Religious Perversion Kills

As the member of the Islamic state in Syria continue to demonstrate there own inhumanity by practicing perverted evil which shows their rejection of God, we are reminded that people in the world have faced such fanatical religious ideology in the past.   The early 4th Century Christian writer Lactantius denounced such religious fanaticism in his own day.  He lived through a period of the Roman persecution of Christians, but rejected any idea that Christians should use bloodshed in return or to  propagate the Christian religion.

“Religion ought to be defended, not by killing but by dying, not by fury but by patience, not by crime but by faith. The former action each time belongs to evil, the latter to good, and it is necessary that the practice of religion be good, not evil. If you wish, indeed, to defend religion by blood, if by torments, if by evil, then it will not be defended; it will be polluted and violated.“ 

(in A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc. 2340-43)

Believers may choose to die rather than deny God, but when they choose to murder, they deny God.  The Islamic state is militantly proving the death of God.  Why should anyone in the world believe in God when they see how these people behave?  It is hard to find a better justification for atheism than the Islamic state.

St. John Chrysostom said that our warfare does not make the living dead, but makes the dead to live.   God help us win that war.

Humans will be humans

Critics of religion readily point to history to show the many  examples of religion leading societies to extremism, persecution and war.  The atheists among them pine longingly for a world free of religion in which they imagine human rationalism, perhaps guided by science, will bring about a utopian world free of the destructiveness they believe religion causes human civilization.

Countless fictional accounts exist of such utopias spinning quickly out of control to dystopias.  Obviously it is not hard for people to imagine what could go wrong in such societies claiming to be based in scientific rationalism.  Why?  Because we do know people will be people.  The committed atheist may imagine it is purely religion which causes the problem, but human nature is not going to change because people now follow scientific ideas instead of religious ones.  A world guided purely by rationalism and reason would look a lot like the world today – because humans will be humans.   We do not operate just on facts – emotions, assumptions, personal gain, and a number of other factors will and would continue toguide us.  Long ago I read the aphorism:

“In capitalism, man oppresses man. In communism, it is just the reverse.”

It doesn’t matter which ideology governs people, they still will be people.  Christians at least can imagine another factor at work in the world that will not change as a result of the disappearance of religion:  sin.  People are willing to lie, cheat, steal, and don’t need religion to cause that behavior.

Minerva: Goddess of Learning

The January/February magazine issue of DISCOVER  focuses on the top 100 science stories of 2014.   Story Number 8 is entitled, “The Year in Fraud.”  It describes the growing number of fraudulent papers published in peer reviewed science journals each year.  Men and women governed by the scientific principles, still are human, and still sin.  Many are repeat offenders or serial liars – one doctor having had to retract 183 published articles.  Even the world currently governed by science cannot escape the human temptation to sin.  Sin does not disappear because we no longer believe in it or because we rename as a social problem or give it a scientific classification.  Interestingly, the articles authors say science itself has to realize:

“The paper is not sacrosanct.  It does not come into the world like flawless, shining deity immune to criticism or critique.”

Even scientists are prone to the same temptations and failures as the religious.  Human pride and greed motivate people to manipulate scientific data.  Relying more on data does not change the humans who use the data.  Apparently the “retraction” is the scientific equivalent of repentance.

Today, on the news, is the release of the Senate’s report on the investigation into the CIA’s use of torture.  Here again we see people relying on the best scientific beliefs about methods for interrogating terrorists.   And what we find is people using science to commit torture because they believe the ends justify the means.  Humans will be humans.  Science cannot save us from this fact.  Senator John McCain said after the report’s release:

“I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.”

“When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea…that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights.”

Government, even one uniquely based in liberty, as President Lincoln realized in his Gettysburg Address, will be put to the test. Can everything be allowed and tolerated, permitted and approved, and yet one nation exist? Or will a nation conceived in liberty realize that some forms of behavior cannot be acceptable or tolerated? And then how can liberty and government by and for all exist?

Lincoln’s answer was only when everyone is treated as a human being and when everyone behaves humanly towards others. He didn’t even think this meant equal citizenship for all only that we recognize that all are created equal.

The Existence of God

A very difficult theological point for an atheist or an adherent of scientific materialism to deal with is the notion of a God who is the cause of all other things.  If one embraces the point of view of materialism, all things must have a cause and that cause must be based in the empirical order.

The belief of Theists is that God is not just one in an endless chain of cause and effects, but is the original cause of all things.  This isn’t good logic for the person who accepts scientific materialism.  If everything has a cause/creator, why wouldn’t the created also have a beginning.   Theism’s assumption (what it accepts on faith) is that cause and effect only becomes a force with the beginning of time and space.  So cause and effect has a relationship to God, but God is not part of that chain reaction.  God exists ‘outside’ of time and space or ‘before’ time and space, and so God’s existence is not dependent on cause and effect.  That is what makes God God, by definition.

Scientific materialism can only know the created order which comes into existence when time and space emerge from the Big Bang.  Theism allows for this other dimension, namely God, who is not limited by or to time and space but rather is the cause of the existence of the empirically knowable universe.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386AD) lays down what is a non-negotiable axiom of theism.  This is our faith which we believe is consistent with our experience of the empirical universe.

Cyril Jerusalem“Let the truth of God sink into your soul to be its foundation stone. God is One, without beginning and without change. There was no one before him who caused him to be, and he will not have anyone after him. He has not had a beginning and he will not ever have an end. He is good and just. God is One and he has created souls and bodies, heaven and earth. He is the maker of everything, yet the Father of an only Son before time began: our Lord Jesus Christ through whom he has made all things visible and invisible. God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not restricted to any one place: not even the heavens can contain him. On the contrary, the heavens are the work of his fingers and it is he who holds the universe in his hands.” (Drinking from the Hidden Fountain, pg. 386)

We assume this to be true.  We believe this to be true.  We know this truth to be consistent with our experience of reality.

When Religion Undermines Faith

“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion–its message becomes meaningless.”

(Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism

Mindlessness, Loss of Consciousness and the Neo-Atheist Denial of Humanity (PDF)

The blog series which which began with The Brainless Bible and the Mindless Illusion of Self is now available in one document as a PDF.    The series explores questions about the existence of free will, the mind, the brain and the self.   Neo-atheists who are ideologically committed to a materialistic denial of free will, have claimed neuroscience now proves free will is an illusion, created by the biochemistry of the brain.  Other scientists and atheists have critically questioned the conclusions of these neo-atheists saying they haven’t used science to prove their point, rather they have read their ideological assumptions into facts.  Thus they incorrectly change science, the study of the material universe, into scientism, which is a philosophical ideology but not science.   This blog series is based on the recent books of two scientists:  Michael S. Gazzaniga’s  WHO’S IN CHARGE?:  FREE WILL AND THE SCIENCE OF THE BRAIN and Raymond Tallis’  APING MANKIND: NEUROMANIA, DARWINITIS AND THE MISREPRESENTATION OF HUMANITY.

You can find the blog series as a PDF at Mindless Brains and Loss of Consciousness: The Neo-Atheistic Ideological Denial of our Humanity.

See also my Free Will and Biology (PDF).

You can find a list of other of my blog series now available in PDF format at Blog Series as PDFs.

The Evolved Brain and The Emerged Mind (II)

“… then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”  (Genesis 2:7)

This is the 6th blog in the series which began with The Brainless Bible and the Mindless Illusion of Self and is exploring ideas about free will, the mind, the brain and the self. The previous blog is The Evolved Brain and The Emerged Mind.

I became interested in the topic because of an increasing number of media claims that neuroscience had been able to connect notions of self or free will with particular activities in the brain which led to claims by neo-atheists that in fact science had proved self, consciousness and free will are nothing more than illusions created by the biochemistry of the brain.  Daniel Dennett for example says:

 “There is only one sort of stuff, namely matter – the physical stuff of physics, chemistry, and physiology – and the mind is somehow nothing but a physical phenomenon.  In short, the mind is the brain… we can (in principle!) account for every mental phenomenon using the same physical principles, laws, and raw materials that suffice to explain radioactivity, continental drift, photosynthesis, reproduction, nutrition, and growth.”  (Tallis, p 41)

This is the claim of course of materialists who cannot allow for there to be anything but or beyond the material world.  However, and of interest to me is the reaction of some scientists who have stated that the claims that neuroscience has proven self and free will are mere illusions are vastly overstated and not supported by what science has actually been able to demonstrate.   Questions about what is in fact science and what claims really belong to the belief system of scientism have been raised by many, but were the themes of two books I recently read:   Michael S. Gazzaniga’s  WHO’S IN CHARGE?:  FREE WILL AND THE SCIENCE OF THE BRAIN and Raymond Tallis’  APING MANKIND:NEUROMANIA, DARWINITIS AND THE MISREPRESENTATION OF HUMANITY.  Tallis especially challenges the scientific claims, the philosophical presuppositions and the logic of those who want to deny the existence of free will or that there is anything unique about the human being.   I find the claims of both authors interesting because  they are questioning from the point of view of science claims that certain atheistic scientists are making about the nature of humans.

While it is true that our mental existence (consciousness, self, free will) has a connection to the material world cannot be disputed.  We are whole beings which have minds and bodies.  The material body (the brain) does affect the immaterial mind.  This is certainly something Christian ascetics have known for centuries and thus the great emphasis on fasting as a spiritual exercise.  Additionally as Tallis  notes:   “Our mental states have physical effects.  If they did not then our thoughts and our intentions, and even our perceptions, would not be able to bring anything about.”  The mental and the physical do interface and interact, each having an effect on the other.  Tallis in his book lays out his basic argument and the scientific data as to why the claims that neuroscience have disproved free will are in fact wrong:

“…neuroscience does not address, even less answer, the fundamental question of the relation(s) between matter and mind, body and mind, or brain and mind.  If it seems to do so this is only the result of confusion between, indeed a conflation of, three quite different relations: correlations, causation and identity. .. . .  a correlation is not a cause: even less is it an identity.  Seeing correlations between event A (neural activity) and event B (say, reported experience) is not the same as seeing event B when you are seeing event A.  Neuromaniacs, however, argue, or rather assume, that the close correlation between events A and B means that they are essentially the same thing.”  (Tallis, p 85)

“The errors of muddling correlation with causation, necessary condition with sufficient causation, and sufficient causation with identity lie at the heart of the neuromaniac’s basic assumption that consciousness and nerve impulses are one and the same, and that (to echo a commonly used formulation) ‘the mind is a creation of the brain.’”  (p 95)

“But the phrase ‘from the brain, and from the brain only’ is at the root of the notion, to which this book is opposed, that the brain is not only a necessary but also a sufficient condition of conscious experiences: this it is the whole story.  And Hippocrates sounds very like Francis Crick, talking 2,500 years later: ‘You, your joys and sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associate molecules.”  (p 30)

The claim that consciousness or free will are nothing more than biochemical reactions in the brain are proven according to the new atheists by the neurotechnology of the fMRI.  Tallis dismisses these claims:

“… fMRI scanning doesn’t directly tap into brain activity… fMRI registers it only indirectly by detecting the increases in blood flow needed to deliver additional oxygen to busy neurons. . . .  Much more of the brain is already active or lit up; all that can be observed is the additional activity associated with the stimulus.”  (p 76-77)

“The claim that it is possible to look at a single fMRI image and see what the person is seeing, never mind what they are feeling, and how it fits into their day, or their life, is grossly overstating what can be achieved.  Ordinary consciousness and ordinary life lie beyond the reach of imaging technologies, except in the imagination of neuromaniacs.”  (p 82)

“… there is a monotonous similarity about neural activity throughout the cerebral cortex and yet it is supposed to underpin the infinite richness of phenomenal consciousness.”  (p 97)

Tallis as a doctor and scientist offers his own assessment of what the new neurological science actual can show and what it does prove.  Basically he says the fMRI only shows limited changes in brain activity which cannot be equated with saying the brain activity is the memory or the image or the idea or the consciousness of the brain.   The synapses are firing and biochemical actions are taking place that are related to mental activity but that mental activity is not coterminous with the brain or with what the brain is doing.

Thus all the media driven ballyhooing that science has disproved the existence of free will are, according to both Tallis and Gazzaninga vastly overstated claims.

Next:  Consciousness: Mind over Matter? (Gazzaniga)

The Brainless Bible and the Mindless Illusion of Self (II)

“As in water face answers to face, so the mind of man reflects the man.” (Proverbs 27:19, RSV)

The 1st blog in this series is The Brainless Bible and the Mindless Illusion of Self 

Recent claims by some, especially neo-atheist writers, that neuroscience had in fact ‘proven’ that there is no such thing as self or free will but rather these experiences were an illusion created by brain cells, prompted me to look more into the topic and so I read a couple of books by scientists which temper or oppose the claims of the neo-atheists.

The Bible itself is brainless in the sense that it doesn’t mention the brain, that large organ of the nervous system which is so highly developed in humanity.  The Bible does speak numerous times of “mind.”  (Volumes have been and can still be written about the meaning of and the relationship between terms like brain, mind, self, soul, intellect, heart, person, and how these terms are understood differently in various biblical and Patristic contexts).  The biblical perspective is not based in the modern notion of materialism, so doesn’t see a need to connect or found everything in materialism.  Thus the bible offers no explanation about the connection between mind, self and the brain; even the need to do so would not have occurred to the biblical writer.  The authors of the Bible were also not dualists, so they didn’t oppose mind to matter but saw them both as being part of God’s creation;  mind, matter and soul all belong to the created world and so share created nature.

It really will be viewing the bible through such lenses as Platonism, Aristotelianism and modern scientific materialism that will force a dualistic interpretation on the biblical claims by imposing on them a logic and philosophy that wasn’t part of the inspired mindset of the biblical authors.

Modern science and philosophy are asking questions that the biblical authors could not even imagine.  The biblical authors were not trying to answer modern scientific and philosophical concerns which leaves today’s believers with the arduous task of trying to bridge the gap in knowledge and understanding between the questions of modern science and what questions the biblical authors were answering.  But some of the assumptions of the neo-atheists, their philosophical presuppositions and biases, are based in their belief system (materialism) rather than in proven propositions.  I intend to look at these in this blog series.

There really is a lot at stake in all of this.  For it is one thing for scientists in labs to be studying the material universe and offering their scientific observations about the nature of things.  But the neo-atheists are pushing to apply their thinking to social engineering, creating humanity in the image of their philosophical and ideological values.   The Judeo-Christian tradition accepted a notion that humans had been created in the image and likeness of God, and yet we had fallen far from the perfect image.  The religious tradition however saw humans as capable of aspiring to divinity, to uplifting all of humanity to something greater.  The neo-atheists on the other hand want to reduce humans to the common denominator with all the rest of creation:  mere matter which like putty can be shaped into whatever humans decide with no ultimate ethical consequences since humans are nothing more than matter, just like any rock or junk that happens to exist in the universe.  The neo-atheistic thinking by denying self and free will also deny that there is any significance in anything we do to creation or to our fellow human beings.  We saw that thinking play out in the fascism of Germany and Japan in the 1940s and in communism of the 20th Century.    Social engineering based in some heartless rationalism is quite willing to inflict global suffering on humanity in the name of science and ideological beliefs.

In the next few blogs, I want to look at the writings of Michael S. Gazzaniga,  WHO’S IN CHARGE?:  FREE WILL AND THE SCIENCE OF THE BRAIN, and Raymond Tallis,  APING MANKIND:NEUROMANIA, DARWINITIS AND THE MISREPRESENTATION OF HUMANITY.  Both authors are critical of the claims which are being made as a result of the current neuroscientific research, but both are committed to the scientific method and to the basic claims of evolution.

Gazzaniga attempts to put a more positive spin on what neuroscience is discovering and how it might shape the human future:

“It is that magnificence of being ‘human’ that we all cherish and love and that we don’t want science to take away. We want to feel our own worth and the worth of others. I have tried to argue that a more complete scientific understanding of the nature of life, of brain/mind is not eroding this value we all hold dear. We are people, not brains. We are that abstraction that occurs when a mind, which emerges from a brain, interacts with the brain. It is in that abstraction that we exist and in the face of science seeming to chip away at it, we are desperately seeking a vocabulary to describe what it is we truly are.”  (Kindle Loc. 3450-55)

Gazzaniga presents the issue as more about our “feelings” about being human and that science only “seems” to be chipping away at our understanding of what it means to be human.   Yet his book shows ways in which some are attempting to use the new neuroscience to change society itself.

Tallis sees the risks and dangers to humanity that the ideologues of the new neuroscience represent in more stark terms.   The danger of what Tallis calls neuromania can be seen for example in the writings of Julian Savulescu who argues that  “as technology advances more rapidly than the moral character of human beings, we are in increasing danger.  We must therefore seek biomedical and genetic means to enhance the moral character of humanity.”    Savulescu is saying that it is biomedical tinkering and genetic engineering  which are going to be needed to help humanity deal morally with the changes being brought about by modern technology.    The belief that scientists can biomedically engineer a morally superior human being causes Tallis to conclude: “Be afraid, be very afraid.”

In the next few blogs I want to look at the science of evolution: are humans merely matter (even if highly organized) or is there something that distinguishes humanity from the rest of matter and even from the rest of the animal kingdom?

Next:  The Matter of Evolution

Being Human: The Relationship between Mind and Brain (II)

This is the 6th Blog in this series which began with Science and the Church:  Are the Facts In?  The previous blog is Being Human: The Relationship between Mind and Brain.  We are now considering some of the ideas and claims of James Le Fanu (Why Us?: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves) that deal with the human brain and the ways in which scientific materialism in and of themselves cannot account for what it means to be human and how the brain in fact works.

Le Fanu postulates that in fact thoughts are non-material and yet have physical effects.   This goes against the grain of those scientists who are committed to atheistic materialism and who deny that the non-material can have any effect on the world and thus must deny free will which is a non-material force.

“Science holds that nothing can happen that is not governed by the natural laws of material causation. Thoughts are non-material, therefore by definition they can’t cause anything to happen. Hence, my supposition that I am free to choose one course of action over another must be an illusion generated by the physical activity of the brain to create the impression that it is my non-material ‘self, it is ‘I’, who is making the decision.”   (Kindle  Loc. 3654-57)

John 15:16

Some scientists do claim that there is no such thing as free will since all thoughts and emotions are the direct result of chemical processes in the human brain or other organs.   Le Fanu does not accept this assertion and upholds a notion that thinking is real, cannot be completely explained by chemical/electrical impulses in the brain and that these non-material thoughts do in fact effect not only ourselves but the rest of the world as well.

“But to accept the supposition that non-material thoughts (the desire to cross the road) can have physical effects (causing the legs to move) would be to introduce into our understanding of the natural world some non-material force that stands outside, and is not governed by, the principles of lawful material causation. This dilemma can be resolved only in materialist terms by supposing that the decision (for example) when to cross the road is not freely taken, but is determined by the electrical activity of our brain.”   (Kindle Loc. 3014-17)

Such determinism has been part of human thinking for centuries.  It is not the thinking in Orthodox tradition however which does accept the notion of free will.  Some Christians, especially Calvinists, completely believe in predestination – God determines everything in the universe.  Atheistic scientists reject God and accept notions of total determinism –  human thought is merely the product of electrical impulses running through the brain cells and thus follows the materialistic law of cause and effect.   Thinking is thus totally materialistically caused and thus there is no such thing as free will.  Orthodoxy has traditionally rejected such determinism and has accepted the notion that we do have the ability to make choices, for good and for ill.  There really is a thing called the “self” and the self makes real choices which shape the future.  [It is interesting to note that Einstein was a determinist as well and this is why he had such great problems with quantum mechanics which allow for uncertainty and indeterminism.]

Le Fanu says that despite the denial of a few prominent scientists the evidence shows that non-material processes (thinking for example) do have an effect in the world.   Everything does not follow a perfect cause and effect pattern set off by random events.   Rather, humans are able to make choices and influence their future.   A purely materialistically based approach to humanity does not take into full account what it is to be human.  Le Fanu says there is an existing mystery involving humanity, and conscious awareness and thought is part of that mystery and is as real as any physical property.

“Collectively the findings of these studies strongly support the view that the subjective nature of mental processes (e.g. thoughts, feelings, beliefs) significantly influence the various levels of brain functioning. Beliefs and expectations can markedly modulate neurophysiological and neurochemical activity in brain regions involved in perception, movement, pain and various aspects of emotional process.”   (Kindle  Loc. 3715-18)  

The non-material, so scientific studies have shown, thus exists and is able to influence the material world.  This is a basic assumption of believers and Le Fanu thinks the scientific evidence proves the point.  Secular scientists reduce being human to material impulses that ultimately have no true meaning.   We simply do what our bodies’ chemistry and electronic impulses tell us to do.  While that view is held by some scientists it is not the thinking of most theistic Christians who accept free will.

“‘You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your 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.’”  (Kindle Loc. 3027-28)

While the above sentence might appear to be true to those who cannot accept the role of a Creator God, for believers there is something backwards in the thinking.  “I” am not created by cellular electrical impulses, rather the behavior of the nerve cells and molecules is “me” working out my will through the cells and electrical impulses.  “I” am willing my material body to behave in a certain way.   The “self” is inseparably linked to its material brain.  Both brain and mind emerge together and in their interconnectivity the self is born.   We do not have in this world a “self” apart from our corporeal existence.  The self which is non-material is based in the very material nature of the brain and the non-material self effects the brain, allowing us to do things, seeing for example.  The eye works in a most mysterious way to allow us to see colors.

 “… yet the particles of light impacting on the retina are colourless, just as the waves of sound impacting on the eardrum are silent, and scent molecules have no smell. They are all invisible, weightless, subatomic particles of matter travelling through space. It is the brain that impresses the colours, sounds and smells upon them. ‘For the [light] rays, to speak properly, are not coloured,’ wrote the great Isaac Newton.”  (Kindle Loc. 3358-61)     

The brain is interpreting the impulses the body receives.  The brain which mysteriously and even organically is linked with the self imposes meaning on the material and immaterial worlds.

“The first mystery is how the fundamentally similar neuronal circuits in Rachel Carson’s brain conjure from the barrage of colourless photons and soundless pressure waves impinging on her senses that vividly unique and unified sensation of that ‘wild night all around us’…”  (Kindle Loc. 3783-85)

Thus our brains, quite material in their existence open up to us to perceive, remember and organize both the physical and non-materials experiences we have in the world.  Le Fanu sees this as part of the great mystery which is ourselves.  We discover through science that we are not merely physical beings, but have a true non-material dimension which introduces into our study of human beings notions of the self, the soul, the mind, the heart.

Next:  The Mystery of Ourselves: A conclusion

The Mystery of Ourselves

This is the 3rd Blog in this series which began with Science and the Church:  Are the Facts In?  In the previous blog, Christianity and Science, we looked at some of the comments of Dr. Gayle Woloschak in her article “The Compatability of the Principles of Biological Evolution with Orthodoxy” in the ST. VLADIMIR’S THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLY, Vol 55, No. 2, 2011.   With this blog we begin our look at some of the claims of James Le Fanu in  his book,  Why Us?: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves.   Part of Le Fanu’s criticism of science is that it is so focused on materialism that it misses the greater mysteries which are visible in the science itself.

“We have lost that sense of living in an enchanted world. We might now, thanks to science, comprehend the universe of which we are a part, only to discover that its properties, as evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins puts it, ‘are precisely those we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good – nothing but blind, pitiless indifference’. We have lost, too, sight of the most significant factor of all – the exceptionality of the human mind.”   (Kindle Highlight Loc. 4195-98)

Some scientists who reject the idea of a Creator are hostile to Le Fanu’s thoughts as they are to theists who embrace many of the claims of science.   I, however, do not think that believers should feel so threatened by atheistic science.  According to modern physics, a little less than 5% of the universe is made up of matter,  about 25% is dark matter, and about 70% is dark energy.  So when we are looking at biology, we are to begin with looking only at that 5% of the universe which constitutes matter that we can study through the biological sciences.  And then we realize that the total percent of the matter in the universe which is properly the realm of biology and evolution is a much smaller portion of the total matter in the universe.  On the grand scale of things any theory of evolution is talking about a disproportionately tiny part of the known universe.   So for all the bluster evolutionary theorists like to muster against theists, they are talking about a small fraction of the universe anyway.  Theists are holding to ideas that take the entire universe into consideration not just that that miniscule portion of our planet that is the limit of evolutionary science.  Evolution at best describes a small fraction of the entire matter of the universe.  Of course it is the matter that is important to us, because it is our story and our history which is being discussed.  But for those who embrace scientific theism, there is a whole lot more to the universe than is being described or accounted for by evolution.  As Harvard science professor Lisa Randall says in her article on dark energy and matter, “If the history of science has taught us anything, it should be the shortsightedness of believing that what we see is all there is.”  (DISCOVER, November 2011, p 59)

Nevertheless, the fight between faith and reason, science and religion is mostly led on the religious side by fundamentalists and biblical literalists  as is obvious in such articles as the 17 October 2011 NY Times  The Evangelical Rejection of Reason by Christian authors and college professors Karl W. Giberson and Randall J. Stephens.  They belong to an evangelical tradition but distance themselves from those fundamentalists who reject science and reason.

“Americans have always trusted in God, and even today atheism is little more than a quiet voice on the margins. Faith, working calmly in the lives of Americans from George Washington to Barack Obama, has motivated some of America’s finest moments. But when the faith of so many Americans becomes an occasion to embrace discredited, ridiculous and even dangerous ideas, we must not be afraid to speak out, even if it means criticizing fellow Christians.”

So while the anti-scientific and anti-reason rhetoric belongs mostly to fundamentalists and literalists, the rest of Christianity cannot just look askance and avoid the discussion.   We have a responsibility to make the effort to bridge the gap between those who claim to embrace Christianity but who fear and oppose the claims of science.  It is the same science which made computing possible which measures the age of the universe.  While some people’s faith rests on the claim that Genesis is literally true, Genesis itself was not written to be a modern scientific study.   Namely, it doesn’t present claims that can be verified by tests of falsification.   It is a document that rests on faith, and doesn’t itself require that it be read literally.

James Le Fanu takes on the atheistic claims of some scientists and basically charges that some scientists have lost sight of their objectivity and the limits of science.  These scientists make atheistic assumptions about the universe and then try to conform the facts and reality to their assumptions, which is the opposite of the intellectual rigor which the falsification process in science demands.  Rather scientists should follow the facts to whatever truths can be derived from them.

“But that Fall of Man, toppled at last from his pedestal to confront the meaninglessness of his existence, has resulted, as we have seen, first in the most grievous social policies and, second, in his being deprived of his freedom, to become no more than a plaything of his genes. The source of all this mischief lies in the necessity to portray man not as he is, but as he has to be in order to incorporate him into an evolutionary theory that requires him to be different ‘only in degree but not in kind’ from his primate cousins.”  (Kindle Highlight Loc. 2947-50)

So Le Fanu claims to set out what man is, not what evolutionary theory needs him to be, and thus he reads the scientific evidence in a way different from the atheist.

Next:  The Genetic Side of Being Human

Well Reasoned Words (II)

This is the conclusion to the blog Well Reasoned Words.  In that blog we looked at a scientist’s view of why science and reason are essential to any political debate or national policy decision.

The second essay which I think is a worthy read appeared in the 25 September 2011  New York Times  Opinionator section: ‘Quixote,’ Colbert and the Reality of Fiction written by William Egginton.    Egginton is responding to another essay which was touting scientific knowledge as the only way to know anything.

“In his contribution to The Stone last week, Alex Rosenberg posed a defense of naturalism — ‘the philosophical theory that treats science as our most reliable source of knowledge and scientific method as the most effective route to knowledge’ — at the expense of other theoretical endeavors such as, notably, literary theory. To the question of ‘whether disciplines like literary theory provide real understanding,’ Professor Rosenberg’s answer is as unequivocal as it is withering: just like fiction, literary theory can be ‘fun,’ but neither one qualifies as ‘knowledge.’”

Egginton takes total exception to Rosenberg’s interpretation of scientific materialism and says literature including fiction does give us real knowledge about what it is to be human:

“Does their fictional art not offer insights into human nature as illuminating as many of those the physical sciences have produced?

As a literary theorist, I suppose I could take umbrage at the claim that my own discipline, while fun, doesn’t rise to the level of knowledge. But what I’d actually like to argue goes a little further. Not only can literary theory (along with art criticism, sociology, and yes, non-naturalistic philosophy) produce knowledge of an important and even fundamental nature, but fiction itself, so breezily dismissed in Professor Rosenberg’s assertions, has played a profound role in creating the very idea of reality that naturalism seeks to describe.”

Egginton offers a point with which many humans, not just theistic ones:  you might be able to define the exact chemical composition of a human being through science, but this still will not tell you what it is to be human.  Insights into being human and human beings is real knowledge and an important part of what knowledge humans are capable of attaining beyond what science can say.

You can read Egginton’s comments which are a wonderful essay which ties in Cervantes and Stephen Colbert as part of the human effort to reveal truth and knowledge.  Egginton cites Colbert’s portrayal of then President George W Bush as evidence of fiction giving us knowledge:

“’The greatest thing about this man is he’s steady,’ Colbert said, standing in front of the president of the United States. ‘You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday.’ Colbert’s routine mocked the administration’s slippery relation to truth (what happened Tuesday), and identified the president’s famous ‘resolution’ as the character trait that the administration relied on to sell their version of reality.”

We do come to get insight into our human existence from sources other than science.  And Egginton argues that we need fiction, irony, and humor to really gain insight into ourselves.

“As Cervantes realized in the context of the newly born mass culture of the Catholic, imperial, Spanish state, irony expertly wielded is the best defense against the manipulation of truth by the media. Its effect was and still is to remind its audience that we are all active participants in the creation and support of a fictional world that is always in danger of being sold to us as reality.”