Oh dear, I thought—and I guess I was foolish to think—that when Uncle Karl Giberson left both Eastern Nazarene University and BioLogos, he would stop publishing religious apologetics. He has not. The latest is at HuffPo, “Is free will a mystery?” Don’t worry, it’s not mainly about free will, though it does link to some of our discussions here; it’s about “realities” that are beyond the purview of science.
Responding to my earlier remark that nothing influences our actions beyond our genes and our environments, Karl says:
Many scientists share this view. They reject as unreal anything that can’t be caught in the scientific net. By these lights, nothing transcends science. Fish that cannot be caught in the scientific net do not exist. Free will, morality, and God cannot be caught in the scientific net so they must be fantasies conjured by naïve humans to meet psychological needs.
Such Spartan views of knowledge trouble me, despite my great appreciation for science. Human beings are finite creatures and it seems unreasonable to insist that no realities exist beyond those caught in our scientific nets. Or worse, to suppose that all realities must be such that their scientific descriptions are the only ones possible. Science constantly surprises us by pushing out its frontiers, and even rearranging what we thought was familiar.
You see where he’s going here. Because science hasn’t yet answered some questions (or can’t with certainty, because we lack either the tools or—as with the origin of life—weren’t there), there must be other “realities” beyond science. I wonder what “realities” he’s talking about? Could it be . . . . Jesus?
And who among scientists insists that “no realities exist beyond those caught in our scientific nets”? I am glad to admit that there are realities out there not caught in those nets. But how can we verify the existence of such “realities” except with science (defined broadly as the use reason and empirical observation)?
Giberson says, “I hasten to add that this is not an argument that a ‘religious way of knowing’ will accomplish what science cannot.” But given his history, and the fact that this piece appears in the HuffPo “Religion” section, I find it hard to believe that he’s not arguing on some level for faith. After all, what he dwells on in the last part of his piece—the beauty of physics equations, the “unreasonable effectiveness” of mathematics, and the very comprehensibility of the universe—are things that he’s previously implied constitute evidence for a (Christian) transcendent being.
And his comment on “free will” seems to me almost incomprehensible:
Is it possible that free will represents another type of boundary to our knowledge? Between the determinism understood so clearly on one end of the spectrum, and the quantum indeterminism on the other — neither of which can accommodate any meaningful concept of free will — lies a theoretical no-man’s land where those two incompatible aspects of our world overlap. I wonder if determinism and indeterminism represent two explanatory categories into which so much can be fit that we are too quick to assume that these categories are all-encompassing. And, since free will fits in neither category, there can be no such thing.
First of all, biological determinism and quantum interderminism are not incompatible, just as Newtonian physics and quantum mechanics are not incompatible. They are different ways of describing different levels of the world. Further, Giberson he neglects the fact that many people—I’m not one of them—see “free will” as something perfectly compatible with determinism. That idea, in fact, is the essence of “compatibilism.”
But underneath it all—I grant that I’m presuming here—is Giberson’s answer to what lies in the cranny between determinism and indeterminism: the God-given soul.
Yes, science doesn’t understand everything, and some things we will never understand. But we are slowly approaching an understanding of the material basis of behavior.
As for that other stuff, well, I like to quote Richard Feynman:
“I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.”
Perhaps I’m being unfair to Karl here; perhaps he really is struggling to make sense of these issues, and his faith is slipping away. I hope so! But in the interim he’s still feeding HuffPo readers sly suggestions that there might be a Holy Ghost in their machines.