Monday, April 25, 2011

Jehovah's Witnesses and Atheists, A Response Part II, Science and Atheism

Science and Atheism

Many atheists do appeal to scientific knowledge to support their general skepticism towards religious claims, but let’s be clear on exactly what they can legitimately claim.  Scientific methods do not have direct bearing on the existence of God.  However, it’s also true that much scientific knowledge is in conflict with the Bible's account of the creation and age of the earth, evolution etc.. Many events depicted in the Bible are magical and would seem implausible in light of a naturalistic understanding of how the world works.   

Many recent “new atheist" writers such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Victor Stenger appeal to science as support for the belief in the non-existence of God.  Other atheists have criticized these scientistic arguments for atheism.  Massimo Pigluicci of the blog Rationally Speaking, who is an atheist, a philosopher, and a former working biological researcher objects to this scientistic atheism.  His position, of which I am in basic agreement, is that the question of the existence of God is fundamentally a philosophical one.  The domain of the supernatural, and the alleged existence of God is outside of the realm of testable hypothesis, and therefore not a scientific question.  You basically state the same position from the believing end of the equation:

The fact is that, scientifically, any decision about God's existence has to be based on faith and is beyond the reach of true science.  It can be shown both scientifically and logically that anyone in a closed system cannot say anything with certainty about what is beyond its boundaries.

But on the other hand, you appear to want to have it both ways in appealing to Reasons to Believe Christian apologist Hugh Ross, who believes there is scientific basis for God belief, when you say:

It has been my experience that the more one learns about the subject of science as it relates to the earth and humans, the more one appreciates how advanced the Bible is regarding the earth's history.  Paraphrasing Hugh Ross, it can be said that:  If a person doesn't believe in God, wait a week because new evidence may make that person change his or her mind.  In recent years, this circumstance has resulted in many of the atheistic arguments against God and the Bible becoming out of date, scientifically speaking.

Well in response to that, I would ask for specifics.  What new evidence, scientifically speaking, should change a non-believers mind?  This quote would seem to suggest that there is scientific evidence accumulating that supports a belief in God.  No, sorry, without more specific evidence and argumentation, you can't have it both ways. 

You attempt to force a false choice in claiming that a decision about God's existence can only be based on faith.  This is false; one can begin to make a decision on this question based on rational philosophical argumentation.  Philosophical arguments against God's existence call into question the coherency of a belief in God.  For example, the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus questioned the existence of a God based on the contradictory conception of a God that is both benevolent and omnipotent, yet permits evil and suffering to continue in this world.  There are many other philosophical arguments against the existence of God that atheists base their decision on which cannot be simply dismissed as “faith.”

Most working scientists, and philosophically informed atheists, would never make the claim that science disproves religion or God's existence.  They already realize that whether the supernatural exists or not, it is beyond the methods of science.  In fact, there certainly are scientists who are religious.  And they know that their religious beliefs have no place in science.   

The current facts show that no matter how compelling the evidence becomes, the scientific assumption that there is no supernatural prevents them from interpreting it without bias.....
This can be readily seen in their uninformed and often organized criticism of the Discovery Institute and the Intelligent Design concept.

Again, you want to have it both ways.  Either the supernatural is outside the domain of scientific inquiry, or it is not.  What compelling evidence of the supernatural that is open to scientific inquiry is out there that atheistic scientists are interpreting with bias? What uninformed criticism of the Discovery Institute and Intelligent Design are scientists making?

The proponent of Intelligent Design (or theistic directed evolution) looks at the complex morphology of an organism and says, "look at this, this is irreducibly complex and appears to have been designed” and assumes in the back of his mind that this unnamed designer is probably what in religious terms is known as "God".  It is incumbent on the scientist who wishes to appeal to “Intelligent Design” to specify exactly how that mechanism of intelligent intervention is and how it occurs, instead of appealing to a vague “God of the gaps”.     

The naturalistic scientists on the other hand makes observations of this complex morphology of an organism and proceeds to investigate its function and history, formulates and tests hypothesis, and attempts to come to an explanation of how this organism developed through natural processes. An appeal to this unknown agent of intelligent design would simply be a way of stopping the search for naturalistic causes.  Note, I purposely use the term “naturalistic scientist” as opposed to “atheistic scientist.”  I do this because both the atheist and scientist who happens to be a believer, are capable of engaging it a science that appeals to naturalistic causes. 

Let’s also remember, it has been religion that has had a history of encumbering free scientific inquiry, not the other way around.  Religions in general and the Bible specifically make claims that run contrary to the scientific understanding of nature.  And I challenge you to be more specific about this claim:

It has been my experience that the more one learns about the subject of science as it relates to the earth and humans, the more one appreciates how advanced the Bible is regarding the earth's history.

How exactly is this so?  This appears to be exactly backwards.  Christianity based on the Bilbe in general, whether it be Catholic, Protestant, or Jehovah's Witnesses, have originally believed in an old-earth creationism.  I understand that organizations like Hugh Ross's Reasons to Believe and the Catholic Church have begun claiming that modern science is not contrary to the Bible.  But it seems that these claims about the scientific knowledge found in Bible are post-hoc interpretations advanced so that Biblical religious beliefs are not seen to be in conflict with the finding of modern science. 

Brother Nils, I understand you have traveled a long way in your path out of the JW’s organization into a freer way of thinking. Congratulations on that. I can understand that you may still want to believe in a God, and believe there are good reasons to do so.  As a fellow ex-JW and atheist, I have no problem with that.  I think you are wrong in your belief in a God, and conversely you think I am wrong in denying his existence.  There is no reason to be ashamed of the fact we each think the other’s position is wrong.  But let’s not fool ourselves and be afraid of the fact that one of us is wrong on this question.  It’s OK, many people are wrong about a lot of things.     

1 comment:

Pilgrim said...

Sheldon, (Part 2)

I am not sure my first response made it through your blog system. It seemed to accept my information and displayed it in a comment context for me, but when I returned to the site, it wasn’t there. Maybe there is a delay in the upgrade. So I am writing this as my response to your second comment with the assumption that you already reviewed Part 1. If you are reading this without the benefit of reading my initial response, then you can review it at:

In keeping with my earlier style, I will list your comment as a lead-in to my response.

Sheldon Said: However, it’s also true that much scientific knowledge is in conflict with the Bible's account of the creation and age of the earth, evolution etc.. Many events depicted in the Bible are magical and would seem implausible in light of a naturalistic understanding of how the world works.

I agree with your above statement with qualifications. In my blog about my first exposure to Geology 101 (a copy of which I included along with my Part 1 comment) I made the point that the conflict to which you refer above is not between the Bible and science, it is between the natural and linguistic sciences. Some interpret the Bible to say that God created the earth in seven 24-hour days with JW’s saying that the creative days were each 7 thousand years long and finally, others like my self who believe that the days were much longer and did not necessarily run consecutively. In my opinion, the question of how long can be relegated to the natural sciences to answer with the understanding that such answers can be biased and subject to both economic and political pressure. Until something has been studied by a number of independent researchers, it is subject to change and doesn’t necessarily require an immediate reevaluation of long held beliefs. However, when a fact has been determined by multiple sources, such as the age of the earth and the intervening periods of time separating the various organizational epochs, then I believe a closer look at the language used in the Bible to describe the same events is merited. Along a similar line of reasoning, I agree that many of the Bible’s miracles do appear “magical” but I can also say that what we are learning about physics and the quantum world has provides a pathway by which such miracles can be explained as a cause-and-effect process which removes all the “magic.”

To continue, go to: