Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Middlebrow Atheism. Part 2.

Continuing my series on naive atheism:

Video Item 04: An apologetic which makes use of Cosmic Fine-tuning as an argument for God is an argument from ignorance. When religion can’t explain something (like fine tuning) it gives up and says “A magic man done it!” The complaint here is, I think, against a style of argument such as “We can’t explain fine tuning; therefore God….” Conversely, “We can explain fine tuning; therefore God is not needed…”

My Comments: The video considers the example of the “finely tuned” flatness of space, a feature which Alan Guth’s inflationary theory provides a possible in explanation (along with the horizon problem). In contrast the video tells us of theists who prefer to believe that this particular kind of fine tuning is down to direct Divine contrivance. It is ironic that the mindset of these theists is commensurate enough with the video producers for them both to agree that if one succeeds in finding a law and disorder mechanism to do a job then that makes the occasional intrusion of Divine intervention redundant. The underlying theology here takes it for granted that there is a conflict between Divine agency and the agency of Law and Disorder. The upshot of this kind of theology is that atheists want to maximise the role of law and disorder and theists want to minimize it. The underlying thinking here is subliminally deistical: The thought is that if deity can create mechanisms that manage and run themselves this sets a subversive precedent for theists that ultimately puts a squeeze on theism: The “God of the gaps” deity conjured up by this common vision of God would not be needed at all if mechanisms can be found capable of creating mechanisms thus filling in all the gaps.

We must concede that it is at least conceivable that Law and Disorder mechanisms could, in principle, return a complete description of the Universe, but as I pointed out in my last post this either leaves us ultimately with an irreducible Grand Logical Hiatus or if we proceed to explain the explanations with law and disorder we get caught in a kind of “turtles all the way down” regress – or another way of looking at it, a “contexts all the way up” regress, of which multiverse theories may well be a practical manifestation of this principle at work. Either way it seems inconceivable that law and disorder science will ever obviate contingency and provide us with self necessity. Law and disorder are too elementary as mathematical objects to provide aseity.

The constructs of law and disorder science, no matter how successful as a source of information about the patterns of our cosmos, are destined to leave us with an enigmatic status quo. Thus, in an absolute sense science has taken us little further forward than the pre-Neolithic hunter gatherers who, in their own way, were also very accomplished in the art of comprehending the ways of their environment; although, of course, they didn’t achieve this understanding using formal and institutionalized science. Traditionally, the role of religion was less about the description of the status quo, than it was getting behind this status quo often by imagining the activity of the cosmos to be the manifestation of personified agents. The religious imagination, which sees the world of phenomenon as the interface to the numinous, is not unlike the folk understanding of conscious cognition, an understanding that looks beyond behaviorism and sees consciousness, purpose, intention and meaning behind observable human activity. Likewise, the role of deity goes deeper than the mere description of the phenomenal status quo and, as in the analogous case of human behaviour, it imputes intelligence, purpose, intention, and meaning to the cosmos. Divine conscious cognition is thought of as running in parallel with phenomenal reality and supplying it with a deeper reason than is possible with mechanistic explanation. The “reason” referred to here is not the mechanical reason constituted by the logical operations of low level elemental objects but rather the purposes and intentions of the a-priori complex construct of sentience, a construct understood in terms of consciousness, intention and meaning. Human beings have no idea what it is like to be a fundamental elemental like a particle, but they do know what it is like to be a causative sentient agent and therefore they better connect with paraphenomenal explanations grounded in the personal rather than in the elemental.

Whether the religious ontology of personification has a status that goes beyond mythology is not the issue here; rather at issue is the naivety of the video in placing the numinous on the level of the phenomenal and treating it as in competition with law and disorder explanation. The video, then, no more engages the ontology of God as it is properly conceived, than behaviorism engages how one person actually thinks about another person in person to person interaction; in those interactions people are not thought in behaviorist terms but instead ostensive behavior is regarded as the interface to a first person perspective of conscious cognition. But just as there are philosophical doubts about whether irreducible first person ontology is real, so there are analogous doubts about the reality of God.

That religious thinking constructs a paraphenomenal world may help explain why it remains unchallenged by the deistical theology that sees God as an auxiliary explanatory device resorted to when law and disorder explanation fails. In a more sophisticated theology God is conceived of as an entity of an entirely different genus to law and disorder manifestations. Therefore it is no surprise that religion is impervious to the challenge of the deistical God of the gaps theology we see in this video.

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