In A Different Way Of Knowing, the author begins with slamming insights about the value of the intuitive-creative processes, arguing persuasively that irrational decision-making processes can be valuable. Love, art and music all reject empiricism and involve listening subjectively to our hearts, feelings and intuitions, and nobody would argue that they lack value just because they aren’t arrived at through empiricism. Conceding that some aspects of life are better left to the intuitive method of gathering information, the author proceeds to argue that "the God hypothesis" is not one of them, and is better evaluated via empiricism and the scientific method. I object to the piece on several grounds, five of which follow.
1. Primarily, I feel this entire argument is flawed because it rests on the false premise that the God hypothesis is falsifiable. The author’s main supporting argument seems based off the following observations:
A belief in God is a hypothesis about the world. The real, external world… The question of whether God does or does not exist is not a question of opinion. It is not a question of subjective experience. It is not a question that can be answered, ‘Well, maybe that’s not true for you, but it’s true for me.’
Although God can reasonably be called a hypothesis about how the external world came to be, the God hypothesis is not scientifically testable. This should nip her entire argument in the bud, IMO. Why? The author’s argument is that the scientific method is the best way to evaluate the God hypothesis, but in order for the scientific method to begin we need a certain type of phenomenon.
I was a bit thrown off by this argument because I’ve been reading the author’s blog regularly for a year, and on several occasions I have heard her claim that no evidence for God exists. In her defense, she has stated that her blog is to be read as "thinking out loud" and not her "final word on the subject," and my initial confusion centered around why somebody who claims that no evidence for God exists would suggest testing the God hypothesis empirically, which requires evidence.
Hyman’s Categorical Imperative advises against trying to explain something until one is sure that there is something to be explained. Since testable phenomena are prerequisites of science, how can science proceed in their absence? The author mentions quarks on this point, but quarks were not discovered in a vacuum and it is beyond dispute that testable phenomena led to the development of quantum mechanics.
Her argument is summarized here:
If God acts on the physical world, we should be able to see and document that effect.
Fair enough, but can we see and document that cause? Is our proposed cause amenable to empiricism? Many believers claim God intervenes directly in their lives through one of several possible means including miraculous healings, supernatural protection or other anomalous acts. If this is true, these things represent empirical phenomena, but that does not mean our proposed mechanism is falsifiable in any way. Miraculous healings and anecdotes of supernatural protection describe markers not mechanisms, and any theory that posits God as cause seems to invoke an unfalsifiable mechanism.
2. I also have issues with the liberty the author takes in her definition and scope of religious belief:
..a religious belief is a hypothesis about the workings of the real, external, non-subjective world that we all live in.
Really? I thought religious beliefs had to do with things believers take on faith, such as the notion that obedience yields rewards or that forgiveness pleases the Lord their God? To me, those are religious beliefs. Religious beliefs aren’t about the workings of the so-called “natural” world. Religious beliefs typically concern what may have been before this world, or what might be after it, or what is right and wrong. Although a religious belief might be set historically or make an historical claim about the real, external world, that doesn’t make it a hypotheis. Now, some religious beliefs do center on non-contingent propositions such as the existence of the afterlife or the atonement of Christ, but it’s misleading to frame a religious belief as necessarily empirically deducible. Religious claims cannot be verified empirically, and if a claim can be verified empirically, we are no longer discussing a religious claim, but some other statement about some other condition that is true regardless of one’s metaphysic.
3. Although it’s something all writers do, I object to this particular presentation of personal opinion as fact. In the context of attacking the intuitive method’s success in discovering truth about the world, the author writes from the perspective of religion that,
We are not moving towards general agreement and consensus on certain basic issues, the way science is. When it comes to religious beliefs, we are every bit as divided now as we have ever been in all of human history.
It is true that the squabbling and bickering over which religion is the truest has been raging ad nauseum and is generally bereft of positive accord. I would also agree that Middle East tension is as bad or worse as it has ever been. I reject the implication that convergence in science is representative of methodological superiority and that religion lacks such convergence. I think this statement is inaccurate of religion as a whole and greatly overlooks emerging religio-cultural phenomena such as the ecumenical movement and the United Religions Initiative. Modern man is clearly at the threshold of an unprecedented paradigm shift in religion, and never in the history of civilization have more people been consciously moving towards the unification of a majority of the world’s faiths via ecumenism.
4. More a confounding methodological peeve than an actual point of contention, I object to the ambiguous use of pronouns and all-inclusive terms that occasionally characterize these arguments. For example:
The reality is that we do not see the effects of God on the physical world, in any way that we can recognize and document and agree on.
In the above statement, who is the author referring to when she uses the broad pronoun ‘we’? Herself? Herself and most of the people she associates with or has talked to? A body of researchers or scientists? A control group of believers and non-believers? In fact, the generic ‘we’ is used often in this piece: "And we don’t. And we can’t." Really, who is ‘we’ here? Who is it that can’t see the effects of God in the real world? A significant amount of people believe they can. Others significantly believe this is not possible. How can you discern which group is correct in the absence of evidence or study? How can we claim these things do or do not exist without testing? How might testing begin in the absence of empirically accessible phenomena? And if new evidence or studies were consulted in the formulation of this argument, why aren’t they cited? Not that all mine have value, but to me the above statement is logically worthless.
5. In the interest of brevity and as a final note, I wanted to add the following. Again in the context of casting doubt on the intuitive method of gathering information, the author writes,
"Think of all the people in history who ‘intuitively’ knew that black people were mentally inferior to white people."
I agree that people have made this intellectual error historically, but I object to using this narrative to cast doubt on the intuitive method of gathering information. Unless we want to employ special pleading, from IQ testing to eugenics to A Civic Biology it’s also alarming to think of all the people who bastardized science to proclaim Caucasian superiority. Gould wrote a whole book on the subject, but that’s neither here nor there and isn’t a point of disagreement. Just a note.
In conclusion, in the absence of empirically accessible phenomena I disagree with the claim that the scientific method is the best means we have for evaluating the God hypothesis, which I think is an inherently unfalsifiable proposition. Furthermore, I think people who subscribe to this idea of a scientifically acceptable "God hypothesis" commit the very same error as advocates of intelligent design and creationism as falsifiable science.