New Atheism’s age old question

New Atheism’s age old question

Professor Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (2006) proved to be a key driver in the emergence of the New Atheist Movement. New Atheism takes an aggressive stance against all faiths, arguing that rational thinking and science render religion at best unnecessary and at worst fraudulent. The movement has sparked healthy debates between New Atheists and Christians. On the one side Richard Dawkins, and others including “anti‐theist” the late Christopher Hitchens, and on the other side, Christian speakers such as William Lane Craig and Oxford Professor John Lennox.

Across these debates in the Universities and City Halls of America, Europe and Australia one question that recurs is the question of Science and Faith – often posed as Science Versus Faith. And perhaps the …

Great question: How did it all begin?

The question of how everything began is one which scientists address — we have all come across the Big Bang concept. However, how does a Big Bang result in an ordered universe? After a big bang you don’t expect order, you expect chaos. If you took an explosive and inserted it into rocks or a building to make a “big bang”, you don’t get order, you get a mess.

Simplistic analogies aside, the idea that we live in a highly ordered universe and not chaos is important. An ordered universe is evidence of purpose, intelligence and therefore of an intelligent designer. Enter the so‐called “Fine Tuning Argument”. This states that there are many aspects of our universe, many “physical constants” which are extremely finely‐tuned to enable life and the universe as we experience it. For example the precise distance of the earth from the sun, the tilt of the earth’s axis, the precise percentage of oxygen in water. If any of these varied by even a fraction, we would freeze/burn, there would be no seasons, or all sea‐life would be impossible. You could go on, eg if gravity was reduced by only a tiny fraction, molecules could not form, if it were greater, nothing could physically move.

Fine Tuning

This surprising precision of constants in nature comprises the Fine Tuning Argument and points to a Designer. In fact some authors say that if the ratio of gravitational force to electromagnetic force was changed by a miniscule amount (1 part in 10 to power 40) stellar matter would not form, stars and planets could not evolve and the universe itself would be unsustainable. That is incredibly fine tuning.

However Christian speaker John Lennox states that the “how” question is not the fundamental question. He says the starting question is not a “how question” but a “why question”: ie …

Even better question: Why is there anything at all?

Why should there be anything compared to nothing?

Lennox argues that the very fact that there is a Universe points to a purposeful creator and this is no way contradicts science. He has an effective analogy for demonstrating that science and faith do not conflict but answer different questions. He points to a Ford car engine. The engine, can be explained scientifically using laws of internal combustion and mechanics. That’s all we need right? But there is a second equally complete explanation for the same engine, and that is … the man, Henry Ford. Henry Ford conceived of the engine, was its prime mover, and was responsible for its design. Lennox’s point is that neither explanation is contradictory. Explanations can be made in different dimensions. There is more than one type of truth. How and Why are different questions.

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New Atheists attempt to force us to choose between science and God, but that is a false separation.. The point is that science and faith answer different questions. Science is crucial for answering certain questions, for one type of truth. But those with faith understand that there are truths that lie outside our conceptual framework (what I can know or define). As well as scientific truth, there is experiential truth, moral truth, there is truth as metaphor, truths that in fact are simply not amenable to scientific investigation. Speaker J John once humorously attempted to explain a kiss scientifically, ie….”the lips of two people approaching and engaging in contact, for finite periods of time, and involving exchange of micro bacteria”. Well that is completely true and yet it is not at all the truth. It can only partly describe the enactment of a kiss. And of course it cannot start to answer the question …. why kiss? Clearly there are many types of truth and they go beyond the scientific.

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There is no squabble between science and faith

On his website Saints and Sceptics David Glass points to the complementary nature of science and faith. He says “Science presents us with some of the most persuasive reasons FOR a belief in God……. It would be much more probable if there were a God, that constants would be finely‐tuned, and life would exist”. Of course many great scientists also had great faith — Kepler who calculated the laws of planetary motion said he was merely: “following in God’s thoughts after him”, while Isaac Newton on discovering the force of gravity stated “what a wonderful God to do it that way!” John Lennox adds: “… The more science reveals to me, the more I worship the God who chose to do it that way!

In the end, new atheists criticise what they call “blind faith”: the belief in a designer‐God, but they are happy to believe in blind atheism: sightless, purposeless energy. Well that is a great step of faith indeed!

 

Useful Links

MP3 Debate: Science the Universe and the God Question — John Lennox V Lawrence Krauss, from Unbelievable,Premier Christian Radio

Videos — Science and Christian Belief — David Glass from Saints and Sceptics website

Video — Is God Relevant? — John Lennox from John Lennox blog / website

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Do you have enough faith to be an atheist? - 7 MinutesThe odds are against atheism - 7 MinutesDebbie StylesMarekSimon Recent comment authors

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Paul Grundey
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Paul Grundey

Hello Chris, very nice website.

Paul
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Paul

In any debate, you need to provide some clear definitions. What exactly is atheism? new or old? Atheism is not a belief system, although many of faith appear to think that it is. A pitch black room can be illuminated with a pocket torch, but there does not exist an “anti‐torch” that can project a beam of darkness into a brightly lit room. Darkness is the absence of light, not the presence of darkness. Atheists don’t “believe” there are no gods. It is simply that they don’t find the evidence for them credible, and therefore the default state must be… Read more »

Phil Winn
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Phil Winn

Giles Fraser points out the problems that arise when science tries to replace religion in this Guardian article:
http://google.com/newsstand/s/CBIwtODrnBo

Joe
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Joe

Having the privilege of knowing both Paul and Chris, I read this thread with a lot of smiles. Points as I would expect well made by you both, positions equally met my expectations, 2+2 = unchanged. As I fall on the Faith side of the discussion with a love of “sums” I firmly believe they can co‐exist, they do within me. That said I would suggest the experience of faith, or God moments, are not measurable by mathematical analysis or modelling. And as much as using mathematical or scientific analysis of the Christian Truth will provide for good discussion it… Read more »

Jane
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Jane

Interesting discussions here on the nature of truth — I recommend Leslie Newbigin’s ‘Proper Confidence’ to you both as an exploration of the impact of philosophy and culture on the way we view and discover what is truth. I think you’d find it useful for your discussion.

Kiwi06
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Kiwi06

The argument from intelligent design is essentially the first 3–4 chapters of CS Lewis’s ‘Mere Christianity’. I like to think of myself as a ‘rational Christian’, and I’ve never found intelligent design arguments particularly convincing. They require a lot of prior assumptions to be made, such as “if there is evidence of great design, then ipso facto there must be a designer at work”. Similarly the ‘why is there something” argument is unconvincing — one could equally ask “why not”? The evidence for a God is at its most powerful when it’s founded on experiential/empirical grounds, rather than rational/scientific ones.… Read more »

Philip G
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Philip G

Paul, you crudely imply that Christians are in the habit of believing things without evidence, ironically, without providing any evidence for the assertion! There is an overwhelming body of evidence supporting the claims of Jesus Christ. Maybe you should allow science to take its natural place rather than building a pseudo‐religion around it. I put it to you that I do not have a God of the gaps but you have a science of the gaps‐ anything that doesn’t stack up to your preconceived worldview (the impossibility of abiogenesis, for example) “science just isn’t advanced enough to explain yet”. The… Read more »

Paul
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Paul

I didn’t think I was being crude 🙂
If you are saying my statement is a false assertion, the implication is that you are a Christian because you have evidence?

Here is my challenge to believers in Gods and angels, what nature of evidence can you offer that a Bigfoot believer cannot for their truth?

Personal experience is offered by both. I’d say the Bigfootists can go better than the theists by offering material evidence as well as witness testimony.
Unfortunately none of it meets my standards for what I would consider proof.

Paul,

a‐theist, a‐ghostist, a‐Bigfootist, a‐aliens‐visiting‐earth (in no particular order)

Paul
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Paul

I forgot to address your other points. You are absolutely correct that we have a Science of the Gaps. I doubt you will find a single scientist who will claim a lack of gaps in their field. If it was not the case, then we could stop wasting money on R&D and solve the world’s problems in the morning. Conversely, it seems to be religions and high priests who claim to have a direct line to the truth and know God’s wishes on sexuality and morality. I wish I was so secure in knowing what’s right and wrong that I… Read more »

Philip G
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Philip G

I’ve just stumbled upon this again. I’m absolutely fascinated Paul that you believe in the concept of right and wrong, Very unscientific. No evidence for it that would meet my standard of what I would consider proof and, as someone with more than a passing interest in mathematics, I can assure you it’s a high standard. Perhaps you could intellectually honest and add amoral to your list?

Philip G
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Philip G

*could be

Simon
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Simon

To me, faith means “hope in the future”. This is another kind of truth which science can’t tell us much about.

Marek
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Marek

Does evil exist? The university professor challenged his students with this question. Did God create everything that exists? A student bravely replied, “Yes, he did!” “God created everything? The professor asked. “Yes sir”, the student replied. The professor answered, “If God created everything, then God created evil since evil exists, and according to the principal that our works define who we are then God is evil”. The student became quiet before such an answer. The professor was quite pleased with himself and boasted to the students that he had proven once more that the Christian faith was a myth. Another… Read more »

Paul
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Paul

It’s interesting you chose a myth to make your point.
Did you read the snopes article?

Debbie Styles
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Debbie Styles

It’s five to eight at night all my children are in dream land and I popped on here for a quick look to see if you had anything on science v god, the big bang theory.
I enjoy reading the articles but its the comments and discussion that I really find fascinating and my quick look has turned in to not such a quick look, although I’ve enjoyed my read I have to admit my head is a little achy.

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