Dialogue for the Curious Cranium
Oxford Biology Professor Richard Dawkins
Oxford Mathematician/Philosopher Dr. John Lennox
- Monday, September 22 @ 4:00 p.m.
- Woodward IRC Room 6
This is a film of a recent debate followed by a panel discussion with
Dr. Dennis Danielson English Department UBC, and Dr. David Helfand, President of Quest University
Some Quotes from Famous Scientists to Spark the Discussion Prior to the Debate
“Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence… Faith is belief in spite of, even because of, the lack of evidence…Faith is not allowed to justify itself by argument… Faith being belief that isn’t based on evidence is the principal vice of any religion”
“There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point… The truly adult view, by contrast, is that our life is as meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choose to make it.”
― Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion
“Do you really mean to tell me the only reason you try to be good is to gain God’s approval and reward, or to avoid his disapproval and punishment? That’s not morality, that’s just sucking up, apple-polishing, looking over your shoulder at the great surveillance camera in the sky, or the still small wiretap inside your head, monitoring your every move, even your every base though.”
― Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion
“The only watchmaker is the blind forces of physics.”
― Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion
“Indeed, organizing atheists has been compared to herding cats, because they tend to think independently and will not conform to authority.”
― Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion
A Blogger’s Summary of Lennox’s Arguments about the nature of science and reality in God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? which responds to Dawkins. http://craigjosling.blogspot.ca/2012/05/summary-of-gods-undertaker-has-science.html
“The existence of consciousness is both one of the most familiar and one of the most astounding things about the world. No conception of the natural order that does not reveal it as something to be expected can aspire even to the outline of completeness. And if physical science, whatever it may have to say about the origin of life, leaves us necessarily in the dark about consciousness, that shows that it cannot provide the basic form of intelligibility for this world.”
Thomas Nagel Philosopher in Mind and Cosmos
“The common belief that . . . the actual relations between religion and science over the last few centuries have been marked by deep and enduring hostility is not only historically inaccurate but actually a caricature so grotesque that what needs to be explained is how it could possibly have achieved any degree of respectability. “ ~Colin Russell, Historian of Science
“Note that I am not postulating a ‘God of the gaps’, a god merely to explain the things that science has not yet explained. I am postulating a God to explain why science explains; I do not deny that science explains, but I postulate God to explain why science explains. The very success of science in showing us how deeply ordered the natural world is provides strong grounds for believing that there is an even deeper cause for that order”.
~Oxford Philosopher Richard Swinburne
[The issue here is that, because God is not an alternative to science as an explanation, he is not a God of the gaps. On the contrary, he is the ground of all explanation: it is his existence which gives rise to the very possibility of explanation, scientific or otherwise.]
“Because there is a law of gravity, the universe can and will generate itself from nothing”.~Stephen Hawking and Mlodinow in “The Grand Design”.
Arno Penzias (Nobel prize-winning discoverer of the cosmic background microwave radiation): “Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the right conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say “supernatural”) plan” (Cosmos, Bios and Theos, Margenau and Varghese eds., Open Court, La Salle III,1992 p.83).
“You, your joys and sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules”. ~Francis Crick
“There is not the slightest shred of scientific evidence that life is anything other than a stupendously improbable accident. It’s often said that life is written into the laws of physics; well, it’s not – any more than houses or television sets are. It is consistent with those laws, but they alone will not explain how it came to exist….For a hundred years the debate has been dominated by chemists, who think it’s like baking a cake: if you know the recipe, you can just mix the ingredients, simmer for a million years, add a pinch of salt, and life emerges. I don’t think that is ever going to be the explanation, because life is not about stuff, about magic matter; it’s about a very special type of information processing system. And the whole subjects of information theory and complexity theory are very much in their infancy… A law of nature of the sort we know and love will not create biological information, or indeed any information at all. Ordinary laws just transmit input data into output data. They can shuffle information about but they cannot create it … I have come to the conclusion that no familiar law of nature could produce such a structure from incoherent chemicals with the inevitability that some scientists assert” (Paul Davies, op cit, p.20).
“A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion beyond question” ~Cambridge astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle, The Universe: past and present reflections (regarding the resonances in energy levels in H, Be and C).
Sir John Polkinghorne, for instance, himself an eminent quantum theorist, rejects the many-universe interpretation. “Let us recognise these speculations for what they are. They are not physics, but in the strictest sense, metaphysics. There is no purely scientific reason to believe in an ensemble of universes. By construction these other worlds are unknowable by us. A possible explanation of equal intellectual respectability – and to my mind greater economy and elegance – would be that this one world is the way it is, because it is the creation of the will of a Creator who purposes that it should be so” (One World, SPCK, London, 1986 p. 80).
“Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered …is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind… is the Blind Watchmaker” (Richard Dawkins).
The tendency towards a pure reason or pure faith are really impossible to actualize; there are no pure domains of reason and faith. They are intertwined. One cannot get rationalism without the other extreme of fideism; both are forced categories; rationalism needs faith to be fideism for its very survival. Nietzsche claimed that there are only interpretations; positivists claim that there are only facts. What should we believe whatever our starting point or prejudgments? It is perhaps a life-long quest to understand the nuances of this relationship. Marquette intellectual D. Stephen Long helps our quest offering fresh insight and much to ponder in his profound bookSpeaking of God: theology, language and truth. Stephen was a past guest speaker at UBC in the GFCF series.
See also posts within this blog on A Fine-Tuned Universe? and on Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies, Markers of Scientism
http://ubcgcu.org/2013/10/15/david-bentley-harts-provocative-take-on-naturalism/ David Bentley Hart comments on naturalism as an explanatory regime.
Key Insights from a Course by John Lennox Summer of 2014
- DNA is a language, a semitic code. It involves billions of bits of information (3.5 billion base pairs).
- Scientists are beginning to accept that there is a ‘singularity’ at the origin of life–they are giving up on a scientific transition from inanimate matter to biological life. The attempt to see how a chemical soup can emerge into life has failed. Emergence is not the answer. Evolution must start with biological life.
- Many top biologists (e.g. James Shapiro, William Provine, Robert Reid, Lima de Faria, Eric Davidson) are having doubts or second thoughts about the mechanism of natural selection. They are joined by atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel (Mind & Cosmos).
- Insight about Information in a System: information must be inputted; a biological system doesn’t create info; information is not physical or material. Structures that bear information cannot arrive by emergence.
Our Two Distinguished Panelists
Professor David J. Helfand, President and Vice-Chancellor, Quest University Canada; President, American Astronomical Society, Professor of Astronomy, Columbia University (on leave). He has spent 35 years as Professor of Astronomy at Columbia University, where he served as Department Chair and Co-Director of the Astrophysics Laboratory for more than half that time. He is the author of nearly 200 scientific publications on many areas of modern astrophysics including radio, optical and X-ray observations of celestial sources from nearby stars to the most distant quasars. He is engaged in a research project designed to provide a complete picture of the birth and death of stars in the Milky Way.
But most of all, David is an inspirational teacher, who received the 2001 Columbia Presidential Teaching Award and the 2002 Great Teacher Award from the Society of Columbia Graduates. He has a deep concern about the state of the modern research university which he sees as dysfunctional, in part because of the impossibly large number of functions which the research university is expected to fulfill in 21st. century North America and in part because of the low priority given to teaching excellence. Because of these concerns, he has taken the radical step of pioneering a university dedicated to innovative teaching. David believes that he is a better cook than he is an astronomer and, ambiguously, colleagues who have sampled his gastronomic delights agree. We welcome him as a major public intellectual and a personal friend of many of us.
Dennis Danielson professor of English at the University of British Columbia, is a literary and intellectual historian who has made contributions to Milton studies and to the early modern history of cosmology, examining scientific developments in their historical, philosophical, and literary contexts. His books include Milton’s Good God: A Study in Literary Theodicy (1982) and the Cambridge Companion to Milton (1989, 1999), both published by Cambridge University Press. His subsequent work in the history of astronomy, especially The Book of the Cosmos: Imagining the Universe from Heraclitus to Hawking and The First Copernican: Georg Joachim Rheticus and the Rise of the Copernican Revolution, has engaged both humanities scholars and scientists in dialogue about the historical and cultural as well as cosmological meaning of Copernicus’s legacy. Danielson was the 2011 recipient of the Konrad Adenauer Research Prize from Germany’s Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. His new book Paradise Lost and the Cosmological Revolution is in press and scheduled for publication by Cambridge University Press in 2014.
Further Reading on Science & Religion
Polkinghorne, Sir John, One World: The Interaction of Science & Theology. Princeton. (physicist/theologian—leading light on Science & Religion)
Polkinghorne, Sir John, Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of Science: Religion, Science and Providence.
McGrath, Alister. A Fine-Tuned Universe: the quest for God in Science and Theology. (Gifford Lectures)
Hutchinson, Ian. Monopolizing Knowledge.
Craig & Meister (eds.). God is Great; God is Good.
Gingerich, Owen, God’s Universe.
Collins, Francis, The Language of God. Free Press.
Pascal, Blaise. Pensees. Trans. A. J. Krailsheimer. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1966.
Capell & Cook eds., Not Just Science: Questions Where Christian Faith and Natural Science Intersect. Zondervan
Jaki, Stanley, The Road to Science and the Ways to God. Chicago (Gifford Lectures on history of science)
Russell, Colin, Crosscurrents: Interactions Between Science & Faith. Eerdmans
Danielson, Dennis (ed.), The Book of the Cosmos. Perceus.
Plantinga, Alvin, Where the Conflict Really Lies: science, religion and naturalism. (a critique of the new atheist and the hegemony of Philosophical Naturalism)
King’s College Cambridge
Lewis, C.S., Miracles. Macmillan (a classic)
Waltke, Bruce, “Gift of the Cosmos” (article on Genesis 1:1-2:4) Chapter 8 in An Old Testament Theology, Zondervan, 2007.
Alexander, Denis, Rebuilding the Matrix: Science & Faith in the 21st Century. Zondervan (director of Faraday Institute in Cambridge, UK)
Burke, ed., Creation & Evolution: 7 Prominent Christians Debate. IVP UK.
Livingstone, D. N., Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders: The Encounter BetweenEvangelical Theology and Evolutionary Thought.
Owens, V.S., Godspy: Faith, Perception, and the New Physics.
Gingerich, Owen, “Let There Be Light” article on natural theology by America’s top Christian physicist at Harvard’s Smithsonian Institute.
Theology of Creation
Alexander, Denis, Evolution or Creation?: Must we Choose?
Capon, R. F., “The Third Peacock” in The Romance of the Word. Eerdmans
Gunton, C., The Triune Creator: a historical and systematic study. Eerdmans (English theologian)
Walsh & Middleton, The Transforming Vision. IVP (on Christian worldview)
Bouma-Prediger, S., For the Beauty of the Earth: a Christian vision of creation care. Baker Academic, 2010.
Nagel, Thomas, Mind and Cosmos.
Limits of Science
Medawar, P., The Limits of Science.
Schumacher, E.F. A Guide for the Perplexed. Abacus. (brilliant challenge to ontological reductionism)
Carkner, Gordon, Unpublished paper: “Scientism and the Search for an Integrated Reality” (several posts from this on the Blog)
McGrath, A. & J., The Dawkins Delusion? IVP 2007.
Lennox, John. God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? Lion Books, 2011.
Jeeves & Berry, Science, Life, and Christian Belief. Apollos Books.
Ward, Keith, Pascal’s Fire: Scientific Faith and Religious Understanding.
Harper, Charles Jr. ed., Spiritual Information: 100 Perspectives on Science and Religion. Templeton Foundation Press.
Spencer, N. & White, R. Christianity, Climate Change, and Sustainable Living. SPCK, 2007.
See also DVD Series called Test of Faith from Faraday Institute in Cambridge, UK