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Dawkins versus dualism

On this recent Australian panel show Richard Dawkins was served up a number of Christian politicians on a plate.  And he quite rightly ate them for breakfast.  Of course, given their distinct lack of back-bone, they wouldn't have been hard to chew.  But you do have to wonder why the key match-ups weren't scientist versus scientist, or atheist versus Christian - but atheist scientist versus... MP.  Huh?

Anyway both Pete and I found this particular quotation from Dawkins interesting.

I think that the existence of a supreme being - a supernatural supreme being - is a scientific issue. Either there is a God or there isn't. Either there are gods or there are no gods. That is a... supremely important scientific question. If the universe was created by an intelligence, then we are looking at an entirely different kind of scientific theory from if the universe came into existence by natural means. If God or gods had something to do with the creation of life, then we're looking at a totally different kind of biology...

So I think you can't just say religion and science have nothing to do with each other. Science can get on and you let people have their own religious - of course you let people believe whatever they like. But you cannot say that science and religion are completely separate because religion makes scientific claims. It certainly makes scientific claims about miracles, as I mentioned before, and you cannot reconcile an authentic approach to science with a belief in miracles or, I suspect, with a belief in supernatural creation. At least the very least you should say is that this is a scientific question.

Here was an oasis of clarity in a desert of dualism.  While other panelists were falling over themselves trying to affirm both evolution and "the one who provided the amino acids in the first place”, Richard refused to compartmentalise either religion or science.  Good.

But if Dawkins is right here - and I think he is - then there are two major mistakes you must avoid.

1) You must avoid tacking on some kind of super-intending god to the science of naturalism. Whatever god of the gaps is left by a scientific method designed to exclude the supernatural is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Christian assumptions mean a very different way of doing science .  There may be great overlap at points but the foundations are very different.  Don't pretend that Christian assumptions matter in the theology class but not the science class.  They matter as profoundly in theology as they do in science (and everything else!).

2) You must avoid judging creationists by the very same scientific method used for naturalistic enquiry.  If indeed science 'with God' would be conducted differently than science on atheistic assumptions then to test the effectiveness of YEC science you'd want to avoid just assuming they were wrong, wouldn't you?  I mean that wouldn't be very fair - not very scientific.  Well then, you're going to have to walk a mile in their shoes rather than simply test them by a scientific method that excludes divine words from the outset.  Instead, if you want to do science ‘with God’ – you’d better allow Him to BE God. ie You’d better allow Him to speak, for that to be your authority and then to move out into the world on the basis of His word. That would be good science wouldn’t it?  If God is God – that would be the only kind of science you could do.

So I think Dawkin's words need to be heeded here - first by Christians who want to conduct and affirm science on common foundations to naturalists.  But second by Dawkins himself.  If he really believed that science ‘with God’ was entirely different then he wouldn’t be judging YEC science by naturalistic science. But he does this all the time!

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0 thoughts on “Dawkins versus dualism

  1. Chris E

    If indeed science ‘with God’ would be conducted differently than science on atheistic assumptions then to test the effectiveness of YEC science you’d want to avoid just assuming they were wrong

    Nevertheless, there has to be some point at which it is presumed that - pending new evidence to the contrary - arguments about the age of the earth have been settled. To then use the word 'assumption' sounds like special pleading.

    The line of argument pre-supposes that there is some deliberate conspiracy sustained over hundreds of years build a naturalistic explanation for the origins of the earth that were separate from a Creator. If you take geology as an example - then a lot of the evidences from that science against a YEC position came about during a period when society believed natural theology was possible because of a rational Creator.

  2. Glen

    Hi Chris,

    You talk about settled arguments on the age of the earth "pending new evidence to the contrary."

    Part of my point here is to question what counts as evidence. Who gets to say what counts as evidence? Genesis is pretty old evidence but I'd say absolutely decisive. And I'd say it's not special pleading to admit special revelation to the bar - it's just the way you ought to do science if you're going to do 'science with God'. (Not, of course, science with the deist god of natural theology - but science with the Speaking God of Scripture.)

    And I wouldn't so much use the language of 'deliberate conspiracy' for old earth geologists. 'The blind leading the blind' is more the phrase that comes to mind. They aren't blind because they're stupid or lazy or maliciously concocting lies so much as they are simply failing to look again through the lens of Scripture.

  3. pgjackson

    Yeah, I think this and a few other things he said are very very interesting.

    I love the point you make about science with God requiring taking his words into account (and into account as what they are - his words). They can't be excluded from the data, not unless we want to concede ground that ought not to be conceded. Anything else amounts to accepting a legitimately God-free zone of inquiry or knowledge.

  4. Heather

    I've often wondered whether God might have created a "young" earth with the appearance of old age specifically because He knew there would be those who study it with the intention of using findings to justify a denial of His existence.

    God is not obligated to answer all of man's questions and Jesus did thank His Father for hiding the truth from the arrogantly "wise and understanding" while revealing it to "babes" who humbly accepted His word as true, even if they did not fully understand it.

  5. Chris E

    Who gets to say what counts as evidence? Genesis is pretty old evidence but I’d say absolutely decisive. And I’d say it’s not special pleading to admit special revelation to the bar

    Sure, though I'd say that you are pitting a specific interpretation of special revelation against a specific interpretation of general revelation, with the implication that anyone who isn't a YEC is on the side of Dawkins.

    And I wouldn’t so much use the language of ‘deliberate conspiracy’ for old earth geologists.

    My point was that the earliest evidences for an old earth were found by geologists operating out of the assumption that nature would be comprehensible because God had made it - the only reason they originally rejected a nascent flood geology was because it proved to explain very little. It wasn't as if a purely naturalistic world view was assumed.

    Jesus did thank His Father for hiding the truth from the arrogantly “wise and understanding” while revealing it to “babes” who humbly accepted His word as true, even if they did not fully understand it.

    Heather, I think this applies to saving truth rather than all truth - or Romans 1 wouldn't be true, and the whole concept of common grace would become problematic.

  6. Glen

    Hi Chris,

    I’d say that you are pitting a specific interpretation of special revelation against a specific interpretation of general revelation, with the implication that anyone who isn’t a YEC is on the side of Dawkins.

    I hope not. I wanna be with Dawkins on this issue. As I see it, on the anti-dualist point, me and my YEC friends are happily with Dawkins. Old-earth Christian evolutionists are on the other side.

    And I don't want to pit interpretations of special revelation against interpretations of general revelation - I want to say that they are completely overlapping spheres (and this is the strength of Dawkins' point).

    I want to be a Christian who co-ordinates the raw data of Scripture with the raw data of geological observations etc. And if there are alternative interpretations I want to be a good scientist and say 'At least one of us is wrong.'

    So, wanting to be a good scientist, I'm wanting to listen to the evidence on its own terms. Scripture is evidence - it is conrete, particular (and confessionally I'd say 'perspicuous') evidence at least as much as any geological observation. And Scripture is the boss of all the other evidence - it has to be if I'm treating it according to its true nature.

    Therefore, as Heather has alluded to, an interpretation that "fits" billions of years into Scripture betrays to me a methodology in which Scripture is not boss. (In a similar way - but of course much more seriously - an interpretation that denies the miraculous would betray the same faulty methodology.)

  7. Otepoti

    Chris says "it wasn’t as if a purely naturalistic world view was assumed."

    I think it was. From Wiki on Hutton ("The Father of Geology"):

    "[I] "rejoiced at my good fortune in stumbling upon an object so interesting in the natural history of the earth, and which I had been long looking for in vain." "

    The lens comes first, then the observations to match.

    An interesting thought is whether uniformitarianism would have so readly gained acceptance, if earth science had developed in New Zealand, where a single earthquake (last October) can move the whole country A FOOT CLOSER to Australia, and fifteen-year-old lava flows from Ngauruahoe can test out as millions of years old, according to the current scientific tests.

    Heather says (in part): "a “young” earth with the appearance of old age". Again, it's a lens thing. You have been told the earth is old, so it's difficult to see it otherwise. You should move here. It all looks pretty d@mn new, believe me. And the fact that we acquire one or two exotic insects/birds from Australia per decade attests to a recent flood event, providing a blank slate here. Otherwise we'd have accumulated a whole lot more pests from Australia, no?

    Apparently Dr Jonathan Sarfati has offered to debate Dr Dawkins , but this offer has been declined. A pity - it would be a worthy match.

  8. Heather

    I used the phrase "appearance of old age" because this is what humanly devised methods of testing seem to suggest.

    And perhaps I'm just stubborn, but I still think it is entirely possible that the Lord handed over to the futility of their own imaginations those who refuse to acknowledge Him .

    Whenever the topic of old earth/evolution comes up, I can't help but think of 2 Peter 3, particularly v 3-5

    First, knowing this, that there will come in the last days scoffers walking according to their own lusts
    and saying, Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.
    For this is hidden from them by their willing it, that the heavens were of old, and the earth out of the water, and through water, being held together by the Word of God,

    You should move here. It all looks pretty d@mn new, believe me.

    I can believe that.

    We visited Yellowstone Park (Wyoming) last fall and noted that the official information spoke to how easily an earthquake or underground shifting of hot springs can radically change the landscape within the span of a single generation.

    Closer to home, even the normal yearly freeze and thaw can do some awesome things to trees, boulders--even the overall flow of certain streams.

  9. Gav

    Good sense!

    I might point my athiest friend here for a read. (He's a Dawkins Goupie!)

    He's much smarter than I am though!

  10. Chris E

    Hi Glen -

    And I don’t want to pit interpretations of special revelation against interpretations of general revelation – I want to say that they are completely overlapping spheres

    Please tell me what these 'raw data' are - and how you get them from scripture without reading it through some kind of interpretative grid - do you include geocentricism in your raw data?

    In any case, I don't agree with Dawkins argument that a scientific mindset excludes miracles. Even if we observed a miracle in progress there would be a sense in which answering questions about its primary cause becomes less about mechanism (which we might not observe anyway) and more about motivation (why *this* widow in Zarapeth) at which point we run into the secret things of God.

    If I wanted to be cute, I could point out that what you saw as equivocations on the part of your fellow Christians was indeed the 'foolishness of God' that seemed to contrast badly with the 'wisdom of the world'.

  11. Chris E

    The lens comes first, then the observations to match.

    It's a little more complex than that - "Neptunism" was only sustainable as an explanatory theory by arbitrary additions and exceptions, that in turn led to a hypothesis (the 'lens') making specific predictions which were finally confirmed by observation.

    An interesting thought is whether uniformitarianism would have so readly gained acceptance, if earth science had developed in New Zealand, where a single earthquake (last October) can move the whole country A FOOT CLOSER to Australia

    Yes - and these are highly exothermic processes that leave behind other evidences than simply moving New Zealand closer to Australia by a foot. To move New Zealand closer to Australia by - say - a thousand miles via the same process would leave behind evidences that would be visible after millenia.

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