Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Faith vs. Reason Part XVIII, Revenge of the Uninformed

Oh, joy. Here we go again. Just in time for the controversy over Francis Collins' appointment as head of NIH, we have word of a biopic about Darwin that claims, wouldn't you know, science and faith are at odds.

Torn between his love for his deeply religious wife and his own growing belief in a world where God has no place, Darwin finds himself caught in a struggle between faith and reason, love and truth.
Despair not. Instead of a dry treatise on the remote, elderly bearded figure we've come to associate with Darwin, we have a young, vibrant, attractive Darwin in the person of actor Paul Bettany (along with Bettany's wife, Jennifer Connelly, as Mrs. Darwin) in a romantic and passionate struggle between opposing beliefs.

Ironically, the film is titled Creation.

I keep tellin' you folks. Religious people didn't decide that science was incompatible with their beliefs, the other side did. The Baylor University Religion Survey confirms this: atheists believe that science and faith are incompatible by a much higher margin than Christians. But the atheists/skeptics keep hammering people with this faith vs. science trope until some Christians finally say, "Okay, okay, we believe you," whereupon we're all slammed for being anti-science. It's enough to make you want to slap the nearest scientist.

The truth is, there is no struggle between faith and science, faith and reason. It's a bogus dichotomy driven by ignorance on both sides. The Baylor survey shows that beliefs about science on both sides tend to be uninformed: die-hard evolutionists in the general public are likely not to know anything about evolutionary theory, while creationists are likely not to have read the Bible (!!). I therefore strongly recommend three books to anyone remotely interested in this debate:

The Science of God
The Hidden Face of God
God According to God

All are written by MIT-trained physicist and applied theologian Gerald Schroeder. Employing a deep understanding of the Old Testament, Genesis in particular, Schroeder shows that modern science and biblical wisdom are fully compatible and mutually reinforcing. As a scientist, myself, I can attest that Schroeder does not compromise the science in the slightest. So compelling is his argument, in fact, that his first book put me on the path to a conversion from atheism to Christianity.

The latest, God According to God, I just started reading. It's difficult, because Schroeder suggests that the traditional view of the biblical God, held by both believers and atheists, is wrong. The God he posits is dynamic, changing, and fully consistent with both the Bible and nature. This idea is far less comforting than that of a perfect, eternally unchanging God, so I suspect the book will not be wildly popular with Christians. Nevertheless, if one goes beyond a superficial understanding of the Bible and reconciles it with what we know of nature, the idea is inescapable. One cannot claim to be a pursuer of truth if uncomfortable ideas are ignored.

I think it especially important for skeptics and atheists to read these books. Not in order to be convinced, but to understand that there is a much deeper, highly intellectual facet to religious belief that I'm sure many would rather believe does not exist. So here's the challenge. If you're an atheist/skeptic, read these books. If you are not compelled in the slightest, if you can find fault with the arguments, if you can knock legitimate holes in Schroeder's reasoning and declare him wrong, then you will have defeated the best my side has to offer and may rest comfortable and assured in your disbelief. You will be in far better company than people like Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins, who choose only to assail the weakest and silliest in order to declare victory.

Judging from the first two chapters, I think atheists/skeptics will find this book a much more enjoyable read than I found Dawkins' The God Delusion (see my review here). Schroeder, while not withholding criticism of the opposition's arguments, writes from a place of utter confidence and refrains from the condescension and insults that rendered Delusion almost unreadable.

A review of God According to God will be posted in the next few weeks.


Anonymous MadRocketScientist said...

I've never understood the whole "Science & Religion are Incompatible" difficulty. They are are two sides of the same coin, that coin being the search for a greater understanding of our Universe.

If everyone is honest, science does not directly attempt to speak of God, and religion does not directly attempt to dictate to science.

7/15/2009 1:28 PM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

I have long thought the two needed each other. You know, Einstein's famous comment, Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.

7/15/2009 2:39 PM  
Blogger DirtCrashr said...

The Left is so busy trying to divide and segregate every nugget of cheaply identified Identity-Politic groups, they automatically and stupidly make an artificial break between Science and Religion - just like they did between Capital and Labor - as they try to make various artificial "synthesis" out of everything they encounter. They do it everywhere and it's all erroneous.

7/24/2009 5:14 PM  
Anonymous RayGun said...

Stapers, I like this one from Einstein much better:

"The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this."

8/17/2009 4:57 AM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

It's an Einstein quote-off! I'll see your quote, RayGun, with some context of mine:

The fanatical atheists are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who --in their grudge against traditional religion as the 'opium of the masses' -- cannot hear the music of the spheres. ... Science can be created only by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. ... The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.

And raise you his view of atheism:

There are people who say there is no God, but what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views. ... What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos.

While Einstein was famously enigmatic about his religious views, there is absolutely no doubt that Einstein believed in a supernatural intelligence, which he termed God. I find it especially interesting, however, that he was compelled by the story of Jesus:

Q: To what extent are you influenced by Christianity?

A: As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.

Q: You accept the historical existence of Jesus?

A: Unquestionably! No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.

Q: Do you believe in God?

A: I'm not an atheist. I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws.

In a sense, I agree with your Einstein quote, RayGun. The Bible was written for a primitive audience, so it's no surprise that it's written in such a way as to be meaningful to them. But, as King Solomon said, a word well spoken is like a golden apple in a dish of silver. The dish of silver is the literal interpretation of the Bible -- it has some value and attractiveness -- but the apple of gold is the deeper meaning of the text, and is much more beautiful and precious. Einstein was fixated on the silver dish; it's unfortunate he couldn't see the apple of gold.

[I dug up my quotes from this TIME magazine article.]

8/18/2009 11:00 AM  

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