Friday, August 17, 2007

God vs Science - A Forum (4)

This is a continuation of a discussion between myself and you, gentle readers, arising out of comments left on my previous posting.

The comment below was from a reader who wanted to know my opinions on a book, “The Language of God”, written by Francis S Collins, scientist and head of the Human Genome Project, and a believing Christian to boot.

From Bubba: You've evaded talking about the Francis S Collins book, "The Language of God" for long enough.

Now will you do the decent thing and tell us all what you thought of it, and why a scientist par excellence, like Francis Collins, is a believing Christian.

We can wait no longer for the pronunciamento from you, the Oracle.

From Christopher: I do detect, Bubba, a biting sarcasm in your comment that I can’t overlook. While this way of communicating may be fine among you and your two-fisted beer-swilling buddies, it isn’t fine when you are communicating with me.

You should consider yourself privileged that I deign to respond to your comments, for you should understand that my time is taken up in corresponding with refined educated men like university professors, scientists, and theologians, not red-necked riff-raff like you.

And don’t put on airs, like using foreign-sounding phrases like “par excellence” and foreign-sounding words like “pronunciamento”, so to try to sound refined and educated. It impresses me not a whit, for you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

You’re skating on thin ice, Bubba. So don’t overdo it.

Now, to Francis S Collins. He is the head of the Human Genome Project, and indeed a scientist par excellence, and so would not likely be a practising Christian, but he is.

What brought him to Faith was his observation of the ubiquitous yearning for God in all societies around the world, and that all societies live under a moral law, whereby the people are enjoined to live good lives, to sacrifice their own life in the defence of family and society, not to murder or steal, to be kind to children and old ladies, and all of that - everything which comes under sacrifice or altruism.

While Collins acknowledges the altruism in the non-human animal kingdom, which would be explained in terms of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, he sees that human moral injunctions, altruism and willingness to sacrifice for the good of others go far beyond the norm in the animal kingdom. What would explain that so many people are good, like Oscar Schindler, who risked his life and fortune to save the lives of Jews in Nazi Germany? What would explain this omnipresent human moral order? It must come from God, who, because science has adequately explained how we all came to be through evolution, would be a God existing outside nature, and so outside space and time.

While so much evil is done by humans, what is important for Collins is that it transgresses the moral law, the moral law which is the expression of God’s ubiquitous presence.

Human altruism and goodness are, in fact, easily explained, without putting God into it. It is simply the altruism of the animal kingdom, but at a higher level, a result of our much more developed brains. Animals will sacrifice themselves for their broods or families, but the human concept of “family” has now extended to our nation or country. Therefore we will sacrifice our lives for our countries when at war, and risk our lives to save one of our fellow countrymen being run over by a train, or whatever. In the case of Oscar Schindler, the Jews he tried to save at risk to his own life, were simply his fellow Germans, and therefore his “family”.

But it is important to remember that killing other humans is quite OK if those other humans belong to countries with which our own is at war. So we kill millions of those enemy humans, including children and little babies, by dropping bombs on their cities from our aeroplanes, and we regard our pilots as big brave heroes for doing so.

Collins, the scientist, accepts Darwin’s Theory of Evolution as true, and the primitive altruism in the animal kingdom as explainable under this Theory, without the need for God. But when he considers the more advanced human altruism, which manifests in our moral code, he thinks this must be because of God.

But Collins doesn’t think to ask that if humans are part and parcel of the animal kingdom, and evolved from the same primeval slime as did animals, why should our human altruism be divinely inspired, but not the altruism of the other animals?

Collins can’t have it both ways. Either the altruism of the animal kingdom, including that of us humans, is divinely inspired, or it isn’t. Since Darwinism explains animal altruism, it follows that it explains ours, which we call our “moral code”.

Collins is also impressed by the fact that all societies yearn for God, as manifested in their religions. Surely, he reasons, this would be because there is actually a God, and people intrinsically know this.

Possibly. But how about that we humans are the only species which are self-conscious, and who therefore can contemplate our own deaths, and we find this frightening? So we invented gods who assure us there’s life after death, and if we worship them, they, these gods, will look after us in the world to come.

In terms of Occam’s Razor, this is the obvious reason for the idea of “God”. No supernatural explanation is necessary.

But If Francis S Collins still wants to believe there’s a “God” out there somewhere, no matter how bizarre the idea, there’s no harm in this, I suppose, if it gives him comfort, which he says it does. An amorphous “God”, without the trappings of sectarian religion, would belong to everyone, no matter where in the world they live, no matter their nationality, language, or skin-colour. So this amorphous “God” shouldn’t be the cause of people killing and oppressing and mutilating each other, as they now do in the name of the “God” of their particular sectarian religion.

But Collins doesn’t stop at just believing there’s a “God”. He goes the whole hog by subscribing to a religion, in his case, Christianity. Not only this, but literalist Christianity, where Jesus Christ actually was the son of God, was born to a mother through parthenogenesis, made dead people come alive, rose from the dead himself on the third day, ascended to heaven amidst swirling dust, and all of that.

Collins was much influenced by the writings of the famous Oxford don and Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, who said in so many words that the New Testament had to be taken as literally true, so that Jesus was actually the son of God, and that he actually did and said all the stuff as depicted in the bible. If he didn’t, he was obviously a nut-case. So it was no use apologetic Christians trying to justify their Christianity to their non-believing friends by rationalizing that Christ was just an extremely wise man, and that what he said and did shouldn’t be taken literally, but metaphorically.

C.S. Lewis was having none of this. Christ was either a nut-case or he wasn’t. And if he wasn’t a nut-case, you had to swallow straight all of what was in the bible, with no questions asked.

Collins was so impressed by what Lewis said that he became an out and out Believer, no questions asked. But his not asking questions didn’t stop him rationalizing his new-found literalist beliefs, by saying that God, being beyond nature, and therefore beyond space and time, would not only know what each of us is thinking, and would therefore answer our prayers, but would also be able to interfere generally in human affairs, and did so by sending Christ into the world as his personal representative to save us from our sins.

Collins also read books by Christian authors which told him that the Gospels represented authentic eyewitness accounts of the earthly life of Christ. He also seizes on the account of a non-Christian historian of that time, Josephus, which tells of a Jewish prophet who was crucified by Pontius Pilate around 33 A.D.

But Collins ignores that the scholarship in the Christian-authored books he read is seriously disputed by biblical scholars; that none of the 27 Pagan writers who wrote about the middle-east of the time of the alleged Jesus, says anything about him; and that no serious scholar now believes that Josephus wrote what he is supposed to have written about Christ and Pontius Pilate.

We shouldn’t condemn Collins for being so gullible, for we, all of us, whether erudite scientists or humble ditch-diggers, airbrush out anything which interferes with what we wish to believe.

But Collins, in addition to being a highly educated scientist, is, by what he has done in his life, obviously a very good and moral man. But, while deciding to believe in “God”, he didn’t make a distinction between “God” and “religion”, and should have recognised that religions are inherently divisive, and that his chosen religion, Christianity, is notoriously exclusivist and divisive.

I consider that “God”, as Francis Collins sees “Him”, is a wrong way of looking at the idea of “God”, because it implies that “God” is “out there” somewhere; whereas “God”, as far as “God” can be postulated, makes more sense as existing inside each of us as the ground of our being.

So if you want to see God, all you need do is look in your bathroom mirror.

Nonetheless, “The Language of God” is very thought provoking, and I recommend it to those of you who actually read books.

But if you suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder, and therefore find the reading of books to be beyond you, you can read a partial transcription of a debate, adjudicated by Time Magazine, between Francis S Collins and the biologist and prolific author, Richard Dawkins, by clicking here.

And Now For Something Completely Different: