Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Friendly Atheist on “The Whole Truth”

Since this seems to be the theme of the week, I noticed that the Friendly Atheist has a piece on how pushy atheists should be when confronting Christians or others who believe in a higher power. Referring to the atheism of PZ Myers and Chris Mooney, he writes:
Here’s the difference between the two sides: You know that courtroom phrase, “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”?

Both Mooney and PZ want to tell the truth about science and evolution.

Only PZ is willing to tell the whole truth — that the logical conclusion of accepting science fully is that you must dismiss any notion of gods, miracles, and the supernatural.

Mooney thinks it’s bad PR for us to admit that — and he may be right — but it’s wrong to let Christians keep thinking science and religion are perfectly compatible when they really aren’t.

There are two striking assumptions here that Mehta expects us to take at face value: that PZ Myers’ perspective is “the whole truth” and that the logical conclusion of accepting science is that you must reject any notion of the existence of the supernatural.

This odd conflation of methodology with worldview, is known as philosophical naturalism. It means that in my scientific endeavors, I must believe that a supernatural entity does not and cannot exist. In this case, my worldview may or may not be divorced from reality. Performing science with the assumption that there is no interference from a higher power does not mean that there is not one. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

I would also make the case that it is intellectually dishonest. I contend that science cannot address the existence of God one way or the other. It simply is not equipped to do so. Astrophysicist Hugh Ross, who wrote The Fingerprint of God, which deals with the level of “tweaking” that the universe exhibits in order to sustain life on this third rock from the sun, believes that this points to the existence of God. As far as he and other progressive creationists and intelligent design supporters are concerned, while not a smoking gun, this level of inferential evidence is enough. Maybe, but it is a post hoc argument. It only looks tweaked because we are here to observe it. One of the main complaints about ID is that it has no theoretical construct to test for the existence of God. Michael Behe suggests that evolution cannot explain the flagellar motor or the blood-clotting cascade in humans. Even if, by some chance that is true, it still presents no support that God produced either in ex nihilo fashion.

By the same token, the statement that there is no god is a statement of faith. It is only the whole truth if you subscribe to the reductionistic view that all we can see is all that exists. Once again, science cannot address that question. To be completely honest, we must be scientifically agnostic. What we believe to be true is a matter of faith. PZ Myers and Herment Mehta believe in their hearts that there is no god. I believe that there is.

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  1. Anonymous3:49 PM

    I wonder how friendly this Friendly Atheist really is.

  2. My experience with most atheists is that, while they may be civil and courteous in discussion involving faith, they are deeply disappointed that anyone would stoop to believe in a God. My experience may be skewed by my sample size, though.