1. Joined
    01 Jun '06
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    11 Nov '08 23:261 edit
    Some of you may recall a thread that I started little over a year ago entitled "A Religious Scientist"

    http://www.redhotpawn.com/board/showthread.php?threadid=77215

    about the head of the Human Genome Project, Francis S. Collins, who is a respected evolutionary biologist and also a born-again Christian. I was trying to understand how someone so clearly versed in the scientific method and the theory of Evolution by Natural Selection could justify a belief in a specific supernatural deity.

    Well the guy has written a book called "The Language of God - A Scientist provides evidence for belief", which I listened to last week while commuting to a customer site (to work with a young earth creationist!).

    I am still none the wiser.

    He seems to have 3 reasons for believing in a deity:

    1. The very beginning: we currently have no testable hypotheses about how or why the universe began, and there are serious arguments that we may never be able to find this out.

    2. The Anthropic Principle: Various universal constants are fine-tuned for life. If any of them were fractionally different, life would not be possible.

    3. The existence of a 'Moral Law': Humans are unique in their tendency towards true altruism. We will make sacrifices for unrelated strangers with no expectation of reward. There seems to be a fairly universal concept 'fairness' throughout humanity and there are a number of things that pretty much everyone will agree are 'right' or 'wrong'.

    I don't think any of these things implies a deity. The fact that we don't know, and may never know, how or why the universe began does not mean that anything supernatural did it. The anthropic principle only holds water if our universe is the only one, something which again we may never know. Finally, I am not convinced that the 'Moral Law' is truly universal. There are many social influences involved. Ideas of 'right' and 'wrong' do vary between societies. Altruism may yet be shown to be a product of our nature as social animals, I'm fairly sure there are examples of it elsewhere in the animal kingdom.

    For believing in his particular deity, he cites one event: During the period when he had decided that atheism was unsupportable and was trying to decide on which religion to follow, he went walking in the mountains. It was autumn (Fall, for you 'merkins), and he came across a frozen waterfall with 3 streams, putting him in mind of the Trinity.

    This smacks to me of confirmation bias: he was looking for something to believe in, had studied Christianity, came across a slightly unusual phenomenon and fitted it into the belief system that he already favoured. If he had leaned more towards Buddhism, I think he may have interpreted these streams as the three divisions of the Eight-fold path. Or ignored it completely and found something else to link to Buddhism.

    I think he is rather inconsistant in his arguments. He argues against a 'god of the gaps' but his god is exactly that: we don't yet have a full understanding of the above three points, so that is where he fits his god in.

    All in all, I found the book interesting, well written, but ultimately failing hopelessly to live up to its title.

    He has a wonderfully scathing section on Young-Earth Creationists though, saying their position is intellectually bankrupt (IIRC). I have lent the book to a YEC I met recently. It'll be interesting to see what he makes of it.

    --- Penguin.
  2. Joined
    07 Jan '08
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    12 Nov '08 01:19
    I see nothing wrong with how he's attributing the I Don't Knows to a diety. In essence, it's those things he doesn't know or can't know that he's labeling 'God'. It's not a supernatural entity and it may be no entity at all - it's an I Don't Know. He's comfortable with organizing it that way. I'm comfortable with organizing it that way. You seem not to be and that doesn't make you wrong at all. What I think and how I categorize theism works for me and I don't expect it to work for others; it doesn't have to and I have no compelling need to want to force it upon anyone. Quite the opposite! It's fine for me and it's a work in process and I really don't expect to fully know (or not) until I die. And however it works out, I'm not really bothered by the whole thing.
  3. Cape Town
    Joined
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    12 Nov '08 05:02
    Originally posted by Penguin
    He seems to have 3 reasons for believing in a deity:
    I strongly suspect that they are really 3 justifications he uses to himself or others when explaining his religious belief which he holds for other completely different reasons that he either doesn't know, doesn't understand, simply cant put into words or feels that others would not accept as valid.
    It is normal human behavior to give an excuse for doing something, if we feel we cannot give the real reason, or even feel that the real reason is too complicated we make up an excuse that fits, or use an excuse that we believe is at least partially true.
  4. Joined
    11 Nov '05
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    12 Nov '08 09:46
    If everything I don't know nothing about was a proof of the existance of a god, then the gods would be swirling around everywhere...

    The existance of a god doesn't obiously mean the existance of a christian god. It could be any god, known or unknown. Of the same reason that the existance of a Watch-maker doesn't have to be Me, it could be any Watch-maker. Right?

    Believeing in the christian god is, by me, a very complicated way to believe in a god. There are many more appealing gods to believe in.
  5. Standard memberblack beetle
    Black Beastie
    Scheveningen
    Joined
    12 Jun '08
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    12 Nov '08 11:13
    Originally posted by Penguin
    Some of you may recall a thread that I started little over a year ago entitled "A Religious Scientist"

    http://www.redhotpawn.com/board/showthread.php?threadid=77215

    about the head of the Human Genome Project, Francis S. Collins, who is a respected evolutionary biologist and also a born-again Christian. I was trying to understand how someone so clearly ...[text shortened]... ntly. It'll be interesting to see what he makes of it.

    --- Penguin.
    Regarding the three reasons:

    1. So what? Years ago the people could not understand the nature of the rainbow and they assumed that it was a "divine message". Whatever we ignore "today" we may understand it "tomorrow" -and this is fine with me;

    2. "Life as we know it" would not be possible;

    3. The Moral Law is a "proof" based on a concrete dualistic approach. Kant showed that a constant and unviariable ehtical law must rule 1-1 (virtue and happiness - evil and misery etc). This concept is used in order to forward the ideas of the existence of "God" and of the immortality of the soul of the humans: if we accept that whithin our existence there is really a Moral Law, then we have to accept that the existence of the creator of this Moral Law is a fact. That specific Creator cannot be the Human or the society but solely a supernatural existence.
    However, according to the Moral Law the humans of virtue must be happy whilst the evil humans remain in misery, and since this situatiion does not happen we are forced to promote the concept of the immortal soul, of the existence of "God" and of an afterdeath life in which everybody will be judged.
    Of course Kant presented this whole idea as a request of the practical cause and not as a logical proof of the existence of "God" and of the "immortality of the soul".

    It seems to me that unfortunately the concept of the Moral Law becomes merely an ethicism, and in such a status it 's impossible to have any chance for personal and social evolution. I prefer a society in which the Human feels totally free to express hiself whilst he keeps hiself fully responsible for his actions. "Morality" then could become the result of a specific procedure in a general consensus within a social infrastucture which it unables the Human to enjoy his life, to love, to live and let live. We always can hope that we will become able to control ourselves in a friendly environment due to the understanding that we never walk alone. And we could still be able to fight whenever we must stand for the people we love and for whetever we value as precious.

    Anyone who wants to see "God" behind or within 1, 2 and 3, s/he is welcome. Anyone who needs not to see "God" s/he is welcome too.
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