Thursday, 15 October 2009

An Accommodationist?

I'm pretty late to the punch on this issue, although not through lack of want. Rather I'll say it's taken time to properly think through my position and come up with where I stand on the issue. A few months ago I was asked about what I thought between the conflict between science and God. My answer then was it depends on your view of God; that if you take a biblical literalist perspective then yes they are irreconcilable but it's not necessary to be a literalist.

When I was asked, he had no idea at all of my beliefs (or lack thereof), it came from me mentioning I was a bit of a science nerd. The point is that I pushed a very accommodationist position while online in semi-anonymity I speak of the incompatibility. If accommodationism is a question of tactics, I'm all for it. But if I think the magisteria are nonoverlapping and complementary then I've got to say that there is an irreconcilability between science and God.

Basically irreconcilable
Scientific discoveries have implications for theology. There, I said it. Who God is and what God does is bounded within our understanding of nature. The size and age of the universe, the process of evolution, the way it all works - these reflect on the very nature of the idea of God.

God is a god of the gaps. While this might sound harsh and unfair, it's important to remember what is posited at least in the Judeo-Christian construct. The creator may have moved back from a life-giving potter and a celestial architect, but there is still that element of creation which is not based on us knowing but what we don't know.

The most popular argument going around today seems to be a cosmic equivalent of the watchmaker argument - the universe happens to have several variables / ratios that need to be so precise in order for the conditions for life that there must be a creator. This is a god of the gaps argument, for we don't know how exactly how it comes to be as they are; it's like saying that life needs a creator pre-Darwin.

What would a multiverse do to such a theory? If evidence were presented that universes form in a Darwinian model (say through black holes) then what would that do to the notion of a creator? What about if the universe was shown to be boundless? That is to say that there was no creation event, like saying there is nothing further north of the north pole. In either scenario, this has disastrous implications for God in the sense that is posited.

In this hypothetical case, it would seem that God would have to again be changed in definition or discarded altogether. Right now, putting God as "before" the big bang, the uncaused cause, the prime mover, the infinity to the finiteness of space-time doesn't look like a gap that would easily be filled.

This argument should make the case that what we view of God is influenced by science. And there are certain observations that are potentially lethal to the god hypothesis. Victor Stenger writes a very persuasive argument this has already happened in the aptly named God The Failed Hypothesis. It's well worth the read.

The coward's way out
So now I've in my own mind showed there's an irreconcilability between certain scientific findings and God - to the point where I feel that God doesn't exist. So why didn't I argue this when I had the chance? Why did I argue that God and science are reconcilable? Well there are a few reasons:

The first is dinner table diplomacy. In general I don't want to make religion a focus of my life, nor do I want to make it the focus of my interactions with others. As far as I'm concerned, as long as they aren't pushing their religion on me I have no reason to call it nonsense.

The second is that I don't really want to see the eradication of religion. Fundamentalist religion? Yes. Everyday people who believe but don't use it to harm others (I don't have to be against Judaism to be against involuntary circumcision) then all the more power to them. If they can accept that I use alcohol to alter my mind, then I can accept they use religion to alter theirs.

The third reason is my main reason for biting my tongue - it's not my place to tell them what they believe. I think there is an incompatibility between the findings of science and God much like I see there's a logical flaw in the notion of the trinity. This sounds trivial but I find it a very powerful argument not to say anything. If they can define their god in whatever way they choose and that includes being able to reconcile god and scientific principles.

This might seem like a coward's way out, but I really don't want to define to theists what their own beliefs should be. Does one have to believe in the bible as the word of God to be a Christian? Evidentially not. And for me to say it should be would make me no better than Ken Ham.

Again this may come down to my liberal Christian education, but I've never really seen the bible as anything other than man's desire to explain God. It's the word of man trying to contemplate the divine, indeed mythology to me only makes sense in that way.

As an atheist, it would make sense if I could push religion into the Ken Ham fairy tale section. The moon as a light in the sky? Ha! Day and night before there was a sun? Ha! Women from a rib? Ha! Rejecting Christianity would be so easy if this were the case. In any society with rational people, it would be downright embarrassing to hold such archaic beliefs. But no, this is not the beliefs of all Christians nor has it been historically. Some of these historical beliefs are compatible with methodological naturalism, so it would be misleading to defeat biblical literalism then claim to have killed god.

Promoting science
As I recently blogged, atheism is not my worldview. It's a negation of the positive beliefs in interventionist deities. It doesn't say what I do believe in, let alone what I find important. At this stage in society, I can't find a better cause than the promotion of science.

And this is where I flail a bit in regard to this accommodationist argument. I freely admit I see an incompatibility between science and god, of course I would because I am an atheist. But at the same time I don't see it my place to define religion for others, if they believe that God and science are consistent in their worldview then that's their choice.

1 comment:

Aliendreams said...

What some atheists fail to take into account (and what later makes them look like fundamentalists) is that our mind functions at different levels in different contexts. Our identities are but a juxtaposition of roles that we play, each one of them with a corresponding mindset. Because a christian doctor believes in the virgin birth of the bible doesn't mean he will take this as a possible explanation for anything in his practice. His role as a doctor is filled with scientific knowledge and he will act accordingly. Even if he comes home to pray before having dinner with his family.

Of course there are people who let one role take over all possible contexts in their lives. They will no doubt be considered bad doctors, bad astronomers, bad whatevers. Each scientific field has its own network based on scientific recognition and merit that is only earned if you play by the rules. Not following these rules, that is, not adhering to the requirements of the role and trying to play the "god card" only deducts from your "capital" in that particular field. Ersatz scientists like these should be ignored and scientifically beheaded.

But what you believe in private, and away from published articles, should only matter to you. Policing the mind is typical of theocracies. Are we to become like them? And imposing a non-existent wall between science and religious beliefs is halfway to discard future possibilities for very good science. Just because someone believes, doesn't mean s/he will do bad science. If this false dichotomy gains any foothold, it will be nothing more than an intolerant (and not very intelligent) witch hunt.