Sunday, September 10, 2006

Science and Faith

Many articles have been written about Dr. Francis Collins recently. One entitled 'He trusts science, puts faith in God' appeared in 'Pioneer Press.' The following quote is taken from the article.

"Tall and trim, with gray hair, blue eyes, a self-effacing manner and just the barest hint of a Southern twang, Collins, 56, has set himself up as an emissary between two clashing worldviews.

He urges his fellow scientists to give up the arrogant assumption that the only questions worth asking are those science can answer. He entreats his fellow believers to recognize it's not blasphemous to learn about the world."

Collins feeds the stereotyping of the Darwinist fringe of science with the implication that his fellow believers think it blasphemous to learn about the world. A strange comment to believers who have made the effort to obtain degrees in scientific fields and have studied the natural world since then. Where believers depart from their critics lies with the philosophical assumption that matter and energy is all there is. Throwing this bone avails Collins little as this quote from the same article shows.

"From the other camp, some scientists ridicule Collins' effort to find a place for God in the scientific framework.

"I could just as well say that there are 70 pink elephants revolving around the Earth," said Herbert Hauptman, a Nobel laureate in chemistry. Science and faith "are simply incompatible," he added. "There's no getting around it."

The writer suggests that Collins has been ridiculed for attempting to integrate God into science. Collins has argued that there are questions worth asking that science cannot answer according to this same writer in this article. That's hardly an attempt to "find a place for God in the scientific framework." Of course one could argue that nothing is beyond our capacity to observe and test but that is a philosophical position; not an empirical one.

Hauptman's comment is inane. Science and faith are different. That does not make them incompatible. Faith does not signify that the object of faith is inconsistent with science. Pink elephant references are generally shorthand for a negative personal opinion of divine possibilities. Oddly, mainstream versions of natural history require no small amount of faith in conclusions not supported by empirical data. Hauptman would be hard pressed to present a case for "man evolving from primordial muck" not based on presumptions extending well beyond supporting data. Belief, despite the evidence, rather than based on it, is not even sound faith much less sound science. But then Collins is right about this not being a case of science contravening faith. Rather it is the unacknowledged convictions of scientism that contravenes the faith of Collins's fellow believers.

Here is more from the article:

"Maybe God intended mutations in DNA over the millennia to lead to the emergence of homo sapiens. Once man arrived, maybe God set him apart from the other creatures by endowing him with knowledge of right and wrong, a sense of altruism and a yearning for spiritual nourishment.

Collins knew he could never prove any of these ideas, but that no longer troubled him the way it once had.

Science could reel back time 14 billion years to postulate a big bang that created the universe. But it could not explain what came before that singular moment — or how the energy that fueled the cosmic explosion came to be. Science clearly had limits. So it seemed unfair to Collins to reject the divine simply because God's existence could not be proved.

That argument frustrates Nobel-prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg. Yes, he said, science does have limits. But attributing the unknown to God doesn't advance human knowledge or serve a useful purpose, except to give believers a "warm, fuzzy, reassuring feeling."

This is another misconception. Attributing causation to God predates the advent of modern science by many centuries. It also is not refuted by science since science has limits as was correctly noted. David Heddle has pointed out that while the Bible may not make claims that are subject to scientific testing it makes many historic and archeological claims that can be tested against evidence available from these disciplines. It may not be about evidence dealt with within Weinberg's field of expertise however, archeological and historic evidence are not warm, fuzzy feelings either.

"And given all the violence done in the name of religion, Weinberg argues that the world is better off without it."

Although Weinberg's criticism is not scientific in nature, neither is it accurate. The most horrendous violence in history, accounting for the most deaths, stems from non-religious causes. In many cases they involved leaders who were avowed atheists. Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot have the blood of tens of millions on their hands and all three had about as much disdain for religion as Weinberg.

"It's something we have to grow out of," he said. "There will always be mystery, always things we don't fully understand. We just have to resign ourselves to that."

Weinberg and Collins's fellow believers would concur that there will always be mysteries we will not fully understand. They part company in their approach to atheism as the only suitable paradigm within which to view that reality.


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