An atheist reads "True Reason": Chapter 12

I'm almost through it. I can safely say that most of the dirty work is over. The last few chapters of this book are not ones I need to respond to in any great detail. I'm going to skip my usual intro, and just jump right into the twelfth chapter – another one by Tom Gilson, basically on the same topic as the previous chapter.

Chapter 12: God and Science Do Mix

He begins:
As Sean McDowell wrote in the preceding chapter, Christianity (properly understood) takes a high view of science. There is yet one more objection, however, that some atheists (especially atheistic scientists) have made. Simply stated, it is that God and science don’t mix. That was in fact the title— and the strongly stated message— of a 2009 Wall Street Journal1 opinion piece by Arizona State University physicist/ cosmologist Lawrence M. Krauss. His article centered on this quote from geneticist J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964):
My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.
Echoing Haldane, Krauss’s point in this piece was that, Christianity is all about miracles and other such interfering-God nonsense. Science could never make sense under conditions like that.
Gilson is essentially going to argue that the view of God interacting miraculously with the world and the assumption that the laws of physics are unchanging are compatible.

Now suppose that Haldane and Krauss’s picture of God were accurate: that if there were a God, he would necessarily be the kind of God who would frequently and arbitrarily interfere with nature’s regularity. Such a God could not be one who communicates with us, for constant interference in the course of nature would amount to a huge amount of noise. We could never distinguish his message, the signal, from that noise. To reveal himself to humans— to communicate— he must break into nature sometimes, but he must do so infrequently. There must be an ordinary course of events, so that we can discern what is out of the ordinary. If miracles happened everywhere every day, they would not be miracles at all.
I don't know where Kruass and Haldane said that a God would interfere with nature "frequently and arbitrarily", if by "arbitrarily" you mean "without having good reason". I think what we have here, ladies and gentleman, is yet another straw man. For a digital book, this thing sure is flammable.

But Gilson is arguing that God would only intervene sometimes, so his miracles actually looked like miracles. I guess God learned his lesson from Biblical times, when he apparently did miraculous things all the time and yet somehow still failed to convince enough people of his existence and/or superiority over other gods.
Second, God intended for humans to be responsible moral agents. For that to be possible we must be able to judge in advance the likely results of our actions; but that would be quite impossible in a world of constant chaotic supernatural intervention.
Suppose that on a few random days every year, every vegetable were poison. Could we be held accountable for poisoning our children on one of those days?
Third, God intends that humans be able to learn from experience— that if we drop a seed, it will fall; that if we cultivate it properly, it will grow; that if we eat good things, we will thrive; that if we eat poisons, we will get sick or die.
At this point, Gilson has tucked his straw man under his arm and he's running all the way down the sidelines for a touchdown. Meanwhile, the refs are frantically blowing their whistles and the other players are standing around wondering what the hell he thinks he's doing.

Nobody has suggested that an intervening (theistic) God would imply that there is no regularity or order to the laws of nature. That's not the point of Krauss' argument. But I'll get to that in a second.

Fourth, Krauss, following Haldane, says science could never move forward if spirits animated all of nature (a view typically called animism). Ironically again, Christians couldn’t agree with him more. The late Catholic physicist and philosopher of science Stanley Jaki said, “If science was to be born, nature had to be de-animized"
Uh, what? Here's the link to the article by Krauss:

He never says that, or anything like that. The words "animate" or "animated" don't appear in his article at all. Gilson then goes into this big tangent about animism, and how Christianity is supposedly unique by getting away from what he seems to think is a more primitive and naive theology.  Which is stupid for a litany of reasons, but science help me I am not going to go on listing all the religions that have creation myths a lot like the Judeo-Christian one.

He finishes:
Finally it’s worth noting that all this is no ad hoc attempt to save Christianity from being rendered wrong or irrelevant by the success of science. God’s desire to have a relationship of communication with humans, to give humans moral responsibility, and to make a world in which we can learn and grow, can all be found in pages of Scripture that predate modern science by millennia. Of course the creation account of which I have been speaking is also thousands of years old. This is not Christianity’s reaction to science. This is Christianity’s conceptual compatibility with science (and vice-versa) since long before there was science to be compatible with.
Alright, since Tom clearly missed the side of the barn on this one, I'll leave a couple of quotes that highlight the problem that Krauss is really talking about:
"If something has an effect or influence, you can try to examine it using the tools of science — so when someone announces that gods cannot be detected by observation or experiment, they are saying they don't matter and don't do anything, which is exactly what this atheist has been saying all along." - PZ Myers
"A religious or spiritual belief that involves an invisible undetectable force that nonetheless influences human actions and behavior or that of the world itself produces a situation in which a believer has no choice but to have faith and abandon logic--or simply not care. [...] This incompatibility strikes me as a critical logical impasse in methods and understanding. Stephen Jay Gould's purportedly 'nonoverlapping magisteria'--those of science, covering the empirical universe, and religion, extending into moral inquiry--do overlap and face this intractable paradox too." – Lisa Randall


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