God vs. Science Isn’t the Issue

Oct 13th, 2009 | By | Category: Humanism News


(WSJ, W. McGurn) When the poet Matthew Arnold wrote of faith’s “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,” the thought was that scientific inquiry had forever undermined claims to certitude. In hindsight we see Arnold was only half right. In place of Genesis we now have scientism—the idea that science alone can speak truth about man and his world.

In contrast to the majority of scientists whose wondrous discoveries seem to inspire humility, today’s advocates of scientism can be every bit as dogmatic as the William Jennings Bryans of yesteryear. We saw an example a week ago, when the New York Times reported that many scientists view “outspoken religious commitment as a sign of mild dementia.”

Associated Press

NIH Director Francis Collins

The reporter was Gardiner Harris, and the object of his snark was Francis Collins—the new director of the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Collins is perhaps best noted for his leadership on the Human Genome Project, an effort to map the genetic makeup of man. But he is also well known for his unapologetic talk about his Christian faith and how he came to it.

Mr. Harris’s aside about dementia, of course, is less a proposition open to debate than the kind of putdown you tell at a private cocktail party where you know everyone in the room shares your orthodoxies. In this room, there are those who hold that God cannot be reconciled with what science has discovered about the human body, the origin of the species, and the beginnings of the universe. The more honest ones do not flinch before the implications of their materialist principles on our understanding of human dignity and human rights and human freedom—as well as on religion.

In 1997, for example, an International Academy of Humanism statement in defense of human cloning—whose signatories included scientists such as E.O. Wilson, Francis Crick and Richard Dawkins—went out of its way to attack the special dignity of human beings. “Humanity’s rich repertoire of thoughts, feelings, aspirations, and hopes seems to arise from electrochemical brain processes, not from an immaterial soul that operates in ways no instrument can discover.” They concluded “it would be a tragedy if ancient theological scruples should lead to a Luddite rejection of cloning.”

Here’s the problem: Almost no one really believes this. Not, at least, when it comes to how we behave. And the dichotomy between scientific theory and human action may itself have something to tell us about truth.

That’s not to deny electrochemical brain processes and the like. It is to say that much as we may assent to the idea that we are but matter in motion, seldom do we act that way. We love. We fight. We distinguish between the good and noble and the bad and base. More than just religion, our literature and our politics and our music resonate precisely because they speak to these things.

Remember Peter Singer? Mr. Singer is the Princeton utilitarian who accepts scientism’s view that human beings are not fundamentally different from animals, just more complex. In his thinking, those who cannot reason for themselves or have lost their self-awareness have no real claim to life. Yet when Alzheimer’s struck his mother, he paid for care to prolong and sustain her life. The irony is that an act that does him credit as a son must discredit him among those whose principles about life he claims to share.

To put it another way, while we talk about the clash between God and science, in practice it often comes down to disagreements about man and morals. The boundaries are not always neat. Many Americans who are indifferent to faith will confess they find themselves challenged as they try to raise good and decent children without the religious confidence their parents had. The result may not be a return to religion but a healthy agnosticism about agnosticism itself.

I once had the opportunity to interview one of my heroes, Sidney Hook. This was a man whose commitment to his atheism and secular humanism was beyond question. One example: A doctor saved Mr. Hook’s life by going ahead with an operation against Mr. Hook’s wishes. Mr. Hook recovered—and promptly published an op-ed taking his doc to task.

It is possible, of course, to imagine a good society in the absence of a belief that man’s dignity comes from his being fashioned in God’s image. Something of the sort would have been Mr. Hook’s ideal. Yet in his writings, the Almighty in whom Mr. Hook did not believe makes an extraordinary, one might say miraculous, number of appearances. When I asked him why he was not more dismissive, Mr. Hook replied that he was never comfortable with the dogmatism of the village atheist.

Perhaps he thought it “a mild form of dementia.” – William McGurn,  Wall Street Journal

Your Editor Comments:

The missing link between God and Science is Humanism.

If the religionists decry the lack of moral standards among nonbelievers, they need  look no further than to the traditions of Humanists. When atheists bring up evolution for no other purpose than to bait the fundamentalists, they are a pale shadow of true Humanists, which they often claim to be.

Humanism requires two pieces of ID, and simple atheists can at best muster one.

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2 Comments to “God vs. Science Isn’t the Issue”

  1. admin says:

    I must agree with you, John, 100%.

    Naturalism is a reductio ad absurdum approach that evaporates for lack of further or sufficient iterations. It presumes that we have at least found the pathway, even if we don’t know the destination, and while that may turn out to be true, it’s gratuitous for now and should not be voiced to preclude other possible routes.

    One approach I take with naturalism is to ask this question: Define Life. If there is hesitation in the reply, it speaks to how little we understand the most ubiquitous phenomenon on our planet, much less the remainder.

    Another notion I retain for this question of human destiny, knowledge-wise or otherwise, is that the Universe is physically beyond us right now. Distances are so great, that we must for the next century at least regard it as being little more than wallpaper, as pretty as it might be.

    The consequence of this fact is that we have an interval between now and the advent of the Singularity – a century at most – to consolidate ourselves as a species, to become practicing Humanists, to use this last available interval to stabilize our planet toward sustainability. I advocate the colonization of Venus as a suitable sidepot, as a catalyst for youth.

    That’s my handle on things and I’m sticking to it. Can I interest you in a little world federalism in the near-future…?


    Attempting to define all of reality purely in naturalistic terms is to live in denial. The scientific community must eventually face the reality that naturalism has definite limits, beyond which there will always be ongoing mysteries.

    The crisis of methodological naturalism is that it will always be based on finite human understanding, knowledge and insights. And is therefore forever limited. For this reason everything in science is regarded as tentative, and never the final word. And because science can never be the final word it will never be in a position to explain the universe in ultimate terms.

    The reality is that all of science ultimately rests on phenomena that have no naturalistic answer, and probably never will have. Scientists don’t have the foggiest notion were the universe came from, nor the origin of the universes mathematical regularity, nor the cosmological constants, nor the laws of nature, nor even the origin of life. And no scientist has even the remotest notion of what energy or matter really is in the ultimate sense.

    All that science has attained is still only a miniscule fragment of the whole truth. As acknowledged by David Gross, the 2004 Nobel laureate, “each answered question raises twenty unanswered questions.” Physicist Ronald Cole-Turner concurs, ‘’On the grand scale, the cosmos is hidden, almost mysterious. On the tiniest scale, the matter that makes up the cosmos is counter-intuitive. Cosmology is enigmatic while quantum physics is…well, pretty weird. “Quantum weirdness,” in fact, is now the accepted term. It refers not to inadequacies in quantum theory but to the problems we face in making sense of it at the level of everyday experiences.”

    We can add to this the loopy logic associated with the naturalistic definition of science. For while natural law is declared to be the gatekeeper as to what is science, and what is not, the origin of the gatekeeper itself, natural law, has absolutely no naturalistic answer, and may never have. This is rather like appointing an unidentified alien to guard planet earth from all unidentified aliens, particularly God.

    Methodological naturalism faces another credibility crisis, particularly in regard to the scientific communities mindless rejection of intelligent design. All of science operates on the reality that we can only apply logic, reason and intelligence in science because we, of necessity, live in a universe the clearly manifests intelligence, regularity and predictability. How can anyone do science on any other basis? And why would any scientist argue against this self-evident reality. If you are a scientist that finds it difficult to see any “intelligence” or “real design” in the world that surrounds you, then what sort of universe do you live in, and what is the basis of your scientific investigations?

    The bottom line is that we live in a dependent dying universe running down towards heat death and maximum entropy, where usable energy, information and order will be finally dissipated, with nothing left to wind the universe up again. All this means that our “dependent” dying universe demands a “non-dependent” self-existing cause. The alternative to this is an infinite regression of dependent causes where nothing ever has the capability to bring itself into existence, in which case nothing would exist, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

    God is both a philosophical and scientific necessity, and needs to be an option considered in science education in terms of the broader phenomena on which all of science is founded. The religion of philosophical naturalism and atheism currently being imposed on science education is only half the story, and ultimately delusional.

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