Does science make belief in God obsolete?

pdbkmjtf.pngThere is a conversation at JTF‘s website, one of those « Big Questions » that replaced the « Science & Religion » slogan : Does science make belief in God obsolete?

Well, that smells like « Science & Religion » after all, isn’t it? 🙂
For the short version, click the image. For the long one, continue the reading here.

The answers range from « Yes, if by… » to « No, but only if…« . If the scienligions’ affairs interest you, have a read, it’s quite informative and the answers are kept relatively short.

I shorted out the one from Kenneth Miller. I like the guy, as he have be distinguished fighting the Creation Science and Intelligent Design Creationism, but, unfortunately, only to replace them with a softer creationism, less political for the moment (and so more politically correct) and much more consilient with the mainstream science. And it happens to be a friend of my favorite french neocreationist, Jean Staune, also working (funded by) for the JTF.

Miller’s opinion, « Of course not » seems, to me, to be typically the official position of the JTF. Not only the short version, but the justification of his thesis fits nicely with the necessity to avoid frontal confrontations between science and religion, the historical record demonstrating that usually the winner is Science, if firm repression from religious establishments is not employed. And not only repression can’t be hold for long periods or at every place on the planet (a quite small planet those days), but it’s quite bad for public relations and the negative impression persist even several centuries after the facts.

Let’s see/comment the explanations given by Miller.

Science itself does not contradict the hypothesis of God. Rather, it gives us a window on a dynamic and creative universe that expands our appreciation of the Divine in ways that could not have been imagined in ages past.

So, no apparent conflict between Science and Religion, at least not the hypothesis of God. Religions have to specify things, so it’s quite easy to be in conflict with facts studied by Science, so the Religion part is replaced here with the hypothesis of God.
On the other hand, he think that scientific understanding of the world help expand the appreciation of the Divine. That’s a personal opinion of one who have opted for the belief of the existence of God. Not one who formulated the null hypothesis « God doesn’t exist » and have disproved it, he just adopt the believer’s position.

As an outspoken defender of evolution, I am often challenged by those who assume that if science can demonstrate the natural origins of our species, which it surely has, then God should be abandoned.

So, God should not be abandoned, but what about religions teaching unnatural origins of our species? Say the main monotheistic religions, which have a completely different story in their teachings? One should abandon them and one would expect from Milled to have leave the Catholic Church, if not his faith to the Divine. He didn’t, he is always presenting himself as a catholic christian. Why so?

But the Deity they reject so easily is not the one I know. To be threatened by science, God would have to be nothing more than a placeholder for human ignorance. This is the God of the creationists, of the « intelligent design » movement, of those who seek their God in darkness. What we have not found and do not yet understand becomes their best—indeed their only—evidence for faith.

Miller makes a clear distinction between the God of the creationists, category in which he place the YEC and ID creationists, but not himself. One would have imagine that Miller is leaving behind him the christian credo at a God Creator of the universe. Not really. This is a Public Relations statement: « I’m not a creationist ».

As a Christian, I find the flow of this logic particularly depressing. Not only does it teach us to fear the acquisition of knowledge (which might at any time disprove belief), but it also suggests that God dwells only in the shadows of our understanding. I suggest that if God is real, we should be able to find him somewhere else—in the bright light of human knowledge, spiritual and scientific.

So, he is a creationist, as every christian, he is just avoiding the C-word.
One interesting juxtaposition here : human knowledge, spiritual and scientific. Spiritual knowledge, revealed, scientific knowledge, acquired. Often scientific knowledge displaced revealed one, and that’s the principal problem between Science & Religion. For the moment, we don’t have observed any juxtaposition, rather opposition: the scientific knowledge progressively transforming revealed knowledge to myths, making necessary to consider scriptures as metaphors, allegories or parables, instead of the initially claimed God Voice’s Revealed Truth. And the changes in Religion’s attitude continue, Miller’s opposition to traditional creationists being an example.
I do understand the need for people like Miller to find a compromise between their faith and their practice of science, they have to manage somehow to keep their sanity. But this isn’t a good pretext to forget the conflicting points of view between the scripture they consider as holly and crude facts. The conflict being evident, Miller should have rejected at least the Catholic Church, and christianity as a whole, if not considered the hypothesis of God as flawed. Not only he didn’t, by he is trying to juxtapose spiritual and scientific knowledge.

And what a light that is. Science places us in an extraordinary universe, a place where stars and even galaxies continue to be born, where matter itself comes alive, evolves, and rises to each new challenge of its richly changing environment. We live in a world literally bursting with creative evolutionary potential, and it is quite reasonable to ask why that is so. To a person of faith, the answer to that question is God.

OK, one needs faith to conclude that the universe is such an extraordinary place because of God; an a priori position, not based in knowledge other than revealed one.
First of all, I don’t find the universe to be an extraordinary one. I mean, extra compared to what other universe? Quite ordinary I would say. What is really extraordinary is our current knowledge of the universe, compared to our precedent ones; current scientific knowledge of the universe, that is.
If one leaves faith apart, the light, the bright light of human knowledge as Miller put it, comes from scientific knowledge.

The English poet Matthew Arnold, at the dawn of the modern era, once lamented that all he could hear of the « Sea of Faith » was its « melancholy, long, withdrawing roar. » To some, that melancholy roar is a sound to be savored because faith is a delusion, an obstacle, a stumbling block on the road to progress and enlightenment. It is the antithesis of science

Now, now, what we have here! A sophism. I wasn’t expecting to find one in this text, but sophisms seems unavoidable for creationist reasoning.
What connexion between science and « the faith is delusional »? None. While reading this paragraph one expect to read further that Science is based upon faith.

In this view God is an explanation for the weak, a way out for those who cannot face the terrible realities revealed by science. The courageous, the bold, the « brights » are those who face that reality and accept it without the comforting crutch of faith by declaring God to be obsolete.

« The terrible realities revealed by science »! What terrible realities? Why one should need any crutch to face reality? Is Miller disturbed by the terrible reality? Many people consider reality to be just reality, certainly not terrible, and certainly not revealed by science, just demonstrated.

But science itself employs a kind of faith, a faith all scientists share, whether they are religious in the conventional sense or not. Science is built upon a faith that the world is understandable, and that there is a logic to reality that the human mind can explore and comprehend. It also holds, as an article of scientific faith, that such exploration is worth the trouble, because knowledge is always to be preferred to ignorance.

Oh, here we are, science is based on faith! And according to Miller a faith all scientists share.

  1. Science is based on the hypothesis that the world may be understandable (not the faith that it is)
  2. on the hypothesis that human mind (or the ones to come) may be able to use logic to understand it
  3. such exploration is not necessarily worth the trouble, I would say that such exploration is certainly great fun, not trouble
  4. and yes, knowledge is to be preferred to ignorance, at least for practical reasons, at most for the fun of it ; practical use of knowledge improving life’s quality, and one of the greatest intellectual awards being understanding.

The fact that we try to, and achieve a scientific understanding of the world is not based on faith, rather on evidence from previous activity and expectation that the proven, until today, functional scientific framework will allow progress. If not, we are ready to drop it out and built something better fitting our needs. That happened several time on the past and may occur several more times in the future. Nothing to do with faith, everything to do with knowledge. Except if one is willing to consider faith as a framework to be used to understand the world. In this case faiths have proven to be the worst tools we elaborated to understand the worlds, the majority being already discarded and labeled as mythologies, a few remaining being auto-qualified (at least partially as myths).

I feel sorry for Miller if he really see scientific enquiry as a trouble and needs faith for his scientific activities. Not only for Miller, but for anyone in the same position.
Fun and joy are a much better approach and completely faith-free.

The categorical mistake of the atheist is to assume that God is natural, and therefore within the realm of science to investigate and test. By making God an ordinary part of the natural world, and failing to find Him there, they conclude that He does not exist. But God is not and cannot be part of nature. God is the reason for nature, the explanation of why things are. He is the answer to existence, not part of existence itself.

First of all, for atheists, God doesn’t exist, so it can’t be anything or anywhere. Miller is quite confused here, he misinterprets and falsely presents atheists’ position.
And, he completely forgotten, already, that he presented the hypothesis of God in the very first sentence of his text. Hypotheses have to be proven previously, and thus loose there status of hypotheses replaced by the one of facts, to be considered as answers to any question. The way Miller put things implies a faith leap, miraculously transforming an hypothesis to a fact; for any creationist this is a common attitude, the hypothesis of God is replaced by the revealed fact of God’s existence. So, Miller dropped the rational consideration he seemed willing to adopt, he certainly not consider the question from a rational scientific point of view, maybe because of his other belief, that science is based on faith. Doesn’t work.

There is great naiveté in the assumption that our presence in the universe is self-explanatory, and does not require an answer.

That’s a sophism the way I like them. The answer from an atheist’s point of view is that our presence in the universe is self-explanatory, say as autocatalysis, a primitive replication; there is an answer, but Miller hide it under the blanket, pretending that atheism don’t require an answer. Who’s the naif? People that would buy Miller’s presentation of how atheists consider nature.

Many who reject God imply that reasons for the existence of an orderly natural world are not to be sought.

Orderly natural world? Maybe my english betray me here. Doesn’t orderly means methodologically arranged? No Intelligently Designed, just Orderly Set-Up? And he would like to not be categorized as creationist?

The laws of nature exist simply because they are, or because we find ourselves in one of countless « multiverses » in which ours happens to be hospitable to life. No need to ask why this should be so, or inquire as to the mechanism that generates so many worlds. The curiosity of the theist who embraces science is greater, not less, because he seeks an explanation that is deeper than science can provide, an explanation that includes science, but then seeks the ultimate reason why the logic of science should work so well.

Once more Miller try to make it look like atheists are less inquisitive than theists.

The hypothesis of God comes not from a rejection of science, but from a penetrating curiosity that asks why science is even possible, and why the laws of nature exist for us to discover.

And here we have a small touch of teleological thinking: « the laws of nature exist for us to discover« . What about just the laws of nature exists and it happens that we discover them when dropping the famous « god dit it » and endorse « let’s see how it works ».
The curiosity of theists that embrace science definitively ends at the « God did it » explanation, whatever the level they place it at. Why should be considered greater than scientific curiosity which is not limited by this hypothetical object/person theists call God?
And usually people reject the hypothesis that God exists because there is no evidence he do exist; except revealed knowledge which fails to be transformed to knowledge.

It is true, of course, that organized religions do not point to a single, coherent view of the nature of God. But to reject God because of the admitted self-contradictions and logical failings of organized religion would be like rejecting physics because of the inherent contradictions of quantum theory and general relativity. Science, all of science, is necessarily incomplete—this is, in fact, the reason why so many of us find science to be such an invigorating and fulfilling calling. Why, then, should we be surprised that religion is incomplete and contradictory as well? We do not abandon science because our human efforts to approach the great truths of nature are occasionally hampered by error, greed, dishonesty, and even fraud. Why then should we declare faith a « delusion » because belief in God is subject to exactly the same failings?

Well, there is no way to compare organized religions and science the way Miller do it. Religions claim to be based on God words, revealed knowledge, and accessorily attribute omniscience to God. So, one would expect that there would be neither self-contradiction, or logical flaws, not even contradictory explanations from different religions. There are, a lot.
On the other hand, science, say physics, never claimed omniscience or completeness, on the contrary, it stays humble, and work gathering more and more knowledge to improve it’s models of the world. There is a great difference between revealed knowledge and acquired one. Religion shouldn’t fail. Religions’s logical failures and self-contradictions tell us that revealed knowledge can’t be trusted, and shouldn’t be trusted, not only for those bits that are already demonstrated to be false, but as a whole, because the revelation by an omniscient being is falsified. Quite funny that this isn’t evident for Ken Miller; blind faith probably.

Albert Einstein once wrote that « the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility. » Today, even as science moves ahead, that mystery remains. Is there a genuine place for faith in the world of science? Indeed there is. Far from standing in conflict with it, the hypothesis of God validates not only our faith in science, but our sheer delight at the gifts of knowledge, love, and life.

Here comes an hypothesis to validate a faith! Well, as I said, no need of faith to go on with Science, and an hypothesis never validated anything.
Knowledge a gift? Who/what give it? You need faith to believe that God is the giver, so you a priori admit he exist. One can just see knowledge as an acquisition.
No need for a giver, and nothing there to support the theistic point of view of Ken Miller.

Let’s make it short :

Considering the « hypothesis of God », there is nothing else than faith to support it, not even organized religions are able to do so otherwise. The comparison made by K. Miller between Religions and Science is false, as Science isn’t presenting knowledge allegedly issued by an omniscient entity, revealed knowledge, the latest being the apanage of Religions and being repeatedly proven wrong. One need faith to accept the hypothesis as anything else than just an unproven yet one.

K. Miller assumes that atheists’ scientific inquisitiveness is less profound than the one of theists’, because they don’t use as the final justification of Life, the Universe, and Everything Else the standard theistic motto « God did it ». And seek to dig deeper. Weird point of view.

Science itself does not contradict the hypothesis of God. Neither support it. If something contradicts the « hypothesis of God » that is the failure of organized religions, owners of revealed knowledge to not be self-contradictory or being contradicted by the facts.

My personal point of view is that religions made the belief in God obsolete<. If I had to answer JTF question I would say « Of course not, religions did so, a long time ago« .
My atheism originates in the study of scriptures and have nothing to do with Science. All one needs to consider is that religions are lying to drop them as a whole, including the credo that some intelligence created the world. Well, there is a relation with Science: it’s while trying to find a better framework to study the world that I meet Science, so I would say that atheism lead me to Science. I’m not really one of those new atheists, maybe I should label myself OldAtheist 🙂 But atheist I am anyway. As much as Ken Miller is creationist. That means fully.

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  1. #1 par jean staune le avril 23, 2008 - 11:05

    The Convergence of Science and Religion
    By Charles Townes

    The ever-increasing success of science has posed many challenges and conflicts for religion—conflicts which are resolved in individual lives in a variety of ways. Some accept both religion and science as dealing with quite different matters by different methods, and thus separate them so widely in their thinking that no direct confrontation is possible. Some repair rather completely to the camp of science or of religion and regard the other as ultimately of little importance, if not downright harmful. To me science and religion are both universal, and basically very similar. In fact, to make the argument clear, I should like to adopt the rather extreme point of view that their differences are largely superficial, and that the two become almost indistinguishable if we look at the real nature of each. It is perhaps science whose real nature is the less obvious, because of its blinding superficial successes. To explain this, and to give perspective to, the non-scientists, we must consider a bit of the history and development of science.

    Edited by Oldcola
    Je ne suis pas certain que le texte que Jean Staune avait copié/collé ici soit libre de copyrights, ainsi je laisse le début et je donne un lien qui pointe vers un pdf, mis à disposition par l’American Scientific Affiliation: A Fellowship of Christians in Science.

    Jean, penses la prochaine fois d’en faire autant. Ou tu pourrais nous donner ton avis, si tu en as un qui n’a pas été copié/collé 😉

  2. #2 par Debbie le novembre 2, 2009 - 6:57

    I personally believe that it overrules God, in a sense that scienticts are making people belive if you don’t see something or have proff its not real.

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