Four Misguided Assumptions in the Absurdly Dubbed “Faith vs. Science” Debate

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Here are four drastically over-simplified responses, to four frustratingly popular (but misguided) assumptions, in the absurdly dubbed “Faith vs. Science” debate… From one very under-qualified skeptic who needs to GET SOME STUFF OFF HIS CHEST! …A few things to know from the outset:

* New readers beware – SPOILER ALERT! – I follow Jesus.

* Where do I get my information? Too many to cite. Here’s an influential and recent source.

* Why add to the noise? Ummm… I’m a blogger. It’s what we do.

* Have I completely covered every aspect of each of these issues so exhaustively as to address every caveat and question that pertains to them? No. If you want that, read a book, not a blog.

MISGUIDED ASSUMPTION #1 – Christians use all heart, no head.

Perhaps the most agitating thing about the entire debate surrounding “Is there a God?” is the manner in which anti-theists (those atheists who seem more against God than for atheism) caricature the religious. They make religious folk out to be some sort of toothless, dim-witted, clan of simpletons who would rather just do good and believe pretty things about heaven than actually think.

“Religion is just a pretty story to numb life’s pain.” It’s a supernatural fairy-tale.” “It’s not provable because it’s incapable of producing testable scientific predictions.”

Pressed hard, many would take the caricature so far as to say, “In order to be religious, you must throw away all reason, and believe blindly.” And while this caricature does represent the approach of some religions and some Christians, it’s false.

First, the Christian God is PRO-using the brain he intricately created. I don’t serve an anti-intellectual God. Jesus gave two great commands. The first being to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Need I say more? God created us, in his image, as rational beings, with the ability to think.

So whether you actually believe in God, the Bible, or the historical Jesus isn’t the point. The point is it’s undeniable the Christian God expected his followers to use their minds to love him. And what better way to love him than to pursue an understanding of him, through science.

God is pro-science! No scientists were hurt in the making of this universe. Only created. In fact, many great scientists were/are Christians.

C.S. Lewis writes, “Men became scientific because they expected law in nature and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.”

Second, it’s worth noting that many tenants of the Christian worldview are, in fact, measurable and provable by scientific evidence.

I could go for pages here but let’s give one common example – The Christian view of creation requires a single beginning point for our universe. Those of the scientific persuasion know the discovery of the galactic red-shift and the cosmic echo of creation confirms a single beginning point for our universe.

MISGUIDED ASSUMPTION #2 – You have to choose, one or the other, faith OR science.

Or in other words, you must choose between physical laws as the force behind everything OR God. Again, false.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. You certainly have the right to choose one OR the other. But I prefer “BOTH/AND” over “OR,” personally.

This is why I don’t like the title “Faith vs. Science” debate. That’s a false dichotomy, proclaimed primarily by the two polarized extremes that embarrass us all – the fundamentalist anti-theists and anti-intellectual religious. I look at this as a continuing conversation, not a debate.

It’s important to note here that physical laws, while undoubtedly a recognizable force in the universe, can’t actually create anything on their own. Physical laws do nothing more than describe what happens in certain circumstances. For example, Newton’s law of gravity doesn’t make gravity, it describes it.

So it begs the question, where does gravity come from? Who or what set these physical laws into motion? And where did the raw substance that interacts with these laws come from? You might believe in the laws of science. So do I. Common ground. Awesome. Slap-hands! But that doesn’t actually get to the bottom of things.

Which brings us to point three…

MISGUIDED ASSUMPTION #3 – Science doesn’t require faith. It’s based totally on evidence.

Most anti-theists claim that: (a) the physical is all that exists, (b) the world evolved from chance natural processes, and (c) it is rational. So, they use reason to examine the visible physical universe to discover the truth within it.

But this viewpoint begs the question, “On what basis, if there is no God, are things rational? Or true? If the world is an accident, just a chance collection of molecules and chemicals that evolve naturally for the sake of advancing the cause of survival, with no purpose, then where is there room for reason?”

There isn’t.

Fact is, scientists have faith too, in reason. They see a rational universe, recognize their capacity to reason, but have no good explanation for it. Without God, they can’t explain where reason comes from. But we all know it’s there, and even depend on it for science. Ironically, faith composes the foundation of science. The goal of science is to uncover order and reason in the universe, and with no God, it is sheer faith to believe that reason just exists.

Said different, the fundamental faith assumption of all scientists is that the universe has an inherent rational intelligibility.

Where did such intelligibility come from? Who or what created reason? Why should our cognitive faculties be deliberately designed to discover truth? Aren’t they just, like everything else, a chance collection of molecules that contribute to survival?

American philosopher Alvin Plantinga sums this up well:

If [the anti-theist] is right that we are the product of mindless unguided natural processes, then he has given us strong reason to doubt the reliability of human cognitive faculties and therefore inevitably to doubt the validity of any belief that they produce — including [their] own science and atheism. [Their] biology and belief in naturalism would therefore appear to be at war with each other in a conflict that has nothing at all to do with God.

Because how can we trust reason if the process by which it came into being wasn’t reasonable? How can we trust reason if it exists because of chance unguided natural processes? How reasonable is that?

Anti-theism’s reason is kinda-sorta unreasonable. And ironically, it undermines the very principle (of faith) it’s founded upon. Science (defined as the discovery of order and reason in the universe) is actually impossible without God. Disposing of God is disposing of the rational basis for science and truth.

By contrast, Christianity suggests God is ultimately responsible for the reason and intelligibility behind the universe because he’s a reasonable and intelligible God. And in effect, he’s authored himself into “The Story of the Universe” so we can discover and relate to him.

MISGUIDED ASSUMPTION #4 – There are no smart people who believe in God.

Two words. Francis Collins. [Drops the mic. Walks off stage.] He’s not the only smartie, but he’s one of the smartest.

Let me say this to close – Many from the anti-theist camp suggest religion is nothing more than a pretty story to numb life’s harshness. A fairy-tale hope that allows the faithful to avoid thinking too long or hard about the reality of extinction. But ironically, it seems to me, in fact, anti-theism is the “pretty story.” It’s a fairy-tale hope that allows the faithful to avoid thinking too long or hard about the reality of a Creator God who all may be accountable to, both now and forever, based on their relationship with him.

I don’t expect this short blog to convince anyone. It’s a blog. No one fact can convince anyone. In fact, no four facts can. But hopefully, these add to the cumulative evidence that, taken together, points to the reality of a Creator, made profoundly visible, through science.

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10 thoughts on “Four Misguided Assumptions in the Absurdly Dubbed “Faith vs. Science” Debate

  1. Your second point is, Second, it’s worth noting that many tenants of the Christian worldview are, in fact, measurable and provable by scientific evidence.

    I believe that it would be more accurate as, Second, it’s worth noting that many tenants of the Christian worldview are, in fact, measurable and evidenced by scientific data.

    Very little in science is actually provable but there is tons of scientific evidence and measurements (data) through which scientists and Christians (who are not scientists) may sift in order to attempt to substantiate their various contentions.

  2. I was in full agreement with the beginning of this post. I am a humanist (atheist) who wants to see people’s beliefs represented justly and without derogatory stereotypes. So I am all in favor of combatting myths about Christians being irrational, “all heart, no head,” etc, and pointing people toward profoundly intelligent workings-out of faith in books on theology, science, and theology-and-science. Numbers 1, 2 and 4 are spot on.

    But in your response to assumption 3, you really went on a heck of an offensive.

    I can acknowledge that the basis of epistemology is a very difficult question. I am aware of Platinga’s lengthy and erudite critique of atheism on metaphysical/epistemological grounds. I have some problems with the way Platinga goes about the argument, but I don’t disrespect it.

    Clearly, however, I also feel there are pretty darned good ways to defend reason, and pretty darned good reasons for being suspicious that “God” automatically solves all the problems you point at. So I feel really unvalued and disrespected at the way you pose all those sentences with question marks as if they were questions people like me never consider and have no answer to at all.

    I don’t feel like getting into that discussion, because you just bashed me over the head by asserting that I couldn’t possibly come up with a respectable defense of my world view without God.

    I expect a follower of Christ to make at least a first-order attempt at empathizing, and looking to “planks” vs. “specks.” That’s what I find most valuable about “cross-shaped” theology — interpretations of love that transcend conflict and bring people together, where they can work together on solving differences, even when they don’t fully understand each other.

    I started following this blog because I am interested in compassion and respectful dialogue, where we work together to get to the heart of things. I thought you shared those values, and I was interested in hearing someone talk about them from a Christian perspective. But what I see here is a reaction: Someone has unjustly caricatured you, and in an attempt to defend yourself you have just returned the favor. You were stabbed with a rhetorical dagger, and you proceeded to stab one back at me.

    Maybe it’s about time I unfollowed. The Christianity I see represented here is not particularly interested in bridging gaps or having a positive conversation with humanists like me.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response. You choosing to part ways with our quite stimulating exchanges on this blog would be a sad occurence for me. I would ask, no, even beg, that you wouldn’t. Especially if your reason for doing so is the aforementioned reasons above. I can guarantee that what is written above comes from a place of both honesty and respect. Which is a pair not always easy to maintain together. And a pair easily misinterpreted when reading someone else’s writing rather than discussing issues face to face.

      First, I hope you notice that the main target of this blog are those I’ve deemed “anti-theists.” Or in other words, those, unlike yourself, who are more interested in bashing all theistic religions than making compelling arguments for their own atheism. Hence, they are less atheist, more anti-theist. And they are more often than not guilty of the very spirit which I feel you wrongly accuse me of here. But they are far less diplomatic and compassionate in their scathing reviews than I intentionally was.

      Second, you hit the nail on the head concerning my analysis in #3, sorta – I do not think any atheistic explanation for the reality of reason (which is essential for science) is as convincing as the theistic explanation (specifically the Christian explanation). I guarantee I haven’t read them all, but I’ve considered several.

      Contrary to what you accuse me of, I’m actually quite sure you have thought long and hard about your “reason for reason.” Most atheists do, as it is a popular point of contention in every atheist apology I’ve encountered (both written and spoken). I do not assume you are dim-witted. I’m just simply unconvinced by atheist arguments at this point. That’s my honest rational analysis. Does that make me void of compassion or disrespectful? If we were to sit down over coffee, I would ask you those very same questions above, and draw out those very same points of contention (hopefully in a honest but simultaneously respectful way). And then I’d pick up the check for your coffee, because I’m sure I’d like you. 🙂

      I understand you disagree with me. Many of our readers do. But from the outset, I indicated that this blog would be unapologetically Christian (as I’m a follower of Jesus). And I promised it would not be exhaustive on all points (because it is a blog). Unfortunately, it seems as if you feel your perspective was not treated fairly. While this was not my intention, it is the nature of this writing outlet.

      I do hope you continue to consider the explanatory power of some of the points made above, as I will always be willing to consider the explanatory power of anything you present. And I would ask you to give the benefit of the doubt to me, a fellow seeker of truth, who you’ve come to know, at least some-what, through our interactions on cross-shaped stuff.

      The essence of cross-shaped love is putting the well being of another above your own. I tried my best to do just that for all my readers, including the atheists, in this blog.

      • Thank you for taking the time to write such a lengthy and polite response. You’ve certainly checked my ire, lol.

        Perhaps I was too harsh to make the jab about “unfollowing” at the end. This is only the second time I can remember feeling even mildly offended by one of your posts.

        I did appreciate the disclaimer about not considering “every aspect of each of these issues so exhaustively as to address every caveat and question that pertains to them?” And I do recognize that the topic was so-called “anti-theists,” targeting atheism’s rhetorical extreme.

        “I’m just simply unconvinced by atheist arguments at this point. That’s my honest rational analysis. Does that make me void of compassion or disrespectful?”

        Certainly not! I am a firm believer that disagreeing itself needn’t create conflict, if the ensuing dialogue is managed well :). Sometimes it takes an outburst of irritation to get the conversation started, and any injustice caused by our initial anger can be corrected by a second round of listening. I’m sorry if my “outburst” was too light on the listening.

        For me, I think the turning point in my emotional reaction to your OP was this statement, which was made in a very strong form:

        “Science (defined as the discovery of order and reason in the universe) is actually impossible without God. Disposing of God is disposing of the rational basis for science and truth.”

        Western philosophers — many of them devoutly religious — have been arguing about the foundation of reason for hundreds of years. It’s hard enough to get members of different camps to even agree on how precisely to state the question, much less what an answer ought to look like.

        So it rubbed me wrong that, not only were you claiming to know the resolution to all the difficulties that have been raised on the topic, but that the Answer involves the *impossibility* of my world view being consistent. Not just my world view, but any world view that takes an empiricist philosophy of knowledge as its starting point.

        It leads me to ask — are we even talking about the same question?

        I’m sure we both have busy lives, and don’t have time to hash out the details of a real philosophical issue with a stranger on the Internet. But let me take the topic one step forward. It may show that the reason I had a strong reaction is that you are thinking about a question that doesn’t even appear in my world view.

        Professionally, I study artificial intelligence and robotics. Most of AI attempts to solve the problem of *induction:* How do we extract a general (and mostly true) hypothesis about the world, when all we are given are isolated data points?

        The answer is that you can’t, unless you make additional assumptions. For instance, you might assume that the data falls along a straight line — then you’d find the data that fits the line best. Then you test how well your linear model *generalizes* to new situations.

        This is how software works that recognizes speech, faces, handwriting, etc. It’s also how robots work that can reason about their location in a room when their sensors are faulty and they don’t know what the room looks like. All of this requires induction: building models from example data.

        I do not claim that my robot can recognize speech or faces or understand how to navigate a cluttered room with 100% accuracy. It always has an “inductive bias,” due to the assumptions it makes and the way it employs Occam’s razor, etc.

        In all of this research, scientists report how well their robot’s model does at predicting new data — data that it didn’t have access to when it was being trained. This is a measure of how well the inductive bias allowed the algorithm to discover the correct hypothesis.

        Machine learning research is essentially an ongoing search for inductive assumptions that work well. That is, **the assumptions themselves are open to empirical testing.**

        I think it’s fair to say that this kind of reasoning is “turtles all the way down.” We can prove statistically that a model has a 99.999999999% chance of accurately describing the behavior of class of systems — but there’s always a chance that there is a scenario that totally violates the trend we saw in all our previous data.

        And here is where I believe our disagreement lies. I think when you say “science is impossible” without a priori revelation, you mean “science that proves a inductive generalization is 100% correct is impossible.”

        And I would agree. To get to 100%, you have to believe that the auxiliary assumptions used by your inductive reasoning are actually, certainly true.

        But I don’t think science claims to be 100% correct, or that auxiliary assumptions like Occam’s razor are actually, certainly true. It claims only to be approximately 100% correct, because assumptions like Occam’s razor typically lead to results that generalize well.

        This is the world view of empiricism, and it is by no means an atheist invention. Your greatest historical opponent here would be John Locke, who firmly believed in the Bible as the inspired word of God.

        As I understand it, Platinga doesn’t get into any questions about inferring models from empirical data. He stays at the abstract level of arguing that naturalistic evolution gives no guarantee that human reason is sound. This line of thinking doesn’t really make sense to the empiricist, however, because empiricists don’t think about reason as an abstract, metaphysical ideal from which truth can be derived. Whether our way of reasoning generalizes to new situations is an empirical hypothesis to be tested. It is not something that is assumed a priori.

        Platinga’s style of argument seems better suited to the philosophy of mathematics than the philosophy of science. Here he would be engaging not empiricism but the idealist tradition in epistemology, which fell out of favor at the end of the 19th century with the rise of analytical philosophy, which was decidedly empiricist.

        • Fascinating. I would like to learn more about your particular worldview. And yes, it seems an online conversation would be quite impractical. Is there a particular writer who does well representing you?

          From your previous comment, it actually appears that empiricism would fit quite nicely with the Christian worldview. I, as well, would agree that absolute certainty is only possible in hard mathematics. In scientific matters, such as the one we are dealing with here, it is not possible. Hence why I was so adamant to point out that everyone has “faith.”

          Since absolute certainty isn’t possible, I determine what faith to accept by looking for which has the most explanatory power for the realities I find before me. That is, I look for proof like lawyers seek when they speak of “proof beyond reasonable doubt.” Proof strong enough to warrant a given conclusion, even if absolute certainty is impossible.

          Also, I would point out that just because absolute certainty is not possible, it doesn’t mean that everything is equally uncertain or that we can come to no conclusions. On the contrary, there are many situations in life which we think that there is sufficient evidence for us to trust others — Extreme examples would be pilots and surgeons. I cannot mathematically “prove” to you that my wife loves me. However, with the cumulative evidence of our years together, I would stake my life on it. There are things, then, in all of our lives that we regard as beyond reasonable doubt and we confidently place our faith in them.

          In other words, I have come to be rather confident in Christian faith assumptions inductively, not deductively.

          • “In other words, I have come to be rather confident in Christian faith assumptions inductively, not deductively.”

            It sounds like you have a healthy view of the relationship between evidence and your faith in God. I see the way people justify religious beliefs and the way science works as variations on the same “way of knowing” — usually people see themselves as inducing some kind of model from evidence. I understand that “faith” often plays a role, but in my experience it’s seldom fair to say religion is founded on “blind faith.”

            You asked about book recommendations. The articles at the LessWrong community (http://lesswrong.com/) are an interesting resource when it comes to rationality, and I find value in Hume’s *Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.*

            Really, though, in my world view the hardest part about reasoning isn’t it’s theoretical foundations — it’s putting it into practice when we have so much conflict, bias and self-interest. Empathy and reasoning are intertwined. Everyplace in the world I see the worst perversions of reason, I think the underlying cause is really a lack of empathy.

            My favorite elucidations on this issue are Miroslav Volf’s *Exclusion and Embrace* and *The End of Memory.* It might seem odd for a humanist to point to a Christian theologian’s books on forgiveness and eschatology as representative of my world view — but love is something that transcends religious and cultural boundaries. Volf’s understanding of the Kingdom and the view of relationships and justice it implies inspires me to try and live in step with how the world *could be.*

            Thanks again for taking the time to engage a random, frustrated stranger on the Internet. I would also be interested in learning more about your perspective, but I understand we’re both busy with real life. So maybe I’ll just wait for your next blog :).

            Siggy

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