Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fuel Economy

If you're concerned about gas prices and are thinking about a new ride you might be interested in this article from Consumer Reports:

Consumer Reports recently announced its annual used cars ratings, and we weren't surprised to see one of the major categories was "Best in Fuel Economy." With gasoline and oil prices on a seemingly endless upward spiral, that's a key factor these days when choosing a used car -- or even a new one.

The cars that made this list were, according to Consumer Reports, "the affordable and reliable vehicles [that] returned some of the best results in our real-world fuel-economy tests."

Consumer Reports broke them up into two groups: "Under $10,000" and "$10,000-$20,000."

What follows is a list of the vehicles that Consumer Reports rated "Best in Fuel Economy," with a short description of each vehicle. The mileage figures stated are the ones calculated by Consumer Reports in their own on-the-road tests.

Read the recommendations at the link.



My friend Byron links me to a brief 1996 piece by Michael Martin, a philosophy professor at Boston university, who makes an argument against the existence of God. I read it with interest, impressed by the inverse relation between the ambition of Martin's project and the thinness of the argument he offers in its support.

Let's take a look. Martin writes:

Some Christian philosophers have made the incredible argument that logic, science and morality presuppose the truth of the Christian world view because logic, science and morality depend on the truth of this world view. Advocates call this argument the Transcendental Argument for Existence of God and I will call it TAG for short. In what follows I will not attempt to refute TAG directly. Rather I will show how one can argue exactly the opposite conclusion, namely, that logic, science and morality presuppose the falsehood of the Christian world view or at least the falsehood of the interpretation of his world view presupposed by TAG. I will call this argument the Transcendental Argument for the Nonexistence of God or TANG for short.

I don't know to which Christian philosophers Martin refers, but I know of no one who claims that logic, science, and morality depend upon the truth of Christianity. I do think, though, that morality, at least, depends upon the truth of theism, and that it may be that logic does also. As for science, it's conceivable that it could have emerged in an atheistic milieu, but it nevertheless seems to be the consensus among historians, even some who are not especially sympathetic to theism, that a Biblical worldview was an indispensible assist to the development of the modern scientific enterprise.

But let's see what Martin has to say in defense of TANG.

How might TANG proceed? Consider logic. Logic presupposes that its principles are necessarily true. However, according to the brand of Christianity assumed by TAG, God created everything, including logic; or at least everything, including logic, is dependent on God. But if something is created by or is dependent on God, it is not necessary--it is contingent on God. And if principles of logic are contingent on God, they are not logically necessary. Moreover, if principles of logic are contingent on God, God could change them. Thus, God could make the law of noncontradiction false; in other words, God could arrange matters so that a proposition and its negation were true at the same time. But this is absurd. How could God arrange matters so that New Zealand is south of China and that New Zealand is not south of it? So, one must conclude that logic is not dependent on God, and, insofar as the Christian world view assumes that logic is so dependent, it is false.

Well, actually no. God cannot change the laws of logic, to be sure, but that's because those laws are an expression of his nature out of which he has engineered the creation, something like an artist impressing his personality upon his art. God cannot change his nature any more than he can cause himself to cease to exist. So, yes, logic is dependent upon God in the same way that Goodness, Beauty, and Truth are dependent upon God, but these are not "things" he creates. They are his very essence.

Even so, the principles of logic may also be thought of as necessary in that, being an essential element of a necessary being (God), they themselves cannot not exist. If they did the necessary being which possesses them would not exist and that is a contradiction. Logic, then, is an ontological effusion of God into His creation and exists necessarily because it is an essential aspect of a God who possesses necessary existence.

Martin continues:

Consider science. It presupposes the uniformity of nature: that natural laws govern the world and that there are no violations of such laws. However, Christianity presupposes that there are miracles in which natural laws are violated. Since to make sense of science one must assume that there are no miracles, one must further assume that Christianity is false. To put this in a different way: Miracles by definition are violations of laws of nature that can only be explained by God's intervention. Yet science assumes that insofar as an event as an explanation at all, it has a scientific explanation--one that does not presuppose God. Thus, doing, science assumes that the Christian world view is false.

Martin here makes enough errors to cause one's head to spin. First, it's not at all the case that "to make sense out of science one must assume that there are no miracles." If it were then Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Boyle and dozens more of the greatest minds in the history of science were not making sense out of the discipline to which they contributed so much. Nor does science presuppose that there are no miracles. It simply cannot do this without making a nonscientific assumption that either God doesn't exist or, if he does, he doesn't intervene in the physical world. Both of these assumptions are metaphysical, not scientific.

What science actually presupposes is that what we call physical laws are simply descriptions of the way nature operates the vast majority of the time. If there appears to be a breach in the law then scientists assume, as a matter of methodology, that there is a natural explanation, but that methodological principle does not rule out God's intervention. It merely assumes that God's intervention cannot be scientifically demonstrated. If a scientist were to observe water change to wine the most he could say as a scientist is that there's no natural process with which he is familiar which could account for the phenomenon. It doesn't mean that there isn't one, nor does it mean that God did not override the normal action of physics and chemistry to produce a true miracle. The scientist has simply come up against the limits of what he can speak about as a scientist.

Nor is Martin correct in saying that miracles, by definition, are a violation of the laws of nature. A law of nature is a claim that given certain conditions certain other conditions will follow as far as we've been able to tell. For example, every time we've looked we've found that if something has mass it will exert a gravitational attraction on every other body. We thus assume for convenience's sake that this holds true everywhere in the universe and every time it's tested, but we have no proof of that. Induction does not yield proof.

Moreover, scientists talk all the time about regions or domains in the cosmos (or multiverse) which could have different laws. If so, then why couldn't a God who superintends the whole of reality import laws from one domain into another and thus override laws which normally obtain with higher order laws which normally do not?

God could supercede a physical law just like the gravitational force between particles can be overcome if both particles possess the same electrical charge. Gravity is not violated, the force still acts on the particles, but its effect is overridden by another, stronger, force.

One more thing. It could be that the laws of physics are framed such that given X, Y will occur unless Z happens. The law of inertia is stated exactly this way: An object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. Perhaps, to take a biblical example, the laws of buoyancy are something like this: Denser objects will always sink when placed in less dense substances unless the denser object is the Son of God. Since no one in modern times has witnessed the qualifier, science would be completely unaware of that part of the law.

Here's the point that Martin misses: Miracles need have no effect on the assumptions of science unless they are frequent. If they are rare, if a man were raised from the dead on average only once every thousand years, then the impact of such events on the scientific enterprise and the assumptions necessary for science to be fruitful, would be negligible.

So, whether science and logic actually depend upon the atheist assumption or presuppose the falsehood of Christianity, as Professor Martin wants us to believe, his argument does little to help us decide.

More on the third element in his case later.