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Sunday, November 19, 2006

God versus Science part one

Now begins the blogging of the November 13th cover story of Time Magazine.

God vs. Science

We revere faith and scientific progress, hunger for miracles and for MRIs. But are the worldviews compatible? TIME convenes a debate

There are two great debates under the broad heading of Science vs. God. The more familiar over the past few years is the narrower of the two: Can Darwinian evolution withstand the criticisms of Christians who believe that it contradicts the creation account in the Book of Genesis? In recent years, creationism took on new currency as the spiritual progenitor of "intelligent design" (I.D.), a scientifically worded attempt to show that blanks in the evolutionary narrative are more meaningful than its very convincing totality. I.D. lost some of its journalistic heat last December when a federal judge dismissed it as pseudoscience unsuitable for teaching in Pennsylvania schools.

I have reviewed the Pennsylvania decision and in my opinion it was entirely boneheaded and unscientific. I also think that we can immediately see from the phrase, "very convincing totality" that this article is being written with a definite pro-evolution slant. But that is to be expected from Time.

But in fact creationism and I.D. are intimately related to a larger unresolved question, in which the aggressor's role is reversed: Can religion stand up to the progress of science?

This statement flies in the face of the fact that most early scientists were not only believers in God, but their belief that God was both orderly and logical and good allowed them to trust in certain rules of testing and evidence that remain in use today. Life is not random. Also, belief in God exists outside of one's opinion about origins even if it may be related.

This debate long predates Darwin, but the antireligion position is being promoted with increasing insistence by scientists angered by intelligent design and excited, perhaps intoxicated, by their disciplines' increasing ability to map, quantify and change the nature of human experience.

Now the writer is gushing! He might want to consider writing advertising copy instead of a supposedly scientific treatise.

Brain imaging illustrates--in color!--the physical seat of the will and the passions, challenging the religious concept of a soul independent of glands and gristle. Brain chemists track imbalances that could account for the ecstatic states of visionary saints or, some suggest, of Jesus. Like Freudianism before it, the field of evolutionary psychology generates theories of altruism and even of religion that do not include God.

The above is speculative, of course, and when it comes to Jesus it is downright insulting to believers. The writer suggests to an extent that Jesus was simply experiencing chemical brain imbalances!!!!! Makes you wonder why those with imbalances these days don't heal the sick, raise the dead and provide a basis for moral behavior for Western Civilization, right?

Something called the multiverse hypothesis in cosmology speculates that ours may be but one in a cascade of universes, suddenly bettering the odds that life could have cropped up here accidentally, without divine intervention. (If the probabilities were 1 in a billion, and you've got 300 billion universes, why not?)

This is also remarkably speculative and doubtless thought up primarily because the odds against the creation of the Universe, life and other tenets of naturalistic thinking are so insurmountable otherwise. This is why odds against those things are no longer anything I pay much attention to, since evolutionists will just pull the multiverse thing out of their back pocket and the discussion can no longer continue. Once life was established on earth, though, the odds do pertain, but that is another discussion.

Roman Catholicism's Christoph Cardinal Schönborn has dubbed the most fervent of faith-challenging scientists followers of "scientism" or "evolutionism," since they hope science, beyond being a measure, can replace religion as a worldview and a touchstone. It is not an epithet that fits everyone wielding a test tube. But a growing proportion of the profession is experiencing what one major researcher calls "unprecedented outrage" at perceived insults to research and rationality, ranging from the alleged influence of the Christian right on Bush Administration science policy to the fanatic faith of the 9/11 terrorists to intelligent design's ongoing claims.

Really, I am surprised that evolutionists aren't tearing their clothes and rioting in the streets! That this author ties Christians with murdering terrorists and then brings in ID in the same breath reveals that he is more than against God, he is downright hostile to God and all who believe. Intelligent Design makes many claims that evolutionists have made only the most pathetic and futile inroads against. School boards can be flummoxed by the problems involved but real scientists, at the very least, agree that there are uncounted ID problems that evolution has no good answer for, not the least of which is the process known as photosynthesis.

Some are radicalized enough to publicly pick an ancient scab: the idea that science and religion, far from being complementary responses to the unknown, are at utter odds--or, as Yale psychologist Paul Bloom has written bluntly, "Religion and science will always clash." The market seems flooded with books by scientists describing a caged death match between science and God--with science winning, or at least chipping away at faith's underlying verities.

There are plenty of God-believers who also believe in evolution, and there are those who don't buy either one. Christianity and evolution are not mutually exclusive. In my view, a careful consideration of evolution will bring you to a need to choose sides at some point but that is just me.

Finding a spokesman for this side of the question was not hard, since Richard Dawkins, perhaps its foremost polemicist, has just come out with The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin), the rare volume whose position is so clear it forgoes a subtitle. The five-week New York Times best seller (now at No. 8) attacks faith philosophically and historically as well as scientifically, but leans heavily on Darwinian theory, which was Dawkins' expertise as a young scientist and more recently as an explicator of evolutionary psychology so lucid that he occupies the Charles Simonyi professorship for the public understanding of science at Oxford University.

Does anyone else find it funny that the author chooses a non-scientist to represent "Science" in his article while a genuine scientist takes the other side? In fact, the discussion is ongoing with scientists being on both sides. The actual title should be "Godless Science versus Science with God", were the author being both honest and balanced.

Dawkins is riding the crest of an atheist literary wave. In 2004, The End of Faith, a multipronged indictment by neuroscience grad student Sam Harris, was published (over 400,000 copies in print). Harris has written a 96-page follow-up, Letter to a Christian Nation, which is now No. 14 on the Times list. Last February, Tufts University philosopher Daniel Dennett produced Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, which has sold fewer copies but has helped usher the discussion into the public arena.

If Dennett and Harris are almost-scientists (Dennett runs a multidisciplinary scientific-philosophic program), the authors of half a dozen aggressively secular volumes are card carriers: In Moral Minds, Harvard biologist Marc Hauser explores the--nondivine--origins of our sense of right and wrong (September); in Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast (due in January) by self-described "atheist-reductionist-materialist" biologist Lewis Wolpert, religion is one of those impossible things; Victor Stenger, a physicist-astronomer, has a book coming out titled God: The Failed Hypothesis. Meanwhile, Ann Druyan, widow of archskeptical astrophysicist Carl Sagan, has edited Sagan's unpublished lectures on God and his absence into a book, The Varieties of Scientific Experience, out this month.

Fine, and I can find you plenty of books on Scientology, too. Or Astrology. Whatever. The sheer volume of books that are pro-evolution and hostile to God doesn't make them right. The loudest voice isn't necessarily the best.

Dawkins and his army have a swarm of articulate theological opponents, of course. But the most ardent of these don't really care very much about science, and an argument in which one party stands immovable on Scripture and the other immobile on the periodic table doesn't get anyone very far.

The above statement is either remarkably ignorant or deliberately false. There are hundreds of respected scientists who are pro-Creation and anti-evolution as anyone who has studied the subject or even simply read this blog would know without doubt.

Most Americans occupy the middle ground: we want it all. We want to cheer on science's strides and still humble ourselves on the Sabbath. We want access to both MRIs and miracles. We want debates about issues like stem cells without conceding that the positions are so intrinsically inimical as to make discussion fruitless. And to balance formidable standard bearers like Dawkins, we seek those who possess religious conviction but also scientific achievements to credibly argue the widespread hope that science and God are in harmony--that, indeed, science is of God.

Well, my research indicates that the majority of the great scientists of the past, like Newton, were actually believers in a created Universe and believed that science was the study of God's creation. More propaganda from the author. I am really looking forward to the dialogue between the two protagonists so that more than one point of view gets presented. Good grief!

Informed conciliators have recently become more vocal. Stanford University biologist Joan Roughgarden has just come out with Evolution and Christian Faith, which provides what she calls a "strong Christian defense" of evolutionary biology, illustrating the discipline's major concepts with biblical passages. Entomologist Edward O. Wilson, a famous skeptic of standard faith, has written The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, urging believers and non-believers to unite over conservation. But foremost of those arguing for common ground is Francis Collins.

Uh-oh! Are we actually going to have a debate between an ardent evolutionist and an ardent Creationist or is this going to be black versus off-white?

Collins' devotion to genetics is, if possible, greater than Dawkins'. Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute since 1993, he headed a multinational 2,400-scientist team that co-mapped the 3 billion biochemical letters of our genetic blueprint, a milestone that then President Bill Clinton honored in a 2000 White House ceremony, comparing the genome chart to Meriwether Lewis' map of his fateful continental exploration. Collins continues to lead his institute in studying the genome and mining it for medical breakthroughs.

He is also a forthright Christian who converted from atheism at age 27 and now finds time to advise young evangelical scientists on how to declare their faith in science's largely agnostic upper reaches. His summer best seller, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (Free Press), laid out some of the arguments he brought to bear in the 90-minute debate TIME arranged between Dawkins and Collins in our offices at the Time & Life Building in New York City on Sept. 30. Some excerpts from their spirited exchange:

Okay, maybe he will be okay...tomorrow we begin the actual debate between the two men concerning this issue. But look at how long this very slanted prologue went on! The author was determined to preconfigure the audience to take his side in the debate. Bad form, that! Furthermore, one side is represented by a non-scientist who just wrote a book, "The God Delusion" that by it's very title is dismissive and arrogant. Meanwhile the God side seems to be represented by a balanced, non-hostile scientist. Knowing that this very slanted journalist is going to pick and choose portions of the debate between the men, one might expect that the result is going to favor evolution whether or not the actual discussion went quite that way. But curiosity drives us to review it anyway. More tomorrow!


highboy said...

"The sheer volume of books that are pro-evolution and hostile to God doesn't make them right."

If we went by impact, the fact that the Bible has changed the lives of billions of people for the last 2000 years, and is the most read/purchased book in history, those facts by themselves would mean that the Bible is right. If we went by that logic.

scohen said...

One Question:
Why do you think Dawkins is not a scientist? He was responsible for the notion that the unit of natural selection is the gene, which helps to explain why altruism exists in wild populations --It wasn't a tiny contribution to genetics either. IIRC, he holds a PhD in Zoology.

And another piece of sloppy journalism by Time:

" (If the probabilities were 1 in a billion, and you've got 300 billion universes, why not?)"

If the probability was one in a billion, our galaxy has 100 billion stars and there are 100 billion galaxies in our universe, that would be enough --even without the multiverse. Perhaps he is saying that the probability of a hospitable universe occurring were one in a billion. Then, I suppose, you'd need the multiverse. Even though I'm increasingly disillusioned with string theory, it does have some interesting consequences. But right now, it's just not science.

radar said...

Scohen, I stand corrected concerning Dawkins. I didn't see the PhD in Zoology mentioned in his bio or in the magazine and was unaware that he held that. If he is degreed in Zoology then he is more than simply a writer on the subject.

scohen said...

Cool, thanks Radar.

Even I think Dawkins is a little (lot) strident. Just so we're clear.

creeper said...

"Once life was established on earth, though, the odds do pertain, but that is another discussion."

A discussion on which you were still short a few answers - looking forward to revisiting it.

"There are hundreds of respected scientists who are pro-Creation and anti-evolution as anyone who has studied the subject or even simply read this blog would know without doubt."

... and might recall that the list you presented to support that assertion was entirely bogus, as it was based on supporting a statement that was so vague and ambiguous that Charles Darwin himself could have signed it in good conscience.

I agree with scohen on Dawkins being somewhat too aggressive.

radar said...

Concerning creation-believing scientists

I went way past posting those first lists, in fact there were originally three lists and you only had a good objection to one of them. I also presented my own short list of highly decorated scientists who were pro-creation as those who read radaractive had the opportunity to see.

Trying to pretend that there aren't many great scientists who disagree with you, Creeper, won't win you the argument. Afraid of a little competition?

creeper said...

"I also presented my own short list of highly decorated scientists who were pro-creation as those who read radaractive had the opportunity to see."

Would they happen to be pre-Darwin or Lamarck?

If not, exactly how short was this list, and did any of them believe in YEC?