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Tuesday, July 5th 2016

21:20

A False Dilemma

June and I were both really wound up when we came home last night after the family fireworks. Plus I really wanted to get that previous entry posted. What I thought would take about fifteen minutes took 2 hours, thanks to formatting glitches, so that set my brain twirling. (And once again, I'm back to writing my code on Notepad, and then copying and posting it to Bravenet.) We finally settled down around 4:30 am, but it was several more hours before I actually fell asleep for a few hours. June tells me that at one point during my sleep I started to sing out loud, which woke her up for a while. But she didn't remember (or recognize) the song. We've both been pretty exhausted all day today. 

Please be aware of the fact that all of my previous posts in this serious are collected on my site: Phi--Let's Get it Right

Let us move on to a second video in which the eminent theoretical physicist, Michio Kaku, declares his opinions about God.

(1) Let's ignore the gushing interviewer's comments about the "spirituality" of most cosmologists. If I were doing a one-on-one interview with someone of Dr. Kaku's stature, I, too, would treat him as the celebrity that he is. She self-edited her first question as she went along, and I think I have been able to assemble the bare bones of it without the asides and qualifications:

Q: "What is your view on life, and where is it? What are we doing when we teleport life?"

A: "Well, if I had an answer to life, I would have an inside track up there." He's pointing straight up. 

Response: Kaku's answer has several dimensions (though not ten or eleven). For one thing, this answer may lead us to infer that Kaku holds to a view of God as transcendent--beyond the world and unknowable. In what follows, however, it becomes clear that Kaku's conception of God is of one who is entirely immanent, who is one with the world and its structure. Another observation I must make is that he seems to have no room for the common belief among those who believe in a transcendent God, that he has the ability to reveal himself and that he has done so. As a Christian, I can't say that I have an "inside track" to God, whatever that could mean. But I know his message and his will because he has disclosed himself to us, not in all of his infinity, of course, but in a way that becomes intelligible to us. Furthermore, what I know about him is available to anyone. When I read the Bible, I do get information about the meaning of life, not exhaustively, but enough that I'm not in the total dark about it. Obviously, non-Christians don't see it that way, and there is no need to make a big point out of that. My main objective is to help you understand what I think Kaku is trying to say, and doing so involves exposing the inadequacies of his theological concepts. If some things that he says don't make sense to you, don't blame yourself. Right here he seems to be referring to an all-transcendent, but essentially unknowable, being. But he doesn't stick to that script for very long. 

(2) Prof. Kaku continues to expound his views of God. He refers to Einstein and his answer to the question of whether he believes in God. As a physicist one must, of course, be scientific in dealing with that question, and he clearly takes great pleasure in his elitist standing in such matters. The perception he seems to want to create is that he is more rational and informed than your average poorly educated believer in God. Consequently, he avers, we need to have a clear definition of what we mean by God. One cannot help but see the subtext that people who are not scientists do not live up to his supposed strictly rational analysis.  There are two ways of thinking of God, he claims. (I'm treating this part of the exchange in three sections: the limit of two options, the God whom he dismisses, and the God whom he believes in.)

Response: In informal logic, we encounter a fallacy known as a false dilemma. One commits this fallacy when one presents an issue as though it had only two options, and one of them is so unacceptable that one must embrace the other one.

Your only choices are A and B. A is wonderful, while B is totally unacceptable.

"Do you want to be a benevolent pacifist and abandon all physical violence, or do you
choose to be the kind of monster who thinks that we should nuke
all the countries that we don't like and not worry about the consequences?

Hopefully, rational people understand that there are many more options between absolute pacifism and extreme war-monger-ism. That example is obviously not our topic, but simply serves as an illustration of the kind of polemic that Prof. Kaku engages in. To be sure, there may be times in our lives when one may have only two options to choose from, and one of them may be so bad that it really doesn't deserve consideration. Then there is no fallacy. The actual fallacy occurs when one imposes such a scheme on an issue while either ignoring or being ignorant of other options. My paraphrase:

There are two ways of looking at God: One comes with the clout of being held by scientific geniuses,
while the other one is childish and can be dismissed with a gentle chuckle.

If Prof. Kaku only knew what he doesn't know! There are many more ways of understanding God than a laughable cartoon version and his allegedly scientific one. What grates as much as anything is the air of superiority with which Kaku spreads his peacock feathers of ignorance to the world. He, after all, is a scientist, so he is in a far better position to understand the idea of God than the huddled masses. This is pure arrogance, particularly in light of the fact that, when we're all done we'll see that he doesn't even have any coherent understanding of God. Just to mention a few options in the conceptualization of God of which doesn't seem to be aware: personal religious theism, impersonal philosophical theism, trinitarian theism, unitarian theism, personal pantheism, impersonal pantheism, deism, panentheism of various forms (e.g., Hegel's transcendental panentheism or Whitehead's process panentheism), polytheism, henotheism, and others, not to mention combinations of some of them. I am tempted to say that before one proceeds to declare that there are only two options, one ought to have acquainted oneself with all of the options. But I cannot make that statement because undoubtedly there are many more ways of understanding God that I'm not aware of--an observation that underscores my point. But there are many models well accessible to study and learn about, and to present a picture of only two choices, one infantile and the other unintelligible, clearly demonstrates a lack of learning. 

Now, one can come up with a good rebuttal to what I just presented. One could say that, regardless of the model of God one proposes, each of them clearly falls into one of two fundamental categories. But that's not what Kaku is doing. He's not giving us two classes of gods into which we can divide all the available models. He is having us choose between two specific models of God, the "God of Intervention" and the "God of Order." And that's why I must say that he is trying to entice us with a false dilemma.

(3)The first option for understanding God is as a God of intervention who answers all of our prayers, who parts the waters, who kills Philistines on our behalf as per our requests. Einstein, Prof. Kaku tells us, had a hard time believing in that kind of God.

God and toys

Response: So do I. What Einstein and Kaku are dismissing is the "Santa Claus" version of God that maturing Christians should learn to grow out of. It's not the God of the Bible. Yes, the God of the Bible is a personal God who can and does act within the world he has created. But he is not a god out of, say, Greek or Hindu mythology, who changes his mind frequently in order to accommodate our demands so as to continue to be liked by us.

(4) Kaku endorses the idea of a God of order, harmony, beauty, simplicity, and elegance. A look at the physical universe bedazzles us with those qualities. God would not have needed to create the universe in that way. The God whom both Einstein and Kaku are promoting is the "God of Spinoza," a God of order and regularity.

Response: I cannot say whether either of these two men has ever actually studied Baruch "Benedict" Spinoza (163-1677) or, if I may be just a little crass, whether they understood what they were reading. To say that "Einstein read Spinoza's Ethics" does not tell us much. I shall skip the virtually mandated biography of Spinoza and give you just a bit of insight about the core of his system. He set up his philosophy in a form that resembled Euclid's Elements, drawing up axioms, theorems, and corollaries, a procedure that obviously holds a certain attraction for these scientists. Conceptually speaking, he began with René Descartes' understanding of substances, namely that substances do not have properties in themselves, but that the properties are added to an underlying substrate, which is the substance. I like to call this the "pin cushion" theory of substances. The properties are the pins that are inserted into the cushion. They can be removed or exchanged, but the underlying cushion, i.e. the true substance remains the same. Spinoza took off from the notion that substances per se have no intrinsic properties. So, we can consider one substance and declare that it is a substance, and that we know so by a direct rational intuition rather than by the properties it displays. Then we can look at a second substance and again recognize the fact that it has no intrinsic properties.

But wait! How do we know that we're not looking at the same substance for a second time? If a substance has no discernible properties that distinguish it from other substances, it is not possible for us to recognize more than one substance. There is only one substance. So then, all diversity of substances, actions, change, motion, etc. are not truly real, but are mere modalities in which the true Substance manifests itself. It's not necessary here to go through a lengthy argument demonstrating the unresolvable contradiction that runs between identifying infinite substance with finite things. The point I'm making is much simpler than that. In Spinoza's philosophy, the details of the universe, i.e. the beauty, harmony, elegance, and order of the world are swallowed up by simplicity. In fact, this simplicity is an all-absorbing one-ness. In short, as Kaku presents his picture of God, it is not the God of Spinoza. Isabelle T. mentioned on Facebook that underlying his thought may be the Buddhist concept of sunyata, the all-pervasive emptiness of all.That's a good analysis. But still, that's not the God of Einstein or Spinoza, and in Buddhism there is no such thing as a Creator who made a universe that displays beauty, order, simplicity, elegance, and harmony. Either way, Kaku's God is severely ill-defined and self-inconsistent.

(5) The attribute of simplicity is of great importance to Kaku. All the equations of physics can be written down on one sheet of paper. Better yet, the fundamental formula of string theory (Kaku's contribution, he is careful to add) is extremely short. The shorter, the more elegant. The more elegant, the more beautiful. Kaku's formula captures the essence of God, it would appear.

Response: Kaku may claim that his belief in this strange God is based on observing the order, beauty, elegance, etc. of the universe. But his conceptualization of God has yet to attain order, let alone beauty, or elegance. One feels as though there is something else that Kaku knows (and maybe Einstein did as well) that is hidden from the rest of us. One wishes for a genuine definition or description; he started out by gloating over the assumption that as a scientist he is duty-bound to start out with a clear definition of God [my paraphrase]. But such a definition is not forthcoming. I, for one would be delighted if we could start with comprehensibility, not of God, but of what Kaku is saying. Labeling his deity as the "God of Spinoza" doesn't do it because Spinoza's God is clearly not Kaku's God. Displaying his formula to the world doesn't convey anything to most of us, except that he loves simplicity, elegance, etc. But that's where we started, so that equation doesn't tell us any more about the nature and function of this God-thing.  We're pretty clear on what Kaku does not believe, namely a caricature of God as a cosmic Santa Claus. The only thing we can say definitively is that we still don't know what he really means by God and that this God supposedly differs drastically from all other conceptions of God. There seems to be an inside track, after all, though the path does not appear open to most of us. 

4 Comment(s).

Posted by steve hays:

It's my impression that Einstein simply uses "God" as a metaphor for the universe. An elegant universe. I think some people are tripped up by his ironic usage.
Tuesday, July 5th 2016 @ 23:50

Posted by Winfried Corduan:

Steve, it's goofier than that. As I said, it's not even a straightforward pantheism. I'll say a few more words about Einstein in the next post.
Wednesday, July 6th 2016 @ 17:13

Posted by David Ochabski:

Two quotes stuck out at me:

1) "What grates as much as anything is the air of superiority with which Kaku spreads his peacock feathers of ignorance to the world." (Style points for that one Win, haha.)

2) "...he started out by gloating over the assumption that as a scientist he is duty-bound to start out with a clear definition of God [my paraphrase]. But such a definition is not forthcoming. I, for one would be delighted if we could start with comprehensibility, not of God, but of what Kaku is saying."

I'm glad you're reviewing his comments. I initially take him as someone who engages in 'coffee and conjecture' after listening to his theology. But you're right about the air of superiority. If you couple that his professional accomplishments, it's easy to see how he could have a negative impact in people uninformed in such matters.

Keep up the exposé!

This comment has been moderated by the blog owner

Wednesday, July 6th 2016 @ 19:43

Posted by Winfried Corduan:

Well, Bravenet just swallowed my own reply. So, once more:
Thanks, Dave. I'm really not all that much into expose as such, but I guess I probably wind up doing more of it than I notice. In this case, I know of some Christians who were initially impressed by this important scientist who was sure of the existence of God. So, I decided to undertake one of my many digressions and address his thought a bit.
Wednesday, July 6th 2016 @ 20:21

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