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I recently finished reading Alister McGrath’s “Inventing the Universe” (subtitle: “Why We Can’t Stop Talking About Science, Faith, and God”) and was struck by the similarities between his view of the science-religion relationship and what I believe the Bahá'í Faith teaches.
 
McGrath is a living rebuttal of the bogus “scientists = atheists” default that both extremes of the discussions want us to believe. A trained scientist who moved over to theology, he is a Professor of Science and Religion, and a devout Christian. This book is an attempt to show that science is not the enemy of religion (or religion of science), that religious people need not feel threatened by scientific advances, even apparently challenging ones like evolution, and the militant atheists who claim that science replaces religion are wrong. He puts a lot of effort into rebutting – always courteously – the claims of figures like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.
 
There was little in his book to disagree with except for the way that his picture of religion began and ended with Christianity (apart from the occasional supportive note from Einstein or Carl Sagan).
 
Late in the book he sets out a longish section “How Religion Enriches a Scientific Narrative” and I believe it’s worth sharing the key points of this. The expletory notes below each are heavily summarised and probably don’t do them justice, but this post would otherwise have been very long.

 

  1. It provides us with an assurance of the coherence of reality.

    - As the author puts it, “… that however fragmentary our world of experience may seem, there is a half-glimpsed ‘bigger picture’ that holds things together its threads connecting together in a web of meaning what might otherwise seem incoherent and pointless.”

  2. It offers answers to the scientifically unanswerable questions that we, by our very natures, want answers to.

    - What Karl Popper called “ultimate questions”, relating to the meaning of life, and our space in the general scheme of things.

  3. Religion prevents a scientific narrative from collapsing into a mere technocratic catalogue of things.

    - Some may not find this a valid claim, after all the wonders of the natural world are in themselves more than capable of inspiring feelings of wonder and awe. But religion claims that there is more that needs to be said if a full understanding of reality is to be attained.
We may well differ in our agreement with these points and the reasoning behind them, but I do feel they offer something useful to the debate.

Stephen Jay Gould

The best definition that I have found of agnosticism and atheism is this: "An agnostic is one who believes it impossible to know anything about God or about the creation of the universe and refrains from commitment to any religious doctrine. An atheist is one who denies the existence of a deity or of divine beings." This post focuses on Stephen Jay Gould and shows, I believe, that personal atheism and scientific agnosticism are compatible. In other words, his personal belief was that God does not exist; his scientific position was that the question of God's existence cannot be answered by science. The first statement is about himself, and the second statement is about science. The distinction is important. When someone says that a certain scientist is an atheist, it is often incorrectly understood to mean that science is atheistic. Mr. Gould's position on the question is an example of that.

[Image: Stephen_Jay_Gould.jpg]
Stephen Jay Gould is best known scientifically by his notions of "non-overlapping magesteria" (NOMA) and "punctuated equilibrium". It's not my purpose to discuss the findings of science here - those interested can google the two phrases in the quotes if interested. My purpose is to present what he himself says about what he believes. In the words of Mr Gould himself, "...the primary rule of intellectual life: when puzzled, it never hurts to read the primary documents - a rather simple and self-evident principle that has, nonetheless, completely disappeared from large sectors of the American experience." (1) So I will quote his own words, rather than what someone else says.

He has written this concise statement about scientific agnosticism:
"To say it for all my colleagues and for the umpteenth million time (from college bull sessions to learned treatises): science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can’t comment on it as scientists. If some of our crowd have made untoward statements claiming that Darwinism disproves God, then I will find Mrs. McInerney and have their knuckles rapped for it (as long as she can equally treat those members of our crowd who have argued that Darwinism must be God’s method of action). Science can work only with naturalistic explanations; it can neither affirm nor deny other types of actors (like God) in other spheres (the moral realm, for example). Forget philosophy for a moment; the simple empirics of the past hundred years should suffice. Darwin himself was agnostic (having lost his religious beliefs upon the tragic death of his favorite daughter), but the great American botanist Asa Gray, who favored natural selection and wrote a book entitled Darwiniana, was a devout Christian. Move forward 50 years: Charles D. Walcott, discoverer of the Burgess Shale fossils, was a convinced Darwinian and an equally firm Christian, who believed that God had ordained natural selection to construct a history of life according to His plans and purposes. Move on another 50 years to the two greatest evolutionists of our generation: G. G. Simpson was a humanist agnostic. Theodosius Dobzhansky a believing Russian Orthodox. Either half my colleagues are enormously stupid, or else the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious beliefs — and equally compatible with atheism, thus proving that the two great realms of nature’s factuality and the source of human morality do not strongly overlap." (2)
Along the same lines, he has also said, about a statement by Pope Piux XII in his 1950 encyclical titled Humani Generis, that he "knew that the main thrust of his message was that Catholics could believe whatever science determined about the evolution of the human body, so long as they accepted that, at some time of [God's] choosing, God had infused the soul into such a creature. I also knew that I had no problem with this statement, for whatever my private beliefs about souls, science cannot touch such a subject and therefore cannot be threatened by any theological position on such a legitimately and intrinsically religious issue." (1)
He continues his article with a review of NOMA, saying that how the universe works is the magesteria (teaching authority) of science; moral questions and questions of ultimate meaning are in the magesteria of religion. He acknowledges that the borders of these two magesteria are not always clearly defined, and can bump into each other. Such is the case with the science of evolution. There have been excesses on both sides (he acknowledges that some of his fellow scientists have crossed the border), creating conflict where there doesn't have to be one.
Concerning his own beliefs, he says: "I am not, personally, a believer or a religious man in any sense of institutional commitment or practice. But I have enormous respect for religion, and the subject has always fascinated me,..." (1)

"I believe, with all my heart, in a respectful, even loving concordate between our magesteria - the NOMA solution. NOMA represents a principled position on moral and intellectual grounds, not a mere diplomatic stance. NOMA also cuts both ways. If religion can no longer dictate the nature of factual conclusions under the magesterium of science, then scientists cannot claim higher insight into moral truth from any superior knowledge of the world's empirical constitution. This natural humility has important consequences in a world of such diverse passions." (1)
Concerning the existence of the soul, he writes "...I know that souls represent a subject outside the magisterium of science. My world cannot prove or disprove such a notion, and the concept of souls cannot threaten or impact my domain [science]." (1)
And finally, "Here, I believe, likes the greatest strength and necessity of NOMA, ...[it] permits - indeed, enjoins - the prospect of respectful discourse, of constant input from both magesteria toward the common goal of wisdom." (1)

The important takeaways for me are that Mr Gould is not, as he is sometimes portrayed, a flaming atheist out to destroy religion. Even more importantly, he recognizes the limitations of science and rejects the notion that science can somehow prove/disprove the existence of God. Although he is personally not a believer, he is very careful to differentiate his beliefs as a person from the conclusions of science. Scientists are allowed to have their own beliefs on the question of God and all that that implies, but those personal beliefs must not be taken as a statement about science.

(1) "Nonoverlapping Magesteria", published in the journal "Natural History", March 1997, reproduced in the book "An Evolving Dialogue: Theological and Scientific Perspectives On Evolution", by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Trinity Press International, 1991.
(2) https://afterall.net/…/stephen-jay-gould-on-darwinisms-com…/

Atheism, and the related agnosticism, are often painted with a broad brush, which obscures their nuances. Not all forms of atheism are the same. It seemed worthwhile to take a closer look, and rather than doing that abstractly, I decided to take a look at the atheism/agnosticism of three well-known scientists, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, and Carl Sagan. Gould and Dawkins are specialists in evolution science.

As I started working on an article about Gould, I quickly realized that I needed a basic understanding of the Theory of Evolution, about which I was woefully uninformed and generally uninterested. Although I knew that the relationship between evolution and religion was somewhat contentious, a deeper dive quickly showed that it was here, more than any other, that the boundaries between science and religion most clearly collided. I found that subject fascinating and nuanced, and an excellent arena for examining the Baha'i Principle of the Harmony of Science and Religion. Some, and apparently a relatively small but very vocal minority in both areas (science and religion), see evolution and religion to be in irreconcilable conflict - a take no prisoners fight to the death.

Therefore I've decided to write a series of posts about the relationship between evolution and religion, the content of said series not being clear in my mind because I'm learning something new and developing a deeper understanding every day. Therefore I am unable to make a pedantic presentation, and will be using a "shotgun" approach. They will be unified by the underlying theme of resolution of the perceived conflict using the principle of the harmony of science and religion, but could well appear to be disjointed at first glance. I won't be posting on the science of religion, except for an introductory post outlining the barest of basics. The details, what I like to call the "messy bits", aren't necessary for following the main theme, and are well outside my area of competence as well.

My first post, which will follow later today, will be on Stephen Jay Gould. I started and basically finished it before doing the deeper investigation described above. I'm not entirely satisfied with it, but think that it is probably "good enough". We used to have a poster on the wall when I worked for an engineering consulting firm, which said, "There comes a time in the life of every project where you have to shoot the engineers and started construction." The same applied to writers, I think - one can revise and add to one's writing for ever, because it's almost impossible to completely exhaust any subject, so there comes a time when one must simply say "good enough", and "put it out there".

As a side note, there seems to be an informal rule that when writing about a subject, authors should avoid using the first person: I think, I believe, I found, etc. The "rule" says to use either the passive voice (it is hope, it is believed, and that sort of thing) or an impersonal voice (the author hopes, the author believe, and so on). Both forms, it seems to me, attempt to emphasize an objectivity that is not entirely present, or in other words, downplay the element of subjectivity that is always there. Someone hopes, someone believes - that someone is me. So I'm going to use an informal, conversational style: I believe, I hope, I think.

I hope that you find the series enlightening and enjoyable. Thank you for reading.

Here is an interesting and important article explaining why people are unwilling to change their position even when given refuting facts, i.e. "confirmation bias".
 "The Stanford studies became famous. Coming from a group of academics in the nineteen-seventies, the contention that people can’t think straight was shocking. It isn’t any longer."

"Consider what’s become known as “confirmation bias,” the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them. Of the many forms of faulty thinking that have been identified, confirmation bias is among the best catalogued; it’s the subject of entire textbooks’ worth of experiments. One of the most famous of these was conducted, again, at Stanford. For this experiment, researchers rounded up a group of students who had opposing opinions about capital punishment. Half the students were in favor of it and thought that it deterred crime; the other half were against it and thought that it had no effect on crime.
"The students were asked to respond to two studies. One provided data in support of the deterrence argument, and the other provided data that called it into question. Both studies—you guessed it—were made up, and had been designed to present what were, objectively speaking, equally compelling statistics. The students who had originally supported capital punishment rated the pro-deterrence data highly credible and the anti-deterrence data unconvincing; the students who’d originally opposed capital punishment did the reverse. At the end of the experiment, the students were asked once again about their views. Those who’d started out pro-capital punishment were now even more in favor of it; those who’d opposed it were even more hostile."

"Sloman and Fernbach see this effect, which they call the 'illusion of explanatory depth,' just about everywhere. People believe that they know way more than they actually do."" ...dedicate many pages to confirmation bias, which, they claim, has a physiological component. They cite research suggesting that people experience genuine pleasure—a rush of dopamine—when processing information that supports their beliefs. “It feels good to ‘stick to our guns’ even if we are wrong,” they observe."

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/0...-our-minds

A criticism sometimes levelled against Charles Darwin and his Theory of Evolution is the way its central tenet (evolution by natural selection) was carried into the social and political sphere and used as an excuse for exploitation, war, and the enslavement or worse of “inferior” peoples (so-called Social Darwinism).
 
Of course such an objection would not invalidate Darwin’s theory concerning the evolution of species by means of natural selection even if it were valid. Nor does the “raw Darwinism” picture take account of our understanding of human evolution in the social sphere, and how the “selfish gene” can benefit its own survival through altruistic behaviour by individuals in higher species. But it still continues to be deployed, a blunt weapon for those who do not understand or seek to ensure that others do not understand.
 
Darwin felt that the concept we call “social Darwinism” was a misapplication of his ideas, so did his champion T.H. Huxley. Another figure who rejects the idea of taking the mechanism that developed our bodies and saying it should also apply in the world where we function as human being is, interestingly, the arch-supporter of Darwinism, Richard Dawkins.
 
In an article published in “Skeptic” magazine in 2003 Dawkins quotes approvingly Huxley’s words:
“Let us understand, once for all, that the ethical progress of society depends, not on imitating the cosmic process, still less in running away from it, but in combating it.”
 
Dawkins himself says:
“As an academic scientist I am a passionate Darwinian … But at the same time as I support Darwinism as a scientist, I am a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to politics and how we should conduct our human affairs.”
 
He makes it clear that one can believe in natural selection, the struggle for survival, survival of the fittest, call it what you will, as the means whereby our bodies reached this form at this time, but that is not the infallible law that governs how we should behave. As human beings we are capable of better, and should act accordingly.
 
Interestingly this is not far from the Roman Catholic position whereby one can believe that human beings were, in their bodily aspect, formed by evolution – provided one also believes that there is more to us than merely that body, there is the God-given soul and spiritual side as well.
 
I, as a Bahá'í, see no reason why we cannot believe that too.
 
It saves us from going down the path of those evolution-rejecting religionists who say “evolution must be wrong because if it’s true we are just superior apes”. Apart from that being a logical fallacy (Wishful Thinking – saying something simply because we don’t like where it leads if it is true ) it misses the point – we are not _just_ apes, we are human beings, with the ability to rise above our biological heritage, not be trapped by it.
 
Dawkins makes some good points in his extensive writings. His critique of the NOMA model of the relationship between science and religion, which I used to find very appealing has a lot to be said for it (I have discussed this in another paper on this forum.) I just wish he could rid himself of the idea that we don’t need religion and that it is a Bad Thing, and his attitude of what I call “evangelical atheism”.

Thermodynamics is the "science of the relationship between heat, work, temperature, and energy. In broad terms, thermodynamics deals with the transfer of energy from one place to another and from one form to another." (1) Although it's a physical theory, strictly speaking, it seems to apply to other systems as well, including social. At first glance it might not seem to have any relationship to the Baha'i notion of progressive revelation, but upon closer examination of its first two laws, we can see that it does.

As a preliminary, it's essential to understand the concept of a "closed system". In simple terms, a closed system is one that is isolated from any other systems. It is "a region that is isolated from its surroundings by a boundary that admits no transfer of matter or energy across it." (2)

The first law of thermodynamics says that the total amount of energy in a closed system is constant. Energy is defined as the ability to do work. Mass (matter) is a form of energy, in that matter can be transformed into energy, and energy can be transformed into matter. The first law also allows for energy to be transformed from one form to another: kinetic energy (the energy of motion) can be transformed into potential energy (the ability to do work, but isn't doing so at the moment), and potential energy can be transformed into kinetic energy. A common example of kinetic and potential energy being transformed into each other is a roller coaster. At the start, the cars are transported by mechanical mechanism (often driven by a chain lift) to the highest point of the roller coaster. At this point, the cars are barely moving: they have lots of potential energy, but very little kinetic energy. As they start to fall down the hill, potential energy is transformed into kinetic energy of the moving cars. Part way down the incline, the cars have less potential energy and more kinetic energy than they had at the top, but the total amount of energy (kinetic plus potential) is unchanged (we're talking about an idealized roller coaster - no friction or other energy losses). At the bottom, as far as the roller coaster is concerned, potential energy has become zero, and kinetic energy is maximum. As the cars start to climb the next hill, kinetic energy is transformed into potential: the cars slow down, losing kinetic, and move higher, gaining potential. At the top of the next hill the process repeats. This is an example of the conservation of energy.

The second law of thermodynamics says that entropy (scary term) always increases. This law is a bit more difficult to understand, especially on first encounter, but the broad concept is fairly simple. For our purposes, entropy is defined as the amount of disorder in a system. The second law simply states that with the passage of time, disorder always increases in a closed system. An example will help: for illustrative purposes, consider one's living space (house, apartment) and its inhabitants to be a closed system. In its initial state, everything is orderly ("stuff" is in its proper place). As time passes (assuming the inhabitants are active), stuff starts to becomes scattered about more or less randomly. The pen that was in its proper place in the desk is now in the middle of the dining room table. That book that was in its proper place in the highly organized bookshelf is now lying on the corner of the couch. The TV remote, last used by "not me", is nowhere to be found. The entropy (disorder) of the house as increased. Most of us are familiar with this scenario. 

In my experience, making a mess is easy. "Are you trying to make a mess." Me: "No, it's easy. Doesn't require any effort at all."

At some point, someone decides that enough is enough, and it's time to clean. Everything is put back where it belongs, and the house is orderly again. Has entropy decreased in violation of the second law? No. The decrease in entropy (disorder) in the house is accompanied by an increase in disorder elsewhere, namely in us. We are tired, perhaps hot and sweaty. We need a break. What has happened is that we had to do work: the chemical (potential) energy stored in our body is converted into the energy needed to move our muscles, among other things. In other words, our bodies are less ordered that they were before we started cleaning - their entropy has increased. The second law states that the increase in entropy in our bodies is greater than the decrease in entropy of the rooms. The total entropy of the system (stuff plus inhabitants) has increased. We can decrease the entropy in our bodies by eating, for example, but that requires an infusion of energy (the potential energy of the food) from a source outside the system.

And finally, before we get to the point, we need to understand that entropy is also related to information. The higher the entropy, the more information required to describe the system. An example is a jar filled with marbles: initially, there is a layer of 100 red marbles at the bottom, a layer of 100 green marbles on top of that, and finally a layer of 100 black marbles on top of that. The system is easily described (I just did so). Now we cover and vigorously shake the jar, until the marbles are thoroughly mixed up. In order to precisely describe the result, we have to specify the location of each and every one of the 300 marbles, which results in a huge increase in the amount of information (each marble's location) needed. That also explains why it's harder to know where things are in the messy house: there's more information about the location of things to remember than when the house is in order.

In short, as I heard in a guest lecture when I was in college, the first two laws can be summed up thusly:
First Law: You can't win.
Second Law: You can't break even.

Finally, we have arrived at the main question. What does any of this have to do with progressive revelation?

The Baha'i concept of progressive revelation is quite simple: "Progressive revelation is a core teaching in the Bahá'í Faith that suggests that religious truth is revealed by God progressively and cyclically over time through a series of divine Messengers, and that the teachings are tailored to suit the needs of the time and place of their appearance." (3) For example, God sent Abraham (He wasn't the first, but one has to start somewhere), followed by Moses, then Jesus, then Muhammad, and then the Bab and Baha'u'llah. This process will continue for as long as humans exist. The Bab and Baha'u'llah are the most recent Messengers, but they are not the last: others will follow in the future, each followed by another in an essentially endless process.

There are a number of reasons for progressive revelation, but I want to focus on one particular one here. Simply put, religions decay (become disordered) with the passage of time. The founder of the religion (the Manifestation of God, or Messenger) gives us a clear and relatively simple message which establishes His religion. After He dies, there is no more Divine input into the religion; it is the hands of men. It becomes a closed system, in that there is no input into the system from the outside (God through His messenger). We start to disagree over the meaning of the Message - we start to confuse our understanding of the Message with the Message itself. We impose our own interpretations, which don't agree with other interpretations, and the religion gradually decays into a myriad of different sects. The original Christianity of Jesus, for example, has divided into Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Russian Orthodoxy, and nearly uncountable versions of Protestantism. 

In a word, the religion of the Founder (Messenger) becomes a victim of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Entropy has reared its ugly head. Initially, the religion was relatively simple, which is to say that the amount of information needed to describe the religion was at a minimum. As time passed, and the religion was overlain with man-made accretions, the amount of information needed to completely describe the religion grew and grew in order to cover all the sects: its entropy had increased. Like our increasingly disordered house in the example above, there comes a point where God, figuratively speaking, decides that enough is enough, and sends us a Messenger to put things back in order. At this point, the previously closed system of mankind's religious life became open; the Manifestation penetrated the boundary, swept away the old decayed religions, and created a new religion that built upon the pure message of the old one and introduced new teachings as needed.

Now according to the Second Law, if the entropy of part of a system (religion) decreases, there has to be a larger increase in entropy elsewhere. Taking the total system as being God plus mankind (in the sense of everything pertaining to mankind), and given that the entropy of mankind decreased, the entropy of God must increase. However, the good news here is that God is infinite (not "really big", but truly infinite), including being infinitely ordered, and considering increasing entropy as a subtraction from that ordering, the amount of order in God is unchanged. Mathematically speaking, given an infinite set of elements, the infinite set is unchanged no matter how many elements one removes from it. Infinity - a huge number (which can even be infinite) = Infinity. That's counter-intuitive, but nevertheless true.

Similarly, God is also an infinite source of energy; God's energy is not decreased by the amount, however large, of energy injected into mankind through the intermediary of God's manifestation. Infinity minus whatever still equals infinity.

So in that sense, the fact of progressive revelation and the ubiquity of the laws of thermodynamics provide another reason to believe that God is infinite. 


(1) https://www.britannica.com/science/thermodynamics
(2) http://www.dictionary.com/browse/closed-system
(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressiv...(Bahá%27í)

It's important, I think, to distinguish between the notion of validity, which concerns the form of an argument, and soundness, which concerns the truth of an argument. A sound argument is valid, but not all valid arguments are sound. Briefly, validity concerns whether the argument is logically correct, whereas soundness concerns whether the argument is true. A more detailed explanation follows.

Validity refers to the abstract form of an argument. An example is a syllogism:
Major Premise: All X are Y
Minor Premise: a is X
Conclusion: a is Y
A syllogism is valid if the conclusion follows from the premises. If the conclusion does not follow, it is invalid:
Major Premise: All X are Y
Minor Premise: a is Y
Conclusion: a is X
The argument is invalid because the major premise allows for the possibility that there are some elements of Y that are not in X. More formally, X is a could be a proper subset of Y.

Soundness refers to a concrete argument, which must meet two criteria: the argument is valid, and the premises are true.
Major premise: All men are mortal
Minor premise: Mike is a man
Conclusion: Mike is mortal
This argument is sound because it is valid (has the correct form of a valid syllogism), and the premises are true.

An argument is unsound when it is invalid, or a premise is false, or both.
Here's an example of a logically valid but unsound argument because of a false premise:
Major premise: It always rains on my birthday
Minor premise: Today is my birthday
Conclusion: It is raining today
The major premise is false because it is counter-factual: there have been years when it hasn't rained on my birthday. It is also false because there isn't any logical connection between a date being my birthday and rain falling.

Keeping the distinction between validity and soundness in mind can help us when deciding whether an argument is true or false, and to identify why unsound arguments are false, thus making it easier to refute them.

   

Scientism: "Unlike the use of the scientific method as only one mode of reaching knowledge, scientism claims that science alone can render truth about the world and reality. Scientism's single-minded adherence to only the empirical, or testable, makes it a strictly scientific worldview, in much the same way that a Protestant fundamentalism that rejects science can be seen as a strictly religious worldview. Scientism sees it necessary to do away with most, if not all, metaphysical, philosophical, and religious claims, as the truths they proclaim cannot be apprehended by the scientific method. In essence, scientism sees science as the absolute and only justifiable access to the truth." (1)

Scientism, in short, rejects the possibility of forms or methods of knowledge other than science. "Certainly, it requires the almost complete abandonment of any metaphysical or religious discussion, (and arguably also any ethical discussion), on the grounds that these cannot be apprehended by the scientific method, which is very limiting for a supposedly all-encompassing doctrine." (2)

One of the problems with scientism is that "It has been argued that Scientism, in the strong sense, is self-annihilating in that it takes the view that only scientific claims are meaningful, which is not itself a scientific claim. Thus, Scientism is either false or meaningless." (3)

Scientism illustrates two important and general concepts that feature in a discussion of science and religion: the problem of self-referential statements, and meta-statements.

A simple example of a self-referential statement is "This statement is false." If the statement is taken as true, then it means that the statement is false. If the statement is false, then it is false that the statement is false, which means that the statement is true. So either way, there is a contradiction.

A more involved example is due to Bertrand Russell, and is known as the "barber paradox". There is an island that is inhabited by men, and only men. On that island there is one and only one barber. Of all of the men on the island, the barber and only the barber is allowed to shave another man. There are two and only two classes of men: men who shave themselves, and men who do not shave themselves. Men who do not shave themselves are shaved by the barber, and men who do shave themselves are not shaved by the barber. In a less rigorous sense, a man either shaves himself or is shaved by the barber, but not both.

So, the question is: who shaves the barber. If the barber shaves himself, he is in the category of men who are not shaved by the barber, hence he does not shave himself. If the barber does not shave himself, he is shaved by the barber, which means that he shave himself. Thus the barber cannot shave himself, nor can he be shaved by someone else, but he is clean shaven, which is impossible from within the system. More on that in a minute.

Given a system of statements, a meta-statement is a statement about that system, and is not a part of the system itself. The distinction is important, because mistaking a meta-statement as part of the system leads to all sort of confusion and flawed reasoning. For example, the statement that evolution is without purpose or meaning is not a scientific statement within the theory of evolution - it is a statement about evolution. Whether evolution has meaning and purpose is a theological or philosophical question, and cannot be answered by science. On the other hand, the mechanism of evolution is a scientific question, which can be answered by science, but not by theology or philosophy.

Returning to the barber paradox, it can be resolved only if there is someone who is not one of the men on the island, that is, someone who is not part of the system of men on the island. Because he is not part of the system, he is not bound by the rules (not restricted by the rule that only the barber can shave someone else), so he can shave the barber. The paradox is an example of a theorem, known as the Incompleteness Theorem, proven by the Austrian logician Kurt Godel in the early 1900's, which says that if a system is complete, then it is not consistent; and if a system is consistent, then it is not complete. (Technically speaking, Godel's proof applies to logical systems at least as complex as ordinary arithmetic. Whether the theorem can be generalized to less formal systems is a question of some dispute. I personally think that it can.) Because the system of men is complete (the statements defining the system exhaust all the possibilities), it then follows from the Incompleteness Theorem the system is not consistent, as shown by the fact that it requires that the barber both shave himself and not shave himself.

The point that I'm trying to make here is that there are two classes of statements with respect to science: scientific statements, which are statements within science; and meta-scientific statements, which are statements about science but are not part of science themselves. Using the example of evolution, a statement that evolution does or does not have a purpose is a meta-scientific statement. That doesn't mean that the question of purpose is not important, nor does it mean that is it not discussable. It does mean that the question belongs to the realm of theology or philosophy. In other words, it has to be evaluated by non-scientific disciplines. The problem with scientism is that it asserts that such disciplines are invalid because only science can provide truth, and those areas cannot be addressed by science.

In conclusion, it is important to keep in mind, when discussing science and religion, which statements are scientific, and which are meta-science.

(1) https://www.pbs.org/faithandreason/gengl...-body.html
(2) http://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_scientism.html
(3) Ibid

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