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John Simkin

Science or Religion

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I like the idea that atheists are immoral. It would be so much better with a bit of evidence.

Likewise the idea that a basic moral position which can be interpreted to support slavery or interpreted to oppose slavery has any validity. If you are telling me that a belief in Jesus Christ would not make the slightest difference to whether I supported slavery or war or racism, it does not seem to have much utility.

If it has no use and cannot be proven, what is the point of it?

I don't think anyone has said that it would 'not make the slightest difference'. There's a difference between cultural norms and religious truth. Some things (e.g. women covering their hair in early Christian times) are relevant, some aren't. That's why Christians can continue to occupy themselves in debates and interepretations of God's Word.

The point you make can be made about any moral position. It is pointless having principles unless they are applied. It is in the application that they gain meaning and relevance. :)

:) Doug

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Re Derek's last post:

Derek, no one has implied scientists cannot be atheists or agnostics.

The fact that many many respected credentialed scientists believe in God PROVES, however, that one can be a scientist and also a believer in God.

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Mark Howell relates this story:

On May 26, 1940, the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, went to see King George V1 with some bad news.

"Yoiur Majesty," he said. "The British Army is in a terrible position. All of our troops on the European mainland are trapped in Dunkirk, surrounded by the enemy."

"W-w-what d-d-do you suggest we d-d-do?" replied the king (whose stammer was why he was reluctant to ascend the throne after the abdication of his brother Edward).

"I suggest you ask the nation to drop to its knees and pray," said Churchill.

King George immediately went on the the BBC and instructed his countrypeople to fall to their knees and pray for deliverance.

EVEN AS HE SPOKE, an event that some theologians term the "angelus wheel" spontaneously occurred in the seas surrounding Britain.

Every merchant ship, every fishing vessel, every ferry boat, every inboard and outboard, every rowboat turned around in the water and headed south to Dunkirk -- that little port on the French side of the perilous English Channel where the British Army awaited slaughter.

Enough boats arrived quickly enough to evacuate the entire army by June 4, just in time to escape the arrival of the Nazi tanks.

The retreat from Dunkirk was a huge success for the Allies. Without it, the war would have been lost in 1940.

Blessings!

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I also want to relate an event in my life that I am convinced had to be divine intervention saving my life. I had been working at a resort thirty miles noth of my home, and getting by on a few hours of sleep a day because I was also taking care of my infant daughter. Well, one morning the lack of sleep caught up with me and I fell asleep at the wheel. I had probvably dozed off for only a few seconds when I heard a loud male voice exclaim loudly: "TIM!" which immediately woke me up. I was off the read heading straight into a telephone pole but had time to avoid it. Had this voice not have alerted me, I surely would have been killed when my car hit the pole. Is there any other explanation for that voice but divine intervention? Hard for me to imagine one, but it saved my life! Only time in my life I have ever heard an audible voice from God although I am convinced there is one other time that God helped avoid an accident by giving me the sense to take to the shoulder when the car behind me failed to stop.

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I also want to relate an event in my life that I am convinced had to be divine intervention saving my life.  I had been working at a resort thirty miles noth of my home, and getting by on a few hours of sleep a day because I was also taking care of my infant daughter.  Well, one morning the lack of sleep caught up with me and I fell asleep at the wheel.  I had probvably dozed off for only a few seconds when I heard a loud male voice exclaim loudly: "TIM!" which immediately woke me up.  I was off the read heading straight into a telephone pole but had time to avoid it.  Had this voice not have alerted me, I surely would have been killed when my car hit the pole.  Is there any other explanation for that voice but divine intervention?  Hard for me to imagine one, but it saved my life!  Only time in my life I have ever heard an audible voice from God although I am convinced there is one other time that God helped avoid an accident by giving me the sense to take to the shoulder when the car behind me failed to stop.

Can you explain why God decided to save you but ignores the plight of millions of people living in the poor world?

When I first started seeing my wife to be, I had long conversations with my future mother-in-law. She was deeply concerned that her daughter who had been brought up as a strict Roman Catholic, was going out with an atheist (nor was she happy with my left-wing political beliefs). One of her main arguments was that she was regularly visited by God (strangely, this always happened in the kitchen). It was difficult to know what to say in reply. In fact, it usually brought the discussion to an end.

Over the years all her six children lost their faith (mainly over the issue of the Pope’s infallibility and his opposition to birth-control). Remarkably, she also lost her faith. This was the result of the behaviour of the local priest when she was seriously ill. He did not come to see her in her time of need. She talked of her regular financial contributions to the Church (it was money she could not afford as her husband was a poorly paid unskilled worker). Those early visits by God failed to sustain her through this period of crisis and she died a very unhappy woman.

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Despite the personal experiences and beliefs of various religious believers or various atheists, I still see a fundamental difference between science and religion: science is based on evidence and religion is based on faith. For me, this doesn't mean that a particular individual can't 'split herself up' intellectually, and have one part of her life based on evidence and another part based on faith. However, it does mean that you can't be a scientist (in the sense of a practitioner of the scientific method the world has developed since the Ancient Greeks) if you apply the faith-based principles of religion to the work you're trying to call 'scientific' (in my world, anyway).

Thus, if a state government wants to stop US schoolchildren learning about evolution, all it means to me is that that state government has decided that science is not something it wants taught in schools - it'd rather teach religion in those lessons instead. As a human being, I think that that is a derogation of responsibility with regard to those school children. As a European, I just think that it's about time there were more handicaps on US progress, so that we can catch up!

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I will respond to John's post later. With respect to Mark's post, I think there may have also been divine intervention in our Civil War. The north was losing the civil war in the summer of 1860 and Lincoln expected to be defeated in the election by a Democrat who would have sued for peace with the south, ensuring the continuation of slavery. But Lincoln proclaimed a national day of prayer and within forty days the north won three significant battles, the first victory following almost immediately after the prayer day. The turning tide re-elected Lincoln and the north won the war. Is there proof the battles were won because of the prayer? No, but the timing would suggest that may have happened.

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Tim -

"Creation science" is an oxymoron. People like Michael Behe are not good scientists when they write nonsense such as "Darwin's Black Box". That book consists mostly of intricate biological phenomena which Mr. Behe believes are too complex to have evolved by natural selection. Their complexity leads him to believe that they were intelligently designed and he feels he's "scientifically" shown the existence of an Intelligent Designer. Where's the science? It's certainly not in his book. Please go to the talk origins web site and search on Behe or intelligent design to see what scientists think of this junk (www.talkorgins.org).

David is exactly correct when he asserts that U.S. states deciding to force biology classes to ignore evolution or teach "intelligent design" have decided to not teach science. He is also correct to note that a scientist can "split herself up" and decide to be a scientist in her professional work, but have religious faith in her personal life. They are two separate things and in order to do one, you have to ignore the other.

I used to think that was a bad thing, and that one should be entirely consistent in one's life - therefore one should be an atheist because science is by far the most rational response to the world. I no longer think that, because I think rationality is way over-rated. Thus I can cheerfully pursue my pagan belief that my dog and the geese on the lake all have souls and are part of God - though I certainly wouldn't claim any support for that notion from science.

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I used to think that was a bad thing, and that one should be entirely consistent in one's life - therefore one should be an atheist because science is by far the most rational response to the world.  I no longer think that, because I think rationality is way over-rated.

Despite all this stuff about science that I keep spouting, I actually work as a teacher of humanities (often English Literature). This distinction which Mike makes between the things I understand with my rationality and the things I don't is really important for a student of literature. I'm just rounding off a long cycle of distance courses where my students have learned how to analyse a novel from an academic point of view. I started them off by asking them if and how you could apply Aristotle's theory of tragedy to Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe), and warned them of the danger that learning to look below the surface and talk about literature using dispassionate techniques more akin to natural sciences risked killing off their love of literature. I.e., if you know how the trick is done, you could stop believing in magic!

We're finishing off with The God of Small Things and Beloved, now two years later. These are novels which definitely lend themselves to 'objective' analysis on a number of levels - but they're both much too powerful as books for most of my students not to also respond to emotionally.

Which is as it should be …

When you look at a spectacular sunset, it can take your breath away - despite your conscious knowledge that the effect is probably due to air pollution! I wonder if the participants in this thread who seem to be feeling that atheistic scientists can't really appreciate the wonder of life and the universe are falling into the trap of thinking that just because we're interested in understanding those bits we can understand, that means that we're not capable of awe.

I remember the feelings of both awe and home-coming the first time I stood under an African sky. This doesn't necessarily mean that there's any such things as 'race-memory' (i.e. that I was wondrously communing with my homo erectus forefathers) - I could just have been standing in an awesome place. It doesn't really matter which, though.

Edited by David Richardson

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I'm really a humanities person posing as a scientist! Seriously, I studied literature as an undergraduate and found it spoke to me about my war experience much more powerfully than an objective analysis of the Vietnam war via political science or history. It was almost enough to make me switch from biology to English (in fact, I'm just 3 hours short of my English major).

I have to tease David just a bit here. He was glad we have a bunch of idiots in the US trying to force evolution out of the classroom, so the Europeans could "catch up". To my mind, many Europeans have left the US in the dust when it comes to social justice - including his country.

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I've found the above posts interesting. It would seem that atheists criticize Christians for evangelising through their own experience. However, they themselves go on to 'compartmentalize' their lives because they see a discrepancy between their 'intellectual' view of the world and the way it 'really is'. Christians don't go in for compartmentalization - they don't have to. ;) God created the world and scientists study it to find out about it. Simple, but true.

B) Doug

Edited by Doug Belshaw

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It would seem that atheists criticize Christians for evangelising through their own experience.

I don't think so, Doug. There's no problem referring to your own experiences - the only problem comes when someone elevates their experience to the status of scientific fact, without all the groundwork you otherwise have to do to establish something as scientific fact.

And, as I've posted earlier, scientific 'facts' are always temporary - waiting on the next time they get falsified … which gives us new scientific facts to have a go at.

Thus, I have no problem at all with, say, Tim's descriptions of his experiences … but the idea that this account proves the existence of a god is to use the word 'prove' in a different way from the way that scientists use it, that's all. It doesn't detract from Tim's experiences or make them less real to him, though.

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It would seem that atheists criticize Christians for evangelising through their own experience.

I don't think so, Doug. There's no problem referring to your own experiences - the only problem comes when someone elevates their experience to the status of scientific fact, without all the groundwork you otherwise have to do to establish something as scientific fact.

And, as I've posted earlier, scientific 'facts' are always temporary - waiting on the next time they get falsified … which gives us new scientific facts to have a go at.

Thus, I have no problem at all with, say, Tim's descriptions of his experiences … but the idea that this account proves the existence of a god is to use the word 'prove' in a different way from the way that scientists use it, that's all. It doesn't detract from Tim's experiences or make them less real to him, though.

David,

What you're saying here - if I've got you correct - is that there is no such thing as objective reality and that 'facts' are merely a series of values, beliefs or pieces of knowledge which are agreed upon by a community. I agree when you say 'scientific 'facts' are always temporary - waiting on the next time they get falsified … which gives us new scientific facts to have a go at.' Except it's not facts but scientific theories which are temporary and are falsified. The statement 'pure water boils at 100 degrees centigrade' could be used to by scientists in two different 'paradigms' to prove their theories.

The problem is that you dismiss religious 'facts' as being similar to this - as being beliefs or ways of behaving which change over time. This is to implicitly say that religion is a human construct which is to do with socialization and helping people deal with the struggles of life (and nothing more). Whilst Christians must adapt to their culture and the times in which they live (we must be 'in the world but not of the world'), there's a difference between that and rejecting the Bible as containing a set of facts only relevant to a different time and place.

So when you say 'the idea that this account proves the existence of a god is to use the word 'prove' in a different way from the way that scientists use it' you're assuming that scientists have the last word on the way the world actually is. But seeing as you have admitted their theories do not map one-for-one onto objective reality you have no grounds for doing this! B)

;) Doug

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Years ago, I debated some serious creationists - Ken Bliss from the Institute for Creation Research, and some televangelist from Florida. In the course of the debate, the question of the origin of life was raised, and an incident occurred that illustrates the difference between science and religion quite nicely.

I was responding to the issue of the origin of life, and I said that scientists don't know how life began - and before I could finish my sentence the creationist audience (and the Florida televangelist - I think his name was Kennedy) broke out in laughter. It didn't occur to me at the time, but the fact that these creationists found it laughable that I would admit that scientists don't know something shows why science is so powerful in answering questions about the natural world and religion is not. Of course, they KNEW how life originated - God did it. But science doesn't know how life originated, and so we're led, as scientists, to investigate that phenomenon.

It is true that religious persons can have a certainty about things which is impossible in science. Such persons can also have a consistency about things as well (but so can atheists). But such certainty has no place in science and it is that UNcertainty that allows - indeed demands - that scientists ask questions about the natural world instead of saying "God did it" and letting it go at that.

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