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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

God versus Science part three

We left off yesterday here:

COLLINS: Certainly science should continue to see whether we can find evidence for multiverses that might explain why our own universe seems to be so finely tuned. But I do object to the assumption that anything that might be outside of nature is ruled out of the conversation. That's an impoverished view of the kinds of questions we humans can ask, such as "Why am I here?", "What happens after we die?", "Is there a God?" If you refuse to acknowledge their appropriateness, you end up with a zero probability of God after examining the natural world because it doesn't convince you on a proof basis. But if your mind is open about whether God might exist, you can point to aspects of the universe that are consistent with that conclusion.

This is an idea I have expressed before and it seems like a powerful one: that when one refuses to consider the supernatural he automatically eliminates a subset that may include the answers to the questions being asked. Those who demand only naturalistic solutions may miss the actual solution entirely.

We go forward...

DAWKINS: To me, the right approach is to say we are profoundly ignorant of these matters. We need to work on them. But to suddenly say the answer is God--it's that that seems to me to close off the discussion.

TIME: Could the answer be God?

DAWKINS: There could be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible and beyond our present understanding.

COLLINS: That's God.

DAWKINS: Yes. But it could be any of a billion Gods. It could be God of the Martians or of the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri. The chance of its being a particular God, Yahweh, the God of Jesus, is vanishingly small--at the least, the onus is on you to demonstrate why you think that's the case.

The onus is on who? Why not put the onus on Dawkins to show that God can't apply to a situation? In fact, why put any special requirement on an argument from either God or not-God, but rather let suppositions stand or fall on their own.

When it comes to science, the idea is to seek truth not to justify a belief system. Don't get me wrong, I think it is plausible to allow scientific discoveries to be applied to your belief systems. But when you do scientific research, the idea is to look for the answer. If the answer is that God created, there is no special requirement to get a note from your mother in order to say it.

To me, at the bottom of it all you either think Goddidit or chancedidit. Okay, either way, the job of most disciplines of science is to figure out how things work and how we can apply it to our lives more so than concentrating on which didit didit. Right?

TIME: The Book of Genesis has led many conservative Protestants to oppose evolution and some to insist that the earth is only 6,000 years old.

COLLINS: There are sincere believers who interpret Genesis 1 and 2 in a very literal way that is inconsistent, frankly, with our knowledge of the universe's age or of how living organisms are related to each other. St. Augustine wrote that basically it is not possible to understand what was being described in Genesis. It was not intended as a science textbook. It was intended as a description of who God was, who we are and what our relationship is supposed to be with God. Augustine explicitly warns against a very narrow perspective that will put our faith at risk of looking ridiculous. If you step back from that one narrow interpretation, what the Bible describes is very consistent with the Big Bang.

This is why Collins is a bad choice to oppose Dawkins. He and Dawkins agree from the get-go on certain issues such as this one. There are plenty of believing scientists who don't believe the Genesis account is incorrect.

DAWKINS: Physicists are working on the Big Bang, and one day they may or may not solve it. However, what Dr. Collins has just been--may I call you Francis?

COLLINS: Oh, please, Richard, do so.

DAWKINS: What Francis was just saying about Genesis was, of course, a little private quarrel between him and his Fundamentalist colleagues ...

COLLINS: It's not so private. It's rather public. [Laughs.]

DAWKINS: ... It would be unseemly for me to enter in except to suggest that he'd save himself an awful lot of trouble if he just simply ceased to give them the time of day. Why bother with these clowns?

COLLINS: Richard, I think we don't do a service to dialogue between science and faith to characterize sincere people by calling them names. That inspires an even more dug-in position. Atheists sometimes come across as a bit arrogant in this regard, and characterizing faith as something only an idiot would attach themselves to is not likely to help your case.

A bit arrogant? The situation in Iraq is a bit sticky. Boxing is a bit violent.

TIME: Dr. Collins, the Resurrection is an essential argument of Christian faith, but doesn't it, along with the virgin birth and lesser miracles, fatally undermine the scientific method, which depends on the constancy of natural laws?

Dumb question, incredibly slanted. Counsel is leading the witness, your honor!

COLLINS: If you're willing to answer yes to a God outside of nature, then there's nothing inconsistent with God on rare occasions choosing to invade the natural world in a way that appears miraculous. If God made the natural laws, why could he not violate them when it was a particularly significant moment for him to do so? And if you accept the idea that Christ was also divine, which I do, then his Resurrection is not in itself a great logical leap.

Well, duh. If God made the laws, any way in which He works is natural. Trust me, evolutionists depend on the idea that conditions on earth today have not always been the same and so do Creationists. We keep finding that there are addendums to the "Laws of Nature" as we learn more and more. Newtonian physics yielded to Einstein and Quantum Theory. The speed of light, we have recently discovered, is apparently NOT a constant.

TIME: Doesn't the very notion of miracles throw off science?

COLLINS: Not at all. If you are in the camp I am, one place where science and faith could touch each other is in the investigation of supposedly miraculous events.

DAWKINS: If ever there was a slamming of the door in the face of constructive investigation, it is the word miracle. To a medieval peasant, a radio would have seemed like a miracle. All kinds of things may happen which we by the lights of today's science would classify as a miracle just as medieval science might a Boeing 747. Francis keeps saying things like "From the perspective of a believer." Once you buy into the position of faith, then suddenly you find yourself losing all of your natural skepticism and your scientific--really scientific--credibility. I'm sorry to be so blunt.

Too bad. The world wasn't made to accomodate one man's view of how scientific methods must be carried out. Belief in God didn't stop Newton from making discoveries, or Crick, or Pasteur. Dawkins may see it as a hindrance but in fact history says that it is not.

COLLINS: Richard, I actually agree with the first part of what you said. But I would challenge the statement that my scientific instincts are any less rigorous than yours. The difference is that my presumption of the possibility of God and therefore the supernatural is not zero, and yours is.

Collins reiterates that very good point that Dawkins has failed to address.

TIME: Dr. Collins, you have described humanity's moral sense not only as a gift from God but as a signpost that he exists.

COLLINS: There is a whole field of inquiry that has come up in the last 30 or 40 years--some call it sociobiology or evolutionary psychology--relating to where we get our moral sense and why we value the idea of altruism, and locating both answers in behavioral adaptations for the preservation of our genes. But if you believe, and Richard has been articulate in this, that natural selection operates on the individual, not on a group, then why would the individual risk his own DNA doing something selfless to help somebody in a way that might diminish his chance of reproducing? Granted, we may try to help our own family members because they share our DNA. Or help someone else in expectation that they will help us later. But when you look at what we admire as the most generous manifestations of altruism, they are not based on kin selection or reciprocity. An extreme example might be Oskar Schindler risking his life to save more than a thousand Jews from the gas chambers. That's the opposite of saving his genes. We see less dramatic versions every day. Many of us think these qualities may come from God--especially since justice and morality are two of the attributes we most readily identify with God.

DAWKINS: Can I begin with an analogy? Most people understand that sexual lust has to do with propagating genes. Copulation in nature tends to lead to reproduction and so to more genetic copies. But in modern society, most copulations involve contraception, designed precisely to avoid reproduction. Altruism probably has origins like those of lust. In our prehistoric past, we would have lived in extended families, surrounded by kin whose interests we might have wanted to promote because they shared our genes. Now we live in big cities. We are not among kin nor people who will ever reciprocate our good deeds. It doesn't matter. Just as people engaged in sex with contraception are not aware of being motivated by a drive to have babies, it doesn't cross our mind that the reason for do-gooding is based in the fact that our primitive ancestors lived in small groups. But that seems to me to be a highly plausible account for where the desire for morality, the desire for goodness, comes from.

I have a highly plausible bridge to sell you, in Brooklyn. Dawkins is inventing genetic characteristics and predispositions out of whole cloth. It is clever obfuscation but it remains baseless speculation (BS for short)!

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?

Stay tuned until tomorrow for the last part of this article. Collins leaves us with a great question, which Dawkins has presented to us in the midst of his assertions. Is there such a thing as good and evil? By what justification do those who believe in evolution assert that good and evil even exist? For in their world we are random beings formed by the workings of random and unthinking processes and neither good nor evil should be considered to exist, right?

How does one explain the inherent knowledge within the great majority of people that there is good and evil? How about the understanding inherent within normal folks that individual life has value? Only the few mutant souls among us are born without such knowledge and we call them sociopaths, moral monsters who easily become serial killers or totalitarian rulers. Yet evolution provides no evidence that such inherent knowledge should have ever come about.

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