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Posted by on Jul 6, 2014 in Uncategorized | 4 comments

True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism: A Refutation, Part 10

Chapter 12: God and Science Do Mix, by Tom Gilson

Picking up where the last chapter left off, Tom Gilson is back in this twelfth chapter in which he argues that science and Christianity are perfectly compatible. He quotes Lawrence M. Krauss, who in turn quotes J.B.S. Haldane, from a 2009 Wall Street Journal article. [1]

My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world. (129)

Gilson responds to the article as follows,

[…] Krauss’s point in this piece was that, Christianity is all about miracles and other such interfering-God nonsense. Science could never make sense under conditions like that.

He is right, of course, to take it that science depends on nature generally behaving itself. But he is wrong to think this is incompatible with Christianity. Far from being foreign to the Christian faith, nature’s predictable regularity is an essential aspect of God’s work in the world.

[…] The God of the Bible seeks relationship with the humans he created, which requires communication. […] [I]f there’s too much chaos (“noise”) in a transmission, the message (signal) can’t get through to be clearly understood. (129-130)

This is an unusual argument. While he denies providing ad hoc (132) justifications for this rationalization (a very interesting one, though) that’s precisely what it is.

Gilson continues to argue that god wants his creations to “be responsible moral agents” and for that to be possible we cannot live in a world with “constant chaotic supernatural intervention.” (130) He continues to argue that “God intends that humans be able to “learn from experience.” If he intervened all of the time this would “work against God’s purposes.” (131)

Essentially all Gilson is arguing is that his god doesn’t want to dazzle his creations with constant supernatural interventions because he wants us to be able to predict with enough regularity the workings of the cosmos so we can do science and be responsible for our actions and learn from our experiences.

This argument fails for three reasons. First, it completely defies typical Christian experience; second, it contradicts the very foundation of Christianity; and third, this argument does not fit with what we know (or rather, don’t know) about the universe.

Gilson’s argument lies in stark contrast to what we find in the bible. Just a few chapters ago in Chapter 10 David Marshall was discussing all of the miracles that were performed in the book of Acts. Things like: “Peter and John tell a man who has never walked a step in his life to walk. He walks;” “Saul hears an audible voice, sees Jesus, [and] is struck blind;” and while in prison Peter “wakes up with an angel shaking his shoulder, chains fall off his hands, and all the prison doors are found open.” (116)

Even the very basis of Christianity is premised on miracles, ie. the very violation of natural laws: creation of the world ex nihilo and Jesus being brought back to life after being dead as a door nail for three days. Christians in their every day lives see their god working little miracles all of the time. They yell out “Hallelujah, it’s a miracle!” if a tornado misses their house, or in the case of an old friend of mine who happened to find chairs he needed as he was driving through a neighborhood. He passed by someone’s house who it appeared had placed some very nice looking chairs on the curb, we assumed with the intention of having the garbage collectors pick them up. My friend said to me that he’d been needing some chairs and that these would be perfect. He pulled his truck off to the side of the road, got out, and proceeded to place the chairs in the back of the truck. He remarked, ‘Thank you Lord,’ and he tells me how he always sees god working little miracles like this in his life. But this begs the question. If Gilson argues that an orderly universe is a necessity then these “miracles” would be a near impossibility and god wouldn’t intervene as often as he clearly seems to do in the lives of many of his believers. Did my friend’s god get inside of that man’s head and convince him to get rid of perfectly good chairs? Did my friend’s god also get inside of his head and tell him to go down that street at that exact time of day? If not, why not? Do miracles happen as Christians attest all of the time or not? Does god intervene on a near daily basis or is the universe orderly and these events I’ve recounted are mere coincidences or hallucinations? Gilson can’t have it both ways.

Finally, the universe is much less orderly than he assumes and we have had a lot of difficulty understanding much of it. On the larger scale things appear to happen in a logical order and objects behave in an orderly manner. But once we move to the quantum level of the universe things get rather confusing and no longer behave as our rational minds would expect. This makes no sense on Gilson’s view because if god created the world in order for us to understand his creation and to “learn from experience,” then our many experiences and scientific observations would not conflict with our current understanding of the universe.

This makes perfect sense on the naturalist view, however. Natural selection did not equip our minds to as easily grasp the universe on a much smaller scale. Richard Dawkins sums up this quandary beautifully in The God Delusion when he writes,

We are at home with objects ranging in size from a few kilometers (the view from a mountain top) to about a tenth of a millimeter (the point of a pin). Outside this range even our imagination is handicapped, and we need the help of instruments and of mathematics [...] Our imaginations are not yet tooled-up to penetrate the neighborhood of the quantum. Nothing at that scale behaves in the way matter – as we are evolved to think – ought to behave. Nor can we cope with the behavior of objects that move at some appreciable fraction of the speed of light. Common sense lets us down, because common sense evolved in a world where nothing moves very fast, and nothing is very small or very large. [2]

Naturalism explains this. Supernaturalism does not.

The laws of nature have never been shown to change. Most acts of the supernatural have perfectly natural explanations today, which leaves less and less room for the Christian god to hide. Christians must get increasingly clever about the rationalizations they use to ensure their god stays relevant. But this can only go on for so long. At this point in time I believe the evidence is such that the only logical god would be a Deistic god. As Lawrence M. Krauss said in his Wall Street Journal article: “Though the scientific process may be compatible with the vague idea of some relaxed deity who merely established the universe and let it proceed from there, it is in fact rationally incompatible with the detailed tenets of most of the world’s organized religions.” I believe this is the only logical religious position that is possible today.

1. The Wall Street Journal: “God and Science Don’t Mix,” by Lawrence M. Krauss – accessed 5-16-14

2. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, Houghton Mifflin, 2006; 363-364

  • http://www.thinkingchristian.net Tom Gilson

    I’m having some difficulty figuring out what you’re after here…

    • Tony Hoffman

      An honest discussion, I suppose; I can see why that would confuse you.

      • ArizonaAtheist

        Yes Tony, I do believe there was a misunderstanding, but I do not think it applies to me. And I don’t believe there is much of a discussion here either. I think it’s a pretty open and shut case.

    • ArizonaAtheist

      Hi Tom, I have replied in a new post. I’m not sure what
      all of the fuss is about. You argued essentially that the Christian god
      wanted to provide an orderly universe for his creations for all of the
      reasons you listed (effective communication, learning from experience,
      etc.) but I countered by arguing that this does not describe
      Christianity at all. And the fact is that much of the universe appears
      entirely illogical to us (hence the mentioning of the
      quantum world, but perhaps you did not understand the reference),
      unlike what you argued.

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