Series of Series

Well, in order to present a better dialogue, my former pastor and I are going to read through Sproul’s Not a Chance, before reviewing/commenting further. Hopefully that will make for a more lively discussion and a deeper dive than just my own take on the material.

In the meantime I’ll be doing a couple things. First, I’m doing some light reading on Chance and Probability in Quantum Physics, as well as boning up on the topic in general. This is also requiring me to do a brief refresher on Linear Algebra, which is, believe it or not, rather fun.

Yeah, I’m a sicko.

But for the sake of the blog, I’m planning to finish reading and post a review of Faith vs. Fact, a new book out this summer by the esteemed Dr. Jerry Coyne, author of perhaps the best layman’s book on Evolution available, Why Evolution is True. In FvF, Coyne explores the conflict between faith and science, and presents an argument against the concept of Non-Overlapping Magesteria, a term coined by the late prominent Evolutionary Biologist Dr. Stephen Jay Gould. NOMA is the idea that faith and science address completely different sets of human questions, and therefore should not be compared or placed in conflict.

Somewhere in reviewing this book, which may take more than one article, I’m planning to address a particular rebuttal by Christian blogger and Podcaster Nick Peters. Now I’ll say straight up that I’m no fan of Peters. Having interacted with him for a short time in the Facebook group supporting the Internet radio show Unbelievable, I found him long on snark and short on the willingness to respectfully address an argument. He and a few others have made the page a rather useless forum, in stark contrast to the even-handedness of the radio show itself, which my wife and I, both atheists, enjoy from time to time. We’ll see come review/rebuttal time whether he does any better on his site.

Oh, and the reason I’ve chosen to address this particular rebuttal is due to a rather similar interaction on another atheist forum, where a believer referred to Peters’ articles as support for his ridicule of Coyne’s book. Ever one for a challenge, I’ve taken him up on this.

Reading had already commenced, in the midst of reading about seven other books, so I’ll be stepping it up to see if I can’t get a review published by the end of the week.

27 thoughts on “Series of Series

  1. Linear algebra? and, I’m taking a problem solving chemistry course – it’s hard! But, it’s a thrill when I grasp the next concept and can apply it. I agree Jerry Coyn’e book is very good. Faith and science may not ask all the same questions but in my mind they aren’t mutually exclusive if thought about in their abstractions. Man’s search for meaning is multi-fold but science offers proof via evidence that we can and do “know” something whereas most religions (not all) offer stories traditions and a submission to an unseen authority. I think most people like to submit to a force or being that “takes responsibility” for them. I know I did when I followed Sri Aurobindo and The Mother and also when I followed Catholicism. It takes GUTS to become responsible for ones own thoughts, feelings and actions all the time. It was way easier for me to pray to The Mother or a Saint to “help” me. Now, when I feel I need help I just close my eyes and thank my Dad for teaching me everything I need known how to live and to die. In other words – it’s inside – I am already in possession of the help I need it doesn’t come from some one else or a mythical angel or saint. I know this is an indirect response to your blog but I wanted to share that to my mind – so far- science and gods (or the need for them) is that they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Now, there may come a time when I can let go of looking to my Dad and I am secure in my own being – but I don’t want to be that alone – yet.

    • Hi, Rho 🙂

      Why bother being alone. What else is there but to carry with you the best of those who have gone before. Is that not the true afterlife to which we look forward?

      I’m just using a guidebook for the Algebra. It seems pretty familiar, but I haven’t taken any math since around 1988, so it’s all kind of rusty 🙂

  2. This stuff is waaay over my head but, lucky me, I have you to explain in layman’s terms. It does sound interesting but I’ll let you do the digging and I’ll lazily read your summations.

      • Oh poo, you called me on it. I don’t have enough interest to wade through it. That is definitely true. I will spend what little energy I have elsewhere (but I’ll still read what you write about it because that I find interesting). 🙂

      • Forgive me if I made that sound like a criticism. It was not meant that way. We all have our own interests and our own style 🙂

        Mine is to sit there and dig and look for little nuggets. We are not all the same 🙂

      • Oh no, I didn’t take it as a criticism at all. I was laughing at myself for thinking myself not intelligent enough when the truth is that I just wasn’t that interested. 🙂

  3. I saw a cool shirt the other day. On the front it said, “Schrodinger’s cat is alive.” On the back, it said, “Schrodinger’s cat is dead.”

  4. “… faith and science address completely different sets of human questions, and therefore should not be compared or placed in conflict.”

    I find myself using this principle to defend positions of faith more often than of skepticism / non-belief. It is absolutely true, and I guess the main objection a person of faith might have to it is it is a fact driven by human evolution.

    • Interesting – that’s actually one of the driving points of FvF. While we’d all like to see everyone treat religion as the personal thing it is, religious people are continually fighting for things such as teaching creationism in schools all based on their faith. Once the land is laid out that way, NOMA kind of goes out the window.

      I’ll have more to say about it in my review, but I’ll add that I think it’s more cogent than that, even, because religious beliefs also drive people to ignore serious issues like global warming because they think Jesus is coming back in their lifetime.

      I also think a clear, rational, humanistic view of temporal life leads to better morals than those dictated by ancient tribal patriarchal leaders.

  5. Hey Anthony! I’m making headway on Dr. Sproul’s book (finished chapter 3, moving soon into C.4). In the meantime, I’ve been in touch with a couple of scientist-friends, checking in with them on quantum mechanics, chance-creation, HUP, etc. I think comments from “Dr. Bob” are a worthwhile consideration (for both you and those who read your blog). Bob is pretty succinct and easy to follow. Hope this is OK with you to post:

    “Wow, this topic has generated so many thoughts. I was getting lost. I tried to distill my comments into something coherent. Just my take on the whole science/religion debate.

    “My education and discussion focus is in the natural sciences. But I think the principles I discuss apply to the whole of scientific methodology.

    “I don’t know what Sproul said about HUP or how he used it. From what I understand, HUP is a statement about behavior at the particle physics level. It says it is impossible to know precisely both the position and momentum of a particle. Therefore its future cannot be determined. This is a departure from classical physics which said that the future motion of a particle could be exactly predicted.

    “So, classical physics tries to provide exact results (deterministic) while quantum physics speaks in terms of probabilities (i.e. chances). For example, to describe the position of an electron, quantum mechanics describes only the probability of finding the electron at a certain point (because the exact point is impossible to define per HUP).

    “Anyway, I’ve also read that the lack of predictability per the HUP cannot be applied to the macro world. HUP does not mean that predictability is impossible on a macro scale. Again, not sure what point Sproul was trying to make with HUP and quantum mechanics.

    “For many, science has the answer for everything. However, science and the scientific method are limited. Unfortunately the limitations of science are not often acknowledged or communicated. Science can explain many things but not everything. A couple of observations in this regard:

    1) The limit of science is the natural world. Science is limited to naturalistic explanations (natural causes). The supernatural is outside its scope.

    2) There’s a pervasive arrogance in the scientific community which says scientific explanations are the only valid type of explanations. They’d rather discount the existence of the supernatural and other modes of explanation rather than acknowledge the limitations of science.

    “Here’s an analogy (as imperfect as it is): What if I were to evaluate the world using only a metal detector and then deny the existence of people or trees, rather than acknowledge the limitations of the detector? How absurd would that be? But that’s what often happens in the scientific community.

    “In his book, Darwin on Trial, Phillip Johnson does a good job demonstrating how Darwinism is closer to being religion than a theory based on science. I like the following way he sums up the view of much of the scientific community:

    “The position of scientific naturalists is that, “Scientific investigation is either the exclusive path to knowledge or at least by far the most reliable path, and that only natural or material phenomena are real. In other words, what science can’t study is effectively unreal.” – Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial, pg 116, note 2.

    “Here’s the bottom line. Both sides of the argument need to be reminded that science and the scientific method rely solely on naturalistic causes and explanations. When it comes to the supernatural, science can have no comment and the scientific method does not apply. Period.

    “It is futile to use scientific reasoning and evidence to argue for or against God. By definition, science and its methods are God-ignorant (could you say they are atheistic?).

    “My view on why science’s limitations aren’t talked about much: It causes us discomfort in two areas:

    1) Makes the world less knowable – Admitting science and scientific reasoning has limitations reduces how much really is knowable and explainable, and emphasizes how much we really don’t know – and possibly how much our capability to understand is limited
    2) Admitting scientific reasoning has limitations allows for the possibility that the supernatural exists and the possibility that we may be accountable to something outside of ourselves.

    “People don’t like not knowing or being accountable to some authority. What better way to rid one’s self of guilt than to get rid of accountability?

    “So again, science and the scientific method can only address causes within nature not outside of it. If one attempts to apply scientific explanation to the highest levels of cause, it becomes self-referential because it can only explain nature by the natural. It’s at this point we have the real sore spot between scientific philosophy and religion – Does God exist? It all gets back to a disagreement about ultimate causes.

    “I am not saying that science methodology is not useful. It is a great tool for discovering natural processes and finding out how they work and interact. However, too often it is assumed that natural processes are the only ones at work or the only ones that matter.

    “I think one can balance belief in God with a scientific approach to discovery. A believing scientist might say that they use scientific methods to discover and understand the natural processes at work in the world but still acknowledge God as the creator of these processes and as the ultimate cause.

    “To me, the believer’s view of the world is more satisfactory. Creation can be seen as existing and functioning with a design and purpose in mind (though still realizing that imperfections exist due to its fallen state). The non-believer lives in a world without purpose, although they have gotten rid of guilt (have they?).

    “In your friend’s story [Anthony] I see rebellion for sure, evidence of some significant life triggers to cause doubt (poor father figure, poor examples of Christians and Christianity by both individuals and churches, etc.), efforts to remove accountability (i.e. God) to get rid of guilt. I wonder if the public blog about his “journey” hints at a need to have others justify and validate his decision? Or is he just that angry?

    “Another thought that struck me as I perused your friend’s blog is how often people use the presence of sin and the reality of an imperfect, fallen world as reason there can be no God or as an excuse for their unbelief. In other words, using the fact that bad things happen as evidence that there cannot possibly be a god – Because how could an all-powerful god allow that?”

    • Well, there’s quite a bit here, and I think I’ll use two posts to address it. One to address his points (and misinformation) regarding scientific inquiry into the supernatural (and the intersection of the supernatural with the natural) and the other to address the highly offensive and uncalled for judgment of my character.

      If I were “Bob,” I’d be embarrassed to be that arrogant and judgmental. It makes me wonder if he thought I’d never see his words. Would he have said such things if he knew you would forward them to me?

      Anyway, I’m looking forward to addressing the science issues, because he brings up some points that really do need to be addressed. But I’m also deeply offended by his presumption and outright gall.


  6. No, I did not tell Bob I’d post his comments. I did tell him after-the-fact and he is fine with that. Anthony, you have significance to me, I care deeply for you (that’s why our relationship is still in tact – it’s a mutual-thing!). I posted Bob’s comments because he speaks as one working in the field (science) and is therefore qualified to address the subject of our discussion. You and I both speak as self-taught laymen. If I might be candid with you: if anyone has an arrogant attitude it is you my friend. No matter which expert or scholar I bring into the equation of our discussions, you immediately presume to know more and immediately rush into a character-bashing mode. I believe you are a bright, articulate guy, but you are combative, angry, and vociferously driven in your attacks on theism and/or most anything that has a conservative, Bible-oriented focus.

    Bob obviously doesn’t know you, yet he was able to easily detect your anger – as well as confirm many of the things I’ve shared concerning why folks deconvert.

    It would certainly be easier for me to fold my hands and let your comments slip by, but I cannot. Jesus certainly didn’t do that with the Scribes and Pharisees – primarily because of how they were affecting the “sheep.” There is a time to speak and a time to be silent. The “silent” time may come, but it’s not yet.

    In the meantime, I’m enjoying Sproul, often being reminded of the importance of not truncating philosophy (logic) from science. They must be wedded so as to avoid launching into the absurd. I think that is a main thing to pick up from Dr. Sproul’s book.

    Cheers back at ya!

    • *Sigh*

      Chuck, you make the same mistake as Bob, which I’ll get into in an upcoming post.

      But I utterly reject your accusations of anger and bitterness on a couple of levels.

      I *am* direct, but that is a combination of my writing style, and my insistence that people who make assertions substantiate those assertions with evidence.

      In the same way that you earlier called my writings an “attack”, you interpret any criticisms of Biblical/Christian theology as attacks and you ascribe anger and other negative emotions as motivators. For most believers who find their closely-held beliefs questioned in a significant way, that is because of the negative emotions such criticism evokes.

      You say: “No matter which expert or scholar I bring into the equation of our discussions, you immediately presume to know more and immediately rush into a character-bashing mode.”

      That’s a strong accusation. I might be tempted to think it comes from a place of anger, from feeling threatened. I defy you to find an example where I have produced an ad hominem attack on any authority you have proffered. I’m pretty sure that with every assertion you have made, I have met your assertion with logical argument or evidence of my own (or at the very least, knowledge of evidence easily verified.)

      If anything, it’s you who has had a tough time staying on topic, defaulting to questioning my character without addressing my arguments.

      Bob obviously doesn’t know you, yet he was able to easily detect your anger – as well as confirm many of the things I’ve shared concerning why folks deconvert.

      Rather he judged me based on his own emotional reactions to my criticisms without even knowing me personally. His detection equipment is off.

      You and I both speak as self-taught laymen. If I might be candid with you: if anyone has an arrogant attitude it is you my friend. No matter which expert or scholar I bring into the equation of our discussions, you immediately presume to know more and immediately rush into a character-bashing mode.

      That is patently unfair. I don’t presume to know. What I know, I know, and I say how I know. What I don’t know, I don’t know.

      I daresay I’ve brought more fact and less emotional accusation to the conversation than you have, my friend. It seems to me you have responded emotionally rather than rationally. That’s your right, I suppose, but I’d venture it’s the pot calling the kettle black, and the kettle is a touch less sooty…

  7. Pingback: Science, Schmience | Why I No Longer Believe

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