Monday, December 18, 2006

God vs. Science

An article in TIME magazine entitled "God vs. Science" came out a bit ago; actually it was the cover story. It was quite an interesting discussion between outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, and Francis Collins, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.

For the most part I found their perspectives remarkably compatible, which could be comforting in some ways, and unfortunately dull in others. Collins has no problem accepting evolution as the means by which God created humans, and Dawkins admits there are profound things in this universe that science cannot (yet) explain. Ho hum.

The one glaring thing I found suspect was Collins' invocation of Occam's razor. The article reads:

COLLINS: ... Barring a theoretical resolution, which I think is unlikely, you either have to say there are zillions of parallel universes out there that we can't observe at present or you have to say there was a plan. I actually find the argument of the existence of a God who did the planning more compelling than the bubbling of all these multiverses. So Occam's razor — Occam says you should choose the explanation that is most simple and straightforward — leads me more to believe in God than in the multiverse, which seems quite a stretch of the imagination.

This just seems silly. If I got that right, Collins is arguing that it's simpler to believe that God exists than that a multitude of universes exist, of which we are just one. What I can't understand is how such an obviously intelligent person cannot see the flaw in that reasoning. By calling the existence of God the "simpler" explanation, he has simply lumped all of the complexity into a different bin and labeled it "God." Which is more complicated – a innumerable number of universes, or some kind of being able to create such universes, at will? One might as well quote Hebrews 3:3:

Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself.

Certainly if the builder deserves greater honor, it is safe to say he is decidedly more complex than the house he built.

One consequence of labeling this complexity "God" is that Collins renders it automatically beyond the reach of human scrutiny, by definition, and thus absolves his responsibility for further study or explanation, because of course such things are "unknowable." This approach is common to all creation/intelligent design arguments and therefore, to me anyway, removes itself from the realm of science. At any rate, I find myself agreeing more with Dawkins than with Collins in this article.

What I really find interesting is the apparent flip in roles between the scientists and creationists/intelligent design proponents. All of a sudden, it is the theists who are saying, "there is no way it could happen" (with regards to life springing spontaneously from non-life), while the scientists are the ones holding out with perseverance and faith, saying, "just because you don't see it doesn't mean it's not there" (with regards to the discovery of some natural process).

Between the two camps I think it's the scientists who have the right approach. To proclaim that there is no way that life can be created spontaneously through random events is tantamount to fortune-telling. Anyone versed in history knows that it is foolish to say "it will never be done" about anything. And to those who would bank their faith on this kind of fragile reasoning, what will you do if someday life is in fact artificially created, or found elsewhere in the universe?


  1. Pale Rider said...

    Hey Vic,

    This was an interesting article. I don't agree that the Christian and scientist agreeing about evolution is "ho hum" - it's phenomenonal. I seriously doubt "Christian America" accepts evolution as Gods method. Just ask people you know are Christians. Actually, I will try to do the same, but evolution is akin to heresy.

    You think that Collins is copping out by saying placing God beyond human scrutiny, but being supernatural, doesn't that render Him that way "by definition?" Anyway, I wrote about this article in blog. I would be interested in your comments...


  2. You are absolutely right; Christians who accept evolution definitely aren't typical. The Catholic church has already accepted it though, and so I think that was the real monumental step. I suppose my comment reflects the fact that I have accepted evolution for some time and didn't see anything particularly new about the compromise that these two brought to the table.

    My cop-out claim (probably Dawkins', originally) is aimed at intelligent design proponents in general. Anyone has the right to believe in an intelligent designer who is beyond observation; this is a matter of faith. But to then claim it as scientific theory is trying to have it both ways.

    Put a little more chronologically, I see the argument along these lines — man, I should make this into an Apple vs. PC-style commercial:

    HIP I.D. DUDE: I have a scientific theory which explains the origin of the universe!

    EVIL EVOLUTIONIST: Oh? That's great, because I've been working on how life came about for a while and am stumped. What is your explanation?

    HIP I.D. DUDE: Mm, I'm not really sure, but the intelligent designer who designed it must have been really smart!

    EVIL EVOLUTIONIST: *grumbles* Cop-out.