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TIME: God vs. Science7 min read

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Cineaste pointed me to a very interesting article by TIME Magazine.

In God vs. Science, TIME brings in the heavyweights from both sides to argue the question of whether science can coexist with God.

Acidic atheist Richard Dawkins says, “no.” Convinced Christian Francis Collins says, “yes.” The dialogue between them is telling and interesting. As Cineaste said, it parallels much of the debates here. The following are some of my favorite parts of the joint interview.

Dawkins on evolution:

For centuries the most powerful argument for God’s existence from the physical world was the so-called argument from design: Living things are so beautiful and elegant and so apparently purposeful, they could only have been made by an intelligent designer. But Darwin provided a simpler explanation. His way is a gradual, incremental improvement starting from very simple beginnings and working up step by tiny incremental step to more complexity, more elegance, more adaptive perfection. … It should warn us against ever again assuming that because something is complicated, God must have done it.

Collins on his view that God and evolution are compatible:

By being outside of nature, God is also outside of space and time. Hence, at the moment of the creation of the universe, God could also have activated evolution, with full knowledge of how it would turn out, perhaps even including our having this conversation. The idea that he could both foresee the future and also give us spirit and free will to carry out our own desires becomes entirely acceptable.

After Dawkins says that a unified theory or the multiverse theory can explain all of the anthropic constants, Collins responds:

This is an interesting choice. Barring a theoretical resolution, which I think is unlikely, you either have to say there are zillions of parallel universes out there that we can’t observe at present or you have to say there was a plan. I actually find the argument of the existence of a God who did the planning more compelling than the bubbling of all these multiverses. So Occam’s razor–Occam says you should choose the explanation that is most simple and straightforward–leads me more to believe in God than in the multiverse, which seems quite a stretch of the imagination.

A debater faux-pas happens when Dawkins chastises Collins for appealling to the improbability of some event occurring naturally equalling God, but then Dawkins says:

But it could be any of a billion Gods. It could be God of the Martians or of the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri. The chance of its being a particular God, Yahweh, the God of Jesus, is vanishingly small–at the least, the onus is on you to demonstrate why you think that’s the case.

I just found it odd that Dawkins wanted to make his point about the improbability of what he called “something incredibly grand and incomprehensible and beyond our present understanding” being the Christian God, while he refused to allow Collins the same tactic.

If Dawkins held himself to the same standards, he would be forced to defend the multiverse or unified theories and not simply toss it out as a possiblity with no real support behind it.

The debate enters the most testy, but it was hardly testy, stage when they were asked about miracles. Collins argues (which I will also do so later today) that they are do not conflict with science unless you start with the a priori assumption of no supernatural.

Dawkins says: “Once you buy into the position of faith, then suddenly you find yourself losing all of your natural skepticism and your scientific–really scientific–credibility. I’m sorry to be so blunt.”

Collins responds: “I actually agree with the first part of what you said. But I would challenge the statement that my scientific instincts are any less rigorous than yours. The difference is that my presumption of the possibility of God and therefore the supernatural is not zero, and yours is.”

I’m not sure how edited this “debate” was, but for the first part Dawkins seemed to be pretty much in control with Collins only occassionally denting his argument, but Dawkins was forced into grasping at straws when the discussion turned toward the development of our moral code.

It was interesting to see how Dawkins responded when Collins asked him if humans have a “different moral significance” than cows. Dawkins merely allowed for “more moral responsibility perhaps” because of our reasoning capabilities.

Both gave strong closing statements. Collins echoed something I have been trying to say for awhile:

I just would like to say that over more than a quarter-century as a scientist and a believer, I find absolutely nothing in conflict between agreeing with Richard in practically all of his conclusions about the natural world, and also saying that I am still able to accept and embrace the possibility that there are answers that science isn’t able to provide about the natural world–the questions about why instead of the questions about how. I’m interested in the whys. I find many of those answers in the spiritual realm. That in no way compromises my ability to think rigorously as a scientist.

Dawkins surprised me, as he backed away from his famed bulldog atheism to a soft, almost hopeful agnosticism:

My mind is open to the most wonderful range of future possibilities, which I cannot even dream about, nor can you, nor can anybody else. What I am skeptical about is the idea that whatever wonderful revelation does come in the science of the future, it will turn out to be one of the particular historical religions that people happen to have dreamed up. … But it [supernatural Creator] does seem to me to be a worthy idea. Refutable–but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect. I don’t see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the Cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there is a God, it’s going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.

As is the phrase, read the whole thing. It is very enlightening and illustrates how people can have a common ground in one area, a vast difference in another and have a cordial, even friendly discussion of their similarities and differences.