John Pieret admires a recent posting by Steven Novella on NeuroLogica Blog where he (Novella) writes about More on Methodological Naturalism.
This methodoligical approach also deals with the problem of whether or not science can deal with God. The answer is - yes and no. If a supernatural (meaning inaccessible to science) power were meddling with our universe (with stuff science could access), science could detect it, document it, and even describe it. We could say that something was happening.I pretty much agree with what Steven Novella says here, although I note that he gets a bit fuzzy in other parts of the same posting. The basic point is that scientists are capable of detecting things that are not explainable by naturalistic explanations. In other words, if something isn't obeying the laws of physics and chemistry,1 then we''ll know about it, even if we have to put it down as an unexplained anomaly.
However (by the premises of this hypothetical situation) if the ultimate cause of these physical effects were beyond scientific methodology, the best science could do would be to describe anomalies. Science comes across anomalies all the time, and the typical approach is to assume (because we really have no choice) that the anomalies are due to either errors in observation, errors in our current theories, or incompleteness in our current theories, meaning there is some new phenomenon to discover.
So far the scientific approach (assuming anomalies will lead to a deeper understanding of reality) has worked out pretty well. This is the best evidence we have that our universe if mostly rational and does not include “supernatural” (by my definition) forces that will remain forever “mysterious.” If it did, then we would run across anomalies that we could never explain scientifically. All we could do would be to describe them, but we could never come up with a testable theory of mechanism.
The fact that there aren't any known mysteries that fall into this category means that there is no evidence for a God that acts in a supernatural manner. This is not the God of Francis Collins. Collins is a scientist who presents "evidence" that God exists.
The fact that most other scientists do not find such evidence is not proof that all types of God don't exist. It merely defines limits to the types of God that are possible if you use scientific reasoning.
John Pieret seems to knows this since in his posting Natural Method he asks:
I would quibble that divine action would not necessarily produce anomalies. For example, how could we tell the difference between a random mutation and a miraculous one?John is doing exactly what he says is wrong. In light of the fact that several testable hypotheses about God have been refuted, John then speculates about what God might be doing to get around the conflict between science and religion. He imagines that God could, if he so wished, disguise his actions so that they were indistinguishable from actions that were entirely natural.
Claiming that we can see no pattern in mutations, or the evolution it powers, does no good because that requires that you make an assertion about what God wants to do and how he, she or it would go about it -- and how could you know that?
None of us can refute that possibility but I note that the goalposts have moved just about as far as they can go. We're left with a God who is so careful to avoid revealing himself that he might as well not exist. What's the point?
Why in the world did anyone start believing in such a God in the first place?2
If we weren't talking about religion, this kind of "logic" would be quickly dismissed. Imagine, for example, that someone claimed the stock market was being manipulated by clever gremlins. Pointing out that there was no evidence of such manipulation provokes the response, "These are very clever gremlins who go to extraordinary lengths to disguise their manipulations. That's why we can't detect them."
Since we can't disprove the existence of such gremlins, is that a reason to believe in them? Should we treat the gremlin-believers in the same way that we treat everyone else or are we right to be a little concerned about their psychological well-being? Is it okay to tentatively conclude that they are deluded?
Why does belief in God always get special privileges that we never grant to any other superstitions?
1. It's a metaphor, John, not the be taken literally.
2. The answer, of course, is that nobody ever believed in such a God. This sort of God is merely the last refuge of those who used to believe in a personal, interventionist God but now find that they can't defend such a belief in a modern skeptical society. It's also the fallback position for those strange people who call themselves true agnostics. They have almost as much at stake in trying to show that we can't "prove" the nonexistence of God. They desperately want to avoid being a non-believer (atheist).