No Metaphysics, No Physics

Part of an ongoing conversation:

My original assertion was this “Modern science is a tower without a foundation. It rests on nothing. When asked about the assumptions and axioms that must be true or else nothing in science is true, modern popularizers of scienceeither stammer or change the subject or speak nonsense. They have no answer. (Here I mean the heresiarch Carl Sagan in particular, but take any atheist popularizer as you like)”

Justin Johnson replies:

Two axioms are necessary:
1. The universe operates by consistent, rational principles and laws.
2. Man is a rational creature capable of observing and comprehending these.

Here he identifies what the assumptions are, but he has not answered any questions about them, which is what was asked.

After a few more excanges, our conversation has reached this point:


I am a skeptic. I do not necessarily believe that the human mind contains any categories that necessarily correlate to the law and principles governing the universe, nor that there are such laws and principles. Give me a coherent argument, a proof, to show why I should change my mind?

You claim the evidence of the eyes shows the laws and principles. I reply that obviously it does not. Laws and principles are immaterial, mental forms and ratios, ideas, not material things that can be grasped by examination of material evidence.

You then make the claim that observation and memory are the only tools we have. Maybe so, maybe not. But if it is so, it is fatal to your case, because laws and principles, which can never be observed nor remembered, are therefore always beyond the reach of human certainty.

They can be suspected to exist, but not proven to exist. One cannot prove or disprove a metaphysical claim with physical evidence.

You then (apparently) say the fact that technology created by the science created by Christian metaphysical thinking works, and the mere fact that it works, is proof that the Christian metaphyhsical thinking is not a precondition for technology. Instead of concluding “it would not work if the metaphysical principle on which it were based were false, therefore those principles are true” you conclude it would not work if the metaphysical principle on which it were based were false, therefore those principles are not necessarily true”

The politest thing I can say about this stance is that it is stuff and nonsense.

The fact that a bit of technology works is not proof that there are law and principles governing nature, nor that the human reason is fitted to discover them.

“Firstly, no, that was not the question that you asked me.”

To the contrary, it was exactly what is being asked. Reread what I wrote.

“Secondly, you are asking me a why question to which the long and short answer is ‘I do not know’.”

In case you forgot what the point in dispute was in this debate, it was whether or not an atheist could account for the law and principles underpinning the consistancy of empirical experiences, and show why human reason, without a designer, just so happens to be designed to grasp those laws and principles.

My claim was that if you question an atheist, he would answer “I don’t know” to this question. Unless I miss what you are answering, it seems as if this vindicates my position.

“A mind is not “selected” by the user as a tool with which to think, it is simply the only thing to hand. just as the lungs are the only thing with which to breathe.”

This admission is fatal to your case.

If the mind is not a tool, ergo not designed correctly and accurately to return true answers about the the hidden laws and principles of the universe, nor is it is natural resource selected because of its suitability to be used as a tool even if not designed, therefore the assumption that it is fitted correctly and accurately to return true answers about the hidden laws and principles of the universe is an unfounded assumption.

He remarks:

“A designer as posited by Christianity is simple nonsense. ” (Followed by an argument that a perfect being would of necessity be perfectly motionless)

Irrelevent. You are trying to show that the design fitting human reason to the natural universe arising without a designer is a more reasonable explanation than a design with a designer. Other objections to other properties of this designer are not part of this argument one way or the other.

In response to my comment: Without presupposing the mind to be the proper tool designed to make this decision, on what ground is there any confidence that the un-designed natural resource is suitable and fit to serve as this tool?

And please do not answer that the matter is done by trial and error, because trial and error is a description, once again, of a selection process, which is a thinking process, which presupposes that we are using a tool suited to hence designed to think.

His answer:

Those brains unsuited to the thought process simply died off in the indifferent culling of nature. For our species has few natural advantages beyond its ability to think, plan, and coordinate with one another.

This response was already anticipated and answered in the question.

Trial and error is a deliberate selection process. You are assuming such a process will acheive the same result as a correct deliberative process of trial and error, except somehow, by magic, without any deliberation.

“Your error is in assuming that there is some innate purpose to everything, some things simply are.”

A second admission that you have no model to explain the phenomenon being discussed. “It just is” is not an answer.

In reply to my comment:  This answer presupposes the very matter in dispute, namely, that the human mind is suited to the grasping the invisible rules of the universe and that the reason gives us ground to believe those rules are rational. That the universe has rational laws is not in dispute. Why it has them, and why the human mind just so happens to be suited to discover them, is what is being asked.

Why it has them is unknown.

“Why it has them is unknown” is a third admission of failure. This is establishing that the atheist model cannot provide an account for why matter in motion in the cosmos just so happens to be governed by rational rules and principles.

He continues his answer:

“Why the human mind is suited to discover them is simply because the more observant and rational our ancestors were in days of yore, the more likely they were to reproduce. As opposed to, say, eating a poison mushroom, attempting to fly off a cliff, or looking to pet a sabertooth tiger. “

First, the trial and error process is already a deliberate process, or else it is non-deliberate, that is, blind. If blind, there is no reason to assume the trial and error process operated correctly — indeed, if it is a blind process, there is no such thing as “correctly”.

Second, each example you use is of a concrete danger. You use the examples of poison, of falling, and of recknessness toward a dangerous preditor. None of these has the least little thing even remotely to do with the ability of the apeman being discussed to deduce the heliocentric theory of elliptical orbits versus the Ptolemaic theory of circular orbits and circular epicycles. A sharp sense of smell, an exaggerated sense of vertigo, and a sense of fear upon seeing pointy teeth would serve as well or better to survive the dangers listed than would the ability to deduce the mathematical ratios governing ballistic motions of masses shot from a gun, or the geometry of a pendulum in motion, or the Vitruvian Man.

The deductions of engineers have precisely nothing to do with the evolutionary struggle of ape men to survive in the plains of Africa in the Paleolithic. the tools used by primitive men were made by trial and error and practical handicraftsmanship, not by specific application of mathemtical rules describing nature in the abstract. which is what physics is.

He continues:

“The human minds unfitted to the laws of nature died, likely quite horrifically, before being able to reproduce in large numbers. “

I beg to differ. I am skeptical that this be the case. I suggest that the minds suited to find the laws of nature are the minds of introspective thinkers, who are more likely to be shy and puny than their more robust and lusty brethren. The man who reproduced more than any single individual was Genghis Khan, not Stephen Hawkings, not Euclid, not Archimedes.

(In response to my comment that, absent Marx, there is no secular explanation of the course of history) “And when did I claim to have one?”

Another admission of the failure of your model. That makes four.

“I shall tell you if you tell me why those nations that become more and more scientifically advanced consistently become less and less religious as time goes on.”

A dodge. Let us consider this to be an admission that you have no answer here, either. Five.

But I also accept the bargin. As Christianity brings blessing from a benevolent God onto the West, we grew wealthy and prosperous, lazy, fat, and happy, and, as happened to the Romans before us, and the Jews before them, when men get too wealthy, they tend to focus on the pursuit of material pleasures, and to push higher things from their minds. First among the higher things lost is religion.

I answered. Your turn.

“A designer is simply nonsensical, ergo untrue even if certain questions exist to which we do not yet know the answers.”

A circular argument again. That is the very point in dispute, and your responses have provided additional evidence that my comment was correct: ask any atheist to explain why the laws and principles of the universe just so happen to be the kind of things human reason just so happens to be suited and fitted to explore and discover, and he will either admit he does not know, or will be reduced to sputtering.