Science and the God Problem

Who is the patron saint of atheists?

Saint Edward of Providence currently resides in a grotto near the levee-lined shore of the Feather River. At six feet tall, bearded, and with sparkling eyes, Saint Edward presents a commanding, almost Jesus-like, presence among the homeless residents of the tent town east of Yuba City.

Antitheism has been adopted as a label by those who take the view that theism is dangerous or destructive. One example of this view is demonstrated in Letters to a Young Contrarian (2001), in which Christopher Hitchens writes: “I’m not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful.”

I am not certain Darwin is the best choice. When Darwin sent his little monograph “On the Origin of the Species..etc” to press, he assumed that only a few hundred … See Morescientists would read it. He was shocked when every butcher, baker and candlestick maker bought a copy. It was not Darwin’s agenda to debunk religion with his book. I was recently looking at some of Darwin’s biographical info and it does seem that he went through his own personal crisis of faith. Besides which, simply proving that evolution is a scientific fact does not disprove that some supreme being is behind (or above) everything. I haven’t read Darwin’s book in 40 years. I am sure I can find a copy on line in public domain. I am curious to search it for words like “God” and “religion” and “faith.”

William Buell

Searching the on-line text of Darwin’s book reveals the following –

FIRST OCCURRENCE OF WORD FAITH: breeders of cattle wish the flesh and fat…Such FAITH may be placed in the power of selection

FIRST OCCURRENCE OF WORD GOD: It makes the works of God a mere mockery [notice that Darwin presumes the existence of God in this sentence]

FIRST MENTION OF RELIGION: I see no reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious views of anyone.

I just now searched the Gutenberg copy of Darwin’s book for the first occurrence of the word “creator” and find:

Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator [notice the capital C] …

It is difficult to choose between terms like “atheist” and “antitheist” BUT if our goal is to identify that one author who most marginalizes the importance of Deity then may I suggest someone like Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, who did not deny the existence of gods, but pointed out that gods suffer the same problem that humans do (namely suffering itself – and Jesus would present no refutation to this view). To vehemently deny the existence of any god is to unwittingly grant god publicity and we know that all publicity is good publicity. To point to a problem in life which is more fundamental than the “god question” and which the god question cannot solve (which is accomplished by various Existentialist writers) is far more effective than railing and roiling against the notion of a god.

But Christopher, may I suggest how our task of extinguishing the religious drive is Sisyphean? I recently spoke with a young pharmacist who was raised in Russia. I commented that the former Soviet represents a 70 year, 3 generation experiment in atheism. And yet, when the Soviet Union collapsed people came pouring out seeking some sort of religion, whether Eastern Orthodoxy or Judaism or such things as Hare Krishna (there were SO MANY Russian speakers in the Brooklyn Schermerhorn temple that classes in Gita had to be conducted in RUSSIAN.) The young pharmacist said something very profound, namely, that people NEED something transcendent to believe in, to cling to. At the height of Mao’s Communism in China I listened to young teenagers speaking about Marxism with a religious fervor and awe. One girl explained how degenerate capitalist girls are, always thinking about sex whereas Chinese Communist girls only think about being good citizens.

Alfred Adler cleverly sidestepped the problem when after a lecture in NYC, one student asked “Dr. Adler, what of God? What do you have to say?” Adler answered, “If there is a God, I would hope that He is pleased by the way I have chosen to live my life.” Epictetus was also clever in this respect: “We you child is about to depart on a perilous journey you pray to Jove for save return; but why not pray for the EQUANIMITY to accept any outcome, whether auspicious or tragic.”

I have heard certain tutors give what sounded like religious sermons about how we should study regularly after graduation. Certainly Klein and Brann have exhibited a kind of devotion to the life of the mind which was religious in its fervor but had nothing to do with religion or a Deity per se.

One never wins with losers. I merely exercise my mind each day with whatever presents itself. We are the living dead. We lost a long time ago and like Huck Finn we hide in the rafters listening to our own eulogy.

Venice might possibly be saved by an engineering project which would take 30 years to implement; yet no administration stays in power more than 2 years; hence no one is willing to support something which will not benefit them during their career. In about 8 billion years our sun will die the death of a white dwarf but in 500,000 years it will have expanded to the point where life on Earth will be burned to a crisp. Some scientists theorize about methods to move the Earth in its orbit, to buy another 50,000 years. OR, we could work on developing little Noah’s arks, manned by self repairing cyborgs containing the digitized genetic information of all Earth’s life forms and all human culture (well perhaps we would omit one or two books.) Then we could launch those vessel into space searching for a new planet to colonize (or infect, depending upon your point of view. This months Atlantic Monthly puts it all in a nice After The Crash How How America Can Rise Again (Not) – by James Fallows. Notice the passages about how corporations only position themselves for the next quarterly report; wall street positions for the closing DOW; and media positions for the next soundbite minute.

I dug out Vol. 1 of Calvin’s Institutes and sure enough Ch. 1. pg. 1 is an appeal to intuitive common sense:

“No man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves.”

The Qur’an also appeals to common… See More
sense and what is “intuitively obvious” =

Surah 5:44 Do ye not know that God, His is the kingdom of the heavens and the earth; He punishes whom He pleases, and forgives whom He pleases, for God is mighty over all?

It seems strange that God would have to send messengers and revelations and inspire theologians to explain what should be intuitively obvious through reason.

Calvinism and Islam both share a penchant towards predestination.

And yet Tertullian states “I believe because it is absurd.”

Note in particular:

“… Calvinist scholasticism, possibly encouraged by the prestige of science, developed an ever-more elaborate systematic theology that sought to make a rational, and thus, invulnerable, account of all God’s dealings with humanity. These constructions would provide the intellectual foundation for the eventual fundamentalist movement in the U.S., and have remained influential to the present time within those circles. One might sum up those theologians’ attitudes by the concise observation of a modern-day Calvinist thinker, Robert L. Reymond, when he claims: “Biblical faith is not a leap in the dark; it is not fideism.” The 19th-century Princeton theologian Benjamin B. Warfield says, “We cannot be said to believe or to trust in a thing or person of which we have no knowledge; ‘implicit faith’ in this sense is an absurdity.” Reformed Protestants hold that biblical faith is based upon the revelation of divine knowledge. Faith devoid of knowledge is “believing the lie” that “leads to condemnation” (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

In Islam, the theologian Al-Ghazali strikes a position similar to Tertullian’s fideism in his Tahafut al-falasafa, the “Incoherence of the Philosophers.” Where the claims of reason come into conflict with revelation, reason must yield to revelation. This position drew a rejoinder from Averroes, whose position was more influential in Thomist and other medieval Christian thinking than it was in the Islamic world itself. Ghazali’s position of the absolute authority and finality of divine revelation is in fact the standard position of orthodox Muslim exegesis. However, most Muslims do not subscribe to the idea that God’s existence cannot be proven by reason, but merely that God cannot be fully comprehended with reason.

Chesterton expresses a similar sentiment.

“Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.” — G. K. Chesterton, philosopher, Orthodoxy, Chapter III: The Suicide of Thought, 1909

“My first and last philosophy, that which I believe in with unbroken certainty, I learnt in the nursery. … The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales. They seem to be the entirely reasonable things. They are not fantasies: compared with them other things that are fantastic. … Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense.” — G. K. Chesterton, philosopher, Orthodoxy, Chapter IV: The Ethics of Elfland, 1909″

Douglas Adams, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, uses his Babel fish to demonstrate a rationalist/fideist paradox:

“I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”
“But,” says Man, “the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves that You exist, and so therefore, by Your own arguments, You don’t. Q.E.D.”
“Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
“Oh, that was easy,” says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.


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