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“Can Darwinists Condemn Hitler and Remain Consistent with Their Darwinism?”

Richard Weikart:

I have spoken with intelligent Darwinists who admit point-blank that they do not have any grounds to condemn Hitler, so I am not just making this up. Many evolutionists believe that since evolution explains the origin of morality — as Darwin himself argued — then there is no objective morality. The famous evolutionary biologist and founder of sociobiology, E. O. Wilson, and the prominent philosopher of science Michael Ruse co-authored an article on evolutionary ethics in which they asserted, “Ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to co-operate.”

Read the full article here.

Conflict for the Conflict Thesis

When you think of the relationship of faith and science, what images come to mind? Images of bloody battles, war and violence are conjured by the press and the sensationalism of the media. Many view faith and science as strident adversaries. Science and Christian belief are incompatible, so it is thought, and neither can live while the other survives. But is this an accurate way to view that relationship?

I want to examine an event that lies at the origin of this understanding and briefly consider how this image of conflict has developed in the history of faith and science.

The event at the heart of this understanding is the Oxford Union debate in 1860 between Samuel Wilberforce, the Lord Bishop of Oxford, and the botanist T. H. Huxley (also known as “Darwin’s Bulldog”). This debate took place one year after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859. It was an exchange between congenial opponents, with polite society in attendance. Michael Ruse comments, ‘Reports from the time suggest that everybody enjoyed himself immensely, and all went cheerfully off to dinner together afterwards.’ There are mixed views on who was the winner on the day, but most seem to favor Huxley.

The event, which should have passed into obscurity, gained notoriety years later when legendary accounts were circulated. The classical example was published in 1898 (nearly thirty years later) in the form of an autobiograpghical memory from Mrs Isabella Sidgewick, published in Macmillian’s magazine;

“I was happy to pre present on the memorable occasion at Oxford when Mr Huxley bearded Bishop Wilberforece . . . The Bishop rose, and in a light scoffing tone, florid and fluent, he assured us that there was nothing in the idea of evolution; rock pigeons were what rock pigeons had always been. Then, turning to his antagonist with a smiling insolence, he begged to know, was it through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed decent from a monkey?”

So the image of the event that arose later is of a magnanimous Huxley condescending to Wilberforce who was shown to be an ignorant, simple, and somewhat arrogant cleric. But this is at odds with the facts. The Sidgewick statement contradicts accounts published closer to the meeting. Wilberforce’s criticisms of evolutionary theory were extensive and chiefly scientific in nature, partly developed from the criticisms of Alfred Russell Wallace (1823–1913), who was the co-discoverer of evolution through natural selection. Wilberforce was no simpleton, being a fellow of the Royal Society. Darwin, who did not attend due to illness, valued his critique and responded seriously to it.[1] Wilberforce thought he had done well in the debate, though his slur on Huxley, it must be admitted was ill considered and Huxley took the advantage that was handed to him.

What was it then that precipitated such legendary accounts thirty years later? It is important to consider a few factors offered by the sociological perspective. In nineteenth century England, the relationship between science and religion represented the struggle of two opposing classes: the church parsonage with its traditional religious conservativism and the bourgeoning parsonage of the scientists struggling for acceptance and their own place in society.[2] For centuries, clergy had been some of the most intelligent people there were. Because higher education was a requirement for most denominations, it was the clergy and ministers who were the intelligentia in all manner of fields – including the sciences. But the span of hundred years saw a complete about-face in the public perception of the clergy. By the end of the ninetieth century, with the rise of modernism and occurence of the industrial revolution, it was now the scientists who were considered the wisest.

However, it was the publication of two books that introduced the perception of conflict into public consciousness; the first by John William Draper called History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874) and Andrew Dickson White’s book History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896). These books were the birth of the Draper/White thesis, better known as the Conflict Thesis. Lindberg and Numbers note;

“White’s Warfare apparently did not sell as briskly as Draper’s Conflict, but in the end it proved more influential, partly, it seems, because Draper’s strident anti-Catholicism soon dated his work and because White’s impressive documentation gave the appearance of sound scholarship.” [3]

The influence of the conflict thesis that these books championed was profound. However, the scholarship of these books was soon to come under heavy criticism. In 1908 Walsh wrote a damning appraisal that stops just short of calling Draper and White outright liars. He writes;

“…the story of the supposed opposition of the Church and the Popes and the ecclesiastical authorities to science in any of its branches, is founded entirely on mistaken notions. Most of it is quite imaginary. Much of it is due to the exaggeration of the significance of the Galileo incident. Only those who know nothing about the history of medicine and of science continue to harbor it. That Dr. White’s book, contradicted as it is so directly by all serious histories of medicine and of science, should have been read by so many thousands in this country, and should have been taken seriously by educated men, physicians, teachers, and even professors of science who want to know the history of their own sciences, only shows how easily even supposedly educated men may be led to follow their prejudices rather than their mental faculties…”[4]

The conflict thesis in the earlier half of the twentieth century remained popular though not undisputed. When scientific historiography matured in the 50’s[5] new scholarship produced a barrage of research on the topic. White and Draper were utterly refuted and the conflict thesis was dead in academia by the 70’s. Its final downfall is attributed to Frank Turner’s book Between Science and Religion (1974) and James Moore’s penetrating essay “Historians and Historiography” in the book Post-Darwinian Controversies (1979).

Colin Russel notes;

“Draper takes such liberty with history, perpetuating legends as fact that he is rightly avoided today in serious historical study. The same is nearly as true of White, though his prominent apparatus of prolific footnotes may create a misleading impression of meticulous scholarship”[6]

Though images of warfare still linger – at least at the popular (non-academic) level, many people recognize today that the history of Christianity and science reveals a rich and complex interaction that has been more beneficial than detrimental.

There is, for instance, no doubt that modern science was born in a Christian milieu. Christianity furnished thinkers of the Renaissance with a worldview that permitted them to believe the universe could be understood. A rational God had created a rational universe, and given men rational minds to comprehend it. There were other factors that contributed to the birth of the scientific revolution,[7] but Christianity was a very important one.[8]


[1] There was not a polarization of “science” and “religion” as the idea of opposed armies implies but a large number of leaned men, some scientists, some theologians, some indistinguishable, and almost all of them very religious, who experienced various differences among themselves. There was not organization apparent on either “side” as the idea of rank and command implies but deep divisions among men of science, the majority of whom were at first hostile to Darwin’s theory, and a corresponding and derivative division among Christians who were scientifically untrained, with a large proportion of leading theologians quite prepared to come to terms peacefully with Darwin. Nor, finally, was there the kind of antagonism pictured in the discharge of weaponry but rather a much more subdued overall reaction to the Origin of Species than is generally supposed and a genuine amiability in the relations of those who are customarily believed to have been at battle.

God and Nature: p7-8, quote from Moore, Post-Darwinian Controversies

[2] Alister E. McGrath. The Foundations of Dialogue in Science and Religion (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1998) p. 21-2.

[3] David C. Lindberg, Ronald L. Numbers, God & Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science, University of California Press (April 29, 1986) p. 3.

[4] James Joseph Walsh, The Popes and Science; the History of the Papal Relations to Science During the Middle Ages and Down to Our Own Time, Fordam University Press, New York 1908, p.19

[5] David C. Lindberg, Ronald L. Numbers, God & Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science, University of California Press (April 29, 1986) p. 6.

[6] Colin A. Russell: The Conflict of Science and Religion in Encyclopedia of the History of Science and Religion, New York 2000, p. 15

[7] Such as the influence of Neo-Platonism, and a climate of skepticism created in part by the Protestant reformation and the erosion of political authorities.

[8] “The full historical picture is complex: science, philosophy, and theology are inextricably intertwined. To single out one factor as the sole cause is to misrepresent the actual situation. Voluntarist theology neither “caused” modern science nor acted as the simple cause of a particular kind of science. It was a rather one factor, albeit a very important one, in giving modern science its strong empirical bent.”

Mark A. Noll. Evangelicals and Science in Historical Perspective (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) p. 89

Sarfati reviews Dawkins' 'The Greatest Show on Earth'

Jonathan Sarfati of Creation Ministries International and author of numerous works including By Design: Evidence for nature’s Intelligent Designer—the God of the Bible and Refuting Compromise, has posted a preview of his forthcoming response to Dawkins’ new book. He writes:

Prominent antitheist and self-styled “atheist” Richard Dawkins has written a new book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. Ironically, he admits about all his previous pro-evolution books:

“Looking back on these books, I realized that the evidence for evolution is nowhere explicitly set out, and that it seemed like a good gap to close.”
Naturally, CMI is preparing a book to answer Dawkins’ latest. In a chapter about alleged bad design, Dawkins had a section about the loss of wings and evolution of features like halteres, the little drumstick-like stabilizers behind the one pair of wings on flies.

To set the stage, Dawkins related the theory of English evolutionist (and former debate partner1) John Maynard Smith (1920–2004) about the evolution of flying creatures. Maynard-Smith argued that flying creatures evolved first with high stability and low maneuverability (e.g. with the long pterosaur tail or an insect’s long abdomen). Then they shortened, which caused lower stability but greater maneuverability, and they evolved advanced sensory equipment to stabilize by fast reactions (e.g. larger semicircular canals in pterosaurs or halteres in flies).

Even when Dawkins wrote, there were already dragonflies in the ointment, so to speak, because they have both long bodies (stability) but are also highly maneuverable and have advanced navigation systems. Furthermore, even known pterosaur types didn’t fit this theory, as Dawkins admitted in passing. But after writing our response to this Dawkins “Just-so” story, this new pterosaur turned up, and it adds a final demolition point. This new pterosaur, which to be fair Dawkins could not have known about when he wrote, has the stability of the long tail as well as the advanced correction features before loss of stability supposedly drove the selection for the advanced flying skills.

As a sneak peek, to show that we are indeed rebutting Dawkins’ claims, here is a draft section from our forthcoming book answering The Greatest Show on Earth.

Read the rest.

Interest in Intelligent Design is Strong

The above title is stolen directly from the Uncommon Descent website posting of the same name.  It seems they are having quite a lot of success if hits are any sort of metric. They write:

We thought the readers here might be interested in knowing a little bit about how much interest is out there for ID.  One gauge of that is UD’s traffic.  August traffic is at a high for the year with 31,000 more visits than the previous 7-month average (see graph).

And then they have some nice graphs.

Charles Darwin on TV Burp

Enjoy!

Scientist may have found how life began

On May 14th this year (2009) Reasons to Believe responded to two articles in the popular press. The first from the New York Times; “Chemist finds hidden gateway to RNA” and the second from Fox News; “Scientist may have found how life began.” The following is a transcript of their pod-cast Science News Flash with Joe Aguirre (JA) and Dr. Fuzale Rana (FR or “Fuzz”). Bracketed numbers are mine. Accurate transcript apart from a few omitted dead words.

JA: That’s a provocative title, and this is a headline grabbing discovery that you want to talk to us about.

FR: It is. This discovery was prompted by a paper published in today’s [May 14th] issue of Nature. A team of scientists in the Manchester University of England who discovered a novel prebiotic chemical route to generating building block materials that people think were critical for establishing the origin of life in an evolutionary perspective. This is very interesting, very exciting work, because not only have they discovered what they think to be a novel prebiotic route (to these building block materials) but their way of approaching the whole origin of life problem is radically different than anything that’s been done before. This is considered to be a ground-breaking study in that it is really going to overturn the paradigm – or at least they way people approach the paradigm (again from an evolutionary stand-point). So a real exciting discovery – excellent work experimentally speaking – and of pretty broad ranging significance, not only to the origin of life question, but also to the creation/evolution controversy. So hopefully we can un-package that. Read more

The Creative Power of Nothingness!!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had lost my faith by the time I reached the School senior years. Since my greatest ambition at that time was to become a scientist, I devoted all my free time to reading science books — any science book on which I could lay my hand.

I am talking of the late nineteen sixties. The Creation movement was still dormant, and books on creationism or apologetics were scarce. Most people did not know how to think critically and scientifically on evolution.  All what was available was evolutionary indoctrination that permeated all science books. Since there was no substantial challenge from the other side, evolutionist writers were often brash in their claims. They often attributed creative powers to everything conceivable.

Worse, “everything” was considered proof for evolution. If a monkey scratched his head, that was proof of evolution. If a gorilla was attracted to a bald spot on his body (this is an actual incident), that was proof of evolution.  There was no rigor in these evolutionist writings because there was no substantial challenge yet for objective demonstration.

One of the key words seen all around was “randomness”. Every evolutionist spoke or randomness and blind chance — for your are left with nothing else other than these two things once you say goodbye to the idea of God. We were indoctrinated in every nook and cranny of the science books that randomness and blind chance were great creators. They were the great gods of science. I was totally taken by this propaganda for some time. Then one day I read something and everything changed!!

I read about the Law of Biogenesis, which says in effect that  life comes ONLY from preexisting life. Pasteurization of food items and Sterilization of surgical equipment draws from the fact that the atoms in the food or in the medical theater do not just fall upon each other to become germs.

Starting from there it was a long way till my non-theist professor challenged me in public. Surprisingly, he challenged my atheistic presupposition. How thankful am I to him today!

In all these years one thing become clear to me — whether it is rats in a dark corner of your barn, or germs in your wound, life comes only from preexisting life. Blind chance and randomness do not create. Nothingness has only one creative power: that is,  “nothing”!! On the other hand,  Randomness and blind chance definitely “destroy” things.

Abiogenesis was a word coined to counter Biogenesis. The word remains as infertile (or more) today than when it was coined. All the laws of physics and chemistry go against Abiogenesis. Nothingness (randomness and blind chance) is not a creator. It is only a destroyer of order.

[Dr. Johnson C. Philip is a physicist, with expertise inter alia in Quantum-nuclear Physics, and has worked extensively on the inner quark-structure of Protons and Neutrons. He has also specialized in Christian Apologetics, Biblical Archeology, Journalism, Alternative Medicines, and several other fields]

Symposium on science and religion in the 21st Century

Auckland University School of Theology is hosting a symposium on Science and religion in the 21st Century: faith in science, science in faith with Professor Robert White FRS, Professor of Geophysics, University of Cambridge. Saturday 14 March 2009, 8.30am-6pm.

Programme;

Prof Jeff Tallon FRSNZ

Truth or true? – faith and science rubbing shoulders
 

Prof Bob White FRS

Natural disasters: acts of God or results of human folly?
 

Dr Graeme Finlay

The story in our genes
 

Rev Dr Graham O’Brien

Evolving evolution

 
Prof Gareth Jones CNZM

Manufacturing humans: the borderlands between human and divine control
 

Prof John McClure

Psychology and religion: is there a ghost in the machine?

 
Dr Stephen Garner/ Dr Nicola Hoggard-Creegan

The view from theology

 

Saturday 14 March 2009, 8.30am-6pm

Theatre 401-439, ‘Neon Foyer’, Engineering School, Symonds Street, The University of

Auckland

 

Registration is required for the symposium by Wednesday 11 March, with p.medhora@auckland.ac.nz

Cost $20, non-waged people $10 (refreshments and lunch provided)

Parking can be found under Owen G Glenn building, $5 flat rate

My Atheist Professor And Evolution!

I became interested in Christian Apologetics when I was a college student. Actually I had lost my faith by the time I reached school senior years, and wanted to know the truth. That is the time when someone gave me a copy of Bible and Modern Science by Dr. Henry M. Morris.

From there it was almost 14 years of study — of Bible, history, archeology, the mathematics of probability, chemistry, and physics — before I came to the final conclusion. The conclusion was that a rational person needs to make a choice between evolution or creation based upon which of these models best fits the available evidence. I decided in favor of creation.

Dr. KG Bansigir, one of India’s most prominent physicist was the Professor and Department Head. The School of Advanced Studies and Research in Physics at the Jiwaji University was a centre of excellence at that time. Dr. Bansigir had seen to it that an atmosphere highly conducive for open discussion was created and maintained.

What the department called “Seminars” were a frequent event. In it a student or faculty member would speak for about an hour on a selected topic from Physics, and then the audience made up of MSc. students, PhD researchers, the professors, and (at times) specially invited subject specialists would grill this person for 3 to 4 hours on that topic.

image

Picture: A Michelson interferometer for use on an optical table

The seminar was never easy for the speaker, but it forced him to think through the subject and present it in the most accurate way. I still remember when I was speaking about the Michelson’s Interferometer. A couple of professors from the Engineering College and the nearby Science College were present. As the questions proceeded, they finally came to a question where I was supposed to get a white band of light. On being asked the theory, I explained it with surgical precision, and then dropped a bombshell that the band I got was dark instead of white. You should have seen the commotion, because what I got in the laboratory was just opposite to what the textbooks had been saying for around four decades before me.

I was only into the second month of my MSc., but instead of brushing aside the anomaly I reported, my professor made it a point to spend several hours with me in the darkroom studying the anomaly. He then presented a “Seminar” in which he explained how textbooks and researchers tend to neglect anomalies — though anomalies often help one to perfect the theory. He then went on to present the mathematical justification for this anomaly. That was back in 1976. But many things happened after that.

The most important development was the academic bonding that developed between me and my professor. We made it a point to challenge each other’s assertions in a spirit of research and were not content till the other person offered a satisfactory answer to the challenge.

Once when I mentioned the evolution of life as the result of random processes, he immediately challenged me in the classroom. That was a bit embarrassing, because he was known to be a non-creationist. But that challenge worked wonders. He was the most outstanding teacher of the mathematics or Probability. Thus with his help I started to explore the depths of probability and molecular evolution. This was an eye opener.

He, to the best of my knowledge, never became a creationist. But by challenging my leaning towards evolution he questioned me on mathematical-scientific grounds. Eventually he helped me to see the impossibility of molecular evolution through blind chance.

Objectivity, whenever it is directed to science, has to result in the conclusion that blind chance is a destroyer and not creator of order. [Picture from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelson_interferometer]

[Dr. Johnson C. Philip is a physicist, with expertise in Quantum-nuclear Physics, and has worked extensively on the inner quark-structre of Protons and Neutrons. He has also specialized in Christian Apologetics, Biblical Archeology, and several other fields]

Cracks In The Edifice: A Follow Up

I am thankful to Ian who posted a lengthy response to my post Cracks In The Edifice. I am basically an empiricist because of my scientific training, and comments/questions at the empirical plane are always welcome. They help both sides to think clearly on issues they had not considered before.

In my post I made the following claims:

  1. Evolutionists have been offering the Phylogenetic Tree for almost a century and a half as one proof of evolution. (Phylogenetic Tree is an arrangement of all the known flora and fauna in an organized tree, starting from the simplest known life and culminating in the most advanced one).
  2. Each generation of evolutionists has been trying to make the representation as accurate as possible. (The first such tree was made by Charles Darwin and his predecessors, and the picture that is shown in most textbooks today was perfected before the 1930s.)
  3. Genetic studies in the last two to three decades have forced a substantial abandonment of the original tree, and a new tree is gradually replacing it. (This arbitrariness was demonstrated repeatedly by the way the tree was rearranged, and also by the absence of established “links” between branches.)

Ian in his response presented three things related to the three points given above. Each of the “Statement” given below should be compared with the point given above:

Statement: The increase from simple to advanced is irrelevant — they are listed in chronological order only. There are simple creatures at the end of the tree as well as complex ones.

Response: you are presenting your viewpoint, not what the evolutionist thinkers affirm. I appreciate that. I have presented what the major proponents of evolution have been saying for the last century and half — that the Phylogenetic Tree  is basically a simple to complex type arrangement. Thus your argument should be directed at those evolutionists who have been making this claim. I only reproduced what they have been claiming, and what I was taught in the science classroom. (Please note,  physics students have to learn a good amount of biology in India).

Statement: To claim this tree has ever been “perfected” is to utterly misunderstand both science and evolution. It is constantly being improved, updated, and refined as we learn more. There is a problem with textbooks using out of date images but that has nothing to do with evolution.

Response: I did not claim that the “tree” was ever perfected. On the contrary, my claim was “the picture that is shown in most textbooks today was perfected before the 1930s”. Your response does show that many textbooks continue to use older  pictures (from the 1930s).

Statement: This is called learning. You will note that each change generally makes the whole tree fit the evidence better and presents a more realistic picture. This is exactly what we would expect from a vibrant scientific area.

Response: Exaclty what you call it is irrelevant. We are not discussing nomanclature. What is important is that the original tree, developed before the era of genetic studies, had to be substantially rejected in the light of the new data. Your statement seems to affirm that.

In summary, in his efforts to refute my article,  Ian

  1. Contradicts the claims of evolutionists that are seen in standard textbooks of biology. It is amazing that to defend the Theory of Evolution he needs to refute statements found in standard textbooks on Evolution.
  2. He made a generalization, and ended up affirming what I said in the original article.
  3. He affirms what I said in the original article, that the Phylogenetic Tree is nowhere the final word as a proof of evolution.

In summary, Ian has only supported the claims I made in the original article, though his affirmations prima facie give the impression that he has contradicted me.

[The author is a physicist, and has worked in the filed of Quantum-Nuclear physics, particularly on the quark structure of protons, neutrons, and deuterium binding energy.]

Cracks In The Edifice

The Theory of Evolution has been reigning the academic world for close to a century and a half, but the alleged proofs and demonstrations have been playing a vanishing game. The latest one to do so is what is usually called the “Phylogenetic Tree”.

A theory like Evolution needs multiple proofs and evidences, and thankfully the proponents have been offering a generous number of proofs. This helps both the sides. The proponents get an opportunity to organize their house, while the opponents get an opportunity to examine whether it is a real house or only one made of cards.

Phylogenetic_tree.svg An arrangement of all the known flora and fauna in an organized tree, starting from the simplest known life and culminating in the most advanced one is called a Phylogenetic Tree. Initially they used an intuitive classification based upon perceived similarities, but gradually the work became more sophisticated. Today almost all standard textbooks on biological evolution necessarily contain at least one picture of the Phylogenetic Tree, mainly in support of Evolution.

The first such tree was made by Charles Darwin and his predecessors, and the picture that is shown in most textbooks today was perfected before the 1930s. However, cracks began to appear in the picture soon after that. The Cladists were almost the first to challenge this picture. They refuted the idea of a single tree and substituted multiple trees, each one evolving independently of the other.

Non-evolutionists have always insisted that this tree has no empirical basis and that the whole construction is arbitrary. This arbitrariness was demonstrated repeatedly by the way the tree was rearranged, and also by the absence of established “links” between branches. The question of the non-evolutionist empiricist like me is, “how do you know the branch connects in a certain place when the link that ought to connect is missing”.

The latest issues of Scientific American, New Scientist, and several other scientific magazines accept this observation of non-evolutionists in so many words. Not that they have abandoned the framework of evolution. No, that is not the issue here. The basic issue is that this particular proof, as presented in biology textbooks, is simply not true. Empirical observations have shown — particularly after the arrival of genetic studies — that the tree will not hold together. The presumed edifice will not hold together. [Picture from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phylogenetic_tree]

The author is a physicist, and has worked in the filed of Quantum-Nuclear physics, particularly on the quark structure of protons, neutrons, and deuterium binding energy.

Sir Harry Kroto, Science and Faith

Today I had the pleasure of attending three events with Nobel prize winning chemist Sir Harry Kroto. Sir Harry is an atheist with a Jewish father, and a friend of Richard Dawkins. He is not afraid to talk about religion as evidenced during his recent interview with Kim Hill and by numerous remarks during the sessions today.

As for me, I’m not an atheist (although I was brought up as such) so it is usually with some trepidation that I attend lectures and talks such as these, just in case my faith [1] is shattered. Over the years I have been to many university-based science lectures and found this fear to rarely be justified and the challenges to Christianity to actually be incredibly weak. To be fair, I go to such lectures and talks trying to be as open-minded as I can be, and trying to consider the facts presented both in their isolated form and as part of a larger worldview. Sir Harry’s talks however appeared to present little if anything that would convince me to change my mind, although I would love to have had the opportunity to have chatted with him one-on-one (or any another scientist) and let them try to convince me.

On this point, Dawkins and Sam Harris and others have something to gain by converting me. I’m involved in a church with students, and various other activities with friends and family. If they could convince me that I am wrong and that they are right, then I would join them and become an evangelist for their side. I could make new converts within my church friends and stop pestering my family over their salvation and the “hell” word that Dawkins and Sir Harry seem so offended about.

I should spend a moment on this “hell” topic too since it keeps coming up. What I see regarding this is both a double-standard and a straw-man fallacy. Let’s take the latter first.

Dawkins and Sir Harry have both quoted instances of children being scared by such things as “hell houses” or having children scared to the point of psychological damage in some way regarding hell. Yet this seems intellectually dishonest as I think Anthony Flew has pointed out. For example, take 1,000 church kids and (somehow) determine how many of them have psychological damage from their parents talking about hell. I know numerous kids and none of them to my knowledge live in some disturbed state, and nor do my kids, yet I make it no secret that hell is a reality according to the Bible. What the new atheists and Sir Harry appear to be doing is taking the (perhaps) one or two cases per 1,000 and citing these as if they are normal.

As for the double standard, let’s consider what atheists are teaching young people. Young person: you are part of a cosmic accident, a piece of highly evolved pond-scum. But don’t worry, you are good pond scum. And life is good and has much meaning. We don’t know what it is, but fear not for you can pretend life has meaning which should make you feel better and you will have less reason to follow 500 other New Zealanders each year by committing suicide. Yes, we know that the universe began with a big bang and ultimately will end in a whimpering heat death. But don’t worry, you will be long dead before that happens, and your ashes will be part of that (cough) meaningful utopic picture.

This leads on to another point which is the trouble universities are having recruiting science students. I’m not about to suggest that atheism and post-modernism are the reasons for the disinterest in science, but I think they do play a role. Consider, if you live a life that is ultimately meaningless (born, live, reproduce, die, nothingness), then why would you choose an occupation that is hard and doesn’t pay well? Why ought I live for the good of all and work on great science that helps improve lives rather than just live for myself? Of course atheists counter this by saying that they are philanthropic and good people to which I would often agree. But my question is why ought they be like that rather than be selfish and self centered? Christians (and some other) religious people know how they ought to behave, but atheists have to take a pragmatic view on oughts, yet one persons’ ought may differ from anothers’ ought, so which do we choose and why?

I have a lot more thoughts on this topic but will finish on the question of knowledge as this is a biggie when it comes to scientists and their worldviews. As Sir harry pointed out on several occasions, he is not going to believe anything unless it is based on evidence. Yet this claim is itself self-refuting. Does he have evidence for not believing anything unless it is based on evidence? But I think it is worse that that and I should like to expand on this in another post sometime, but here is an outline.

Scientists often make the claim as Sir Harry does that we should not believe anything unless it is based on evidence. Yet it seems to me that non-religious scientists actually believe everything based on faith. For example:

  1. Do they know the world was not created 5 minutes ago? If yes, what is the evidence? If no, then it must be taken on faith.
  2. Do they use the laws of logic? If so, can they provide evidence that they are reliable? If yes, what is the evidence? If no, then it must be taken on faith.
  3. Do scientists believe in the uniformity of nature? Do they believe that the next experiment will behave as the previous one? Will some experiment behave the same in another country, on another planet, in another galaxy, or at another time? If yes, what is the evidence? If no, then it must be taken on faith.

Let me finish now with a few big words and why I believe what I believe.

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with how we know what we know, while ontology deals with the nature of existence or being. I fail to understand how the science alone can access reality in any definite way because to do so requires meta-knowledge such as: are my senses are reliable, is nature uniform, am I a brain in a vat, and is the world the creation of a cosmic trickster? Science seems unable even in principle to access such knowledge. Christianity on the other hand begins in ontology with the existence of God and His revelation through the Bible which cuts through the veil and reveals a world created with order and meaning. C.S. Lewis wrote [2]:

Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator. In most modern scientists this belief has died: it will be interesting to see how long their confidence in uniformity survives it. Two significant developments have already appeared—the hypothesis of a lawless sub-nature, and the surrender of the claim that science is true. We may be living nearer than we suppose to the end of the Scientific Age.

I think a nice way to sum this up is to say that to gain certainty, we must begin in ontology as a grounding for epistemology. The law-giving legislator provides this starting point and provides a basis for science. On the other hand, beginning with epistemology as Dawkins and Sir Harry appear to do leads ultimately to total uncertainty because nothing can really be known for sure about anything. I think Rene Descartes realized this long ago. Should someone tell the new atheists?

Footnotes:

  1. In case you are thinking that I am using “faith” as something that is disconnected from reason, I am certainly not. My faith is firmly anchored using a chain of reason to the historical claims of the Bible. These in turn are treated as other historical claims are, and weighed upon available evidence, logic, reasonableness and so on.
  2. Lewis, C.S., Miracles: a Preliminary Study, Collins, London, p. 110, 1947.

Further reading:

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, p.132 has a section “The Regularity of Nature” dealing with the problem of induction, David Hume and Bertrand Russell. Keller says that many scholars have argued in the last decades that modern science arose in its most sustained form out of Christian civilization due to belief in an all-powerful, personal God who created and sustains an orderly universe. I would add that reading for example, Homer’s Illiad, would not provide you with such a view of nature.