Friday, June 8, 2012

Do You Believe in God or in Science?

Do you believe in God or in science?

Can you believe in both at the same time or do you have to choose?

According to Jonah Lehrer only the most ignorant among us deny evolution. Only those who have studied the most science are mentally tough enough to turn off the mental instincts that are leading them astray. To Lehrer, being led astray is being led to God.

Gallup has just done a poll about evolution. Apparently large numbers of Americans believe that God had a hand in the creation of the human species. Some believe that he did it through evolution. Others do not.

Some Americans believe that God  guided evolution; some believe that God created human beings in their present form 10,000 years ago. Together they comprise 78% of the sample.

15% believe that God had no part in the process at all, therefore that evolution proceeded more or less randomly.

Most of us are therefore suffering Lehrer infelicitously calls “the stubbornness of our ignorance.”

Of course, the questions are somewhat confusing. So is Lehrer’s analysis.

Do you believe that human beings are currently evolving? Have we evolved since, for example, the time that the Bible was written… a few thousand years ago?

If the ethical thinking in the Bible or in philosophers like Aristotle and Confucius is still valid that would tend to suggest that human nature has not evolved over the past few thousand years.

If you believe that, are you denying science?

What if you believe, as many do, that the advent of human beings corresponds to the origin of language? There are numerous theories about how and when it happened. Some believe that it happened in an instant, because of a chance genetic mutation. Others believe that it developed over time.

A variation on Darwin’s theory would explain the genetic mutation. But then, why hasn't the species evolved significantly since the time that it acquired language? Those who believe that the species has not evolved significantly since that time are surely not mired in superstition?

Surely, we have improved on things over the past millennia. Does that mean that the species has evolved or that we have made better and better use of abilities that we have always possessed?

These questions are anything but clear. In principle, science describes what happens in the physical world. Clearly, the existence of the physical world does not preclude the existence of a metaphysical subject like God. You cannot prove that God does or does not exist by invoking science.

It’s silly even to try.

And then, polls do not tell us what people mean when they say that God had a hand in the creation of the human species.

Are they defending their community against the atheists who deny God’s existence and would undermine their faith and community?

Are they saying that human life means something?

Are they saying that human beings have moral agency and moral responsibility?

Are they saying that they do not believe that an orderly universe arose at random or by accident?

No less a scientist as Albert Einstein once said: “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.” How would Lehrer account for the stubbornness of his ignorance?

And what of the fact that some ideologues have wrapped their agendas in the mantle of science?

After all the empty rhetoric about the “settled science” of anthropogenic global warming, don’t rational individuals have a right to doubt scientists?

Some people do believe in science as an article of faith, but is a belief in science the same thing as a belief in God?

Is it fair to say that we need to choose between two fundamentally different kinds of belief? Just because we use the word belief in both cases does not mean that we are talking about the same thing.

Perhaps Lehrer has framed the question in order to help his readers to feel better than the rubes who do not believe in Darwin.

What if you formulate the question differently? What if you ask people whether they believe that human sexuality and gender identity are universal scientific facts or social constructs?

Darwin would deny that they are social constructs. How many of those who claim to be believers in Darwin would agree? Is the social construct school a modern version of ignorant superstition?

Some people believe that God created men and women. Does that not correspond more closely to Darwinian thought than the notion that gender is a social construct?

These questions are difficult and complicated. To appreciate how difficult they are, examine the following chain of thought.

Let’s posit that Kepler discovered the law that determines the orbits of the planets. Clearly, that law existed before Kepler discovered it. Its existence has nothing to do with the fact that any human being is or was thinking it.

If this law has existed as long as there have been planets revolving around the sun, where is it?

I think it fair to say that the law is a metaphysical entity and thus does not have a location in space or time. Still, the planets obey this law.

If the law exists as a metaphysical entity, it is fair to say that it is an idea. But, if it is an idea and if it was an idea, then,  before Kepler thought of it who or what was thinking it?


Ari said...

Who do you think could make a more impressive list, one trying to make a list of the accomplishments of the scientists who believed in G-d or one trying to make a list of the accomplishments of those who didn't?

The answer: those who believed in G-d had more accomplishments and more impressive accomplishments than those who didn't.

Science was INVENTED by people who believed in G-d. The assertions of incompatibility of science and religion are all nonsense.

n.n said...

Science is a faith necessarily constrained to a limited frame of reference. It is a method to discern the properties of the physical world through observation, which are then confirmed through testing and reproduction. Departure from this limited frame leads us away from science and to philosophy (or faith).

Evolution as a description of origin is an article of faith, as is the existence of God, both of which escape scientific scrutiny. Evolutionary principles, on the other hand, are objective in that they can be observed and documented within a limited frame of reference. Evolutionary fitness is similarly an objective concept, as is evolutionary dysfunction engendered by individuals and societies which cannot establish a reasonable compromise between the natural and enlightened (i.e. consciousness) orders.

Whether it is nature or God's order, it is undeniable that there is underlying order to our universe. That order cannot be explained by science, and, perhaps, we may be incapable of determining its cause. Some people believe that the so-called "God particle" will unify our understanding; but, there is no legitimate reason to believe that even then, we will have achieved anything more than another level of estimation.

I agree with Ari's point. The individuals who place their faith in God do not generally exhibit an incompatibility with the natural order. They have been endowed with a consciousness and directed to employ it in subduing their environment. Any divergence is due to individual dignity and cannot be attributed to their philosophy. There is nothing in their philosophy (or religion), which dictates they idealize the natural order.

That said, I do not share their faith in God. However, I also cannot summarily reject it. If they are right, then we will all be judged based on our individual conscience. If they are wrong, then we will simply cease to exist. In the meantime, each faith should be judged by the principles it engenders. A faith cannot be judged by individuals who exploit it for their own purposes and certainly not by the standards followed by fallible mortal beings.

Anyway, I have a greater appreciation for people who believe in God for three reasons. First, because the acknowledge their faith and its articles without equivocation. This engenders a certain trust through disclosure. Second, because their faith engenders principles which have established a society with an extraordinary tolerance for reasonable variations from the mean. Finally, they recognize individual dignity as the foundation of society, and acknowledge the value of human life from conception to grave.

So, in summary, science and God coexist; the natural and God's order exhibit a remarkable correlation, and, in fact, the former may be a subset of the latter; and, judge each faith by the principles it engenders, and each individual by the principles to which they adhere.

Dennis said...

I see nothing that makes science and God incompatible. An interesting book that might interest you is, "God Theory, The: Universes, Zero-Point Fields, and What's Behind It All" written by Bernard Haisch.
One only has to spend just a little time exploring Quantum Theory and/or Mechanics to realize that the possibility of a God only increases with the knowledge we gain in science. One cannot be much of a scientist and discount any possibilities including a God how ever that is defined.

Anonymous said...

Ha God.
I don't believe anything I don't see with my own eyes. Yet, I only believe in about 40% of what I actually do see with my own eyes. God, Bigfoot, and El Chupacabras are BFFs