Sunday, April 23, 2006

Reason to belive in God (#2): My students have told me that at times I sound like a preacher in class. Not because I tell them how to think, but because my energy and rhythm make me sound like I am channeling MLK. Maybe I missed my calling. Well, this blog is an opportunity to share my thoughts, honest and unedited. And my thoughts often turn to the question of God.

Let me try out an idea on you. Science tells us that nature is locked in an iron grip of cause and effect, and scientific thinking has an amazing record of success...with the one crucial exception of human beings. Brilliant men have attempted to understand and predict human behavior for a very long time, yet I contend that we have made practically no progress here. Bentham? Yawn. Marx? C'mon. Freud? What a joke. Skinner? Do I look like a lab rat to you? Wilson? Well maybe, but do I look like a lab rat to you?

Now it is not my intention to identify every possible reason why scientific methods have failed to succeed in the social sciences where they have been so wildly successful in the real sciences. But I contend that one cause of the problem is that, unlike everywhere else in nature, there is considerable indeterminacy in human behavior. While carefully done research with a long list of risk factors may be able explain perhaps 50% of the sample's variation in individual behavior, this is far from 100%, and it is unable to predict what Joe (subject number 24) will do. Even the sharpest social scientist is very likely to be wrong if he ventures to predict that, "Joe will do X." Humans have much more control over their destinies than does a horseshoe crab.

So the evidence suggests that humans have somehow escaped (to some extent) the bone-crushing determinism of the universe. Events that don't follow the laws of nature are called miracles. How can Man ever transcend nature's machinery? The theological answer is that God touched him with just a bit of His own freedom.


  1. I'm sympathetic, but how able are we to predict the exact behavior of rat subject #24, no matter the larger pattern?

  2. Jeff: Thanks for the thoughtful point. I know human research results well enough to see free will in our behavior. (This, by the way, is supported by my own subjective experience of free will). But I don't know infra-human animal research well enough to know what it suggests. In one way, human behavioral science should be more advanced than animal behavioral science since we have insight into our own behavior.

  3. We can't actually predict the exact behavior of electron #24, either.

    I guess some people do see God in quantum mechanics. I don't. But perhaps meditating on it would complement your meditations on human unpredictability.

  4. The social sciences, with any rigor, only really got going in the 20th century. That means that this is still a completely new field of study in the long view of history. 1000 years from now, our jaws would likely drop at what they will know about explaining human behavior.

  5. Anonymous10:13 PM

    Why are you trying to push god into the brains of the youth that you are supposed to be teaching, as you seemed to have presented, academic subjects. Also, you are not hired as a teacher to tell students how to think. On that, you should only tell them to think. They have a mind also, and should be allowed to grow up and make their own choices without you or anyone esle tampering with their not yet molded mind.

    You also seem to have a problem with animals that deplay true intelligence; you said "In one way, human behavioral science should be more advanced than animal behavioral science since we have insight into our own behavior." Yes, humans in general do and should have more insight into our own hehavior, and that is because we have had more educational opportunities than animals. Animals know and understand most things so much better than most humans can imagine, simply because most humans think they are smarter than animals. Just because we understand money, economic, politics, etc, is not a valid reason to state that animals are not as intelligent as humans in many ways. Animals also have insight into their own behavior, else how could one explain the reactions of various animals when they realize that they have done something that they have been tqught not to do. Dogs are a very good example of what I refer to here. I have and care for several
    dogs that I consider to be as intelligent as many persons I have met; they are clean, understand what I say to them, and quickly attempt to show me that they are sorry to have done something that might have caused some confusion among the group. They express things to me in various ways. But to be able to understand what I do about dogs and also horses, one has have very close contact with them. One of my dogs now is only 15 months old, and at times he is trying to mimic me; that is, he is trying to express himself to me as I express myself to him. He began such attempts to express himself to me at about 6 months old. Now he can very well allow me to know what he wants or would like to have or do by employing various actions and different sounds as well as ponting to the locations of his interest or something that he would like to be given.
    You went on to say; " The theological answer is that God touched him with just a bit of His own freedom." I would like to ask what is your determined meaning of that statement, and what has a belief in an entity you call god to do with man or animals. And, yes I do feel that what certain persons might be expected to do at almost any moment given certain surrounding circumstances can be predicted very close to 100%, naturally not in every case study, but often enough to qualify as being able to be done. Perhaps you are allowing your thoughts to be supported by the god that you have brought into the discussion
    that might be disallowing you to understand the true nature of science as opposed to theological concepts which can only be nothing but far-flung theory without any evidence at all anywhere in history. You would go further with the discussion if you would not rely upon the god entity to touch another and provide strength or intelligence.


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