“Many secularists seem hell-bent (if you’ll pardon the expression) on pretending that religious people in general believe in a God so anthropomorphic that only a child or the most ignorant peasant could take the question of His existence seriously even for a moment.” [SNIP] ” To understand what serious religious thinkers do believe, we might usefully distinguish five gradations in one’s conception of God.
1) God is literally an old man white a white beard, a kind if stern wizard-like being with very human thoughts and motivations who lives in a place called Heaven, which is like the places we know except for being very far away and impossible to get to except through magical means.
2) God doesn’t really have a bodily form, and his thoughts and motivations are in many respects very different from ours. He is an immaterial object or substance which has existed forever, and (perhaps) pervades all space. Still, he is, somehow, a person like we are, only vastly more intelligent, powerful, and virtuous, and in particular without our physical and morel limitations. He made the world the way a carpenter builds a house, as an independent object that would carry on even if he were to “go away” from it, but he nevertheless may decide to intervene in its operations from time to time.
3) God is not an object or substance alongside other objects or substances in the world; rather, He is pure being or existence itself, utterly distinct from the world of time, space, and things, underlying and maintaining them in being at every moment, and part from whose ongoing conserving action they would be instantly annihilated. The world is not an independent object tin the sense of something that might carry on if God were to “go away”; it is more like the music produced by a musician, which exits only when he plays and vanishes the moment he stops. None of the concepts we apply to things in the world, in clouding to ourselves, apply to God in anything but the analogous sense. Hence, for example, we may say that God is “personal” insofar as He is not less than a person, the way an animal is less than a person. But God is not literally “a person” in the sense of being one individual thing among others who reasons, chooses, has moral obligations, etc. Such concepts make no sense when literally applied to God. Read the rest of this entry »
A snippet from a recent essay of mine on Atheism:
“In the God Delusion, Dawkins seems to think the theory of evolution is an answer for everything and quite easily remove God from the equation of life. Life is explained by evolution. Not so. Evolution explains the changes in life. It does not look at origins of life nor physics nor God. His explanations of how it might explain religion and consciousness and many other things are pure speculation, not fact.
Alex Jensen, professor of systematic theology at Murdoch University, points out the basis of such an argument is a logical fallacy. When we do science, we do not assume God. We assume God does not make my car run, the engine does. So the fact that the car runs without God proves God does not exist. Not so.
To make the conclusion that God does not exist, when God has not been factored into the experiment in the first place, makes an inconsistent leap. “Methodological atheism jumps to ontological atheism with no explanation.”
Nathan Duffy brings up the issue more clearly in his blogpost: Evidentialist Atheism
If you traffic in atheistic circles, online or elsewhere, you’ll notice that the primary objection lodged against belief in God is the evidential objection i.e. “I believe things based on [usually ‘scientific’] evidence (and others ought to as well); in the absence of evidence for some proposition, I withhold (and others ought to withhold) belief in it; there is no evidence for God’s existence that I’ve ever seen; hence I can’t justify believing in God (and neither can anyone else).” Not only is this the primary objection, it’s virtually becoming the sole objection. There are many weaknesses to this argument, but I just want to examine one of them in this post.
Namely this: for someone who adopts this stance, what would count as evidence of the supernatural or of God? And if it turns out there is not any sort of event, fact, datum, or combination of facts that would count as evidence of the supernatural or of God, then how is this stance distinguishable from a priori atheism, rather than a result of a survey of the pertinent evidence? And if it is indistinguishable from a priori atheism, why countenance the objection seriously at all? Read the rest of this entry »
The central contention of the “New Atheism” of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens is that there has for several centuries been a war between science and religion, that religion has been steadily losing that war, and that at this point in human history a completely secular scientific account of the world has been worked out in such thorough and convincing detail that there is no longer any reason why a rational and educated person should find the claims of any religion the least bit worthy of attention.
But as Edward Feser argues in The Last Superstition, in fact there is not, and never has been, any war between science and religion at all. There has instead been a conflict between two entirely philosophical conceptions of the natural order: on the one hand, the classical “teleological” vision of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas, on which purpose or goal-directedness is as inherent a feature of the physical world as mass or electric charge; and the modern “mechanical” vision of Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, and Hume, according to which the physical world is comprised of nothing more than purposeless, meaningless particles in motion. The modern “mechanical” picture has never been established by science, and cannot be, for it is not a scientific theory in the first place but merely a philosophical interpretation of science.
Not only is this modern philosophical picture rationally unfounded, it is demonstrably false. For the “mechanical” conception of the natural world, when worked out consistently, absurdly entails that rationality, and indeed the human mind itself, are illusory. The so-called “scientific worldview” championed by the New Atheists thus inevitably undermines its own rational foundations; and into the bargain it undermines the foundations of any possible morality as well.
Dupre pg 112 -113
“Any belief not justified by scientific methods may be discarded as probably false.”
“The scientist transgresses the limits of his field if he denies the believing mind the intellectual right ……to attribute a theological meaning to a process that results in such realities as mind, self-consciousness, and freedom.
To declare such an attribution “unscientific” or unjustified is tantamount to denying the legitimacy of any belief in creation and divine providence.
Indeed, it implies that science and religious faith are intrinsically incompatible. An atheist conclusion becomes thereby inescapable.
Yet is surpasses the boundaries of science.
The biological theory of evolution is designed for investigation how one form of life mutates into another, not for explaining the presence or absence of a transcendent meaning to human existence. The claim that mind is no more than the necessary outcome of a random biological process grossly oversteps the limits of science.
Without entering the complex issue of how brain and mind are related, it suffices to state that a biological theory cannot service as a substitute for belief in creation, no more than such a belief can serve as a substitute or a necessary complement for a biological theory. They belong to different intellectual orders.
The conception that evolution replaces creation is a typical instance of scientific dogmatism.”
ABC Religion and Ethics 4 Oct 2011
But here we need to distinguish atheism and humanism. Arguably, humanism has always sought to provide an alternative to traditional religions through creating an anthropocentric civil religion.
There is a long tradition of wrestling with the problem of how to provide a moral basis for political and economic relations without Christianity that spans Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza, Rousseau, John Toland and Comte.
However, unlike many contemporary humanists, these thinkers were aware of the pathos at the heart of this task: it involved replacing one religion with another. The task was necessarily one of setting up a compelling religious alternative to Christianity or de-christianising and remodelling Christianity so that it could serve as the basis of a civil religion.
Atheism had no such pretensions. Its aim was to rid us of the need for religion. Yet in its move to remodel itself as a civil religion it has become what it claims to reject. The disdain of a Marx or Freud for religion has given way to the shrill competitiveness of the “New Athiests.”
The sense in which religion and by implication atheism was simply a passing stage on the way to a new rationalistic outlook freed from religious baggage seems to have dissipated. Instead, a new confessional atheism has emerged, one ready to hawk its wares in the religious marketplace and compete for the souls of children.
Rather than a critique of religion from which the religious can learn, we find a “wannabe civil religion” that depends for its appeal on the continuance of the very thing it claims to replace. It has become an alternative rather than a critique.
Rather than a prophetic witness, disabusing humans of our illusions and idolatries, atheism has become Pepsi to the Coke of religion. To paraphrase the New Testament: what does it profit atheism to gain the whole world and lose its own soul?
There are parallels between the search for the ‘God particle’ and the search for God Himself, writes Alister McGrath.
In 1994, Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman came up with a nickname for the Higgs boson – the mysterious particle proposed by physicist Peter Higgs back in the 1960s to explain the origin of mass. Journalists loved the name – “the God particle” – which probably explains the huge media interest recently in the work of the Large Hadron Collider. Most scientists hated it, considering it misleading and simplistic. Maybe so. But it certainly got people talking about physics.
And maybe it’s not such a bad nickname after all. Lederman invented the name the “God particle” because it was “so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive.” Nobody had seen it back in 1994. And they’re still not sure whether they’ve really seen it today. Yet this isn’t seen as a massive problem. The idea seemed to make so much sense of things that the existence of the “God particle” has come to be taken for granted. It has become, I would say, a “particle of faith”. The observations themselves didn’t prove the existence of the Higgs boson. Rather, the idea of the Higgs boson explained observations so well that those in the know came to believe it really existed. One day, technology might be good enough to allow it to be actually observed. But we don’t need to wait until then before we start believing in it.
Some tell us that science is about what can be proved. The wise tell us it is really about offering the best explanations of what we see, realising that these explanations often cannot be proved, and may sometimes lie beyond proof. Science often proposes the existence of invisible (and often undetectable) entities – such as dark matter – to explain what can be seen. The reason why the Higgs boson is taken so seriously in science is not because its existence has been proved, but because it makes so much sense of observations that its existence seems assured. In other words, its power to explain is seen as an indicator of its truth.
There’s an obvious and important parallel with the way religious believers think about God. While some demand proof that God exists, most see this as unrealistic. Believers argue that the existence of God gives the best framework for making sense of the world. God is like a lens, which brings things into clearer focus. As the Harvard psychologist William James pointed out years ago, religious faith is about inferring “the existence of an unseen order” in which the “riddles of the natural order” can be explained.
There’s more to God than making sense of things. But for religious believers, it’s a great start.
Alister McGrath is Professor of Theology at King’s College London, and President of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. He is currently writing a new biography of the Oxford apologist and writer C. S. Lewis, to be published in March 2013.