From: Steve Petermann (email@example.com)
Date: Fri Sep 12 2003 - 09:56:44 EDT
The scientific method is a remarkable tool. It has enabled humans to
understand the workings of the cosmos to a great degree. Among the bedrock
requirements of the scientific method are repeatability and predictability.
If it cannot be shown that a theory repeatedly predicts outcomes, it will
not make it into the cannon of scientific knowledge.
However, this requirement also points to a view that the cosmos is
mechanistic, controlled by the natural law. If the cosmos wasn't
mechanistic science would not be able to make sense of what is sees. No
repeatability, no science. But this also says that the cosmos has no
freedom. It does what it does and cannot do otherwise. Even if one
considers the indeterminism at the quantum level those events are supposedly
random, not affording any freedom either.
All well and good so far for science. However, what happens when the
spotlight of the scientific method shines its light on humans. Then it
becomes a different story. That unfreeness of the cosmos that science
relies on suddenly dissolves when the human mind is under the scrutiny of
the method. It is an anathema to humans that *they* are unfree and
Humans need a sense of meaning. Where do that get it? In large part from
the idea of agency. Personal agency based on human freedom creates a sense
of personal meaning. Divine agency based on divine action creates a sense
of ultimate meaning.
Enter the strange partnership of atheism and naturalistic theism.
In my experience with atheists(many of whom are my friends) they base, to a
large extent, their sense of meaning on the idea of human agency(human
freedom). So do the theists and non-theists I know. Many of those theists
also look to divine agency as a ground for ultimate meaning. But all the
naturalists in this group(atheistic and theistic) have a problem with this
mechanistic view of the cosmos. It doesn't seem to offer any real sense of
freedom either personal or divine.
For them there are only two strategies to overcome this problem, redefine
the term freedom or look to the indeterminism of the quantum world. Turns
out they may use both.
As an example of the first strategy, it seems to me that Daniel Dennett in
his recent book _Freedom Evolves_ opts for the first strategy by pushing a
definition of freedom that doesn't, in my opinion, fit our common sense of
the term. This might be considered a slight of hand move that seems to
offer an answer to the anathema but it really doesn't.
The other strategy is where atheists and naturalistic theists have formed an
unconscious partnership. Both want quantum indeterminacies to be the source
of freedom. Classic physics doesn't offer any hope, but perhaps this
strange world of the quanta can save the day. But if atheists look to the
openness of the cosmos as this source of personal agency why is it such a
failing for religious folk to do the same? Interestingly enough research in
this area may offer a reasonableness to both positions. Then in the final
analysis it will all come down to a personal intuition about the cosmos
followed by actions based on faith.
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