Physicalism in Science (Updated)
While contemplating the opening salvo of The God Delusion, I started thinking about the ideas of naturalism, materialism, and physicalism in relation to the scientific search to disprove the existence of God. After a while something was nagging at me…it just didn’t fit, logically.
Many people argue that the basis for Christian belief is circular. See Ryan’s second comment on my God Delusion chapter one post. The explanation I’ve heard most often is that the Bible says God is real, and since the Bible says it’s God’s word, it’s true. If all you’re basing your belief on is blind acceptance that the Bible is the truth, then it is quite circular.
But it finally clicked for me yesterday that this crusade undertaken by Richard Dawkins and many other scientists, to effectively disprove the existence of God through science is equally circular.
In order to undertake this search with the confidence that it will reveal the truth you have to begin with the assumption that science would reveal God’s presence, if he exists. You would also have to assume that anything that can’t be detected by science can’t exist. Since science can only detect physical things, you would be starting from the position of physicalism. What do we find when the research is conducted? That science didn’t detect anything supernatural, immaterial, or non-physical. Therefore physicalism (a synonym for Dawkins definition of atheism) is true.
But God is spirit. He can’t be detected by science. He is unquantifiable.
I know that any scientists or atheists who read this will automatically reject my argument. If you disagree, make a case for it, and let me know.
UPDATE: Ryan has correctly pointed out that I also used circular reasoning in my claim. I included in my premise that “science can only detect physical things”, a statement that can be called unfounded. I don’t believe it is unfounded, but I guess we don’t agree on that. So, here’s the reasoning behind my assumption that science can only detect physical or material things.
The only way (that I can think of) to know if science can detect immaterial or nonphysical entities, would be for science to actually detect an immaterial or nonphysical entity. If such entities were detected, it would prove that they exist, thereby increasing the probability of God’s existence. Then the true search to “prove God” could be undertaken, in the immateral, nonphysical arena. Theologically speaking, it would still be up to God to reveal himself. That is a “convenient excuse” from a scientific perspective, but an unavoidable variable from a theological one.
I know that I added another assumption into the premise of this statement, so if you can think of any other way to know if science is capable or incapable of detecting immaterial or nonphysical entities, please let me know.