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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

God versus Science part four

We ended the discussion here:

COLLINS: For you to argue that our noblest acts are a misfiring of Darwinian behavior does not do justice to the sense we all have about the absolutes that are involved here of good and evil. Evolution may explain some features of the moral law, but it can't explain why it should have any real significance. If it is solely an evolutionary convenience, there is really no such thing as good or evil. But for me, it is much more than that. The moral law is a reason to think of God as plausible--not just a God who sets the universe in motion but a God who cares about human beings, because we seem uniquely amongst creatures on the planet to have this far-developed sense of morality. What you've said implies that outside of the human mind, tuned by evolutionary processes, good and evil have no meaning. Do you agree with that?

Now we resume:

DAWKINS: Even the question you're asking has no meaning to me. Good and evil--I don't believe that there is hanging out there, anywhere, something called good and something called evil. I think that there are good things that happen and bad things that happen.

In other words, Dawkins is arguing for no absolutes. There is frame of reference to judge between good and evil or even to establish what is good and what is evil other than the space between his two ears.

Allow me to share two quotes from Dr.Francis A Schaeffer, in bold to contrast from my notes:

"People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize. By presuppositions we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic world-view, the grid through which he sees the world. Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. People's presuppositions lay a grid for all they bring forth into the external world. Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions."

We have seen that both Dawkins and Collins have expressed their presuppositions during the course of this TIME-led discussion. It behooves one to understand that one definitely has presuppositions and to understand what they are. Only the most ignorant among us cannot perceive of such presuppositions and only the stupid deny that they exist.

"No totalitarian authority nor authoritarian state can tolerate those who have an absolute by which to judge that state and its actions. The Christians had that absolute in God's revelation. Because the Christians had an absolute, universal standard by which to judge not only personal morals but the state, they were counted as enemies of totalitarian Rome and were thrown to the beasts."

I submit that Dawkins and those like him wish to have a totalitarian rule over scientific discussion and therefore this quote applies beautifully. Evolution thrives best in a world with no absolutes. But God and absolutes walk hand-in-hand.

COLLINS: I think that is a fundamental difference between us. I'm glad we identified it.

TIME: Dr. Collins, I know you favor the opening of new stem-cell lines for experimentation. But doesn't the fact that faith has caused some people to rule this out risk creating a perception that religion is preventing science from saving lives?

COLLINS: Let me first say as a disclaimer that I speak as a private citizen and not as a representative of the Executive Branch of the United States government. The impression that people of faith are uniformly opposed to stem-cell research is not documented by surveys. In fact, many people of strong religious conviction think this can be a morally supportable approach.

TIME: But to the extent that a person argues on the basis of faith or Scripture rather than reason, how can scientists respond?

COLLINS: Faith is not the opposite of reason. Faith rests squarely upon reason, but with the added component of revelation. So such discussions between scientists and believers happen quite readily. But neither scientists nor believers always embody the principles precisely. Scientists can have their judgment clouded by their professional aspirations. And the pure truth of faith, which you can think of as this clear spiritual water, is poured into rusty vessels called human beings, and so sometimes the benevolent principles of faith can get distorted as positions are hardened.

DAWKINS: For me, moral questions such as stem-cell research turn upon whether suffering is caused. In this case, clearly none is. The embryos have no nervous system. But that's not an issue discussed publicly. The issue is, Are they human? If you are an absolutist moralist, you say, "These cells are human, and therefore they deserve some kind of special moral treatment." Absolutist morality doesn't have to come from religion but usually does.

We slaughter nonhuman animals in factory farms, and they do have nervous systems and do suffer. People of faith are not very interested in their suffering.

People of faith see a large difference between animals and man. But the stem cell issue is very complex and often presented in a deceptive manner. There are large numbers of adult stem cells available for study. The government has not banned research using embryonic stem cells, but simply refuses to pay for such research. In other words we aren't going to be forced to pay, even second hand, for the murder of babies.

COLLINS: Do humans have a different moral significance than cows in general?

DAWKINS: Humans have more moral responsibility perhaps, because they are capable of reasoning.

It sounds as if Dawkins sees the difference between man and cow in terms of intellectual capacity? Interesting. I wonder if he would therefore conclude that it would be okay to eat human flesh? If not, why not?

TIME: Do the two of you have any concluding thoughts?

COLLINS: I just would like to say that over more than a quarter-century as a scientist and a believer, I find absolutely nothing in conflict between agreeing with Richard in practically all of his conclusions about the natural world, and also saying that I am still able to accept and embrace the possibility that there are answers that science isn't able to provide about the natural world--the questions about why instead of the questions about how. I'm interested in the whys. I find many of those answers in the spiritual realm. That in no way compromises my ability to think rigorously as a scientist.

I am sorry that TIME picked a scientist who is not on the opposite side of the spectrum from Dawkins, but rather one who is a bit wishy-washy on the issue of God and Science. On the other hand, it certainly illustrates that a scientist who believes in God and takes that presupposition to work with him every day has no problem with performing research and making wonderful discoveries that benefit his fellow man. Collins is, in my mind, wrong about evolution. Still, his belief in the supernatural sure hasn't hindered his career as a scientist, Dawkin's assertions to the contrary.

DAWKINS: My mind is not closed, as you have occasionally suggested, Francis. My mind is open to the most wonderful range of future possibilities, which I cannot even dream about, nor can you, nor can anybody else. What I am skeptical about is the idea that whatever wonderful revelation does come in the science of the future, it will turn out to be one of the particular historical religions that people happen to have dreamed up. When we started out and we were talking about the origins of the universe and the physical constants, I provided what I thought were cogent arguments against a supernatural intelligent designer. But it does seem to me to be a worthy idea. Refutable--but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect. I don't see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the Cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there is a God, it's going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.

Hmmm. Let's see, God is described in the Bible as omniscient (knows everything) and omnipotent (all-powerful) and omnipresent (present at all places and at all times) and the ex nihilo creator of everything, including time and space. God is light, He is love, He is merciful. God made everything and sustains everything. His Bible says that He is capable of doing more than we can "ask or even think!" Yet Dawkins says that God would have to be "a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed?" What is bigger and better than the God we already have? He is already beyond what we can comprehend with our finite minds as it is.

But Dawkins is simply copping out. God is bigger than big and better than great but Dawkins doesn't want any God of any sort. Dawkin's god? He sees his god in the mirror every morning. Because Dawkin's god is his own intellect and image. Hee-hee, think Dawkins is "bigger and better" than God? Not me!

TIME ARTICLE With reporting by David Bjerklie, Alice Park/New York, Dan Cray/Los Angeles, Jeff Israely/Rome


lava said...

This may be way off topic but - in 200 or 500 or 2,000 years, do you think today's modern religions will be thought of as mythology?

cranky old fart said...

Duh, IMHO.

xiangtao said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
xiangtao said...

I think the question should be will they have been replaced by another mythology or will we have rid ourselves of our need for fairy tales?

cranky old fart said...


I know you, oops, humans, are the center of the universe, but this is just fascinating stuff.

highboy said...

"This may be way off topic but - in 200 or 500 or 2,000 years, do you think today's modern religions will be thought of as mythology?"

If they haven't been thought of in that regard in the last 2000 years of "progressiveness" then no.

IAMB said...

Past longevity does not necessarily mean future viability, but you're right in that the trend does indicate that today's religions will still be around for quite a while. Today's Christianity doesn't even claim the title of "longevity king" where living religions are concerned. The Hindus have that one bagged... by a minimum of 1000 years. That being said, remarks about "progressiveness" are irrelevant in considering my position. In this case, I'm going to have to side with Highboy (don't let your heads explode when you read that part... I promise not to make it a habit).

I don't really think the question is whether today's religions will survive... I think it's more a question of what form they will survive in and how popular they will be. It is unlikely that any of them will survive exactly in their present form, especially Christianity (given the many evolutions of the faith over the centuries). However, some will weather the ages better than others. Islam has a potential to remained essentially unchanged, but with that potential comes the risk of going basically extinct as well. Religions, like it or not, do tend to adapt with changing times. I'm just hoping the whole Scientology thing has blown over in a couple hundred years...

As for the use of the term "mythology", it's taken frequently in a derogatory manner when applied to modern religions. However, this is not necessarily the case. From an anthropological perspective they already are because they are a set of stories and beliefs bound up with our culture. Whether literally true or not, they are still part of us and therefore still important.