Should Science Be Viewed As a Metal Detector?
I haven’t found another blog like DC where intelligent Christians and atheists meet to debate the issues. I like it. Perhaps one of the reasons is because of comments like the one from a Keith R.:
Hi, John, I’m a long time reader and sometime commenter on DC. Of the many atheist and theist blogs that I follow I would have to say that you are the best at consistently coming up with interesting topics and arguments even though I disagree with almost everything you say.
I’ve heard this from others several times before. Just the same, Keith R. disagreed with my recent post, Enough of This Utter Nonsense, On Knowing the Supernatural. He wants us to think of science as a metal detector, and as such, it cannot detect anything that isn’t metal. Hence, there are things that science cannot detect, supernatural things. *POOF* Therefore a trinitarian incarnational atoning resurrecting ascending and soon to be returning God exists. Get this? Neither do I.
Keith (may I just use your first name?) argues that “science should be viewed as a metal detector. It does a great job of detecting metal objects just as, by analogy, science is great at studying the natural world.” But it cannot detect anything else except metal, soooo, “science’s inability to detect the spiritual world because it is designed to study the physical world doesn’t mean that the spiritual world doesn’t exist or that science is to blame for not detecting it.”
I’ve heard a lot of analogies like these from believers. None of them show anything significant at all. What this particular analogy conjures up in our heads is the prior knowledge we have that most things in the universe are not made of metal. There is water, sand, dirt, all sorts of animals, plants, rocks, and gases. We know this. So the analogy plays with our heads precisely because we have prior knowledge that most objects in the universe are not metal. This is clearly stacking the mental deck in favor of that which Keith wants us to consider. His analogy would therefore more accurately be stated like this: If all we had was a metal detector then how can we know if non-metallic objects exist in a world where all we ever experienced are metal objects?
So let’s go back in time. The ancients agreed upon four elements in the cosmos: earth, water, air, and fire (some included Aether, the mysterious element). These elements referred to the phases of matter: earth is equivalent to solid, water is equivalent to liquid, air is equivalent to gas, and fire is equivalent to plasma. No metal is specified here. As science has progressed it has discovered 117 elements to date.
So if Keith wants a proper analogy to science it would be an Element Detector, not just a metal detector. And what detects the elements? Our five senses, along with the many instruments scientists have produced to enhance them, beginning with the telescope and the microscope. So to put this into perspective Keith is asking if there is an element that we cannot detect with our Element Detector. Think about this, please! The only way we have for detecting elements is with our Element Detector. If there is any other method at all I’d like to know what it is. Faith in a private subjective experience has a proven track record of repeated failures. All we have to do is look at the difference between our reliable Element Detector with faith as an “element” detector seen in these two world maps.
What more can I say at this point? If there is a supernatural “element” who wants to be detected by us there is no other way but to provide our senses with objective reliable data. We cannot detect that which is undetectable. It is impossible for us to do anything different if this supernatural “element” expects us to be reasonable people. Private subjective experiences by contrast, do not count for anything at all. Even if someone had one, he or she should doubt it as an unreliable brain fart. Such experiences happen during a trance-like moment of mediation, or prayer, or singing songs of worship to any and all supernatural “elements” from the beginnings of human civilization. Just think of the trance-like state believers would attain during the cadence-like rhythmic beating of the ancient Aztec drums when a high priest gutted the virgin on the altar, in sacrifice to Xipe Totec, so the sun would rise the next day, or the rain would come. They knew with certainty that their god existed and that he wanted them to sacrifice that virgin based on the same private subjective experiences Christians have today. Yep, the same exact ones. If that’s not what’s going on in the heads of believers of all shapes and stripes, then what is?
So it isn’t the case, as Keith opines later, that his God doesn’t want us to have absolute knowledge of his existence lest he force us into believing. The case is far far less than this. His God has not given us ANY evidence of his existence at all except for private subjective experiences and the 2nd- 3rd- 4th-handed written testimonies from ancient Christian believers who had private subjective experiences. Keith simply does not think of his God as a reasonable one, for a reasonable God who wants, no demands, reasonable belief should give reasonable people what reasonable people need to believe. I am not demanding anything of God. I am a reasonable person who needs what Keith’s God is not providing. I am not alone. His God doesn’t even abide by the parable of the Lost Sheep. He’s losing many of his sheep every day and is doing nothing objectively to keep them in the fold.