Posted by: gcarkner | September 19, 2014

Dawkins-Lennox Debate at UBC Sept. 22

The God Delusion Debate

Oxford Biology Professor Richard Dawkins


Oxford Mathematician/Philosopher Dr. John Lennox

at UBC

  • Monday, September 22, 2014 @ 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

If you want to watch the entire film of the Dawkins-Lennox Debate go to YouTube:

Dr. Dennis Alexander, Faraday Institute on Dawkins

Post-Event Commentary on Helfand-Danielson Dialogue

A. Dr. Bert Cameron, former Head of Nephrology UBC

I thought Dennis Danielson’s contribution was helpful

– rejection of the “non-overlapping magisterium” approach

– accepting God as an agent but more interest in what kind of God

– faith supported by scripture, history and experience

– pointing out that roots of science inspired by theological insight (I would add health care to that)

Professor Helfand’s presentation took me by surprise so I have had to think about it. He claims to be a complete sceptic. He begins with the premise that “there is absolutely no meaning to life whatsoever” therefore he claims not to be looking for meaning but only for understanding of mechanism. From this starting point he is convinced that the methods of science provide the best basis for understanding. Even here however, all findings are tentative, he claims to have “no faith” in any theory. “Subjective evidence is not a category” for him. Even the fact that the universe is explicable is just a “contingent hypothesis”. He would give little credence to any theory, including the “multiverse”, until there was some empirical evidence for it.

Thus, though Dawkins and Prof. Helfand both claim to be atheists, he isn’t particularly a Dawkins fan. In this, he is in company with a number of other non religious intellectuals such as Terry Eagleton, John Gray and Thomas Nagel. We really didn’t question Prof. Helfand on this, but he does not seem to be driven by the same moral imperative of Dawkins and some others such as Hitchins and Harris, that religion is so harmful it needs to be driven from the world.

He seemed rather to be expressing a personal perspective that might be summarized like this: “At this point in my life I have come to the conclusion that there is no overarching or ultimate meaning. I look at this fascinating and strangely  intelligible universe that I love to explore but I am not inclined to consider the possibility of a designer. I  find sufficient personal meaning in exploring and understanding the mechanisms of the cosmos which the physical and evolutionary sciences seem to be in the process of elucidating while recognizing that this understanding is based on a ‘contingent hypothesis’.”

It seems to me, that unless Prof. Helfand takes some moral conclusion from this, such as “others ought to think as I do” or “people who find meaning in the universe are deluded and doing harm”, there is little to discuss. Prof. Helfand’s statement that the universe is meaningless, reflects his subjective conclusion based on his personal experience and reasoning. As such, according to his own criteria, this opinion should not be given weight as scientific evidence.

Most of our understandings and decisions in life are based on data that would be considered  “subjective” since it is not empirically tested or testable. However, that does not mean that it is unreasonable to accept it.  As far as Christian faith is concerned, as Dennis quoted, Christians are called to “give a reason for the hope that is within them.”

___________________________________ More Insights from John Lennox

David Helfand, a prestigious Columbia astronomer, placed his whole position behind Karl Popper and the falsification doctrine. He took the position of mechanism and claimed that meaning is in the realm of religion which he rejects. From is perspective life is meaningless. He held to a non-overlapping magisterium between science and religion. He didn’t totally agree with Dawkins on all points. Danielson does not see this sharp distinction between the realm of science and the realm of religion. He believes in both God and good science; religion and science are two ways of understanding one world as physicist Jon Polkinghorne might say.

B. Dr. Richard Johns, Philosophy of Science and Logic at Langara College writes: “Most philosophers of science reject falsificationism.  Duhem and Quine showed, for example, that theories only make predictions when combined with a framework of background assumptions.  So when a prediction is false, the problem could be with the framework, not the theory itself.  Kuhn showed that all theories, even the best ones, are inconsistent with some of the data.  Hempel showed that many scientific statements aren’t falsifiable.  Bayesians (who are now the dominant group) reject Popper’s fundamental claim that theories are never probably true.  Popper is much more popular among scientists than among philosophers of science.
Also, while there is disagreement among Bayesians and others, present views don’t allow such a sharp separation between science and religion.  Kuhn for example says that the present “paradigm” isn’t open to rational scrutiny, but shielded from criticism, and paradigm shifts are only partially rational.  Bayesians says that science depends on subjective judgements of plausibility in addition to logic and data, etc.”
See also Roy Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality; An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories (rev. ed.; University of Notre Dame Press, 2005).
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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”

~Richard Dawkins

“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 DawkinsThe 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 DawkinsThe God Delusion

“The only watchmaker is the blind forces of physics.”
― Richard DawkinsThe God Delusion

“Indeed, organizing atheists has been compared to herding cats, because they tend to think independently and will not conform to authority.”
― Richard DawkinsThe 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.

“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

Scholarly Responses to New Atheism and Other Misconceptions of Science
Hart, David Bentley, The Experience of God: being, consciousness and bliss. Yale, 2013

Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: science, religion and naturalism.

Thomas Nagel, Mind & Cosmos. (questions whether reductionistic explanations are adequate)

Alister McGrath, A Fine-Tuned Universe.

——————–, The Dawkins Delusion

David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: the Christian Revolution and its fashionable enemies.  David Bentley Hart 

John C. Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? Lion.

Iain Provan, Seriously Dangerous Religion: what the Old Testament really says and why it matters. (Baylor 2014)

John C. Lennox, Gunning for God: why the new atheists are missing the target.

John Lennox debates Richard Dawkins at Oxford’s Museum of Natural History:

Craig & Meister (eds.), God is Great; God is Good: why believing in God is reasonable and responsible:

Peter Hitchens, Rage Against God: how atheism led me to faith.

Denis Alexander, Evolution or Creation?

Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making sense of the Old Testament God.

[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.

~Gord Carkner

See also posts within this blog on A Fine-Tuned Universe? and on Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies, Markers of Scientism  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

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 12.54.22 PMProfessor 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 DanielsonDennis 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.

Dialogue on New Atheism between David Helfand and Alister McGrath SKM_C554e14091911460

Paper on Scientism by Dr. Gordon Carkner SCIENTISM: Apologetics Canada

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 ScienceReligion, 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

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

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