RFG 6: Has Science Disproved Christianity?

Discuss in ILovePhilosophy.com: RFG: SIX: Science Has Disproved Christianity

 Tim Keller’s The Reason for God Book Discussion – Part 1: The Leap of Doubt

SIX: Science Has Disproved Christianity

Dr. Francis Collins is mentioned in this chapter and is head of the Human Genome Project. He lectures on ‘faith and reason’ and theistic evolution at a Veritas Forum at U.C. Berkeley, recording found here: http://www.veritas.org/berkeley/recordings. One thing he mentions is that there are two alternative assumptions — that something which had a beginning just popped into existence … or that God (with no beginning) made that something pop into existence… and both require faith to assume them. The first assumption is just as ‘miraculous’ as the second. So – the belief that something which had a beginning just popped into existence is an implicitly religious faith assumption which is not provable by science, but also does not conflict with science. This in itself shows how science and faith are not necessarily in opposition. Science is simply restricted to natural phenomena and can say nothing of how natural phenomena came to be, or what its overall purpose is (without committing the is-to-ought fallacy). It can merely describe natural phenomena, it cannot prescribe. Feel free to give feedback.

“In chapter 6, Keller looks at the argument that science has disproven such things as a creator, an afterlife, and supernatural intervention in the universe. To counter this argument, he writes: ‘When evolution is turned into an all-encompassing theory explaining absolutely everything we believe, feel, and do as the product of natural selection, then we are not in the arena of science, but of philosophy’ (p. 87). In other words, believing that evolution rules out God and his intervention in the universe is a departure from science, and instead a decision to substitute one belief (evolution) for another (faith in God). How do you respond to this argument?” – Penguin, found here:
http://download.redeemer.com/sermons/Penguin%20Reader%20Guide.pdf  Throw in Dawkins’ insistence that the ‘scientific mind’ embrace ‘physicalist naturalism’ and Nagel’s response quoted in the chapter. Also consider this quote from Dawkins’ “Out of Eden” — “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 we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no other god. Nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music,” [Richard Dawkins, “Out of Eden” (New York: Basic Books, 1992), 133.] This supports the idea that nature cannot prescribe and that our moral sense that there is truly right and truly wrong is a pointer to God. Freely discuss.

There is a lot of discussion on evolution and miracles in this chapter. Keller thinks evolution is a real process compatible with both atheism and other faith assumptions, a process that does not tell the whole story (and that this is not one of the important issues to consider when weighing the central claims of Christianity), and that science cannot rule out supernatural phenomena since it is restricted to studying natural phenomena. I am not prepared to discuss evolution/creation (apart from agreeing with Keller), but if you want to discuss miracles more, go here or copy/paste from here into the current discussion:

Excerpt from discussion in ILP:

Xunzian: I was happy to see some talk of non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA). Though I do think NOMA runs into the problem of making God ever more distant from the subject at hand, reducing his role from that of a Watchmaker to a sort of disaffected CEO. But, Keller does do his best to step up and show other areas where God would be relevant to the believer.

Ichthus: googled non-overlapping magisteria (not discussed in the chapter by that title). Keller rejects it, and so does Dr. Collins. Was that a trick question, lol?

Xunzian: Sure, he rejects NOMA when he talks about it (which is good because NOMA has a lot of problems) but he co-opts a lot of its structure. A strict and absolute divide between science and religion (as Gould originally discussed) doesn’t make sense unless one of those systems is false. But I’ve seen it used since where it basically lets each area specialize independently. More of a ‘rule-of-thumb’ than a strict concept. You know, “The Bible: not a biology textbook” and “Biology: not gonna get you a relationship with God.” Which is more-or-less how I understood Keller’s argument with a few ‘God-of-the-gaps’ bits thrown in — but he didn’t rely on those as proof so I’m fine with that.

Ichthus: this is a very interesting topic. I’m not exactly sure where I even stand on it! lol It sounded like Keller was somewhere between two extremes (the two extremes being “total conflict between faith and science” and “total independence between faith and science” which, to me, is like saying, “unless you keep those two dogs apart, they’re gonna fight”). Plus, see my signature. I’m going to work something up and see if we have a conversation. Brb.


Thanks for being a gadfly, Xunzian.

“When evolution is turned into an All-encompassing Theory explaining absolutely everything we believe, feel, and do as the product of natural selection, then we are not in the arena of science, but of philosophy.”

–That sounds like the arenas are independent from each other. (You could say philosophy in this case is like religion in the sense of ‘unprovable faith assumption’.)

Dr. Collins believes in evolutionary science… AND is an evangelical Christian.

–That sounds like science and faith are complementary arenas.

Ian Barbour says science and religion can be in conflict (where you must choose one or the other, because they contradict each other), dialogue (?), integration (?), and independence (you can choose both, because they have nothing to say to each other… seems like this sort of faith has only to do with myth and is not grounded in reality). Keller says Barbour is in the middle, where “science and religious faith recognize their respective spheres of authority” – which doesn’t sound like the ‘middle’ unless you realize that “independence” makes faith into the stuff of fairy tales, whereas “respective spheres” acknowledges faith is grounded in reality, rather than conflicting with it, and science can only study the creation, not the Creator (“science cannot explain everything” – that’s what Keller says Gould and Nagel’s position is).

Now-was Gould’s deal “independence” or was it “respective spheres”? When I googled it, it sounded like ‘independence’. In Keller’s book, it sounds like “respective spheres” – ’cause Gould says “the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious belief-and equally compatible with atheism” – maybe he ‘was’ for independence, but changed his mind?

Then Keller talks about evolution and the conflict/dialogue/integration/independence thing. He got ‘conflict’ right (young earth clashes with science), but when he tells of the ‘independence’ perspective, it comes off sounding more like ‘respective spheres’-like faith doesn’t clash with science (“God was the primary cause in beginning the world and after that natural causes took over”). The ‘central position’ examples do not seem any different from the example given for independence, as far as not clashing with science (“God created life and then guided natural selection to develop all complex life-forms from simpler ones” and “God performed large-scale creative acts at different points over longer periods of time”). It seems like a better example for “independence” would have included “the creation story in Genesis is totally made up”. But, he didn’t say anything like that. Sometimes people do that-assume certain things are obvious and don’t need to be said. In this case, it should’ve been said.

So, my position, and Keller’s, is “respective spheres”… in the middle… far away from the extremes. More specifically, Keller says, “I personally take the view that Genesis 1 and 2 relate to each other the way Judges 4 and 5 and Exodus 14 and 15 do. … I think Genesis 1 had the earmarks of poetry and is therefore a ‘song’ about the wonder and meaning of God’s creation. Genesis 2 is an account of how it happened. … I think God guided some kind of process of natural selection, and yet I reject the concept of evolution as All-encompassing Theory.”

I like where he talks about Matthew 28:17 and how some doubted what they saw with their eyes and touched with their hands… how the miraculous isn’t something just we modern folk struggle with… but how the apostles all ended up as great leaders in the church, though some had a lot more trouble believing than others. And I like how Keller wrote, “We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order. … His miracles are not just proofs that he has power but also wonderful foretastes of what he is going to do with that power. Jesus’ miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts, that the world we all want is coming.” Unless, of course, we think of the natural world the way the Gnostics did, and totally miss the beauty of creation.


About Maryann

Maryann Spikes is the past President of the Christian Apologetics Alliance. She blogs at Ichthus77, and loves apologetics and philosophy. In particular she loves to study all things Euthyphro Dilemma and Golden Rule. A para-educator (autism) for five years, she holds a Certificate in Christian Apologetics from Biola University, an AA in Humanities via Modesto Junior College, and moonlights as a freelancer. You can follow her on Twitter @Ichthus77, connect with the Ichthus77 community on Facebook, or look her up on Google+.
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