Re: [asa] God Or Science? A Belief In One Weakens Positive Feelings For The Other

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Sun Dec 21 2008 - 23:42:01 EST

Heya George,

Yes, very true. But there are some that do hold hope that science will
> address all things given enough time.

And that's one myth that needs to be addressed. There are limits to science
in principle, which aren't a consequence of technological shortcomings.

Schwarzwald said: I think the idea of 'God as an explanation' historically
> has been vastly overrated and misunderstood. To credit God with the dominion
> over natural events (weather, motions of stars, etc) is not to propose a
> material explanation or to use God for 'explanatory power' in a relevant
> sense.
> That is a healthy view today that most people hold as it applies to many
> natural examples. This wasn't, however, the case in prior centuries. How
> many of our young enter the ministry today because of a lightning strike
> they experienced? But there is still some of this type of teleolgoical
> thinking even today when events are dramatic. For instance, some would
> say Katrina was God's judgmental act -- at least one prominent mega church
> preacher so claimed.

And here comes one problem: What is wrong with teleological thinking, even
to the point of someone taking a lightning strike as a sign? Do you think a
young person in the latter could would necessarily change or even have
reason to change their mind if you explained to them the known material
causes of lightning? Can you assure them that what they took to be a sign
meant for them personal in fact was not - and can you do so while remaining
entirely, even largely, in the realm of science? I can certainly be
personally skeptical of such a sign, or even realize that it 'may' be a sign
and I can never be certain. But that's an example of a situation where
science's applicability quickly diminishes - understanding the material
cause wouldn't automatically negate the conclusion.

As for prior centuries - personally, I doubt even that. To give 'God' as an
answer for what causes lightning is not to attempt a material explanation.
To give a loose and not totally matched example, if I play a game of Spore
and notice an effect (some creature spontaneously combusts), 'Will Wright'
or 'Maxis' can be an accurate response to 'What made that creature catch
fire?' regardless of whether or not I know the programming, the specific
triggers that led to the event, etc.

> It has taken much time and understanding for educated people today to be
> comfortable with mechanistic answers even for your examples. But note
> that the article's test did not likely use weather and motions of stars as
> test examples, but things like Big Bang Theory, which most of the general
> public really do not understand enough, and are vulnerable to some
> persuasion within the testing, subliminal or otherwise.

Perhaps I'm overly skeptical, but I somehow think the general public is
barely more informed and comfortable about weather and the motions of stars
than the BBT or OoL theories. My only criticism with the theories they used
was that the BBT is, even in popular understanding, used more as
'indications of a creator' than anything else. I think the test can hardly
provide any meaningful results for other reasons.

> Schwarzwald: Developing a material explanation does not discredit God as
> having that same dominion.
> Agreed, but the atheist's argument goes, at least for some, that as more
> and more natural explanations are found then eventually there will be no
> supernatural ones, as if some sort of momentum will make them unstoppable.
> They happen to be quite correct but only if we completely ignore the
> self-constraining limits of science and the non-material domain as you have
> mentioned. Since the only item mentioned in the article that seemed to
> be outside the purview of science was free will, and the rest of the article
> appears to have used items of natural phenomena, then I get the sense it is
> on a similar path used by those that seem to believe God is being further
> removed from our earthly scene. [I could easily be mistaken since I would
> hope that other items would have included love, hope, joy, etc., but I only
> have the short article to work with.]

This is just a point I hear often, and fundamentally disagree about.
'Science is increasingly removing God from the picture' strikes me as the
same kind of reasoning at work in 'Science is increasingly proving
Christianity is false by way of contradicting YEC'. It's more about
marketing than anything else, to put it simply.

I could be preaching to the choir here, but the misunderstanding is
oft-repeated and, for my money, never accurate.

> Schwarzwald: In my own view, scientific and technological developmentsthroughout the 20th and 21st century have been, if anything, vastly more
> harmful to popular atheist concepts of the universe than to theistic ones,
> with the sole exception of YEC (Which may be why that's far and away the one
> area just about everyone wants to talk about, practically to the exclusion
> of all else.)
> I don't think atheists are becoming more intimidated by science. Why are
> only 25% of astronomers Christians, 40% for all scientists? On the other
> hand, there aren't many laws against evolutionary teachings, so if you are
> correct, I will be pleased.

Caveat: I don't think most atheists are motivated in their atheism by
science, just as I don't think most Christians/theists are motivated in
their theism by science. The reasons for formally trained scientists
typically being atheists are, in my view, very complicated. Even the reason
for most non-scientific atheists.

However, when I as a layman read about science, I see discoveries in biology
that (Let me be clear: I am not saying design can be scientifically proven
or detected) more and more look like exquisite, intricate masterworks of
programming and creation rather than mere happenstance - if no design or
thought was placed into these things at any point in natural history, the
'illusion' is tremendously strong. I see similar in cosmology, from
fine-tuning to the Big Bang to rare earth hypotheses to otherwise. I see a
growing recognition of the hard problem of consciousness, theories about the
quantum world which implies humans occupy a strangely prominent place in the
universe, and so on. And perhaps 'worst' of all I see computers and computer
simulations which invite even atheists to consider 'creation' scenarios and
which, in my minority opinion, makes many criticisms of the supernatural
untenable. Whatever the atheists of the 18th and 19th century expected to
find when science gloriously delivered (was it really supposed to deliver?)
information about the world, our discoveries don't seem to be 'it'.

Mind you, I'm not saying that these (and other) discoveries, in part or in
sum, force theism onto a person. Again, I don't think it's possible for
science to do that regardless. I do, however, think that it illustrates the
ease with which God 'fits' with our world, and with our
scientific/technological understanding. Just to give a small example, here's
a section from Bertrand Russell's 'What is the soul?' (And it's worth noting
that Russell therein also seems to think that physics had weighed in against

"Our desires, it is true, have considerable power on the earth's surface;
the greater part of the land on this planet has a quite different aspect
from that which it would have if men had not utilized it to extract food and
wealth. But our power is very strictly limited. We cannot at present do
anything whatever to the sun or moon or even to the interior of the earth,
and there is not the faintest reason to suppose that what happens in regions
to which our power does not extend has any mental causes."

Putting aside all other technological advances we've had since Russell's
time alone - given that quip, I have to wonder how Russell and others would
cope with a Hawking flexiverse, multiverse theory, the Big Bang, and
otherwise. I'd also have to wonder how Charles Darwin would react in the
event of humanity creating life from non-life in a laboratory. For the
latter case, some could argue 'ecstatic'. But I think a strong case could be
made for 'deeply conflicted'.

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Received on Sun Dec 21 23:42:36 2008

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