Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Genesis 2

The following piece was written by Bruce Murphy at Humanist Dad. I think it captures quite well the metaphysical naturalist's argument that scientific knowledge has slowly pushed God (in terms of being an explanation for things that we observe) into the fringes of the unknown.

In the beginning, we knew nothing so the answer was always, God.


Then, we began to ask questions. We prayed but God never replied. So, again we said, the answer is God.

It came to pass one day when a person had a question and, instead of asking God, they decided to conduct a test. The answer, strangely, was not God.

It came to pass that more people asked more questions and did not ask God for the answer. They created tests and experiments and found more answers that did not end with God.

Soon, God no longer made mountains or made babies. God did not cause the stars to shine or apples to fall. More questions and more experiments meant that God was no longer the only answer. It seemed that God was never the answer.

It is here where Science was born, and God, became god.

I think this represents a view that science and religion are somehow 'opposite' to each other, as if advances in one decreases the strength of the other. This works from the premise that religion is dependent on God being the explanation for natural phenomena. But do theists share this premise? Does one's faith in God depend, in some way, on the perceived role of God in the natural world? Or can one still have faith, even if God no longer seems to be involved in the day-to-day running of the universe?

14 comments:

Big.blue.nation said...

That was a great saying, and yes agree that humankind has over milenia choose more often than not, logic & reason vs. blind religious faith. We've got a long way to go, but it's refresing to see that people are waking up to the truth! In a way, I think the process has grown exponentially here in recent years with the advent of the internet and vast amounts of scientific discovery being readily more easily available.

Appreciate the articles...keep it up!

Marika said...

I find it so odd that Christians and atheists alike think that science and faith are opposed. The more I read old theologians, the more I think it's a relatively new idea (or at least, it's relatively new that the idea has become so mainstream) to set them up against each other. For most of Christian history, the Church has picked up the latest scientific and philosophical ideas and asked how they fit into theology. Nemesius of Emesa in the 6th century wrote a whole tract basically setting out the latest medical understanding of how the human body worked in order to demonstrate God's providence. Most of the early Church Fathers incorporated Platonic and Aristotelian science and philosophy into their Christian worldview.

As a Christian and a theologian, I think that to believe in a 'God of the gaps,' a God who we can drag in to answer the unanswered questions, is terrible theology, and I think that the majority of theologians would be on my side. A lot of early science was motivated by the idea that, precisely because God created the world, it would be orderly and logical, and so science would be able to find laws at work. C S Lewis says that people believed in laws of the universe because they believed in a legislator, and while I'm not saying that you have to be a theist to be a scientist, I do think that it's a recent trend to see them as opposed to one another. I'd love to know where that opposition came from.

CyberKitten said...

marika said: I do think that it's a recent trend to see them as opposed to one another. I'd love to know where that opposition came from.

Christianity in particular seems to applaud science when it appears to back-up doctrine (the Big Bang springs to mind) but often attempts to either supress or challenge any discovery which goes against it. Such behaviour is hardly surprising when you consider Religion & Science as rival power structures. Advances in science that threaten religious dogma undermines the power of the church - hence its opposition.

Anonymous said...

Mr Murphy's comments on science and religion can charitably be described as drivel, as even a cursory reading of the history of Western science will reveal.

This works from the premise that religion is dependent on God being the explanation for natural phenomena.The existence of natural phenomena is dependent on the existence of God, and we would not be able to make sense of natural phenomena if God had not created us with the ability to do so.

If one defines faith as some kind of vague mystical belief about how the world operates, then science may certainly challenge and undermine that kind of faith. In the case of the Christian faith, which sets out the specific content of what one is trusting in, scientific discoveries about the workings of the natural world do not undermine one's faith in God.

Marika said...

But again, I think that's a pretty recent development: I can't think of an example from before, say Galileo. I wonder if it's partly that after a certain amount of time, Christianity became entangled in particular scientific views to the extent that to challenge the science started to look like challenging the doctrine? There was certainly a lot of kerfuffle in the 11th century when Aristotle was rediscovered, and challenged a theology which had, by then, been very Platonic for a good few centuries.

I wonder if it's partly this: Christianity, far more so than a religion like Judaism or Islam which tend to have very strong cultural practices such as dietary requirements, which clearly mark them off from surrounding cultures, has tended to become much more closely intertwined with the cultures it encounters, taking on both good and bad elements. Repeatedly, then, when it encounters new cultures or worldviews, there's a period of uncertainty and often controversy as it tries to work out what it can and can't accept, and then eventually it settles down again. What's interesting to me is that in the 20th century, it seems to still be eating it's own face in an attempt to figure out how to relate to science. Perhaps it's to do with the rapid pace of change in the past few centuries?

Marika said...

Sorry, my comment was in response to CyberKittern, not Anonymous, who I think rather overlooks just how much some Christians have freaked out over recent scientific developments such as, say, the theory of evolution (not so recent, but you get the idea). I think it's indisputable that, in the past couple of centuries at least, some Christians have argued pretty strongly that to explain the world by natural processes is to push God out.

Anonymous said...

Marika, you have a solid point:
"...some Christians have argued pretty strongly that to explain the world by natural processes is to push God out."I've noticed that many people of just about any faith are living in fear of losing their god(s), or having their belief structure become somehow irrelevant. Yet many are using science to further justify their faith versus letting their faith go.
Only the more rigid denominations (fundamentalism) have taken the biggest hits, and seem to be decreasing in popularity/ memberships at a fast rate. How unpopular it has become to say "the bible is inerrant" versus "the bible is metaphoric".
If the bible is metaphoric, then the rules can be altered to keep in alignment with
scientific discovery. I think it is this fluidity that believers need in order to remain faithful, and that is why most sects of Christianity are bending.
People still want/need their god(s)for that which science cannot explain.
Eastern relgions tend to be quite metaphoric and science just seems to enhance their faith in reincarnation. Buhddists have an interesting viewpoint regarding "collective karma". My best interpretation is that "we are all god" and all life is interdependent within both the spiritual and physical context.
Here is a blog that speaks to this:
http://thebuddhistblog.blogspot.com/2008/07/buddhism-and-evolution.html
Until there is a logical explanation for everything under the sun (including the sun itself), just what will do in the meantime?
~Dar

desiderius said...

The God of Christianity does not exist to provide a handy stop-gap "answer" for natural phenomena that science has yet to explain. That is an insult both to God and to scientific intelligence.

Science can be an aid to theology, as in the case of Galileo who challenged the dominant medieval theological consensus, which was a synthesis of Aristotle and Christianity - resulting in bad science and bad theology.

CyberKitten said...

Marika said: But again, I think that's a pretty recent development: I can't think of an example from before, say Galileo.

That's probably because before Galileo there was precious little science going on!

marika said: Perhaps it's to do with the rapid pace of change in the past few centuries?

Quite possibly. As the pace of scientific advance increased it became more and more difficult for theology to keep up and, something it does rather baddly, adapt to the new view of the world.

erickeVolved said...

As a former Christian myself, I can guarantee you, believer will still believe - no matter what the contrary evidence.

When someone is ready to listen to reason, they will have ears to hear scientific evidence; until then, you might as well be talking to a brick wall.

Marika said...

I think that's a rather unfair generalisation, erickeVolved. Perhaps not all Christians are as dogmatic and unreasonable as the ones you've met?

Anonymous said...

erickeVolved said When someone is ready to listen to reason, they will have ears to hear scientific evidence; until then, you might as well be talking to a brick wall.How true, and funny! My Christian friends say the same thing to me...that until I am ready to "open my heart" I may as well be that brick wall to them. I often feel the same way about them, however, that may stem from both sides secretly wishing to convert each other.

Seriously though, you don't have to convert (either way) to open your mind to understanding...but it does help if you've once been a part of the "other side". That's where I feel that former believers are more in tune with the believing side, because we've been there. Many believers have never been on our side, and in many cases, cannot or will not even consider a trip there...so how can they begin to understand the logic behind why we left the faith?

(I cannot speak to atheists-turned-beleivers and/or born-agains, as I think that situation stems from a different set of circumstances altogether).

~Dar

Anonymous said...

Dar,

I'm curious... what "set of circumstances" do you refer to in your final comment, and do you think it would be the same (or similar) set of circumstances for each athiest-turned-believer?

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous,
That is an answer deserving of an entirely new post and off the subject here, but quickly I will state that I haven't met anyone who became a born-again or converted from atheism without having something devastating happen in their lives (i.e., near death experience, losing a child, hitting rock bottom from substance/alcohol abuse, etc.) I'm not saying that has to happen in order to be born again, I just simply haven't met anyone who didn't have these "circumstances". I understand that many believers would feel the same way about those who leave the faith, that "something" must have caused it. But as Kevin writes, it's a process...both a logical and spiritual journey (in reverse).

~Dar