Quentin Smith’s Big Bang Cosmological Argument For God’s Nonexistence

I’ve always been fond of the atheistic philosopher Quentin Smith, since he has made the point constantly that almost all—the “great majority” is his words—of philosophers who reject theism do so without sufficient grounds to do so. They have, to quote Smith, “an unjustified belief that naturalism is true and an unjustified belief that theism is false”:


Today I saw an atheistic argument posted to Twitter in the form of a graphic, which is attributed to Quentin Smith.  The post is from Atheist Academy @AtheistAcademy, here

And the actual graphic is


I do not know whether this is an accurate representation of Smith’s argument, or whether he is even the originator of it. I hope not, since it is rather terrible argument—and that is what I’m going to show.

Let’s begin with Premise (1). This is a plausible premise. It is probably worth noting that some physicists, e.g. Stephen Hawking, seem to believe that the laws of nature pre-exist the big bang singularity, to the point where Hawking ascribes them causal powers. But since the premise is plausible, let’s grant it and see what happens.

Premise (2) is also a plausible premise. Again, some philosophers and physicists have disputed it, usually on the the grounds that the putatively “inanimate” must actually be in some sense at least latently animate, since it gives rise to the animate. Leibniz is a good classical example of “panpsychism” and e.g. Colin McGinn of “naturalistic panprotopsychism.” If panpsychism is true in either a strong or weak sense, premise (2) is false, but once again, let’s grant it and see what happens. It is plausible.

Premise (3) is where things start to go wrong. The obvious problem is that premise (3) isn’t a premise at all, but an argument disguised as a premise. The “and consequently” makes it clear that an inference is being made within the premise. Worse, an invalid inference is being made within the premise. Perhaps the inference is hidden inside a single premise in order to hide the invalidity of the inference? I don’t know, but let’s take a closer look.

The premise begins by saying that “no law governs the big bang singularity,” which is dubious even if premise (1) is true. If premise (1) is true, no law preexists the big bag singularity which governs its coming into being, but nothing prevents it coming into being with a determinate—that is, law governed—structure. Nor does premise (2) help, since “being animate” is not necessary for “being law governed.” The premise, in other words, seems to assume that laws of nature neither preexisted the big bang singularity nor came into being along with it—leaving as the only alternative that the laws of nature came into being at some point after the big bang singularity. To claim that nature precedes the laws of nature is at the very least a strange claim, and it seems to me, a prima facie dubious one. It raises such obvious questions as “If nature was not law-governed from the beginning, i.e. the big bang singularity, when and how did it become law-governed?” I think many philosophers and physicists would reject the very idea that something could be “nature” without being “that which is governed by the laws of nature.”

So Premise (3) is off to rocky start, but to make things worse, it draws an invalid inference from the dubious premise which is the first part of the listed premise. Since the big bang is not law-governed, it follows that “there is no guarantee that it will emit a configuration of particles that will evolve into an animate universe.”

Since this argument is meant to demonstrate atheism (or naturalism, which Smith takes to be the same thing), it obviously cannot assume atheism or naturalism as a premise. But what this inference actually says is “if there is no law of nature governing the first state of nature, the big bang singularity, there is no naturalistic guarantee that it “will emit a configuration of particles that will evolve into an animate universe.”  Given that the argument is neutral on atheism vs theism, it cannot simply leave out the possibility that God guarantees this by His direct action.

As Plato says, everything happens by choice, chance, or necessity. This argument is making the case that the configuration of particles emitted by the big bag did not happen according to necessity (that is, deterministic law); it then concludes, without warrant, that it must have happened by chance—I see no other possible reading of “not guaranteed.” But this obviously leaves out the third possibility, that it happened according to the will of some agent powerful enough to enact this.

So premise (3) involves a dubious sub-premise and an invalid inference from it. At this point the argument is sunk, but let’s continue.

Premise (4) is valid and trivial, merely restating the second half of premise (3) substituting “the earliest state of the universe” for “the big bang.”

Premise (5) is one of the the worst kinds of premise any atheistic argument can include. It is a “God would have 𝛗ed” premise. Premise (5) and every premise of the form “God would have 𝛗ed” is a non-starter for the simple and sufficient reason that, to be justified in affirming the premise, one would need to omniscient. God could say, with justification, what “God would have done,” but no finite creature, and in particular, no human being, can say so. So whether it is true or not, the premise is unwarranted, and cannot ever be warranted, making the argument unsound—the fact that it collapsed back at premise (3) notwithstanding.

But let’s grant—per impossibile—that we could be justified in a “God would have 𝛗ed” premise. The premise says that if God had created the earliest state of the universe, then God would have guaranteed that it “is animate or evolves into animate states.” What can we say about this? A few things:

(A) We haven’t shown that it isn’t animate—as I noted already, premise (2) just asserts this, without any justification or attempt to refute panpsychism or panprotopsychism.

(B) Granting premise (2) that the earliest state of the universe is inanimate, we haven’t show that God does not guarantee it “evolves into animate states.” All the argument would have shown is that God does not guarantee this by means of the laws of nature. God could, of course, guarantee it by directly setting or causing the proper parameters to occur, instead of building in the parameters that necessitate the occurrence from the beginning. Nothing in the argument has shown that it is a matter of chance.

(C) It is true that it seems less plausible that God would set up a chance mechanism and then monkey with the outcome of the chance mechanism as opposed to setting up a mechanism that is law-governed from the beginning—but since the argument has given us to reason to think that the universe was not law-governed from its creation, only the assertion it was not, we are free to follow our judgment as to what is more plausible. But even on the assumption that the argument is correct, and that the original state of the universe was not law-governed, we have no reason to suppose that God did not directly bring about the outcome He wished. If God did create the universe such that its earliest state were not law-governed but rather had a number of variables and constants that are assigned by no law of nature at all, there is still no reason to thing God did not consciously assign these values, at least no reason given in this argument.

Which brings us to the conclusion (6) that God does not exist. This just doesn’t follow. It doesn’t follow because assumes “God would have 𝛗ed in a certain way.” But even if we were justified in holding “God would have 𝛗ed”, we would still not be justified in “God would have 𝛗ed in a certain way.”

CONCLUSION: This argument rests on premises that range from “plausible” (1) to “fairly dubious” (2) to “almost certainly false” (3). Premise (3) is actually two premises, with an inference hidden inside a premise, and an invalid inference at that. There is simple no reason whatever to accept the first part of (3), and the second part, bundled with it, doesn’t actually follow from the first part, even if it were true, which it almost certainly is not. Premise (5) is prima facie unwarranted since it seems to require omniscience to be warranted, and even if we assume we were warranted in believing it, it doesn’t entail (6), since premise (5) only says that “God would have brought about that Ψ” and then tries to show it is false that “God brought about Ψ” by saying (based on pure assumption from earlier premises) that “God did not bring about Ψ by means Π.” But even if we assume both that “God would have brought about Ψ” and “God did not bring about Ψ by means Π”, these do not entail “God did not bring about Ψ by some other means.”

WORSE STILL, this argument seems to contain a latent argument for THEISM. Let us assume that it is true that, as the argument asserts, the initial state of universe was such it was not determined by any law of nature that the universe be such as would be capable of sustaining and would produce and sustain animate beings. To return to Plato’s trilemma, we would have to say “Since the earliest state of the universe did in fact generate a universe that is capable of sustaining animate being, actually produced animate being, and sustains animate being, this happened either by chance or by conscious, intelligent choice. The probability of this happening by chance is so low as to be mathematically indistinguishable from 0. Therefore, almost certainly, the production of the universe was a result of conscious, intelligent choice.”

In short, this failed argument for atheism actually yields a very strong form of the fine tuning argument for God, with only minimal adjustment—namely, the addition of the evident fact that animate being, conscious life, does in fact exist in our universe. By ruling out necessity as a cause of this, the argument leaves us to decide whether chance or conscious choice is responsible for the universe, and the thing is unfathomably improbable to have happened by chance, than otherwise sensible people frequently posit the existence of an undetectable, unfalsifiable “multiverse” just so they can get “necessity” back on the table as a cause! But that is just what is ruled out here.

This argument leaves us with the stark choice of “our life sustaining universe was either the result of an infinitesimal chance, more than winning a trillion trillion lotteries in a row, or to the conscious intelligent creation by a being powerful enough to do so.”  At this point, it is almost trivial to say that a conscious, intelligent agent is by far the best explanation.

al-Ghazali and the Apes of Unbelief

al-Ghazali was one of the greatest of the Islamic thinkers. Virtually single-handedly, al-Ghazali brought it about that Islam came to regard mathematics, science, and philosophy with suspicion and hostility. And this, arguably, was what was responsible for what has been called “the closing of the Islamic mind,” and the bringing of the Islamic Golden Age of intellectual inquiry (~950-1150) to its end.

Even today, the Islamic world remains on the whole very hostile to the very idea of science and philosophy—these things seem to be man attempting to fathom the ways of Allah, in a way which is blasphemous and impious, as well as absurd and ridiculous. What man can fathom the mind of God? What man would be so presumptuous?

The Muslim world likes technology—because these things may easily be regarded as gifts from Allah. Muslims tend to deny any strong causal link between developed theoretical science and technological development. If you assert that there is one, you will be told (correctly) that correlation does not entail causation. Muslims are, or tend to be, Humeans (or more precisely, Hume is a Ghazalite or Ash ̔arite, al-Ghazali following al Ash ̔ari on this crucial point) that

  1. Correlation does not establish causation.
  2. All attempts to establish causation do so by means of correlation.
  3. ∴ Causation can never be established.
  4. ∴ There is no evidence for causation.
  5. ∴ Natural cause and effect are fictions of the mind.

Hume taught that “cause and effect” was not a reality, but a mere psychological habit the human mind has of connecting things. It followed that all or most of human science was not grounded in reason, but it an irrational and unjustifiable psychological prejudice. So Hume ended up in a deep and almost total skepticism.

al Ghazali applies Ockham’s Razor centuries before Ockham and notes (correctly) that the most parsimonious explanation of seeming regularity in the world, or what some call “nature,” is simply a single cause: the omnipotent will of Allah. One cannot get more parsimonious than one and only one cause.

So it follows that there is simply no such thing as “nature.” There are no second-order causes that operate apart from the will of Allah. It is not the case that paper placed in fire will burn because the fire consumes it.  Fire has no power to cause anything, including burning—what happens is, when paper is place into fire, Allah may (or may not) cause the paper to be burnt. Every event, bar none, is caused directly by the will of Allah. The word “nature” is not the name of anything. There is no such thing as nature. The very idea of “nature” and therefore of “natural sciences” rests on a mistake, namely, that there is an order of causation that is independent of the will of Allah. But this cannot be so, so it is not so.

It is a strange argument for most Westerners, given their understanding that “nature” was the great discover of the Greeks that allows the very possibility of philosophy and science. But it isn’t entirely foreign to the Western tradition either. As I’ve already noted, William of Ockham taught just such a an occasionalism conception in which God is the single cause of all events; and David Hume took philosophers and scientists to task for believing their concept of “cause and effect” was a rational one, as opposed to a merely irrational habit of associating two things in the mind.


As new and radical as the insights of Ockham and Hume seemed in their own day, they were only following in the footsteps of al Ghazali. Here are some of his words.

As a thought experiment, when you read al-Ghazali’s words below, replace “mathematics” and “mathematician” with “science” and “scientist” respectively:

Mathematics comprises the knowledge of calculation, geometry, and cosmography: it has no connection with the religious sciences, and proves nothing for or against religion; it rests on a foundation of proofs which, once known and understood, cannot be refuted. Mathematics tend, however, to produce two bad results.

The first is this: Whoever studies this science admires the subtlety and clearness of proofs. His confidence in philosophy increases, and he thinks that all its departments are capable of of the same clearness and solidity of proof as mathematics. But when he hears people speak of the unbelief and impiety of mathematicians, of their professed disregard for the Divine Law, which is notorious … he says to himself that, if there was truth in religion, it would not have escaped those who have displayed so much keenness of intellect in the study of mathematics.

Next, when he becomes aware of the unbelief and rejection of religion on the part of these learned men, he concludes that to reject religion is reasonable. How many of such men gone astray I have met whose sole argument was that just mentioned. And supposing one puts the following objection: “It does not follow that a man who excels in one branch of knowledge excels in all others, nor that he should be equally versed in jurisprudence, theology, and medicine. It is possible to be entirely ignorant of metaphysics, and yet to be an excellent grammarian. There are past masters in every science who are entirely ignorant of other branches of knowledge. The arguments of the ancient philosophers are rigidly demonstrative in mathematics and only conjectural in religious questions. In order to ascertain this one must proceed to a thorough examination of the matter.” Supposing, I say, one make the above objection to these ‘apes of unbelief,’ they find it distasteful. Falling a prey to their passions, to a besotted vanity, and the wish to pass for learned men, they persist in maintaining the preeminence of mathematicians in all branches of knowledge. This is a serious evil, and for this reason those who study mathematics should be checked from going too far in their researches. For though far removed as it may be from the things of religion, this study, serving as it does as an introduction to the philosophic systems, casts over religion its malign influence. It is rarely that a man devotes himself to it without robbing himself of his faith and casting off the restraints of religion.

Now tell me: has he missed the mark?

Humanism and Nonsense

It should be fairly obvious to everyone that “humanism” is a religion-substitute.

Humanists are, after all, human beings, and find that they cannot get through life without religious beliefs and commitments, and being ideologically crippled in their ability to have genuine religious beliefs and commitments, they find it necessary to invent some fake one ad hoc. Let’s take a look at the first three “affirmations” of the humanist manifesto. They are really quite funny, given that the sort of people—like Richard Dawkins—who go in for this kind of religion-substitute generally would identify themselves as some kind of “rationalist.” How rational is humanism? Not very. But let’s see why.

Here are the first three “affirmations” of The Humanist Manifesto, as seen through my philosopher’s lens:

1. Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

My readers will know that one of the first questions professional philosophers pose in their investigation of claims is that of retortion.  That is, we ask, for any given attempt to formulate or state a universal principle, what happens when the principle is applied to itself?  Very frequently, a purportedly universal principle, when applied to itself, defeats itself, that is, ether directly annihilates its own content or else invalidates the epistemic ground of the principle put forward.

We have such a case here. This principle makes a basic, universal claim about the nature of knowledge, and is thus being put forward as very important knowledge about the nature of knowledge—and yet, this principle, while claiming to be knowledge about the nature of knowledge, fails to count as legitimate knowledge on the grounds of itself.

According to this principle, knowledge is derived  from observation, experience, and rational analysis.  But this principle is not derived from observation, experience, and rational analysis. So this principle is not knowledge. Not being knowledge, this principle can only be an irrational faith commitment, that is, a believing-something-to-be-true-without-knowledge, there being no other alternative.

2. Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Here we encounter another pair of claims that would go far beyond anything authorized by science. First is the belief that evolution is “unguided.” By what possible means could one determine this?  Certainly not be any means set forth, say, in Affirmation 1 above. No, what we have here is simply a blunt atheistical blind-faith belief.  Now, atheists are given to claiming that atheism involves no beliefs—this is not true, of course, but only a rhetorical maneuver which attempts to saddle theists with the so-called ‘burden of proof’—but this particular dodge is not available to the humanist, since this actually a statement of humanist beliefs.  So here we have one clear case of a blind-faith belief, a belief-without-evidence, held to be true by an act of will, on the basis of wanting-it-to-be-true.  That is, a case of the thing that most theists do not do in most cases, but which atheists are forever claiming that they do.

Or rather not one, but two. The belief about the unguidedness of evolution is immediately followed by the belief-without-evidence that “nature is self-existing.” This is, frankly, a metaphysical howler, since nature is composite entity composed of contingent beings, and thus cannot possibly be a candidate for a necessary being.  No scientist, no cosmologist, for example, holds that the laws of nature or the fundamental constants of nature have any intrinsic necessity to them.  Worst still, it is very obvious that a “self-existing” being could not not exist, and thus could not be a being that began to be at any time—and yet our best science indicates that the physical universe is NOT, in fact, eternal, but has a beginning at what we call the Big Bang.  Thus it is clear that our universe is NOT self-existing.

To counter this, an atheist or a humanist might postulate that “nature” is not limited to our universe, that there is “more” out there beyond the bounds of our universe, perhaps many or an infinite number of universes—a multiverse—but a multiverse hypothesis suffers from three fatal problems:

  1. It is entirely speculative. There is no evidence whatever of such a thing, nor can there be, at least by any scientific means, since our scientific knowledge is necessarily limited to the universe. The “multiverse” is an ad hoc, made-up,  just-so story.
  2. On our best understanding of the implications of our inflationary universe, any possible multiverse that could fit with what we know about the universe would have to be an inflationary multiverse, and thus, necessarily, would have to have an absolute beginning, and thus, necessarily could not be a self-existing being either.  The multiverse hypothesis cannot “solve” the problem an absolute beginning without directly, unless it posits that the multiverse is radically incongruous with our universe and thus not part of the same system of nature.
  3. If it is then posited that the multiverse need not be “natural” but has the metaphysical characteristics which would enable it to be self-sufficient—this does solve the problem, but at a fairly high cost for the humanist; namely, you have just posited God under another name. Welcome to theism.

3. Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

And finally, to bring this humanist farce to a close, we find the humanists—after blithely asserting a bunch of things they do not and cannot know as true—blithely asserting that they can somehow solve the problem of the naturalistic fallacy, that is, of logically getting an OUGHT out of an IS.  They say that “ethical values” are “derived” from “human need and interest.”  But like all naturalists, they hit an eternally insoluble problem.  Let’s put it in syllogistic  form:

  1. X needs Y.
  2. X ought to have/be given/be allowed to obtain Y.


  1. X has an interest in Y.
  2. X ought to have/be given/be allowed to obtain/attain Y.

What’s premise 2?

Or if more premises than one are needed, what are they? At some point in the chain there must be a premise that says “if such-and-such IS the case, then such-and-such OUGHT to follow.”  But no such premise will ever be available to one who remains in the realm of “is’s” about human “needs and interests.”

As always, naturalism makes ethics incoherent, and since humanism is a naturalism, humanism makes ethics incoherent.

Humanism is, I conclude, not only a religion-substitute, but a particularly bad one, at least for rational people, since it requires a number of acts of blind faith, that is, of sheerly believing things on the basis of no evidence other than wanting them to be true.

Since this is NOT true of classical theism, it seems that rational persons will elect to become classical theists rather than joining the humanist cult. As far as I can tell, the only advantage of humanism over, say, Scientology, is that it doesn’t really require anything of you. And while that sounds appealing to many moderns, they will eventually find to their sorrow that this is not a strength but a weakness.

Genuine religious faith requires much of a person, indeed, requires all, but gives much, indeed, all in return.

Rationality and Sentimentality

You often meet online a kind of person who goes on and on endlessly about “reason” and “rationality.” Just recently, Neil deGrasse Tyson made a bit of a fool of himself by proposing the creation of a “virtual country” called #Rationalia.  And of course a lot of the usual suspects got on board with this:


The addition of the C. S. Lewis quote is my doing. And maybe this isn’t that much of a bandwagon, since it was apparently necessary (or rational?) to include @CosmicPinot twice—but this sort of thing reminded me of an analysis this phenomenon given by philosopher Edward Feser, a thinker for whom I have a lot of respect.

Feser, being a Catholic and a Thomist, has often crossed swords with atheists.  And like anyone who argues with modern atheists, he has been struck by the contrast between their rhetoric of rationality and the manifest irrationality of their conduct.  This glaring contradiction cries out for an explanation, and I think Feser has put his finger on the best or primary explanation.  I’ll quote Feser and intersperse my own thoughts. If you’d like to read his entire blog post (which I recommend), it is found here: Walter Mitty atheism.

Needless to say, there is something truly pathological going on here. And that, by the way, is one reason Coyne, Krauss, and company are worth at least a little of our attention. Some readers have asked me why I bother replying to people who are so extremely irrational and dishonest, and therefore unlikely to respond well to serious criticism. Part of the reason is that though Coyne, Krauss, Dawkins, and many of their fans are indeed impervious to rational argumentation, there are onlookers who are not impervious to it. And those people are reachable and worth trying to reach. After all, Coyne, Krauss, Dawkins, and some of the other better known New Atheists are, though irrational and dishonest, not stupid. In their own fields, some of them even do interesting work. For that reason, some people who know as little about philosophy and theology as they do but who are rational and honest might falsely suppose that these New Atheists must have something important to say about those particular subjects. Hence it is useful now and again to expose Coyne et al. for the frauds that they are, so that well-meaning third parties will see that they are not to be taken seriously on philosophical and theological questions. The more they make fools of themselves, the more they should be discussed rather than ignored, at least so long as there is any intellectually honest person who still somehow thinks the New Atheism is anything but a bad joke.

I am also frequently asked this question, especially on Twitter, and my response is exactly the same.  I may not be able to convince my opponent or their ideologically blinkered followers, but third parties can often see who is making a reasonable argument and who is acting like an irrational ideologue.

Another reason for paying them some attention, though, is that Coyne, Krauss, Dawkins, and company are simply genuine curiosities. Again, they are not stupid, and indeed have serious intellectual accomplishments to their credit. And yet on the subjects of religion and philosophy they are incapable of seeing that their self-confidence is laughably, cringe-makingly out of proportion to their actual competence. They exhibit exactly the sort of stubborn, bigoted closed-mindedness and ignorance that they smugly condemn when they perceive it in others. What exactly is going on here? What makes these weird people tick? That is a question of real intellectual interest.

I agree.  This is a very interesting question. In fact, this question and Feser’s answer are so interesting I’m writing about them right now.  The general pattern of human beings contradicting their stated beliefs with their actions is commonplace. It is simple hypocrisy.  But the hypocrite that is genuinely blind to his or her own hypocrisy is interesting. What explains this?

The answer, according to Feser, following Roger Scruton, is something he calls sentimentality:

The answer, I would suggest, is sentimentality. I use the word in a semi-technical sense, following the analysis offered in The Aesthetics of Music by Roger Scruton (who was in turn building on some ideas of Michael Tanner). A sentimental person, according to Scruton, tends to be quick to respond emotionally to a stimulus, will appear to be pained but will enjoy his pangs, will respond with equal violence to a variety of stimuli in succession, will nevertheless avoid following his emotional responses up with appropriate actions, and will respond more readily to strangers and to abstract issues than to persons known to him or to concrete circumstances requiring time, energy, or personal sacrifice. In short, a sentimental person is one whose emotional life becomes an end in itself and loses its connection both to the external circumstances that would normally shape it and to the behavior that it ought to generate. Feelings of moral outrage, romantic passion, and other emotional states become valued for their own sake to such an extent that the actual moral facts, the well-being of the beloved, etc. fade into the background.

For instance, someone who constantly chats up the plight of the homeless, but without any real interest in finding out why people become homeless or what ways of helping them are really effective, might plausibly be described as merely sentimental. “How awful things are for the homeless!” is not really the thought that moves him. What really moves him is the thought: “How wonderful I am to think of how awful things are for the homeless!” His feelings of compassion function, not to get him to do what is necessary to help those who are homeless, but rather to provide him with assurance of his superior virtue. His high dudgeon functions, not to prod him to find out whether the homeless are really being victimized by evildoers, but rather to reinforce his assurance of his superior virtue by allowing him to contrast himself with the imagined evildoers. This kind of onanistic moralism requires a fantasy world rich enough to sustain it. Poignant or dramatic images of suffering and of injustices inflicted are far more likely to foster such fantasies than are cold statistics or the actual, mundane details of the lives of homeless people. Hence someone who is merely sentimental about homelessness might prefer movies, songs, and the like to social scientific study as a source of “information” about homelessness and its causes.

Now, the New Atheism, I submit, is exactly like this. The New Atheist talks, constantly and loudly, about reason, science, evidence, facts, being “reality-based,” etc. Equally constantly and loudly, he decries dogmatism, ignorance, wishful thinking, whatever is merely “faith-based,” etc. And he relentlessly denounces “religious” people, whom, he imagines, are central casting exemplars of the latter vices. But it is not reason, science, etc. that really move him. What really moves him is the pleasure that the thought of being paradigmatically rational, scientific, etc. gives him. Nor is he really moved by what religious people actually think. After all, he not only doesn’t trouble himself to find out what they actually think, but often will expend great energy trying to rationalize his refusal to find out what they actually think. (Consider e.g. P.Z. Myers’ shamelessly question-begging “Courtier’s reply” dodge.) Rather, what moves him is the self-righteous delight he takes in his belief in his intellectual and moral superiority over “religious” people. His “rationalism” consists, not in actually being rational, but in constantly chatting up rationality and constantly badmouthing those who, at least in his imagination, are not as rational as he enjoys believing that he is.

Here we have the heart of the issue, I think:

[I]t is not reason, science, etc. that really move him. What really moves him is the pleasure that the thought of being paradigmatically rational, scientific, etc. gives him


His “rationalism” consists, not in actually being rational, but in constantly chatting up rationality and constantly badmouthing those who, at least in his imagination, are not as rational as he enjoys believing that he is.

What is paramount to see is that this sort of ‘rationalist’ is not dedicated to reason or rationality in any real sense, but to his own feelings, particularly those touching on his self-image of “being a rational person”.  It gives him a great deal of pleasure to contemplate his own superiority to others, which he does by celebrating his “rationality” (defined in such a way that he cannot fail to be rational, do not doubt), both inwardly in his thought-life and outwardly by means of rationality virtue signaling. Anyone who has engaged atheists in online argumentation will also have observed this pattern of both self-congratulation and of fellow-rationalist-congratulation.  Both are ubiquitous and unmistakable.

Those of us who actually love truth for its own sake and seek it by means of reasoned inquiry experience a disconnect when talking to such people.  They say that they are in favor of reason and inquiry, and yet their actions bely their words.

When one encounters someone extolling the virtue of rationality, especially his own virtuousness as a paradigmatically rational person, odds are high you are dealing not with a real rationalist but with a sentimentalist.  And if you are going to engage a sentimentalist in debate or discussion, do not expect him to act in a rational manner.


A Dilemma for Scientism

Professor Paul Moser discusses some problems with scientism in his book The Evidence for God: Religious Knowledge Reexamined:


Our dilemma will bear on positions (i)–(vi), given that it bears on the aforementioned core statements of naturalism satisfied by those positions, namely:

Core ontological naturalism: every real entity either consists of or at least owes its existence to the objects acknowledged by the hypothetically completed empirical sciences (that is, the objects of a natural ontology).

Core methodological naturalism: every cognitively legitimate method of acquiring or revising beliefs consists of or is grounded in the hypothetically completed methods of the empirical sciences (that is, in natural methods).

These are core statements of ontological and methodological naturalism, and they offer the empirical sciences as the criterion for metaphysical and cognitive genuineness. They entail ontological and methodological monism in that they acknowledge the empirical sciences as the single standard for genuine metaphysics and cognition. These core positions therefore promise us remarkable explanatory unity in metaphysics and cognition. Still, we must ask: is their promise trustworthy? For brevity, let’s call the conjunction of these two positions Core Scientism, while allowing for talk of both its distinctive ontological component and its distinctive methodological component.

Core Scientism is not itself a thesis offered by any empirical science. In particular, neither its ontological component nor its methodological component is a thesis, directly or indirectly, of an empirical science or a group of empirical sciences. Neither component is endorsed or implied by the empirical scientific work of physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, biology, anthropology, psychology, sociology, or any other natural or social empirical science or any group thereof. As a result, no research fundable by the National Science Foundation, for instance, offers Core Scientism as a scientific thesis. In contrast, the National Endowment for the Humanities would be open to funding certain work centered on Core Scientism, perhaps as part of a project in philosophy, particularly in philosophical metaphysics or epistemology.

Core Scientism proposes a universality of scope for the empirical sciences (see its talk of “every real entity” and “every cognitively legitimate method”) that the sciences themselves consistently avoid. Individual sciences are typically distinguished by the particular ranges of empirical data they seek to explain: biological data for biology, anthropological data for anthropology, and so on. Similarly, empirical science as a whole is typically distinguished by its attempt to explain all relevant empirical data and, accordingly, by the range of all relevant empirical data. Given this typical constraint on empirical science, we should be surprised indeed if the empirical sciences had anything to say about whether entities outside the domain of the empirical sciences (say, in the domain of theology) are nonexistent. At any rate, we should be suspicious in that case.

Sweeping principles about the nature of cognitively legitimate inquiry in general, particularly principles involving entities allegedly outside the domain of the empirical sciences, are not the possession or the product of the empirical sciences themselves. Instead, such principles emerge from philosophy or from some product of philosophy, perhaps even misguided philosophy. Accordingly, Core Scientism is a philosophical thesis, and is not the kind of scientific thesis characteristic of the empirical sciences. The empirical sciences flourish, have flourished, and will flourish without commitment to Core Scientism or to any such philosophical principle. Clearly, furthermore, opposition to Core Scientism is not opposition either to science (regarded as a group of significant cognitive disciplines) or to genuine scientific contributions.

Proponents of Core Scientism will remind us that their scientism invokes not the current empirical sciences but rather the hypothetically completed empirical sciences. Accordingly, they may be undisturbed by the absence of Core Scientism from the theses of the current empirical sciences. Still, the problem at hand persists for Core Scientism, because we have no reason to hold that Core Scientism is among the claims or the implications of the hypothetically completed empirical sciences. A general problem is that specific predictions about what the completed sciences will include are notoriously risky and arguably unreliable (even though this robust fact has not hindered stubborn forecasters of science). The often turbulent, sometimes revolutionary history of the sciences offers no firm basis for reasonable confidence in such speculative predictions, especially when a sweeping philosophical claim is involved. In addition, nothing in the current empirical sciences makes it likely that the completed sciences would include Core Scientism as a thesis or an implication. The monopolistic hopes of some naturalists for the sciences, therefore, are hard to anchor in reality.

The problem with Core Scientism stems from its distinctive monopolistic claims. Like many philosophical claims, it makes claims about every real entity and every cognitively legitimate method for acquiring or revising beliefs. The empirical sciences, as actually practiced, are not monopolistic, nor do we have any reason to think that they should or will become so. Neither individually nor collectively do they offer scientific claims about every real entity or every cognitively legitimate method for belief formation. Advocates of an empirical science monopoly would do well to attend to this empirical fact.

The empirical sciences rightly limit their scientific claims to their proprietary domains, even if wayward scientists sometimes overextend themselves, and depart from empirical science proper, with claims about every real entity or every cognitively legitimate method. (The latter claims tend to sell trendy books, even though they fail as science.) Support for this observation comes from the fact that the empirical sciences, individually and collectively, are logically and cognitively neutral on such matters as the existence of God and the veracity of certain kinds of religious experience. Accordingly, each such science logically and cognitively permits the existence of God and the veracity of certain kinds of religious experience. We have no reason, moreover, to suppose that the hypothetically completed empirical sciences should or will differ from the actual empirical sciences in this respect. Naturalists, at any rate, have not shown otherwise; nor has anyone else. This comes as no surprise, however, once we recognize that the God of traditional monotheism does not qualify or function as an object of empirical science. Accordingly, we do well not to assume, without needed argument, that the objects of empirical science exhaust the objects of reality in general. An analogous point holds for the methods of empirical science: we should not assume uncritically that they exhaust the methods of cognitively legitimate belief formation in general.

Proponents of Core Scientism might grant that it is not, itself, a claim of the empirical sciences, but they still could propose that Core Scientism is cognitively justified by the empirical sciences. (A “claim” of the empirical sciences is, let us say, a claim logically entailed by the empirical sciences, whereas a claim justified by the sciences need not be thus logically entailed.) This move would lead to a focus on the principles of cognitive justification appropriate to the empirical sciences. Specifically, what principles of cognitive justification allegedly combine with the (hypothetically completed) empirical sciences to justify Core Scientism? More relevantly, are any such principles of justification required, logically or cognitively, by the (hypothetically completed) empirical sciences themselves? No such principles of justification seem logically required, because the (hypothetically completed) empirical sciences logically permit that Core Scientism is not justified. Whether such principles of justification are cognitively required depends on the cognitive principles justified by the (hypothetically completed) empirical sciences, and the latter matter clearly remains unsettled. We have, at any rate, no salient evidence for thinking that the (hypothetically completed) empirical sciences will include or justify cognitive principles that justify Core Scientism. The burden for delivering such evidence is squarely on naturalists, and it remains to be discharged.

Moser, Paul K.. The Evidence for God: Religious Knowledge Reexamined (pp. 76-80). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

Plato, Moser, and Existentially Non-Neutral Knowledge

I was reading the entry on Philosophy of Religion in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  If you don’t know the SEP, it is an online encyclopedia of philosophy that solicits its entries from professional philosophers and is peer reviewed to ensure the quality of its entries.  As with anything, sometimes it fails to be perfectly neutral, as each author presents what he thinks is most relevant, but since the replies are done by professionals, often those outstanding in the areas they are writing about, and since they are vetted and peer-reviewed by other professionals, the general level of the SEP is very high quality.  It would be perfectly acceptable, for example, to cite the SEP in professional publications. In other words, it is not, for example, Wikipedia.

In the course of the entry, I came across a description of an argument strategy employed by Dr. Paul Moser, Professor of Philosophy at Loyola University, expert in Theory of Knowledge and Philosophy of Religion, author of 8 books and 151 published articles, editor of 16 books, etc. Here’s his Curriculum Vitae for the curious. And a list of some of his books. I mention all this to establish beyond any reasonable doubt that Moser is an expert in the philosophy of religion and also in theory of knowledge.  This is relevant since his argument involves both.  Here’s the bit from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Taking a very different approach to theism, Paul Moser has recently criticized what he refers to as the preoccupation in philosophy of religion with what he calls “spectator evidence for God,” evidence that can be assessed without involving any interior change that would transform a person morally and religiously. Eschewing fideism, Moser holds that when one seeks God and willingly allows oneself to be transformed by God’s perfect love, one’s very life can become evidence of the reality of God (see Moser 2008, 2010). While this proposal may worry secular philosophers of religion, Moser is not out of keeping with the pre-Christian Platonic tradition that maintained that inquiry into the good, the true, and the beautiful involved inquiry in which the inquirer needed to endeavor to be good, true, and beautiful.

Being me, I made it into a picture card, so


The picture isn’t of anyone in particular. It’s a detail from a painting by Nicolai Fechin that I use sometimes. It didn’t seem appropriate to use a picture of Moser, since these aren’t his words, but a description of an argument strategy of his.

To the point at hand: It’s important to note a couple of things:

1. This is not an argument. This is a description of an argument strategy by Moser.

2. I have not studied Moser’s work as of this writing. The above argument strategy is intriguing—I have had some ideas along similar lines—and I found it interesting enough to (1) share it on Twitter, and (2) get a copy of Moser’s book, which I will be reading in the near future.

Naturally, Twitter being Twitter, I was immediately attacked for my “bad argument” by an angry atheist, the fact I wasn’t making an argument notwithstanding, the fact that Moser’s argument is not even being presented here, but only described notwithstanding—naturally, said angry Australian atheist felt that he had all he needed to dismiss the ‘argument’ in question out of hand.  This is not untypical of the level of discourse one finds on Twitter:

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 4.41.18 PM

Now, since just from the description it is clear that Moser is not making either of the following arguments,

  1. I imagine God exists.
  2. This makes me feel better.
  3. ∴ God exists.


  1. I have certain feelings.
  2. ∴ God exists.

it’s clear that MrOzAtheist is indeed constructing a straw man, his protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, and I (and others) called him on it. He belongs to that particularly noxious breed of online atheists who insist on telling you what you really mean and then ‘refuting’ this “real meaning” that he has told you you really mean—in other words, they have raised the straw man to a high art form.

In their defense (sort of), I honestly think that many of them are incapable, for whatever reason, of conceiving that there are or could be serious and substantial theistic arguments.  They are so ideologically blinded by their atheism, that they are literally unable to recognize the possibility that there might be strong evidence or good arguments which dispute their position. This is one reason that it is always unpleasant to argue with ideologues.  No doubt many of them have encountered Christian ideologues and are unable to see that they have become exactly what they think they are against.  Personally, I have primarily encountered this kind of ideological blindness among atheists, feminists, and Objectivists (i.e. Ayn Rand cultists).

I do have a point concerning Moser’s position and ideological blindness.  I think it is noncontroversial that certain belief-commitments and emotional commitments can induce a kind of blindness or inability to see, or to fairly or reasonably evaluate evidence and arguments.  In other words, one’s cognitive powers can become corrupted or distorted both by certain convictions and/or by certain passions.

If this is so, then it is entirely possible (and in fact very likely) that human cognitive powers, our reason, is not merely an existentially neutral instrument, as one of the usually unquestioned dogmas of the Enlightenment/Modernity suggests.  Indeed, going back at least to Plato, in the Image of Cave and elsewhere, the Western philosophical tradition has usually maintained that human cognition is existentially non-neutral, that there are things that one cannot know, that there are things one is necessarily blind to, depending on the condition of one’s ψυχή (psychē or soul).  Here’s an enjoyable presentation of Plato’s Cave Image in claymation on YouTube.

Plato compares the νοῦς, the intellect, to “the eye of the ψυχή” or “eye of the mind” and extends his analogy, arguing that just as it is not possible for one to turn one’s eyes around to see what is behind one without turning one’s head or whole body around also, neither is it possible to turn one’s νοῦς to the higher realities without a turning-around or reorientation of one’s entire soul or ψυχή in the direction of the true and the good, a μετάνοια. In other words, one must be in a certain state of the soul analogous to health, which Plato calls ἀρετή, virtue, to be able to see or comprehend certain truths about what is.  Those who are not in the right state of soul, those who are vicious, will be unable to see what truly is, due to their being “turned” the wrong way, like the prisoners in Plato’s cave, who are not only facing the wrong way, but chained in such a way that they are unable to turn around.

Plato’s Cave Image is complicated (I hold that it recapitulates the entire Republic in miniature, occurring at the dramatic center of the dialogue, or the 7/12ths point—I don’t have time here to get into the musical significance of 7/12ths or Plato’s musical compositional structure)—but one thing it safe to say is that one primary meaning of the “chains” that bind the prisoners in the cave in place are their beliefs about the nature of what is.  Plato has in mind, I think, the ordinary beliefs human beings tend to form in all cultures as well as the ordinary beliefs human beings tend to form by growing up in a given culture—but in a democratic society, there is no reason one cannot forge one’s own chains by the adoption of an ideology.

This phenomenon is particularly pronounced in the case of ethics, as C. S. Lewis notes in The Abolition of Man.  One who has not been raised well and educated well (these are the same) will be unable to apprehend the principles of ethics:


Lewis is of course simply affirming the classical teaching of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, as well as the Christian tradition including thinkers like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.  Not everyone is equally capable of apprehending the good; in particular, the evil cannot do so, and this blindness to the good is, in no small part, what enables the evil to be evil. We are apt to say things like, “How could anyone do a thing like that? Couldn’t he see how wrong it is?” Sadly, no, he couldn’t.  Here’s Aristotle:


Aristotle emphasizes the role of passions, and particularly of pleasure and pain in human education/upbringing.  Philosopher Edward Feser has an illuminating account of Aquinas’ teaching that disorder desire, particularly disordered sexual desire, has directly corruptive effect on the mind.  In “What’s the deal with sex? Part II” Feser discusses Aquinas’ argument that the first “daughter of lust” (there are eight) is “blindness of mind”:

Now, when, for whatever reason, we take pleasure in some thing or activity, we are strongly inclined to want to think that it is good, even if it is not good; and when, for whatever reason, we find some idea attractive, we are strongly inclined to want to think that it is true and reasonable, even if it is neither. Everyone knows this; you don’t have to be a Thomist to see that much. The habitual binge drinker or cocaine snorter takes such pleasure in his vice that he refuses to listen to those who warn him that he is setting himself up for serious trouble. The ideologue is so in love with a pet idea that he will search out any evidence that seems to confirm it while refusing to consider all the glaring evidence against it. The talentless would-be actor or writer is so enamored of the prospect of wealth and fame that he refuses to see that he’d be better advised to pursue some other career. And so forth. That taking pleasure in what is in fact bad or false can impair the intellect’s capacity to see what is good and true is a familiar fact of everyday life.

Now, there is no reason whatsoever why things should be any different where sex is concerned. Indeed — and this is part of Aquinas’s point — precisely because sexual pleasure is unusually intense, it is even more likely than other pleasures are to impair our ability to perceive what is true and good when what we take pleasure in is something that is in fact bad. In particular, habitually indulging one’s desire to carry out sexual acts that are disordered will tend to make it harder and harder for one to see that they are disordered. For one thing, the pleasure a person repeatedly takes in those acts will give the acts the false appearance of goodness; for another, the person will be inclined to look for reasons to regard the acts as good or at least harmless, and disinclined to look for, or give a dispassionate hearing to, reasons to think them bad. Hence indulgence in disordered sexual behavior has a tendency to impair one’s ability to perceive the true and the good, particularly in matters of sexual morality. In short, sexual vice makes you stupid.

Put another way: certain kinds of knowledge, knowledge about the highest things, e.g. the good, the beautiful, and the true, are existentially non-neutral kinds of knowledge: there are truths, that is, which are evident only to the wise and virtuous, because folly and vice, of themselves, have a corruptive effect on our natural cognitive powers.

It seems perfectly evident to me that this is true.  The Enlightenment conception of reason as calculative ratio is a wholly unwarranted reduction of reason to one of its lower functions, although it is perhaps true that reason as a merely instrumental ratio is a typical case of existentially neutral knowledge; at least I see no reason in principle why vice or folly or ideological dogmatism would make a person less able to do mathematical calculations and certain other types of reckoning.  But it seems flatly absurd to assert that all knowledge is like this.  Those who do seem to be people who are paradoxically and paradigmatically blinded by an ideology, namely, scientism.  Since their ideology requires them to conceive all knowledge as scientific knowledge, and they almost always insist that scientific knowledge is existentially neutral knowledge, they must deny that there is anything that can be known to the wise and virtuous that cannot be known to the unwise and vicious—despite the fact that this is evidently false.

To return to Moser’s position: if I read it correctly, Moser is asserting that knowledge of God is not a case of existentially neutral knowledge, or what he calls “spectator evidence of God,” but rather argues that evidence of God cannot be properly apprehended or accessed “without involving any interior change that would transform a person morally and religiously.”  In other words, to come to know God will necessarily be an existentially transformational event for a human being which will by its very nature involve a reorientation or “turning around” of the ψυχή—Plato’s “turning around” of the soul becomes in Latin convertio, conversion.  One cannot see God without a turning around of the soul (as a condition of the possibility) and one cannot see God without a being turned around of the soul (as a necessary consequence).

Again, I have not actually studied Moser’s argument.  So, necessarily, I am not elucidating Moser’s argument nor defending it. What I am doing here is showing how something like what I understand him to be saying is plausible—and also how it is manifestly not “God exists, because of feelings I have.”

Atheists tend to become angry and indignant when they are told that their atheism is a result of cognitional malfunction, but neither anger nor indignation is a sound counterargument.  As I have written elsewhere (following Plantinga), if God does exist, then it is highly likely that properly functioning human cognitive powers are such as to dispose us to believe this, and in a warrant-conferring way; and it would also then be the case that atheism is necessarily a result of some kind of cognitive malfunction or cognitive blindness.  This would explain why around 90% of human beings (at least) in all times and places do in fact form a belief in the existence of God or the divine.  Atheists need to account for this phenomenon, and needless to say, “atheists are smarter than everyone else” is false (although it is obvious that many atheists do believe this, and indeed, the pleasure they take in feeling themselves smarter than everyone else is one of the main motivators of their atheism).

It seems to me that “cognitive God blindness”, something loosely analogous to color-blindness, is a much better explanation—especially when one recognizes that some kinds of cognitive blindness are willfully motivated on the basis of ideological belief-commitments and passions.  Atheism is certainly an excellent candidate for a willfully-motivated dyscognition; recognition of the existence of God would require a radical reorientation not only of one’s belief-structure and comprehensive worldview but of one’s entire existence or being-in-the-world (to use Heidegger’s apt term)—no part of one’s life is likely to be unaltered.  And if one has a strong desire not to alter one’s life in a fundamental way (perhaps because one is habituated to some vice that he recognizes he would have to give up, and therefore the pleasure he his habituated himself to experience in indulging the vice—as, for example, St. Augustine’s addiction to womanizing), then one eo ipso has a strong motivation to prevent oneself from seeing evidence that might force one to recognize the existence of God, a recognition which would necessarily result in the upheaval of one’s life.

It seems likely that a common motivation for atheism in modernity is our peculiar conception of freedom as autonomy combined with our implicit belief that freedom as autonomy is the highest good—in such a conception, the existence of God becomes existentially intolerable, because God is necessarily a threat to my personal, infinite autonomy, more, God is necessarily incompatible with such a conception of personal autonomy.  If God is God, then I am not God, and modernity teaches that not only am I God, but that it is both my right and my highest good to be God.  Both these things are false, of course, since I am not God, but I cannot even maintain the fantasy of being God, if God truly exists and confronts me as God.  It also seems likely that the root of contemporary Western nihilism lies somewhere in this area; see for example David Bentley Hart’s “Christ and Nothing“, or consider Jacobi’s remark, contra Fichte, (which incidentally is from the same essay where Jacobi uses the word “nihilism” for the first time in a serious philosophical context):


To sum up:

  1. I promise a fuller account of Moser’s position once I have worked through his book.
  2. It should be obvious that it is possible both (1) that there is existentially non-neutral knowledge and (2) knowledge of God is almost certainly of this sort.
  3. The concept of existentially non-neutral knowledge as articulated by Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, Lewis, and others cannot be dismissed out of hand as a mere appeal to feelings. This is a completely absurd straw man that barely merits even the minimal response of pointing out that it is a straw man.

Galileo Was Not “the Father of Modern Science”

This is Tim O’Neill‘s account of why Galileo does not deserve the title “the father of modern science,” although Galileo has sometimes been called this.

You can read Tim’s original post on Quora as Why is Galileo Considered the “Father of Modern Science”?  here.

See also my “Galileo was a Dogmatic, Unscientific Ass“.

Galileo Father of Modern Science

Science and God

You sometimes hear it claimed that “Science has disproven God” or more modestly “Science has not discovered any evidence of God.”

The first claim is false.  The second is true but trivial.

What is science?  This is a question we really need to get clear about before we can talk about what science has done, or not done, because we need to know what science can do, and what it can’t do.

The first thing to note is that “science” is a vague concept which cannot be defined precisely.  It is a Wittgensteinian “family resemblance” concept (as is the concept “religion”) which covers a wide variety of activities and their results, which share many overlapping features (in the way that members of a particular family all “look alike”) without there being or needing to be any one particular feature that they all have in common.

We can talk about science in broad strokes: we can say that it is a way of acquiring knowledge about some areas of the world.  We can say that science is methodical, although again there is no such thing as “the scientific method”—rather we are again faced with a number of methods which bear a family resemblance to one another.  The Big Bang cosmologist does not proceed in any way like the psychologist (for example, neither observe, at least not in any direct way, since neither the past nor the psychē can be observed—even though “observation” is often held to be central to “science”).

There is dispute about whether the social sciences are sciences at all.  Certainly disciplines like sociology and cultural anthropology do not produce results which are the same kind of stable, objective, universally-agreed upon knowledge as is given by, say, chemistry.

I am going to suspend judgment about the status of the social or human sciences as sciences, and affirm that natural science is definitely science.

Let me offer what I think is fairly good (if necessarily broad) definition of “natural science”: the study of physical nature by means of an empirical-quantificational method.

This definition would assert that science has a specific domain: physical nature, by which I mean all parts of reality that involve material existence, e.g. the realm of matter and motion, usually disclosed (at least initially) by the senses.  This is the part of reality the Greeks called γένεσις (becoming) or simply φύσις (nature).  What we call “natural science” Aristotle called “physics,” which is knowledge of φύσις.  Aristotle also called it “second philosophy.”  First philosophy was the name he gave to what we nowadays call metaphysics—a discipline that gets its name from Aristotle’s texts that come, literally, “after physics” and go “beyond physics” (“after” and “beyond” are both ways of reading meta-).

My definition would further assert that science is a methodical study of nature, which has the characteristics of being empirical, that is, based ultimately in experience (usually in the restricted sense of sense experience) but which aspires to a level of certainty and objectivity closer to that of mathematics, by means of measurement and quantification; e.g. anyone can experience that objects fall towards the earth; but it is “scientific knowledge” that objects accelerate towards the earth in proportion to their mass and inversely to the square of the distance between them and the earth and in accordance with a specific constant G, the gravitational constant), and indeed this is true of any two objects which possess mass, not merely objects and the earth, so:

Gravity Formula

On my understanding of science, “natural science” proper would have begun 17th century, with the work of people like Bacon and Galileo, although there were certainly many precedents for what they were doing.  In a way, then, I am taking Newtonian physics as a kind of paradigm for “what natural science looks like.” Or James Clerk Maxwell’s discover of electromagnetism.

Two things are absolutely crucial to notice about science, on this understanding:

  1. Science, by its very nature, does not study all of reality.
  2. Science, by its very nature, does not even study nature in all its aspects.

If science studies nature, and nature is only one part of reality (or Being, if you prefer the more ancient way of speaking), then it is clear that science does not study all of reality.  What parts of reality lie outside the scope of science? If nature is defined as above, the part of reality that involve matter and motion, then science would not study those parts of reality which do not involve one or both of those aspects.

What aspects of reality do not involve matter or motion? Arguably, the entirety of the psychical or mental realm, the realm of thought or consciousness, does not involve matter—at the very least it does not obviously do so, nor could it possibly in all respects.

And just as importantly, if not moreso, there is the realm of what me might call Platonic reality, in which would be included such things as eternal nonmaterial truths, e.g. those of mathematics, and of logic, Platonic forms or essences, and even the laws of nature which science seeks to formulate (there is a sense in which the laws of nature are not part of nature and so are not studied by science).

Take as a simple example the logical form modus ponens:

  1. P ⇒ Q
  2. P
  3. ∴ Q

There is no obvious sense (and no sense at all, I would say) in which the validity of this form of inference involves matter.  It is true that this is a valid form of inference, whether or not anyone knows this or actually infers in accordance with it.

Truth in general is nonmaterial.  This point cannot be overstated.  There is no intelligible sense in which truth can be construed as a physical substance or entity which e.g. occupies space, or has mass, or is subject to physical forces, or motion, or change.

This was the realization which caused St. Augustine to abandon materialism and eventually atheism.  His great intellectual stumbling block to accepting Christianity was his difficulty in rising above the senses and seeing how anything nonmaterial could be (his other great nonintellectual stumbling block was his addiction to fornication).  It is obvious that a materialist is not going to be able to believe in or even readily comprehend the concept of an immaterial God.  But every human being has a direct experience of truth. And truth cannot be material.  Even if truth is apprehended only in by thinking, and thinking is somehow a function of matter (e.g. physical events in the brain or some such), it will still be the case that truth is what it is entirely apart from the thinking which apprehends it.  To think long and clearly about the nature of truth is the best way I know of to overcome materialism.  There is simply no way that one can torture truth into a material entity (not even when it is truth about material entities) nor is it possible for a sane person to renounce truth.  And of course, once the materialist realizes that something as important and all-pervasive as truth is nonmaterial, the dam has been broken, so to speak, and he or she is then free to realize that many things are not: goodness and being, unity and plurality, identity and difference, logic, mathematics, essence and existence, consciousness and on and on.  And once that step into the realm of Platonic reality is achieved (call it the first step out of the Cave), the way is at least no longer blocked for such a person to reason their way upwards to what Plato called The Good, or God.  

Nor is it plausible that thinking itself or consciousness is reducible to material events.  To begin with, the two are logically distinct.  No contradiction is involved in thinking that there is thinking which involves no matter.  Indeed, it is only within consciousness that we have an experience of what we call matter.  This is the main thrust of Descartes’ Meditations of First Philosophy: I am able to doubt, as a matter of principle, that my experience of the physical world is veridical (I could be dreaming; I could be inside a “Matrix” or other virtual simulation or illusion)—but I cannot doubt my own thinking or my own having of experiences, even if they should turn out to be non-veridical.  What is absolutely impossible to doubt is that, so long as I am aware and thinking, I am: Cogito; Sum.

Thinking or the mental realm thus has a certain priority over the physical world. Whatever relation pertains between the two in fact, it is a given that the mental world is, for us, first; it is logically first, in that we cannot doubt it—and it is closer to us in another way, it is, in a primal way, what we are.  As Descartes says “I am a thinking thing.”  Even if we wish to side with Aristotle and say that a human being is a hylomorphic unity of body and soul (which we should), we must still admit with Aristotle that “I am most of all my thinking.”

Let’s take a step back.  On the account I have given so far, science would be unable to study nonmaterial realities such as mathematics and logic (I do not consider these disciplines to be “natural science,” which is certainly not to say I doubt their validity); nor would science be able to study any aspects of the mental or of consciousness which could not be resolved into “third person, objective” knowledge that has some kind of material empirical correlate.  Again, by its very nature, as third-person objective knowledge of physical nature, science does not and cannot know things that are irreducibly first-person, subjective—i.e. what philosophers call qualia, the raw “what it is like” to experience something. For example, the redness of red.

Qualia are a much-debated subject in the philosophy of mind, but if there are qualia (which there evidently are) it is clear that they lie outside the purview of science. Here is a link to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on Qualia: The Knowledge Argument—which argument I find entirely conclusive.  Here is, from the same page, philosopher Frank Jackson’s deservedly famous thought-experiment about Mary the neuroscientist:

Mary is a brilliant scientist who is, for whatever reason, forced to investigate the world from a black and white room via a black and white television monitor. She specializes in the neurophysiology of vision and acquires, let us suppose, all the physical information there is to obtain about what goes on when we see ripe tomatoes, or the sky, and use terms like ‘red’, ‘blue’, and so on. She discovers, for example, just which wavelength combinations from the sky stimulate the retina, and exactly how this produces via the central nervous system the contraction of the vocal chords and expulsion of air from the lungs that results in the uttering of the sentence ‘The sky is blue’.… What will happen when Mary is released from her black and white room or is given a color television monitor? Will she learn anything or not? It seems just obvious that she will learn something about the world and our visual experience of it. But then is it inescapable that her previous knowledge was incomplete. But she had all the physical information. Ergo there is more to have than that, and Physicalism is false.

Jackson’s thought-experiment attempts to show that there is simply more to the world than third-person objective physical facts about it; there are also irreducible first-person subjective experiences of what-it-is-like.  Mary the neuroscientist knows all the physical facts about color perception; but Mary the human being does not know something very important about the color red, namely, what it looks like.  And this is something she could never learn from science, because science can never know this.

Another seminal article is this debate is Thomas Nagel’s also justly famous “What is it like to be a bat?” in which he discusses this question of “what-it-is-like-ness.” I urge you to read this article as well. TL;DR: bats find their way around largely by echolocation; no human knows “what it is like” to “see” the world by means of echolocation, but it makes perfect sense that there is “something it is like to perceive the world by means of echolocation” just as there is “something it is like to see”—something which congenitally blind people do not know, never having experienced it.  (Reading the accounts of congenitally blind persons when they describe their second-hand experience of sight in others is fascinating—sometimes as a kind of touch-at-a-distance that one cannot feel.)

I should note here that in asserting that science has certain intrinsic limitations because of its nature and method, I am not disparaging science in any way.  As the Dutch philosopher René van Woudenberg puts it

Saying that science is limited is, of course, something very different from criticising science. I take science with utter seriousness. I take my guitar with real seriousness too—but I must say the instrument has its limits: I can’t produce the golden sound of a horn by means of it (nor, for that matter, drive to Chicago in it). Saying so much is not criticizing my guitar.

Science is a remarkable and wonderful method, and I appreciate science greatly. However, since science is our great success story as moderns, we have an unfortunate tendency to overestimate science and attribute to it a kind of omni-competence that it simply does not possess.  Hence the popularity today among the semi-educated of scientism, the ridiculous doctrine that science is our only source of knowledge.

A final area in which science is limited is axiology, or the study of values.  One of the major things often asserted about science, in fact, is that it deals with facts rather than values.  And so it does (although, as I have argued, with only some of the facts, the physical facts). But this marks another clear limit of science, if we suppose that any values have truth content which can be known; and almost all of us think that this is the case; we think that some things are better than others, e.g. we think that science is a good thing, because we think that knowledge is better than ignorance, or that scientific discovery can produce technological benefits, that is, goods, such as advances in medicine—something which makes sense only on the recognition that somethings, such as health, are real goods for human beings.

But science is simply mute with respect to values: science cannot tell us that health is good, although it may be supremely useful in helping us to be healthy. Science cannot tell us that science is a good thing to do.  Science cannot tell us anything about ethics, or how we should live our lives well or morally. Science cannot tell us anything about politics, that is, in what the common good of a people or society consists.  Once we have come to know that something is good or bad, science can indeed be useful: for example, once we know by extra-scientific means that human extinction is bad, we might be able to use our scientific knowledge to prevent it from occurring.  But science itself has nothing to say about whether or not ecological devastation or human extinction is good or bad.  Or whether anything is good or bad, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly, just or unjust, and so on.  If we can have knowledge of these matters (and I hold we can) it will not be scientific knowledge.

I suppose the time has come to bring this to a close.  I have argued that science is a method for acquiring knowledge about physical nature, and that, as such, it has intrinsic limitations to what it can do: science does not and cannot have anything direct to say about immaterial Platonic realities, including essences, logical entities, and mathematical entities; science does not and cannot have anything to say about irreducibly mental entities such as direct first-person conscious experiences, qualia, what-it-is-like-nesses and other such things; science does not and cannot have anything to say about the entire realm of value, about good and evil, good and bad, right and wrong, justice and injustice, beauty and ugliness, and so on.  All of these things are limits of science.  The fact that science has limits is not a judgment that science is bad or useless.

So we come to the point at last. God, as God is understood in traditional classical Christian theism (and in all higher theism), also very clearly falls outside the domain of natural science. God is an immaterial being who utterly transcends not only physical nature, but all other reality as we know it, since God is understood to be, by definition, the transcendent source of all being, reality, truth, goodness, and so on.

If the God of traditional Christian theism exists, science has absolutely nothing to say about the matter, one way or the other.  Let’s return to the two propositions I began with:

“Science has proved that God does not exist.” This is, as I said at the start, absolutely false. To prove such a thing would be completely beyond the competence of science to do.

“Science has not discovered any evidence of God.” This is, as I said at the start, true but trivial.  Science has not discovered any such evidence because science is a method which not only does not look for such evidence, but as part of its rigorous method, actually excludes such evidence from consideration.  That an event E had a supernatural cause could be true, but it could never be accepted as scientific explanation of E; not because it is false (it isn’t; by hypothesis, it is true), but because science, as the study of nature, methodologically excludes supernatural explanations.  It does not follow from this methodological exclusion of the supernatural by science that nothing supernatural exists, or that we cannot know the supernatural.  All that follows is, if there are supernatural beings or causes or events, science will necessarily be blind to that aspect of them, and will thus remain scientifically puzzled at such events, since they will have (by hypothesis) no true natural—and thus, scientific—explanation.

As a traditional, classical, liturgical, Orthodox Christian, there is not a single point at which my beliefs conflict with science, nor is there any genuine scientific knowledge that I am logically required to renounce.  The idea that there is some sort of deep and abiding conflict between science and religion, or between reason and faith, is false.

Concerning the existence of God, science simply has nothing to say about the matter.

Galileo was a Dogmatic, Unscientific Ass

[Also see my related post “Why Galileo is Not ‘The Father of Modern Science.”]

The myth of “Galileo as a martyr for Science” is one of modernity’s cherished foundational myths.  And of course, being a myth, it is almost entirely historically false.  Just about anything you think you “know” about the Galileo affair is probably wrong.  At any rate, an examination of the history of the Galileo affair does not in any way, shape, or form bear out the idea that either Christianity in general nor the Catholic Church in particular is or ever was hostile to or opposed to science.  This “moral of the story” simply cannot be drawn from the facts.

The TL;DR is that Galileo was an intemperate, arrogant ass with almost no sense of propriety, and so blindly convinced of the absolute truth of his Copernicanism that he could accept no dissent, even when he had no good evidence for it, and even after the evidence against it became conclusive.  The best that can be said for Galileo, perhaps, is the argument of Alice Drager that such arrogant and narcissistic personalities have sometimes played a role in scientific discovery, and that scholars are often “Galilean personalities”—which explains why most academic squabbles are so full of bile and venom. Academics are often asses, and that most certainly includes scientists, although in no way limited to them.  Galileo made some important advances in physics (although almost all were discovered by others also around the same time), made some contributions to astronomy (mostly simply by dint of being the first of many), and generally treated his fellow human beings (except his daughter) very poorly, including his friends and his scientific colleagues. He did not possess the virtues of a scientist. He was arrogant, dogmatic, vain, malicious, venomous, enjoyed ridicule, picked unnecessary fights, and was generally an unpleasant person, except when he was fawning on those of higher station.

I quote David Bentley Hart on the affair.  Those interested may read his excellent account in his Atheist Delusions, Chapter 6, from which this excerpt is taken:

Galileo, it must be said, squandered good will with remarkable abandon. He was, not to put too fine a point on it, selfish, irascible, supercilious, vicious, and mildly vindictive. He could not abide rivals, resented the discoveries of others, refused to share credit with astronomers who had made observations of the same celestial phenomena as he had, and belittled those whose theories differed from his own (his attitude toward Kepler, for example [with whom he professed friendship] was frightful). Incensed that the Jesuit astronomer Orazio Grassi [writing under the pen name Sarsi] had presumed, in 1618, to describe the movements of comets beyond the lunar sphere without mentioning Galileo—who had, as it happens, done absolutely nothing to merit any mention on the subject—Galileo chose to assert that such comets were mere optical illusions [ones created by telescopes, actually recycling some of the exact same arguments that had been used against his own observations of the moons of Jupiter], and for good measure even attacked Tycho’s observations of comets.

Galileo’s personal copy of Grassi’s book is littered with marginal notes such as “Idiocy!” “evil coward!” “ungrateful bastard!” and finally the amazing rant that “You cannot help it, Signor Sarsi, that it was granted to me alone to discover all the new phenomena in the sky and nothing to anybody else! This is the truth which neither malice nor envy can suppress!”  Yes, Galileo believed that he had been granted a special dispensation by God to be only one who could make any astronomical discoveries.  Truly a very humble “scientific” attitude.


Back to Hart:

He provoked public controversy where none was necessary, once on a mere rumor that his theories had been deprecated in the course of someone else’s dinner conversation. His uncompromising stand for an absolute vindication of his theories precipitated the ecclesial consultation of 1616 that—when it turned out Galileo was unable to provide a single convincing proof of Copernicanism—resulted in the injunction (of great gentleness, actually) admonishing Galileo against teaching the Copernican system as established truth [which of course, being wrong, it was not]. In his absolute and dogmatic Copernicanism, Galileo was equally hostile to his nominal friend Kepler’s entirely correct discovery that the planets move, not in perfect circles, as Galileo believed, but in elliptical orbits, showering his heretofore friend with vicious abuse for his “heretical” Copernicanism.

As for Galileo’s decisive trial in 1633, it was, as Arthur Koestler has noted, “not in the nature of a fatal collision between opposite philosophies of existence … but rather a clash of individual temperaments aggravated by unlucky coincidences.” Pope Urban VIII himself had encouraged Galileo to write his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, The Ptolemaic and the Copernican (1632), enjoining only that it include a statement to the effect that the Copernican theory was a hypothesis and that no scientist could pretend to know perfectly how God had disposed the worlds. Galileo did include such a statement in the dialogue, at its conclusion in fact, but chose to place it in the mouth of the ponderously obtuse character whom he not-very-subtlely named Simplicio, a dogmatic and stupid Aristotelian placed in the dialogue as a foil for the wise and intelligent Copernican Salviati and a comical contrast to Sagredo, the clever scientific novice; worse still, Simplicio is presented rather clearly as caricature of Pope Urban VIII himself, and states that the formula stems from “an eminent and erudite personage, before whom one must needs fall silent.” This was, to all appearances, a tasteless and completely unwarranted insult to a cultured and heretofore generous friend and supporter, and Urban—an Italian gentleman of his age, a prince of the Church, and a man of enormous personal pride (much like Galileo himself)—took umbrage.

More importantly, though, and too often forgotten, Urban was entirely right on one very crucial issue: the Copernican model was in fact only a hypothesis, and a  defective one at that, and Galileo did not have either sufficient evidence to support it or a mathematical model that worked particularly well.

Indeed, ironically, at the time Galileo was propounding his doctrinaire Copernicanism in 1633, astronomy had already left him behind, and was debating the alternatives of the Tychonic model versus the Keplerian model. No one but Galileo still embraced straightforward Copernicanism.


The Church hierarchy was perfectly well aware of this.  The Catholic Church was not attacking science in censoring Galileo.  It wasn’t particularly behaving at its best, but Galileo had publicly ridiculed the Pope, who up until that point had been his friend, and had gotten involved in advocating private scriptural interpretation—not the wisest thing to do in Italy when there is a Protestant Revolution going on.

Though Galileo was far and away the greatest physicist of his age (and indeed of human history to that point [with the possible exception of Aristotle]), he was not even an astronomer in the fullest sense—he was more of a brilliant stargazer—and he seems to have been little interested in the laborious observations and recondite calculations of those who were. He may not even have fully understood the fundamental issues—hence his dogmatic dismissals of the contributions of Tycho and Kepler. He seems not to have cared or understood how impossibly complicated and unconvincing Copernicus’ model of the heavens was. It is not even certain that by 1632 he clearly recalled how the Copernican system actually worked. He did not, as mentioned, avail himself (though he was perfectly and resentfully aware of) Kepler’s elliptical planetary orbits, which were encumbered by none of the inconsistencies and internal corrections and physical impossibilities of the Ptolemaic and Copernican systems. Instead, he insisted along with Copernicus upon the circular movement of the planets, with all the mathematical convolutions this entailed—indeed, insisted on it far more intransigently than Copernicus himself ever did. He had no better explanation than Copernicus for the absence of the observation of stellar parallax, even when the stars where viewed through a telescope. And his most cherished proof of terrestrial rotation—the motion of the tides—was manifestly ludicrous and entirely inconsistent with the observable tidal sequence (he dismissed Kepler’s entirely correct lunar explanation of the tides as a silly conjecture concerning “occult forces.”)

He also referred to Kepler’s entirely correct theory as “childish,” and was so convinced that the 24 hour cycle of the tides “proved” the rotation of the earth, that he refused to listen when Spanish sailors informed him that the tides have 12 hour cycles, not 24 hour cycles. What did Galileo do when confronted by those who knew about tides from “observation and experience”? He dismissed them as ignorant and unlearned of course.  The tides had to have a 24 hour cycle, because  Galileo needed a 24 hour cycle to “prove” Copernicanism, which was, of course, false.  So,

Galileo elected, that is, to propound as absolute truth a theory whose truth he had not and could not demonstrate, dismissing alternate theories which were far superior, while needlessly mocking a powerful man who had treated with honor and generosity. And the irony is, strange to say, that it was the Church that was asking for proof, and Galileo, the “martyr of science,” who was demanding blind assent to the truth—of a model that was provably wrong.


Galileo was very far from an ideal scientist. His discoveries in physics concerning motion would prove to be essential, but his contributions to astronomy were negligible.  Here is a lovely and succinct account from the blog The TOF Spot:

Aside: The Crucial Role of Galileo.
There was none. Every discovery made by Galileo was made by someone else at pretty much the same time. Marius discovered the moons of Jupiter one day later. Scheiner made a detailed study of the sunspots earlier than Galileo. The phases of Venus were noted by Lembo and others. And so on. Even his more valuable work in mechanics duplicated the work of De Soto, Stevins, and others. Matters would have proceeded differently — certainly with less fuss and feathers — and some conclusions may have taken longer, or perhaps shorter times to achieve. The thing is, science does not depend upon any single individual. No one is “the father of” any particular theory or practice. As Newton observed, he stood upon the shoulders of giants — a sentiment expressed by Bernard of Chartres back in the Early Middle Ages! Regarding heliocentrism, Galileo’s biggest accomplishment was to get some folks so riled up that the conversation was inhibited for a short time in some quarters.

Indeed, if you want a very thorough (and humorous) walkthrough of the ENTIRE Copernican Revolution, you can’t do better than The TOF Spot’s 9-part series THE GREAT PTOLEMAIC SMACKDOWN.  Go read it, and learn.

If you want an in-depth, scholarly account of the Galileo affair (although The TOF Spot does just fine in citing his sources), I refer you to Galileo: A Very Short Introduction, by Stillman Drake, the top Galileo scholar and translator writing in English.

Also see my related post “Why Galileo is Not ‘The Father of Modern Science.”