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This is part of a series of notes in response to "What's So Great About Christianity" by Dinesh D'Souza
Chapter 14 | The Genesis Problem: The Methodological Atheism of Science
D'Souza seems to want to show that scientists are often dogmatic in their trust of science and naturalism. He opens up with a claim that scientists can often be shown to support hypotheses despite weak evidence or support hypotheses even despite evidence against it. He doesn't provide immediate examples, though perhaps his later discussions of atheists who wish to dismiss the big bang or contra-evolutionary ideas are his example. It's probably good to point out that most individuals act in this way, supporting what they would like or hope to be true. Scientists do carry a responsibility to be objective and go where the evidence leads, though I think it's necessary to point out that they're still human and a vast majority of humanity does exactly what D'Souza describes. Also, it would be good to know of scientists who perhaps have supported a theory that has been in disproven dust for 20 years or continued to support their weak hypothesis despite no evidence for it for ages. I wonder if he's referring more to initial findings or scientists who have a hypothesis, publish it prior to finding the backing evidence required, but then spend their lifetime searching for evidence. The real proof is whether the scientific community as a whole embraces a theory, not in whether one scientist here or there aligns with D'Souza's criticism.
He asserts that the scientific community would not believe in God if solar bodies produced a sign that read, "Yahweh made this" (pg. 161). I disagree. I think that is exactly the evidence scientists would want, along with something like the healing of amputees repeatably or at least predictably. D'Souza also quotes individuals about their ignoring of the origins of life issue and their ways of avoiding it. I agree that it's unfounded to completely side with an unbacked hypothesis, but as I wrote in the previous chapter's response, I don't think it's far fetched at all to suspect that something natural lies behind it.
D'Souza jumps on Dawkins' assertion that the gaps in the fossil record are what we would expect to find if evolution is true. D'Souza seems to completely misunderstand the point when he asks how absence of evidence can help support a theory. This is easily shown by quoting J.B.S Haldane who cited pre-Cambrian era rabbits as what would disprove evolution. Absence of this evidence, therefore, is what one would expect to find were evolution true. I don't have the book to read the material before and after the actual quote, but from a tidbit online it seems that Dawkins is discussing the work of two others and discussing whether their work provided evidence against Darwin or not. In any case, D'Souza seems to support evolution anyway so I'm not sure why he brings this up...
D'Souza asserts that "Even the strongest religious believer can imagine the possibility that there is no God" (pg 164). I have not found this to be the case. In my search I have yet to encounter a believer who hears my doubts and even hints at the possibility that they could actually be substantial. No one yet has thought I might actually be right!
D'Souza spends the rest of the chapter on whether science is atheistic and whether science is the only way of knowing. He accuses individuals who believe naturalism to be dogmatic and unreasonable and those open to a spirit world or who believe that there are other ways of knowing are humble and openminded. He uses the example of a tea pot boiling on a stove to illustrate this point by stating that the scientist will discuss the pot with respect to the heat and vibrating molecules whereas a completely unscientific explanation would simply be that someone wanted some tea. One thought I have on this is that while science may not have a methodology able to capture motive, its general principle of forming a hypothesis to solve a problem, testing that hypothesis, and checking the results is, in fact, valid in this case. An unscientific method to approach this problem would be to bring in a spirit reader to find out why the tea pot was boiling or to pull out some Tarot cards to figure out which starts caused such activity. On the other hand, positing based on evidence (an empty tea cup and a tea bag and spoon on a nearby table) and a testimony is very scientific. If D'Souza would like this to become an analogy which suggests that science can't answer the God question but some other form of knowing can, he needs to illustrate what in the world that form might be. In his tea case, it comes down to simply discovering an individual's motive via a verbal statement. The formation of sensible sounds/words/sentences perceived through ears forms this evidence. In a court of law, this would need to be demonstrable via tape recorder or perhaps a signed transcription or some other form of hard evidence to validate the testimony. In the case of God, what we have is a boiling pot of water (D'Souza's "Genesis Problem" of life's origins) and no one in the room to say anything whatsoever.
I also need to mention that while I'm not positive on how one would describe a full blown naturalistic approach to life, I'm fairly confident that science would only be one branch and that a naturalist would surely admit that the D'Souza's dealing of strict empiricism is a straw man. Does anyone really believe that only what is tested is true? It would strike me that there are, in fact, many other ways of knowing apart from laboratory tests or first hand verification through repeatable controlled experiments. We have instincts and intuitions we use to form opinions (though not always correct) about people's intentions, making predictions, etc.
Finally, he ends with a note that atheists are arrogant and close-minded and that the theist is humble and open minded. I could not disagree more. My search for the truth has opened me up at the very least to the near certain fact that the religious question is not obvious. I have tremendously increased my respect for individuals of other religions and non-believers as I do not think it is due to overt choosing that they are convinced by an alternative tradition to my own former belief or to fail to be convinced by any existing religious system. By contrast, most religions and Christians in particular have as their mission to evangelize. In other words, Christians should seek to change the minds of others. Why? Because their religion is actually true while other religions are patently false. How is this openminded and humble? Would a Christian accept the testimony of a Muslim, Mormon, and/or Scientologist about a miracle they experienced as a result of their God? Surely they would assume from the beginning that the account was false or mistaken or perhaps that the "true" Christian God was actually at work even though the other believer thinks it was their God. He then closes by essentially stating that since scientists and naturalists can't show that a spirit dimension doesn't exist, it doesn't make it unreasonable. This seems to blatantly disregard our methods in the rest of life. This is the same as saying that simply because we don't have evidence for unicorns or leprechauns, it doesn't mean that these things don't exist. Without producing positive evidence for a spiritual or supernatural dimension, I fail to see how this chapter accomplishes anything other than essentially point out what we already know: follow the evidence, be reasonable, don't be dogmatic, be open to changing your mind, etc.
To Ch 15: The World Beyond Our Senses >>