Exploring the interplay between ortho-doxy (right belief) and ortho-praxy (right action)...

...and encouraging a life where these intertwined thoughts and deeds simply happen... by default.

20 July 2007

science, faith and the process of Q&A

Science has produced some very interesting theories about reality...

I ask that those partial to the field of science hear me out before crucifying me, but I think there is a reality that we must all put up with, whether we are holders of Ph D's in physics or at the level of simple observation – namely the reality that science (like essentially every other field) is limited by our level of observation.

For example, as is commonly known, we know of many ancient suggestions about reality that have long-since been proven to be... well... silly. The sky has been thought to be a solid 'dome', with the stars being seen to be holes in the dome. The earth was, of course, thought to be flat, or perhaps a square-ish thing held up by four elephants. Advanced scientific opinion suggested that the earth was the centre of the universe, with the sun and other planets revolving around it.

More perspective had led us to better suggestions of reality. This is, after all, a foundational principle of the scientific method. I'm very much a fan of science, myself, so I hardly mean to devalue the great field of science, but simply want to demonstrate the (for lack of a better term) 'fallibility' of science.

Telescopes and Microscopes

As our telescopes and microscopes have gotten stronger, we've been able to have precisely what we've needed to arrive at progressively better theories of reality. But it's an interesting consideration that, for example, as our microscopes have taken us further and further into the detail of our universe, to the atomic level and beyond, more and more questions have arisen! I think it would be fair to say that perhaps some old questions have been cleared up, and new questions have arisen about such things as the nature of matter itself (see, for example, theories such as that of 'quantum physics')!

Also, as our telescopes have grown stronger and taken us further and further away from our seemingly small solar system, you could say that the same result has occurred; some questions answered – other ones emerge (dark matter, black holes, habitable planetary probability, etc.). Considering how off we've been in the past, I often wonder how off we are now, and what embarrassing dogmatic theories we may hold now that may be either confirmed, challenged or de-bunked by later observation.

Almost There, Just Begun or a Bit of Both?

I'm a bit of a skeptic at heart, you could say. I just want to know why. The way I sometimes hear people talk about different theories of reality often makes me suspicious. Theories (including both evolutionary ones and 'intelligent design' ones) are often defended with statements like, “...well, no theory can really be proven, but science has all but proven this one.” Is this really the case?

Now, I'm not suggesting that scientific observation doesn't get us any closer to 'proving' anything, but I have a question about how close we really and truly are to proving such theories as the origin of the universe or life itself.

The “we've-basically-solved-it” way of speaking reflects this diagram, in which 'science' has thoroughly dealt with the major, large questions of reality, leaving us with only a few minor, small questions left...

In this model, theories (again both evolutionary or 'intelligent design' ones) are said to basically have it all explained, save (perhaps) a few minor details. I want to suggest that our pursuit of better theories of reality may not work like that at all. Again, I am not denying that scientific advancements are indeed advancements, I suggest a truer model may well be the reverse of the one shown above. I don't think we've leaped the big hurdles or explained the big questions at all.

In the same way as history gets foggier the further back you look, with science, the further you look (whether through a telescope of a microscope) into things, the harder the questions get. Actually, the fogginess of history spills into science as well. The things we are perhaps the most scientifically unsure of are the things that happened at the 'beginning' of it all; whether that be along the lines of string theory, big-bang theory, intelligent design theory or whatever. The more foundational the question, the harder the answer. This model would look like this...


This model is able to appreciate the genuine advancements of science, while at the same time not presuming that the only questions left are 'small' ones.

Science has taken us a long way, and no doubt will take us many great and needed places. But as it continues to take us places, let us both appreciate the work it has done and at the same time be aware of how truly difficult the big questions are.

17 comments:

Ken said...

I wonder if this is the first of a series as you haven't covered faith yet?
Found the comments very interesting and largely agree but would like to make some points.
1: We often seem to anthropmorphise science (as we do with words like nature, evolution, etc - saying "nature does this.."). Science has its body of knowledge and its practitioners but really the active agent is humanity. Humanity wishes to understand reality, influence its surroundings and have a better life. To do this we need to understand, know, the world. And our methods of knowing have evolved from a basically superstitious approach to the current scientific approach. Its a very powerful (and no doubt continuously improving) method.
2: Our knowledge is relative, not absolute. But I don't think it is just a "suggestion" of reality - more a reflection. reality has objective existence and order. Our knowledge (gained by interacting with the real world) is always an imperfect reflection of that reality, but an ever improving reflection as we gain more experience in our interaction.
I don't like the word "fallibility" as it implies "mistaken" or "misleading." It's more a matter of knowledge being incomplete - we need to get more, not throw away what we have.
3: The experience of gaining this knowledge is very humbling for humanity. Not only because it shows that our position in reality is not the central one we initially assumed. But because we come more and more to realise the relativity of our knowledge. So scientific theories should not be considered as "embarrassing dogmatic theories". It would be a personal weakness to hold to a theory dogmatically (even though that may be emotionally satisfying). We know as we gain more knowledge our theories will change, improve. Of course future generations will look back and see our current ideas as being little more than superstitious myths but I feel sure they will understand them in the context of our stage in historical evolution.
4: I can appreciate your model for see scientific achievements. I prefer David Gross's description that the most important product of research is "increasing ignorance". As we know more we become more aware of that which we don't know (so need to investigate). He models our knowledge as an a increasingly growing bright sphere surrounded by a dark environment of ignorance. As the sphere grows in size its surface area (the interface with ignorance) grows, so we become aware of more things we don't know.
An interesting philosophical question: - is the amount of ignorance limited (a finite reality) in which case at some stage the interface will decrease in area and we will be aware of less and less ignorance, or is ignorance unbounded (an infinite reality) in which case the interface becomes large with time and we become aware of more and more ignorance. I personally go for the latter!
5: I don't like inclusion of "Intelligent design" as a scientific theory. This is because of the dishonest way this concept is being used to undermine scientific knowledge in education. Evolution has a strong evidential basis with a huge amount of confirming data. It is the basis of a lot of our medicine so has been confirmed in practice innumerable times. It's like the atomic theory of matter - something we know to be true in essence although many details change as we acquire more knowledge. In contrast "intelligent design" is a belief which may be emotionally satisfying to some but hasn't got a factual basis. It hasn't even got to the stage of a testable hypothesis, let alone being tested in practice. So attempts to put it on the same basis as evolution in teaching are really dishonest (it's like insisting phlogiston be given equal status to oxygen in chemistry teaching).
Of course, anyone can interpret facts according to their beliefs. Christian scientists may choose to see the role of DNA in the storing and reproduction of information as being "God-given" or evidence of an intelligent input. But until they produce a testable hypothesis and do the practical science of testing it, modifying according to the empirical evidence and submitting the ideas to an objective evaluation and review, they have no right to call it a scientific theory and demand "equal time" with evolution in education. This, then, is a religious belief and should be taught as such, not as a scientific theory.
6: The "big questions"? This may be where "faith" claims a role (or even denies a role to science?). I guess you know where I stand on that. I put up a recent posting referring to one of McGrath's articles on this question (http://openparachute.wordpress.com/2007/07/18/questions-science-cannot-answer/).

dale said...

Thanks for the great comment, Ken!

1. Agreed!
2. I did preface my use of the word 'fallibility'... :) I meant it in a sense that it (our achievement(s) through scientific method) is not 'in-fallible'... Also, I would slightly differ in the way I express the 'gaining' of knowledge. Some of our 'knowledge' we need to possily 'throw away' - if it proves to be 'bad' knowledge... etc.
3. Well put.
4. I LOVE the sound of the David Gross model. It's like mine, but much better! :) And I, too, would opt for the latter answer to that question!
5. I hear your problem with including 'intelligent design' as a scientific theory. In so much as I.D. doesn't address/use/refer-to any material from the Bible, then it is simply suggesting that an 'Intelligent Force/Source' is behind the order in the universe. This (I think) is not something that is going to intellectually ruin kids if exposed to! :) I say, let them decide for themsleves... Why 'protect' them from other ideas? :)
The way I see it, both theist and non-theist scientists are observing the same things (i.e. your reference to DNA), and one sees a creator behind/through it, and the other does not. As for the question of 'equal time', I think science classes in the last couple of decades has been a little one-sided? Good to at least show the weak points in evolutionary theory - if indeed we are truly interested in keeping with the scientific method, this should not be a problem. No need to categorically 'teach' a creator/I.D.-er, but no problem to let the students question evolutionary theory (esp. macro-evolution).
6. I wish faith would embrace science MORE. :)

Cheers,

-d-

Ian said...

Well said Dale and nice response Ken :)

I would suggest however that the biggest questions of all might exactly be the smallest questions as well? Logic implies that simplicity precedes complexity and thus it seems nice simple answers most likely exist to the origins of life, the origins of time/matter/energy and so forth. It may well be however that the path to finding that simplicity is so convoluted and apparently disjointed in hindsight that we may never figure it out.

In other words I am not convinced there really is a difference between a big question and a small one when you get right down to it - thoughts?

Cheers
Ian

dale said...

That's an interesting perspective, Ian.

I suspect that, whatever we think about the size or simplicity/complexity of the 'origin' question, it has proved to be quite substantial in its difficulty to answer.

This could be either to assumptions that are made about the question (which would need to be challenged). It occurs to me that intellectual humility (or appropriate acknowledgement of the subjectivity of our scientific knowledge) needs to be present at all levels, not just the 'difficult' ones.

Those are my initial thoughts...

Great interaction. Ian, I look forward to your next comment on Franks blog!

Cheers,

-d-

dale said...

please forgive my grammatical incorrectness above! :)

-d-

Ken said...

"This (I think) is not something that is going to intellectually ruin kids if exposed to! :) I say, let them decide for themsleves... Why 'protect' them from other ideas? :)" Teaching science doesn't prevent exposure to other ideas - its just that it is dishonest to teach ID as science! Go ahead and teach it in religious studies. Teach about fairies, hobgoblins; there is so much we could throw in there which is just as unsubstantiated. But don't give it the authority of science to young minds. Kids get so little chance to develop a healthy appreciation of science as it is without confusing them this way.
If we teach ID in science it would be as a failed hypothesis, in the same way we would teach about phlogiston, flat earth, geocentric universe etc. I covered this in:
Should we teach creationism?(http://openparachute.wordpress.com/2007/05/21/should-we-teach-creationism/)
To teach bad or obsolete theories as modern science to kids is, I believe, immoral. And it is insulting to humanity to argue that such ideas should be presented to us as science using the argument of equal time, letting them decide for themselves, etc - the IDers certainly don't use this argument for other ideas. Teaching mythology as science is certainly not going to help us bring up a new generation capable of solving the problems we face.
"I think science classes in the last couple of decades has been a little one-sided? " In what way? Surely only in not teaching science well. We want to improve science teaching, not degrade it.
"No need to categorically 'teach' a creator/I.D.-er" This is just part of the plan creationists have been using, changing their terminology to disguise their true intention. Lets be honest about it - ID is creationism. But, more important it doesn't qualify a science in the sense it hasn't been tested. To present it otherwise is dishonest.
"let the students question evolutionary theory". Yes lets adopt a healthy sceptical, rational approach in all subjects. Science thrives on this. It would also go well in religious studies. (Actually, get the kids to read Darwin's "Origin of Species" because this is full of questions about the theory of natural selection - and the answers. It would be a great way to learn).
But we have to come back to the starting point. Surely we can't teach an idea (no matter how attractive to certain people) as science if it hasn't even got to the stage of a testable hypothesis, let alone been tested.

As you can see, this is a subject which does anger me. It gets in the way of a healthy interaction between science and religion, and between religion and non-theist beliefs. This is because it attempts to impose a non-scientific approach on science (and the Dover trial showed how dishonestly this is done). Most Christians (in NZ anyway) seem to accept that religion should no longer be doing that. I appreciate that view and respect the beliefs behind it. I can't respect the dishonesty and interference of the ID approach.

dale said...

Ken,

Thanks for the spirited response!

There's always the problem of semantics, which take forever to sort through...

(groan)

Fair enough, though. If both of us are wasting time with these things called 'words', we're going to have to cope with the times when they don't connect with others as we meant them... (darned, vague English language!)

ID as science
I could say initially that it is of much value to 'teach' (inform) kids equally as much about our 'mistakes' or 'failures' in our historical past as much we do our achievements or 'successes'. If you are convinced that ID is a failure, then that shouldn't mean that it need be banned from the classroom discussion. Why not learn about phlogiston, flat earth, geocentric, - ID? Do we not learn from our mistakes?

No matter how loud your protests about 'religious reasons' are [ :) ], I (and more scientists than you may be willing to mention) am not convinced (at least not so dogmatically as you are) that ID is a 'failed hypothesis'. Your assertion about ID is not universal among scientists. Surely you must recognise that!? I am aware of how the thought angers you, but surely if there is a number of these valid scientists, surely classroom discussion (NOT teaching as fact!) is at least allowable? Far from 'immoral'... ??? It seems strange to disallow some hypothesis to enter the discussion if we are truly interested in keeping to the scientific method. The scientific method should know no partiality to any theory. Especially one being suggested by valid scientists? (no matter how much you may scoff at them)

ID = creationism?
At least the way 'I' refer to ID, it is certainly not 'creationism proper'. For me, (and I certainly hope/expect you to agree!) the line is here: any discussion of the Bible (or Koran/Vedas/Hymn to Ra/etc. for that matter) should for the most part stay in a religion class; while the science classroom should be a fully OPEN forum to discuss various theories of origins (among all of the other wonderful areas of scientific enquiry/observation).

Now, I understand how utterly and completely convinced you and your colleagues are that the so-called 'ID' theory is a failed one, but it occurs to me that as long as there is a body of scientists who are regarded (even by many atheists) as credibile, and who remain un-convinced that it is failed, then you will have to cope??

By all means, research, study, demonstrate, dig, contrast, theorise, re-demonstrate, converse, compare, etc. But I don't see the need to be angered by the continued discussion of ID theory, and the continued critique of (macro)evolutionary theory.

(As a point for clarity - I think micro-evolution is basically not up for discussion - it's basically a reality - natural selection - we observe it... Now, macro-evolution, however, remains theoretical - a highly-developed, popular and widely accepted one, but still theoretical nonetheless.)

Feel free to re-name ID to something else, but please don't pretend that only 'biased' Christian/Theist scientist are silly enough to entertain this theory. That is not the case.

Remember, we ALL have a bias. We all approach the data with pre-conceived ideas.

There indeed is such a thing as (change the name if you like, but don't let the semantics hold you back) 'ID' theory-development that is indeed scientific.

Must run now!

Cheers,

-d-

Ken said...

"There indeed is such a thing as (change the name if you like, but don't let the semantics hold you back) 'ID' theory-development that is indeed scientific.
Could you then direct me to a journal paper (peer reviewed) where this is taking place. In other words - I can accept the different beliefs scientist have. These are not normally incorporated into scientific theory (without evidence). I want to see the hypotheses, empirical evidence and peer-reviewed conclusions normally presented in such a form for such theory development.
Now, we can find such papers presenting other diverse criticisms of traditional and current evolutionary theory and there have been changes as a result. But I have yet to see (in this format) the theory development you refer to.
We all do have a bias - that is why science works in this way and that is why I ask for that particular form of evidence. This scientific method is a powerful way of weeding out personal bias. The experience of changing my beliefs is not new to me but I have yet to see any credible evidence in this case. If there is credible evidence it will take the form I suggest and I would welcome the opportunity to peruse it.

dale said...

I must confess that I don't subscribe to any such journals, and probably would struggle to have access to them anyway, but I've seen references to peer-reviewed papers before, and made an assumption (yes, assumptions are dangerous!) that this process is likely still alive and kicking (and will probably be so for quite some time?).

Our conversation on this blog and frank's blog is a a popular level, not a scholarly level. One thing I've been encouraged by is the (for the most part) respectful and patient tone we've maintained. Often, such debates/conversations at the popular level can get immature quite quickly! (perhaps that would indicate another level of conversing? - the 'immature' level? :) )

By 'respectful' and 'patient', I certainly don't mean 'dispassionate' or 'un-emotional', however, and it's been good to see some passion (though controlled) coming through at various times! :) I think it's dis-honest to pretend that we could care less about these issues! :)

I am not conversant with this debate at much higher levels, but it is indeed taking place (some interesting things here - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3AIntelligent_design#scientific_peer_review).

I see a pattern that seems to be present at all levels (with exceptions, of course), however. The pattern is that the two sides (which is misleading, because the conversations are too rich and diverse to say 'two sides', but you know what I mean!) often don't communicate well. Various lines are drawn in the sand, and the other person is compelled to have the discussion in the others' terms (this happens from both sides?). There needs to be (as much as possible) a meeting in the middle.

The 'ID'/cre/theist/etc. 'side' needs to stop with the 'if you have faith you'll understand it' rhetoric - at all levels of expression.

On the other hand, I've noticed that the 'naturalist'/evo/atheist/etc. 'side' has sometimes seemed (subjective, I know) 'elitist' when drawing the boundaries as to what counts as 'valid science' or 'valid research' or a 'valid journal'. We have to be careful (ALL of us) not to make the logical mistake of only validating those that agree with us.

If (for example) a 'naturalist' individual/scholar thinks that an 'ID'-ish paper is in a journal that is less-than-scholarly, then labelling it (name calling?) as 'crap' or 'invalid' is not going to help at all. Why not simply interact with the paper? One 'naturalist' I saw (the same one who labed a journal as 'crap') actually said later that publishing isn't what matters, but interacting with material is! I agree! So they should interact with these papers even if they're in a 'crap' journal!

Debating - and doing it WELL - is tiresome and frustrating; but WORTH IT! The desire to learn/grow/enhance-perspective spurs us on.

These are my thoughts...

Cheers,

-d-

dale said...

BTW, I wasn't suggesting that freakin' wikipedia (as handy as it is!) is at a 'scholarly' level!

:)

-d-

Ken said...

Re accessing journals. I know this is a problem if you aren't used to it. However, most paper abstracts can be accessed on the internet now. I have followed up some of the quoted (by ID sites) papers and found that they don't provide any supporting evidence for ID. I have done the same with some Buddhist claims about rebirth, etc. These things genuinely interest me but I can't base an understanding on personal beliefs of an individual - I need to assess the actual evidence.
It is a big job for an individual to track down these things and make an overall assessment, but fortunately the Dover trial judge does provide an objective summary of the ID evidence which is very useful.
I am writing a series (about 4??)of posts (http://openparachute.wordpress.com/) dealing with the ID claims and goals because I think there are some important issues (and threats) there for science and society (and I suspect religion - but that's not my field). The first one (Intelligent design/creationism I: What is scientific knowledge?) is up and I should have the rest up by the end of the week.
I hope you, and others will comment on the articles - I agree respectful discussion is important.
By the way - thanks for the Wikipedia link. Looks pretty big, so will enjoy reading some of it.

dale said...

Thanks again, Ken.

'actual evidence'
As I've commented on the other blogs, we are reaching (slowly!) the centre of the discussion. Our problem is that only using the discipline of physics will leave us unable to even allow the question of non-PYSIC-ality. It would be like trying to do mathematics with a spoon. To have the 'god-conversation' we must employ the other disciplines.

I anticipate, however, that non-materialists will want to give an elite status to the field of physics, however. Given how mysterious things are at the atomic level, I suggest that (while physics is a crucial and important field) it shouldn't trump the other fields.

On another note, I'm looking forward to attending the 'New Perspectives in Science and Theology' conference tomorrow and Saturday at Bible College of New Zealand. Details at http://www.tyndale-carey.ac.nz/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=57

I'll share any 'new perspectives' I gain...

Cheers!

-d-

Anonymous said...

Hi all,

I'm a little late getting into this one, but I'd like to throw in my $0.03 (US).

I'm one of the PhD Physicists that Dale referred to, and a born again, evangelical Christian.

I think the bigest problem we have is that there is a popular misunderstanding of what science is, what it purports to do, and how it works.

"Science" is the act of studying the world around us, and determining the rules by which it works. These rules are then used in theory to make predictions about reality, which are then verified. This is a circular process where theory is modified to fit observation, and observations are made to verify theory.

Science ONLY purports to describe the physical world. It does not speak of the "Maker" of the world, just the rules with which the "Maker" created the world. Religion (which includes much that cannot be physically verified) is the study of the "Maker".

The problem is that some people want to label "Religion" as "Science". There are also people who hijack "Science" and make it into a religion. Both are problematic -- Science cannot prove or disprove God. Science has been caught in the middle of the RELIGIOUS debate between athesim and fundamental Christianity (at least in the United States).

I was discussing creationism and evolution recently in a Bible study I am in. I was shocked to learn that the other members of my group were under the impression that "evolution" was the same as "athesim". That could not be further from the truth.

I am going to make one RELIGIOUS assumption:

God is totally honest. He does not plant "clues" for us to find that are not real. In otherwords, our observations of physical reality are not tricks to fool us. The implication of this is that when we study the world, we can use our observations to learn the rules that the universe follows.

If you believe this, then "creationism" and "young earth" has been disproven by scientific observation. We have fossil and geological records which go back much further in time. We have astromnomical observations which go back even further, to fractions of a second before the "big bang". Creationism, being the literal belief in the first two chapters of Genesis, has been proven to be incorrect -- the "theory" does not match the observed facts. The only way Creationism could be correct is if God is NOT honest, and planted false clues to throw us off the track.

Evolution is a physical process that has been verfied in the lab. You can see the process at work in bacterioloical cultures in petri dishes under laboratory conditions. Evolution has been verified by science.

What has NOT been verfied by science, what CANNOT be verified by science, is what, if any, "Agent" it was that caused evolution (and the rest of the physical universe) to happen. There are, however, two religions that are trying to pass themselves off as "Science". They are, of course, "atheism" and "intellignet design".

Neither of these religions should be taught in the science classroom. They should be taught by the parents or their approved religious teachers.

A problem is that proponents of these two schools of thought have attempted to pass them off as science. They have written "science papers" purporting to prove their ideas of correct. This has confused the public as to what science is.

As for me, I believe that much of Genesis should be read alegorically. God _did_ create the universe, and he created it to follow a specific set of rules. Sometimes, in very unusual circumstances, God supercedes the "natural laws" he created (i.e. miracles do happen), but generally he acts through natural means. I also think that nothing is "random" to God -- the "uncertainty prinicipal" which limits our observation of quantum mechanical systems does not apply to him. The thing that blows my mind away is that, from a tiny spark millions of years ago, God plotted the position of every last particle in the universe, forever.

But I would never confuse this RELIGIOUS belief, with a SCIENTIFIC observation.


take care,

Joe

Ken said...

Basically agree with you Joe (my background is also scientific research).
However, 2 points:
1: Atheism a religion? To me its a belief (I describe myself as atheist - same as non-theist to me - because I don't believe in a god - there are no other beliefs implicit in that, it doesn't say anything else about me. And as a simple belief its up for changing any time, it not a dogma, there is no worship involved. Its no big deal). Is theism a religion (according to your definition) or just a simple description of one tiny aspect of what some religions believe?

I think a lot of people read a huge amount into the word atheist and get very defensive when there is no reason to. In the process they set up straw men. This is possibly why there is such an over-reaction to, and attacks on, people like Dawkins.

That said, of course atheism as a belief shouldn't be presented in the classroom as a science, any more than Christianity or other theist belief should. In general these sort of questions are outside the bounds of science which deals with the natural (not the supernatural by definition - if it exists).

By the way - I disagree - atheism doesn't pass itself off as science (that's completely outside my experience), although many atheists of course have a strong interest and fascination for science.

2: Science cannot prove or disprove god: In general I agree - and why should we want to? There seems to me no agreed concept of a god which could serve as a starting hypothesis. However, what if there was. What if someone produced a god hypothesis which satisfied the criteria of being testable as a natural phenomenon? An example is Gregory Bedford's book Cosm. It's science fiction but such a scenario (a member of an advance intelligent species actually creating a universe) could in principle be testable.

One aspect of the intrusion of religion into science (like ID) is that it could create situations where some religious claims will be seen as being part of the natural world and subject to scientific inquiry.

Dale - will be interested to hear about 'New Perspectives in Science and Theology' conference. Let us know if there is any resulting documentation we could access as I would be interested in the comments of some of the speakers.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,

Yes, I would (and did) say atheism is a religion.

from dictionary.com:

religion:
noun 1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

I would rephrase the second part of the definition, "esp. when considered WITH OR WITHOUT the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies"

From my point of view, every action has a cause. Therefore, the "big bang" has a cause. I postulate that God was the cause of the big bang. Aethists postulate that the big bang just happened. (I'm speaking in general -- not meaning to put words into your mouth. Please understand I am not trying to speak for you).

As I see it, "religion" is the explantation we have for the primal cause of the universe. I personally feel that atheism (the belief that there is no creator and that the universe just happened on its own) takes a much larger leap of faith than the belief in God requires.

I'm have read Gregory Benford, I think -- but not that book. I think however, that there must be an ultimate cause. The creator of the creator of the creator -- which is for lack of a better word, God.

I happen to be a Christian, and see the Christian God as the primal mover, and have come to believe that he has revealed himself to us through the Bible.

As for aethism passing itself as science, I'm didn't mean to say that. I meant to say that (in the US, at least), some prominent atheists have "hijacked" the idea that evolution implies that atheism is correct. I will admit that some "creationists" have also helped to propagate this idea.

My point is that evolution has nothing to do with the presence or lack of a creator -- it is just a description of the observed behavior of natural systems.

take care,

Joe

Ken said...

You have had to redefine the dictionary definition - but then again we all seem to do this. Conventionally atheist religions like Buddhism are included, but not groups like rationalists and humanists! It's a mystery to me.
I think that we do use the word in a deeper way, including tradition and culture, which of course should include non-theist groups. (I have discussed this here: http://openparachute.wordpress.com/2007/07/09/what-is-religion/)

Anyway, I say if my beliefs are going to be defined as religious at least give me the advantages normally accorded to religions (we are usually denied these because we aren't considered a religion).

Re faith. No, I have no problem with my belief. After all we are used to accepting that there are things we currently don't know or understand and that there are gaps in our knowledge. It takes no faith to do that and be open-minded about it, and to welcome the eventual knowledge, whatever it means for previous beliefs. Its just a matter of choosing not to accept a supernatural explanation for the gap.

"My point is that evolution has nothing to do with the presence or lack of a creator -- it is just a description of the observed behavior of natural systems."
Yes, but I think many people who have a concept of a personal god have objected to evolution because it denies a role which they had reserved for their god. Those people have to adjust their concepts or stick with them and deny the scientific evidence (try to fit reality to their beliefs). With their concept it is natural that they see evolution as atheist (nothing to do with what atheists say). In adjusting one's concepts one may end up an agnostic (like Darwin himself), or atheist. Or one may end up with a more modern concept of a god.

I wonder if this analysis may also apply to "god as the cause" of universe origins? If, and when, we understand the formation of the universe better we may (most probably will) come up with a testable, realistic, naturalist theory explaining our observations (it is quite possible concepts like space, time and cause have not meaning anyway at the instant of formation). Just like evolution this will surplant the role many people give to their god and they will see it as atheist and try to deny it.

Anonymous said...

I hadn't realized atheism as religion was a subject of controversy until I just did a google search -- for me the important part of the difinition is the part I put in bold including "the cause of the universe" -- and if you believe the universe just happened (without a theistic cause), that's a belief to, no? An interesting hit I did find was that the 1st Ammendment (freedom of religion) was found by a federal appeals court to apply to a prisoner in Wisconsin who wanted to start a study group for atheists.

many people who have a concept of a personal god have objected to evolution because it denies a role which they had reserved for their god. Those people have to adjust their concepts or stick with them and deny the scientific evidence (try to fit reality to their beliefs).

But it doesn't deny God's role! God created the universe and everything in it and chose to do it through evolutionary processes! The only thing it "denies" is that God created all the animals at a single instance in time, only a few thousand years ago.

take care,

Joe