Monday, September 06, 2010

Julian Baggini on Science vs. Religion

Here's a free-lance philosopher I agree with, sometimes [Julian Baggini]. He's writing for The Independent about Stephen Hawking's new book [Julian Baggini: If science has not actually killed God, it has rendered Him unrecognisable].
This reflects an inconvenient truth about science that religion would prefer to ignore. For although it is true that science doesn't rule out a role for religion in providing meaning, or a God who kick-started the whole universe off in the first place, it does leave presumed dead in the water anything like the God most people over history have believed in: one who is closely involved in his creation, who intervenes in our lives, and with whom we can have a personal relationship. In short, there is no room in the universe of Hawking or most other scientists for the activist God of the Bible. That's why so few leading scientists are religious in any traditional sense.

This point is often overlooked by apologists who grasp at any straw science will hold out for them. Such desperate clinging happened, disgracefully, in the last years of the philosopher Antony Flew's life. A famous atheist, Flew was said to have changed his mind, persuaded that the best explanation for the "fine-tuning"of the universe – very precise way that its conditions make life possible – was some kind of intentional design. But what was glossed over was that he was very clear that this designer was nothing like the traditional God of the Abrahamic faiths. It was, he clearly said, rather the Deist God, or the God of Aristotle, one who might set the ball rolling but then did no more than watch it trundle off over the horizon. This is no mere quibble. The deist God does not occupy some halfway house between atheism and theism. Replace Yaweh with the deist God and the Bible would make less sense than if you'd substituted Brian for Jesus.

So it is not true that science challenges only the most primitive, literal forms of religion. It is probably going too far to say that science makes the God of Christianity, Judaism and Islam impossible, but it certainly makes him very unlikely indeed.
The last sentence is technically correct in the same sense that this sentence is technically correct: "It is impossible to prove that the tooth fairy doesn't exist but science makes her existence very unlikely indeed."

Julian Baggini might be right about this but he's dead wrong about some other things. For example, in The New Atheist Movement is destructive, he writes,
“What do you think about the four horsemen?” It's a question I often get asked, quite understandably, since I wrote the Very Short Introduction to atheism. That book provides no answer, because it came out before Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens unleashed their apocalypse. But surely I must have an opinion on the biggest phenomenon in popular atheism since Bertrand Russell?

Well I do, but it comes with one huge caveat: I have not read any of their books. That does not, however, disqualify me from having an opinion about them. Let me defend both apparently intellectually disreputable confessions.
I'm sorry but the fact that he hasn't read the books does, indeed, disqualify him from having an "informed" opinion about them. He may have another kind of opinion but why should I listen to it?

Baggini also says,
For me, atheism’s roots are in a sober and modest assessment of where reason and evidence lead us. That means the real enemy is not religion as such, but any kind of system of belief that does not respect these limits on our thinking. For that reason, I want to engage with thoughtful, intelligent believers, and isolate extremists. But if we demonise all religion, such coalitions of the reasonable are not possible. Instead, we are likely to see moderate religious believers join ranks with fundamentalists, the enemies of their enemy, to resist what they see as an attempt to wipe out all forms of religious belief.
Well, he's just said that science makes the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god "highly unlikely indeed." That doesn't leave very many "thoughtful, intelligent believers" to accommodate, does it? Having just demonized Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, what moderate religions does he think atheists should form coalitions with? Are there any deists out there?


  1. Has DM taken her/his meds?
    Wait...on second thought, it doesn't matter either way.

  2. Um, wait, Judeo-Christian believers have always believed in 1) settled order and predictability in nature and 2) God actively involved nonetheless.

    "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord." (Pro 16:33 NIV)

    That there is predictability in nature is not some astonishing revelation that overthrows all traditional theists.

    > For me, atheism’s roots are in a sober and modest assessment of where reason and evidence lead us. That means the real enemy is not religion as such, but any kind of system of belief that does not respect these limits on our thinking.

    So where is he getting that the God of the Bible does not do this?

    Reason and logic are appealed to, in fact.

    "Present your case," says the Lord. "Set forth your arguments," says Jacob's King. (Isa 41:21 NIV)

    "Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves." (Joh 14:11 NIV)

    You may of course dispute whether Jesus did any miracles, but this is indisputably an appeal to logic, and to evidence. Where do reason and evidence lead?

  3. But the Bible does make more sense if you replace Jesus with Brian. It even explains UFOs!

  4. DM said

    science cannot explain NOTHING!

    Gotta love the double negatives ;-)