Waiting for Goedel: self-delimiting proofs in mathematics and theology

Starr, Christopher Cole, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Bouchard, Larry, AS-Religious Studies, University of Virginia

The search for an epistemological ground upon which to establish a discourse between the disparate fields of science and religion has proved particularly challenging in the face of certain 'positivist' trends in science as represented by some recent works of noted scientists such as Richard Dawkins, Edward 0. Wilson, Stephen Hawking, etc. This dissertation attempts to establish such a 'ground' through the heuristic paradigm of 'self-delimiting proof. This paradigm or language game calls us to reflect on how language can delimit our knowledge of the world and acknowledge that which transcends formalized epistemology.

After an introduction proposing the logico-mathematical grounds on which positivist science might achieve hegemony over the field of logical discourse such as must form the basis for dialogue between science and religion, the first chapter, along with a supplementary appendix, outlines a metanarrative of the development of mathematical and scientific epistemology from early Greek mathematicians up to mathematical physicists of the present era. Chapter 2 then describes the work of Kurt Gödel in developing a logical proof for the incompleteness of formal mathematical systems. Godel's work then provides the epistemological framework for the idea that no epistemological system is self-contained, although mathematical formalisms are necessary linguistic tools for constructing pattern and order for reality.

Chapter 3 subsequently describes the work of St. Anselm of Canterbury in deriving an ontological proof for the existence of God. Anselm's proof relies on the ideality of 'something beyond which nothing greater can be conceived'. This self-delimiting use of logic, highlighting the finitude of formal reasoning while, simultaneously, trusting in a transcendent order beyond our constructs, is analogous to the paradigm already drawn from Gödel

In my final chapter, I examine some of the work done by Descartes, Kant, Husserl, and Derrida in critiquing the epistemological limits of science while arguing that a self-delimiting paradigm implies an epistemological similarity via which scientific and religious formalisms might be deconstructed. Such a deconstruction would, thus, hold the formalisms of both disciplines as deferring to an order beyond our imaginative capacities - a common referent regarding which a dialogue between science and religion might begin.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Gödel, Kurt
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: