• The Truth Behind the New Atheism: The Definitive Refutation, Part 2

    Chapter 2: Are Scientists Too “Bright” to Believe in God?

    Near the beginning of the chapter David Marshall sums up what will be the topics under discussion with the following,

    First, is it true that Christianity discourages the attempt to understand the natural world? Second, are modern scientists really so unlikely to believe in God? Third, if so, why? And fourth, if many scientists are atheists, does that make atheism more likely to be true? (37)

    Marshall begins by addressing the role Christianity and Christians played in scientific progress. He writes,

    Early scientists were mostly zealous Christians. If the Bible teaches us to close our eyes to natural wonder, why did modern science arise among a church-educated elite steeped in such anti-intellectualism? How did they reconcile this stick-in-mud theology with their unabashed passion for understanding? […] Many skeptics seem to think science emerged from the so-called Enlightenment. […] The rise of science marked no sudden break in history. Like other accomplishments of Christian Europe, it grew slowly like a tree from roots deeply entangled in the humus of the so-called Dark Ages. (37-38)

    On the contrary, the facts are quite different, though, as Richard Carrier explains, there are “kernels of truth.”

    [M]odern science did develop in a Christian milieu, in the hands of scientists who were indeed Christians, and Christianity can be made compatible with science and scientific values. Christianity only had to adapt to embrace those old pagan values that once drove scientific progress. And it was Christians who adapted it, craftily inventing Christian arguments in favor of the change because only arguments in accord with Christian theology and the Bible would have succeeded in persuading their peers. But this was a development in spite of Christianity’s original values and ideals, returning the world back to where pagans, not Christians, had left it a thousand years before at the dawn of the third century. Only then did the Christian world take up that old pagan science and its core values once again. And only then did further progress ensue.

    Had Christianity not interrupted the intellectual advance of mankind and put the progress of science on hold for a thousand years, the Scientific Revolution might have occurred a thousand years ago […]. [1]

    In addition to the above statement, one just has to look at the last chapter. Does the bible or any Christians cited accept the scientific method (critical inquiry)? No, they relied purely on their dogma as laid out in their bible without confirming the accuracy of their sources.

    In the next section Marshall lists several reasons why he believes scientists are being irrational for disbelieving in god.

    One might argue that evolution makes atheism more plausible. Scientists know more about the age of the earth and evidence for change in biology, and therefore realize better than the common man that nature can be explained without need for the “God hypothesis.”

    Are there any nonlogical reasons why American scientists (at least) would be less likely to believe in God? I can think of seven, some of which seem to explain the phenomena better. (41-42)

    Marshall begins with his seven reasons,

    1. Hostility Toward Religion

    There may be a “selective disadvantage” to believers in the American academy. On the last day of class, my anthropology professor, an atheist who helped on my research and chatted about such issues, told his Chinese religions class, as if continuing our private conversation aloud, that anthropologists may have it in for the Christian faith. Indeed, Huston Smith says, “The modern university is not agnostic towards religion; it is actively hostile to it.” He traces this animus to the claim to control knowledge, competition with the church for influence, and positivism, the idea that only facts proven by science are worth much. […] I’m taken aback by the case of Richard Sternberg. Biologist Stephen Meyer, a prominent proponent of Intelligent Design, published an article in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington in August, 2004, arguing that the explosion of new body forms that appear in Cambrian rocks undermines evolution. The editor responsible for allowing this article to surface was shunned, lied about, and kept from doing research at the Smithsonian Institute. Milder forms of the same intolerance could act as a Darwinian mechanism by which people with “scandalous ideas” are kept out of the upper ranks in the United States. (42)

    Marshall fails to cite a single case of any scientist disbelieving in god due to any kind of hostility. He cites a few opinions but no real evidence, except for the alleged case of persecution of Richard Sternberg. Let’s take a closer look at this supposed evidence of “hostility.”

    Since this final edition of my review is being written so long after the huge flop that creationists made out of the 2008 intelligent design puff piece, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, the facts of the Sternberg case have been known for quite some time. [2] Because there is so much material available about this case I will only summarize it here.

    The only truthful statement here was that Sternberg allowed a paper on intelligent design to be published in a scientific journal. What Marshall doesn’t tell you is that Sternberg had ties to Stephen Meyer and the intelligent design movement. He also bypassed the proper peer review process and published the article himself. There is a lot to this story so that’s all I will say about it and I will direct you to an excellent article on the subject by Ed Brayton. [3] Even though information was available about the incident at the time of the book’s writing (even the emails countering these very allegations) Marshall failed to find out the other side of the story and swallowed the propaganda hook, line, and sinker. I wonder if Marshall will realize the irony about this and his insistence that “human testimony” is a reliable method of getting information? Doubtful.

    2. Self-imposed Limitations

    The scientist must bracket considerations not relevant to his research. This means assuming that God does not spike the petri dish (or, as biologist Ben McFarland told me, “You do another ten Petri dishes and publish what’s repeatable!”). Just as a bone can turn into stone after years in the ground, “methodological naturalism” may fossilize into a philosophy. This doesn’t mean we have “universal experience” against miracles, as David Hume assumed (how could he know that?). But the habit of setting miracles to one side may become hard to break. (45)

    I believe the next category can also be addressed at the same time as the previous one.

    3. Bias Against Miracles

    Miracles involve unique experiences. They are not reproducible, and therefore offend what many see as the core of the scientific method. There is, of course, a distinction between “My job is to explain things naturally, and so far things have worked out,” and “We haven’t seen any miracles in our lab, so they don’t happen.” Miracles are a province of history, not science. Science is an adjacent province of history: Every experiment reported in a journal is, in the end, a historical report. But since scientists are not always philosophers, and every trade privileges its own, it may be easier for some scientists, or populists, to say, “Prove it to me scientifically, or I won’t believe!” (45)

    Both of these arguments essentially argue the same thing. Marshall believes that science is being unfair by rejecting the supernatural, but it’s not unfair at all if one actually understands the scientific method (as Marshall clearly doesn’t).

    To quote Donald R. Prothero,

    [S]cientists practice methodological naturalism, where they use naturalistic assumptions to understand the world but make no philosophical commitment as to whether the supernatural exists or not. Scientists don’t exclude god from their hypotheses because they are inherently atheistic or unwilling to consider the existence of god; they simply cannot consider supernatural events in in their hypotheses. Why not? Because […] once you introduce the supernatural to a scientific hypothesis, there is no way to falsify or test it. (emphasis in original) [4]

    Marshall’s next reason is the following,

    4. Doubt Instead of Discernment

    Scientists are rightly offended by the arbitrary and silly nature of many miracle reports. Many babies have been thrown out with that bathwater.

    In Jesus and the Religions of Man, I argued that miracles are different from “magic” in five ways. Miracles invite verification, usually historical, while magic often flaunts its irrational character. Miracles are usually practical, while magic is showy-bleeding statues, levitation, Mary in a loaf of bread. Miracles enhance human dignity, while magic undermines our humanity-it makes us bark like dogs, or “[affect] Godhead, and so loosing all” in Milton’s words. Miracles point to God; magic to something or someone else. Finally, miracles come in response to requests, while magic makes demands. Like a fireman “running red lights,” miracles actually affirm the dignity and reasonableness of natural law. But to some onlookers, “the rules” are being broken and therefore cheating is going on.

    When Christ healed the sick, he didn’t stand with the credulous masses against the men in white coats, or vice versa. The gospel bridges the gap between blind faith and the “hermeneutics of suspicion.” By offering reason to the masses, and faith to scientists, Christ makes us all more fully human. (45-46)

    Wow. That was a mouth full. The reason many scientists doubt and end up rejecting miracles is because of the reason I just gave above. However, there are many scientists who do seek to test supernatural phenomenon.

    Allow me to once again quote Donald R. Prothero since he sums up this subject well,

    [T]here have been many scientific tests of supernatural and paranormal explanations of things, including parapsychology, ESP, divination, prophesy, and astrology. All of these nonscientific ideas have been falsified when subjected to the scrutiny of scientific investigation (see Isaak 2006; also 2002 for a review). [Philip] Johnson loudly complains that the supernatural has been unfairly excluded from the debate, but this is clearly not true. Every time the supernatural has been investigated by scientific methods, it has failed the test. [5]

    I could just as easily replace Johnson’s name with David Marshall’s in that next to last sentence, and Prothero is quite right. There are many good books that look at the scientific evidence for supernatural/ paranormal explanations and the result is always the same. There is none. [6]

    Marshall continues,

    5. Faulty Information

    Some churches set young people up to lose their faith by teaching bad science. Sir Paul Nurse, 2001 Nobel Peace Prize laureate in physiology, says he abandoned religion in secondary school because his attempts to reconcile what he learned about life history to Genesis were squelched by his church. Wilson also felt forced to choose between biology and Christianity.

    As a teenager, I enjoyed a religious comic book that depicted a cursing scientist losing his temper when a student disproved radiocarbon dating. A mollusk was tested and found to be thousands of years old, “and the thing was still alive!” I snickered smugly. But the subtext seemed to say, “If radiocarbon dating were accurate, it would undermine your faith.” I wonder if I would have kept my faith if that were the only kind of apologetics I was exposed to.

    I don’t want to be too hard on pastors or parents who make such mistakes. No one owns a crystal-clear picture of reality. A little humility and curiosity go a long ways. These are modeled in many Christian homes, as they were in mine. (46)

    I get the strong impression that Marshall is being a hypocrite. Yes, there is a lot of bad apologetics out there (Well, it’s all bad, some is just more sophisticated than others. That sophistication often makes it seem like respectable argumentation, but it’s not.), but the fact of the matter is that Marshall is guilty of what he condemns. Later on he makes use of long discredited creationist arguments that have long since been handily refuted.

    Despite Marshall’s more accepting attitude of scientific discoveries, and his ability to compartmentalize his religious beliefs and what (little) he knows about science, the fact remains that science contradicts all religious belief. Period. One may be able to harmonize science and religion, but I believe that it takes a tremendous amount of rationalization in order to do so.

    Marshall now explains his sixth reason.

    6. Presumption

    Few scientists take the time to become experts on God. Dawkins quotes Albert Einstein as writing, “The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naive.” A Catholic clergyman responded that Einstein didn’t know what he was talking about. “Some men think that because they have achieved a high degree of learning in some field, they are qualified to express opinions in all.” Dawkins responded, “On the contrary, Einstein understood very well what he was denying.”

    But how was this unnamed theologian wrong? His point was that the opinion of an expert in one field is of little value in another if he hasn’t studied it. Dawkins ignores the point-perhaps because it is so relevant to his own case.

    Leading scientists at research universities work long hours. How much time does an 80-hour work week leave to study arguments for the historical Jesus, talk to missionaries about answered prayer, research the role of Christianity in reform movements, or even soak in Jesus’ words very deeply? Great scientists of the past were steeped in the biblical texts. They didn’t need to search “evil Bible verses” (see chapter 7) on the Internet to make up their minds about the nature of the biblical revelation. One biologist told me:

    I actually think the “science game” is played such that if you don’t idolize science you won’t win the game. If you let other things in your life-God, a baby, or heaven help you, both-you are handicapped, and given the tenure process, probably tenure for life. I do kind of laugh at all the hand-wringing about women not going into academia. Some days, I just say to myself that means the women are smart, reasonable, free beings! (46-47)

    First of all, one not need be a theologian, or even have a lot of knowledge of religion, to have an understanding of the basic beliefs of different religions in order to reject them. Second, the quoted biologist is unnamed and therefore can be rejected as simply someone’s opinion. It’s clearly a case of Marshall trying to cause his readers to look down upon the scientific establishment.

    The final reason is as follows.

    7. Ignorance

    Scientists who take a radical stance against religion often reveal an ignorance of that which they speak about. Examples will appear throughout this book — though I will have space to cover only a tithe of the errors I found in the works of Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris (not to mention the anti-God writings of other part-time theologians). My goal is not to show disrespect to those dedicated to studying the natural world. But let’s not engage in credulous hero worship, either. Knowledge in one realm does not transfer to another without careful, humble study. Those who assume it does often heap a large serving of crow for themselves, as we will see. (47)

    I’d agree this is plausible, however, most scientists do have at the very least an elementary understanding of religion and my response is essentially the same as it was for the last argument. Marshall has yet to show any cases of “ignorance” from any scientists. I also find this argument to be hypocritical. Here we have a mere Christian missionary (David Marshall) discussing evolutionary science among other sciences, and other topics which he clearly hasn’t the faintest clue about. I shall get to these instances later. In addition, there are many other examples of theists who are guilty of being ignorant of science.

    To sum up, I’ve demonstrated why each of Marshall’s arguments in this chapter have been in error and science and religion are not compatible because of the overwhelming evidence for materialism and the fact that no religious/supernatural claims are supported by evidence.

    1. Carrier, Richard. Christianity Was Not Responsible for Modern Science. The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails. Edited by John W. Loftus. Prometheus Books, 2010. 413-414

    2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expelled:_No_Intelligence_Allowed – accessed 7-20-11

    3. Creating a Martyr: The Sternberg Saga Continues, by Ed Brayton, orginally published on December 19, 2006 – accessed 7-20-11

    4. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, by Donald R. Prothero, Columbia University Press, 2007; 11

    5. Ibid.; 11

    6. Examples include, Susan J. Blackmore’s Beyond the Body: An Investigation of Out-of-the-Body Experiences (1992) and Dying to Live: Near-Death Experiences (1993); Terence Hines’ Pseudoscience and the Paranormal (2003); and James Randi’s Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns and other Delusions (1982).

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    Article by: Arizona Atheist