Monday, May 08, 2006

Coyne: bovvad?

This follows on from an earlier post. If you want to know what this discussion is about, see the comments following this post. I'm afraid that this is a bit train-of-thoughty and unstructured.

George Coyne, the Vatican astronomer, has dismissed Intelligent Design as (in effect) anti-Christian. Now Coyne was working from his own presuppositions - namely, that God (pretty much) doesn't intervene in the universe. Only he didn't even realise that these presuppositions were there. Few people do. One of my missions in life is to make people aware of their presuppositions.

The thing is, those people who deny the possibility of God working in the universe (if that's what it comes down to - that is, God involved in creation, miracles, resurrection) have moved so far from the Christian faith that they can no longer realistically be called Christians. It doesn't matter whether he is the Vatican astronomer or not - in fact, his job is a distraction. It doesn't matter whether the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury (or Bishop of Durham, a few years ago), Ian Paisley, me or the minister of my church denies that God is able to work in the universe. Whoever says that is denying the Christian faith, which says that God created the universe, and "he does whatever he pleases". This isn't "anti-science" - because God has made the universe by and large tractable to our human minds.

Incidentally, if you don't believe in God, the tractability of the universe causes you problems - it was no less a person than Einstein who said, "The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it's comprehensible." It's not only that we can understand and take our place in our environment, like animals do - but we can understand in scientific terms the Big Bang, quasars and quarks. You can doubtless make up some evolutionary story as to why there is a selective advantage in us being able to do this - because you can make up evolutionary stories to explain everything. But since this level of comprehension of the universe has at the very least not been extended to any other creature by evolution, I am pretty sceptical about the strength of post-hoc evolutionary explanations.

Furthermore, we are in the ironic situation where there are some scientists who are saying "despite the appearance of design, things aren't designed by intelligent processes" - which some theologians are then presenting as, "despite the appearance of non-design, we see the involvement of God through faith [i.e. as an irrational postmodern leap of faith]". In other words, theologians are arguing that our appreciation of God in the universe is fundamentally an irrational act.

Now, I don't think that belief in God is irrational and unreasonable. In fact, I think that the natures of the universe and personality are strongly indicative of an infinite-personal deity, and that supposedly Christian people who deny that have been cowed into submission by the naturalistic worldview of academia around them. Furthermore, this seems to me to be consistent with what the Bible teaches - not just by picking out a verse or two as a proof text, but looking at the structure of the argument in Romans 1 (that evidence of God is obvious, but people suppress what they know, and as judgement, God closes their mind even further): 1 Corinthians - the first bit - where Paul talks about the fact that the Greeks look for knowledge (rationalism) and the Jews look for wonders (an "experience" of God) but Christianity is foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews: and Acts 17, for example, where Paul addresses the Greeks and points out to them that if there is really a god, then he is hardly likely to be impressed by people making statues of him.

Also, because of what God is like, there is an artificial dichotomy between "supernatural" and "natural". As far as the Bible is concerned, God's power is as much involved in the maintenance of the universe (causing the sun to rise, making sure that wild animals have food etc) as he is in the miraculous. What naturalism seeks to do is to say that the maintenance of the universe is automatic (and doesn't require God) and the supernatural never happened. This isn't consistent with the Bible, and really, as far as I can tell, has no sound empirical foundation. It works, as long as you are able to deny the supernatural, but there is no reason for it to work, and intellectually it is no more nor less arbitrary than belief in God. Oh, I suppose that you can invoke Occam's Razor to deny the fact that God is there. But if you're going to do that, why not keep on shaving until you get rid of us as well?