Book Excerpt from How to Argue with an Atheist (Brink): Accept the Limits of Science

 



STEP #3. ACCEPT THE LIMITS OF SCIENCE

STUDENT: Dr. Brink?

BRINK: Yes, oh come on in for our weekly conversation.

STUDENT: I don't think I'll come in. I just stopped by to say thank you for all the time you have given me, but I don't think I'll be coming back.

BRINK: I have enjoyed our conversations. But I thought that we would have a few more before I was done giving you my complete answer.

STUDENT: I am sure that you have more to say, but I think that I got enough. I don't really disagree with anything you have said so far. I really thought about what we said last time about the limits of reason, and I do agree with that, and that it all comes down to making a decision, a commitment, and I have made my decision. I am going to stay with science, not just for my major and career, but my view of the world, evolution and all.

BRINK: Well do come in and grant me a conversation about science.

STUDENT: OK, I guess that I do have the time.

BRINK: Tell me what you like about science.

STUDENT: Just ... all the things we talked about in your psychology class, how it is so precise and objective, and the way to sort out truth from falsehood, effective treatment from quackery. I accept the whole view of science.

BRINK: What is the whole view of science?

STUDENT: Evolution. Humans are just more advanced animals, a little further along in evolution. Look at Watson and Skinner (they were atheists, I think) who showed that people were like rats and pigeons when it came to conditioning.

BRINK: That is a view of some scientists, but I am not sure that it is the whole view of people as persons.

STUDENT: What else would there be?

BRINK: What distinguishes humans from other animals is not the use of technology founded on empirical observation: other species with highly developed cerebra are capable of that. What distinguishes humans from other animals is the religious dimension. Remember our first step, that people are value-driven beings?

STUDENT: Alright, I am not going back on that point, but values are the product of conditioning, or modeling, or some other forms of learning.

BRINK: It would be more precise to say that those behaviors expressing or attempting to attain values are capable of being conditioned or modeled. But where do the values or motives come from?

STUDENT: Why do we always wind up with religion just by admitting that people have values? If values do not come from learning and the environment, they must come from heredity, and that's where evolution fits in.

BRINK: So, does acceptance of evolution preclude the relevance of religion?

STUDENT: That's the way I see it. The old arguments ("proofs") for the existence of God do not work once we assume the Big Bang, infinite solar systems, the certainty that some would have evolving life, etc. At best, these old arguments would lead one to affirm some Creator who just made this world as a kind of experiment, but not one who really cares about the salvation of our souls.

BRINK: ... a sort of dispassionate Deism, not a passionate Theism?

STUDENT: Right, that's how I see evolution impacting religion. Darwin can explain how people got here, so we don't need to think in terms of Adam and Eve.

 BRINK: Don't you like that story about the garden of Eden?

 STUDENT: It's a nice story, and so is Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, but like I said earlier, I'm sticking with science for my explanations of how humans got here.

BRINK: I have no foundation to reject the theory of evolution. I have heard some evangelical Christian scientists attempt a point by point refutation, but I am not enough of a biologist or paleontologist to really appreciate the complexity of those arguments. All I would conclude is that scientific theories should be subjected to the proof of empirical verification, not to the scriptures (just as I would say that religious doctrines should not be subjected to any sort of empirical verification). No scientific theory should be impervious to empirical data. No religious doctrine should be vulnerable to empirical data.

STUDENT: Trust me on this one, the theory of evolution is based on solid science.

BRINK: This theory of evolution may have some empirical validity in that it is consistent with verification provided by scientific investigations in the fields of geology and paleontology. However, I see no ultimate relevance nor threat to ultimate relevance. It does not create a relevant myth, symbol, or ritual, nor offer ethical guidance.

STUDENT: You mean, you don't see where it refutes God?

BRINK: Even if Darwinian theory were completely empirically verified, this would not necessarily have atheistic or even deistic implications. Since evolution assumes the existence of matter and laws governing its motion and composition, the existence of a Creator and Law Giver would appear to be highly compatible.

STUDENT: How is that? Evolution says we do not need the Creator, much less a loving, personal God.

BRINK: Evolution offers an explanation as to how the process of creation unfolded, not who started it, and certainly not why. Indeed, evolution might explain how people came to be religious. There may very well be an inherited human capacity for religious behavior. Darwin would explain it as leading to survival of the group. The atheist would say that this provides an explanation for why people are religious (and maybe why they should be).

STUDENT: But the Bible talks about Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, and that is not evolution.

BRINK: It certainly is not, if we take the story literally.

STUDENT: If we do not take the Bible and its myths literally, where does that leave the theistic God that the Christians are always talking about?

BRINK: I shall address the myths and scripture in later steps, but today I think we have defined the topic as science and its limitations. The real question is: are science and God compatible?

STUDENT: Exactly, and I choose science.

BRINK: Remember what we said last time about reason and science being opposites?

STUDENT: You said that they were not opposites, just different.

BRINK: Do you still agree with that point?

STUDENT: Yes, but I really think that science and religion are opposites. Just look at how different their methods are: empiricism vs. faith ... as you call it, commitment.

BRINK: Right, they are different, but perhaps not opposites.

STUDENT: Are we going back to cats and dogs again?

BRINK: Yes: the opposite of science is not religion, but anti-science. The opposite of religion is not science, but anti-religion.


 

Religious

Not religious

Totals

Scientific

Scientific & religious

Scientific, but not religious

Total scientific

Not scientific

Religious, but not scientific

Neither scientific nor religious

Total not scientific

Totals

Total religious

Total not religious

Total

 

STUDENT:  I guess you would put yourself in the upper left quadrant: scientific and religious?

BRINK: Yes. I consider myself to be a professional scientist and only an amateur theologian. I don’t see where any of my religious activities have impaired my credentials as a scientist, and so far the Pope has not complained that anything I have written about diagnosis and treatment challenges Catholic doctrines.

STUDENT: Who would you put in the bottom right quadrant: rejecting science and religion? Don’t you need one or the other to make sense out of the universe?

BRINK: I would contend that you need both, but there are people like that. There are these conspiracy theorists who think that humans on this planet were created by aliens from a yet undiscovered planet, and that the Church is just a conspiracy to keep people ignorant, and scientists have a conspiracy against facts about UFOs and Big Foot.

STUDENT: Are those the same ones that see a conspiracy behind psychiatric medications?

BRINK: There is much overlap. They champion pseudoscientific quackery such as homeopathic cures.

STUDENT: Yeh, I could not stand being in that quadrant. I’m happy in the upper right: all science and no religion.

BRINK: I agree that the top row is the place to be. What’s wrong with the left column?

STUDENT: Maybe I’m thinking of the lower left quadrant, but there seem to be too many unreasonable, dangerous people. I remember a program by Carl Sagan (he was an atheist too, I think) about how scientists try to talk to each other and cooperate while religious fanatics fight wars and have witch hunts when they disagree.

BRINK: That is because people get more emotional when values are involved. Scientific laws are only descriptive, not legislative. Because religion has more implications for human life, people are more willing to fight and die (and kill) for their commitments.

STUDENT: But I don't want to participate in such a brutal system.

BRINK: I admit that these horrible disputes about doctrines and ethics, even rituals and symbols, have occurred within religion. I promise to address these points when I come to a step called ecumenism. All I can say right now is that religion and science can have that same overlapping Venn diagram relationship that we saw with reason and religion. You do not have to reject science to be committed to your religion, and you do not have to reject religion to be a good scientist.

STUDENT: But why can't I just stick to the facts, discovered by science, and make my life around that?

BRINK: It sounds like you really trust the empirical method.

STUDENT: I do, it is so rational.

BRINK: Let's subject it to one of the tests of reason, the law of self-contradiction.

STUDENT: You won't find any logical self-contradiction as long as you stick to what you observe.

BRINK: Are you saying "Only that which can be verified empirically should be accepted as truth"?

STUDENT: Yes, that is pretty much it.

BRINK: Think about that statement and tell me if it is self-contradictory?

STUDENT: How could it be?

BRINK: Look at it again. Is there an internal inconsistency in the statement ... "Only that which can be verified empirically should be accepted as truth"?

STUDENT: Oh, now I see it. The statement itself cannot be verified empirically, so therefore it should not be accepted as truth. Indeed, it is self-contradictory in that sense. But does that mean we have to start doubting facts?

BRINK: No, many facts are worthy of belief, having been empirically verified. My only challenge is to rely solely on the empirical method for all of our knowledge. I hope we both agree that some facts are worthy of belief, but also that there are some values worthy of commitment?

STUDENT: Are you saying that there is a difference between facts and values?

BRINK: Yes. Facts and values are different and employ different forms of truth, proof, and faith. Science is about discovering facts; religion is about creating values. The truth (values) revealed by religion is created, not discovered. The truth (validity) of empirical science is discovered, not created.

STUDENT: So, there are different types of truth?

BRINK: Yes. Consider this example: are the law of gravity and the law against murder essentially the same?

STUDENT: Well, you shouldn’t try to go against either one.

BRINK: I see one fundamental difference. We discover that we are subject to the law of gravity, but we choose to obey (or disobey) the moral law against murder. Where there are facts, we discover them. Where there are values, we have created them, or at least we choose whether or not to accept them.

STUDENT: And do these different kinds of truth have different forms of proof?

BRINK: Yes. Scientific evidence is what you get from telescopes, microscopes, pottery sherds, finger prints or DNA labs. It is the kind of evidence required by science and courts of law. Evidence relevant to values appeals to factors such as convenience, conformity, obedience, comfort, aesthetics.

I contend that most people make religious decisions (e.g., whether to stay in the religion in which they were raised, whether to convert) for non-factual reasons. For example, I think that most people who convert to Mormonism do so not because they are so impressed with the archeological validity of the Book of Mormon, but because they buy into the Latter-day Saint values system: a husband who won't drink or smoke, a wife and children who are obedient, decent and helpful associates. People become Mormons despite the complex theology, not because of it.

STUDENT: OK, but what value is there in the story of Adam and Eve?

BRINK: I cherish the story of Eden, not because it makes factual claims about the origins of humans on this planet, but because it defines human essence as values-oriented beings.

STUDENT: How so?

BRINK: The study of theology does not lead to knowledge that is factual, but to knowledge that is transformative. What kind of knowledge did Adam and Eve obtain from the forbidden fruit? It was not the content of a physics textbook. The knowledge was of values: good and evil (Genesis 3:5).

STUDENT: So you are saying that values are a form of truth, and facts are a different form of truth?

BRINK: Yes, and the former can be proved by science but the latter cannot. Consider these words of the Declaration of Independence: that all men are created equal. Was Jefferson talking about facts or values?

STUDENT: He must have been talking about values, because it is not a fact that all people are equal in the sense of having the same amount of money or the same abilities.

BRINK: Right. Jefferson’s statement was a declaration of values.  Now do you think that he himself really believed that all people were equal, or do you think that he was arguing that these were goals to which we should be committed?

STUDENT: I doubt that Jefferson really believed that people were equal, after all, he even had slaves.

BRINK: So, Jefferson was setting forth truth in the form of values to which we should be committed, not truth in the form of facts that he had verified in some experiment.

STUDENT: But science can prove its facts. Can religion prove its value claims?

BRINK: That is exactly what religions should try to do: prove which values are worthy of our commitments. "Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good." I Thessalonians 5:21

STUDENT: So, how do you prove a value? What's right for me may be wrong for someone else. Science is objective, which means that if it is true for me that it is 26 degrees Celsius in this room right now, then that is the right temperature, whether or not you or I am in the room looking at the thermometer.

BRINK: Agreed, that is why science is objective.

STUDENT: But religion, it might mean one thing for me and another for you. Catholicism might be the right religion for you, but that does not mean that someone else is wrong for being Jewish. Religion is just too subjective.

BRINK: I agree that religion is subjective in the sense that it requires the participation of the subject, the person. I also agree that being a member of any particular denomination (e.g., Catholic, Jewish) is not a sin. And I do promise to take up the question of how religion helps decide values. That will be a later step on the topic of ethics.

STUDENT: I guess there are a lot more steps than I thought.

BRINK: But today I just want to focus on the question of science and its limits. I shall cut to the key question: does science offer any way of making value judgments?

STUDENT: ... well ... I do not know exactly what you mean.

BRINK: Can science tell us what we should do? It enables us to go to the moon, or develop faster computers, but can it really help us decide if we should go to the moon or build faster computers?

STUDENT: So, you are saying that we cannot get a value from a fact?

BRINK: Exactly. Empirical proof is drawn from the physical world, and cannot prove the existence of something that transcends the physical world. No empirically discovered fact can serve as proof or justification for a value. Can you come up with an example of one?

STUDENT: OK, let's stick with the example of space exploration. Suppose a lunar probe discovered rare minerals on the moon. Wouldn't that prove that we should undertake space exploration, or at least go back to the moon?

BRINK: That would depend on what type of minerals they discovered.

STUDENT: Gold, silver, platinum, uranium; really rare and valuable ones.

BRINK: There's the key word, valuable.

STUDENT: OK, I get it, we have to identify the human values.

 BRINK: Right, we must tie the facts back to values before we can turn an "is" statement into an "ought" statement. Let's try another example involving values and choice. You have chosen to major in chemistry. Why?

STUDENT: The possibilities for future employment are pretty good.

 BRINK: That is a fact, but again you have some implicit values in your justification.

STUDENT: Oh, like I value getting a job, and I have a good chance of getting a job if I major in chemistry.

BRINK: That's it. What is a little confusing here is that we can use the term "good" in both a values sense and in a factual sense. In a values sense I could say "I think it is good to have a job" or "I hope I get a good job." In these values sentences "good" describes something I want and hope for. But I am speaking in a factual sense when I say "The job market is good" or "The pay is good" or "I am good in chemistry" because I am referring to a high empirical measure of something: employment, dollars, or ability.

STUDENT: So where does that leave us?

BRINK: Our first step was that people are values-oriented beings, but this step has shown that science cannot provide values, and so my conclusion is that science is limited.

STUDENT: OK, I agree it's not perfect, but it is the best system of knowledge that we have, a lot better than religion.

BRINK: You still seem to imply that the two are opposites, and that we have to choose one or the other.

STUDENT: I think so. Look at the history of science, how religion blocked its advance. Five hundred years ago, the Church opposed the idea of a round earth, four hundred years ago it opposed Galileo.

BRINK: The Catholic Church no longer supports a flat earth or a geocentric solar system. The Pope even says that he has no problems with the theory of evolution.

STUDENT: There are still some Protestant Fundamentalists who want to take evolution out of the biology textbooks.

BRINK: I do promise to touch on the Fundamentalists on a later step, but today I just want to show the limits of science and the compatibility of religion and science.

STUDENT: It's not just a few Fundamentalists: religion has always slowed down science.

BRINK: I'm not so certain of that sweeping generalization. Indeed, I would say that the creation of monotheistic doctrine by the early Hebrews helped advance the progress of science.

STUDENT: How so?

BRINK: The Old Testament describes Yahweh as the unseen God, in order to distinguish Him from the visible idols used by the surrounding Gentile polytheists. Notice that the rejection of idolatry is often paired with a rejection of divination (trying to predict the future) and sorcery (trying to manipulate the future). The ancient boundary between religion, magic and science was fuzzy. One great accomplishment of Hebrew monotheism was to separate the divine and the physical: religion and science. Religion was to be confined to the unseen God. Science was given permission to comprehend the natural world. The great accomplishment of Hebrew monotheism was the separation between the spiritual and the physical. This, therefore, paved the way not only for abstract theology, but also for the development of science. Since the physical realm was not to be regarded as holy or mysterious, it could be studied as mundane. Since it was the product of creation, intelligent design, man's intelligence could search for that design in nature.

STUDENT: But don't you think that religion sometimes still gets in the way of progress?

BRINK: There are two ways of understanding progress: scientific knowledge and a better society.

STUDENT: I think that religion gets in the way of both of those.

BRINK: It has, on occasion. Certain Fundamentalist sects and cults do seem to embrace values antithetical to what I regard as social progress, and I shall address those in later steps.

STUDENT: I don't really see any similarity between religion and science.

BRINK: There are several. For example, they both require effort in order to acquire knowledge. The biggest problem of humanity is not stupidity, but laziness. Ignorance is an absence of knowledge.  Knowledge requires effort, and is shunned by the lazy.

 STUDENT: Right, those chemistry labs are not easy.

BRINK: Nor are the kinds of surveys and experiments done in psychology. But my point is that this is also the case for religion: people have to exert some effort and strive to attain religious knowledge, a perspective on good and evil.

STUDENT: OK, that's one similarity of methods, but their goals are so different.

BRINK: Yes, they are different, but compatible. They both strive against chaos.

STUDENT: Science strives against chaos by trying to come up with an orderly understanding of the universe.

BRINK: And so does religion. Religion has a "faith" in (let’s call it a doctrine about) a higher order in an apparently chaotic universe. Indeed, it would be more appropriate to say that religion is a commitment to create a moral order out of this chaos. So, the similarity is order, and the difference is that one discovers an empirical order, and the other creates an order of values.

STUDENT: And you cannot get values from just facts.

BRINK: No, that would be like trying to play football with a bat, or trying to kick a homerun. And these different functions of religion and science require a different use of language. The language of science is descriptive, distancing the observer. The language of religion and the arts must be dynamic, inviting a participant.

STUDENT: Is that like what you said last time about meaning and relevance?

BRINK: Exactly. None of the purposes of science (understanding, prediction, or control) has ultimate relevance. Control has utilitarian relevance insofar as it is used as a means to a proper end. Prediction has utilitarian relevance only insofar as it leads to better control over the phenomenon described by the theory or when it can be used to plan the attainment of some end. Understanding has utilitarian relevance only insofar as it facilitates prediction or control over phenomena impacting humans.

STUDENT: And so you see no challenge posed to religion by science?

BRINK: None. No single empirical fact, nor combination of facts, nor conceivable fact could falsify religious doctrine properly confined to the realm of ultimate relevance: statements about the Deity, afterlife, salvation.

STUDENT: What about history? That's a sort of science. Can't history challenge certain religious claims?

BRINK: Only if we take myths literally. History is the oldest form of social science, the attempt to objectively observe the data of the past. Historical knowledge, like that derived from any scientific endeavor, is forever tentative, awaiting new evidence. We must always admit the possibility that some document or other piece of evidence discovered tomorrow may discredit the facts that we hold today. Religious doctrine cannot be based upon such shifting sands. A firm commitment is required now and forever. Therefore, doctrines should be impervious to historical findings.

STUDENT: Suppose they find that the shroud of Turin is a fraud. Wouldn't that knock down some Christian doctrines?

BRINK: I don't see why. Let's suppose that the shroud is a fraud, that it was made a few hundred years ago by some swindler out to make a quick buck from a wealthy and gullible patron.

STUDENT: Like a modern day art forger?

BRINK: Exactly. Suppose that the wealthy patron paid a fortune for this relic so that he could exhibit it in his house and impress his neighbors and guests, and that when he died he willed it to the Church in hopes of getting some credits in purgatory. Let's suppose that tomorrow, some new scientific discovery from physics or chemistry is able to conclusively verify that this shroud is just such a forgery from a few hundred years ago, not the genuine shroud of Christ from two thousand years ago. So, what does that say about whether or not Jesus was really the Son of God and Savior of the world?

STUDENT: I guess that it just shows that the shroud cannot be cited as proof of Jesus.

BRINK: But neither can a proven forgery be cited as proof that Jesus was not who He said He was.

STUDENT: So it boils down to whether, in the absence of (scientific) proof, we accept or reject religious statements?

BRINK: Maybe science and religion have different forms of proof. Since religion lies within the realm of relevance, its truth is in the form of value that must be vindicated. Its validity cannot be empirically verified. The Christian scriptures call upon us to commit ourselves to the values they articulate. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." - Hebrews 11:1

STUDENT: Just wondering, are there any good books that defend the resurrection of Jesus from a purely historical and scientific perspective?

BRINK: There are several. Two of the better ones are by Gary Habermas Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? (San Francisco: Harper, 1987) and Lee Strobel The Case for Christ: a journalist's personal investigation of the evidence for Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998).

STUDENT: So is there a way to prove ... or vindicate, which religion is right?

BRINK: As we shall see on the step dedicated to ethics, there are ways of figuring out if an action is right. If by the term "religion" you are talking about a specific denomination, that is more of a subjective question. The different denominations are not like separate answers on a multiple choice final examination in chemistry: there being only one correct answer while the others doom anyone selecting them to be labeled as wrong.

STUDENT: Couldn't psychology help investigate religions?

BRINK: Psychology is a science studying behaviors and mental processes and the technology for changing them. Although psychology may be able to diagnose and treat ulterior relevance (e.g., clinical psychology) and aid in the establishment of utilitarian relevance (e.g., industrial psychology), psychology does not have the ability to discern or establish ultimate relevance. When mental health professionals make claims in the realm of ultimate relevance, they shed their scientific status and take up the role of religious leader (or charlatan).

STUDENT: Can psychology help by steering us clear of certain cults?

BRINK: Psychology and psychiatry can diagnose ulterior relevance masquerading as ultimate relevance (e.g., delusions that take on religious themes). Consider the blatant paranoia exhibited by leaders such as Jim Jones, who in 1978 led almost a thousand of his People's Temple cult in Guyana to commit suicide by drinking poison. In 1993 during the standoff with the Branch Davidians in Waco, FBI profilers debated whether the cult leader, David Koresh, was more of a manipulative sociopath or a self-deluded schizophrenic.

STUDENT: Don't you think that all religious leaders are a little crazy, maybe even Jesus and Muhammad?

BRINK: The examples of contemporary cult leaders raise those questions. Jesus of Nazareth has been accused of being schizophrenic, Joseph Smith (the Mormon prophet) has been described as a sociopath. Although I would dispute both of these characterizations, I recognize that there may be many denominations that have grown out of the hallucinations or manipulations of founders.

STUDENT: So, back to the big question, what is the proper place of religion and the proper place of science?

BRINK: Religion should not tell us the best way to get Pavlov's dog to salivate, and psychology should not tell us how to save our souls. Science uses fact and theory to build a pyramid of empirical knowledge. Religion is concerned with building a bridge of knowledge to the spiritual.

STUDENT: But both religion and psychology talk about human nature and human problems.

BRINK: These are problems in different spheres of human endeavor, different levels of relevance.

Statements about human nature may be religious or psychological. Psychological statements about human nature are those having operational meaning (defining the variables in terms of measurements) and are the result of empirical verification (or of inferences following verification). Religious statements are those that speak of human nature and its relationship to ultimate relevance.

Philosophy and theology, bound by their deductive, rationalistic approach, conclude that there is one essential human problem that serves as the foundation of all problems found in all people, every where, in every epoch.

Psychology and medicine, starting from their inductive and empirical bases, conclude that different symptoms may reflect different disorders growing out of different causes, and that different treatments may be appropriate in different cases. The important question becomes "What type of treatment works with this kind of patient suffering from this type of disorder under these type of conditions."

STUDENT: Have you seen that bumper sticker? It said "Imagination is more important than knowledge." It had a picture of Einstein. How would you respond to that?

BRINK: I don't know if Einstein said that, but it is a great question. I think it depends on how you define knowledge. I agree with Einstein if you just mean information. Yes, imagination is more important than information. This backs up my point: we need both science and religion. We need science to help us get and comprehend more information. We need religion to help us get more imagination.

STUDENT: You see religion as fostering imagination? I see it as stifling imagination.

BRINK: I could see where a theology, dogmatically conceived and punitively enforced, could result in that. But, we don’t live in a theocracy. You don’t have to commit yourself to such a denomination. Think of a religious congregation as a safe space to explore your values.

But maybe knowledge includes values, like the sense of wisdom. Remember, that was the kind of knowledge that Adam and Eve obtained, a knowledge of values.

But back to the question of knowledge (information or skills) vs. imagination. In chemistry, knowledge is usually more important; in jazz, maybe innovation. But I would say that the greatest chemical inventor and most accomplished jazz musician have a combination of both imagination and knowledge. Maybe what is even more important that either knowledge or imagination is integrating both of them into an effective action.

STUDENT: I like that.

BRINK: Yes, both/and, not either/or. Both religion and reason, not either/or. Both religion and science, not either/or. Religion and science are like two blades of scissors, working together to achieve a better life for humanity.

STUDENT: So what about some of those classical "proofs" for the existence of God, the cosmological and the teleological, what do you make of them in light of science?

BRINK: The proof of God is not a confirmatory observation. The so-called proofs for the existence of God are merely inference from the structure of the human mind. We observe things in nature, and infer some kind of order or design, and our minds dictate that there must be a first cause (cosmological argument) or great designer (teleological argument).

STUDENT: I don't think I follow you. Isn't the cosmological the one about causes (God must be the first cause because the first cause must not be some event caused by some other cause)? Isn't the teleological the inference from design (that the world is so complex only a great intelligence could have designed it)?

BRINK: You have them right, the Cosmological Argument says that when we accept that something exists, we must infer God; the Teleological Argument says that when we accept that this particular complicated thing exists, we must accept that it was designed by God.

But, but let's try those arguments in reverse: instead of reasoning from the existence of ordered creation to the existence of a perfect Creator, we should reason from the perfection of God to the perfectibility of creation.

STUDENT: You will have to explain that one in a little more depth.

BRINK: For the cosmological argument, instead of reasoning backwards from the existence of the effect in the physical world, through a long causal chain, back to the assumption of God as an uncaused, first cause in the spiritual realm, what really occurred is that people first accepted God as an uncaused spirit capable of having effects in the physical realm, and that led to a consciousness of causality. Whether or not the logic of causation proves the existence of God, God made possible the logic of causation.

Did the law of causation come from science? No, science did not derive the law of causation; Science presumes the law of causation in its quest to explain observed phenomena.

STUDENT: So, we are only capable of thinking scientifically to the extent that we are capable of thinking in terms of causation?

BRINK: Yes, and so it is with God. We do not have the mental capacity to conceive of God directly as He is, but only as He is conceived by the limitations of our human theologies.

STUDENT: I'll have to think about that, maybe in a later step, but I want to get back to the teleological argument.

BRINK: The teleological argument (from the design of the natural world) shows that empiricism need not lead us away from God.

The teleological argument starts by trying to explain the complexity of the order of the natural world. However, complexity and order are never observed, but merely inferred. Maybe what really happened is that, as we pointed out with Hebrew monotheism, it would be more appropriate to say that the acceptance of a creator God led to the search for intelligent design in nature.

STUDENT: What about the ontological argument?

BRINK: The ontological argument (from the definition of perfection) shows that rationalism need not lead us away from God.

STUDENT: So, maybe those arguments are relevant, but they don't prove things in the way that they were intended.

BRINK: It would better to say that they do not succeed in convincing atheists. Arguments for the existence of God (such as the cosmological and the ontological) attempt to establish formal validity, and the teleological attempts to establish factual validity. These "proofs" fail to achieve their goal (convincing people to commit to God) because these arguments attempt verification when vindication is required.

STUDENT: Does the ontological argument have any tie in to science?

BRINK: Not directly. The empirical world deals with the discovery of facts, religion with the creation of values. Since values are not discovered, but are created, the ultimate value must be conferred on the Creator.

STUDENT: I think I need some time to think that one through.

BRINK: Next time?

STUDENT: Next time!



For more posts about Dr. Brink and his book, click HERE.


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