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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Insulting Our Intelligence

Another Stand to Reason atheist challenge, this one plucked out of an article in Salon:

[I]t insults our intelligence to be enjoined to believe, now that we have split the atom, discovered the Higgs Boson, and sent a probe to Pluto, in the veracity of a supernatural account of the origins of our cosmos.”

There are probably half a dozen ways to approach a statement like this. I’m just going to go with the obvious …

Splitting the Atom

Lise Meitner was an Austrian Jewish physicist whose work contributed significantly to the discovery of the nuclear fission. As an adult, she converted to Christianity and was baptized in 1908.

Ernest Walton was an Irish physicist at Cambridge University who became the first person in history to artificially split the atom, thus ushering in the nuclear age. He is, naturally, a Nobel laureate. He was also “strongly committed to the Christian faith” and gave lectures about science and religion in several countries. Walton said this:
“One way to learn the mind of the Creator is to study His creation. We must pay God the compliment of studying His work of art and this should apply to all realms of human thought. A refusal to use our intelligence honestly is an act of contempt for Him who gave us that intelligence.”
It seems odd to hold up the splitting of the atom as evidence for the non-existence of God when Christians were significantly involved in splitting it. If it didn’t cause them to apostatize, it’s surely not going to bother me.

Higgs Boson

Not being an expert on the Higgs boson, I’ll defer to William Lane Craig on this one:
“Without wanting to spoil the party, I have to say that this impressive achievement [the discovery of the ‘Higgs boson’, the so-called ‘God particle’] just has no theological implications of any direct sort, so far as I can see.

Lederman called it ‘the God particle’ for two reasons: (1) like God, the particle underlies every physical object that exists; and (2) like God, the particle is very difficult to detect!

I really like Lederman’s nomenclature because it highlights two aspects of God’s existence, first, His conservation of the world in being, and, second, the hiddenness of God. With respect to the first, according to Christian theology, God not only created the universe in being, but He upholds it in being moment by moment. Were He to withdraw His sustaining power, the universe would be instantly annihilated. Similarly, on a physical level, without the Higgs boson nothing would have any mass and the universe would be devoid of physical objects. (By the way, no fear that the Higgs boson supplants God in conserving the universe because the Higgs boson is itself a contingent particle, which decays almost as soon as it is formed, so that it does not exist necessarily, and the Higgs boson and the Higgs field themselves are the products of the Big Bang and so non-necessary and non-eternal.)

With respect to the second point, it is part and parcel of the problem of evil that God is hidden. Not only is He undetectable by the five senses, not being a physical object, but He sometimes seems frustratingly absent when we need Him most. But the lesson of the Higgs boson is that physical undetectability is no proof of non-existence, and something can be objectively there and real, even pervasively present, even when we have no direct evidence of its presence. Just because you may not see God’s hand at work when you are suffering, that doesn’t imply that God is not present and active in your situation unbeknownst to you. So the Higgs boson is a nice reminder of these features of God’s existence.

It’s a shame that atheists who have little understanding of science or theology should party over something that has not happened and miss what is truly celebratory in this triumph of human reason and discovery.”

Sending a Probe to Pluto

It is difficult to see how it should suddenly be a barrier to faith to learn a few more specifics about a universe we have already been told for decades, even centuries, is unimaginably large and complex.

The creator of the comic strip B.C. demonstrated greater wisdom than the dogmatic rationalists at Salon when he penned these lines:
“Man, man, magnificent man;
     creates forces that outshine the stars.
He can shoot himself up and tap dance on the moon,
     and hurl himself clear out to Mars.
He can unleash a force that evaporates steel,
     since he’s learned how an atom behaves.
Yet he has no recourse but to bow to the Force
     that summons the dead from their graves.”
— Johnny Hart
Splitting the atom, discovering Higgs boson and flying an unmanned spacecraft to the far end of our solar system have not, contrary to the assertions of writers at Salon, brought man even one step closer to a coherent theory of the origins of the cosmos that excludes the God of the Bible, let alone have they proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Salon’s writers say that expressing belief in a supernatural account of origins insults their intelligence. Yet millions of highly intelligent men and women in the U.S. alone not only continue to profess faith in God but to do it while simultaneously participating in and aiding scientific inquiry on a daily basis. Of 574 scientists surveyed by Elaine Howard Ecklund earlier this year, 24% self-identified as atheist or agnostic while over 61% self-identified as Christian and 17% claimed to be evangelical Christians.

These “rank and file” scientists, mathematicians, engineers, computer programmers, life sciences and health care professionals rightly recognize that the discipline of science is very good at shedding light on the “what”, “how” and “where” of our current experience. Sometimes it even gets the “when” right. It is less useful in identifying the “Who” behind it all.

So who’s insulting whose intelligence?

4 comments :

  1. Trying to co-relate faith in a supreme being or atheism with one's belief or strength in science does not yield any significant data. It's clear from history as well as the present day that there are many good scientists who have faith in God and a supreme being. And many who are atheists as well. It's just a not a strong argument, either way.

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    1. That's because one's interpretation of the data is so heavily influenced by what one is prepared to see in it.

      If one has already arbitrarily ruled out the God hypothesis, it's easy to imagine there could be no data at all for it; but if one is open to that hypothesis, it's actually extremely easy for a person of reasonable intelligence to find the requisite data.

      So theistic intellectuals and atheists, in my experience, often end up speaking very confidently past each other, each side feeling quite certain its belief is founded on good data, and each side quite sure it is being scientific in its claims.

      That being said, it isn't a balanced matter. The atheist's closedness to the indications of the data isn't the equivalent of the agnostic's or Christian's willingness to see God in the data. For the latter is open to all reasonable interpretations of the data, including purely secular interpretations, but the former is not. A Christian scientist can believe in gravity or entropy every bit as easily as an atheist can; but the atheist is simply not prepared to accept any indications of the God hypothesis, no matter what. And that is why, as I have found, so many of them insist with such unreasonable ardency that "there is no evidence for God," and "only the unscientific believe there is."

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    2. Quite right. And the careful and thoughtful atheists, do make it clear that their arguments and reasonings yield more to strong agnosticism rather than strident atheism, for the reasons you state. Similarly, if the believer is honest, he must admit that perhaps there is no God, for that also is a logical possibility.

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    3. Indeed so. I would argue...and have argued in print, and to atheists, that atheism is simply *never* a rational, intellectual option. Agnosticism is possible, of course, though how proud one should be for trumpeting one's ignorance (which is cognate of the root meaning of "agnostic") is a good question.

      Moreover, the situation is again not equally balanced. For the atheist, who claims to have disproved God, has burdened himself to show how he's done such a thing. (Nietzsche, the famous atheist, compared such a proof with extinguishing stars or drinking up the ocean. Even he realized is was a preposterous claim to claim to have proved God's non-existence.) But if the theist can produce just one evidence of God -- one genuine prophecy, one actual revelation, one genuine divine miracle, one true experience of God, or one single case of Incarnation, say) then the atheist's case is obviously utterly defeated. So the atheist bears a burden of proof far too great for him, and faces instant and total defeat if the theist can provide but one instance of a genuine God moment.

      Meanwhile, the durability of any doubt the Christian may have is just as fragile as the atheists' whole position is, and for just the same reason. For let the doubting Christian experience but one single moment of true revelation of God, in any form it may come, and his doubt can no longer remain. At least, it can no longer be rational to doubt, for once one has a genuine experience of God, doubt no longer makes any sense.

      So again, atheism is by far the less rational of the options. It has no right to be regarded as rational, let alone as scientific.

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