Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Food For Thought

Just a quick quote that I read today and thought I would share.

"If there is no God, then all that exists is time and chance acting on matter. If this is true then the difference between your thoughts and mine correspond to the difference between shaking up a bottle of Mountain Dew and a bottle of Dr. Pepper. You simply fizz atheistically and I fizz theistically. This means that you do not hold to atheism because it is true , but rather because of a series of chemical reactions.... Morality, tragedy, and sorrow are equally evanescent. They are all empty sensations created by the chemical reactions of the brain, in turn created by too much pizza the night before. If there is no God, then all abstractions are chemical epiphenomena, like swamp gas over fetid water. This means that we have no reason for assigning truth and falsity to the chemical fizz we call reasoning or right and wrong to the irrational reaction we call morality. If no God, mankind is a set of bi-pedal carbon units of mostly water. And nothing else."

- Theologian Douglas Wilson

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Faith is Infantile

            Here is some more food for thought for the weekend. This was written based largely off the writings of Joanna and Alister McGrath in The Dawkins Delusion and Richard Dawkins The God Delusion.

            As anyone familiar with antireligious polemics knows, a recurring atheist criticism of religious belief is that it is infantile, a childish delusion which ought to have disappeared as humanity reaches its maturity. Throughout his career Richard Dawkins has developed a similar criticism, drawing on a longstanding atheist analogy. In earlier works he emphasized that belief in God is just like believing in the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus. “These are childish beliefs that are abandoned as soon as we are capable of evidence-based thinking. And so is God. It's obvious, isn't it?” As Dawkins pointed out in his "Thought for the Day" on BBC Radio in 2003, humanity "can leave the cry-baby phase, and finally come of age." This "infantile explanation" belongs to an earlier, superstitious era in the history of humanity. “We've outgrown it.”

Hmmm. Like many of Dawkins's analogies, this has been constructed with a specific agenda in mind; in this case, the ridiculing of religion. Yet the analogy is obviously flawed. How many people do you know who began to believe in Santa Claus in adulthood? Or who found belief in the Tooth Fairy consoling in old age? Those who use this infantile argument have to explain why so many people discover God in later life and certainly do not regard this as representing any kind of regression, perversion or degeneration. A good recent example is provided by Anthony Flew (born 1923), the noted atheist philosopher who started to believe in God in his eighties and wrote the book There is a God.

Yet The God Delusion is surely right to express concern about the indoctrination of children by their parents. “Innocent minds are corrupted by adults cramming their religious beliefs down their children's throats.” Dawkins argues that the biological process of natural selection builds child brains with a tendency to believe whatever their parents or elders tell them. This, he suggests, makes them prone to trust whatever a parent says; like Santa Claus. This is seen as one of the most significant factors involved in sustaining religious belief in the world, when it ought to have been wiped out ages ago. Break the cycle of the transmission of religious ideas, and that will put an end to this nonsense. Dawkins then goes on to suggest that bringing up children with religious tradition is a form of child abuse.

Having read the misrepresentations of religion that are such a depressing feature of The God Delusion, I fear that secularists would merely force their own dogmas down the throats of the same gullible children, who lack, as Dawkins rightly points out, the discriminatory capacities needed to evaluate the ideas. His whole approach sounds uncomfortably like the antireligious programs built into the education of Soviet children during the 1950s, based on mantras such as "Science has disproved religion!" "Religion is superstition!" and the like. Children need to be told, fairly and accurately, what Christianity actually teaches; rather than be subjected to the ridiculous misrepresentations of Christian theology that litter The God Delusion.
Dawkins quotes with approval the views of his friend Nicholas Humphrey, who suggests that parents should no more be allowed to teach children about the "literal truth of the Bible" than "to knock their children's teeth out." If Humphrey is consistent here, he should be equally outraged about those who peddle misrepresentations of religion as if they were the truth. Might he argue, I wonder, that parents who read The God Delusion aloud to their children were also committing child abuse? Or are you only abusive if you impose religious, but not antireligious, dogmas and delusions?

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Today's post I am again taking mainly from the good people at Biologos. In my search for God I have read a lot of Christian apologetics and I have found that many of them place their faith heavily on the God-of-Gaps arguments. I have found this to be a little concerning and so today I want to share an article based off the ideas of Dr. Francis Collins who believes that our faith should not be placed in the gaps of scientific knowledge. So here is some of the article the whole article can be found at: God-of-the Gaps

Defining God-of-the-Gaps

God-of-the-gaps arguments use gaps in scientific explanation as indicators, or even proof, of God’s action and therefore of God’s existence. Such arguments propose divine acts in place of natural, scientific causes for phenomena that science cannot yet explain. The assumption is that if science cannot explain how something happened, then God must be the explanation. But the danger of using a God-of-the-gaps argument for the action or existence of God is that it lacks the foresight of future scientific discoveries. With the continuing advancement of science, God-of-the-gaps explanations often get replaced by natural mechanisms. Therefore, when such arguments are used as apologetic tools, scientific research can unnecessarily be placed at odds with belief in God. The recent Intelligent Design, or ID,  movement highlights this problem. Certain ID arguments, like the irreducible complexity of the human eye or the bacterial flagellum, are rapidly being undercut by new scientific discoveries.

Now we will turn our attention to two ideas of Dr. Francis Collins that he proposed as pointers to God in his book The Language of God. These ideas are known as The Fine-Tuning argument and the Moral Law. I will probably post more on these arguments at a later date. While they don't prove that a God exists, they are certainly worth contemplating.

Unlike a God-of-the-gaps argument, the argument for fine-tuning uses science without divine action to reveal the impeccable precision of our Universe. Fine-tuning is described in terms of physical constants and the initial conditions of our universe. Fine-tuning does not try to draw attention to where science has failed, but rather emphasizes how science has revealed the intricate balance of the universe.
One might argue that science could potentially explain the origins of these delicately balanced features, but there are two important things to keep in mind. First, it is very unlikely that a scientific theory could explain away the improbabilities of our Universe without raising other improbabilities.  Second, an argument for fine-tuning is unlike a God-of-the-gaps argument in that it is not intended to prove God’s existence. While it is true that the fine-tuning of the Universe adds credence to belief in a creator, such recent scientific findings could hardly be called upon as the basis or justification of the long history of theistic belief. While the fine-tuning of the Universe does indeed lead many people to consider the possibility of God’s existence, the fact that science cannot disprove God’s existence assures us that it also cannot prove it. Instead, fine-tuning can be understood as a feature of the universe that is accordant with belief in a creator. A deeper scientific explanation of these features — albeit highly unlikely — would not ruin its usefulness as a pointer to God.

Moral Law

The moral law also offers evidence that the world has evolved in a way that is consistent with the belief in a good and loving God. This remains true whether science eventually finds an account or explanation for morality. Even if a purely natural account of moral development could be found, the simple fact that morality has evolved is something that would be expected in a world created by a just and loving God.

Evolutionary theory explains selfishness in a most obvious and natural way. Altruism is far less obvious, but it can also be explained by recognizing that humans evolved in tribes that were essentially extended families with many genes in common. Imagine two tribes, one has genes to help each other even when it requires sacrifice and one does not have such genes. Which tribe will flourish? In such ways, genes for altruism can be selected by nature and spread in a population. But in its most radical form, altruism refers to situations where individuals risk their very lives to help someone they do not even know, and from whom a reciprocal benefit is unexpected or even unimaginable. This concept runs counter to the behavior expected from the best-established processes of evolution, and there are no widely accepted theories that can fully account for such examples. Some have suggested that radical altruism might perhaps be explained as misfiring —  we mistakenly go overboard in our desire to be nice. Radical altruism is currently somewhat mysterious.

As with most situations, science may someday provide an explanation for altruism. In light of that possibility, the argument from the moral law as a pointer to God is subject to the same risk of explanation as Newton’s God-of-the-gaps argument. If radically altruistic behavior is someday given a natural evolutionary explanation, it will no longer stand out as an inconsistency in evolutionary theory. However, Robert Wright argues in Non-Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny, that the evolution of altruism can be explained as an application of game theory. In Wright’s view, the deep mystery is not altruism itself, but the intriguing mathematical structures of the universe, like game theory, that can coax  from the universe surprising behaviors like altruism.


If gaps in scientific knowledge are the basis for belief in God, then as science progresses, evidence for God’s existence continually diminishes. Fine-tuning does not rely on divine action as an explanation, but points out the striking precision of nature’s order in line with the requirements for human life, thus establishing a mysterious connection between physics and biology. As for the moral law, its use as a pointer to God can be understood in that human behavior has evolved in a way that is consistent with the idea of a good and loving creator. Belief in any moral truth rests upon the assumption of God’s existence or some other ultimate standard.

Finally, although these pointers to God should encourage one to consider God’s existence, they must not be placed at the foundation of faith. The belief in a creator and the experience of a relationship with God should not rest solely on a logical or scientific justification. But then, as Collins himself wondered, “How can such [religious] beliefs be possible for a scientist? Aren’t many claims of religion incompatible with the “Show me the data” attitude of someone devoted to the study of chemistry, physics, biology, or medicine?”

Hopefully this article gave you some things to consider. I know it did for me.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

"There Almost Certainly Is No God"

Lately I've been reading a little bit from the books The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and The Dawkins Delusion by Alister and Joanna McGrath. Today's post is based on the chapters "Why There Almost Certainly is no God" and "Deluded About God."

In The God Delusion Dawkins devotes an entire chapter to an argument, or more accurately, a loosely collected series of assertions, to the general effect that “there almost certainly is no God.”  This chapter is essentially an expansion of the “who made God then?” question. Dawkins’s states, “Any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right. God presents an infinite regress from which he cannot help us to escape.”

Dawkins is particularly derisive about theologians who allow themselves “the dubious luxury of arbitrarily conjuring up a terminator to an infinite regress.” Anything that explains something itself has to be explained and that explanation in turn needs to be explained, and so on. 

However, I feel that it needs to be pointed out here that the holy grail of the natural sciences is the quest for the "grand unified theory” the “theory of everything.” Why is such a theory regarded as being so important you ask? Because it can explain everything without itself requiring or demanding an explanation. If Dawkins's brash and simplistic argument carried weight, this great scientific quest could be dismissed with a seemingly profound yet in fact trivial question: What explains the explainer? 

Now maybe there is no such ultimate theory. Maybe the “theory of everything” will turn out to be a “theory of nothing.” However, there is no reason to suppose that this quest is a failure from the outset simply because it represents the termination of an explanatory process. So we see that a search for an irreducible explanation lies at the heart of the scientific quest. There is no logical inconsistency, no conceptual flaw, no self-contradiction involved.

After this argument, Dawkins continues with another argument where he points out the sheer improbability of our existence. Belief in God, he then argues, represents belief in a being whose existence must be even more complex, and thus, even more improbable. Yet this leap from the recognition of complexity to the assertion of improbability is highly problematic. Why is something complex improbable?

Now let us think for a moment. The one inescapable and highly improbable fact about the world is that we, as reflective human beings, are in fact here. Now it is virtually impossible to quantify how improbable the existence of humanity is. Dawkins himself is clear, especially in Climbing Mount Improbable, that it is very, very improbable. But we are here. So now I must state the obvious, that there are many things that seem improbable, but improbability does not, and never has, entailed nonexistence. The issue then is not whether God is probable but whether God is actual. 

How can we know that God is actual? Well, we can't really. I hope to be able to provide some evidence though throughout this blog to show that even though we can't prove God exists, we can still believe rationally.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Is There a Proper Relationship Between Science and Faith?

For my first actual post I would like to share an article titled "What is the proper relationship between science and religion?" It was written by the BioLogos institution (founded by Christian scientist Dr. Francis Collins). It is a bit of a longer read but I think it is a good introduction to this blog.

"Science and theology have things to say to each other since both are concerned with the search for truth attained through motivated belief." — John Polkinghorne

Science and religion are sometimes thought to offer entirely different and separate bodies of knowledge. Science is thought to provide systematized and empirical knowledge of the world and its behavior, whereas religion is thought only to give value and purpose for one’s existence. This view is best summarized by Stephen J. Gould, who describes science and religion as Non-Overlapping Magisteria, or NOMA.

"[Each] subject has a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority—and these magisteria do not overlap (the principle that I would like to designate as NOMA, or “nonoverlapping magisteria"). The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact), and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty)." 

There are many questions that can only be addressed either by science or by religion, and the NOMA view certainly describes much of the relevant terrain. The popular view that science and religion are engaged in an endless debate is a misunderstanding that arises from a limited picture. When creation and evolution clash in a courtroom, the daily news fills up with stories suggesting there is some profound conflict between science and religion. What does not make the daily news is the research of the majority of scientists on topics that do not come into contact with religion.The same is true of the work of theologians and biblical scholars investigating topics in fields unrelated to science. For example, scientists routinely study things like the migration patterns of animals, the atmospheres of planets and the lifetimes of elementary particles. It is all but impossible to find any religious significance to such investigations. Likewise, theologians and biblical scholars study the origins and development of scriptures, philosophical solutions to the problem of evil and the promise of eternal life. These topics do not connect in any natural way to science. The NOMA perspective is correct to highlight the extended nonoverlapping nature of science and religion.

NOMA, however, risks overcompartmentalization. If taken to an extreme, NOMA equates science with factual knowledge and religion with value or opinion. In that case, there would clearly be no overlap between the two disciplines.

Science is not the only source of factual statements, and religion does reach beyond the realm of values and morals. As Gould acknowledges, science is limited to the factual claims about the world’s physical behavior, and therefore provides only a portion of complete knowledge. Writing on the same topic, Dr. Francis Collins borrows an example from astronomer Arthur Eddington:

"[Eddington] described a man who set out to study deep-sea life using a net that had a mesh-size of three inches. After catching many wild and wonderful creatures from the depths, the man concluded that there are no deep-sea fish that are smaller than three inches in length!" 

With regard to religion, NOMA unfairly strips away a major part of its definition because religious belief extends beyond the realm of values. In fact, religious belief almost always includes certain metaphysical claims such as the existence of supernatural entities: God, moral laws, an afterlife, etc.

It is not enough, though, to show that NOMA motivates a false definition for science and religion. NOMA's central goal is its claim that science and religion do not, need not, and should not interconnect. Examples to the contrary are explored below.

Religion Informs Science
For centuries, religion has had plenty to say to science. To keep the discussion concise, the development of modern science is a good example. It is often thought that religious belief was actually a hindrance to the early progress of science, and the disagreement between the church and Galileo (see below) is cited as a popular case. However, religious belief actually was entirely compatible with scientific progress. For example, when the top 52 scientists during the emergence of modern science in medieval Europe were surveyed for their religious beliefs, 62 percent could be classified as devout, 35 percent as conventionally religious, and only two scientists, 3.8% percent, could be classified as skeptics. Given that many of these scientists — referred to as natural philosophers — helped lay the foundation for modern science, there is hardly room to suggest there was any incompatibility between scientific advancement and religion. With those statistics in mind, it should not be surprising that a religious worldview played a significant role in nurturing the development of modern science. This is well summarized by professor Roger Trigg:

"Their belief in God gave them confidence that the physical world, in all its complexity and vast extent, could be understood. […] As a matter of historical fact, modern science has developed from an understanding of the world as God’s ordered Creation, with its own inherent rationality." 

This is not to say that modern science would never have developed without the aid of religious faith. However, if religious belief can also function as a framework within which scientific progress flourishes, then there is certainly substantive interplay between the two bodies of knowledge.

Furthermore, religion has not only served to advance scientific discovery, but it also exerts a positive and significant influence on the practical application of scientific discoveries. With the constant advance of technology and medicine, new questions are continually raised as to what applications should be deemed ethically acceptable. (See Collins’s Appendix in The Language of God.) The scientific method alone does not provide a way of answering these ethical questions but can only help in mapping out the possible alternatives. Such ethical concerns are only resolved by standards of morality that find grounding and authority through faith in a higher being. 

Science Informs Religion
As mentioned above, one well-known historic example of the interaction between science and religion is the Galileo Affair. Although it is often cited as an example of conflict between science and religion, it is also a prime example of scientific contribution to religious belief. In Galileo’s time there was a heated disagreement over the interpretation of a few Bible verses in poetic sections of the Psalms. If it was assumed that these scriptures were meant to be read as science, and not primarily as poetry, then they could be interpreted to say that the Earth was physically central in the universe. However, Galileo had been convinced by Copernicus’ argument that this was impossible. Galileo, who remained a loyal Catholic to the end of his life, makes his position clear In a letter to the Grand Duchess of Tuscany:

"[In] St. Augustine we read: 'If anyone shall set the authority of Holy Writ against clear and manifest reason, he who does this knows not what he has undertaken; for he opposes to the truth not the meaning of the Bible, which is beyond his comprehension, but rather his own interpretation, not what is in the Bible, but what he has found in himself and imagines to be there.' "

"This granted, and it being true that two truths cannot contradict one another, it is the function of expositors to seek out the true senses of scriptural texts. These will unquestionably accord with the physical conclusions which manifest sense and necessary demonstrations have previously made certain to us." 
Galileo was not suggesting that his discoveries were contrary to the truth revealed through scripture, but that science had offered a refinement to their proper understanding. Even today there is plenty of opportunity for similar guidance, particularly when interpreting the first chapters of Genesis. Overwhelming scientific evidence points to an old earth. If the scriptures of Genesis are true, they are not meant to be interpreted as a step-by-step account of when or how God created the world.

Professor Donald Mackay offers a healthy perspective on scientific involvement with religion:
”Obviously a surface meaning of many passages could be tested, for example, against archaeological discoveries, and the meaning of others can be enriched by scientific and historical knowledge. But I want to suggest that the primary function of scientific enquiry in such fields is neither to verify nor to add to the inspired picture, but to help us in eliminating improper ways of reading it. To pursue the metaphor, I think the scientific data God gives us can sometimes serve as his way of warning us when we are standing too close to the picture, at the wrong angle, or with the wrong expectations, to be able to see the inspired pattern he means it to convey to us.” 

From the examples above, it is clear that science and religion can have a constructive relationship. Oddly enough, some people argue that God’s existence is actually a scientific claim and should be tested like any other. However, God’s existence is not something that can be tested by the scientific method in the same way the existence of postulated new elementary particles are tested in supercolliders. Because science provides knowledge about the natural world, no amount of testing or theorizing could prove or disprove the existence of a supernatural creator. Rather than an empirical claim about nature or its laws, the claim that God exists is a metaphysical one, a statement about what there is, whether it be natural or supernatural.

Although there is clearly an overlap between science and religion, neither is an exhaustive source of truth. That is, there are still certain questions that should only be addressed by science or religion. In the same way that science cannot answer a question about life’s purpose or the existence of God, one should be wary of using religious scriptures as a scientific textbook. While science and religion do interact and inform one another, one should always keep in mind the appropriate boundaries for each source of knowledge.


My name is Ryan and I have decided to start a blog where I will be posting interesting thoughts related to faith in God and science. I wish to point out that I believe no amount of scientific evidence or philosophy can fully prove that a God exists. I am not starting this blog to prove that God exists. I am simply wanting to share interesting thoughts from a number of sources to show how a belief in God and an acceptance of science can go together without conflict.

Due to a heavy course load in school I will be unable to respond to every question or response people post. I will be happy to respond to e-mails should anyone have an extremely pressing issue they wish to discuss. The point of this blog is to get people thinking, not to argue endlessly about the existence of God. If you wish to argue please go somewhere else. Anyone can win an argument but winning an arugment does not change who is right and who is wrong.

The fact of the matter is no one knows for sure. However, this does not mean we should simply stop asking questions or stop searching for truth. Always keep an open mind and see where the evidence leads you.