Cutting Edge
Cutting Edge

Cutting Edge

FAITH Magazine March-April 2007

THEISTS VS MATERIALISTS

The faith–science debate has really taken off in the media, particularly in the U.S., and this is in no small measure due to the swarm of new books on religion and science that were all published in 2006. An internet search, for example, jointly made on the names of Francis Collins and Richard Dawkins along with the titles of their two books, The Language of God and The God Delusion, results in nigh-on 20,000 ‘hits.’ As well as these books, whose ideas were considered in this Cutting Edge column (Sept/Oct and Nov/Dec issues of the Faith Magazine), at least four other books about faith and science were published by distinguished scientists: God’s Universe, by Harvard astronomer Owen Gingerich; Evolution and Christian Faith:Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist, by Stanford biologist Joan Roughgarden; The Varieties of Scientific Experience: a Personal View of the Search for God by the late Carl Sagan; and The Creation: a Meeting of Science and Religion, by the Harvard entomologist, E. O. Wilson. These important scientists straddle the divide of religious belief: Dawkins and Sagan are non-believers (materialists); Collins, Gingerich, Roughgarden are believers (theists); and Wilson, whilst being a secular humanist, sees a pressing need for a unity between religion and science. It is very encouraging to see this debate about the understanding of science within a faith perspective becoming so public.

In September, Time magazine organized a debate between Collins and Dawkins which touched on all the crucial issues: the false idea that science and faith should be held as not overlapping; the place of Darwinian evolution in the plan of God; the fine-tuning of the physical constants of nature; the literal interpretation of Genesis; the place of miracles including the incarnation and the resurrection of Jesus; and the origin of the moral law within the human heart. Excerpts of their informative exchange can be viewed in an article at www.time.com under the 13th November issue. In the 17th July edition, too, there was an analysis of Francis Collins’ book. “To some,” it said, “the mere fact that he is effectively outing himself to the secular world as a man of faith warrants celebration.” Itquotes Collins as saying, “I don’t think God intended Genesis to teach science,” that “the evidence in favour of evolution is utterly compelling” and that “I.D. portrays the Almighty as a clumsy Creator, having to intervene at regular intervals to fix the inadequacies of His own initial plan … [which] is a very unsatisfactory image.”

Proponents of ID, such as members of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, however, have criticized Collins’s stance on ID, because whilst he happily sees evolution, not ID, at work in the biological field, he goes on to see plenty of design in cosmology, viz. in the fine-tuning of the physical constants. (See Logan Paul Gage’s review in October’s American Spectator.) We would defend Collins on this, since the identification of design in cosmology is not about finding flaws in the functioning of the universe’s physics, but about the way the physical laws are established in the first place.

The book by Richard Dawkins comes in for a whole raft of criticism. Here, for example, is what the Philadelphia Enquirer made of the recent books: “There is a distinct difference in tone … Neither Collins nor Gingerich is out to convert anybody. Both simply want to explain why they believe as they do. Their aims are modest and their tone restrained. Not so Dawkins, who sounds downright evangelical.… Dawkins’ tone ranges from strident to snide.” And, again: “The difference in tone extends to the manner of presentation. Collins’ and Gingerich’s books are both straightforward and closely … argued. Dawkins, by contrast, is all over the place.” Dawkins has also come in for criticism from his secular materialist colleagues: the New York Times (21st November) reports the anthropologist MelvinKonner as having described Dawkins’s approach as “simplistic and uninformed,” adding that “you generate more fear and hatred of science.… I worry that your methods … how articulately barbed you can be, end up simply being ineffective.” The Boston Globe (19th November) agrees: “Dawkins fails to reach for a reader’s sense of amazement and wonder… Ultimately, a reader can get worn out by 400-odd pages of indignation.”

Meanwhile, the Scientific American (October edition) defends him: “Dawkins is frequently dismissed as a bully, but he is only putting theological doctrines to the same kind of scrutiny that any scientific theory must withstand.” However, that same reviewer considers as a premise: “The assumption of materialism is fundamental to science” — a philosophical position rather close to Dawkins’s own. The Times (20th December) gets to the nub of the issue: “one thing that [Dawkins] and his Intelligent Design antagonists agree about is that God’s existence or non-existence is, in Dawkins’s phrase, “a scientific fact about the universe.” Most theologians would want to reject Intelligent Design, along with the theology of The God Delusion, for exactly that reason. … God is not part of the naturalorder and should not be expected… to feature as another entity in scientific accounts of life or the cosmos.”  


Faith Magazine

March - April 2007