Alister McGrath on the Demand for Proof

I recently signed up for a trail marathon, so lately I’ve been spending quite a bit of time running. Many of these runs last several hours, so I’ve been really grateful to have discovered the free “DebateGod” podcast on iTunes – dozens of lengthy debates on religion, featuring the likes of Craig, McGrath, D’SouzaDawkins, Hitchens, and Harris.

Running can be boring, and I like to tell people that there’s not nearly enough going on in this head of mine to keep myself entertained for more than about twenty minutes.

Of course, running can also be painful, and listening to arguments from Sam Harris isn’t exactly a soothing remedy.

Anyhow, one of these debates in particular really struck a chord with me. Or to be more specific, Alister McGrath’s statements in response to Susan Blackmore (Bristol University, 2007, on the motion: “belief in God is a dangerous delusion”) struck the chord. I’ve recently had a number of conversations with people over the nature of “evidence”, “belief”, and “proof”…and how all of these ideas relate to an individual’s religious faith (or lack thereof).

Alister McGrath

Among those who reject Christianity, there is often a desire to “claim the side of science” – to demand irrefutable empirical evidence as the only rational grounds for belief. In other words, “prove it, and I’ll believe it.” If you’ve followed this blog at all over the last few weeks, you’ve no doubt noticed my preoccupation with this issue (coughcoughcoughcough).

Although I don’t always agree with everything McGrath says, his statements in this debate really cut to the heart of the “demand for proof” issue:

“I believe it absolutely clear that one cannot prove God as one can prove that two and two make four. I also need [to raise the issue] that there are many things that each of us here tonight believes to be important…yet when the chips are down, we know we simply cannot prove them with the certainty that two and two make four.

I believe passionately that democracy is better than fascism. If you were to say to me, “Can you prove that empirically? Can you prove that logically?” I would have to say, “I don’t believe I can.” But nevertheless I have every right to believe this as something that seems to me to be the best-justified approach, and therefore it makes a huge difference to me.

And I think all of you here tonight will be able to identify beliefs – moral, political, ethical – which you know to be vitally important, and yet you also are aware that you really can’t prove them. And that is just the way things are.

…In most areas of life, beliefs that really matter [cannot] be proved in that strict logical sense. They are justified – in a sense we may give reasons for them, GOOD reasons for them – but very often we know we can’t prove them.”

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39 thoughts on “Alister McGrath on the Demand for Proof

  1. Alister McGrath is quite a brilliant and engaging speaker and apologist for the Christian faith who I have enjoyed listening to. The podcast you mention is one of many in which he appears (he also has his own podcast as an introduction to Christian theology, which, although it’s only three episodes long, is still enjoyable). Although my inclination as a Catholic is to push the arguments for God’s existence in a stronger way than many protestants, like McGrath, are prone to doing – since I believe some such arguments do logically and conclusively prove the existence of God (all the while not necessarily ‘demonstrating’ it to the satisfaction of somebody who has abandoned fundamental rational intuitions, such as of sufficient reason). Still, it is nice to get a burst of fresh air and remember, at the end of the day, that there are good, perhaps even great, reasons to believe that God exists – we have much better reasons and arguments for believing that God exists than anyone has for believing in the reality of the past.

  2. This isn’t even an argument. Alister McGrath is proclaiming an objective truth, not framing it as an opinion he happens to hold. 2+2=4 is based on the reality that all we need to do is get two objects and another two objects and notice that we have four. What reality is his assertion based on?

    • His assertion is simply that *not all truths can be empirically demonstrated as easily as the fact that 2+2=4*. He’s calling attention to the silliness of the argument that says, “I only base my beliefs on facts and observations”…since ALL of us hold beliefs that cannot be proven with facts and observations.

  3. i dont think that God exists cannot be proved. i think the proof just isnt good enough for people who dont want to believe anyway.

    the changes in a person that recieves salvation, and makes the Lord his/her Lord, and lets the living Word rule in their heats.

    miracles that cannot be explained by mere laws of physics.

    the chariots and skeletal remains in the red sea.

    just to name a few.

    and lets turn the tables and see if the arguments hold true in the opposite direction. evolution is still a theory that hasnt been proven beyond doubt yet. the ‘missing link’ is still missing. the fossil record is still jumbled up, and still does not provide uncontestable proof that evolution occured. i could go on.

    the point is, people who demand proof are really daring the Christians to convince them of something they dont want to accept. after all, it takes faith to believe God does not exist as well. maybe more so.

    guess thats why i like apologetics too. 😀
    good post.
    k☼

    • “i dont think that God exists cannot be proved. i think the proof just isnt good enough for people who dont want to believe anyway.”

      I definitely agree that God can be proven through personal experiences. I would even say that God can be *virtually proven* through logical and philosophical arguments. But since God exists above-and-beyond our physical world, I don’t think He can really be proven in the same way that 2+2=4…at least not in a way that’s compelling to the skeptic.

      Anyhow, I think you’re certainly on to something when you refer to people who don’t want to believe anyway. To borrow one of the Tozer quotes from my last post: “The unbelieving mind would not be convinced by any proof and the worshipping heart needs none.”

    • Hey Matt,

      “The first is a minor point: you referred to gravity as a theory, but it’s really a law.”

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_gravitational_theory

      By the way, the difference between a theory and a law is not accuracy or how much evidence it is based on, just in case you were implying that as well.

      “Science is pretty cool, but we also have to recognize its limitations (speaking as a science enthusiast and PhD student). People often have a tendency to place *far too much* confidence in science/scientists…just because it’s, you know, science! Science is generally very good at self-correcting (or uncovering its own ignorance), but just like any other human endeavor, bad ideas often have a way of getting entrenched. Particularly when careers and reputations are at stake. So while science might seem inherently “open-minded” in theory, that’s *definitely* not always true in practice.”

      Well, it’d be nice if you could give some concrete examples of where this is true for the theory of evolution. If it isn’t, then you may have a valid point, but it is one irrelevant to my comment about evolution.

      “To quote Richard Feynman, “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.””

      He also said this, which I feel is what he was trying to express in that short summary sentence:

      “The scientist has a lot of experience with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty, and this experience is of very great importance, I think. When a scientist doesn’t know the answer to a problem, he is ignorant. When he has a hunch as to what the result is, he is uncertain. And when he is pretty damn sure of what the result is going to be, he is still in some doubt. We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress, we must recognize our ignorance and leave room for doubt. Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty — some most unsure, some nearly sure, but none absolutely certain. Now, we scientists are used to this, and we take it for granted that it is perfectly consistent to be unsure, that it is possible to live and not know. But I don’t know whether everyone realizes this is true. Our freedom to doubt was born out of a struggle against authority in the early days of science. It was a very deep and strong struggle: permit us to question — to doubt — to not be sure. I think that it is important that we do not forget this struggle and thus perhaps lose what we have gained.”

      It seems like an anti-religious view to me.

      “Additionally, your criticism of religion for failing to “constantly [evolve] and [improve]” basically presumes that all religions are man-made inventions. You have every right to believe that, of course…but I should point out that *IF* the claims of Christianity (in particular) are indeed a direct revelation from God, then there obviously won’t be any need for these eternal Truths to “evolve” or “improve”.”

      Well, it has been evolving for tens of thousands of years. Christianity is one of the more recent releases in the saga, and even that has evolved since its conception a couple of thousand years ago.

    • In your original comment, I was under the impression that you were simply referring to “gravity” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_universal_gravitation).

      There have been various existing *theories* seeking to *explain* why gravity works the way it does…but generally when people talk about “gravity” they’re talking about the law of universal gravitation. That’s the problem with statements like “evolution is just like gravity”. It’s comparing apples and oranges. The distinction isn’t one of “accuracy”, as you mentioned, but of explanation (theory) versus description (law).

      “Well, it’d be nice if you could give some concrete examples of where this is true for the theory of evolution.”

      I wasn’t speaking here to your views on evolution (which I have no interest in debating), but to your assertion that science is “constantly evolving and improving based on unbiased understanding.” My big problem here is with the word “unbiased”, which seems to be an idealistic view of science rather than a realistic one.

      Regarding Richard Feynman: I quoted him precisely because he *doesn’t* share my own religious beliefs. The point I was making was that science demands skepticism…not a blind, unquestioning belief that the scientific system will give us all the right answers.

    • Ah, I see. I do think the scientific method is a great way of discovering knowledge and I think skepticism is key on all angles. I don’t blindly stick to anything. Thanks for your comments.

    • Hi silverylizard. Thanks for your comment. I’d love to go through some of this, if that’s alright with you! 🙂

      First off, if I relied on anecdote and personal experiences or tradition to determine the validity of something, I would have been religious a long time ago. I would also believe in aliens on Earth, ghosts, 9/11 conspiracy theories and many other things. People’s personal experiences are very distorted and never a good basis for determining objective truths – I know that because I have a keen interest in topics surrounding psychology.

      Many positive changes do occur in some people that believe in God. There is always the lovely case of somebody who used to be a criminal or morally evil in some other way, then turned their life around when they became religious. I attribute this personally to the moral messages in religion, rather than belief in a deity, although both may help to bring about positive changes in people. At the end of the day, though, people who are already very happy and very moral, such as myself, are also living a very fulfilled life without the need for a religion. I also know many unhappy or depressed people who are religious. I would therefore say that to find a correlation with happiness and religious belief is to clutch at straws. Ultimately, I would rather believe something because it’s true rather than because it’s comforting. I also assume you’re discussing Christianity here, but of course there are many other less positive religions, and some of the morals in Christianity (against homosexuality, for example) distress me.

      Anything that cannot be explained by the laws of physics can have all number of explanations; it could have a variety of possible causations. I do not personally think the obvious thing is to go “We can’t explain it, therefore it’s a specific theistic religious god” at ALL. I understand if you do find that logical, but personally I would rather say “I don’t know” than explain it away using a specific religion. Does that make sense?

      I had a look into the chariots and skeletal remains in the red sea. It certainly seems very interesting, and I am currently considering both sides. One compelling rebuttal is this one here: http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/c/chariot-wheels.htm

      It’s certainly very interesting and I’ll keep looking into it, although the information on that link would lead me to question the authenticity of the findings.

      Thanks for your thoughts on evolution. If I may clear up a few misconceptions you may have (“opposite direction” was a bit alarming for me), evolution is a non-factor in religion and when I was a Christian I still knew evolution happened. I would therefore ask you to consider looking into the evidence supporting evolution on a credible site (not a creationist one – they misrepresent the theory), as it is the cornerstone of Biology and I am sure you will be able to easily incorporate your theistic beliefs with acceptance of a well-grounded scientific theory.

      It is true that evolution is a theory, but I’m concerned by your use of the word “still”. It will always be a theory in the same way gravity and atomic structure will always be theories – in science, a “theory” is always backed up with evidence, and is always left open just in case, in the future, there happens to be evidence found against it. It seems in the case of evolution that there’s really nothing against it and it doesn’t seem there ever will be, but if that did happen the plasticity of science means it will change. The great thing about science is the fact it adapts based on the truth as we best see it, so unlike religion, for example, it is constantly evolving and improving based on unbiased understanding.

      If you don’t mind me saying this, I feel that your knowledge of the evolutionary theory is very weak. I don’t mean this as an insult but you state “the missing link is still missing” and “the fossil record is still jumbled up”, neither of which show an understanding of evolution beyond a few articles of a creationist site. I would please ask you to investigate how evolution and theism can come together nicely. There are many sites explaining how this is so, and why it is ideal to accept scientific knowledge in the presence of religious belief. You may think you have to be an atheist to accept scientific knowledge, but if you think that, you’ve been lied to by creationists. It really is true that the two pretty much go hand in hand. If you would like more time to discuss that, I will gladly explain how I achieved this as a former Christian myself.

      Thank you so much for posting your thoughts here – I’ve very much enjoyed responding to them, and I really hope you do the same. I’m not sure what you mean by “don’t want to accept”; I tried for a very long time to believe Christianity and many of my atheist friends did too. The thing that held me back was my determination to constantly survey both sides of the story, rather than just the Christian viewpoint. Ultimately, the more I looked into it, the more I was led into atheism. I know people with similar backstories.

      It doesn’t require any ‘belief’ to know that God is probably not there, from my own perspective. What you’ve said is the equivalent of saying ‘not smoking’ is ‘a form of taking drugs’, or that ‘abstinence’ is ‘a form of having sex’. Ultimately, as I’m sure you’re already aware with Allah, Vishnu and Thor, there is no belief required in knowing that those gods are probably not in existence, and as many other people have said, I simply go “one god further” in my lack of belief in any.

      Finally, the reason I am an atheist is because there’s no empirical evidence, so your claim that “even if they had complete proof, they’d still be an atheist” is completely wrong for me. I think it’s also wrong for everybody I know who happens to be an atheist. I am led to believe that evolution happened not because I like the sound of it, but because it has overwhelming complimentary evidence. The same goes for many more of the things I believe to be true. I am happy to be proven wrong, because my ultimate goal is to discover the truth as it really is, but I need good reasons to change my views, not just some of the arguments you’ve listed here.

      I’d finally say that I don’t really want evidence so much as I want a solid REASON to believe in God. I haven’t seen a single justified reason to believe in God rather than be an atheist or an agnostic. If you could provide some reasons and respond to all of the points I have raised in this comment, then that would be lovely.

      Thank you again for the great opportunity to engage in conversation with somebody such as yourself. I hope you’re having a fantastic life and if you’re too busy to respond to these points, I understand if it takes you a few days.

      Thanks

      Larry

    • Hi Larry,

      I debated whether or not to butt-in, since your comment was directed toward silverylizard. There were a couple things you said, however, that I wanted to respond to.

      1. The first is a minor point: you referred to gravity as a theory, but it’s really a law.

      2. I also wanted to address the following comment, only because I’ve encountered it so frequently:

      “The great thing about science is the fact it adapts based on the truth as we best see it, so unlike religion, for example, it is constantly evolving and improving based on unbiased understanding.”

      Science is pretty cool, but we also have to recognize its limitations (speaking as a science enthusiast and PhD student). People often have a tendency to place *far too much* confidence in science/scientists…just because it’s, you know, science! Science is generally very good at self-correcting (or uncovering its own ignorance), but just like any other human endeavor, bad ideas often have a way of getting entrenched. Particularly when careers and reputations are at stake. So while science might seem inherently “open-minded” in theory, that’s *definitely* not always true in practice.

      To quote Richard Feynman, “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

      One of the most important themes in science is the need to constantly question what’s regarded as “reliable”. It’s sort of ironic, then, when people place a naive, unquestioning, dogmatic kind of faith in the scientific system itself (I don’t mean to accuse you of this specifically, but your comment sort of left that impression).

      Additionally, your criticism of religion for failing to “constantly [evolve] and [improve]” basically presumes that all religions are man-made inventions. You have every right to believe that, of course…but I should point out that *IF* the claims of Christianity (in particular) are indeed a direct revelation from God, then there obviously won’t be any need for these eternal Truths to “evolve” or “improve”.

    • ya it did take me a couple of days to get back here. there was a lot in your reply. not sure that someone elses blog is a good place for this debate … seems like trampling the grass in someone elses yard. but i would be happy to respond to all your points, and continue this conversation. it will likely get lengthy. any suggestions?
      k☼

  4. its taken me a really long time to get back to this. mostly because i dont like to react, i prefer to respond – and for that i have to think about it first. also, im not prone to making long relpies, long comments, or even long posts on my own blog. this is going to be longer than usual for me, so i needed time to do it.

    first off, let me make a clarification between religion and belief in God. this is so my meaning will be clear. i know a lot of religious people, some whom i doubt know God, though they may believe in Him.

    the greek words for relgion in the new testement are defined as external and ceramonial – http://www.blueletterbible.org/Search/Dictionary/viewTopic.cfm?type=getTopic&Topic=Religion&DictID=9#Vines

    the merriam-webster has this definition for religion –
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion

    i agree with these definitions. i see religion sometimes as an external influence, sometimes as an external expression.

    on the other hand, faith in God requires the same thing that faith in anything or anyone requires. faith, by its very definition, requires that you have some good reason to have it. blind faith is a foolish endeavor with no thought put into it. i would never put faith in someone i neither knew nor had reason to trust. neither would i ever expect anyone to trust me without just cause. the God i know has never given me cause to think He expects it either.

    that said, i will answer your points as best i can.

    eveolution: im thinking you are a bit presumuous when you suggest i examine the evidence on a more credible site, assuming you know where i have looked and how much. i was looking into it long before there were sites online. i quite expected to find more compelling reasons to support what i took for granted to be true. in my early twenties i quite believed in it. neither did i give it up for faiths sake. i gave it up because i didnt find the evidence to keep me believing.

    time escapes me, so if you will, i will come back to this.
    k☼

  5. I have really enjoyed reading this post, and the comment thread. I would like to elaborate on some comments above, which might be summarized: “The proof of God’s existence isn’t good enough for those who don’t want to believe anyway.”

    That’s really quite a perceptive comment; it recognizes (even if not comprehensively) that the real debate/conflict is not over facts. The conflict is over worldviews.

    The genius of Dr. Cornelius Van Til’s work can be seen here; ultimately, there are no “brute facts”, i.e., facts that are ultimately uninterpreted by God. Therefore every single fact in the universe is what it is because of God. But the unbelieving heart “suppresses the truth in unrighteousness”. You see, the unbeliever knows that God exists, because God has made his existence evident to them (cf. Romans 1). Yet men apart from Christ seek to live as though this were not so. In doing so, they become somewhat schizophrenic, because no man can consistently live out his atheistic worldview.

    This is the reason that if you begin the argument for God existence on a transcendental basis, the atheistic worldview begins to collapse. The deep question is about the preconditions for intelligibility. On what basis can the atheist speak of “laws of logic”, or “laws of morality”, or “laws of science”? In order to do so, the unbeliever must borrow from a Christian worldview, demonstrating the inconsistency of his own belief system.

    • Great point. Do you think that this “suppression of the truth” might explain why atheists are so often outspoken (and angrily so) in their criticisms of Christianity? If the decision to hold a non-belief in God were *truly* objective and intellectual in nature, I wouldn’t expect to see the kind of passionate defensiveness that I so often encounter among nonbelievers.

      It seems more likely – to me at least – that most unbelievers are motivated *first* by a desire to avoid the obligations that come with a belief in the Christian God. They *then* seek to justify this position intellectually.

    • Contextually, in Romans 1, the truth that men “suppress in unrighteousness” is the truth that they are creatures. And it is this fact that we are creatures that, in my opinion, leads to the irrational rage on the part of some non-believers.

      The goal of our dialogue with such unbelievers should be, with the aid of the Spirit, to press them to epistemological self-consciousness. Our aim is to show them the utter irrationality of their worldview, and then invite them to understand the truth of Christianity. As I’ve told one of my neighbors already this week, “If God doesn’t exist, then no knowledge is possible.”

    • thank you! yes i was going to try an dlead up to that as well. but it seems my ‘debat partner’ has not come back. was it something i said? ;D
      k☼

  6. To use logic to explore concepts such as ‘religion’ and ‘faith’ is illogical – isn’t the primary prerequisite for belief in such things a suspension of logic? How can you rationalize what is irrational?

    Thanks for keeping up a stimulating blog instead of one that is filled to the brim with your favorite Pinterest recipes 😉

    • Thanks for reading!

      I would respond to your initial questions by saying that not all kinds of “faith” are inherently equal.

      A person might have faith in the idea that a talking frog is going to show up on their doorstep tomorrow to take them to a movie…and this would seem to be an irrational belief. We might call it “blind faith”, or “unfounded faith”.

      Another person might have faith in the idea that their sister is going to show up on their doorstep tomorrow to take them to a movie, as she has for the previous 11 Saturdays…and this would be considered a rational belief. We might call it “reasoned faith”. It can’t be proven, of course, but it can be supported logically as being a high-probability event.

      That’s really the entire purpose of Christian apologetics – to demonstrate compelling reasons for believing our Faith to be true.

    • Speaking only for myself, I would like to ask how you define what is rational or irrational. What is the basis for making such a judgement?

      For that matter, what about the laws of logic? Speaking from the point of view of any worldview that denies the existence of God, how can the laws of logic be accounted for? Are the laws of logic universal or conventional? Are they laws of thought or are they sociological? At a more basic level, are they material or immaterial?

      That’s just what’s rolling around in my head…

  7. what i find fascinating about basing an entire worldview on empiricism is that it is ultimately a self-defeating argument.

    empiricism is a belief that all knowledge is gained from observations. some knowledge is gained through observation – this is perfectly consistent with Scripture. God made our senses to reliably probe the universe and so there is nothing wrong with empirical methods.

    but the philosophy of empiricism goes much further than this. empiricists believe that all knowledge is acquired by observation. or to put it another way, observation is the ultimate standard by which all truth claims are tested. and that I do not believe.

    however, many evolutionists are empiricists. we must eventually ask the empiricist how he knows that “all knowledge is gained through observation.” clearly this is not something that the empiricist has observed (since knowledge cannot be “seen”). so then how could anyone possibly know that empiricism itself is true, if all things are indeed known by observation?

    if empiricism is proved in some way other than through observation, then it refutes itself. If the empiricist’s ultimate standard did happen to be true, the empiricist could never actually know that it is true; he could never prove it. and if a person’s ultimate standard is uncertain, then all his other beliefs (which are based on that standard) are called into question.

    empiricism destroys the possibility of actually knowing anything.

    God and human evolution are both beyond the realm of empirical evidence.

    • Also, science itself is based on the *assumption* that we can draw rational conclusions from our observations. This requires quite a leap of faith for someone who holds that the universe (and humanity) arose by chance via irrational processes.

    • quite. if we truly arose from random processes by accident, how can someone who holds to that worldview ever know what they are thinking is correct?

      it has been my experience that most people are one or two questions deep and then the inconsistency surfaces. if they’re willing to recognize that, awesome. if not, it tells me they not really truth seekers.

      i really would like for people to think about what it is they’re thinking about. we seem to have lost the art of critical thinking somewhere.

      behind bad science is bad philosophy.

    • Spot on, man. C.S. Lewis wrote on this as well:

      “Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.”

    • this is kind of the logic that there are no absolutes – as those on the opposite side of the fence often state. i always rely to that with ‘absolutely!’
      k☼

    • exactly! when someone says that to you, you can politely ask them if they are absolutely sure about that.

      you can always identify a false worldview by applying it to itself to see if it holds up.

      here’s one of my favorites. when someone asks me why i believe an old book written 2,000+ years ago by a bunch of men, i’ll ask them why they don’t and if they heard that from a man or read that in a book somewhere.

      it’s just enough to stop and make them think. well… at least if they’re honest they will.

    • i think thats why i never could get my teeth into evolution even before i was a Christian. the logic was too flawed. i have always been a very logically minded person, and if something doesnt hold up under its own logic, it doesnt hold up.
      k☼

  8. Pingback: Dinesh D’Souza on the Genetic Fallacy | Well Spent Journey

  9. excellent! i so like C.S. Lewis. and humanism (man grabbing his future with his own hands according to his own rules) denies the existence of the One it is seeking to usurp as though He is already dead. what this truly means is that the foundation of Humanism is the very real existence of God. God is the only rational explanation for anything.

  10. i really think the point made about the rage against Christianity that so many athiests display is a good point. i find, in reading some of their blogs, that they never seem to rage against any non Chriatian religion, nor point out the flaws of paganism, or wica, or mysticism, as being irrational. very telling, doncha think?
    k☼

  11. Great post and fascinating discussion! Sorry to crash the party late, but I had a few thoughts.

    1. Religious fundamentalism and assertive (aggressive) scientific atheism will always argue, because they belong to the same choir. They share the same discomfort with uncertainty, have a need to regulate what can be doubted and what cannot be doubted, and rigid criteria for authority which, in this case, are incompatible. There is no place to meet halfway, because they are mirror images sharing the same closed system that revolves around “facts” etc. They are both rooted in the same 19th Century Anglo-Saxon mythology.

    2. After reading Kuhn, Eiseley, Feyerabend, Eddington, Einstein, Heisenberg and Heidegger, I am shocked that we still live in a climate of these debates. This suggests to me that the issues are not scientific or religious as much as they are political and social. If we have reason to doubt religion, we have as much or greater reason to distrust or doubt science: a discipline that can only survive at the moment thanks to funding from questionable governments and corporations (pharmaceutical companies and weapons manufacturers, for example). I highly value science, and I don’t care if Darwin is taught in the classroom: but no closed system has the right to force me to believe something.

    3. Evolution, whether it happened or not, is a little different from other aspects of science. To be fair, it is the most interpretive of the sciences, and its origin as a theory has strong non-universal, specifically Western cultural components that cannot be denied (even if we exclude the later problematic developments of social Darwinism etc.) Compare Darwinism with Kropotkin’s theory. Can we really say that worldviews had no impact on interpretation here?

    4. At the end of the day, though, I prefer to philosophize with Shakespeare. As King Lear brilliantly observes: “Nothing can be made of nothing.” Science deals with the “something” we see every day, but is powerless to say how nothing became something. My understanding is that entropy suggests there was once nothing; I believe there are some challenges to that notion now, but at any rate…why is there something and not nothing?

    5. When it comes to the subject of God, science tends to show a kind of hubris that discredits it. First, it is not science’s job to disprove religion. Or is it? Do we need to formulate a proper “end” for science? Or is it just the quest itself? If it is just the quest itself, then, quest away for material facts and theories. Secondly, science does not have tools for dealing with an immaterial God, whether or not He exists (and this goes towards creation science followers, too). You can’t see God through a microscope or telescope. It is silly to think you can solve this dilemma by 1. manipulating facts, or 2. denying the question altogether.

    6. I’ve rambled on too long. I apologize. Here are some thoughts from the philosopher John Leslie:

    Theism can offer some plausible explanations of this fact. First, as Leslie argues, we could easily imagine that God has a strong preference for variety for variety’s sake. This would give God a good reason for creating an infinity of universes, in which physical and cosmological constants take every possible value. Second, God might have had in mind creating such a large ensemble of universes that interesting things, like life, would be bound to happen in at least a few of them by chance alone.”

    “As Leslie points out, theism and the many-worlds hypothesis are not logically inconsistent. If there is only one universe, then the anthropic coincidences point to the existence of God. Alternatively, if there are many universes, this fact too supports theism.”

    7. I think Feyerabend’s notion of academic pluralism is the best guarantee to preserve our freedom in a politically polarized world. Let scientists and the religious work side by side. Is this not the same advice we give to Muslims and Christians? Hindus and Sikhs? Catholics and Jews? Etc.

    8. This was not the most coherent response, so I thank you in advance for any constructive criticism or tips on good reads.

    @Matt: The fact that you can generate so much discussion is a testament to your excellent posts!!

    God bless you.

    • You raise a ton of good points. You mentioned the possibility of “constructive criticism” – but I honestly can’t find anything to criticize, haha!

      I was especially interested by the Leslie quotes. I’ve often made the argument that a Creator provides a better explanation of our universe’s fine-tuned physical constants than multiverse theories (backing this up with Occam’s Razor). So it’s kind of funny, really, that the multiverse theories really don’t even make progress in eliminating God from the equation.

      This kind of dovetails into your comments regarding the interaction between science and the question of God (point 5). Science, by its definition, can only deal with what can be observed, measured, etc. From the Christian theist’s perspective, this is because God created a universe that follows “rules”. If the universe weren’t rational, then science – which is largely based on inductive reasoning – wouldn’t even work.

      Since science is limited to “natural causes”, many people make the mistake of thinking that science, in itself, somehow implies naturalism. Of course, this is a complete non sequitur.

      Anyway, thanks again for your consistently excellent feedback!

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