Saturday, June 7, 2008

God's Undertaker - Preface

PREFACE

A popular enough notion today is that modern science has killed God. While the early founders of science—men such as Bacon, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton—may have believed “in an intelligent Creator God whose brain-child the cosmos was”, science “has moved on from such primitive thinking.” Science has “squeezed God into a corner, killed and then buried him by its all-embracing explanations. God has turned out to be no more substantial than the smile on a cosmic Cheshire cat” (p.8). It is this popular view, that science has triumphed over God, and the view behind it, that science was ever at war with God in the first place, that John Lennox wants to challenge in this book.

Of course, in challenging this view, he'll have to challenge its proponents. And there are plenty of them. Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg writes: “The world needs to wake up from the long nightmare of religion...Anything we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done, and may in fact be our greatest contribution to civilization” (as quoted by Lennox, p.8). Then there's good ole' Richard Dawkins: “I am utterly fed up with the respect we have been brainwashed into bestowing upon religion” (p.8).

So we have science on the one hand, and God (religion) on the other, and it's science, we are told, that has the upper hand of the two. However, when we speak of science in this way, we must be careful to distinguish between science itself and the philosophy or worldview behind it. When we make this distinction we come across a curious thing: that many of the men in whose hands science flourished were men, as already mentioned, who held a theistic worldview. And many scientists still hold that worldview today. Dawkins and company obviously hold to a naturalistic worldview. It is here that the issue lies. The battle between science and God has been falsely construed. This is not a debate between scientist and preacher. It's a debate between preacher and preacher, or between fellow philosophers at least. The assumption is that science and naturalism go together like a hand in a surgical glove, but is that a valid assumption? Is it not true that great scientific pioneers of the past found that science fit rather nicely with theism? And do not many scientists testify the same today? As Lennox asks:
Is naturalism actually demanded by science? Or is it just conceivable that naturalism is a philosophy that is brought to science, more than something that is entailed by science? Could it even be, dare one ask, more like an expression of faith, akin to religious faith? (p.9).

These are the types of questions Lennox dares to ask and tries to answer in this book. And he claims to be willing to follow the evidence, wherever it takes him:
The question that is central to this book turns out to be in essence a worldview question: which worldview sits most comfortably with science – theism or atheism? Has science buried God or not? Let us see where the evidence leads (p.13).

19 comments:

The E O said...

The intellectual rational for religion has been soundly trounced by science and continues to be, as more and more evidence for a different world view piles up.
Faith now relies on infant indoctrination, ignorance and historical legacy. This is exemplified by the desperate way the established churches seek to move the goalposts by its piecemeal practice of disclaiming some of their ludicrous superstitions. In the UK they are seeking to grasp more of the state education system in an attempt to continue the indoctrination of children.

Find me at:
http://enlightened-observer.blogspot.com/

MJK said...

E.O.,

Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts. Two questions: (1) in what way(s) has science "trounced the intellectual rational (sic) for religion"? (2) You write: "...as more and more evidence for a different world view piles up." Which world view are you referring to? And what is the mounting evidence that supports it?

Margaret said...

I have considerable sympathy for E.O.'s last comment. Some groups want school children to be taught that the universe is only about six thousand years old, in spite of evidence that most stars are much older than that.

On the other hand, I have read John Lennox's book, and found it to be thoroughly convincing. Two simple points have enormous significance:
1. THE UNIVERSE HAD A BEGINNING. There was a time when not one particle of the universe existed.
2. LIFE ON EARTH HAD A BEGINNING. There was a time when not one living cell existed.

According to science:
1. Something cannot be made out of nothing. (But the physical universe exists.)
2. Life cannot arise out of non-life. (But physical life exists.)

So it is reasonable to conclude that the origin of the universe can only be explained by a cause which transcends the universe. Similarly, the origin of life can only be explained by a cause which transcends nature.

I have read E.O.'s blogs, but I have not seen any non-theistic view that fits the laws of science so well as theism does.

Margaret

The E O said...

Margaret

There are circumstances in particle physics where something can arise from nothing. Anyway, non-rationalists make an exception to this rule themselves - otherwise their (imaginary) god could never have appeared.

You have no evidence to claim that "Life cannot arise out of non-life." Does a small piece of replicating DNA (or RNA) exhibit the quality of life. It is nothing more than a complex molecule that can make other molecules that can be built up to make an organism.
I recommend the first few chapters of "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins Dawkins for a very plausible explanation of how life arose without the intervention of a supernatural source.

The E O said...

mjk

Sorry I took so long to reply to this.

You ask:
(1) in what way(s) has science "trounced the intellectual rational (sic) for religion"?

OK, perhaps "intellectual argument" would have been better.

The main argument for the existence of a personal god was the need for a creator of life in an inanimate universe.

Our knowledge of chemistry and the way replicating molecules work, fossil and radiological evidence now gives us a clear idea of the evolutionary mechanism and a vast timespan of 3000 million years. Ample opportunity for complex organisms to evolve.

My own understanding is now so clear that I can see that replicating molecules and their vehicles (organisms) must appear and spontaneously given the amount of time available and produce what we would recognize as life. There is no need, nor no evidence for, an intervening god.

The world-view I refer to is one where there is no big sky goblin watching us and looking after our welfare. There is nothing of a supernatural nature to be aware of our prayers. No-one can derive authority over us because they have a special knowledge or access to such a being. Many other premises follow from this but I am sure you understand my meaning.

I say this, not because it is "better" than any religious explanation but because it is where the evidence points.

MJK said...

the e.o.

No problems about the pause. Thanks for responding. Due to present life circumstances ("life" as in a brand-new baby life!) I might take a while to respond too. You've left several things for me to pick up on, now, but first I want to make sure I'm understanding you correctly.

You wrote:
"My own understanding is now so clear that I can see that replicating molecules and their vehicles (organisms) must appear and spontaneously given the amount of time available and produce what we would recognize as life."

I don't understand this sentence as is. Did you mean to write "...must appear spontaneously and..." instead of the present word order?

You wrote:
The world-view I refer to is one where there is no big sky goblin watching us and looking after our welfare. There is nothing of a supernatural nature to be aware of our prayers. No-one can derive authority over us because they have a special knowledge or access to such a being.

I still don't know which worldview this is. I'm sure there are many worldviews that could be described by these sentences. With the exception of the second sentence my own worldview could gladly accomodate these descriptions!

Anonymous said...

Dear EO,

You said, "The intellectual rational for religion has been soundly trounced by science and continues to be, as more and more evidence for a different world view piles up."

Would you say the Big Bang Theory trounces religion?

It should be pointed out that modern science relies upon a religious assumption to even operate, namely, induction. David Hume was honest enough to admit this.

Have you a non-religious justification for assuming induction?

You said, "This is exemplified by the desperate way the established churches seek to move the goalposts by its piecemeal practice of disclaiming some of their ludicrous superstitions."

And what shall we say of the moving of the goalposts which has taken place in science? Has science no skeletons in the closet?

jdb

Margaret said...

To EO:
Granted that "There are circumstances in particle physics where something can arise from nothing," the "something" that arises is far removed from a molecule of matter. It is also short-lived. Particle physics has not eliminated the law of conservation of mass/energy, and it certainly does not account for the ORIGIN of all the fundamental particles that have existed in the universe since its very beginning.

The Cause behind such a universe, then, is clearly not subject to the laws that govern it. He is the Maker, not the thing made.

As for your question re DNA and RNA, I don't know of any scientist that does not consider the CELL to be the basic unit of life. But I will read the first few chapters of The Selfish Gene before continuing.

Margaret said...

To O.E.
I found selected quotes and excerpts from The Selfish Gene in WorldOfDawkins-archive. Ch. 2 and 4 (correct me if I'm wrong) give his view on the origin of life.

According to this view, life started with replicators. But the replicators need protection. Chapter 4 begins with this sentence: "Survival machines began as passive receptacles for the genes, providing little more than walls to protect them from the chemical warfare of their rivals and the ravages of accidental molecular bombardment."

This edition was printed in 1989, so perhaps Dawkins can be forgiven for not knowing that his "survival machine" could not survive. It takes much more than DNA and a wall to be self-sustaining.

In 1999, the National Academy of Sciences sponsored a workshop on the minimal size requirements for life, based on the minimal requirements of the simplest conceivable living organism. The transcript (http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=9638)lists seven different requirements, including about 250 to 400 different proteins, plus the genes and the ribosomes needed to make them. Please read it. It is SCIENCE - not religion.

Dawkins' book is fun to read (he is a brilliant writer); but modern science does not support his theory.

Back to particle science. According to modern cosmology, all of the fundamental particles of the universe existed very shortly after the universe began. But NONE of those particles existed BEFORE the universe began.

I have yet to see a naturalistic explanation for this sudden creation of mass/energy (brand-new), given the law of conservation which states that new matter/energy cannot be created. Clearly, the Cause of that enormous input is not subject to the laws that govern his creation.

MJK said...

Margaret,

You can access much of Dawkin's book here: http://www.google.com/books?id=WkHO9HI7koEC&printsec=frontcover&dq=richard+dawkins&ei=qxxYSJSJOra2iQGK2ICUDA&sig=sZTFCFnUFOeuNmO10nmXvC7X9LU#PPA3,M1

Anonymous said...

Margaret,

You said, "I have considerable sympathy for E.O.'s last comment. Some groups want school children to be taught that the universe is only about six thousand years old, in spite of evidence that most stars are much older than that."

Personally, I don't bind myself to a six-thousand year-old earth. That said, the idea that stars are billions of years old because it takes x number of years for their light to reach earth is nothing other than assuming the uniformity of nature. This assumption is very difficult to justify. It actually ties in nicely with what I mentioned to EO yesterday re: induction. Induction is a formal fallacy and the assumption that nature is uniform relies on induction. The question is, how does one justify induction? And if cannot be justified, is any "knowledge" based on the assumption of induction to be considered knowledge?

jdb

Anonymous said...

Mike,

A nice review of Lennox's book, BTW.

Another book that may be of interest to you, which I'm currently reading, is _What's So Great About Christianity_. It's somewhat of a response to the village atheists (e.g., Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris).

I like how you've emphasized that the battle is not between science and religion as plenty of men of faith do science. What comes readily to mind is the old canard that the Church's treatment of Galileo illustrates the divide between faith and science. What the Church's treatment of Galileo illustrates in point of fact is the struggle between old science (Aristotelianism) and modern science.

Again, nice thoughts, brother.

jdb

Margaret said...

To jdb:

Have you read In Six Days? It's a book of 50 essays by scientists who believe in creation, and are ALSO committed to a six thousand year universe. One of them is Danny Faulkner, an astronomer who specializes in the study of stars. His comment on the apparent age of stars is this: "The greatest (problem) is the light travel time problem. Simply put, the universe appears to be billions of light years in size, so how can we see distant objects if the universe is only a few thousand years old? A number of solutions have been proposed, but I do not find any of them to be entirely satisfactory" (p. 276).

Danny Faulkner is a respected astronomer. If he doesn't find any of the proposed solutions entirely satisfactory, then I am free to follow the evidence where it leads. That's what John Lennox does.

What makes me GLAD to do so is that Genesis 1 leads in the same direction. And I am not talking about a theological theory. I am talking about a LITERAL reading of the chapter. The evidence of God's Word and the evidence of his handiwork are in perfect harmony. I would love the chance to prove that to E.O.

Anonymous said...

Margaret,

I haven't read that book. Thanks for mentioning it though.

All you've given though is an argument from authority. A respected astronomer says x and this amounts to following where the evidence leads?

The problem of assuming the uniformity of nature/induction is better handled by philosophers than astronomers, in my opinion.

Even if it is assumed that there is no satisfactory solution to the problem of induction, the problem of induction will not go way. How is induction justified?

jdb

MJK said...

jdb - you wrote, "What the Church's treatment of Galileo illustrates in point of fact is the struggle between old science (Aristotelianism) and modern science."

Lennox makes this same point in chp 1 of his book. My notes on it should be up here some time today. Ditto for the debate between Huxley and Wilberforce.

Margaret said...

JLB

Faulkner, being committed to a six thousand year universe, would be GLAD of a viable solution to his problem with star time; and as an astronomer, he is able to judge the scientific merit of solutions that have been proposed. Therefore, if he finds those solutions less than satisfying, I can avoid the struggle of trying to understand their implications.

More importantly, the text of Genesis 1 does not limit the age of the universe to six thousand years. Therefore, the problem of star time is an artificial problem which doesn't NEED a solution. And because this possibility is hinted at in Mike's notes on ch. 1, I would like to justify my statement in comments there.

The E O said...

Margaret

Thanks for the time - I am flattered that someone thinks my comments are worth the attention. I checked out your reference but the page had been removed.
We are in danger of pointless point scoring (?) over how stuff got here at the beginning of our known universe. It is better to admit that we just do not know than to cling to unproven explanations. In any case, I see no harm in allowing the possibility of some "prime mover" to provide the equipment and start the game. There is no evidence for this, and I do not believe it, but it is one of an infinite number of ideas we might have about the origins of our world and it seems to appeal to you.

What I take exception to is the assertion that the prime mover hangs around to act as a referee. For modern believers our players obey the laws of science and additionally have the benefit of someone telling them how to play the game. They contend with gravity, friction, inertia etc and have an entity to invent the offside rule (I am British and this is a rule in Soccer) and sometimes punish them for breaking it. Perhaps it stretches the metaphor too far to claim that the referee also wrote he rule book and created the players from stuff he scraped up from the pitch.

There is no referee and the rule book was written by the players.

Margaret said...

the e o.

The problem with the page must have been temporary, because it is open on my computer right now. And because it is entirely SCIENCE, reading it is worth the while of anyone who plays by the rules of science. LEARNING is the goal, not point-making. Maybe Mike could put a link to it someplace where it could be accessed easily. The page is
http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=9638

And thank you for your thoughts. I want time to consider them; but I will switch comments to Mike's later post, which deals with chapter 1 of Lennox's book.

Anonymous said...

Margaret,

It seems you're putting a lot of blind faith in a fallible authority.

One thing on which we generally agree is that this is not primarily a biblical problem. However, it does not follow that it is a problem for which a solution is not required. The problem of "star time" is a problem of epistemology, which is of no small importance.

I'll wait for your comments in another post.

jdb