Sunday, December 30, 2007


Science and Theology

One of the more difficult things about doing science, especially on the fundamental level, is that one has to "believe in" science as it is practiced in the present, while, at the same time, searching for some instance in which science as practiced is "wrong" or, at least, incomplete. The reason one can do that at all is that science is not a description of the universe but is, instead, a description of a model of the universe that is self-consistent; i.e., that is consistent with the accepted logical (and preferably mathematical) description of all the experienced physical phenomena that we are aware of.

The intent is to make that model as close to experienced reality and as consistent with itself, as possible; but historical (i.e., no longer valid) versions of that model may well be useful for pracical purposes.

As an example, civil engineering is built on classical statics and dynamics. When it uses quantum effects, such as the straightness of laser beams, it uses them as tools whose properties are stated a priori and in classical terms. Classical mechanics is simply "good enough" for the purposes of civil engineering without being a description of how each particular atom and molecule contributes to the final result.

Any version of science is "good enough" if it is a model that is consistent with itself and with those prior scientific models that are fundamental and accepted, and which is also consistent with those experiences of reality that have not been adequately modeled. Because science is a model of reality rather than a description of it, it is entirely possible for an area of science to be "good enough for all practical purposes" and still not be a completely satisfactory explanation of experienced phenomena: electrical curcuit theory, for instance, is "good enough" for the purpose of building most of the electrical and electronic devices we use and still not explain the phenomenon of superconductivity or even ordinary conductivity.

There are places where models of differing sophistication intrude on one another. There are instances in classical thermodynamics where thermodynamic constants that can be measured by 19th century laboratory equipment can only be explained by recourse to quantum mechanical models. They remained mysterious until the quantum model was invented.

So we have to look at science as being composed of many levels of sophistication, some of which are "good enough" for practical purposes and other levels that may be more sophisticated and explain more phenomena, but may not be necessary for many purposes. On the other hand, a school of thought claiming to be a "science" but that does not explain a commonly observed phenomenon is not a science but an ideology that can be called a "pseudoscience". We will demonstrate this phenomenon later in the case of Spencerian Evolution.

Theology is normally an ideology. It is generally not a pseudoscience to the extent it does not claim to explain those physical phenomena that are the subject of common experience. Instead, it generally makes certain statements that are believed to originate (or be about) some kind of supernatural entity, and which are therefore a priori "true".

There is no problem if that "theological truth" is consistent with ordinary experienced reality or even the more sophisticated kinds of scientific reality. If that "truth" is inconsistent with common experience there is a conflict that may be difficult to resolve. In that case the conflict will usually be called a "mystery" that is inherently unexplainable by ordinary human beings. In other words it is accepted that ordinary human beings are too stupid to find a way to make theological truth consistent with ordinary experience or scientific truth.

If we look at the history of science we see the progressive development of models that constitute more and more sophisticated descriptions of experienced phenomena. The history of theology, on the other hand, shows no significant progress in the sophistication of thinking about God. Any god-based theology is locked into the model of god that is adopted by the founder of the religion using that theology, and there is seldom anyone with sufficient authority within that religion to make a significant change in the qualities of their god. What, if anything, happens is that a new religion, with a new model of god, replaces the old and then that religion freezes its ideas as of the date of its founding.

This succession of slightly different models of god, each proclaimed as an absolute truth by a religious founder or reformer, makes it hard to believe in any model of god. Science, on the other hand, when the contemporary content of science is recognized as a model, and where the normal activity of scientists is to make that model an even more precise description of the universe by changing it, gets more and more believable as it gets more sophisticated.

It is possible to create a theology that is as believeable as science because it meets the same criteria that science does. That theology can be considered a model of the universe as experienced by a being or beings whose qualities are different from ours.

Let us consider a "Deus Ex Machina", or DEM, that is Omniscient in that it knows everything that happens, has happened or will happen in our universe. In that case there are two possible circumstances that are of significance to us: that we have "free will" or we don't have "free will".

If we don't have "free will" then there is no point in doing or saying anything about the DeM (or, for that matter,the universe) because everything is predestined. We don't have to make any decisions because those decisions won't have any effect. That circumstance is of no theological interest because we will just believe what we are predestined to believe. Scientists will "discover" what they are predestined to discover, no matter what they think they are doing. That circumstance doesn't merit thinking about.

If we do have "free will" then we can use our cognitive abilities to propose a set of qualities for a DeM that is consistent with our experience. If one of those qualities is omniscience, then the DeM must be aware of all of the possible choices we might make, i.e., the repertoire of possibilities that we can choose from.

We can model the life we experience as a sequence of events in which each possible decision point is a transition between a single path in and a multiple path out. Each of those multiple paths leads to another decision point with its own repertoire of choices. We can consolidate this model by combining all those decision points that are experienced as identical so that the path up to the decsion point is the aggregation of all the past paths that result in that point, and the path away from that point includes all the possible results of a decision at that point. This aggregation, made for every decision point touched by the possible decisions, can be called the "lifeline" of the deciding individual. It can be represented by a series of matrices that represent the transformation of one decision point to the next.

We can consider the aggregation of all the lifelines of all the entities in the universe that have a "lifeline" in the sense that they occupy different states at various points in time (e.g., an entity posessing "life", a volcanic ejecta cooling down, a canyon produced by erosion, or anything whose qualities change over time). We can call this aggregated lifeline the history of the Universe.

If a DeM has omniscience it must at least have the history of the Universe as part of its experience. It may or may not have other experiences that do not relate to the Universe we experience, but those experiences are meaningless to us. One presumes that God has at least the qualities of that kind of DeM, whatever other qualities God might have.

Another quality considered appropriate for a God is omnipotence. If we consider the DeM that has omniscience, omnipotence can be defined as the ability to change the history of the universe from one state to another state. Since the history of the universe already includes all the possible states that can come into existance, there is no point in changing it. To the DeM any change would be like rotating a perfect sphere--whatever changed state that results in looks the same as the starting position.

So there is no point, for example, in asking the DeM to change one's circumstances, i.e., move one's awareness to a different lifeline. But what that DeM would do would make no change perceptible to us. If that personality already exists in that other lifeline then it would simply continue to experience itself as it was, memories and all, and the personality on the original lifeline that we now experience as ours would simply continue to experience itself as before. If one asks the DeM to transform oneself to a lifeline that the DeM had not already experienced, it would be impossible because the DeM already experienced all the possible states of the universe. For example, if you asked the DeM to allow you to live in the core of a sun, that state of the universe is simply inconsistent with the rules by which our observed universe operates.

So the DeM has no need for omnipotence, because any change that is consistent with the rules of the universe has already been experienced by the DeM, and any hypothetical change that would result in a state that is not cnsistent with the rules of the universe would not be made by a consistent DeM. We can say that even if we don't know what all of the rules governing the state of the universe are.

Since a god would at least have the qualities of the DeM, no matter what qualities it has that are irrelevant to us, there is no point in the god being omnipotent. It would simply be irrelevant.

At the same time it is irrelevant for us to ask the god to do anything because that action would merely change the history of the universe into itself. Thus it is irrelevant for us to perform actions or refrain from performing actions in such a way that the result will be that the god will perform or refrain from performing some action. Actions like prayer or the performance of ritual are irrelevant to our lifelines except for the effect that they have on us.

On the other hand, actions by us that provide a benefit or do an injury to ourselves, some other person, or aggregate of persons, or our species, can be analyzed by the methods of science to create a model of behavior that is desireable or undesireable. This topic is still under active consideration by biological and behavioral scientists. We can consider that in terms of whether it is more desireable to act in terms of our individual benefit (i.e., Spencer's "Survival of the Fittest") or the benefit of our species (i.e., Darwin's "Non-survival of the Unfit").

We will discuss that in this context in future blogs. In the meantime there is a version of the relevant argument in "Wholly Holistic Evolution, Mr. Darwin" [] or "What Now?" [].

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