Re: Strange Bedfellows, Atheism and Naturaistic Theism

From: Howard J. Van Till (
Date: Sun Sep 14 2003 - 12:44:12 EDT

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    >From: "Steve Petermann" <>

    > 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.

    If repeatability is stressed out of proportion, the whole of historical
    science gets written off as meaningless. That's an extreme that has got to
    be rejected. Authentic contingency must be incorporated into the project of
    understanding "the workings of the cosmos."

    > 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.

    I see this an an unrealistic caricature of the natural sciences.

    > 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.

    Far too much extrapolation here. Non sequiturs lurk this territory.

    > All well and good so far for science.

    At least for this caricature of science. You have, it seems to me, written
    off authentic contingency far too soon.

    > 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
    > mechanistic.
    > 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.

    Which illustrates that the caricature of science you have offered is
    inadequate as the means of making sense of human life.

    > 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.

    Correct. A purely mechanistic concept of the universe is inadequate.
    Treating the universe as mechanistic in character works well for some
    questions, not well for others.
    > 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.

    I haven't looked at this....

    > The other strategy is where atheists and naturalistic theists have formed an
    > unconscious partnership. Both want quantum indeterminacies to be the source
    > of freedom.

    Show me a naturalistic theist who espouses quantum indeterminacy as the
    SOURCE of freedom.

    I suspect you meant to say it differently.

    Howard Van Till

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