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The Debate is Over

Entry 615, on 2007-09-26 at 19:22:09 (Rating 3, Religion)

Wired magazine recently ran an article titled "Faith Smackdown". It was presented as a debate between well-known atheist and critic of religion, Richard Dawkins; and noted scientist and theist, Francis Collins.

Generally Dawkins can easily demolish any objections a person would have to the idea that religion isn't useful given modern scientific knowledge. But Collins is no idiot. He is the former head of the Human Genome Project, a real scientist, and previously an atheist. It would be reasonable to think he might have some good points to make, wouldn't it? Well, unfortunately not. His arguments in support of the existence of god are just as pathetic - perhaps even more so - than everyone else's. Anyone expecting some illuminating and original arguments from him (like I did) will be very disappointed.

The web site gave readers the opportunity to vote on who won on each of three key points presented. Dawkins won easily, receiving 5 to 10 times the votes that Collins did. Of course, the audience wasn't necessarily unbiased so I don't pretend this is real evidence in any form, but I do think the conclusion reached by any reasonable reader would be the same.

Here's some examples. Collins says the atheists' conclusion that there is no god is based on faith to a similar extent to claims that there is a god. This is nonsense. Firstly, the person making the assertion must be able to support it. Its not reasonable to say "I have a theory about god. Unless you can disprove it I will assume its true". Collins must know this, yet he persists with the argument. Why? Secondly, the evidence contrary to god isn't faith based. The real research exists, has been critically examined, and Collins must know this. Again, why does he argue using a false premise?

Here's another example. God is outside of nature, at least in part, so science can't reach any conclusions regarding the existence of god. Everyone I know (including Collins) claims that god affects nature in some way, maybe its creating the Universe in 6 days 6000 years ago, maybe its guiding evolution, maybe its triggering the Big Bang. Clearly god does affect nature so he can be studied by science. A god which has no affect on the real world at all effectively doesn't exist anyway. Either way the god is outside nature argument doesn't work and again Collins must know this.

The last example is the old "god of the gaps" argument. This is probably the saddest indictment on the state of religion. Collins says god is the answer to all the mysteries science can't explain: the cause of the Universe, the origin of natural laws, etc. But this argument is destructive to religion. Science is constantly making new discoveries so god is becoming less necessary. Hundreds of years ago god would have been the answer to many questions which are now answered by science, for example the origin of species. Does this mean that god was never really the answer to those questions? So does it follow that the mysteries we attribute to god now are also false and will be answered by science in the future? Collins must recognise the weakness of this form of argument, so why does he use it?

Really its pathetic. If this is the best an intelligent, thoughtful theist can do I would have to conclude that the debate is over. God really is dead.

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Comment 1 (890) by WF99 on 2007-10-02 at 10:36:51:

"Collins says the atheists' conclusion that there is no god is based on faith to a similar extent to claims that there is a god. This is nonsense. Firstly, the person making the assertion must be able to support it."

The atheist makes the assertion that there is no god, but of course they cannot support it. It's impossible to do so either way. What the atheist must do is discredit every theory offered about a god's involvement with the physical earth, and I'm not doubting that this has been done. For a new religion to come up, a person must claim to have received a message from a god, which would be in and of itself a physical action which could be proved or disproved. But I'm straying from the original point.

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Comment 2 (893) by OJB on 2007-10-02 at 13:35:08:

Generally atheists don't assert that there is no god, they support the interim theory that there is no real evidence that there is a god. There is a difference between those two ways of treating the subject. The first requires proof of a negative, which as you say is nearly impossible. The second requires that there is no support for a positive, which seems to be the real situation.

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