An Expert Argues for God’s Existence

This has been appearning in several newspapers, and now it’s in the Daily Mail, a British tabloid, so we can’t ignore it. The headline is From the laws of mathematics to human consciousness: Expert explains why he thinks God DOES exist. The newspaper has over 350 comments. Here are some excerpts from the news story, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

The question of whether a god exists is heating up in the 21st century. In 2014, the proportion of the US who didn’t believe in God was 33 per cent while in the UK it was 39 per cent. Despite this growing disbelief in a higher being, in a new article for The Conversation, Robert Nelson, a Professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland explores why he believes that God exists.

Wikipedia has write-ups on several people named Robert Nelson, but not this one. Nevertheless, the tabloid’s headline says he’s an expert on the subject, so let’s find out what he has to say:

In 1960 the Princeton physicist – and subsequent Nobel Prize winner – Eugene Wigner raised a fundamental question: Why did the natural world always – so far as we know – obey laws of mathematics? As argued by scholars such as Philip Davis and Reuben Hersh, mathematics exists independent of physical reality. It is the job of mathematicians to discover the realities of this separate world of mathematical laws and concepts.

Math is a separate world? Really? Then Nelson says:

Physicists then put the mathematics to use according to the rules of prediction and confirmed observation of the scientific method. But modern mathematics generally is formulated before any natural observations are made, and many mathematical laws today have no known existing physical analogues.

That’s true of any language. Remember Jabberwocky? After that he tells us:

Isaac Newton was considered among the greatest mathematicians as well as physicists of the 17th century. Other physicists sought his help in finding a mathematics that would predict the workings of the solar system. He found it in the mathematical law of gravity, based in part on his discovery of calculus. At the time, however, many people initially resisted Newton’s conclusions because they seemed to be ‘occult.’

What does that have to do with god’s existence? Nelson continues:

How could two distant objects in the solar system be drawn toward one another, acting according to a precise mathematical law? Indeed, Newton made strenuous efforts over his lifetime to find a natural explanation, but in the end he could say only that it is the will of God. Despite the many other enormous advances of modern physics, little has changed in this regard.

Okay, if Newton said so. Here it comes Nelson’s conclusion:

As Wigner wrote, ‘the enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and there is no rational explanation for it.’ In other words, as I argue in my book, it takes the existence of some kind of a god to make the mathematical underpinnings of the universe comprehensible.

We regard this as a Rosie Ruiz victory claim. The theologian sits back, lets others run the race, and then jumps in at the finish line and claims victory.

Then Nelson talks about “the mystery of human consciousness.” He says:

Like the laws of mathematics, consciousness has no physical presence in the world; the images and thoughts in our consciousness have no measurable dimensions. Yet, our nonphysical thoughts somehow mysteriously guide the actions of our physical human bodies.

Okay, but do preachers get credit for this too? Let’s read on — hey, now the subject of evolution comes up:

Evolution is a contentious subject in American public life. … As I say in my book, I should emphasise that I am not questioning the reality of natural biological evolution. What is interesting to me, however, are the fierce arguments that have taken place between professional evolutionary biologists.

What arguments would those be? Nelson says:

In 2011, the University of Chicago evolutionary biologist James Shapiro argued that, remarkably enough, many micro-evolutionary processes worked as though guided by a purposeful ‘sentience’ of the evolving plant and animal organisms themselves. ‘The capacity of living organisms to alter their own heredity is undeniable,’ he wrote. ‘Our current ideas about evolution have to incorporate this basic fact of life.’

A number of scientists, such as Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, ‘see no conflict between believing in God and accepting the contemporary theory of evolution,’ as the American Association for the Advancement of Science points out. For my part, the most recent developments in evolutionary biology have increased the probability of a god.

Okay, he’s the expert. Oh, wait — here’s another Rosie Ruiz argument

The development of the scientific method in the 17th century in Europe and its modern further advances have had at least as great a set of world-transforming consequences. There have been many historical theories, but none capable, I would argue, of explaining as fundamentally transformational a set of events as the rise of the modern world. It was a revolution in human thought, operating outside any explanations grounded in scientific materialism, that drove the process.

That all these astonishing things happened within the conscious workings of human minds, functioning outside physical reality, offers further rational evidence, in my view, for the conclusion that human beings may well be made ‘in the image of [a] God.’

There’s more, but this is long enough. Click over there and read it all. Then let us know if you find Nelson’s arguments persuasive.

Copyright © 2017. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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21 responses to “An Expert Argues for God’s Existence

  1. I would like to know how the existence of God solves the problem.

    Could God make the laws of mathematics – and I’d add in logic, too – any different? Could God make the laws of nature so that they didn’t obey mathematics?

    If the answer is “no”, then the existence of God isn’t what solves the problem. There is something other than God which is responsible.

    If the answer is “yes”, then there is the question as to how and why and where and when did God do, whatever it is that he does. He could have done something else, but he didn’t, so we still don’t know the answer to the problem.

    I’m not denying that God is responsible for the situation. Just as I’m not denying that the situation is real, if I wonder about how it happens to be the case. I’m just wondering about how God makes it to be the case. Nor am I denying that God can do anything, if I wonder what rules govern God’s behavior, so that we can understand how it turns out that God does one thing, rather than any of the equal possibilities.

  2. The universe doesn’t obey the laws of mathematics, we use mathematics to explain the how the universe works. If it worked differently we’d have different maths. Does Newtonian math explain gravity’s effect on time, no, not really, we needed new maths for that. Good thing too, or my GPS would be way off.

  3. TomS says: “I would like to know how the existence of God solves the problem.”

    According to the bible, god can change the speed of light when it suits him to do so. He can flood the Earth and then remove all that water, when it suits him to do so. He can suspend any natural law. So things like math and logic are inconsistent with god’s existence.

  4. Michael Fugate

    Nelson is hawking his book “God? Very Probably: Five Rational Ways of Thinking about the Question of a God” – this article is the Reader’sDigest condensed version. The evolution section looks particularly bad. I am not sure how a PhD in economics qualifies on to talk about gods, but it seems to be a theme in all of Nelson’s thought.

    Most of the book can be read HERE
    – the evolution section is truly awful – puerile in fact.

  5. “Why did the natural world always – so far as we know – obey laws of mathematics?”
    Ask an incorrect question and you’ll never get a correct answer. The natural world doesn’t obey anything. Those laws do not command the natural world how to behave. They simply describe how the natural world behaves.
    So the correct question is how comes that our natural world is consistent, making it possible for us to describe it using math.

    “mathematics exists independent of physical reality”
    No. No intelligence (which is part of our physical reality) no math. This is simply wrong:

    “human minds, functioning outside physical reality”
    Ask any neurobiologist.

  6. The Curmudgeon said:
    “According to the bible, god can change the speed of light when it suits him to do so. He can flood the Earth and then remove all that water, when it suits him to do so. He can suspend any natural law. So things like math and logic are inconsistent with god’s existence.”
    Yes, according to the patriarchal bible. Why must we assume that this deity is male? Why not female, neuter, or even hermaphrodite? Let’s throw away that convention, surely Nelson and even the DI folks would agree to that.

  7. @Michael Fugate: His PhD is in economics? Well, that pretty much explains why, as I was reading the Curmudgeon’s excerpts, I thought this guy doesn’t know too much about the science he discusses. As Paul S. pointed out above, he apparently missed Einstein’s explanation of gravity (and time). And, as mnb0 pointed out, human (and other) minds function surprisingly well with neurotransmitters and synapses, well within physical reality.

  8. @DavidK
    IMHO the correct English pronoun in referring to God is they. In 21st century English, using “they” does not commit one to gender or number.

  9. Philosophy….the art of making BS sound smart!! Take you fancy words and shovel them into a near by dark place,,,,,Do real experiments and present real evidence, til then you are a nut!! mister Nelson!

  10. And, Nelson prefers to cite a biologist (Shapiro) whose fringe ideas are largely rejected by evolutionary biologists. Typical: experts have it wrong; ID/creationist has it right. Evidence doesn’t count.

  11. Michael Fugate

    I don’t so much as find Shapiro completely wrong – as find it is just not that earth-shattering. Microbes can sense their environment through cell surface receptors and can alter gene expression in response. They can even increase mutation rates in response to environment stress. That organisms are agents – doesn’t mean there is a god.

  12. Michael Fugate

    Cascade Books is part of an exclusively religious publishing house.
    http://wipfandstock.com/imprint/cascade-3

  13. it takes the existence of some kind of a god to make the mathematical underpinnings of the universe comprehensible.

    On the one hand, how does the existence of some kind of god make the mathematical underpinnings of the universe comprehensible? Don’t say that the ways of God are inscrutable – that is saying that the existence of God does not make things comprehensible.
    IOW what kind of God?

    On the other hand, maybe there is some unknown mathematics which of itself makes the underpinnings comprehensible. Can anyone prove that there is no such mathematics? Is that so more difficult to accept than that there is some unknown something about God?

  14. As usual, all Nelson has are specious arguments but no evidence, which is par for the course.

  15. When it comes to the seemingly inexplicable some of us are prepared to withhold judgment. For others “poof” is far more satisfying.

  16. Eric Lipps

    Rephrasing something TomS said, could God have arranged things so that 2+2=5?

    Not likely. follow: If 2+2=5, then 2=(5-2)=3. But if 2=3, then 0=1. And the practical effect of that is to make every number equal to every other number, reducing mathematics to gibberish.

  17. Eric Lipps says: “If 2+2=5, then … the practical effect of that is to make every number equal to every other number, reducing mathematics to gibberish.”

    Be grateful, therefore, that the designer — blessed be he! — prevents that from happening.

  18. jimroberts

    2+2=5 in mathematics is analogous to a physical miracle. Without God, the universe would be totally chaotic and we would have no chance of understanding anything, therefore God put Laws of physics in place in order to make science possible: surely nobody can disagree with that! But sometimes God needs to suspend his Laws to achieve some worthy end, such as stopping the sun from setting so that there was more time for a thorough massacre. Such a miracle in no way implies that God’s Laws no longer work, or we’d be back to chaos. Similarly, making 2+2=5 is a singular event and has no effect on the Laws which govern the integers: it’s just an ordinary miracle. For example, 5-2=3 remains true.
    You godless skeptics may claim that that makes no sense: the Lake of Fire awaits you. Will 2+2=4 help you then?

  19. Can God make 2+2=5?

    If God cannot make 2+2=5, then maybe there is some law of math or logic or something else that God cannot break, and that law leads to the conclusion that there is a Big Bang with the laws of nature that we have. If that is case, then there is no need for God to explain the universe as it is.

    If God can make 2+2=5, then the existence of God is not sufficient to make 2+2=5 false. If that is the case, then God is not enough to explain the universe as it is.

  20. Can God make 2+2=5?

    No, but Big Brother can.

  21. “the images and thoughts in our consciousness have no measurable dimensions. Yet, our nonphysical thoughts somehow mysteriously guide the actions of our physical human bodies.”

    I’m not scientist, but aren’t our thoughts the products of neurons and synapses firing…aren’t our “nonphysical thoughts” (which are actually electrical impulses) controlling our bodies through the nervous system, i.e. not mysterious?

    This whole thing is based on false assumptions, or just ya know, lying.
    Also too: ” Despite the many other enormous advances of modern physics, little has changed in this regard.”

    So there’s enormous advances, but it’s still all up to god? I think the atomic era physicists and Newton would have a quite interesting chat.