Science as evidence for Christianity against atheism (introduction)

Now that we have a definition of "evidence" (from the previous post in this series), and a clear idea of the relationship between science and Christianity, we can start evaluating some of the evidence for Christianity. Over the next few weeks, I intend to show that science as a whole counts as evidence for Christianity against atheism.

Now, one question that we must ask at the onset is "what kind of evidence would allow us to distinguish between the two positions?" Our evidence must be such that the two camps would give two different probability values for that evidence being true. For example, if we wanted to decide between the idea of a round versus a flat Earth, we cannot say that since our driveway is flat, the earth must be flat. That would be using evidence that does not allow us to distinguish between the two theories, since both theories would predict with equal probability that the Earth has negligible curvature on the size scale of a driveway. In order to judge between a round and a flat Earth, you must go to a much larger scale, and look at the whole earth across many miles.

So we cannot use any specific piece of scientific data to judge between Christianity and atheism. It would be too "small". As an example, the fact that the star Antares is a red supergiant cannot distinguish between Christianity and atheism, for both would presumably use science to arrive at an answer about Antares (despite some atheists claiming "science, therefore atheism!"). Even most fields taken as a whole, such as psychology or evolutionary biology, are too small to allow us to distinguish between Christianity and atheism. In order use science itself as evidence, you must look at it at a much broader scale, and look at the whole discipline at a very fundamental level.

What are these fundamental ways of looking at science? The following is the list of things I'll be considering in the coming weeks as evidence in evaluating Christianity and atheism.

1. Assumptions of science: science operates under certain philosophical assumptions, such as the uniformity of the laws of nature. I will show that these assumptions are best explained by Christianity. That is to say, these assumptions are predicted with higher probability by Christianity.

2. Trends in science: science has now advanced enough to the point that we can speak of the direction that science is heading in, or of trends in science. I will show that these trends are best explained by Christianity.

3. Things that science cannot explain: science is a powerful and useful tool, but it is still limited in its applicability. I will examine the things that science cannot explain, and show that many of these things are explained quite easily by Christianity. And this will not be a "god of the gaps" argument - instead I will examine things that science cannot ever hope to explain even in principle, such as the efficacy of mathematics and the nature of morality.

4. Predictions about the future of science: predictions are always tricky - even Einstein was off by a factor of two in his general relativity predictions, before he corrected it - but I will venture to make some predictions about the future of science. If I'm right and Christianity explains science, these predictions should turn out to be true, although they may be difficult to test.

Lastly, I must counter a particular error that I mentioned in passing above - that science automatically implies atheism. This is clearly wrong; if there in fact is a scientific proof of atheism, I would very much like to see it. If such a proof does not exist, then the atheist must examine his presuppositions, and distinguish where his science ends and his atheism begins - what is the non-scientific presupposition that he has added on top of the scientific presuppositions that make him an atheist? Those are the very presuppositions that we will be evaluating against Christianity. If the atheists objects, "I don't have any atheistic presuppositions! I start with only science, and although I can't scientifically prove atheism, it's still the best answer that the evidence leads to!" Then good: where "the evidence leads to" is exactly what we'll be examining.

We start with the next post of the series, on the assumptions of science.


You may next want to read:
The axioms of science as evidence for Christianity against atheism (Next post in this series)
How physics fits within Christianity (part 1)
"Proving" God's existence
Another post, from the table of contents

What is "evidence"? What counts as evidence for a certain position?

"Proof" is one of those words that are abused nearly to the point of meaninglessness. I generally only use it in math-related contexts.

I prefer the word "evidence" over "proof". So, instead of saying "This test score proves you didn't do your homework", I'd rather say "This test score is evidence that you didn't do your homework". It's just more accurate to say it that way.

Does this not only push back the issue? What guarantees that I won't abuse the word "evidence" like people abuse "proof", as a buzzword to throw around when I need to make my position appear stronger? This suggests that I need a firm definition of the word "evidence".

So, then, this is my definition of "evidence": given two positions, some new information counts as evidence for the position that better anticipated or explains that information. That is to say, the information counts as evidence for the position that predicted (or could have predicted) it with higher probability, and as evidence against the position that predicted it with lower probability.

Some of you may note that this is simply the Bayes factor in Bayesian inference. If you're familiar with Bayesian probability, then you can simply take the Bayes factor as my definition of "evidence", consider me a Bayesian, and give the rest of this post only a cursory read.

For everyone else, let me provide some examples of evidence according to this definition.

Let's say that Alice fails a test. One position holds that she studied hard, and another position holds that she didn't study. Between these two positions, the "didn't study" position is better able to anticipate Alice failing. That is to say, she had a higher chance of failing the test if she didn't study than if she did. Therefore her failing counts as evidence that she didn't study (and as evidence against her having studied).

Let's say that Bob is accused of murder. His DNA is found at the site of the crime. This counts as evidence that Bob is guilty, because the position that he's guilty is better able to anticipate his DNA being found at the crime site. It is more likely that his DNA will be found at the crime site if he's guilty than if he's not. That is to say, if he's guilty, there's a relatively higher probably that his DNA is found at the crime site, and if he's innocent, there's a relatively lower probability that his DNA is found at the crime site.

Note that it's possible that a particular piece of evidence points in one direction, yet is not enough to lead to a firm conclusion. Let's say that Carol claims that she's psychic. She asks you to think of a number between 1 and 100, and then guesses it correctly. This counts as evidence that she is, in fact, psychic. It'd be fairly strong evidence too, at a Bayes factor of 100:1. However, even this evidence may not be enough to convince you that she's psychic, if you were very skeptical of that position before this experiment. This is a valid way to think - you can believe that a particular piece of evidence points one way, and yet choose to reject that position in the end because it was unlikely in the first place and the evidence wasn't enough. This is where familiarity with Bayesian probability is would be very helpful - you'd be able to put numerical values to all these statements. But for now, these examples are simply a way to get a qualitative feel for what I mean by evidence.

If you flip a coin once and it lands heads, it counts as very weak evidence that the coin is a trick coin that will always land heads, because that position is better able to anticipate a coin landing heads. But you should not yet be convinced by this evidence, since such trick coins are rare and therefore you'd need much stronger evidence than a single coin flip, which has a Bayes factor of 2:1. However, after 20 consecutive heads, the Bayes factor would have increased to 1,048,576:1, and you'd have a much stronger case for believing that this coin will always land heads.

I hope this is enough to give you a solid sense of what I mean by evidence. I will be using that word often, starting with the next posts of this series.


You may next want to read:
Science as evidence for Christianity against atheism (introduction) (Next post of this series)
The Gospel: the central message of Christianity (part 1)
How physics fits within Christianity (part 1)
Another post, from the table of contents

A real discussion on the problem of evil and omnipotence.

The following is an actual discussion that took place somewhere. I'm posting it because I think it illustrates many of the ideas behind my "Can God make a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it?" post, and shows them in a real setting. It also shows how many of the same ideas translate over to discussing the problem of evil. A fuller discussion on the problem of evil will have to wait until a future post; this is simply a illustration of how some of the ideas in the previous post can be used in other settings.

The names have been replaced with the usual set of placeholder names to preserve anonymity, some posts have been edited for spelling and grammar, and some formatting (italics, bold letters) has been replaced with capital letters. (I generally don't like formatted text and prefer capital letters instead, as capital letters can be used with plain text)

The main characters in the discussion are Carol and Frank. Pay attention to when they appear and follow their thoughts.



Alice:
Could God ever forgive Satan? Hypothetically speaking.

Bob:
Yes. God can do whatever he likes.

Carol:
But he doesn't? I thought God was love? Or is he both love and evil?

Dan:
He can only forgive those who confess to their sins. So until Satan confesses to his sins, God will not forgive him. Edit: I meant "He will only forgive those that confess their sins", not can.

Carol:
I thought God was omnipotent. No?

Dan:
He is. He has the power to forgive Satan at any time, but will not do it until Satan admits he has sinned.

Carol:
Which brings me back around to my original point: I thought God was love, right? How can he be both love and unwilling to forgive unless Satan meets his own conditions? Did not God create Satan and know he would fall? Did not God create the evil he's so triumphantly (and capriciously?) combating?
Why does this loving God not remove all pain and suffering instantly? Why's he waiting on his creations who he knows, by his own doing, are flawed?

Erin:
Because forced love and forced forgiveness isn't love or forgiveness at all.

Carol:
I'm not advocating or assuming force of any kind. I'm just saying that the Biblical god's nature is irreconcilably contradictory with itself.

God could have certainly created a perfect world with no suffering and no damnation, but, according to the Biblical narrative, he designed and implemented this evil. This doesn't jell with his supposed all-powerful and all-loving nature.

Frank:
"I'm not advocating or assuming force of any kind."

Yes you are. You're saying that God should have created us so that we are forced to be good, rather than creating us as we are, with free will.

Seriously, the free will defense is a thing, and commonly accepted among philosophers. What is your reason for not accepting it?

Carol:
In order to resolve the problem, one has to eliminate a characteristic of God's nature. I see no way around this.

Plantinga's version specifically claims simultaneously that God is omnipotent and that there are things he can't do. Contradictions don't go very far in explaining contradictions, I don't think. He's essentially saying God isn't really omnipotent though, in order to resolve the problem. It also doesn't take into account naturally evil events that occur outside of God's beings' free will. There's a whole section of criticisms on that wiki page.

Frank:
So, you think that if God is omnipotent, then he should be able do anything whatsoever?

Carol:
Yes.

Frank:
Including breaking the rules of logic?

Carol:
From where do those rules originate?

Frank:
From God, although that's irrelevant for the moment. Answer the question: does God's omnipotence allow God to break the rules of logic, such as the law of non-contradiction?

Carol:
It's very relevant, I think. We're talking about a creator god, right? Who created EVERYTHING?

I don't know if God's omnipotence would allow him to break the rules of logic. It's a contradiction in itself, and probably even disproves the very notion of omnipotence.

The point, though, is that God supposedly created EVERYTHING including these rules of logic. He didn't need to be bound by them when creating the world and the evil within it. He could have created them differently by virtue of his omnipotence so that we could live in a world with free will and no evil. Saying otherwise denies his omnipotence, thereby resolving the problem by removing one of his characteristics.

Frank:
Good, you've come to a solid answer: the rules of logic don't apply to God. Then God can be both good and omnipotent despite it being a contradiction, because he simply overrides the contradiction with his omnipotence. It "disproves" the notion of omnipotence, but that doesn't matter, because God simply overrides the disproof with his omnipotence, which are above the rules of logic.

Thus, even in your "non-logical God" view, God is still omnipotent because he simply declares that he is in his logic-defying omnipotence.

Shall we try again, this time choosing the path of logic?

Carol:
The problem of evil is a contradiction within our own realm of understanding -- the only one we're capable of reasoning within -- given the logic supposedly from God.

Claiming that contradictions can exist doesn't resolve the contradiction, and fails to explain how an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful god can create a world with evil. IT JUST ADDS ANOTHER CONTRADICTION ON TOP.

Your explanation there is a form of hand waving at the problem to explain it away. It doesn't actually solve the logical contradiction within the only logical framework we have to use. It's akin to saying "God's just confusing, just accept it."

Frank:
Everything you say is logical, yet it doesn't matter if you say that God being omnipotent means that he can override the rules of logic. Unresolved contradictions, hand-waving, etc, are all meaningless words and empty arguments before the logic-defying omnipotence that you've just granted God with your own words.

Seriously, do you want to try again, this time choosing to be logical?

Carol:
The whole problem assumes that omnipotence is a logical possibility, which I've not ceded because it likely isn't. However, I'm willing to entertain the idea within the logical framework we have to use. (Alternatively, jump to paragraph five.)

The issue at hand here is, within our realm of understanding, how can an all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful god create a world with evil in it. It's a contradiction of logic by itself. Claiming that contradictions are suddenly acceptable explanations for contradictions doesn't do anything to resolve the contradiction. It's circular reasoning that fails to justify how God can hold those characteristics and yet there still be evil.

If God were to claim that red is the same thing as blue, saying "God can contradict logic" wouldn't actually resolve the contradiction with logic. It's just hand waving. That type of explanation is similar to saying "it's just the way it is" -- not much of a logical reason.

My argument above about God being the origin of logic and therefore he could have created, by his omnipotent nature, a world where we have free will and there is no evil does not support your assertions. That event would have happened prior to logic existing and so wouldn't be confined to logic. This is why I emphasize that we're talking about a god who created EVERYTHING. We're not talking about a magical human placed into the world by this god, or anything similar.

In order to extrapolate that argument into a world where logic has already been created is simply not possible without creating new contradictions, as you've done, which likely disprove omnipotence themselves (and the problem would no longer be relevant).

Also, thanks for the condescending tone -- very Christ-like -- but I think I'm already proceeding logically.

Frank:
Remember, you are the one that chose to give God the power to break logic in this argument, not I. I've been advocating that omnipotence has to follow the rules of logic the whole time, and you're the one that's been disagreeing with me.

All of the problems you've created for yourself is due to your illogical choice in saying that omnipotence has the power to break the rules of logic. So, you've created a problem with God by giving him the power to be illogical, and now you're complaining that God is illogical. You're essentially choosing to follow the rules of logic whenever it would be convenient for you.

You should by now realize that all the words that you can ever muster up have absolutely no effect and no meaning against the existence of God if you allow his omnipotence to transcend logic, which you have done with your own proposition. If you find this result unacceptable, then the logical thing to do is to reject your proposition. Everything you say about how objectionable all this is, does nothing against the powers and existence of an logic-breaking, transcendent, omnipotent God, while your insistence that we try to follow the rules of logic only suggests that you abandon your initial proposition. This is the standard procedure for a proof by contradiction.

So, I ask you again, (And I'm sorry if I sound condescending here - but I do have to ask it, and I'll not beat around the bush. And I do believe that I'm suggesting the correct course of action here. If there's a kinder way to ask the question, please let me know.) would you like to choose a logical definition of omnipotence, and try again?

Carol:
I have not given God the power to break logic. I'm entertaining the idea of omnipotence by not cutting it off at the knees right away, and instead reasoning through its implications assuming, for the moment, it is possible.

A few posts up I said: "I don't know if God's omnipotence would allow him to break the rules of logic. It's a contradiction in itself, and probably even disproves the very notion of omnipotence."

If you'd rather assume that omnipotence and logic can't co-exist, which really is most likely I think, that's fine with me too. If we immediately jump to that conclusion and note the inherent contradictions, then God isn't omnipotent and we've solved the problem by removing one of God's characteristics.

However, if we continue with entertaining the idea, we can only do so until we encounter that contradiction within our logical framework. CREATING MORE CONTRADICTIONS DOESN'T SOLVE CONTRADICTIONS. I think that must be kept in mind as we explore this.

I proposed that God COULD have created a different world with a different set of logic wherein we have free will and there is no evil. I BELIEVE THIS IS PERMISSIBLE BECAUSE IT SITS OUTSIDE OF AND PRIOR TO OUR LOGICAL FRAMEWORK AND THEREFORE CREATES NO CONTRADICTION BY ITS NATURE.

(Tangentially related side note: Had God done so the problem of evil would not exist because there would be no evil. Denying that this is possible denies his omnipotence, thereby also solving the problem of evil.)

However, God apparently didn't do that and so we're still stuck with the problem of evil AFTER our logical framework has been instantiated. What you're attempting to do is claim God's omnipotence solves everything by ALLOWING CONTRADICTIONS WITHIN OUR LOGICAL FRAMEWORK AFTER IT'S BEEN CREATED. This is very distinct from my postulate above which allows contradictions of our presently known logic PRIOR to that logic existing, therefore making it irrelevant to my postulate except for sake of comparison. You're attempting to allow changes or contradictions in logic AFTER it's been created, not relative to some other form of logic as part of a thought experiment like I was doing.

THIS CREATED CONTRADICTION DOES NOT SOLVE THE CONTRADICTION. It's just another one. It complicates the problem by introducing more logical flaws instead of reducing it in order to resolve it.

I appreciate your efforts at revising your tone, but asking if I'd like to CHOOSE to be logical implies that I'm CHOOSING to be illogical, which is condescending. Don't worry, I'm over it, and I'm sure I've said much more condescending things to others before. No worries.

Frank:
You're trying to have it both ways; Is God, and his omnipotence, above the rules of logic or not? You're switching to whichever answer suits you to construct whatever you want to. You have him jump from and to "our logical framework" at your whim, thereby introducing illogical elements to the being of God, then complaining that he's illogical, due to the illogical elements that YOU'VE introduced.

Furthermore, you manifestly don't get to define God. Not for real (he defines you), and not for me (it's my belief system, therefore I have the prerogative to define it). The fact that you have to construct your own notion of God, and then do so illogically, then try to impose it on me, is already multiple fatal flaws in your procedure.

If you want to say that being omnipotent doesn't involve being able to break the rules of logic - that is to say, if you want to choose the logical definition of omnipotence, then we can proceed.

Carol:
You're really missing my point here -- I'm simply not trying to have it both ways and I'm not jumping God in and out of our logical framework.

Scenario #1: My thought experiment about a possible way to avoid the problem of evil by God designing a different set of logical constructs is only that: a thought experiment. I'm saying that God COULD HAVE done that by nature of his omnipotence because there was no logic to contradict. It would have been OUTSIDE the logical framework we're trying to reason through. This fits with God's character (omnipotent) and poses no complicating logical problems.

Question: Do you see any complicating logical problems with the previous paragraph? Am I introducing any contradictions with God's character? Is what I'm suggesting not a valid thought experiment, given God's omnipotence, to avoid the problem of evil? Am I creating any logical contradictions?

Scenario #2: Your attempt to extrapolate my "different set of logic by way of omnipotence" argument is occurring WITHIN our ALREADY CREATED logical framework. This creates new logical contradictions because the logical constructs have already been created -- the same ones we're trying to work our way through and the only ones we have available to us. You're claiming that "God can contradict logic" WITHIN our logical framework. That's a new contradiction which complicates the problem.

Question: Do you see that a new contradiction has been created? Does allowing contradictions to logic which (already) exists solve other contradictions to logic?

THERE IS A VERY DISTINCT DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THOSE TWO SCENARIOS, which is why I'm not trying to have it both ways.

#1 allows omnipotence to be workable WITHOUT CAUSING ANY NEW LOGICAL CONTRADICTIONS since there's no logic to contradict before God creates logic. This is okay.

#2 CREATES/ALLOWS MORE CONTRADICTIONS TO LOGIC. This is not okay.

Contradictions simply aren't helpful in resolving contradictions. Scenario #2 employs more of this and #1 does not. They are different.

Frank:
If you allow scenario 1, it easily leads to scenario 2. God simply constructs a different set of rules of logic for himself and for the remainder of the world. He can even introduce logical "backdoors" for himself however it would suit him, so that he himself is free to be as illogical as he wants to be while the rest of us and the rest of the universe has to be logical.

This is no different than outright giving God the power of logic-breaking, which we have already hashed out.

Remember, this is my belief system that you're supposed to be trying to find contradictions in. You're still trying to construct your own system and trying to knock it down - a classic straw man. How about we consider what I actually believe, which is that omnipotence doesn't include the ability to break or remake the rules of logic?

Carol:
I do allow scenario #1 because it creates no contradictions.

I recognize that it leads to scenario #2, however this one is NOT ALLOWABLE because it creates contradictions. This is the point.

NO NEW LOGICAL CONTRADICTIONS ARE ALLOWED WHEN TRYING TO RESOLVE LOGICAL CONTRADICTIONS. THEREFORE, SCENARIO #1 IS ALLOWABLE AND #2 IS NOT.

I AM NOT TRYING TO HAVE IT BOTH WAYS, BECAUSE BOTH WAYS I AM REFUSING TO PERMIT CONTRADICTIONS OF LOGIC.

For the very reason that I do not allow scenario #2 (because it would involve the introduction of a contradiction), I am upholding your notion that God cannot break logic.

(Side note: I'm temporarily and willfully overlooking the contradiction between God not being able to break logic and his omnipotence. Again, I'm doing this to ENTERTAIN the notion of omnipotence, and it's not relevant to the core of the #1/#2 arguments. This is a common way of looking at the world by reducing the number of variables, and is allowable because it does not change the outcome of my argument. It's like canceling out in math. In other words, we don't have to do this: if we don't, the problem of evil is solved by removing one of God's characteristics.)

However, allowing #1 does not depend on God breaking logic -- there would be no logic to break before he created it!

The whole point is that #1 is an allowable thought experiment, and #2 is not. Allowing #2 would only allow more contradictions, which doesn't help solve contradictions.

SCENARIO #1 WOULD BE A PLAUSIBLE SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM OF EVIL. It's just a thought experiment though, as it didn't happen.

SCENARIO #2 FAILS TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF EVIL. It only complicates it.

I really have to go to bed now. I'll reread your posts tomorrow and I hope you'll do the same for mine. I appreciate the dialogue; it's been very enjoyable.

Frank:
First, you're still constructing your own idea of what God must be like, forcing him to make the most disadvantageous choices possible, for the purpose of knocking it down - a classic straw man.

Second, in scenario 1, you've allowed God to dictate the rules of logic. This means that he can simply make it a rule of logic that "anything involving me isn't a contradiction". This leads right to scenario 2, exactly as I said before, except that the things that you say are contradictions are now not. Functionally this is identical to giving God power to ignore the rules of logic on whim.

Your argument up to this point essentially adds up to "if I give God illogical attributes, God has illogical attributes" - an empty tautology.

Why not simply abandon your scenario 1 and proceed to say God's omnipotence does not include the power to break his rules of logic? This is what I actually believe (and thus won't be a straw man if we talked about it) and it's what you seem to want to believe too, except you're hanging on to your scenario 1 because it's necessary for the illogical element in your straw man. Abandoning your scenario 1 and accepting my definition of omnipotence is the logical way to proceed.

Good night, sleep well. I've enjoyed this discussion as well, and I'd be glad to read over it and continue it tomorrow.


You may next want to read:
The word "If" does not apply to God
Can God make a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it?
Another post, from the table of contents

Elsa's facial expressions during "Let It Go", in Disney's "Frozen"

(This post contains spoilers. Go watch "Frozen" before you read it)

My obsession with "Frozen" and "Let It Go" continues. Elsa has fascinating facial expressions during "Let It Go", and this post will explore the meaning of those expressions. Some of her expressions are difficult to catch because they're complicated and they change so quickly, but I believe I have a good, insightful collection of her expressions below. I hope you see many things that you didn't notice before.

After writing my analysis on the meaning of "Let It Go", I'd long wanted to supplement it with this post. But this blog is supposed to be about theology, philosophy, science, and math, so I've limited myself to one "off-topic" post per month. It's now been a month and I can't hold it back anymore.


(For the best viewing experience, maximize your browser and click on the image to see a larger picture. You can then navigate with mouse clicks, mouse scroll wheel, or left and right arrow keys. All images are from the video of the song on YouTube, except the last one.)
































You may next want to read:
An analysis of "Let It Go" in Disney's "Frozen"
The Gospel according to Disney's "Tangled"
The Gospel according to Disney's "Frozen"
Another post, from the table of contents