Sunday, November 25, 2007

But Logic is Hard!

I expect PZ will have something to say about this. (I hope he does, actually; he usually gets to the core of an issue very well.)

Consider the limitations of science...

All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn’t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified.

. . .

Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from “that’s not a scientific question” to “nobody knows.” The favorite reply is, “There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.” The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational. After all, the very essence of a scientific explanation of some phenomenon is that the world is ordered logically and that there are reasons things are as they are. If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality — the laws of physics — only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science.

You see where this is going, don't you? OH NOES! SCIENCE HAS LIMITS! There are some things we don't know! What's more, some of the questions are so hard, we're not even sure what the right questions are. Therefore, the entire edifice must be a pack of lies.

But wait, it gets better. The anthropic principle gets snuck back in here...

A second reason that the laws of physics have now been brought within the scope of scientific inquiry is the realization that what we long regarded as absolute and universal laws might not be truly fundamental at all, but more like local bylaws. They could vary from place to place on a mega-cosmic scale. A God’s-eye view might reveal a vast patchwork quilt of universes, each with its own distinctive set of bylaws. In this “multiverse,” life will arise only in those patches with bio-friendly bylaws, so it is no surprise that we find ourselves in a Goldilocks universe — one that is just right for life. We have selected it by our very existence.
That's right... The entire universe was made just for us. And science says it may even be possible! If we push and twist and distort it enough.

And having made the setup, we conclude with the *koff* inevitable:

Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.
That's right. Them pointy-headed scientists is working just as much on faith as the rest of us. Pass the Leviticus.

But wait, there's more!

This shared failing is no surprise, because the very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm. Isaac Newton first got the idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it in a rational way. Christians envisage God as upholding the natural order from beyond the universe, while physicists think of their laws as inhabiting an abstract transcendent realm of perfect mathematical relationships.

And just as Christians claim that the world depends utterly on God for its existence, while the converse is not the case, so physicists declare a similar asymmetry: the universe is governed by eternal laws (or meta-laws), but the laws are completely impervious to what happens in the universe.

That's right. In even trying to look for physical law, the scientists were going on faith the whole time. They're religious, they just don't know it! Or won't admit it because they hate baby Jesus!

But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.
Translation: I can think up a hypothetical at the cutting edge that you don't have a soundbite answer for. Therefore God.

But what alternative are you offering?
I see. Then how did the universe come to be?
How can we understand its workings?
What evidence do you have for this position?
What reasons do you have for this position?
What testable hypothesis does this lead to?
None. God doesn't need it and can't be
proven anyway. Therefore God.

Well, thanks for clearing that up.

I find myself actually quoting celebrity loon Scott Adams, who (back when his books were worth reading) had a list called You Are Wrong Because:, listing various logical errors. I believe this one would be "Incompleteness as Proof of Defect." Sample case: Your theory of gravity doesn't explain why there are no unicorns, therefore it must be wrong.

Science can't answer the question I pulled out of my butt, therefore it's obviously bogus.

Feh. And this is what passes for reasoning in some quarters? And religionists wonder why fewer and fewer people take them seriously?

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