Enemies united against an imaginary foe

I’ve been quite vocal on this blog in pointing out my disagreements with the Christian critics of science (ID advocates and other creationists). Unfortunately, these special creationists have had quite a bit of help constructing a wall between faith and science.

Dr. Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, is an outspoken evangelical who also happens to be utterly convinced that the method of God’s creation was natural processes. His confidence in the theory of evolution has been bolstered tremendously by the work on comparing the human genome with that of other species. His tone is always conciliatory and never strident, which makes him an excellent evangelist for Christ among scientists and science among Christians.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently did an interview with Dr. Collins in which he outs the folks with whom the special creationists are collaborating:

I also think that those of us who are interested in seeking harmony here have to make it clear that the current crowd of seemingly angry atheists, who are using science as part of their argument that faith is irrelevant, do not speak for us. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens do not necessarily represent the consensus of science; 40 percent of scientists are believers in a personal God. A lot more are rather uncomfortable about the topic but certainly would not align themselves with a strong atheistic perspective. To the extent that it can be made clear that the assault on faith, which has been pretty shrill in the last couple of years, is coming from a fringe – a minority – and is not representative of what most scientists believe, that would help defuse the incendiary rhetoric and perhaps allow a real conversation about creation.

. . .

I think strong atheism, of the kind that says, “I know there is no God,” suffers from two major logical flaws. And the awareness of those flaws might be reassuring to believers who are somehow afraid that these guys may actually have a point.

The first of those is the idea that anyone could use science at all as a conversation-stopper, as an argument-ender in terms of the question of God. If God has any meaning at all, God is at least in part outside of nature (unless you’re a pantheist). Science is limited in that its tools are only appropriate for the exploration of nature. Science can therefore certainly never discount the possibility of something outside of nature. To do so is a category error, basically using the wrong tools to ask the question.

Secondly, I think the logical error that atheists of the strong variety commit is what English writer G.K. Chesterton calls the most daring dogma of the universal negative. I often use a visual analogy to explain this. Suppose you were asked to draw a circle that contains all the information, all the knowledge that exists or ever will exist, inside or outside the universe – all knowledge. Well, that would be a pretty enormous circle. Now, suppose on that same scale, you were asked to draw what you know at the present time. Even the most assertive person will draw a rather tiny circle. Now, suppose that the knowledge that demonstrates that God exists is outside your little circle today. That seems pretty plausible, doesn’t it, considering the relative scale? How then – given that argument – would it be reasonable for any person to say, “I know there is no God”? That is clearly going outside of the evidence.

So we’ve got a perpetual cycle: creationists make dumb claims about science because of their religious beliefs and their conviction that the theory of evolution is inherently atheistic, atheistic scientists call them on their bad science and blame religion for such ignorance, creationists point out those atheists and try to contrive “scientific” ways of proving they’re not ignorant, atheistic scientists call them on it and blame religion, etc. Meanwhile, we evolutionary creationists have our work cut out for us as we try to end a war generated ex nihilo by the two archenemies. Our basis for a truce? Faith and theology describe God; science and its theories describe God’s methodology for running His universe. There is no conflict between faith and science because there is no conflict between the Worldmaker and His toolbox.

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