Friday, 7 September 2012

Why bother with the Science/Religion debate?

Recently I watched a video of a debate between the atheist evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins and the defender of the faith John Lennox, a scientist and mathematician in his own right. It is entitled “Has Science Buried God?”

I have read both authors' books on religion/science and I am equally impressed with their works, not to mention their prodigious wit and mental acuity. Personally, apologetics never fails to rile me up like an energizer bunny and that video did just that for me.

It's really great to see the titans of science roughing it out so cordially, with one denying God's existence completely and the other rooting for Him unwaveringly.

The debate has all the familiar issues expected of a debate of this sort. The existence of God is always the central issue. And the end of the debate is always predictable with neither side giving in to the other. In fact, it is so polemical that the gap between them often widens more than it narrows after the last word is spoken.

Nevertheless here are the three takeaways from the debate as I see it.

My first point can be gleaned from the title itself: Has Science buried God? It is however not the other way round, that is, Has God buried Science? This is indicative of who's the real antagonist here or who has a bigger bone to pick. (Now you know who holds the big shovel).

Alas, it used to be that science worked hand in glove with theology - much like a marriage of mutual respect and devotion. But, after the enlightenment, the scapegoated Darwin (who admitted that he was an agnostic), and the discovery of DNA, science somehow grew up, demanded its freedom and walked out of the door. The marriage had sadly suffered a very ugly divorce.

My qualm is this: Shouldn't both be working together to bury ignorance?

My second point is about giant turtles. If I recall the story right, I think a teacher once questioned a class about the origin of life and life on earth. It led him to ask this, "Who holds the earth up?" A student jumped from his seat and confidently replied, "Oh that's easy...a giant turtle."

Then the teacher smiled and probed further, "Ok, who holds up the giant turtle then?" The student smirked and replied, this time more self-assured than before, "Oh, another giant turtle of course!"

This is basically the epistemological dilemma on both sides.

Professors Dawkins and Lennox are equally stumped when it comes to the issue of the "giant turtles". Nevertheless, each offers their trademark answers. The Johns of this world will say that asking who created God is as redundant a question as asking, "How long is the string?" Errmmm...What string? Where is the string? What is he talking about?

The point is that you cannot measure something that defies measurement. It's the same with God. Being the uncaused cause, it is futile to even ask that question since the beholder of that answer would at least imply that he or she stands in equal stead with God. This is as illogical as expecting a book to claim authorship from its author - an imperfect analogy, I know. But you get the drift?

Atheists will of course revile at this answer as they see it as a complete cop-out since it explains nothing at all. On the contrary, it will make the whole quagmire of origin even more complicated as the postulation of the existence of a god would be like transforming the argument from one mortal giant turtle holding up the earth to another with divine powers holding up all the other mortal turtles! Simply more headaches.

But does the atheist have anything to offer here? Well, the Dawkins of this world will reply that science has yet to, but soon will, have a naturalistic and reducible answer to that question of origin. As of today, many theories are already sprouting out to fill in the gap with the multiverse theories leading the pack.

In the end, we move from a supernatural creator to a supernatural theory; both are equally unbelievable if you ask me.

Lastly, my third point is this: the debate is too complex to ever see the light of day and neither side is going to back off and give the other any leeway. Unless God personally materializes before a tongue-tied Richard and a prostrate John, it is safe to say that the debate is and will be absolutely indissoluble.

The truth is that this debate has gone on for centuries and it will go on for centuries to come. So, it is tempting to ask: Why bother?

Well, if I have to pick one reason, it would be plainly scripture-based: "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." (1 Peter 3:15).

So bother we must but it is not with an argumentative spirit that we present our defence. It is with meekness and fear. It is with humility and a spirit of reverence. Because words alone will not convict hearts. The best advocacy, I guess, is a life well lived. Cheers.

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