Monday, March 23, 2009

Another "Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete" Post

It will be interesting to see if this attracts any comments on the Templeton Foundation's "Big Questions" site. I know that I noted that I'd post again around May 15, but this condenses Peirce's idea better than my previous post on this argument. I'll be reading through background info on this argument in the meantime. I will post further "conversation" on this topic, if it arises. Otherwise, posts will resume by 5/15.

RE: Whole Series
Tracy Witham
From C.S. Peirce's point of view, science confirms the God hypothesis. If we entertain the idea that an analogue of mind is suggested by the universe, the only way to test the hypothesis is to investigate the world in a way that sees to what extent it does conform to human understanding. Thus, the ongoing march of science is the basis for belief in God.

But Peirce was careful to separate the reality of God from an understanding of God that supposes God's "[reacting] with other like things in the environment," which he called "fetishism" ("A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God"). If so, neither can the kind of understanding science provides undermine Peirce's God hypothesis.

Peirce begins with a simple analogy that suggests the reality of God; the operation of science confirms it in the only possible way; and yet the analogy cannot be critiqued by science without implying "fetishism." This fine little conundrum deserves a name: how about "Peirce's Pretty Pickle"?


Jason said...

Do you think the "analogue of mind" suggested from part B of Peirce's argument points solely toward a theistic view of God or might it also include a panentheistic view--God as an essence or "is-ness" rather than a being--like that of Borg's?

Tracy Witham said...

Hi Jason,

A problem with trying to extract just the essential features of Peirce's argument--and it is couched in much arcane, albeit brilliant, commentary--is that you won't see where he was coming from.

Here are a couple relevant quotes.

"The hypothesis of God is a peculiar one, in that it supposes an infinitely incomprehensible object..." ("Neglected," Part II.)

"...any normal [person] who considers...the hypothesis of God's reality...will be stirred to the depths of his nature by the beauty of the idea and by its august practicality, even to the point of earnestly loving and adoring his strictly hypothetical God..." ("Neglected," Part II.)

I think that Peirce would have appreciated Thomas' affirming of Augustine's view that God as the infinite source of being overwhelms our minds as the sun overwhelms our eyes if we try to look at it directly. We catch "fragments" of God's thought, as Peirce puts it. But "rays" would fit the analogy better.

I guess my point is that if we try to define God we will always fail.

Tracy Witham said...


Thanks to your question, I just realized that the failure of all attempts to define God correlates with the prohibition on making idols: all OUR gods are false.