Wednesday, June 18, 2008

God's Undertaker - War of the Worldviews (chp 1)


[Please note that the following headings are often mine, not Lennox's. They do not necessarily represent Lennox's flow of thought or emphases.]

The relationship between faith and evidence

Lennox has a tidy little dust-up with Dawkins over Dawkins' representation of faith as being proudly independent of evidence. Dawkins takes the first jab:

It is fashionable to wax apocalyptic about the threat to humanity posed by the AIDS virus, “mad cow” disease and many others, but I think that a case can be made that faith is one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate. Faith, being belief that isn't based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion (pp.14-15).

Dawkins takes another by quoting Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) approvingly:
When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called Religion (p.15).
So Dawkins defines faith as “being belief that isn't based on evidence.” Elsewhere he says that whereas “scientific belief is based upon publicly checkable evidence, religious faith not only lacks evidence; its independence from evidence is its joy, shouted from the rooftops” (p.15).

Lennox Lewis responds, first by conceding that if Dawkins' definition of faith is correct, then maybe it should be classified as smallpox. And there certainly are those who believe in God who are anti-intellectual and anti-scientific who could benefit from a lesson from Dawkins at this point. However, the faith that the Bible speaks of is certainly not a blind faith. Rather, it is a faith that is a response to evidence. It is clear that Dawkins has not done his homework here.

Lennox takes time at this point to note an inconsistency on Dawkins' part by reminding readers of words Dawkins has said earlier:
Next time that somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: “What kind of evidence is there for that?” And if they can't give you a good answer, I hope you'll think very carefully before you believe a word they say.
Here's Lennox's application:
Dawkins' idiosyncratic definition of faith thus provides a striking example of the very kind of thinking he claims to abhor—thinking that is not evidence based. For, in an exhibition of breathtaking inconsistency, evidence is the very thing he fails to supply for his claim that independence of evidence is faith's joy.

Statements by scientists are not necessarily statements of science

Regarding some of the statements by scientists repeated above, Lennox reminds us that “Statements by scientists are not necessarily statements of science”. He says further that the earlier assertions by Dawkins “are not statements of science but rather expressions of personal belief, indeed, of faith—fundamentally no different from (though noticeably less tolerant than) much expression of the kind of faith Dawkins expressly wishes to eradicate” (p.18).

The forgotten roots of science

With these introductory comments behind him, Lennox then leads us into a discussion of the history of science. He argues in “The forgotten roots of science” that “the conviction that the universe is orderly”--without which science would be impossible—comes from the ancient Hebrew view “that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods...This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science” (quoting Melvin Calvin, p.19). C.S. Lewis's famous words are also quoted: “Men became scientific because they expected law in nature and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver” (p.20).

Lennox also provides an impressive list of men who have been “towering figures of science” who were all of them theists, and many of them Christians: Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday, Babbage, Mendel, Pasteur, Kelvin and Clerk Maxwell. “Their belief in God, far from being a hindrance to their science, was often the main inspiration for it and they were not shy of saying so” (p.20).

The author is quick to acknowledge that “just because a religion has supported science does not prove that the religion is true” (p.22). But ditto for atheism.

History and the conflict thesis

This historical journey continues by examining two oft-mentioned confrontations: the one between Galileo and the Roman Catholic Church; and the other between Huxley and Wilberforce. These two accounts are often used to support the conflict thesis—the notion that “science has been constantly at war with religion” (p.22). Turns out the conflict thesis is not well-served by these accounts at all. In the case of Galileo and the R.C. Church, Lennox makes the following points:

  • Galileo WAS a believer in God and the Bible
  • His first opposition was from secular philosophers, and he was receiving support from some religious intellectuals (if this was a science vs. religion debate, these guys sure didn't know what side they were on)
  • The RC Church hung on to its cherished Aristotelianism against Galileo's pushing and tugging, unable to afford a serious challenge to Aristotle when it was already feeling the Protestant Reformation's challenge to its authority
  • Galileo could have used some improvement in the PR department

Regarding the Huxley-Wilberfore debate in 1860, Lennox notes that: (1) Wilberforce was no ignoramus. Darwin regarded Wilberforce's review of his (Darwin's) work as “uncommonly quizzes me most splendidly” (p.25); (2) Wilberforce was no obscurantist. Determined to keep the debate as science vs. science (not religion) he wrote

We have no sympathy with those who object to any facts or alleged facts in nature, or to any inference logically deduced from them, because they believe them to contradict what it appears to them is taught by revelation. We think that all such objections savour of a timidity which is really inconsistent with a firm and well-intrusted faith.

(3) Thirdly, objections to Darwin's theory also came from leading scientists (enter Sir Richard Owen and Lord Kelvin) and not just from the church. (4) Wilberforce was successful in his own right in the debate; the outcome was far from one-sided.

Conclusion: “two of the main props commonly used to support the conflict thesis crumble” (p.26).

Two lessons

We'll be done with this chapter once I've mentioned two lessons that Lennox draws out of the Galileo account. First, for those of us “who are disposed to take the biblical account seriously” (p.24), we must “be humble enough to distinguish between what the Bible says and our interpretation of it. The biblical text just might be more sophisticated than we first imagined and we might therefore be in danger of using it to support ideas that it never intended to teach” (p.25). If we were to get this into our heads once and for all, and the idea that faith is cut off from evidence out, oh how much better the Christian witness would be served!

Lennox has a lesson for the other body of people he belongs to: scientists. In light of the Bible-believing Galileo “who was advancing a better scientific understanding of the universe” against the oppositions “of the secular philosophers of his time”, so the “philosophers and scientists today also have need of humility in light of facts, even if those facts are being pointed out to them by a believer in God” (p.25).

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