I want today to take another tilt at the question just how theory-laden our view of the world is, following a frustrating conversation with an atheist at BioLogos (whose posts were “liked” by a good number of non-atheists there). He just couldn’t see why his naturalist view of a “Nature” containing only the “material” governed by “laws” and “chance” (metaphysical concepts all) is not simply self-evident truth, into which one might somehow be able to fit a God if there were enough evidence.
The “evidence”, of course, would have to be investigated using the methodological naturalism that excludes God a priori, and in the extraordinarily unlikely situation that it jumped that hurdle and found something inexplicable by “natural causes”, it would also be subject to the “God of the Gaps” fallacy. And by such sophistry God’s foot is kept out of the door
The aim of today’s effort is to show that, even accepting the existence of God, the gap between the existence of “the Creator” and the actual phenomena we experience must be bridged by man-made theory, which must always be provisonal. That’s equally true if we place some concept called “Nature” in the place of God.
There follows a sound clip, which I will tell you for free is the drum track I did for the first tune I wrote after I retired to Devonshire. I want to treat it as “a phenomenon” asking for explanation, and maybe that will be easier because it was deliberately quirky and complicated, a bit like the world itself. Have a listen – unless you’re a drum solo aficionado you can stop after the first 30 seconds or so, as you’ll get the idea.
Now, unfortunately you already have too much information for the purpose in hand. My guess is that the first few seconds will make you recognise noodly jazz drumming, love it or hate it. And you also already know it’s recorded, because I’m unlikely to be waiting at the end of a hyperlink with drumsticks in hand. Imagine though, for a moment, that you’re from some isolated tribe and you hear that sound as you walk past a cave. You try to explain it from the phenomenon itself. It’s a bit like drums, but not the log-drums you know – and although there are some regularities, there’s an awful lot of random noises going on. It might just be some odd trick of a waterfall in the cave, or produced by some strange animals rutting.
It’s worth remembering that, to primitive man, the whole world was just such a mass of unexplained phenomena: everything had to be explained by some humanly constructed theory. In point of fact, it’s probable that most primitive non-westerners would at a minimum attribute active agency to the sounds, as they did to the world’s phenomena, because the concept of a “Nature” independent of people, animals or spirits, which might be an overarching entity behind the causes of things is, as I’ve often explained, both recent and a little hard to justify. It fails to explain (or prove) its own existence, or the nature of the laws, matter and energy which are the causal agents befind the phenomena it produces. It’s merely a metaphysical axiom, a peg on which to hang your particular post-Enlightenment way of understanding stuff that happens.
Still, should our savage go down the “Nature” line, he’d be able to discern patterns, like the hi-hat figure at the beginning (tse-da-d’tsee…). He might well notice that the second section has a regular rhythm of three beats behind it: if he studied really hard he might even realise you could just about fit that triple-pattern to the bit at the beginning – and lo and behold, he’d have described Ugg’s First Law of Cave Sounds (“All cave sounds come from the Three”), on which he could build, perhaps, a theoretical explanation or two.
Other patterns would emerge, too, like the rather obvious one (since we know it’s music), that however irregular it is, there’s a minimum, regular, note-value behind it all, which we would call a “16th note” or “semiquaver”, but Ugg, for obscure reasons, calls “the Plank Time”. For the irregularities he invents a concept called “chance”, which rather cuts across the laws already discovered, but begins to be less unintelligible when he discovers that particular kinds of irregularity, such as bass drum patterns, can be described by a probability distribution. And so he is able to construct an entire system of laws and probabilities which he calls the “explanation” of the sounds. But what does he really know?
You, brethren, have received the revelation that I, and I alone, am the true source of the phenomenon! I chose to do it all for deliberate reasons… or did I really do it all, and if so, how? Perhaps I lifted the entire track from a modern jazz album, or used or wrote a computer algorithm to generate it. But maybe that’s self deprecation, and I’m actually just a very good, if quirky, drummer and did the thing live on a Yamaha drum set – not too implausible as my brother was a professional percussionist.
It’s unlikely you could know for sure from the phenomenon, although no doubt detailed examination of the wave form might provide some clues to narrow the possibilities. But in a real way it doesn’t much matter, once you assume that I invented the part to fit a tune. So what if I wrote it out in notation and got my drummer friend Jim to play it? Or, to make the analogy with God’s use of created secondary causes closer, let’s make the drummer my son, whom I taught to play drums as a teenager: the part, the skills and the son would have come ultimately from me anyway.
The point is that unless I tell you – and God doesn’t tell us exactly how he makes the natural world work – then any theory you have about the way the drums happened is inevitably provisional, as you try to bridge the gap between incomplete revelation, and rather complex phenomenon. But I can tell you, by that “revelation”, that Ugg was entirely wrong about the existence of natural laws, a minimum possible Plank time, and the very existence in the phenomenon of chance. Even the statistics on the irregularities indicate only the way my mind works in an attempt to create musical interest.
If I were reading this, I doubt I’d be concerned enough to develop a theory of how Jondiddit. But you might spend ten seconds having a go – and, I’ll wager, get it largely wrong. As it happens, I do my drum parts in a midi editor, by an idiosyncratic mixture of playing from a keyboard in real time (and tidying up the rhythm later) and entering notes directly in the editor, adjusting them as I go along. Here’s the beginning of what you hear on the recording:
But it’s more complicated than that, because I use a “soundfont” of drum hits I made myself. In fact I use two such fonts, the first being of drum hits closely mic’d, and the other of drums with a live stereo sound, and I mix the two tracks to give the best effect. I then transfer the midi tracks to a set of audio tracks, one for each kind of drum or cymbal, and each one then processed electronically to give the best sound. Finally it’s all combined, and some realistic reverb added to become a jazz drummer noodling away.
In some ways it’s more difficult and time-consuming than actually being the live drummer, but it just happens to be the way I like to do it. And it is all me, with one exception – I never hit a real drum during the whole process, because the actual drum hits came from a recording of some guy in Surrey doing clinically precise hits for sound-sampling purposes. Who would have guessed? Who even cares?
Now, I too have no idea how God is, in detail, involved in the production of the phenomena in the world. How much does he do “live” (as it were) and directly, and how much does he delegate to secondary causes like molecules or angels? Is gravity what God habitually, and faithfully does with massive objects, or is it some kind of algorithmic law built into the creation itself? If the latter, it would be no less God’s work than my setting a metronome to match the tempo I have in my head for the drums.
The funny thing is that, since the patterns and the irregularities in nature are the same for us all, the differential equations of science will be the same whether you take God into account or not. The phenomena alone are the “facts”; the underlying metaphysical axiom of God or Nature is a matter of belief and/or revelation; and the theories in the middle will be more and less right or wrong, and demonstrably so, except when they themselves involve metaphysical concepts derived from the axiom, such as the actual nature of laws (or divine faithfulness), or the existence of randomness (or divine choice).
The least important factor is your investigative methodology – methodological naturalism, for example, simply ties you to the language, and so the thought patterns, of the naturalistic axiom, but doesn’t help the science. And for a Christian, what’s the point of simply ignoring revelation? You might as well start investigating my drum track by ignoring my claim to authorship, and treating it as fortuitous sounds in a cave.
Finally, just as a fitting denouement, here’s the final version of Walking LA with the drum track incorporated. It makes a lot more sense in context, doesn’t it? I lay claim to creating it all, though confess to plagiarising the piano solo from some guy called Chopin. But I will tell you that though most of the instruments were real and were recorded “live”, one of them was, like the drums, done in midi from sound samples. I’m not sure how easy you’ll find it to say which, though, simply by working back from the phenomenon of the music.
Who was it said there’s no evidence for God’s activity in nature? Ugg might say there’s no better evidence for Nature’s activity in nature.