Science Nonbelief

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Published on February 18, 2008

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Science and Nonbelief How Chance and Necessity Explain the World:  Science and Nonbelief How Chance and Necessity Explain the World Taner Edis Department of Physics, Truman State University www2.truman.edu/~edis/ “Science-minded nonbelief”:  “Science-minded nonbelief” Religious doubt and disbelief inspired by naturalistic trend of science. Different from (though connected to): Moral opposition to religion; Philosophical criticism of the gods; Distrust of appeals to faith. Ambivalent relationship between scientific institutions and nonbelief. Scientific naturalism?:  Scientific naturalism? Minimal sense of naturalism: no gods, souls, ghosts. No magic. All persons are embodied. Need better sense of “supernatural agent” Supernatural agents:  Supernatural agents Gods and ghosts––stuff of horror movies and folk tales as much as religions. Cognitive science: category-violating persons. Intuitive dualism. The paranormal:  The paranormal Can be true… Parapsychology––seek support for dualism, “agent-causation,” spirit acting on matter. Anti-materialist research program. As it happens, there is no reason to believe in paranormal powers. Design from above:  Design from above Denying ghosts: not affirming common sense. Naturalism is more counterintuitive. Common sense: order and functional complexity is due to intelligent design by a personal agent. In most religions, reality is pictured hierarchically. A top-down existence. Top-down:  Top-down Naturalism: Bottom-up:  Naturalism: Bottom-up Complexity, including life and mind, is assembled out of the lifeless and mindless substrate of mere physics. Assembling complexity:  Assembling complexity Darwinian evolution best example: combine random variation with selection: “chance and necessity.” Non-directed, non-progressive process. Not just common descent. Physics of complexity. Chance and Necessity:  Chance and Necessity Physics relies on chance and necessity. Radioactive decays happen at random. H2O structure explained by physical laws. Combinations of chance and necessity! Rules and Dice:  Rules and Dice “Everything is physically realized” ~ “Everything is due to chance and necessity.” Chance and necessity inseparable: kind of dice. Contrast to generic ID:  Contrast to generic ID What do I claim?:  What do I claim? Nothing is irreducibly personal––known agents are entirely physical. Artificial intelligence is possible. Cognitive neuroscience, as well as biology, is continuous with physics. Chance and disorder:  Chance and disorder Disorder vital in classical physics–– thermal physics, boundary conditions, etc. Coin flips… Disorder need not always be due to randomness. Dynamical chaos; information available. Modern physics:  Modern physics Quantum mechanics introduces fundamental randomness, not just disorder. Measurement. Radioactive decay. No further information–– perfect disorder. Quantum coin. No way to improve. Cosmic randomness:  Cosmic randomness Multiple universes with differing laws natural in quantum cosmology. Most basic laws very symmetric, with very little information. Generate complexity by symmetry breaking. The world is a dice game:  The world is a dice game Elegant fundamental laws say very little about our world. That comes through low-energy laws, randomly realized through symmetry breaking. The most basic laws only tell what sort of dice generated our history. Randomness is fundamental. This is no accident. Hidden causes?:  Hidden causes? But is randomness not just a label for ignorance? Even nonbelievers tend to think so. A God directs seeming accidents of evolution and cosmology? A hidden, nonphysical cause––just what we need. Wouldn’t an accidental world be a formless chaos? What is “randomness”?:  What is “randomness”? Mathematically, a random infinite sequence is one which lacks any pattern. T H T H T H T H H T H T T T H T . . . . . . Alternating pattern of heads and tails Patternless, random sequence Where explanation ends:  Where explanation ends Can’t predict next coin in random sequence. Can’t find a “theory” giving the pattern. Can’t do our usual pattern recognition and find a place in a network of causes. Something is random if there’s no pattern and no good prospect of finding one. When we have to say it’s a brute fact. How about order?:  How about order? Individual unpredictability  statistical predictability for large numbers. Not the same as ignorance! Randomness is basic!:  Randomness is basic! In fundamental theories of physics, we have randomness. The laws are random, simple, framing accidents. The dynamics are also random. Everyday cause and effect are not fundamental. They emerge from a microscopic substrate where things just happen randomly. What about persons?:  What about persons? Very bottom-up picture, suggesting that specially spiritual realities are out of place at a fundamental level. But physical science should be all about mindless stuff doable through chance and necessity. What about persons, minds? Why should a physical style of explanation work across the board? Generalized ID again:  Generalized ID again Explaining minds:  Explaining minds Cognitive neuroscience has made good progress in explaining minds. Promises a lot more. Belief in souls is far out of fashion. But can chance and necessity produce real intelligence––genuine creativity? Computers are not creative:  Computers are not creative Programming and input determine the output of a computer. No new information added. Not bound by rules:  Not bound by rules Humans are creative––we are flexible, not bound by pre-programmed rules. We always might figure out a new way to do things. Gödelian critique of AI: Any system of rules is rigid; it has blind spots. ID: no mechanism (including Darwin’s) can be creative. Humans are nonalgorithmic, beyond computer programs. Yes! A source of novelty:  A source of novelty In games where the opponent can adapt to a set strategy, occasional random behavior can be the best strategy. Novelty, unpredictability come from randomness. Combine chance and necessity for flexibility! Completeness Theorem:  Completeness Theorem The only tasks beyond rules and randomness (chance and necessity) require infinite information to be known. Any human output can be produced by mechanisms combining rules and randomness. Darwinian creativity:  Darwinian creativity Intelligence relies on broadly Darwinian processes combining chance and necessity. Darwinian thinking has become common in in AI, and cognitive and brain sciences. Implications:  Implications The bottom-up, naturalistic, accidental picture of the world is most likely correct. Implications for religion, or even for the rationality of supernatural belief, are less clear. Naturalist nonbelief is costly:  Naturalist nonbelief is costly Naturalism is counterintuitive––it goes against ingrained and socially reinforced habits of thinking. Such habits work well enough, most of the time, at little cost. Naturalism is costly––it requires specialized knowledge and training for new habits that go against the grain of human nature. Won’t be widespread, not even in Europe. Morality is not as clear-cut:  Morality is not as clear-cut Scientific naturalism is a bad fit with hard moral objectivism. Tends toward values pluralism, or “moral ecology.” There are many viable, successfully reproducing patterns of interests and ways of life. For most people, most of the time, these will include supernatural beliefs. Ambivalence:  Ambivalence Naturalism is best explanation. But it also has social handicaps. Scientific institutions cannot afford to be associated with nonbelief. So while science reinforces naturalism and science-minded nonbelief, separate spheres will remain the conventional wisdom. Plug:  Plug Taner Edis, Science and Nonbelief (Prometheus Books, 2008). Web site:  Web site www2.truman.edu/~edis/ Contains many articles on science and religion, and science and Islam topics. E-mail edis@truman.edu Thanks for listening!:  Thanks for listening! Any questions?

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