Time: God vs. Science

Time has an interesting article on God vs. Science which includes an interview with Francis Collins and Richard Dawkins.

The article points out how the Intelligent Design movement may have inadvertantly given science a much needed boost, as more and more scientists express their frustrations with the level of scientific vacuity of this new form of creationism. Even more ironically, ID may have provided atheists a much needed boost.

Like Freudianism before it, the field of evolutionary psychology generates theories of altruism and even of religion that do not include God. Something called the multiverse hypothesis in cosmology speculates that ours may be but one in a cascade of universes, suddenly bettering the odds that life could have cropped up here accidentally, without divine intervention.

Some have wondered why such pro-ID blogs as Uncommon Descent seem to have abandoned much of anything relevant to Intelligent Design as a scientific endeavor and instead are focusing on people like Richard Dawkins. Looking at Amazon rankings, it is clear that the works by these authors ranks high, especially compared to that of prominent ID authors.

Dawkins is riding the crest of an atheist literary wave. In 2004, The End of Faith, a multipronged indictment by neuroscience grad student Sam Harris, was published (over 400,000 copies in print). Harris has written a 96-page follow-up, Letter to a Christian Nation, which is now No. 14 on the Times list. Last February, Tufts University philosopher Daniel Dennett produced Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, which has sold fewer copies but has helped usher the discussion into the public arena. If Dennett and Harris are almost-scientists (Dennett runs a multidisciplinary scientific-philosophic program), the authors of half a dozen aggressively secular volumes are card carriers: In Moral Minds, Harvard biologist Marc Hauser explores the—nondivine—origins of our sense of right and wrong (September); In Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast (due in January) by self-described “atheist-reductionist-materialist” biologist Lewis Wolpert, religion is one of those impossible things; Victor Stenger, a physicist-astronomer, has a book coming out titled God: The Failed Hypothesis. Meanwhile, Ann Druyan, widow of archskeptical astrophysicist Carl Sagan, has edited Sagan’s unpublished lectures on God and his absence into a book, The Varieties of Scientific Experience, out this month.

While some opponents of Dawkins have chosen to attack Dawkins, not on a scientific foundation but on biblical foundations, there are some who have chosen a path of reconciliation.

Informed conciliators have recently become more vocal. Stanford University biologist Joan Roughgarden has just come out with Evolution and Christian Faith, which provides what she calls a “strong Christian defense” of evolutionary biology, illustrating the discipline’s major concepts with biblical passages. Entomologist Edward O. Wilson, a famous skeptic of standard faith, has written The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, urging believers and non-believers to unite over conservation. But foremost of those arguing for common ground is Francis Collins.

Collins, in the interview, points out that “I don’t see that Professor Dawkins’ basic account of evolution is incompatible with God’s having designed it.”

COLLINS: By being outside of nature, God is also outside of space and time. Hence, at the moment of the creation of the universe, God could also have activated evolution, with full knowledge of how it would turn out, perhaps even including our having this conversation. The idea that he could both foresee the future and also give us spirit and free will to carry out our own desires becomes entirely acceptable.

Dawkins sees this as a ‘cop out’ but his argument is not much better, as it is based on his personal disbelief that God would use such a roundabout way to create.

DAWKINS: I think that’s a tremendous cop-out. If God wanted to create life and create humans, it would be slightly odd that he should choose the extraordinarily roundabout way of waiting for 10 billion years before life got started and then waiting for another 4 billion years until you got human beings capable of worshipping and sinning and all the other things religious people are interested in.

In fact, as I will argue elsewhere, by using evolutionary pathways, God ensured that such fundamentals as a natural law of morality or moral grammar could evolve based on the simple premises of kinship selection and reciprocal altruism. Both are fundamental to evolutionary theory and Biblical teachings.

While there will always be people on both sides who insist that Darwinian theory is incompatible with religious faith, and thus either Darwin’s theory has to go or religious faith, reality is that the two may be intricately combined. Or as a recent paper in Zygon suggests: evolutionary dynamics form the basis for Biblical ethics (Teehan, THE EVOLUTIONARY BASIS OF RELIGIOUS ETHICS). I can’t see how such a finding would be objectionable to both religious people and atheists.

From a religious perspective it shows how God’s Creation evolved into God’s Image, including such concepts as morality, ethics, language while from an Atheistic perspective the addition of a God may be argued to be superfluous.

And yet, there are still some who argue that Darwinian theory should be rejected as it is incompatible with religious faith and leads to such evils as social Darwinism, eugenics and other societal evils (West, Wiker, Dembski). Would it not be ironic if it turns out that these evils where the outcome of God’s Creation, providing us with free will?

Perhaps, that may be what causes creationists most concern, the realization that in the end, we are personally responsible for our own actions, even though we believe they are based on solid scientific or religious foundations.

Postscript: Intelligent Design may have caused significant damage to Christian faith as well as enabled atheists to make a powerful attack on religion by insisting that Darwinian theory is not just flawed by at odds with religious faith. In addition, ID made pseudo-scientific claims that science could actually provide evidence of ‘design’ where these concepts were sufficiently vague to confuse both opponents and proponents of these ideas. In response, countless scientists have spoken out against these scientifically vacuous concepts and many atheists have taken the opportunity to present not only the vacuity of intelligent design but powerful explanations why, in a scenario of either Darwinian theory or ID, ID may have to be abandoned. In fact, it seems to me that ID has presented the most powerful weapons of its own destruction to its worst enemies, and I am not talking about science here but about the christian faith.