A response to “Religion and science can we talk?”
We here at Atheist Analysis don’t usually create formal response letters to blogs or news stories unless they are of immense social and humanistic consequence, but recently a link was given to me that lead to a progressive christian blog. This more compromising version of faith is, to me, less harmful and overall a step in the right general direction, while still providing enough material for all of us here on the blog team to continue picking apart the hypocrisy; it’s the cutting off heads and hellfire damnation that is lacking – for the better, most would concede.
For this short reply blogger Moonlit History and I, Deafilosophy (or Chris Hanna as there are a lot of pseudonyms being thrown around at the moment), will be commenting on some of the points, perspectives, open-ended questions, and conclusions made in the article linked above. So without further ado, I will begin.
Aside from the horrendous grammar in the title of the article at hand, or, more accurately, the lack thereof, I was initially quite content with just perusing the content with a smile as any time people of faith accept science over empty pseudo-superlatives I get all warm and fuzzy inside. But, that title just ate at me. Let’s try, “Religion and Science: Can We Talk?” instead. There, isn’t that better?
As an engineer and open atheist almost all my life, I did not know atheism had a name until high school. I am quite familiar with most of the apologetic and progressive arguments for God that absorb scientific explanations. Immediately the fine tuning argument is casually implied with an invocation of the cosmological constant, and, of course, mentioning Albert Einstein, a noted Spinozan deist at best.
Two things and then I will give the floor to my esteemed colleague; the fine tuning argument is the most basic argument for the prime mover, for classical deism, and it is also the limit of our understanding of the universe at the moment. But using this argument to prove the personal Christian God is to overextend and ultimately, as C.S. Lewis was so apt to do, try to prove too much with too little:
“Sigmund Freud wrote that the voice of reason was small, but very persistent. C. S. Lewis tried to prove too much by opining that the presence of a conscience indicated the divine spark” (Hitchens, “god is not Great,” 2007, p. 256).
This is the default position of any proper scientist, agnostic or agnostic atheist, in that we do not absolutely know who or what started or caused the big bang as we know it today. For a start to a blog, this always puts me on the alert, but continuing further I was put back at ease as apparently this, the big bang, and other aspects of cosmology were being given to members of the church.
The only issue I can have here is the quality, as there is no mention of the qualifications of the teachers or lecturers; we are just told of “scientists”. This is a very important fact that has been omitted and worries me as history has shown that when preachers and people of the cloth are responsible for scientific, sexual, and psychological education, rarely are the standards of even basic public schools upheld properly. It is getting better, but I still have my distrusts.
In response to: “Religion and science. Both are taken seriously by Presbyterians, because both are seen as important in understanding the truth about God’s creation. In a world that often separates science and faith, Presbyterian congregations are trying to encourage the two to converse with one another.” [sic]
Can science and religion (Judeo-Christian beliefs, in this case) “converse with one another”?
Well, for starters, the scientific method is based on the ability to test with experimentation and empirical inquiry in order to either falsify or prove claims. This is not possible when it comes to the various claims within religions. From the viewpoint of methodological naturalism, the appeal to supernatural causation is not applicable in the physical world. For example, at one point in time, Zeus, the Father of Men, was thought to be the source of lightening. But nowadays, due to the beauty of the scientific method, we understand that warm air, negative and positive charged particles, and water vapor cause lightning.
Another example, from the Bible this time, is that sickness and the crippling of the body is associated with evil spirits and Satan (Luke 13:11; Luke 8:2; and Luke 13:16). Diseases and physical ailments can nowadays, due to the beauty of the scientific method once again, be explained as the direct effects of micro-organisms, genetic predispositions, and the like.
Moreover, reciting magical incantations, cooking bread with human feces for 390 days while laying on your left side next to a drawn picture of the city whose sins you wish to bear upon yourself because a deity told you to (Ezekiel 4:1-15), a sea being parted by a bearded man holding a staff, sacrificing animals, battlefields being manipulated by a deity, a 1st century Jew rising from the dead, praying for future events to be altered, talking animals, a multi-headed beast rising “out of the sea”, food from the sky, celestial beings performing coitus with humans, and all the other strange things in the Bible are not exactly science-based, let alone can they be considered valid for “conversing”.
I think the perspective and demeanor of Moonlit History above is a clear case of what was mentioned in the article:
“A recent report by the Barna Group, which provides research and training for churches, revealed that people in their late teens and 20s are dropping out of church in part because they see religion as antagonistic toward science. Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background reported that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in,” and one-quarter agreed with the statement that ‘Christianity is antiscience.’ “
While being quite exhilarated by these findings myself, I see something cyclic happening here. This entire article is devoted to finding a dialogue that brings faith back into relevance with science as the specificity of the human scientific understanding is growing at such a rapid pace, see Moore’s Law, that there really is very little room for God, a dilemma mentioned in the article:
“Prior to the project, some scientists in the congregation had felt isolated and sensed that their scientific approach put them at odds with faith.”
These doubts were amazingly quelled, apparently. How, I may not quite ever be able to understand, I admit, as that level of cognitive dissonance may forever be outside of my abilities.
Back to the cyclic happenings I mentioned a moment ago, we have seen the church and science at odds many times before with, ultimately, a compromise by the faith to the enlightenment of the discoveries of the physical universe. The germ theory of disease versus exorcism and witchcraft, geocentricity versus heliocentricity, various creation myths versus the big bang theory and evolution, just to name a few positions the church was openly defiant of, but eventually forced to accept as the relevance of faith was slipping.
Regularly, we see interpretations of the texts becoming looser and looser to account for the intense differences of literal truth and contextual estimations. This kind of 20/20 hindsight is unscientific and ultimately flawed because true science never has the answer before it starts asking questions. This is what I believe is happening here, a desperate attempt to form God into the shapes that inhabit the small gaps in scientific understanding, with time ultimately on the side of science.
In response to: “The program—called “Not Afraid of Darwin or Christ”…” Should a Christian be “afraid of Darwin”?
Evolution is a system of trial and error; it operates under a mode of sporadic randomness, and not with a “mind” behind it all to achieve an inevitable goal. The vast diversity of species, however, leads some theists to the false notion that a deity, while moving celestial levers and dials, tried to accommodate this creature or that creature. This is a troubling thought, though, since roughly 99% of the all Earth’s species have gone extinct – and our little primate species, a few tens of thousands of years ago, almost followed that brutal pattern.
So if indeed God has a wandering hand within the evolutionary process, then such an assertion would have to mean one of the following:
Either god is evil and allowed the incredible amount of pain and suffering of the species that died off, which includes the close and distant cousins of humanity (there goes his all-loving quality), or…
He is an ineffective and overall incompetent creator (and there goes his all-powerful, all-perfect quality).
In conclusion, yes, a Christian should be afraid of the implications behind Darwin’s theory.
I am inclined to agree with Moonlit History on the implications that the history of life on this planet, the downright hostility of almost everything else in the universe, and the often commonality of pain and suffering from natural mutations within the “virus” of life are indicative of an inept creator or the lack thereof.
This is also an area where I will assume open contention with David Bush and the 13 week course he created when:
“he became intrigued by how the latest scientific theories seemed to be moving closer to the biblical versions of creation.”
I intensely disagree with any kind of biblical and scientific conversion and immediately will assume that there are major issues with the validity of this course. I have never come across any biblical explanation of creation and evolution (note the separation) that did not manipulate the scientific process or the specific claims of both theories without rendering them in a biased manner.
An online search was able to find this article written by the same author as the one we have been talking about thus far. In it, the author cites David’s perspective as follows:
“Like many Christians, David Bush believes that the biblical account of creation is an ancient piece of poetry that was never meant to be a literal, scientific description of what happened as life appeared on the earth. Instead, it’s a faith-based explanation of why life exists, and how humans are to care for it. Science, on the other hand, has never answered the question of why life exists, even through endless proofs based on observation and replication by multiple sources. Science can tell us how things work, but it can never answer questions such as why the Big Bang occurred, or why the first bacterium appeared.”
This is finally the truth of the matter, the age old adage: “Science deals with the how, my good fellow. If you seek to learn the why speak to the philosophers and theologians”. What audacious piffle. The separation of the how and the why is a shallow attempt to anthropomorphise the universe. While “life, the universe, and everything,” to quote the late great Douglas Adams, is quite beautiful and awe-inspiring on its own, it distresses me when there is an attempt to discredit science with having never explained a “why” but only a heartless series of “how’s”.
Furthermore, I would like to remind the reader that there have been countless things that science was once thought unable to explain, yet time showed otherwise. If you are so closed-minded as to assume science will never, or, even worse, can never find the cause or origins of the big bang – you are not looking for answers, you must already have them…
The problem of evil or incompetency also questions the “why” of philosophers, theologians, and God(s) as almost everything in the universe can kill us; the sun will eventually envelope and ultimately vaporize the earth; the surface of the planet shifted, killing thousands of innocents just the other day, and there is always the small problem of deadly diseases in children too young to elaborate the magnitude of their suffering. To David Bush I shall quote Epicurus as Moonlit History started to above:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
Simply put, there does not have to be a why, there is only a possibility of a why, among the many other cases with none.
In closing, both Moonlit History and I as well as many others here at Atheist Analysis, agree that conversations between the faith and the sciences are necessary, but it is only possible if nothing is sacred. There can be no barrier or sacred creed too large to question, it is not unreasonable to demand extraordinary evidence in the face of extraordinary claims, and nothing is too big to ridicule or dismiss when only faith and personal testimony is offered. In requisite, the sciences offer no absolutes, are willing to change, hold no ideology sacred above pure unfettered inquiry, and must remain open to the possibility that the universe is more beautifully complicated than we could ever have imagined.
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