Francis Collins and Karl Giberson Talk about Evolution and the Church

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March 5, 2011 Tags: Christian Unity

Today's entry was written by Karl Giberson and Francis Collins. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Francis Collins and Karl Giberson Talk about Evolution and the Church

Today we begin the first in a six part discussion between BioLogos vice-president Karl Giberson and founder Francis Collins, co-authors of The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions (note: Francis Collins' work on this project was completed prior to his appointment as director of the National Institutes of Health). The conversation first appeared as "Evolution, the Bible, and the Book of Nature" in Books and Culture and took place during a conference at Azusa Pacific University in 2008.

Karl Giberson: You are an unusual evangelical in that you don’t struggle with the relationship between evolution and your faith. Has this never been an issue for you?

Francis Collins: I had a problem in terms of the counterintuitive nature of evolution. Remember, I had no meaningful exposure to biology in my formal education until I was already a graduate student.

I learned biology in a high school class in a little town in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia—if it mentioned evolution, I don’t remember that at all. It was purely descriptive: “Here’s how we classify organisms; here’s how you memorize the parts of the crayfish;” and that’s what it was all about. I don’t think I really had much exposure to the whole concept other than just knowing “Oh yeah, there’s this vague concept that’s out there called evolution.”

I had an issue how counterintuitive it is. Almost everybody encounters this when they first bump into this concept. And it was, of course, difficult for Darwin at first, too, to get his mind around so we shouldn’t feel like we’re all so stupid, if it takes a little while! We are so tied up in our natural daily experiences that being able to imagine what could happen over hundreds of millions of years in very small increments is just not something that comes naturally.

KG: As someone who takes both the Bible and evolution seriously, is there any point when you said, “Well, wait a minute, it’s really tough to put things together at this point?” Did this harmony really just come naturally?

FC: You know, it really did come naturally. I was aware that there was an issue that some people had about this. When I became a believer at 27, the first church I went to was a pretty conservative Methodist church in this little town outside of Chapel Hill. And I’m sure there were a lot of people in that church who were taking Genesis quite literally.

I couldn’t take Genesis literally because I had come to the scientific worldview before I came to the spiritual worldview. I felt that once I arrived at the sense that God was real and that God was the source of all truth, then just by definition, there could not be an irreconcilable conflict between these perspectives. It just was a matter of working out the details. It did not seem to me that there was likely to be anything irreconcilable here, just that there had been misunderstandings along the way in terms of how people had interpreted the first book in the Bible. When I read Genesis, I had to say “I don’t know what this means here”, even before I read any commentators on it. It seemed to me that this was not a part of the Bible that read as the record of an eyewitness, so it shouldn’t therefore be taken as such.

KG: You seem like a mirror image of the fundamentalists who struggle with this. The fundamentalists grow up with a lot of confidence in the Bible and then they encounter evolution so they are bringing their prior confidence in the Bible to this new problem. You were interpreting the Bible before you knew there was a biblical issue to worry about. You had developed enough confidence in evolution so then when you read about origins in the Bible, you would read as we do today when it comes to those biblical passages that seem opposed to heliocentricity— we don’t think of a moving earth as a problem so we don’t even notice the biblical problems.

FC: Right, right. They haven’t noticed those issues because they weren’t pointed out for a long time. I will say, though, that I think evolution is a much tougher problem for a believer to get comfortable with than heliocentricity versus geocentricity. The fundamental nature of evolution is a comment on our biological nature and that’s a lot closer to the “image of God” concept than whether the earth floats around the sun or the other way around. So I don’t think it’s a perfect parallel, though I wish it were. I wish we could say, “We can get comfortable with evolution now just as easily as the church has gotten comfortable with heliocentricity.”


Karl Giberson directs the new science & religion writing program at Gordon College in Boston. He has published more than 100 articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. He has written seven books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.
Dr. Francis Collins is a physician and geneticist known for spearheading the Human Genome Project and for his landmark discoveries of disease genes. Collins founded the BioLogos Foundation in November 2007 and served as its president until August 16, 2009, when he resigned to become director of the National Institutes of Health. (Note: All blogs written by Collins were completed before accepting his duty as director of the NIH).

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ronmurp - #53576

March 8th 2011

FC makes some fair points. Evolution is counterintuitive. As is heliocentricity, or galaxy centricity. We humans live on a scale that makes the very large, very slow, and very small (relatively speaking) all counter inutuitive.

But that’s one of the purposes of science - to discover what lies beyond our parochial scale. And given that we can’t see beyond our scale naturally we rely on science, induction, evidence. That’s all we have.

What many theists seem to forget is that they are in the same boat. There’s no evidence of us having insight into the divine, or of revelation - other than what some ancient humans claim to be the case.

If theists questioned their own assumptions with the vigour with which some of them criticise evolution they would discount it all. God has left no fosil record at all, let alone a gappy one. We have only the words of humans from a time when they believed all sorts of stuff that most Christians would dismiss as nonsense.

If evolutionists claimed evolution was true simply because they had faith in it, rather than choosing it as a good explanation for the evidence, then they’d be laughed at as much as YEC’s are.

ronmurp - #53577

March 8th 2011

FC: “When I read Genesis, I had to say “I don’t know what this means here”, even before I read any commentators on it. It seemed to me that this was not a part of the Bible that read as the record of an eyewitness, so it shouldn’t therefore be taken as such.”

Why not apply this notion to the bible as a whole, and think it’s all myth and metaphor from people struggling to understand their world?

FC: “I will say, though, that I think evolution is a much tougher problem for a believer to get comfortable with than heliocentricity versus geocentricity.”

Well, it is now. But back in the times of early astronomy heliocentricity would have sounded just as weird. After all, when I look up, I still see the sun going across the sky while all on earth seems stationary. 

At least heliocentricity has counter ‘evidence’ in the sense that it appears that the sun moves around us. There is no counter evidence for evolution, because we live in such a small time-frame that we simply don’t experience it naturally - but nor do we experience Creationism. We only have an old story.

ronmurp - #53578

March 8th 2011

For commentors like Gregory - #53282, “he is *not* suggesting that ‘morals naturally evolve,’ or something philosophically naive & theologically dangerous like that.” 

The naivety is in the lack of imagination in getting to grips with the implications of evolution. There’s not one jot of evidence that morals have any objective reality outside what humans make of them; and plenty of evidence that animals have behaviours that look like prototypes of our moral behaviour.

Though there remain many unexplained links in the evolutionary record, there’s sufficient to draw reasonable conclusions, or at very least there’s reason to pick an evolutionary model for morality over any other. Because there is zero evidence for any other source.

The creationist claims of ancient peoples don’t count as evidence, any more than their claims for geocentricity. How it ‘feels’ doesn’t cut it. That’s why we have science.

Larry - #53579

March 8th 2011

I defy anyone to read Johnny V’s post #53472 containing 4 obviously false claims and then accept his claim that he is “a biochemist with three decades of studying fossil records and dating processes.”

Johnny V, Todd Wood IS a biologist who takes a YEC perspective, and yet this is what he has to say - The truth about evolution

Likewise, Kurt Wise IS trained in paleontology and takes the same view. If transitional fossils don’t exist, then what is this paper about - Towards a Creationist Understanding of Transitional Forms ?


ronmurp - #53586

March 8th 2011

This may explain the anti-evolutionist position:



http://www.calamitiesofnature.com/archive/?c=486

Gregory - #53592

March 8th 2011

ronmurp,

A rather rude introduction, ronmurp, at least to me, as if ‘people like Gregory’ actually do exist. well, i am at least pretty sure I exist. But how do you know ‘people like me’ when you don’t know me? This is the 1st time I’ve seen you post here, and it seems pretty pompous to lump people together in your welcome steps. Asking would be more polite and friendly (which is the preferred tone BioLogos is promoting here).

“There’s not one jot of evidence that morals have any objective reality” - ronmurp

So, there are no morals, is this what you’re saying, because they cannot be objectively measured by evidence? Or is it simply your claim that morals cannot be measured by ‘natural-physical sciences’? The latter makes sense (& which means that philosophers, social scientists & ethicists are kings/queens of this ‘changing morality’ discourse), the former requires discussion of ‘evidence.’

“there’s reason to pick an evolutionary model for morality over any other” - ronmurp

First, what ‘other(s)’ would you offer insead of an ‘evolutionary model’? From your language thus far, it appears you don’t think another model is possible, therefore the statement is a fake to try to feel good about the theory. Evolutionists do this quite often. But you speak of ‘any other’, which suggests there is more than one alternative to an ‘evolutionary model for morality.’ I await ronmurp telling us what ‘others’ he had in mind.

Second, what ‘reason’ is there, I assume you mean a ‘scientific’ one, that ‘evolution’ offers ‘the best’ model for morality? After what I said above, it is doubtful whether any ‘natural scientific theory of morality’ could *ever* be suitable.

What field(s) do you currently practice in by the way, ronmurp, that offer(s) you insights that people at/visiting BioLogos ought to read/hear on the topic of cooperative discourse between science & religion?

Thanks,
Gregory


ronmurp - #53595

March 8th 2011

Hi Gregory,

Sorry if I offended you, but “people like Gregory” was just shorthand. And it specifically avoids the “not my religion” charge, had I, for example, generalised even more by claiming your point is made by everyone of a particular religious persuasion. I could have said “statements like those from Gregory”, or people who believe statements like those put forward by Gregory”, or any other number of ways of saying it. 

“So, there are no morals, is this what you’re saying…” - No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying there is no evidence of any objective reality to morals outside the psychology of humans; and that much psychological and neurological data correlates with our moral behaviour; and also has a similar correlation to some behaviours in animals - enough to make good case for an evolutionary source of morals, as complex social behaviours.

“Or is it simply your claim that morals cannot be measured by ‘natural-physical sciences’?” - As for morals in and of themseleves, I’m saying there’s no evidence for them. But there is evidence of behaviour that we label as moral behaviour - whether we label it good or bad being dependent on many factors, but having some common ground across most humans. In this latter sense they are ‘measureable’.

“First, what ‘other(s)’ would you offer insead of an ‘evolutionary model’?” - Another may be possible. But I haven’t seen evidence that would specifically support any other explanation. By all means offer evidence and tie it to some other model. I don’t have any other to offer; but I don’t flat out deny any other as being possible. 

I think the point you make about “Evolutionists do this quite often” is mistaken. Evolutionary theory has changed over time and continues to change as more evidence is collected and analysed. Early evolutionary theory contained nothing about genetics; and even later evolutionary theory contained nothing about the separate mitochondrial DNA, for example. So, ‘evolutionists’ change their views according to the data, and don’t declare some belief and then try to make the facts fit the belief.

“After what I said above, it is doubtful whether any ‘natural scientific theory of morality’ could *ever* be suitable.” - I don’t see anything in what you said that makes it doubtful.

“What field(s) do you currently practice in by the way” - I’m a computer software developer. You might think that disqualifies me from commenting. But I can read.


John - #53607

March 8th 2011

Larry:
“I defy anyone to read Johnny V’s post #53472 containing 4 obviously false claims and then accept his claim that he is “a biochemist with three decades of studying fossil records and dating processes.””

It doesn’t make any sense to me. I would think that anyone with 30 years of studying fossil records would call himself a paleontologist.


Rich - #53655

March 9th 2011

ronmurp (53595):

“So, ‘evolutionists’ change their views according to the data, and don’t declare some belief and then try to make the facts fit the belief.”

But they do.  The one belief that is not negotiable for evolutionists (at least, those evolutionists who teach in biology departments) is the belief that origins are accountable for wholly in terms of natural processes.  It is simply assumed that this is the case.  It isn’t regarded as something that might or might not be true, depending on the evidence.  The question is not:  “Could natural causes alone have done this?”  The question is:  “How did natural causes do this?”  Thus, we have question-begging at the heart of the enterprise. 

I’m not arguing that any supernatural causes were involved; I’m just noting that they are ruled out without argument.  Nor is the usual justification—“well, science must be methodologically naturalistic”—an adequate reply; for precisely if that is true, it follows that “science may not be able to give an adequate account of origins, because they may not be due entirely to natural causes.”  But you don’t see statements like that in leading biology textbooks.  You don’t see statements like “insofar as science can comment on the question of origins, it proceeds as follows…”  You see statements like “science has not *yet* explained the origin of life” or “scientists have not *yet* explained how winged flight arose”.  The “yet” begs the question. 
 
I have nothing against naturalistic explanations, but I wish the proponents of evolution and the chemical origin of life would be more honest about what they are doing, and call a spade a spade.  They aren’t “neutral” and they aren’t open to all types of explanation.  They are in that sense the mirror image of the fundamentalists who aren’t open to naturalistic explanations.  What we need is a group of people who don’t close the door on either type of explanation, or on possible combination explanations. 

Gee, what group might that be?  Not the Dawkins group ... not the TEs ... not the OECs ... not the YECs ...


Robert Byers - #53675

March 9th 2011

How could one only guess there was in his church some people who believed in Genesis?
Was this a evangelical church??
First instincts are often right.
Evolution is unlikely to a person upon first reflection. Its impossible to get a buffalo from a bug however much time you’ve got.
In fact evolution doesn’t get more reasonable but rather these people accept the authority behind the evolutionary claims.
The interview suggests here that they simply think evolution is more founded because of its being in the academic establishment.
Evangelical christians simply accept the authority of scripture and then address any merits of evolution.
In fact biologos constantly stresses the issue is about creationists rejecting science.
It ain’t.
Yet biologos is saying its about bigger concepts rather then the merits of the case.


ronmurp - #53679

March 9th 2011

Hi Rich (#53655)

I appreciate your response. I agree with your point to a great extent. Apologies to others, but my response in turn isn’t short. I’m genuinely interested in any further responses.

How far an explanation goes depends in the end on philosophy, particularly epistemology and the roles of deduction and induction. There’s a lot of nonsense in philosophy, but some of the core philosophical investigations really challenge what we know, and how sure we can know what we know.

Here’s how I see it:
Contingency of Knowledge
Human Fallibility

So, the naturalistic explanation is one arrived at as the best possible explanation that fits the evidence that we have. It’s contingent, it’s inductive rather than deductive, and it’s compatible with our incapacity to be certain about things, and natural explanations are not only the most common experiences we have, as far as we can tell they are the only ones we have.

On that basis evolution is about as ‘factual’ as we can get as an explanation of how we get from some as yet uncertain starting point to where we are now.

The ‘origins’ view, abiogenesis, is still a hypothesis; but it’s one that sits well with everything we’ve found so far. It looks like it’s a chemical history we are trying to complete, rather than a biological one (a very wooly boundary). The overall naturalistic view can account for the whole universe quite well, to fractions of seconds after what is still hypothesized to be the big bang. But this is not only all that naturalists know, it’s all that’s available to theists too, despite claims to the contrary. Billions of dollars of science versus armchair theology? At least naturalists are going out and trying to discover ‘truth’, wherever that may lead.

Given all that we have from science, what other explanations are on offer?

....ctd….


ronmurp - #53680

March 9th 2011

....ctd….

I accept that we don’t know a damned thing about the ultimate origins; what, if anything, existed before the start of our universe, or even if that notion makes sense. Everything else is speculation.

I accept that some ‘God’ hypothesis is reasonable, in the sense that we don’t know if there was some ‘super’ intelligence that kicked it all off, or if the same is still guiding the ‘evolution’ of the universe, either in general or in precise detail. But that hypothesis is no more reasonable than any others that various cosmologists might offer that don’t require any other intelligence - what could still be called naturalistic explanations.

But everything else about the God hypothesis that is claimed for various theologies has zero evidence or theory to support it - and I emphasise that evidence and theory is all we humans have. Even if there is a God he might just as well be an ‘evil’ God as a ‘good’ God, or a God that’s totally indifferent in our terms of ‘good’ and ‘evil’. As much as many Christians might want to turn the Genesis story into a myth or metaphor rather than a literal account, there’s still no good reason to accept it even as a metaphor for any real God - it only works as a completely false myth used to describe the psychological condition of humans, and very poorly at that.

Really, that virtually all of theology, whether it be Christian, Islamic, or any other, comes out of ideas that were from times that were so ignorant of any science or scientifically informed philosophy, should be telling us that they probably made it up, as a philosophy of their times that did the best it could.

So, FC is prepared to use the scientific method, this ‘naturalistic’ approach, to all his science. And presumably he uses it too whenever he drives his car, eats his food - i.e. everything that he does in life. Except, that he’s prepared to believe the Christian story that has no basis in any evidence whatsoever. Note that I’m not denying the existence of a man, called ‘Jesus’, or some of the events around him - but we don’t have any way of substantiating anything that is claimed of him regarding the stories of his divinity.

Many Christians ask things like, “What about the resurrection?” Well stories like that are only even thinkable if you make the absolutely massive leap of accepting one very specific origins hypothesis, a loving God; the grand supposition that if treated with the skepticism it deserves brings down the whole of theology. I really don’t know how theists have the nerve to question naturalism when it’s all we’ve got, when it’s not only staring them in the face, it explains every aspect of their ‘natural’ lives so consistently, and they have nothing to offer of the supernatural that has anything like the same imposing force on their lives. Even astrologists at least make an attempt to base their ideas on observation.

As for the spiritual dimension, there’s no evidence for any of it. Unless you count what goes on inside the heads of all us humans - our capacity to ‘experience’ weird things, or to imagine things beyond ourselves. The human brain is a Kilo of so in weight and consumes about a 100-Watts. Unless a theist wants to tear down virtually all of known physics then there isn’t very much going on in there. The complexity of the minute causes us to blow up our minds into more than they are, to give them access to a ‘spirituality’ that has no known existence outside our heads.

....ctd….


ronmurp - #53681

March 9th 2011

....ctd….

So Rich, getting back to your point. I agree that the naturalistic position is contingent and somewhat circular; but it does have an insurmountable amount of evidence that keeps on supporting it. But the paucity of any supernatural explanation I’ve every come across makes a naturalistic explanation seem like rock solid certainty, even if it isn’t. It’s on this basis that many teachers and scientists make short cut statements, such as, this IS how it is.

Sadly our schools in the UK do very poorly on wider issues of philosophy, so it’s difficult for kids, and many adults, to challenge either scientific ideas, or grand theological myths. Many philosophers have been crying out for critical thinking and philosophy to be taught in our schools, but they are not - at least not with the vigour that religious beliefs are taught. Is it any wonder that children are faced with this unreasonable dichotomy - science or religion. We are still living with ancient ideas being pushed as if they are certainties. We have theists making bold statements, like “God is a God of love”, basically just off the top of their heads.

As for not seeing statements like “insofar as science can comment on the question of origins, it proceeds as follows…”, this is a quote in this weeks Radio Times (UK’s BBC TV guide) by Prof Brian Cox, from CERN (works on LHC) - he’s an atheist:

“You could say that God created the universe and I’ve no idea if that’s true or not. Scientifically speaking I don’t know if that’s true or not…. We have a pretty good understanding of stuff 10 to the minus 36th of a second…after the big bang. And we have a really good understanding of physics all the way back to that point, but there is a point where it breaks down. You shouldn’t speak about stuff you don’t know.”

If only theists would do likewise, but apparently they claim to know a tremendous amount about stuff they actually know nothing about.

I can point to other scientists making similar statements if you wish. Even Richard Dawkins makes similar points. That’s why his ‘bus campaign’ posters say there’s probably no God, rather than there isn’t one. The implication being there’s simply no evidence.

I’m wide open to anything anyone has to offer. But I treat theism in the same way I would treat a stage magician who claimed that he was doing ‘real’ magic. I’d want to scrutinise outlandish claims in great detail. If I couldn’t investigate them, or saw no evidence to support the claim, I wouldn’t simply accept them as true, which is what theists seem to do.


ronmurp - #53686

March 9th 2011

Perhaps this puts science and other stories into perspective, and explains why scientists use phrases like “science is real” (and by implication, other stories are not).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ty33v7UYYbw


penman - #53690

March 9th 2011

ronmurp - #various

What sort of thing would count as evidence for theism? I take it you’ve rejected everything traditionally put forward. I wonder if that means ther’s nothing left that’s even conceivable?

This isn’t a trick question. Atheists have genuine discussions among themselves about whether there could be any conceivable evidence for theism, & if so, what it might look like. I wondered where you stood. (I owe it to you as one of the few fellow UK citizens here - or the few who own up to it.)


ronmurp - #53705

March 9th 2011

Hi penman (#53690),

Yes, it’s a tricky question, for all of us.

We’ve been surprised by some pretty amazing discoveries; particularly in cosmology, such as phenomena like pulsars and black holes; or some of the strange events at the quantum level. But as strange as all that stuff is, it’s led by data. Sometimes theory precedes it and awaits data for confirmation - but in that case the theory is usually described in terms of some maths or some model or other, so it at least has that to guide the way.

Sometimes we have no hard data, and no significant theory - is all we have is speculative hypotheses. At that point science might come up with some reasonable ideas, these hypotheses, and they’re left hanging, waiting. And this is where I see the God hypothesis. Nice idea, but no data, and no theory; just masses of speculation.

So, I do discount what we might call the traditional ‘evidence’, which amounts to claim upon claim about God.

I guess there are two ways at looking at what might broadly be considered ‘supernatural’ - one being some form of active agent, an intelligence of some sort, God maybe; and the other being something else, something not intelligent but in some way defying the laws of nature we have discovered so far.

But with regard to the latter, the examples of black holes and other strange phenomena have appeared to do that in the past anyway - that is, they have defied our understanding of the natural world at that time. But we’ve then been able to incorporate these strange phenomena into science. In many cases new phenomena extend science rather than turning it over - such as Einstein did for Newton, and as DNA has done for Darwinian evolution. So maybe any new phenomena, no matter how strange, would be incorporated into what we would still broadly call the ‘naturalistic’ view, even if at first sight it appeared to be ‘supernatural’. Even if it required us to change some fundamentals of our naturalistic world view.

That leaves us with the former ‘supernatural’, an agent, God if you like. I really don’t know what form a true communication from God would be like. How would he let us know he’s real in any sense? Theists might claim that he’s already done that, through revelation, miracles, Jesus, Muhammed, etc. But all these stories so far either can’t be substantiated, or repeated, or confirmed in any way. But more than that, most of these stories are explainable in terms of current naturalistic phenomena: mistakes, superstition, false claims, illusions, delusions, myths - we are aware that as a species we have many or all of these that we discount quite readily when it comes to other claims. After all, from the very basics of human inquiry to all the science of today, that’s what we’ve done. Science is no more than a rigorous attempt to understand the world we observe.

We even know that the power of stories and myths can mislead us. All Christians know it about Muslims, and Muslims know it about Christians. And, of course, atheists think that is the case for all believers - the one less God than you argument. The brutality of Nazi Germany was driven by myth, and people followed. The West has fallen under the spell of various political and financial myths that have eventually been exposed over time. Modern terrorism relies on myths.

That’s because all these myths are not treated to the rigors of science. This isn’t a claim that science is perfect. The point is that science is the bare minimum we have to do to overcome our dumb human fallibilities, our gullibility, our susceptibility to believe stuff without evidence.

So, any communication from God would have to be pretty consistently convincing to all of us. It would have to be as undeniable as all our current science - more so, following the principle that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If there is a God, and if he decides to actually communicate with us, without all this pussy-footing around, then he’d better make it good. So good that we eventually accept him as part of the natural universe, or whatever; so good that we adapt all our science to take him into account.

If God really is the source of everything, then that includes all our science and maths. It shouldn’t be beyond him then to demonstrate his being in those terms - even if we have difficulty grasping it. Maybe if there is a God, then we are not yet up to understanding him, so maybe that’s why he hasn’t shown up. But again, theists are in the same boat as scientists in this respect. Nobody has any evidence, whatever that evidence might turn out to be when or if it shows.


penman - #53836

March 10th 2011

ronmurp - #53705

Thanks for replying with such clarity & rational engagement. I wish I had some brilliantly original response! I’m in a position that traditional “arguments”, which are unconvincing to you, have convinced me, although I’m not sure they really function as arguments in a scientific sense. I find God in Christ in a way that has an immediacy, a directness, which I’d have to compare with sight rather than inference. It’s like seeing colour. How do I recognize the redness of red if not by seeing it?

But I’m fully conscious that this carries no conviction to another person who doesn’t find God in Christ. So I can’t use it as an argument, except for myself. That’s why, in the last analysis, I think persuading others to embrace Christian theism has to be a matter of bringing them into the presence of Christ - not just by speaking about Him, but by becoming a sort of living vessel of His reality (a “living epistle of Christ written on the heart” as the New Testament puts it).

I will say, though, that I doubt whether many theists derive their theism from scientific analysis. For most theists throughout history, it’s surely been an immediate God-consciousness that’s been at the root of their theism. The role of rational argument, in that context, is really to show how the theism “makes sense” of nature & the cosmos: how it gives a deeper basis for our belief in such things as (a) rationality itself, (b) nature’s regularity & openness to investigation, & (c) moral values.

That’s not meant to be a QED. An atheist will want to show that theism doesn’t actually make sense of nature, etc, & doesn’t provide a deeper basis for our belief in the things mentioned. There’s a useful debate to be had there…


ronmurp - #53887

March 10th 2011

Hi penman - #53836,

I’m not sure how one can come to belief by non-rational means, and then think that using rational argument from that basis can give a deeper basis for belief in rationality itself. Rational argument usually uses some form of induction or deduction. Induction is out for theistic belief - there’s no data to collect from which to infer general rules. And deduction requires true premises to for sound arguments - but the premise that there is a God is a presupposition without foundation. 

Nature’s regularity and openness to investigation is just something we humans find to be the case. We don’t know why that should be. There’s no way we can judge between the two possibilities that, nature just is, and that’s it; or nature is the way it is because some agent made it that way. But our understanding of nature, as described by science, has got along well without religion, or any requirement for an agent. Prior to slow development of the methodologies of science, religion existed for some time without contributing anything to our understanding of the universe - and has in fact been a bit resistant from time to time.

Moral values have not been shown to exist objectively in the universe at all. There’s no evidence. But there’s plenty of data from science that leads us to believe that human morals, that is our psychological predisposition to impose prescriptions and proscriptions on ourselves and each other, have a foundation in animal behaviour and developed social influences.

So in all three cases nature and science get along just find without religion. And since there are many religions, with conflicting views on these issues, it seems simpler, less cluttered, to just rely on the science. Which is what FC does with regard to evolution, for example. For many scientists who are also theists it seems the best game to play is to let science do the work, and then just inject the notion of God did it; preferably somewhere out of reach where he can’t be challenged.

nedbrek - #53896

March 10th 2011

Penman, I believe Ron has you checkmated.

Ron, you said “the premise that there is a God is a presupposition without foundation” and that is true.  However, would you agree that if there is a God, and God always tells the truth, we can truly know what is true?

And on the contrary, if there is no God, we can never know the truth?


ronmurp - #53916

March 10th 2011

nedbrek - #53896

I suppose it would depend on the nature of the god you’re hypothesising. I suppose if you defined god as omnipotent, always truth-telling, and that he had the intention to make humans know the truth too, then maybe.

If there is no god (i.e. no agent to compel us to know the truth) then I don’t know how we can know that we can know the truth - epistemology is a pain in the butt. Similarly, we can’t really know the limits of what we can know, so we can’t say for sure that we will never know everything there is to know. 

Maybe there is a god that’s an entity that has evolved through millions of universes? What if we actually evolve to become gods? Could we know everything then? We are after all only at the early stages of the potential of our evolution - not the pinnacle that some theisms would have us believe - if we survive. When we speculate like this we can pretty much make up any story we like - which is what religions appear to do.

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