Friday, March 13, 2015

Four Non-Scientific Christian Answers to Scientific Atheism

Samuel James wrote a blog contending to offer four responses a non-scientist Christian can give to science-based atheism. But are they good responses?
Lack of scientific knowledge can leave Christians feeling vulnerable when talking to unbelieving friends about why faith is superior to skepticism.
Maybe because blind faith is actually inferior?
Many college students discover atheism through science classes; students who enter university as Christians have their faith fiercely tested by their studies, and too many give up the fight merely because they assume that a biology professor must be correct about whether God exists. When a little bit of childlike faith meets a lot of studied atheism, fear can take control.
It never ceases  to amaze me that so many Christians think that colleges are teaching atheism. Yet I've not yet been presented an actual example of this being the case. If students leave college with less faith, that would have more to do with the facts simply being contrary to what religion claims, not some conspiracy.

A biology professor or class would never even have any call to discus if God exists or not... That's not biology. They will teach evolution though. A fact that is taught because it is a fact. And a fact that doesn't even disprove God, just one interpretation.

The last line is funny though... Sam wants to talk about fear taking control while promoting a religion that is partially based on the threat of eternal torture? That seems a bit ironic in my book.
That’s unnecessary. You don’t have to have a degree in science to have something to say to those with scientific objections to faith. Here are four simple responses to those who say that science has either disproved God or has made belief in God unnecessary:
Okay, let's see them then!

1) We cannot know from science if science itself is the best source of knowledge. 
There are two possibilities when it comes to human knowledge through science. The first possibility is that everything that is real is actually reducible to scientific principles. Everything–from the universe, to human emotion, to spiritual experiences–is explainable through scientific research. The other option is simple: Not all existence can be explained through science.
Since when does something have to explain everything to be the best? Personally, I wouldn't say that science can answer everything, but it does do a damn good job. All the examples Sam mentioned can and are explained by science. That said, science is the examination of the physical natural world. If you claim that a god is outside nature, science can't investigate it. But if you say that the god interacts with the natural world and that portion of the deity becomes fair game for science.
Here’s why this question matters. If the first option is true, then logically, science absolutely is the supreme mode of knowledge, and everything we believe about anything must be in submission to it. The problem though is that whether or not all of reality is utlimately [sic] explainable through scientific concepts is not itself a scientifically provable theory. It is a philosophical premise, not a scientific conclusion.
Again, science doesn't have to be able to explain everything, and do it right now in order to be the best tool we've ever devised for understanding the world.
The only way to definitively prove that science explains everything would be to have exhaustive knowledge of all reality, and then be able to explain (using only scientific data) what all reality is and what it means. Such a feat is impossible. 
So then it is likewise impossible for a Christian to prove that his religion is the one true religion, correct?
Therefore, the belief that science is the best source of knowledge must be accepted on faith, for it cannot be verified through testing.
That is where Sam is wrong. Science is not accepted of faith. Science is accepted because it works. Science is based on proof and evidence. It is based on the observable, repeatable, and provable. That is the very opposite of faith. Science is not trusted on faith, but on it's track record of finding the answers that no other field could. So for now, science is the most robust and successful tool in our tool kit of knowledge. And until some magic method comes along, it will remain the best source for knowledge that we have.

2) Scientific consensus can and frequently does change. This limits its epistemological authority.
The progressive nature of scientific inquiry is essential to its value. Done rightly, science can correct its own errors. But this presupposes that science can make errors in the first place. And if that’s true, then the question is: How do we know what could be a current error in scientific consensus, and what do we know is absolutely true?
Simple... When new data or evidence comes along. Sometimes there are errors in science. But more often than not, they're not full blown errors so much as 'not quite as right as is could be'.  That's the great thing about science. It can change to correct errors and refine what the truth is. Marching closer and closer to the way things really are.
This is a very important question to ask religious skeptics who appeal to science. 
Why not also ask the believers if they could also be wrong about everything? An admirer of science will admit they could be wrong, and ask for evidence to show that is the case. But every believer I've ever asked has claimed that there is no way they could be wrong, and that no amount of evidence could change their mind. If the contest is between science and faith, science is the only intellectually honest option.
A likely response is that science may be wrong on almost everything it says, but it almost certainly isn’t wrong about what it doesn’t say; ie, if science hasn’t revealed God by now, it’s not rational to think it will. But this objection misses the point. One does not wait on science to exhaustively explain something before believing it.
Sam is missing the fact that science can never 100% prove anything. It can make us very very sure, but if we're honest (any of us) we could imagine any imaginative, rare, or unlikely scenario where we are wrong about anything. Science proves this right or wrong beyond a reasonable doubt. That 'reasonable doubt' will vary based on what we're talking about.

To say that we don't wait on science to 'exhaustively explain' everything misses just how pervasive science is. Many of us do science without even knowing it. Suppose a child says be has candy, and his brother doesn't believe him since his mom took what he had in his hand earlier. The child then pulls candy from his pocket and his brother sees it and believes him. Even that is science.

Suppose someone says they have a dog. A lot of people have dogs, so the claim that they have one isn't suspicious. The fact that we haven't seen the dog isn't proof there isn't one. To claim you have a dog is a basic claim that doesn't garner much doubt. Seeing the dog would prove it, but seeing he has a leash in his car, or that he talks about his dog a lot also make it likely that he has a dog.

But God is very different from a yet unseen dog. Dogs are common. To say you have one is a garden variety claim. But saying there is an invisible all-powerful being is another thing entirely. Proving that will require more proof since it is a bigger claim. The dog owner can show us his dog. But the God believer (as of yet) can't show us his god. Furthermore, science has shown this god's claimed acts to be false. This brings God's existence into further question.
If current scientific consensus points away from the existence of God (a highly disputable point, by the way), then who is to say that consensus cannot change? If it can, then science’s intellectual authority is limited, and the expectation that it will continue to oppose religious belief is more a matter of faith.
Actually, that's not very disputable if remaining honest. Science certainly hasn't found any evidence of a god of any kind, and much of what we've found has made the existence of a god unnecessary. It sounds more to me like Sam is just angry that science isn't backing up his religion. So instead of looking inward, he instead chooses to blame science and denounce it since it hasn't found the answers he wants them to find. Sorry, but if the evidence is contrary to your religion, the problem is probably with the religion, not the evidence.

You see, if religion is true it has nothing to fear from science. Maybe science doesn't agree now. But if Christianity is true, the evidence will eventually come to light that scientifically proves the Bible right. So if Sam is so sure he is right, he should embrace science, not denounce it.

Scientific questions can be thought of like tall staircases. At the bottom is complete ignorance. At the top is the truth. Each time science finds new evidence, it takes a step up. When there's a huge revolution in our understanding science takes a few steps up. We don't know when we've finally reached the top, but science will endlessly search to see if there is another step to take. Meanwhile, what Sam is suggesting is that we stay at the first step (his religion's claims) and simply stop searching and shout that he's reached the top.

3) Only supernatural theism provides a rational justification of scientific work.
Why is knowledge better than ignorance? The atheist would respond that ignorance has less survival value than truth; after all, if you believe wrong things or do not know enough about your environment, you’re less likely to survive and flourish. But this explanation only applies to a very small amount of scientific knowledge. There is little survival value in knowing, for example, the complicated workings of time–space theory, or the genus of certain insects, or the distance of Jupiter from Mars. All of these facts are pursued by scientists as being intrinsically valuable, yet they offer very little information that can help guarantee a species’ continued existence on the planet.
Sam's assumption is a bit simplistic. True, some information is required for survival. Some more complex information may be more important for the survival of the species (like space travel or environmental issues) more than the individual. Sometimes learning things helps us to avoid the
mistakes of the past. Sometimes it helps us have a better life. And sometimes learning new things is just exciting and can even inspire awe. Knowing how a flower grows and blossoms may not yield any survival value, but for me it can make the flower even more amazing and beautiful. For me, the simple act of learning something new is a gratifying experience.
The real explanation is that scientists pursue these facts because there is intrinsic value in knowing what is true about the world, regardless of how much help it gives us. Human beings believe that knowing is better than ignorance because they believe that truth is better than falsity, and light is better than darkness. But where does such a conclusion come from? It does not come from scientific principles. Science itself offers no self-evident account for why it should be pursued. You cannot study science hard enough to understand why you should study science at all. To study science presupposes a valuing of truth that must be experienced outside of scientific study. It is only rational to pursue scientific knowledge that doesn’t offer immediate survival value if there is some external, transcendent value in knowing truth. Theism offers an explanation for why knowing truth is valuable. Scientific atheism does not.
And yet, none of this makes the initial claim that 'only supernatural theism provides a rational justification for scientific work'. Sam misses the point that there is likely value in knowing things that he doesn't realize. Earlier he said that science not having proof of God doesn't mean he's not there. So couldn't we likewise say that if science doesn't have an explanation for the desire to acquire knowledge (very debatable), that doesn't mean that there isn't a scientific explanation at all?

After all Sam said under this point, there's nothing here that supports his claim. The title could have said that magic space unicorns offer the only rational justification and been just as close to making that point as he did. You can't just arbitrarily plug in your favored belief and make this claim without providing any actual proof.

4) Only supernatural theism gives us assurance that real scientific knowledge is possible.
Philosopher Alvin Plantinga is famous for articulating what he calls the “evolutionary argument against naturalism.” The argument is complicated in detail but simple in premise. Plantinga begins by putting two facts alongside each other that nearly all atheists agree on. First, the theory of evolution is true, and humans have descended from lower life forms over time.
I'm not sure I'd say all previous life forms were 'lower', but he's close enough I guess. Carry on...
Secondly, humans are rational beings in a higher degree and superior way to lesser evolved creatures. 
Some humans are rational. But I certainly wouldn't say that all are. Superior? That depends on what you mean by 'superior'. Because there are ways in which eagles are superior to us. Furthermore, the creatures around us aren't really 'lesser evolved' so much as 'differently evolved'. So it seems this is already getting off to a bad start, and is based on a poor understanding of evolution.
Plantinga then points our attention towards a tension between these two facts.
Except that I've just shown his 'facts' aren't 'facts'...
If human beings are a more evolved species of primate, then our cognitive faculties (ie, the parts of our body and mind that allow us to be rational creatures) have evolved out of lesser cognitive faculties. But, Plantinga says, if God does not exist, then the only factors that affected human evolution are time and chance.
But time and chance aren't the only things at play here. Alvin obviously forgot about natural selection. Natural selection is anything but random. It favors what works, and selects against what is harmful. Being rational is valuable and would be selected for by natural selection.
Based on time and chance alone, why should we be confident that our rational minds–which are merely the sum of lesser evolved minds plus time and chance–are actually rational at all? What basis do we have to believe our own conclusions? How do we know we are actually capable of knowing truth more than a primate? If the only players in our existence are lesser creatures, time, and chance, how do we know we are even highly evolved at all?
Again, chance is not the only thing at play. As for other creatures it can sometimes be tough since we can't really tell what they are thinking. So most of the time we are force to rely on their actions. But how can we tell if we're actually rational? By examining our own actions and thoughts. It comes down to evidence. Being rational has a definition that we've given it. Based on that we can observe we can determine if we meet that definition. So it really isn't that hard to figure out.
This astute observation was echoed by Thomas Nagel in his recent book Mind and Cosmos. Nagel, an agnostic philosopher from New York University, argues that human comprehension of the universe cannot be explained merely by atheistic evolutionary processes.
He does realize that evolution need not be atheistic, right? Also, human comprehension of the universe can't be explained by Christianity. Just read the Bible... It gets so much wrong!
It makes no sense to assume that humans can really make sense of their world on a conceptual level if human consciousness arose out of the very world it responds to. 
Sorry, but i don't agree. Prove it, then we can talk.
Nagel agrees with Plantinga that atheistic naturalism cannot explain why human beings can be rational creatures and do rational things that should be trusted.
Except that it can and does... As long as you actually have a decent understanding of evolution, that is.
Scientific knowledge is only possible if things unprovable by science are actually true.
And how the hell does one arrive at that conclusion?  There is no logical underpinning to it. You might as well say that scientific knowledge is only possible if laser kittens from Neptune are real, or that Christianity is only possible if Hinduism is actually true. None logically follow the other.
If Carl Sagan is correct and the material universe is all there was, is, and ever will be, then science itself is nothing more than a shot in the dark.
Wrong again. We still have evidence. And following the evidence is not a shot in the dark.
If, however, human beings are the products of an infinitely greater Mind, then we have justification for believing that true and false are realities and not merely the shadow puppets of our ancestors.
Another amazing product of evolution!
Sorry, but we already have all the justification we need if anyone is actually paying attention. Even if we grant Sam's claim, it gets us no closer to which God is true. And can true and false really matter that much in light of this god when he apparently works feverishly hard to hide his very existence?

Sam made many claims here, but they were almost all nonsensical, wrong, or showed a terrible lack of understanding about what he was talking about. All he really proved is that he certainly is a non-scientific Christian...


-Brain Hulk

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