Thursday, January 25, 2007

Probability and God

I’ve been thinking about the probability of belief in God. Not for any random reason (as it were), but because of a class I taught last night on science and faith with special reference to Richard Dawkins’s book The God Delusion.

Dawkins makes the claim that God is “almost certainly” does not exist—that God’s existence is improbable. Naturally I don’t agree, and I’m tempted to say that scientific discoveries like the Anthropic Principle offer reasons that it’s likely God exists. And yet at the same time, I don’t want to fall prey to proving God’s existence through its probability. On the other hand, I’m convinced that we can see the fingerprints of God (older theologians, talked about God’s footprints) through the amazing intricacy and complexity of creation.

So what do you think? Is probability a good ground for belief or not?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Wisdom of Pascal

I'm in the midst of working on a class where I use my book to interact with Richard Dawkins, and somehow I'm compelled to remember the insights of Blaise Pascal, the 17th century scientist who saw so poignantly the limitations of the growing scientific revolution. He knew that the profound insights of science can leave human beings desiccated of meaning and purpose. Science, and its servant reason, are good, but faith needs both habits or religious practices and most of all, God’s movement through the Holy Spirit, "There are three ways to believe: reason, habit, inspiration. Christianity, which alone has reason, does not admit as its true children those who believe without inspiration. It is not that it excludes reason and habit, quite the contrary, but we must open our mind to the proofs, confirm ourselves in it through habit, while offering ourselves through humiliations to inspiration, which alone can produce the real and salutary effect. Lest the Cross of Christ be made of none effect."

If we are to be fruitful in bringing together science and theology, let's not presume that science can prove theological truths. Instead we will do well to head Pascal’s words.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

One More Thought: The New Atheists' Logical Error

Sometimes errors in argumentation are exceedingly simple. This is the case for Dawkins (and from what I'm told, Sam Harris).

It goes like this: The fact that some religious believers have childish and irrational belief does not prove that all believers do, nor does it prove that belief ispo facto is an unreasonable, or unreasoned, delusion.

A Note from MacWorld

I just returned from MacWorld, which was really cool. Amazing products to surround my iPods (a device I love) and programs to enhance my MacBook.

While there in SF's Mascone Center, I beheld something almost religious and certainly pseudo-salvific: several dozen people at a time were gazing on the glory of the new iPhone as it slowly twirled within a glass-enclosed pedestal.

I wondered whether technology, or its parent, science, can actually provide the salvation they promise. Richard Dawkins certainly believes so, and actually argues that religion has never actually delivered the goods.

But it doesn't take much to see that Dawkins appears to have succumbed to better marketing in presenting his case for a kinder, gentler science. The harsh realities of what we often call a "Darwinian," survival-of-the-fittest world have been softened in his latest installment. Instead so often we see science and technology proffering exactly the type of "self-delusion" and "wishful thinking" he deplores. We are led to believe that a technological or scientific insight will provide salvation. Sometimes they do provide healing, to be sure. But other times it takes just a few moments to perceive that they will appear as dated in a few years as 8-track tapes and floppy disks appear today.

And then we rush to the next product.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Rationality of Dawkins's Optimistic Atheism

I’m preparing for a class I’m teaching on Richard Dawkins’s new bestseller “The God Delusion” in which this Oxford professor of evolution argues stridently that Darwin’s theory undermines the rationality of belief in God.

He seeks to demonstrate that a scientifically-informed atheism affirms life. In other word, it’s positive:
“As many atheists have said better than me, the knowledge that we have only one life should make it all the more positive. The atheist view is correspondingly life-affirming and life-enhancing, while at the same time never being tainted with self-delusion [read here: like a religious view], wishful thinking, or the whingering self-pity of those who feel that life owes them something.”

Does that work? In this entry, I’ll just set these words in contrast with another of his works, “River Out of Eden” where he reflects on the bus crash of some Catholic schoolchildren.

"If the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies like the crashing of a bus are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune. Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention. It would manifest no intentions of any kind. In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.
As the unhappy poet A. E. Housman put it:
For Nature, heartless, witless Nature
Will neither know nor care.
DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music."