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God v Science debate between Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins

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The Dawkins Delusion?

I’m not chasing you Paul - I just noticed this post whilst passing, and wondered whether anyone else felt the same as me: that Dawkins is letting his anti-God passion take over from his former ability as a popular communicator of biological science. A keen mind seems to be giving way to rant and rhetoric - especially in ‘The God Delusion’. The latter part of verse 21 and the first part of verse 22 of Romans 1 comes to mind.

A recent article by Dawkins in The Times newspaper rested his conclusion that God does not exist on the lack of credibility of visions. Thus a friend of his came to faith (somewhat dubiously) after a vision of the devil on the Outer Hebrides, which was subsequently attributed by an ornithological friend of Dawkins to the call of the Manx sheerwater. The whole article was so meagre, it didn’t merit publishing, yet it provoked a deluge of correspondence - much of which showed a similar poverty of mind - in the arguments both for and against Dawkins.

I agree with your comment - that Dawkins should not be allowed to limit his argument to the ground of an outmoded modernistic worldview that ‘truth’ is to be found exclusively in the empirical observations of modern science. This is so outmoded, that I’m surprised nobody else (apart from ourselves, of course!) has commented on it. No serious-minded scientific thinker today would be so dogmatic as to assert that ‘science’ alone brings us into contact with the world as it really is. The challenge given by Einstein to Newtonian physics, and the mysterious subverting of existing ‘laws’ by the world of subatomic physics, have seriously undermined a confidence in such certainties. The best that science has to offer is paradigms which provide a working description until another hypothesis arises.

Dawkins more than anyone knows that the belief of a bygone scientific era in a progression from simple to complex forms of life, with the ‘building-blocks’ being the simpler forms, has been swept aside by the discovery that the ‘simpler’ forms are in themselves incredibly complex. Whether this kind of development allows for a continuing belief in a self-selecting evolution of life in the universe I don’t know - but it underlines the tentativeness of scientific observation, rather than its certainties.

Science no more gives us direct access to reality than anything else; it relies just as much on faith as religious belief - which has a better claim to provide us with such access. This should not be surprising, if God is taken to be the supreme fact in the universe, on which all other life depends.

facinating read

have you seen marilyn robinson’s review of this book? it appeared in Harper’s. here’s a link to a site that is carrying it now:

http://darwiniana.com/2006/10/23/marilynne-robinson-on-dawkins/

she is a fine literary author and extremely articulate. i think anyone mildly interested in this thread would appreciate the read.

ship of fools?

Well said by all on the ‘Is There A God?’ question. I would add this observation: Being a scientist does not preclude a person from being a fool. Neither does being a musician, a farmer, a computer geek, a medical doctor, a pastor, a theologian or any other activity. Science is merely the study and observation of stuff. What has happened in the western world is that in the last four or five centuries, God has allowed man to discover more things than had previously been observed and many of those discoveries have made life easier for most of us. Thus, we have begun to see science as the answer to all things and the scientist as the holy prophet of a ‘god’ called science. It seems that Dawkins does believe in a form of god and it is his own mind. Fortunately, the real God is not particularly bothered by Dawkins hypothesis nor is he concerned about losing face in the eyes of the secular world because of Collins ineptness. Imagine the pressure we would all feel if it were left up to us to be God’s public relations team. The Christian world has repeately proved faulty in this endeavour (this past week’s Haggard debacle being a stellar example). I really resonate with the verse from Romans 1:20, “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things made, both His eternal power and Divinity, so that they are without excuse.” An elderly lady once said, “God is still on the throne and He doesn’t need my vote to keep Him there!”

Re: ship of fools?

I have a question that I would like answered by the atheists.  What would God have to do to prove that He exists?  What would satisfy you?  

Would God have to raise someone from the dead in your presence?  

Would God have to say to you in an audible voice?  What would you like for Him to say to you?

Would you like for Him to tell you what is going to happen in tomorrow’s USA Today?  Who is going to win the next World Series Baseball tournament?

Would you like for God to explain how consciousness exists?

Would you like for God to explain how the universe came into existence?

Would you like for God to tell you when you are going to die and what happens after death?

When all these questions are answered by God and you are satisfied.  Then what do you do with your life?

Now, you must remember that God has only let you know all the answers to the above questions and no one else.  Are you going to tell the world that God has spoken to you?  

They won’t believe you!

Then what do you do?  

Do you try to prove to others that God exists?

Please email your comments to

Re: ship of fools?

This is a fairly interesting speculative premise, wb4qiz. Do you want to have a public discussion here at OST? Or have you written this more as a sort of parable describing the believer’s dilemma of trying to explain themselves to unbelievers? Before engaging with you in more detail, I’ll await your reply. Meanwhile, a few preliminaries:

Raising from the dead, audible voice, predicting the future, what happens after death: sure, those would get my attention. But why do you impose this caveat:

God has only let you know all the answers to the above questions and no one else.  Are you going to tell the world that God has spoken to you?”

This presumes what I’m trying to be persuaded of, namely that God exists. It further presumes that God is going to prove his existence to me in direct private conversation. Is this the problem you face explaining your faith, wb4qiz: that justification for your own belief is entirely inaudible and invisible?

Re: ship of fools?

I guess wb4qiz was a drive-by commenter…

Yes, but religion is not privileged either

Peter,

I was surprised at the thinness of Dawkins’ The God Delusion and the fact that there was so much ad hominem rant in it. However, I was even more surprised by the views of Dawkins’ TIME magazine collocutor, Francis Collins, a practising scientist and an evangelical Christian. Collins was quite happy to admit that the existence of God was an hypothesis with the probability of verification being slightly greater than zero.

I think I would disagree with you that “No serious-minded scientific thinker today would be so dogmatic as to assert that ‘science’ alone brings us into contact with the world as it really is.” My feeling is that this is the majority view not only within the scientific academic community but is also very widespread among educated people in the developed countries. I think it is also a major factor in the collapse of religious faith in the West, especially in the last 50 years.

Science has been extremely successful in giving us the impression that we control the world. Between CE 50 and 1800 there was little change in the life of the average human being. Per caput income rose by about 50% over the whole 1800 year period- from about $US500 to $US 750 (in 1990 constant dollars). The earth’s population expanded from about 230 million to 900 million

But between 1800 and 2006 economic growth in a small number of countries (about a sixth of world population) exploded. One of them is my country, Australia, where per caput income (at $US 32,000 in 2006) is at least 25 times what it was in 1800. This economic growth has made been possible to a large extent through the discoveries of science.

Science has thus become in the minds of many the model for all knowledge. People have seen how powerful the scientific method is: the emphasis on patient data collection, the exposure of all theories to falsification, and the willingness to jettison any theory, no matter how venerable, in favour of a new theory that is better attested.

But of course science is only one form of life among innumerable others and it has no privileged point of vantage from which to assess others, including religion. However, the same point applies to religion. It has no privileged point of vantage from which to assess other forms of life, including science or atheism. Hence, I do not think Rom 1.20 applies: it is not about atheists but about those who believe but do not worship appropriately.

I would also take issue with your statement that

Science no more gives us direct access to reality than anything else; it relies just as much on faith as religious belief.

I assume that when you say that faith and science both rely on faith you mean that their foundations cannot be proven. This cannot be right because it implies that no statements within religion or science can be said to be unqualifiedly true but only probably true. And yet the religious believer who says he trusts in God does not append to his statement “on the assumption, of course, that God exists”. Equally, the scientist who has established the boiling point of water as 100C does not add “on the assumption that my Bunsen burner did not go out of existence for two minutes during the experiment”.

Embedded in the language games of science and religion are all sorts of facts that are taken for certain but which are not themselves grounded or subject to proof. However they are not the foundations of the language games- rather they define its grammar: if they are not taken as certain the language game cannot be played.

religion is establishment superstition

I agree. Scientists certainly take the scientific method for granted, in spite of Hume’s potent and as yet unrefuted critique (250 yrs and running).

It is tragic that Dawkins was not properly challenged. I like Dawkins’ older stuff and his work on memes is landmark stuff, but of late he does seem to have become more of a polemicist and less of an original thinker.

I suspect that a lot of it has to do with befuddlement at his earlier work not succeeding, at a popular level, to make people less superstitious and more scientific, but one never knows.

Live to serve : Serve to live

Science, faith and privilege

The believer who trusts in God would probably no more add the statement “on the assumption, of course, that God exists” than the scientist would add a similar caveat about the Bunsen burner in his experiment. The difference between the two would be that the latter places his/her confidence in the material world, the former in the unseen world. The confidence of the latter may prove, and has proved, in time, to be misplaced. Another difference would be the areas of interest which are the focus of each. Dawkins treads on thin ice by extending the interests of the latter to the former. On the assumption that God exists, I would have thought that religion is privileged over science in the area of its interest.

some clarifications of the scientific stance

I offer some clarifications regarding various prior comments about science:

Paul asserts: Dawkins’ underlying premise… is that there is a neutral position from which the truth claims, or more generally the reasonableness, of all forms of discourse can be assessed; and that this position is occupied by science. This implies that science with its talk of observation, hypothesis, confirmation and generalisation can adjudicate on the reasonableness of such human practices as football, chess, murder trials, shopping, jokes, poetry, art appreciation, psychotherapy, hypnotism, carpentry, war- and religion. Modern science investigates religious practices – morality, polity, liturgy, fellowship and so on. It can even compare practices on various empirical dimensions. But empirical science cannot assert that any particular practice is scientifically “best,” nor does it claim to be able to do so. It’s when religion begins asserting not just standards of practice but truth claims that science gets its hackles up. “We subscribe to morality M” is a practice; “God specifies that we subscribe to morality M” is a truth claim.

Paul further contends: The idea that theistic faith is about a probable God simply fails to take religion seriously as a human practice…belief in God is not a hypothesis at all. It is a certain way of looking at the world eg that we are created, that we are loved by our creator and owe him praise and obedience. There is no necessity about looking at the world in this way but most societies in human history have wanted to. Here again are practices (praise and obedience) justified by a truth claim (we are created by a creator). Paul justifies the truth claim empirically: most societies have wanted to look at the world this way. Scientists would acknowledge the “most societies” justification as a scientifically falsifiable hypothesis and a plausible explanation for widespread theistic practices.

Paul again: God’s existence is no more a question than the myriad facts embedded in our everyday discourse. Suppose somebody asserted that chairs go out of existence when unobserved and challenged me to prove that they don’t. This is a testable scientific hypothesis: “Chairs go out of existence when unobserved.” I think we can all imagine experimental protocols that would generate evidence for testing this hypothesis (even without using the observational proxy of a camera). Results of our studies couldn’t disprove the hypothesis, but we could render the hypothesis extremely unlikely on statistical grounds. That’s all science can assert about any hypothesis it investigates, and that’s all it claims it can assert.

As for whether Peter’s Manx sheerwater in the Outer Hebrides is or is not the devil I offer no opinion.

Peter says this: No serious-minded scientific thinker today would be so dogmatic as to assert that ‘science’ alone brings us into contact with the world as it really is. Paul disagreed, saying: My feeling is that this is the majority view not only within the scientific academic community but is also very widespread among educated people in the developed countries. I think it is also a major factor in the collapse of religious faith in the West, especially in the last 50 years. The data, at least in the US, suggest that this is an overstatement. Fewer than 10% of Americans are atheists or agnostics. According to this study, 80% of American college/university professors consider themselves to be “spiritual” people, and more than half of them believe that the spiritual dimension of faculty members’ lives does have a place in the classroom. Another study indicates that less than a quarter of American college/university professors regard themselves as atheists or agnostics.

Peter continued: The best that science has to offer is paradigms which provide a working description until another hypothesis arises. Scientific laws, paradigms and hypotheses aren’t truths inherent in the phenomena of the world; they’re pragmatic human inventions for making sense of phenomena. While scientific hypotheses are works of the imagination, that doesn’t mean that they’re merely ideas, philosophical speculations. What makes a hypothesis scientific is that it’s testable, and hence potentially falsifiable, by data. Some theories go into and out of favor on other than evidentiary grounds, but that’s usually the case when the data aren’t adequate (yet) to choose among the alternative theories. Some astrophysicists complain about string theory, ten dimensions, multiple universes, and so on because it’s not clear whether these ideas can be subjected to empirical falsification. If they can’t, they’re metaphysics or theology, not science.

Peter again: Dawkins more than anyone knows that the belief of a bygone scientific era in a progression from simple to complex forms of life, with the ‘building-blocks’ being the simpler forms, has been swept aside by the discovery that the ‘simpler’ forms are in themselves incredibly complex. And those relatively complex simpler forms evolved from less complex simpler forms, and so on. This remains the neo-Darwinist position. What’s been debunked is that there’s any inherent tendency in the universe to make progress from simple to complex. When everything starts simple and mutations vary randomly from the starting point, there’s an inevitable movement statistically toward the more complex. But it’s random movement, like a localized vacuum eventually coming into equilibrium with its surroundings through random motion of molecules. Still, there are lots of really simple organisms that are well-adapted to the environment and for which there is no environmental selection value for greater complexity.

Science no more gives us direct access to reality than anything else; it relies just as much on faith as religious belief - which has a better claim to provide us with such access. This should not be surprising, if God is taken to be the supreme fact in the universe, on which all other life depends. This sounds more like Peter’s closing prayer rather the summation of a supportable argument, so I’ll not comment further on it. Likewise Melody’s amen in “ship of fools.”

Back to Paul: I assume that when you (Peter) say that faith and science both rely on faith you mean that their foundations cannot be proven. This cannot be right because it implies that no statements within religion or science can be said to be unqualifiedly true but only probably true… the scientist who has established the boiling point of water as 100C does not add “on the assumption that my Bunsen burner did not go out of existence for two minutes during the experiment.” Everyone makes assumptions derived from probabilities built up from experience, then bases behaviors on these assumptions. The floor has never disappeared from under my feet before, so I keep walking as if I’m certain it won’t. I don’t have to have conscious awareness of these experience-based assumptions regarding the consistency of the physical world: my brain takes care of that for me in the background. If I lived in a more unstable physical environment (on thin ice, for example) I would navigate more tentatively – assuming I lived long enough to learn from experience.

I’m not sure I understand Peter’s comments about misplaced confidence. Having confidence that the Bunsen burner won’t disappear seems pretty well-placed, and it is falsifiable empirically.

Science & Religion

We must now recognize belief once more as the source of all knowledge. Tacit assent and intellectual passions, the sharing of an idiom and of a cultural heritage, affiliation to a like-minded community: such are the impulses which shape our vision of the nature of things on which we rely for our mastery of things. No intelligence, however critical or original, can operate outside such a fiduciary framework.” - Michael Polanyi

Excellent comments all around, and I’m sure much more to come - John D’s and Paul H’s especially. Is it just me, or is there a pervasive sense of “common wisdom” that believes a predominance of college professors, and especially scientists, to be rigid atheists? A long-term study I’m engaged in finds this to be a myth, as John’s links point out.

As scientific discovery continues to shape our world, the Church must find its voice within and among a culture of increasingly immersive technology. The printing press impacted religion (and culture) slowly but pervasively. Today, the development of technology is accelerating and permeating our lives. In times past, we had the luxury of slowly engaging new technologies over decades, even centuries. Today, faith working within technology is less about isolated invention and more about rapid convergence – in the broadest terms, a consilience of science and spirituality.

This conversation must find greater traction in the broader Church, else the Gospel becomes trapped in cultural irrelevance. Not that the essence of xn faith (mercy, grace, renewal, love) is irrelevant. Rather, the Body must learn to navigate cultural mechanisms as they are, and as they emerge. The Internet, I think, is playing a key role in this.

I’ve decided to start a blog, of sorts, as a resource for the Church in an age of rapidly accelerating technology - a place where non-technologists of faith can gain a better understanding of these perplexing ideas; where xn practice can be contextualized within an increasingly complex techno-culture. My ongoing study of faith and science has returned a storehouse of data, links, stories, and personal contacts with scientists of faith worldwide. There are valid reasons, I’ve found, that scientists are not always forthcoming with their beliefs.

As I get this blog working, I’ll report back with a link, and I’ll certainly add OST to my blogroll.

Kind regards, John L

where's the fire?

Science may be a self-consistent, pragmatic, testable, framework from within which one can view the world. The same could be said for religion. The problem arises for those of us who generally accept and use scientific knowledge when science decides to pontificate on matters religious - or vice versa!

Dawkins is a respected scientist, but does he have some special knowledge of the science of God that allows him to decide anything authoritatively, about God’s existence or if admitting that God ‘may’ exist, what sort of being or personality or power God may be?

There are many scientists who are believers, perhaps even the majority of scientists would profess faith in God - in one form or another. Most of these scientists do not believe that practising science means a suspension of their belief in God!

I personally do not see that a clash needs to arise between science and God. At the simplest level we can look at scienctific study of the past as an attempt to find out how God has done things. Our general experience convinces us that God has given us a pretty stable universe in the sense that its functioning can be studied and to some extent understood.

Of course, as Peter pointed out, science is constantly in flux, and what is certain today may be fodder for the roundcan tomorrow. on these grounds alone it seems to me to be foolish to pit today’s scientific wisdom against whatever philosophy, religion, culture, may hold true.

As we have ourselves seen that a fresh perspective on hermeneutics can have remarkable effects on our beliefs/doctrine, so religion and human experience, society and culture are not either stable enough for dogmatism to be allowed to reign.

I don’t think that that leaves us in some sort of agnostic limbo, for engagement can and should take place but with a firm understanding of the limits of knowledge on all sides.

To be frank, most of what have been advanced as creationist theories strike me as being based on very poor exegesis of the scriptures. It would be exciting to have the early chapters of Genesis given a fresh look, from a narrative perspective and without too much source critical confusion intruding, to see what the bible really does and doesn’t say about how God created this universe.

Without doing the groundwork on both sides, debate between the scientific and the religious worldviews is not likely to be productive or fruitful for either side.

Live to serve : Serve to live

Clarifications etc

John

You say

Modern science investigates religious practices – morality, polity, liturgy, fellowship and so on. It can even compare practices on various empirical dimensions. But empirical science cannot assert that any particular practice is scientifically “best,” nor does it claim to be able to do so. It’s when religion begins asserting not just standards of practice but truth claims that science gets its hackles up. “We subscribe to morality M” is a practice; “God specifies that we subscribe to morality M” is a truth claim. ”

I do not think we are connecting on this. My point is that each of the practices I mentioned (football, chess, murder trials, shopping, jokes, poetry, art appreciation, psychotherapy, hypnotism, carpentry, war- and religion) have different logical grammars; and science is but one of them and in no position of privilege. For example what counts as evidence in a murder trial is logically different from what counts as evidence for gravitons. A scientist can be asked to explain background radiation and the man in the street can be asked to explain a joke; but the explanations advanced are logically different.

I am puzzled by your remarks about truth claims and morality. You say science is annoyed by a statement such as “God specifies that we subscribe to morality M”. I would have thought it intrinsic to theistic religions that they call us to be obedient to God

You suggest that I think “ practices (praise and obedience) are justified by a truth claim (we are created by a creator). I make no claim of justification of any sort. All I said was that most societies have wanted to revere a creator

You question my scepticism about Peter’s claim that ” No serious-minded scientific thinker today would be so dogmatic as to assert that ‘science’ alone brings us into contact with the world as it really is”; and point out the data do not support this for the USA. I agree: the USA has a much higher proportion of religious belief than other developed countries.

You say

Everyone makes assumptions derived from probabilities built up from experience, then bases behaviors on these assumptions. The floor has never disappeared from under my feet before, so I keep walking as if I’m certain it won’t.

Empirical propositions such as the one you suggest are not derived from experience and indeed usually do not come to conscious recognition. Wittgenstein’s point is that there are some empirical propositions which are held for certain but which are not grounded. Someone who disputes them (eg someone who claims that the floor has disappeared from under his feet) would not be regarded as having made a mistake but as being unhinged.

on rugby and koalas

Paul -

You’re right: I didn’t fully appreciate or engage your “logical grammar” position about science vis-Ã -vis religion. Science has nothing valid to say about whether criminal trials ought to be decided on the basis of reasonable doubt, or whether televised instant replay ought to overrule the decision of a football referee (sorry for the American examples – I know next to nothing about rugby and absolutely nothing about juridical procedures in other countries). As you point out, these are “grammatical” concerns internal to the practices in question. For a particular religion’s god to decree what rules shall be enforced within that religion is presumably his/her right as the “gamemaster.”

The question is whether the gamemaster’s rules apply to everyone, including those who don’t even think they’re playing the game. If not, then there’s no worries: not everyone becomes a football enthusiast; not everyone takes up the law or a life of crime; not everyone goes to church. If a religion claims universal sovereignty – its God created the universe, upholds a specific universal morality, will conduct a last judgment, will assign people to their eternal stations, etc. – then the game becomes The Game, no longer controlled by the religious hobbyists. Does the gamemaster’s dominion extend even to those of us who aren’t playing? How do we know that the gamemaster even exists, or that he’s not an imposter? What rules of evidence apply when theism, and Christianity in particular, asserts itself as a “metanarrative” and a “totalizing discourse”? Scientists might reasonably want a say in this discussion before they’re prepared to accede.

It would, on the other hand, be interesting if postmodern Christianity were to declare itself a kind of tribal religion, relevant only to those who want to play the game. How likely is that to happen, do you think?

Briefly on Wittgenstein. My faith that the earth won’t disappear under my feet: is it empirical or a built-in kind of intrinsic sanity? Acting as if the earth is solid offers adaptive benefits to both predators (who persist in pursuit across the terrain) and prey (who persist in trying to escape). Genetic selection thus supports the “stability of matter” hypothesis at a primitive level of brain function. There are probably particular kinds of creatures who thrive in unstable physical environments – tidal basins, geothermally active regions, etc. – because they instinctively don’t rely overmuch on stability. The same can probably be said of expectations regarding stability of food supplies; e.g, koalas who expect eucalyptus trees always to be around for browsing. So the rigidity and flexibility of responsiveness to unstable environments is mostly hardwired, but that wiring resulted from generations of empirical experience across the gene pool.

Games, narratives and worldviews

The heart of the issue is that Richard Dawkins holds to a particular philosophy of science, and this is ‘The Game’ which has been influential in dictating the rules for the past 300 years or so in western culture. Christianity, and Francis Collins, have naively allowed themselves to be lured onto the ground of Dawkins’ choosing, and so lose the argument.

In fact, Christianity doesn’t lose (as Wesley, Whitefield, Edwards, Finney, ‘revivals’ throughout the 19th century and to the present day testify), but the culture in which it finds itself contextualised can become a place of institutionalised unbelief: “He could not do many miracles there - - - and he was amazed at their lack of faith”.

Christianity has responded in a vain counter-attempt to establish itself as ‘The Game’ in modern times, when it turns the arguments and proofs of modernism against modernism. It has retreated into modernism to fight modernism. Hence an evangelical (or Catholic, for that matter) absolutism which many find distasteful.

I don’t personally believe the answer is to strip the Christian faith of a narrative which embraces all of time and space, and to reduce it to the status of a tribal religion. A people comprising “every nation, tribe people and language” is more than a tribe, according to ‘the tribe’s’ sacred writings. It is indeed a narrative amongst narratives, and does not have an answer to every conceivable issue, or a claim over anyone apart from their voluntary acceptance of its invitation to faith. Let it address the alternative narratives on its own terms, and see then which narrative becomes the one that other tribes wish to make their own.

Absolutism of any kind is offensive, and faith must be allowed to speak for itself, without the spoken or unspoken assumption that no other view is to be tolerated. An absolutism of a similar kind infects Dawkins and modernism in general, and is no less offensive.

apologia

I entirely agree. A robust belief in God and the bible will produce a startlingly different worldview in a living community of followers who shine with the light of Jesus and His truth.

The sad fact is that the church has proved to be a hollow shell and that is what gives its critics, scientist or atheist, the gall to criticise. It is also the reason why we lose debates. We do not seem to know the ground that we stand on and every time we take our eyes off it, the ground disappears. Pity the predator that has to hunt under these conditions!

Yet, the foolishness of the cross is the answer and an answer that no number Dawkinses will be able to deal with. It’s easy to miss the flea when you’re out with an elephant gun, and that is Dawkins frustration.

Despite all that, the apostle Peter urges us to give a reasonable answer to all who would question us and it is precisely this, an effective PoMo apologetic, that we now seem to have lost sight of. Not that I was greatly impressed with any of the apologetics produced for the modern world -except for the delightfully oblique efforts of C.S. Lewis.

Live to serve : Serve to live

Re: God v Science debate between Richard Dawkins and Francis Col

I find it fascinating that the pedestrian views of Dawkins is getting so much media. I don’t mean to be so dismissive, but haven’t his views been soundly put asunder by far better minds long ago? This isn’t 1940, after all.

It must be a memory thing. The issue hasn’t been aired in some time in the public. It is much like the popularity of the book ‘Guns, Germs and Steel,’ a massively acclaimed bestseller, but its just basic university entry-level history. We assume that once given, knowledge sticks to the culture. It is shocking how easily it slips off. A state of post-modern humans and the relevancy of the topics.

Dawkins has been given a lot of press here in Canada as well. Is it by the media’s design, or is there no easily credible candidate from the Church that can point out the his shortcomings.

There are but a few observations that need to be made to put him out of his misery:

He is a Christian whether he likes it or not. He accepts the Church’s view that reality is only God, humans and inert matter. Dawkins just leaves out God. That’s all reality is. With that stark definition, does any human feel comfortable? By both accepting and rejecting the question framed by Christianity, he makes our desert that much more lonely. We are humans, alone in an inanimate universe. Bravo for us! What is in us that rebels with a feeling that this is unnatural?

Dawkins also has domination issues. It is endemic in all civilized humans. The ascendant mind seeks control for its safety, security, survival and freedom from pain and domination. We fear a God controlling us with the same wisdom and pain that ancient king/dictators did. So he cannot accept God because it limits his freedom, control and security. As a threat to his freedom, God does not make sense when reality is considered only natural laws of inert matter that science effectively controls. He’s rooked from the beginning. It satisfies the definition of mind culture that he has been socialized into. He’s a prisoner, by choice.

Dawkins only focuses on what science can control. He ignores what it cannot, confident that it will be with enough focus.

Dawkins’ pride will not let him accept that his frame of meaning is extremely limited. It sounds ‘rational.’ But it is a security issue. Meaning is dull literalism. Wisdom is poetic. That is not secure enough for him. He needs something solid to control.

That is probably why the media like him. The thaw from the Religious Right has begun, and journalists want to attack after two decades being merely a part of the entertainment division in the major television networks.

Dawkins view is also the operating system, the assumptions upon which modern society treats the human and natural environment in practical everyday living. Science, business, government, and to a great extent, religion all use Dawkins base as their relationship with reality outside of human consciousness. So he is a reassurance, and civilization loves the vanity of describing itself, feeling confident about our control issues. It is safe and non-challenging.

God is not inert matter. Inert matter does not exist. So the whole logic system that Dawkins demands to ‘prove’ God is based on a false assumption of reality. How can God be justified on a lie? He does not realize how absurd his self-referencing logic is. And it appears the rest of civilization has a hard time combatting him because it is at the heart of even the religious paradigm.

It is not God that needs to be defined. It is Dawkins.

 

 

sending a strong delusion...

there are numerous examples in both testaments of G-d sending people a strong delusion and it looks as if both Collins and Dawkins are doing what they are meant to be doing, superbly.

there was a time when i would have been disappointed about an evangelical being given the run-around by a scientist but now i don’t even bother reading the copy. anyone who’s read a book on quantum physics and gone “wow!”, probably grasps it more - on a meaningful level - than your average scientist.

look at the physicists pushing the boundaries of interpretation of quantum physics and you will see people being persecuted by the tenured scientific status quo. science is plagued by it’s own religious fundamentalism.

and besides, G-d doesn’t need our PR.

http://liquidlight.wordpress.com

cultural selection of belief?

I’m curious about why religious belief is so much more prevalent in the US than in Britain and (I think) Australia. Anglophone, high education rates, strong scientific research sector, democracy, market economy: these nations have a lot in common. On measures of faith Britain looks more like the rest of Western Europe, whereas the US looks like a third-world country. Why?

Peter says that the Enlightenment has been naming The Game for the last 300 years, eroding the authority or confidence of the faith. America’s entire history falls within those 300 years. Dawkins sells well in America; so do Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and other popularizers of scientifically-based atheism. Again, why are they the underdogs in America but the dominant voice in England?

I doubt whether people come to faith in God based on their belief that he created the universe; I doubt whether many fall away based on the scientific validity of evolution. Similarly, I doubt that faith decisions hinge on whether religion is the historic source of war or of peace in world politics. Faith seems influenced much more by family, community, and existential encounters with a personal God. Even personal encounters with God are usually mediated by family, friends, community. At least this has been my American experience.

So that brings us back to culture. Why is faith a more self-perpetuating influence in America than in Western Europe and Australia?

Cultural selection of belief and a surprise visit of Dawkins

I thought for a moment, John, that you were about to support the concept, developed (and later withdrawn, I think) by Dawkins of ‘memes’, or cultural replicators which operate analogously (is that a word?) to genes.

Does the prevalence of religious belief in the US have something to do with the covenants which formed the basis of the nation? I don’t mean the US constitution, but the sanctuary sought by the founding fathers of the nation as a place of freedom from persecution in Europe, and a place where their beliefs could form and shape the new life they were seeking to lead?

And even though, on the face of it, religion would appear to have been marginalised by the strong separation of church and state in the US, the reality was that religion was always highly respected - unlike France, for instance, where the revolution was an anti-ecclesiastical move as much as anything else, and secularism was part of the republic’s raison d’être for the nation.

But this is only a superficial glance at the subject; it doesn’t fully explain the phenomenon which you have interestingly drawn attention to.

Incidentally, contributors to this thread may be interested to know that tonight, Richard Dawkins is appearing at our local theatre, the Yvonne Arnaud theatre, Guildford, in “An audience with Richard Dawkins”. I would have been more interested had it been “A conversation with Richard Dawkins”. Also, anyone interested in pursuing a critique of Dawkins’s excursions into the realms of faith should read “Dawkins’ God - genes, memes and the meaning of life” by Alister McGrath. The book is useful for anyone grappling with the relationship of science to faith, and more particularly the influence of modernism as the unseen manipulator of attitudes to science and faith.

never thought of it that way

interesting idea that the separation of church and state would have not only made the state stronger - but also the church. interesting idea.

a weaker belief in science?

Certainly one of the reasons for American culture being more Christian oriented is that the culture was very strongly shaped by the first century or so of immigrants having being religious exiles. Their already strong commitment to faith, coupled with a tremendous gratitude to God for bringing them to ‘the promised land’ made for a culture that was pretty close to theocratic. The Puritans were both community leaders and church leaders and even though the many key framers of the constitution may have been Deists, the tradition of church and state being one “under God” was already firmly entrenched.

It is precisely this intertwining that has allowed the Neocon movement to rely so comfortably on the backing of the Bible belt and evangelical right. A very strong argument has been made over the last decade, that the interpretation of the constitution should be done in Christian terms and any other interpretation (e.g. Libertarian) is a denial of the original intent of the framers and amounts to judicial activism.

The point takes on relevance for out discussion as this very argument has been used in the education system to argue that ID should be given as much, if not more, importance than the teaching of evolution.

Even today, somewhat less than 50% of the American public would accept evolution as a valid scientific theory of origins.

Certainly the entire matter is much more complicated than this, but it is a very interesting question. Perhaps there has always been a feeling that mind should be less important than belief/doctrine. Thus modernism itself has perhaps only a ‘surface’ role, and I suspect that in many ways it does make it easier rather than harder to get Christians to believe in a more PoMo way.

Live to serve : Serve to live

Re: God v Science debate between Richard Dawkins and Francis Col

John asks, “Why is faith a more self-perpetuating influence in America than in Western Europe and Australia?”

One reason could be that the churches in Eurpoe and Australia, both Catholic and The Church of England, mandated for centuries that citizens hold membershipin the state sanctioned church. The U.S. came into existence for the express purpose of breaking that mold. When people are born into an established religion, it is mostly accepted rather than chosen. Consequently, it is not believed in because one sees it as truth, but rather it is like one’s nationality. “I’m Italian, of course I’m Catholic” or as I’ve heard some Americans say, “Of course I’m a Christian, I was born in a Christian nation.”

I no longer believe that faith is self-perpetuating here (US). I do not see that even in my own church. In fact, I am seeing many young people who grew up not only in the church, but also educated in Christian Schools, turning their backs on the church and God. When we assume that our children have the same faith we do we are on dangerous ground. It’s like assuming they share our other values. If we don’t actively teach those values, they may never pick up on them and are highly likely to be heavily influenced the the values of others (i.e. TV and pop culture). The baby boom generation did not share the values of their parents which sent shock waves through the WWII generation. This was the first known generation to be so rebellious. I am at the tail end of the boomers (39 forever) and while I did not personally rebel, I have a theory on why so many did. When great prosperity came to the United States after WWII, people were able to become more self-sufficient and there was less need to depend on God for one’s next meal. When I was very small, no businesses were open on Sunday. It was expected that everyone was at church. Today, there is virtually no difference between Sunday and any other day of the week. It wasn’t business owners who changed. It was the people. Now, even committed Christians think nothing of going out to lunch followed by an afternoon of shopping or watching football (myself included).

I think that the only real difference between where the US is spiritually vs the rest of the western world is just a generation or two. Once the gospel becomes institutionalized it becomes irrelevant for the majority who profess it. This is a cycle that plays itself out in culture after culture. It isn’t the organization of it so much as the assumption that salvation is self-perpetuating. It’s not, it requires a personal decision on the part of each person. I can “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) and I can invite you taste, but I cannot taste for you.

One wonders what, if anything, was taught in Richard Dawkins home.

Re: God v Science debate between Richard Dawkins and Francis Col

i have four kids. my eldest just turned 18 two weeks ago. it has been my desire (having grown up in a xian home, a ministry brat, and xian school student) to leave room for my children TO CHOOSE for themselves what they believe. they have certainly received some training, some church, some prayers and conversations with me and their dad. but it has been my desire that they would find god and choose to “taste and see” ON THEIR OWN. but let me tell you, they are 10, 13, 15, 18, and it is scary because allowing them to choose, means i have no control. influence yes, but control, no. the churchy culture i was raised in, and see around me, is all about a controlling faith and fear of damnation, but even tho i rant and rave and doubt and kick against harmful religion and idolitrous images of “God,” i do in fact believe in a creator-redeemer. the alternative is dark.

may god’s light woo my children.

Re: Parenting and free will

Stacy, I applaud your decision. If you chose to do otherwise, your children would still make their own decision to believe or not to believe, with or without your knowledge. You mention prayer and it is a powerful weapon, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man {woman} availeth much.” (James 5:16) Additionally you have this promise in Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

You say, “the churchy culture i was raised in, and see around me, is all about a controlling faith and fear of damnation”. I’ve seen many people at emerging blogsites say basically the same thing and I am very curious what kind of church you were raised in. I grew up spending more time at church than anywhere else except school and I loved every minute of it. While I knew that if I rejected God’s forgiveness and did not repent of my sin that hell was the consequence; the vast majority of the teaching was “grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord, Jesus Christ.” Yet are we just to pretend that hell does not exist and not speak the truth lest we “turn someone off”? It seems that that would be akin to knowing your toddler is running fast and furious toward the freeway and being afraid to grab him because he will kick and scream that he hates you. So what? You grab him anyway. I wonder if sometimes people resent being reminded of the awful parts of the truth because their hearts are unrepentant. The Bible says man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart. As a mother, you know your children’s hearts better than anyone but God. After all, they spent nine months directly under yours. God is a parent too, and he knows just how hard it is to let his children have a free will. He could have created us differently so that we would all be his robots who would automatically worship him, but he wanted to be loved and true love always is dependent on free will. So yes, you have no control. Strange how we like to think we do, huh? My own experience as a parent certainly had it’s bumps along the way which kept Dad and me on our knees. But we celebrate our beautiful daughter’s 29th birthday (the first of many 29th’s) this Saturday and the grass sure is green on this side of the teen years.

Sorry this is so long and happy parenting.

faith

thanks for the encouragement. i do not know what i believe about eternity. it is an ongoing issue with me. i was raised in many different churches as my father was “in ministry” and we moved a lot. mostly calvinist. my grandmother was an irish catholic and i loved her view of god better, although i find all religion lacking. i have very little certainty, and very few absolutes, which makes for a very poorly defined “faith” according to most organized religion.

i do believe in god. im not sure, anymore, exactly what that means, except that i cannot help that my understanding of god is informed by christain scripture and the ancient traditions of the christian church. it is also informed by my facination with jewish heritage and native american culture and, recently, a deep concern for muslims and their faith.

as for my children and neighbors and friends, i hope to guide them into their own god story. and perhaps, they will help me in mine. this would be my greatest hope for church, emerging or otherwise. for it is what i myself need. i dont need answers, i need room to find my story in the way i am attempting with my kids.

Re: God does not disappoint

Stacy, I appreciate your search. God does not dissapoint those who seek Him with all their heart. As to being Calvinist, I never even heard the word ‘till I was in college. John Calvin was just a man with some ideas. I wouldn’t worry too much about him. Jesus, on the other hand, was God incarnate; and he can be trusted. I hope you are spending much time alone with God and the Bible because what you seek can be found there. It is so much better than trying to find God through man’s wisdom. Nothing in this world feels better than the absolute confidence that the God you know is real. Great peace lives there. The more time I spend in the Bible, the greater my confidence grows. That is where I “taste and see that the Lord is Good”.

Sweet dreams.

Re: God does not disappoint

thanks. but the bible belongs to a religion i distrust, so it does not always help to seek comfort there. if i search the book of people who claim to have all rights on “god” i am uncertain as to what “god” i find.

the story of a creator god, who crafted in love and redeemed what rebelled is one i can imagine. a figure like christ, who fit himself into smallness to reclaim my heart, i can follow.

but your premise that i not worry about calvin is not particularly helpful in light of reading the bible as you suggest. not calvin particularly, but others like him. others - like the men and women on this site even - who explore theology and the language and story of scripture. centuries of this religion of christianity - that comes from careful human reading and study of scripture - dictates that i must listen to both its leaders and the collective. the religion of christianity does not support the “get to know god on your own with the bible.” if i want to embrace the christian god, there are centuries of wise and beautiful people who carry a general consensus of what his scripture says. i would be foolish - creating my own religion in fact - if i threw out their experience and simply carried on in a collective religion on my own.

interestingly enough, my experience of practicing that read-and-be-with-god-on-your-own over the past few years is that i have grown increasingly wary of the christian god and dissatisfied with the christian church. (and i once belonged to a vibrant, non-denom, missional one with a passion for art and music). so just getting to know god on my own, has taken me farther away from christianity. the jury is still out on if that has made me farther or closer to god - i suppose it depends on your definition of god.

i am a paradox. i read over my words and they are far more hostile toward the god of the bible than i actualy believe i am. certainly when i speak of allowing my chidren to “choose god” the figure in my mind is one who created adam and eve in beauty and redeemed them painfully through christ.

i am drawn to “post” everything, in hopes that the new we discover will actually be quite ancient. and i long to leave behind the arrogance of modern formulas and hierarchical leadership. i actually want to belong to a collective, but not any that i see around me. not because their people are so fallible - i am too - but because the leadership is so messed up in its focus and execution.

as xian leaders, stop leading me and start serving me. dont bellow from your soap box, strap on a towel. stop telling me this is easier, stop telling me that if i do X then Y will occur. stop talking about how everyone else but you is lost, lame or wrong. start telling me your pain. start telling me stories. the stories of god are far more powerful than your explanations of doctrine. start listening to others seeking god/allah/buddist ideology and see where we agree. recognize that there is more that we do not know than we know. quit pretending that we dont all struggle with doubt. ackowledge that faith is hard and based on things UNSEEN! engage in a conversation so that YOU can grow too. a collective anything is a DIALOGUE not a MONOlogue.

i dont believe i want no leadership, its just i cant stand the current leadership in american religion or politics. it is a facade to prove a theory on either side. democrat/republican. conservative/liberal, fundamentalist right/hollywood left. everyone has an agenda to proove their chosen “ology” and we are left with two-dimentional set pieces instead of breathing life.

i want life that breathes with complex duality. i want joy and pain. i want the paradox of knowing and believing, of hope and doubt. i want today and yesterday and tomorrow. the only place i know to get this is in story, nature, music and art. wouldnt it be great if church became a place where this kind of life lived? but it is not going to come in “doing church better.” i am fraid the issue is far deeper and more grave. weve got to do something radiacally different. not because we will become irrelevant to “the lost” - how arrogant is that? but because we will no longer be a reflection of god.

what is it? i dont know. pride? is the church is its own worst idol? does it compete with god himself? how is what christ said to the woman at the well prophetic to us today? is this the time to worship not like that religion or this one, but in spirit and in truth? could christ-followers be the thing that god uses to “draw all men unto me?” not at the moment. right now christianity works AGAINST that, she stands and points out just who is NOT “with god” in the club - protestant and catholic alike. no wonder dawkins hates us.

Re: God v Science debate between Richard Dawkins and Francis Col

Stacy, you have me a bit confused. I read your paragraph, ” the story of a creator god, who crafted in love and redeemed what rebelled is one i can imagine. a figure like christ, who fit himself into smallness to reclaim my heart, i can follow” doesn’t fit with your claim that the “Bible belongs to a religion I distrust”. You say you don’t know what “god” you’ll find. And you are blaming people that you say claim to have all rights on god.

I submit that 1. - the Christ you can follow can only be known about through this book, the Bible. The account of his life and purpose are only found there. 2. - If I read a book and then tell you all about the book; and tell you false information, how is that the fault of the book? Have you read the book all the way through for yourself?

You say, “centuries of this religion of christianity - that comes from careful human reading and study of scripture - dictates that i must listen to both its leaders and the collective. the religion of christianity does not support the “get to know god on your own with the bible.” This statement contradicts what you said earlier that you don’t trust this religion or the people who “claim to have all rights on ‘god’”. You seem to be saying that you can only trust the people that you don’t trust. Maybe I am misreading. Yet you go on to say that if you’re going to embrace the Christian god you must listen to the “wise and beautiful people who carry a general consensus of what his scripture says.” Okay, so how does this preclude you from reading the scripture for yourself? Are these ‘wise and beautiful people’ somehow smarter than you? And besides, how do you know that they really are wise? And just WHO are THEY, anyway? Are they the ones whose ’ hierarchical’ leadership you wish to leave behind? You are so non-specific that it becomes rather hard to follow your line of reasoning. I can’t decide if you are for ‘em or again’ ‘em

not an either or

melody, are you angry with me over what i wrote?

the fact that i find truth in the bible - that i believe in a creator god and a redeemer christ does not disallow me to mistrust a religion that uses this same text. and yes, i have read the bible all the way through and studied it for over 30 years.

my statement about christianity dictating that a member of christianity listen to leadership and participate in the collective was a statement about the tenants of that religion, not a proclamation of my beliefs.

if i have any interest in knowing god through the bible, if i believe that christ was/is “the way to the father,” i cannot discount the centuries of people who have lived and written about this god (st augustine, jeanne guyon, cs lewis, henry nowen. you asked for names, those spring to mind). the fact that i recognize harmful heirarchical leadership in the religion of christianity as well as men and women who wrote with insight about their relationship with god are not mutually exclusive.

on God-memes

On 14 Nov Peter wrote: I thought for a moment, John, that you were about to support the concept, developed (and later withdrawn, I think) by Dawkins of ‘memes’, or cultural replicators which operate analogously (is that a word?) to genes.” I didn’t know Dawkins had disowned the meme idea, but if so there might be two understandable reasons why. First, the notion of ideas as viral self-replicators, transmitting themselves through voice and text from mind to mind, is a tough theory to test empirically, rendering it dubious by Dawkins’ own criteria.

Second, meme transmission is predicated on the possibility that cognitive content can appear in brains without people consciously thinking them. So, for example, you might find yourself humming some Madonna song without ever having been consciously aware that you’d heard the song. Unbidden and beneath conscious processing, the tune has emplanted itself in your mind.

Ideas arriving from outside the self and emplanting themselves in minds: doesn’t this leave open the possibility that God might communicate his thoughts and feelings directly into human minds? Are some minds more receptive, either congenitally or regeneratively, to “God-memes,” possessed of what Calvin called the “sensus divinitatis”? How likely is it that Dawkins never considered the theological possibilities of memes?

Re: on God-memes

Dawkins did consider the possibility of “God memes”, but as an atheist, said that the memes did not come from God, but were a destructive cultural viral infection which needed to be eradicated.

From a different point of view, “The heavens declare the glory of God;/the skies proclaim the work of his hands./Day after day they pour forth speech;/night after night they display knowledge./There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard./Their voice goes out into all the earth,/their words to the ends of the earth.” - Psalm 19.

I agree with the psalmist’s assertion, contra Dawkins, and the gloss provided by Paul in Romans 1:20 (and following) and Romans 10:18-21.

Re: on God-memes

I too was a bit surprised to hear that Dawkins was backing off from his memes. it was always a powerful analogy to genes though it really has not been of much use as a scientific concept even in sociology.

Live to serve : Serve to live

Re: not an either or

Stacy, I’m not angry, just confused. I’m baffled where any hint of anger could be construed in what I wrote. I believe I misunderstood where you were coming from initially. I thought you were searching for some answers and some Biblical encouragement. Apparently I was wrong. It seems you are content with searching and I wish you all the best.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Re: God v Science debate between Richard Dawkins and Francis Col

I’d recommend reading “Van Til’s Apologetic” by Greg Bahnsen for a great perspective on how to handle situations like this.

Re: God v Science debate between Richard Dawkins and Francis Col

I wonder how valid this notion is of strictly dichotomizing religion and science into two different ‘ways of knowing’: faith on the one hand, and scientific and rational knowledge on the other. Certainly the scienitific process of observation, hypothesizing, and falsification is a very particular means of empirical discovery. I think of it as a disciplined method of posing questions to ‘nature’ (and one that, as far as I can tell, is neither necessarily hindered by nor hindering to religious faith in the biblical God). But does the scientific process really entail a wholly different epistemology from that of religious thought? And what exactly is ‘religious thought’? How does one define “religion”? What is faith?

Contrary to popular opinion, according to the NT faith is NOT believing something apart from ‘reason’, a belief without warrant, or in the absence of any kind of verification. John, for example, is quite concerned in his gospel to provide proofs (i.e., ‘signs’) for the remarkable claims concerning Jesus of Nazareth, thereby giving warrant for faith in him (e.g., 20:30-31). Jesus likewise furnished his disciples with many “proofs” of his resurrection from the dead (e.g., Acts 1:3; cf. Jn.20:25-28). Similarly, Paul offered historical evidences for the resurrection he declared in his gospel (1Co.15:3-8). Faith then is not simply an existential leap into the dark. The things ‘not seen’, yet beheld by the eye of faith, refers not to the invisible realities of ‘the heavenly places’, so much as the things hoped for by those who trust in God’s promises (2Co.4:18; 5:7; Ro.8:24-25). Faith is trust, then - a warranted trust.

Obviously Jesus’ resurrection isn’t, at present, an observable phenomenon (of course, neither is the evolution and emergence of modern species); but certainly it is subjectable to critical historical investigation, just as it was for those to whom the apostles first preached.

From a biblical perspective, both the theologian and the scientist are students of divine revelation. For, according to Scripture, not only is the created order in toto revelatory of the Creator, but all knowledge of such phenomena is a matter of divine grace. Yet each has a different method of inquiry, and as is appropriate to the nature of their ‘texts’, so to speak, differing ‘hermeneutics’. Yet, the two are not entirely separate, and cannot be isolated from the other. As a result, scripture is most certainly open to ‘critical’ inquiry (whether historical or scientific), and likewise our critical theories are open to the critique of the sacred scriptures. After all, whether our subject be the Bible or nature, the Author is one and the same.

So when folks like Dawkins, et al, pit science against religion, they are not pitting faith against reason, or religious belief against scientific inquiry (no matter what they insist). The substance of their dichotomy is the pitting of modernistic (materialistic) atheism against biblical theism (or any worldview that challenges the idols of scientism). E.g., the Darwinian theory of evolution may well be true with regard to explaining the hypothetical process of speciation. Yet, it may still be false to propose that this process is the mechanism of primal genesis. The historical evidence for the origins of life is meager, to say the least. I would argue that Dawkin’s neo-Darwinian account for life’s origins is a conclusion weighed more from his theological (or a-theological) presuppositions than from the ‘hard data’ of any scientific inquiry. As usual, the question then comes down to this: whose got the best presuppositions (i.e., coherency, consistency, and comprehensiveness)?

…just some thoughts…

Re: Science + Faith Blog

As noted in an earlier post, I’ve been working towards starting a blog focused on the interesection of technology and faith; the conversation of science and religion. Just added a new post on Dawkins and the nature of fundamentalist science. Enjoy. JL

Re: God v Science debate between Richard Dawkins and Francis Col

Faith is usually characterised by Dawkins as ignorant superstition, disconnected from evidence and reason. His version of faith is very far from that advocated by the NT writings, and is little more than a straw man.

Dawkins took part in a discussion on the BBC’s Radio 4 two weeks ago on ‘Altruism’ (its nature and origins; must God be hypothesised for altruism to be possible?). I was unable to listen to most of this, but I did tune in at the point where Dawkins was suggesting that altruism was genetically programmed in the human race as a result of ancient peoples living in small communities which originally had no contact with other communities. Their genetically programmed feelings of good will towards each other were then uncorrected when they came into contact with other peoples who were not of their community, and towards whom good will might not have served an evolutionary purpose. I waited for the outburst of scorn this piece of absurdity should have merited, but it never came.

Subsequently in The Times newspaper, there was a raft of correspondence saying how wonderful it had been to listen to reasonable people disproving the necessity of a causal link between altruism and God, and making a sound case for altruism as having arisen entirely through natural mechanisms.

I sometimes think I am not long for this world when I hear this kind of nonsense being paraded as wisdom. Not for the first time, Romans 1:21-22 comes to mind.

unsuccessful synthesis

Part of the problem is that ‘we the believers’ have not provided a reasonable meeting place for our faith and science and scientists. In modernism, science was utlised whenever found helpful and scorned whenever not! The problem has become more acute (why?) in a postmodern environs.

Many scientists, and those who deal with the philosophy of science, either go for a “two different worlds” approach or tacitly do a “god of the gaps” thing. there are people like Plantinga who have attempted something else but their thinking is not found at the grassroot level where pastors and preachers dispense whatever best wisdom they gleaned while in seminary…

One basic point of conflict is that theistic philosophical thinking separates God too much from His creation. Panentheism has not caught on tho I wonder whether it is not a much more biblically sound alternative?

Live to serve : Serve to live

Altruism and the selfish gene

I downloaded the altruism talk and listened to it in it entirety.

The subject was provoked by Dawkins’ selfish gene idea. According to Dawkins, the DNA codes that exist are the survivors- those that helped other DNA codes would be less likely to survive. Hence the existence of altruism is a problem for Darwinism.

His way out of the dilemma is to suggest that while genes are selfish, individuals are not- hence selfish genes may or may not program individuals to be altruistic. His suggestion is that that is precisely what happened in early human communities: it was to the advantage of the selfish gene to program individuals to be cooperative with their relatives. They have then gone on to generalise this behaviour to everyone, family or not. The implication is that were we to act rationally, ie in accord with the dictates of our selfish genes, we would not be altruistic to anyone apart from family or those can maximise the survival chances of our genes.

One of the philosophers participating in the discussion asks whether Dawkins is proposing a reductionist view of altruism- that is, is he saying that the altruistic acts we see around us are selfishness dressed up in disguise. Dawkins does not respond to this but his view is, I think, a reductionist one. He presents a picture in which genes are the real agents with human persons merely their proxies (a fantastic view of human action which should have been challenged but was not). Human beings may act altruistically but only because this suits the selfish purposes of their genes so, in the final analysis, altruism is really selfishness in disguise.

The other point to make is that Dawkins’ theory makes no distinction between human beings and apes, newts and sea anemones. If it suits their selfish genes they too might appear to act altruistically.

But one of the distinctions we make between the behaviour of human beings and animals is that ethical considerations are of fundamental importance to the former but have no meaning for the behaviour of the latter. Dawkins’ theory makes nothing of human desires to do what is right or to be a good person or to act with integrity- desires which are central to our understanding of ourselves as human beings whether we believe in God or not.

One of the things you might conclude from this talk, and more particularly the enthusiastic reception it has had in the letters columns (referred to by Peter), is that science has also had baleful affects.

genetic altruism

Be warned that if you wish, as I do, to build a society in which individuals cooperate generously and unselfishly toward a common good, you can expect little help from biological nature. Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us try to understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to.” — Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 1976

Having not heard the broadcast I’d be wise not to comment on Dawkins’ remarks, but since I don’t profess to be wise… I presume that Dawkins uses terms like “selfish” and “altruistic” in a sort of metaphorical sense for naturally-occurring motivations that tend to perpetuate the genes. If through an act of self-sacrifice I could save a perfect stranger I’d have no genetic reason to do so, whereas saving my own children would ensure the persistence of my genes into the next generation, so I’d instinctively risk myself in order to save them. “Genetic altruism” is characteristic of plenty of species besides man. Monkeys, for example, protect one another within a tribe, but they go out of their way to murder monkeys from other tribes.

It’s easier to act altruistically if I can use my instincts as motivational levers. E.g., if I persuade myself that the other person is similar to me, I trigger the instinct to interpret interpersonal similarity as a marker of shared genetic material — which makes me more likely to act on the other’s behalf. A human is pretty much the only creature that can imagine itself as similar to an unrelated conspecific. Humans are the only creatures that spontaneously learn by imitating one another: we are able to do so precisely because we can put ourselves in the other’s shoes, recognizing that we share similar motivations and intentions toward the world. Because of this innate empathic ability, humans can extend the boundaries of their tribes far beyond what other species can do.

Does this sort of genetically-leveraged motivation constitute “real altruism”? Or does altruism count only when we act self-sacrificially on behalf of someone who is a total outsider, not at all similar to us, who arouses no feelings of empathy that might trick us into acting kindly, so that our altruism is completely dispassionate?

The way of the cross

I think you’re right. Dawkins has no proper conception of what altruism is. I was struck as a boy in Africa by the fact that a Joy Adamson (Born Free …) could be completely selflessly attached to her animals to the extent that they became more important to her than her husband, other humans in the camp and even more important than her own self. A bit of an extreme example perhaps, but something that schizophrenically Dawkins would like to accept and be able to scientifically account for!

Live to serve : Serve to live

whence altruism?

I have no clear picture of altruism either. What is the source of a human’s ability to act selflessly for the sake of another species? Even little children become very attached to their pets; many adults act more kindly toward their pets than toward their neighbors. We are predisposed to attribute human-like properties to all sorts of things: dogs, dolls, rivers, etc. This seems to be a sort of protean altruistic instinct that needs to be chanelled through maturation. It’s a capability that nearly all humans share (autistic people can’t do it, but then again they don’t attribute human-like properties to other people either).

I think a case can be made for genetic benefits of this altruistic instinct. I don’t know whether Judeo-Christian theology regards the universal human ability to act altruistically as a manifestation of the image of God. Can’t the imago Dei be transmitted genetically? Redemption would involve reclaiming this (inborn, genetic, godlike) altruistic instinct and chanelling it appropriately; e.g., by extending one’s sense of “neighbor” to include all of humanity, or even all creatures great and small.

Atheists too may well embrace a universal altruistic ideal. What distinguishes the Christian altruist from the secular? Is it that only Christians can attain true altruism because they’re empowered by the Holy Spirit to act in accordance with their ideals? It’s tough to make a historical case for it. In “dying to self” are Christians supposed to suppress their natural altruistic inclinations as being a source of pride, instead becoming passive channels for the indwelling God to act altruistically through them?

This whole distinction between natural and spiritual altruism seems like a worthy topic in Christian anthropology. It doesn’t seem doctrinally necessary for Christians to dismiss the possiblity of a natural altruism: it’s not unlike natural intelligence. Certainly intelligence is evolutionarily advantageous and genetically transmitted, even if it is regarded as a manifestation of the imago Dei.

Re: God v Science debate between Richard Dawkins and Francis Col

The phrase “Dawkins wins” in the post caught my eye because I disagreed; my impression was of the usual stand-off, not of either side winning a victory.

I thought that, from a debate judge’s point-of-view, both sides missed opportunities; Collins in particular.

Collins got Dawkins to accept the idea of something grander outside our universe; Dawkins was eager to do so. But Collins neglected to point out that this acceptance immediately defeats the exclusivity of a Naturalistic worldview. It allows for the possibility of both God as defined in Christianity, and His miraculous intervention in Nature. And it does so in a way which (a.) makes the idea of relative probabilities unusable, and (b.) shows science incapable of dismissing God without (oops!) ruling out the existence of the universe at the same time.

Collins also missed opportunities to fruitfully discuss the relationship of the scientific method to Dawkins’ philosophical worldview (namely, that the one utterly fails to lead to the other except by category error).

Dawkins failed to press his advantage on the probabilities side. As I mentioned above, it’s a view that isn’t acually sustainable if he holds that there can be anything outside our universe. But Collins seems to have been unaware of that objection; this gap in Collins’ armament could have been exploited by Dawkins more than it was.

And, Dawkins failed to press Collins on the matter of miracles. If Collins cannot articulate the distinction between the scientific methods “working assumptions” and their unwarranted adoption as a monistic axiom by those who adopt Naturalist philosophy, then Dawkins could easily exploit that gap, making Collins look like a fool for believing in miracles. He could ask Collins whether he knew of anyone miraculously healed, et cetera. (I imagine most of us Christians know at least one such.) And when Collins answered in the affirmative, Dawkins could have played the “only a rube would say such a thing” card. It wouldn’t have been a win on the merits of the argument, but, among humans, debate rarely is.

WHAT WOULD GOD HAVE TO DO TO PROVE HIS EXISTENCE?

I would be interested in hearing from anyone.  dholliday@triad.rr.com

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