Daniel Goldman,

When you say we “know” very little from science, I take it you mean we know little if anything for certain, because science deals with evidence not with proof. Science builds up evidence and thus shows where the probabilities lie, by testing hypotheses. Scientists try to falsify the hypothesis, and when the hypothesis passes enough of those tests, its probability of being true increases. Likewise, when the hypothesis or theory is corroborated across multiple sciences or experiments, as in the case of natural selection or a law of physics, for example, the scientific statement becomes highly probable but still not technically necessary or absolutely certain.

To say, though, that science “does not yield truth” seems too strong, since truth can be necessary or probabilistic. Math may deal with necessary truth, since with probabilities.

You say there’s “nothing contrary to science in theism.” I doubt very much that that’s true. For one thing, theists put their trust in God, which is a source of miracles, whereas scientists put their trust in reason and in human nature, which entails methodological naturalism; in other words, scientists assume there are no miracles, whereas by definition, theists assume God intervenes in nature from beyond nature.

When you say you don’t think “string theists and atheists” are the same, I take it you mean “string theorists.” Yeah, I don’t argue they’re the same. I argue that atheists are practically tied to a science-centered worldview, to distinguish themselves from theists and agnostics. If you polled atheists about their cosmology, the vast majority would defer to the consensus of scientists.

But that’s just beating around the bush. I agree that strictly speaking atheism isn’t preposterous. If by “atheism” we mean just the denial of theism, that’s not preposterous. But that’s not the totality of what “atheism” currently means. In ancient Rome, “atheism” meant just the denial of “our gods.” In today’s context, “atheism” is a euphemism for the denial of theism plus the affirmation of science and philosophical naturalism. (Indeed, in the US, “atheism” also connotes immorality.) That’s because, as I said, atheists tend to agree not just on the negative statement that there’s no God, but on the positive side of their worldview. Atheists replace religious faith with reason in the form of science and philosophy. And if you follow the trail of reasoning, you end up with methodological naturalism, which lands you in the absurdities I spoke of in the article. So the preposterousness of atheism isn’t as clear-cut as that of theism, because of confusion about the connotations of “atheism.”

But that’s only a semantic issue. It’s tidier to speak of theism and atheism, but my argument would go through just as well if I spoke of the equal preposterousness of “the worldviews of theists and atheists.” Anyway, that’s what I really mean to be talking about here.

You ask me to explain what I mean by saying “the element can’t account for itself.” I do elaborate on what I mean in the article. A self-explanatory theoretical entity wouldn’t be natural because it wouldn’t be scientifically explainable. To explain it scientifically, you’d have to treat it as an object, which means you’d have to identify the limits of the object, and those limits would themselves cry out for explanation. This is why cosmologists don’t lean too much on the idea that the Big Bang theory posits a singularity, because a singularity is infinite. Scientists assume that if your theory entails a singularity, there’s something wrong with the theory, because singularities aren’t natural. Natural laws break down in a singularity, which means a singularity is effectively miraculous.

Or take the physical constants such as the speed of light. Why are those constants measured as being X rather than Y? Those constants are limitations, so they cry out for explanation, which means they aren’t self-explanatory. Likewise, if an element has certain limits, to say that the entity gave itself those limits would be to offer a vacuous, circular nonexplanation, because the entity would have used those limits to reestablish them. That’s why scientific explanations tend to dig deeper and deeper.

Knowledge condemns. Art redeems. I learned that as an artistic writer who did a doctorate in philosophy. We should try to see the dark comedy in all things.

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