Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Monday, April 27, 2009
Sunday, April 26, 2009
"In asking for a king God’s people where rejecting the king that was all ready in place YHWH him self. 1 Sam.11:12 In asking for a king Samuel said that their wickedness was great in asking for a king. 1 Sam.12:17. He pointed out their sin which they acknowledged (vs 19) but also that if they continue to do wickedly they shall be consumed, both the people and their king. 1 Sam12:25 The lesson is this you reap what you sow!! Gal.6:7,8"
But Coyne did something quite different from that.
In addition to making the usual claims about the lack of evidence for God, Coyne flatly states that faith and science are not compatible, arguing that the empirical nature of science contradicts the revelatory nature of faith. What about the tens of thousands of scientists, now and in the past who were people of faith (including roughly 40% of all working scientists in the US, members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science)? Coyne waves them away with scorn, literally comparing them to "adulterers" who have subverted their vows to be true to science—or at least to Coyne's view of science. More on that later.
Coyne claims that "theistic evolutionists" like me exhibit three of the four hallmarks of creationism, making me really no different from the folks I opposed at the Kitzmiller trial. He couldn't be more wrong about that. I share exactly one thing in common with creationists, which is my belief in God. The other points of supposed agreement are figments of Coyne's imagination—or of his overwrought efforts to slander any believer by placing them in the "creationist" camp.
He seems to argue that a person of faith who accepts evolution must also believe God "micro-edited DNA" to guide evolution. While it's certainly true that a Divine author of nature could intervene in his world at any time, I have never argued for the sort of divine tinkering that Coyne finds so disturbing. In fact, I have argued exactly the opposite. Evolution is not rigged, and religious belief does not require one to postulate a God who fixes the game, bribes the referees, or tricks natural selection. Unfortunately, Coyne does not seem to appreciate this point.
And, just to quibble, he claims that only 25% of Americans believe we evolved from apelike ancestors. The actual figure (unlike Coyne, I will cite a reference) is 40% (Miller, Scott, and Okamoto. Science 313: 765, August 2006).
Coyne's eagerness to close out any possibility that there is an author to the natural world leads him into a curious position of self-contradiction on the appearance of the human species on our planet. As I pointed out in Only a Theory, evolution did indeed produce the grand and beautiful fabric of life that covers our planet, including our own species. Therefore, we are not a "mistake" of nature, but a full-fledged product of the natural world. If God is the creator of that world, including the laws of chemistry and physics and even the unpredictable events of the quantum universe, then it would be perfectly reasonable for a religious person to see our emergence, through the process of evolution, as part of God's plan for that universe. This doesn't mean, as I took care to point out in my book, that nature is rigged to produce big-brained, hairless, bipedal primates who would invent football, canned beer, and reality television. Rather, it means that the universe in which we live is sufficiently hospitable to life that on this one planet, at the very least, it has supported an evolutionary process that gave rise to intelligent, self-aware, reflective organisms, who would then be capable of arguing about the meaning, purpose, and nature of existence.
I made no argument that this happy confluence of natural events and physical constants proves the existence of God in any way—only that it could be understood or interpreted as consistent with the Divine by a person of faith.
To Coyne, however, even the mere possibility that someone might understand nature in a Divine context is absolute heresy. As a result, while he strictly rules out anything but natural causes in the evolutionary process (as would I), he then must argue that the same process could never, ever happen again. Why? Because if conditions in our universe are such that they make the emergence of intelligent life, sooner or later, pretty much a sure thing, then people might wonder why. And if they were to come to the conclusion this might mean that there was a Creator who intended that as part of his work, they would be guilty of the very thoughts that Coyne finds so outrageous that he wishes to banish them from the scientific establishment.
So, despite his frank admission that "convergences are striking features of evolution," he rules any possibility that human-like intelligence could also be a convergent feature. His only reason for so doing seems to be that such intelligence evolved "only once, in Africa." Apparently, to satisfy his standards, it should have evolved many times. Actually, of course, if an observer had checked as recently as 5 million years ago, it wouldn't have evolved at all. Nonetheless Coyne has absolutely no empirical reason for claiming that what happened once could not happen again—and he surely knows that. But, to borrow a phrase, he is "forced" into that conclusion by his own anti-theist views.
For someone so insistent on empirical evidence, Coyne is remarkably quick to invoke faith when it suits his purposes. Realizing that the anthropic principle could indeed be seen as friendly to religion, he knows he just doesn't have enough evidence to reject it. So Coyne dreams that "perhaps some day, when we have a 'theory of everything' that unifies all the forces of physics, we will see that this theory requires our universe to have the physical constants that we observe." Indeed. Perhaps we will. But even if we achieve that theory, we will still have to ask where the laws and principles of that theory come from, something that even Coyne at his speculative and hopeful best does not seem to appreciate.
Finally, what of his central criticism—the claim that science and religion are not only different, but incompatible and mutually contradictory?
He's right on one score, obviously. That is that certain religious claims, including the age of the earth, a global worldwide flood, and the simultaneous creation of all living things are empirical in nature. As such, they can be tested scientifically, and these particular claims are clearly false. Claims of demonstrative miracles in the past, such as the virgin birth or the resurrection cannot be tested empirically, because there are no data from which to work. On such claims, science has nothing to say one way or the other. Coyne's complaint on such things, paradoxically, is that they must not have happened because there is no scientific explanation for them. That amounts, in essence, to saying that these things could not have happened because they would be miracles. Well, that's exactly what most Christians take them for, so Coyne's only real argument is an a priori assumption that miracles cannot happen. Make that assumption, and miracles are nonsense. But it is an assumption nonetheless, something that Coyne fails to see.
How, then, should we take his claim that scientists who profess religious faith are akin to adulterers? An adulterer, of course, is one who has taken the marriage vow of faithfulness and exclusivity, and then broken that vow to have sex with another. Have scientists who profess faith broken some vow of philosophical naturalism that is implicit in the profession?
I, for one, don't remember any such vow in my training, my PhD exam, or my tenure review—although perhaps things work a little differently at the University of Chicago.
What science does require is methodological naturalism. We live in a material world, and we use the materials of nature to study the way nature works. By definition, that confines science to purely naturalistic explanations, because only those are testable, and only those have validity as science. I agree, and would defy Dr. Coyne to point to any claim made in the books he has reviewed that defines science in any other way. He cannot do that, of course, because there are no such claims. I would also ask that he point out scientific flaws in the work of biologists such as Theodosius Dobzhansky, Francisco Ayala, or Francis Collins that may have derived from their personal religious faith. He won't be able to do that, either, of course. Every scientist makes mistakes—and I've made plenty in my career. But the real issue is whether a scientist's view on the question of God is incompatible with their scientific work. Clearly, it is not.
Coyne's entire critique, then, is based upon an unspoken assumption he expects his readers to share, namely, that science is the only legitimate form of knowledge. To Coyne, any deviation from that view is an adulterous contradiction of the sacred scientific vow to exclude any possibility of the spiritual, not just from one's scientific work, but from the entirety of one's philosophical world view.
With all due respect to my distinguished colleague, that is nonsense. One can indeed embrace science in every respect, and still ask a deeper question, one in which Coyne seems to have no interest. Why does science work? Why is the world around us organized in a way that makes itself accessible to our powers of logic and intellect? The true vow of a scientist is to practice honest and open empiricism in every aspect of his scientific work. That vow does not preclude the scientist from stepping back, acknowledging the limitations of scientific knowledge, and asking the deeper questions of why we are here, and if existence has a purpose. Those questions are genuine and important, even if they are not scientific ones, and I believe they are worth answering.
To Jerry Coyne, a person of faith like the Belgian priest Georges Lemaître, could not possibly have been a true scientist because of his faith in a loving and provident God. That would make Father Lemaître, in Coyne's eyes, nothing more than a creationist. Too bad, because as I'm sure Jerry knows, it was Georges Lemaître who provided the first detailed mathematical arguments for cosmic expansion, which today we call the "big bang." Remarkable how Lemaître rose above his adulterous tendencies, isn't it?
The genuine tragedy of Coyne's argument is the way in which it seeks to enlist science in a frankly ideological crusade—a campaign to purge science of religionists in the name of doctrinal purity. That campaign will surely fail, but in so doing it may divert those of us who cherish science from a far more urgent task, especially in America today. That is the task of defending scientific rationalism from those who, in the name of religion would subvert it beyond all recognition. In that critical struggle, Jerry, scientists who are also people of faith are critical allies, and you would do well not to turn them away."
I hope you enjoy!
"I enter this conversation feeling vaguely like a wishbone being stretched. On the one hand, I believe that the world is the creation of transcendent God that I perceive dimly behind the almost opaque curtain of my experience; but I also believe in the extraordinary power of science to unfold the nature of that world with astonishing clarity and conviction. I have one foot in each of Gould's non-overlapping magisteria and the space between them seems, at least in this conversation, uncomfortably large.
Discussions like this that juxtapose "empirical science" with "revealed religion" rarely seem like appropriately balanced encounters to me. When Ken Ham and his merry band of biblical literalists talk disparagingly about science, I can barely recognize it. But I had the same problem with Dawkins's send-up of believers in The God Delusion.
Coyne, who affirms Dawkins's approach, speaks of "theologians with a deistic bent" who inappropriately presume to "speak for all the faithful." The implication is that the "faithful" are the more authentically religious and the theologians are an aberration. This seems unfair to me. The great unwashed masses of these "faithful" should be juxtaposed with the great masses of people who "believe" in science but are not professionals. Most Americans -- and the rest of the world, for that matter -- are attached to both iPods and a belief that medical science is their best hope when they are sick. They "believe" in science. What do you suppose "science" would look like, were it defined by these "believers"? The physics would be Aristotelian; astrology and aliens would accepted as real; General Relativity would be unknown; quantum mechanics would be perceived as a way to influence the world with your mind. And yet all of these people would have had far more education in science than the typical religious believer has in theology. Science as "lived and practiced by real people" is quite different than the science promoted by the intellectuals in this conversation.
Empirical science does indeed trump revealed truth about the world as Galileo and Darwin showed only too clearly. But empirical science also trumps other empirical science. Einstein's dethronement of Newton was not the wholesale undermining of the scientific enterprise, even though it showed that science was clearly in error. It was, rather, a glorious and appropriately celebrated advance for science, albeit one not understood by most people. Why is this different than modern theology's near universal rejection of the tyrannical anthropomorphic deity of the Old Testament, so eloquently skewered by Dawkins? How is it that "science" is allowed to toss its historical baggage overboard when its best informed leaders decide to do so, even though the ideas continue to circulate on main street, but religion must forever be defined by the ancient baggage carried by its least informed?
The world disclosed by science is rich and marvelous, but most people think there is more to it. Our religious traditions embody our fitful and imperfect reflections on this mysterious and transcendent intuition -- an intuition that, as articulated by some of our most profound thinkers, seeks an understanding of the world that is goes beyond the empirical.
Coyne is correct that books like those he reviewed—Ken Miller's Only a Theory and my Saving Darwin—have not been particularly successful in securing a peaceful overlap for the magisteria, at least not for most people. Coyne would say there is no such peaceful overlap. But there are many well-informed believers who have come to peace with science, and who live happily on the rich, but thinly populated, turf where the magisteria overlap.
I think we can all agree though that, wherever we stand, there is a great need for a discussion of how America's conversation on origins should proceed. We need to wake up to the reality that current strategies have been an abysmal failure and ask some tough questions about why that is. There is a widespread fear on America's main streets that evolution is destroying a cherished belief in God. As a consequence, anti-evolution has assumed the proportions of a military-industrial complex but the battle is a proxy war, aimed not at evolution, but at materialism. I wonder what would happen if, in the name of pluralism and diplomacy, we could all agree that it was OK for people to believe that evolution was a part of God's plan. I suspect that cultural changes would be inaugurated that would eventually make both Eugenie Scott and Ken Ham irrelevant."
By way of richarddawkins.net
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
But to say these things requires an account of what I mean by "religion." Instead of offering his own account, Hitchens' strategy seems to be this: if it is good, noble, or tends to inspire compassion, then it isn't "religion." It is "humanism" or something of the sort. With no clear definition to guide him, Hitchens is free to locate only what is cruel, callous, insipid, or banal in the camp of religion, while excluding anything that could reliably motivate the heroic moral action exemplified by Bonhoeffer and King. When "religion" is never defined, but in practice is treated so that only what is poisonous qualifies, it becomes trivially easy to conclude that "religion poisons everything."
IS GOD A DELUSION? A REPLY TO RELIGION'S CULTURED DESPISERS (WILEY-BLACKWELL: DEC. 3, 2008), P. 19.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Friday, April 17, 2009
With two opposing streams of fundamentalism equally certain that their views of reality are the only reliable views, the atmosphere for dialogue is squelched, and reconciliation is necessarily impossible. The same idea is borne out in common conversation: if two people are unwilling to lay aside their differences in order to establish effective, meaningful communication – communication that both parties can benefit from – then reconciliation is not possible.
"Fundamentalism is a mind-set. The iconography and language it employs can be either religious or secular or both, but because it dismisses all alternative viewpoints as inferior and unworthy of consideration it is anti-thought. This is part of its attraction. It fills a human desire for self-importance, for hope and the dream of finally attaining paradise. It creates a binary world of absolutes, of good and evil. It provides a comforting emotional certitude."1
However, Coyne goes on to make the point that there are liberal theologians and religious scientists hoping to effect a harmony between the two perspectives. That is, some theologians and scientists are setting their differences aside to bring about mutually beneficial communication. We can reasonably assume then, that those scientists are seeing enough convergence to make a possible reconciliation. For Coyne, though, this is too easy. In fact, he states that “there are religious scientists and Darwinian churchgoers. But this does not mean that faith and science are compatible, except in the trivial sense that both attitudes can be simultaneously embraced by a single human mind.”
Noting that people are working on reconciliation implies the possibility of that end. Those who hold to a congenial view of both science and religion – that is, those who hold to “both attitudes... simultaneously” – manage a cognitive dissonance not uncommon to daily living; for example, being enslaved to the workforce in order to gain a future freedom that one values now. Whether or not anyone agrees with my stated example, the contrasts between what people believe and what they have to 'work with,' or value can often run into conflict despite the fact that both 'attitudes' must be conjoined in a persons mind. So while it is that religious folk insist on a divinely curated reality, and the scientific community insists on a chance naturalistic reality, the fact remains that dissonance between the two fields does not logically imply a total divorce.
Embracing competing claims is in no way a “trivial” occupation, as Coyne states. It is, as I've already noted, a reality we all face. In fact, it is one of the foundational layers of being a human being, of recognizing that for all our linear equations, reality is often relentlessly bisected to the point where traveling along a straight line becomes impossible. Too much of who we are as human beings, as participants in this nebulous cosmos, is presently beyond our reach or comprehension. Given that fact, we can all benefit from the sciences that quantify perceptible reality, and we can all benefit from the philosophical, or metaphysical quandries that religions attempt to address. And we can have both of those things simultaneously. We can have our cake and eat it, too. Not because doing so is 'trivial' and therefore easy, but because not doing so is dishonest and therefore makes living that much harder. Hopefully, Coyne can see the cognitive dissonance in that, and embrace it without seeing himself as “trivial”.
Still, Coyne raises important questions we would be remiss to pass by:
...some of the tensions disappear when the literal reading of the Bible is renounced, as it is by all but the most primitive of JudeoChristian sensibilities. But the tension remains. The real question is whether there is a philosophical incompatibility between religion and science. Does the empirical nature of science contradict the revelatory nature of faith? Are the gaps between them so great that the two institutions must be considered essentially antagonistic? The incessant stream of books dealing with this question suggests that the answer is not straightforward.
The crux of the issue, Coyne notes, is a philosophical question. It is a question of epistemology. That is, if there is a disagreement between science and religion (and there is), that disagreement is the tension produced between empiricism and revelatory faith. The two systems of 'knowing' differ in many ways. By way of example, empiricism relies on what is actively observable and measureable. Faith relies on passive reception and hermeneutical reflection. Empiricism stakes claims on testable, repeatable experiments. Faith hammers down claims via profession, and systematic indoctrination. Even so, behind both of these epistemologies, and despite their competing tensions, enough of a similarity remains that not taking it into account would render the whole conversation between science and religion meaningless. That similarity is the fact that all knowledge has a fiduciary basis. In other words, what we say we know, what we claim to know, what we have measured and consider known all hinges on the fact that we believe that knowledge is accurate, binding, and correspondant to reality.
This is not a plug for the overstated case of postmodernity. Conversation on the 'relativity of truth' is often a comedy of errors wherein the actors have mistaken what they take to be true with what they hold to be valuable. No, behind all of these crossed monologues on the compatibility of science and religion, both institutions value what they think they know, and ergo believe it to be true. In science it is of paramount value to test observable data, and once the results are in the conclusions are taken to be 'true'. In religion, it is of chief importance (value) to ensure that faith claims correspond with what is agreed was divinely revealed. In either case, both parties are taking the same leap: what they conclude, based on what they interpret from their observations, is concluded in faith. The philosopher David Hume spoke to this epistemological perspective when he asserted that limitless finite observations cannot be used to draft an unrestricted general conclusion and still be logically defensible.2 Thus what science can value as a 'law' is moreso a testable faith-claim, but not necessarily an inviolable truth. As Dinesh D'Souza points out in What's So Great About Christianity:
Or, to put it another way, there is no way to prove a connection between cause and effect, that B was caused by A. It is a correlation that is assumed but not universally fixed, as Hume was keen to note. Thus empirical science and religion both hinge on faith-based assumptions. Accordingly, if both factions are willing to admit that particular bridge between their respective gaps, reconciliation is not only possible, but already exists and awaits our recognition.
"If I say all swans are white and posit that as a scientific hypothesis, how would I go about verifying it? By checking out swans. A million swans. Or ten million. Based on this I can say confidently that all swans are white. Hume's point is that I really don't know this. Tomorrow I might see a black swan, and there goes my scientific law."3
1 Hedges, Chris When Atheism Becomes Religion New York, NY, Freepress, 2008, p. 69
2 D'Souza, Dinesh What's So Great About Christianity United States of America: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007, p. 188.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Coyne takes a fair stab at the conflict science and faith have entrenched themselves in since the early 1900's. However, his personal summary of his paper makes it clear that he sees no present or future amelioration between the two realities. In fact, he goes so far as to state that the attempt to reconcile science and religion “is doomed to fail.” But in hastening to such a conclusion, Coyne has overlooked the fact that modern Western science was birthed in Christian and Islamic cultures. And if the maxim “those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it” holds any water, there is hope for a reconciliation despite Coyne's prognostications. Having not looked back on the history of the field he practices, Coyne's thesis inversely admits a tacit probability for history to repeat itself: that is, experience re-birth in the arms of religious perspectives.
Coyne's use of the word 'accidental' betrays just as much of a faith-based understanding of reality as any one of the evangelicals Coyne disagrees with. He has no way of knowing that evolutionary processes were 'accidental', so to profess that to be so is simply a profession of faith, and not a scientific given. Coyne has, despite the fatalistic pronouncement of his original thesis, unwittingly started a reconciliation between scientific endeavour and religious/faith-based reasoning.
The cultural polarization of America has been aggravated by attacks on religion from the “new atheists,” writers such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, who are die-hard Darwinists. Outraged religious leaders, associating evolutionary biology with atheism, counterattacked. This schism has distressed liberal theologians and religious scientists, who have renewed their efforts to reconcile religion and science.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
"If we want to postulate a deity capable of engineering all the organized complexity in the world, either instantaneously or by guiding evolution, that deity must already have been vastly complex in the first place. The creationist, whether a naive Bible-thumper or an educated bishop, simply postulates an already existing being of prodigious intelligence and complexity. If we are going to allow ourselves the luxury of postulating organized complexity without offering an explanation, we might as well make a job of it and simply postulate the existence of life as we know it!"
Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: W.W. Norton, 1986), p. 316.