to this, the mind in its mathematical modelling might. What does mathematical modelling correspond to? World of appearances, what appears but its nature is hidden.

Hidden for the religious person as well as non-religious, but axiological explanation - why they are necessary intelligible, elegant - they have been evaluated and chosen by a cosmic mentality.

Theists are content with small gains; God is not impossible nor ridiculous. Beyond space and time is that which is the origin of space and time and that has an intelligibility, a mathematical lucidity and elegance about it and gives rise to intelligent, conscious beings in the course of its development.

It could be an accident, it could be just chance. It equally possibly could be that conscious envisaging, evaluating and choosing that the theists say it is.

God has an unembodied, conscious, intelligence. Is that beyond the bounds of impossibility? Why not? Not proving anything here. A mental conceptual multiverse. Something like intention, a realisation of one of more physical reality. Just produce a beautiful universe.

Why not God as a possibility? New Atheists won't see God that way but one which hands out parking spaces. What religious person believes it like that? A very silly one.

Silly believers and silly scientists too. Madness is not exclusive to religious people. Good scientist has to be a little crazy to be motivated to look at little bits of stuff. The only issue is whether your craziness does harm.

Keith Ward gets fascinated by God and an amazing thought that the basis of reality might be an intelligent consciousness that evaluates all the possibilities and chooses a universe because it is good that it should exist. Leibnitz, Kant, Aristotle, Plato, Spinoza said that - virtually all of them in classical canon said that. Hume didn't but he was not a materialist either. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche were not materialists. Idealism over materialism with all of them. Materialist means spaceo-temporal locatable (and energy); an idealist finds reality is consciousness and intelligence.

Not like human because it is not temporal: not think one thing after another. But could have knowledge of all possibilities and could intend that some solution exists and some do not.

Are you projecting human consciousness and projecting it? Yes of course you are, just as the materialist begins with the body and projects that on to the cosmos.

An ultimate metaphysical decision to be made about the nature of reality.

Science deals with the physical aspect of reality which even the idealist - Ward is one- states all physical things depend upon and derive from mind and consciousness; he thinks that science exists and tells us about the physical nature of this universe. He doesn't think it is the total nature of this universe: that personal conscious, the rich value-filled world that we all experience in our own lives [that materialists say] is the scum on top of the material operations of the brain. How to get out of this immersion in this view?

Try a thought experiment: isn't the brain a particular expression of a particular finite sort of consciousness? Logically, really, there can be a consciousness that is not in that way embodied. Not denying that human consciousness is causally dependent on the brain: denying that it is the same thing. Old tutor Gilbert Ryle (?) used to say mental images in the mind don't exist, we just say it; before he died he said to Keith Ward he was wrong in that he didn't have mental images and assumed others didn't either. Of course people have images. Complex relationship with the brain. It's not it's the same thing.

Argument tonight has been a tendency in our culture with so called New Atheists that materialism is true and if there is a God he must be made of thin material as there is no causality outside this. Philosophically naive - possibly wrong or at least not certainly true. You can investigate the physical behaviour of objects without saying there is nothing else to investigate. Richard Dawkins wrote: 'If there is a God that's a scientific fact.' Well, Keith Ward stands in a room in Cambridge giving a talk - but is that a scientific fact? No - science has to be an explanatory scheme which explains why things happen. The fact of standing, talking, explains nothing. Most facts are not scientific facts; most facts about existence are not scientific facts, and the fact that there is a conscious intelligence that gave rise to the universe as an expression of its intentions is a fact, if true, but not scientific because science as science cannot investigate as it cannot construct the laws in accordance with which God acts because God does not act in accordance with general laws. Science cannot predict what God is going to do next. That does not mean God does not exist but there are some things beyond the scope of science.

People like Dawkins get very enraged: nothing is beyond the scope of science and will explain everything. Why be so imperialistic? We don't say everything is music. There are some other things as well. Science investigates very important things you could know but not everything you could know.

Let's end with that distinction: of C. P. Snow's distinction between the sciences and the humanities: the New Atheists are reducing the humanities into sciences. The scientific mode is the only way to understand, they say: you need a good mathematical understanding, an interest in the things that actually happen in the world around you and even the desire to change them preferably for the better.

But there are millions who don't have those interests or those skills. They survive without them but will take the benefits offered by science but don't have the ability of genious to make scientific breakthroughs.

The other human understanding is very important: that which comes from music, literature and art. That's not making laws and controlling physical things but interpreting meanings and seeing what the world reveals itself to be to one unique creative perspective with which you can interact. That's an important element of knowing the truth about the universe. Aesthetic truth is knowing the truth about what it is to be a human being in a world like this; what it is to live in this world and respond to it from our point of view and appreciate it.

The New Atheists have no interest in that; they have never spent five minutes trying to understand why somebody should be religious, or what it is to be religious. To be religious is to adopt the hypothesis, just as to postulate, that the basis of reality is conscious and intelligent and intentional. That consciousness and value and purpose are intrinsic to the nature of reality itself. What religions do, in their different ways, is try to evoke and sustain human consciousness of that spiritual reality in a way that will improve the lives and attitudes of the people who are conscious of it in that way. Religion seeks to improve human understanding by conscious relationship to the spiritual source of reality. So it is a practical path of understanding. If you don't understand what religion is then you should not pretend to give an account of it.

New Atheists talk about religion as if it is failed science. God created the universe, they say, is a scientific hypothesis that failed because it does not explain anything. God creates the universe is not a scientific hypothesis at all: it does not talk about laws in accordance with which things happen, which can be mathematically described, and gives rise to predictions about what is going to happen next. God creates the universe is a statement that says that all this world of sights and sounds, touches, colours - this phenomenal world - is an appearance of a deeper spiritual, conscious reality which underlies it, of which human beings in certain conditions can become aware. It is not a scientific statement but is a statement of fact, and the investigation of what sort of fact that is is needed to understand religion even if you don't believe it.

The New Atheists are guilty of a failure of critical rationality: you should first understand your opponent before criticising. Quoting David Hume: reason is the slave of the passions. Rationality and intelligibility is guaranteed in the rationality of a supreme spiritual being; give this up and there is no reason to think that reasoning is any more than the firing of a few nerve cells in your brain (which is really not terribly interesting).

I think there is a key error in the argument, and whilst I agree with much of this, the error is significant.

So first the agreement. Materialism isn't good enough, and even if we extend materialism into the quantum world and its oddities, the oddities do add up to something about probabilities of behaviour which have parallels elsewhere.

A smaller criticism is that Keith Ward ought to be careful not to have God as something in another dimension that is open to mathematical modelling, for this is sometimes what he seems to be saying. To say that there is some other underpinning reality in another dimension beyond our four known, perhaps something that has elements of consciousness (or consciousness providing), is not the same as a God of transcendence.

What the New Atheists bash at is a more specifically Christian understanding of God: one that does things that should be open to scientific enquiry if understood materially. For example, if there was a resurrection that reconstituted Jesus's bones, as Rowan Williams has argued is vital for him staying even as a priest, possibly even a Christian, then such is clearly open to potential scientific investigation. So is a virginal conception. Rowan Williams strayed into materialism here, not the New Atheists.

They are not possibly repeatable, so we can't do the science. But here we have another objection to Keith Ward's lecture. His standing in a lecture room giving a talk is subject to historical enquiry, usually relying on primary documentation that it existed and what we can find out about intentions. It's almost science, in the past, though it is about the humanities. Christian beliefs fail this test too.

Humanities do not let us off the hook (not that he said they do). Social sciences require quite important tests of reliability across numbers and validity in the particular (regarding meaning). But the arts can be highly subjective, and religion too, when it comes to human engagement.

Keith Ward was, of course, only talking about the general view of God and parallels with post 1925 science (of that kind that retains cause and effect). He hasn't really tackled the full attack of the New Atheists, which like Bradlaugh and Holyoake before them went after Christian doctrines.

This is not my main objection. My main objection, the "you said" one, was this (repeat):

Keith Ward gets fascinated by God and an amazing thought that the basis of reality might be an intelligent consciousness that evaluates all the possibilities and chooses a universe because it is good that it should exist.

This must be in contradiction to his previous argument. It's one thing saying time is not involved, but a God that evaluates all the possibilities and chooses a universe is carrying out an action that can only be understood in time. In one time there is no action in choosing a universe, because there is evaluation, and then there is a choice that can only happen after an evaluation. It doesn't matter if this is done in a nanosecond: it requires time.

Intention and action need time. We cannot understand these in any other sense. In other words, his God must be within the fourth dimension when his God acts. I don't think this is a "silly" belief, but it does undermine his argument.

The other dimensions, or one or some of them, alone or together, may cause these four we know to burst upon the scene. Those other dimensions may be open to modelling. But there is no intention necessarily involved. He would say consciousness implies intention, but it need not. I do lots of unintended things and I am conscious. I went for a walk and killed lots of microscopic creatures: I did not intend to do this. It still happened, and I ought to lose weight.

So I'm afraid we get nowhere with his argument. He, as a theist, really will have to be content with a small gain here, because whilst he is right to have a crack at materialism (but be careful where boundaries are actually being set), there is no gain from intentionality - because choice needs a staging of evaluation before choice and then action.

Plus: what a linguistic, conceptual weight is being placed upon potentially some other dimension or dimensions! These are very human concepts: intelligence is late into creation, not early. Does intelligence have to depend on pre-existing consciousness? I take his last point as throwaway: why should he reduce theistically-unsupported meanings to materialistic nerve-end firings? Come off it!

By the way, also: why start with common sense? The whole point about quantum physics is that it denies common sense. You can start with it but soon leave it behind. Or perhaps quantum physics is becoming common sense. We do have to think more creatively. Never mind about common sense, but there is still a demand to retain the logic of an argument, allowing for different possibilities.

He is probably right, and probably not, but intention and that of evaluation and action are time based.


June Butler said...

Why not start with common sense? If I draw 4 Scrabble letters out of a box and throw them on the table time after time, how likely are they to spell out my name, ever? It's not impossible, but it won't happen. The relative order in the universe points to some sort of intelligent entity who, at the very least, set the scheme going.

Adrian, you will quite likely demolish my example of intelligence behind the universe by your superior knowledge and reasoning (not sarcasm), but that works for me. I realize that it's not in any manner provable.

If I had to get to faith in God in Keith Ward's way or your way, I'd never make it. Just sayin'.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

My argument is very limited! He says God is outside time, and yet the gathering, evaluating and choice must be time based, because to have one is not to have the other.

I'm not recommending my method as a road to theism, atheism or non-realism. His argument is good, rich, differently directed and coherent - but there is surely a contradiction.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comment, Pluralist. Your main objection is that evaluation and action are essentially temporal acts. I do not see why. For God to know a state is already to evaluate it, and for God to evaluate it positively is already for God to create it. So why can't these be simultaneous?
There are deep problems about time and trans-temporality, on which I have written much. My own view is that eternity both includes and transcends time. I can't see any logical contradiction there; but, like 10 dimensional reality, I can't imagine it. Keith Ward

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Thanks. Of course God as God can do God things. The eternal in time and out of time is like the eternal. And we use human categories.

So we get useful insight via quantum physics, but in the end it's back to all the old arguments and the same adequacies and inadequacies.

Grateful that the lecturer could find my small comment - of what is appreciation for the lecture.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you've engaged with Keith Ward. I wouldn't exactly say that he is the answer to all our problems, but I do think that theists desperately need people like him. He is also, as you have discovered and as I discovered too in the past, an enormously benevolent human being. I would say that he gives me hope.