New Atheists
Flikr /Mikko Luntiala
Mediating between the New Atheists and the new apologists

Mediating between the New Atheists and the new apologists

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Professor Tom McLeish of Durham University recently made a common Christian reply to the New Atheist claim that science and faith are opposed. On Radio Ulster he affirmed that science “uses our capacity for faith” in “new ideas” in a similar manner to “believing in God”. (It can be heard for ten more days here, go to 15:10 for a couple of minutes). New Atheist Jerry Coyne has responded to these responses in his recently published book “Faith versus Fact: Why science and religion are incompatible”. He points out that the heart of successful scientific methodology is to verify any trusted idea experimentally. This is indeed radically different from rationally verifying our faith in Christ (which process Coyne, disappointingly for this calmer and more reasoned New Atheistic piece, fails even to discuss). Scientific hypotheses are intuited but need not be trusted until verified.

Coyne also deals effectively with the related claim, especially strong in Catholic circles, that scientists must “have faith in reason”. He points out that “we don’t have faith in reason; we use reason … and if you’re not using it, whether you’re justifying religious or scientific beliefs, you deserve no one’s attention” (p.210-11).

Yet there is something that can be salvaged from this Christian new apologetic on science and religion. Coyne has in effect acknowledged that the personal “use” of reason by our minds is intrinsically present in all our knowledge of matter, and all our knowledge of anything else. It is concurrent with the intuition of self-evident premises such as the Law of Non-Contradiction. Coyne would rightly deny that all this involves a priori knowledge. Yet the mind’s power of immediately intuiting and actively engaging with the environmental order in which we are immersed, is in the scientist just as in the religious believer.

Edward Holloway developed Coyne’s point this way:

“We do not argue to our being from our thought. We do not experience 'Cogito ergo sum'. We affirm our dynamism of being, we find ourselves in intuition of self and the other together ....I am - therefore I think.... It is in the dynamism of being that we find ourselves in thought. It is the consequence and measure of what existentially we are, and the manner we relate to the 'other' in which we swim like fish; the 'other' in which we are immersed.” [Perspectives in Philosophy II, p.81]

Such human “mindfulness” should be reflected upon in order to understand what the success of science means, and, as a result, in discerning an absolute Mind to be worshipped.

Faith Magazine

September-October 2016

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