Scientific Evidence and its Value in Theological Arguments.

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Philosophers and apologists have noted that scientific evidence can support a premise in an argument leading to a conclusion that has theological significance. For example, scientific evidence may support premises that are religiously neutral statements. What would be considered a “religious neutral statement?” Consider the Kalam Cosmological Argument which reads as follows:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Premise three is a conclusion that obviously has theological significance for should it follow then we have proof of a metaphysically necessary, timeless, spaceless, immaterial, personal and immensely powerful being. But also note that premise one is a religiously neutral statement that uses scientific evidence to support its truth. Whether or not the universe began to exist is precisely a question that science has tried to answer, and as far as our best scientific evidence goes, the universe began to exist. For example, the Second Law of Thermodynamics predicts that within a finite amount of time the universe will eventually reach a cold and lifeless state. But if it has already existed for infinite time as some have argued, the universe should now be in such a desolate condition. This had led scientists to conclude that the universe must have begun to exist a finite time ago and is now in the process of winding down. Thus this argument proves to be a fine example of how scientific evidence can be used to support a conclusion to an argument with theological significance. However, consider the teleological argument from fine-tuning:

1. The fine tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
3. Therefore, it is due to design.

The second premise of the teleological argument from fine-tuning is a religiously neutral statement of which scientific evidence may, or may not, favour. Here one realises the incredible constants within the universe that so happen to be perfectly aligned to make our existence possible. These constants fall within an “extraordinarily narrow range of life-permitting values,” (1) and if they were “altered by less than a hair’s breadth, the life-permitting balance would be destroyed, and no living organisms of any kind could exist.” Consider gravity which is determined by the gravitational constant. If this constant varied by just one in 10^60 parts, none of us would exist. Philosopher William Lane Craig explains that to “get a handle on how many tiny points on the dial this is, compare it to the number of cells in your body (10^14) or the number of seconds that have ticked by since time began (10^20). If the gravitational constant had been out of tune by just one of these infinitesimally small increments, the universe would either have expanded and thinned out so rapidly that no stars could form and life couldn’t exist, or it would have collapsed back on itself with the same result: no stars, no planets, no life” (2). Also consider the expansion rate of the universe, a process driven by the cosmological constant. Scientists have realised that if this was changed by just 1 part in 10^120 parts then the universe would either expand too quickly or too slowly. This would result in a life-prohibiting universe. Here we’ve only considered two constants, however, the more science develops and the more we learn about the universe, the more constants we discover that go to show just how incredibly unlikely our existence, or any life, in the universe seems to be. Prominent cosmologist Andy Ellis explains that the “Amazing fine tuning occurs in the laws that make this [complexity] possible. Realization of the complexity of what is accomplished makes it very difficult not to use the word ‘miraculous’ without taking a stand as to the ontological status of the word” (3).

However, concerning the breadth of theological arguments we aren’t only dealing with premises that have scientific value. This is because some theistic arguments are philosophical in nature. The moral and ontological arguments have premises that are supported by philosophical reason instead of scientific evidence. And since these arguments deal with philosophy and not science they are then rendered immune from the insight of scientific evidence.

Yet concerning the arguments that use scientific evidence to establish their premises the naturalist might object to the scientific evidence. By doing so he hopes to forward his case that will attempt to undermine the conclusion by disputing a premise. This is the point where the floor opens for debate and discussion.

References.

1. Craig, W. Excursus on Natural Theology (Part 15). Available.

2. Craig, W. Transcript: Fine-Tuning Argument. Available.

3. Ellis, G. 1988. “The Anthropic Principle: Laws and Environments” in The Anthropic Principle: Proceedings of the Second Venice Conference on Cosmology and Philosophy.

3 comments

  1. […] Now, the theist might argue that we are rational to believe in God in the same way we are rational to believe in, say, the existence of the external world of physical objects. We can’t scientifically prove that this is the case, but we’re rational to hold to the belief. Why? Because there seems to be sufficient, though not indisputable, reasons to hold to the belief. The theist argues that belief in God is rational in the same way, though the skeptic would no disagree with him on that point. For example, there are a number of arguments, some of which theists view as convincing, that have been proposed, and that if successful and followed to their logical conclusions render belief in God rational and warranted. On this point, when it comes to the arguments for God’s existence, some of them include premises that are grounded on empirical evidence from the sciences. The Kalam cosmological argument, for example, weighs significantly on the scientific evidences for a beginning to the physical universe and space-time. The teleological argument marshals evidence from the apparent fine-tuning of the constants within the universe in favour of a designer. Other arguments, like the moral and ontological arguments, instead weigh on philosophical reasoning. For a brief summary of the relationship between science and theological arguments view my other essay. […]

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