Skeptic » eSkeptic » January 11, 2012

The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine

Lecture this Sunday: Dr. Lawrence Krauss

Lawrence Krauss
A Universe from Nothing:
Why There is Something
Rather Than Nothing

with Dr. Lawrence Krauss
Sunday, January 15, 2012 at 2 pm

WHERE DID THE UNIVERSE COME FROM? What was there before it? Why is there something rather than nothing? Such questions have been at the center of religious and philosophical debates about the existence of God, but in recent years science has been closing in on answers. In a cosmological story that rivets as it enlightens, pioneering theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss explains the groundbreaking new scientific advances that turn the most basic philosophical questions on their heads. One of the few prominent scientists today to have actively crossed the chasm between science and popular culture, Krauss reveals that modern science is addressing the question of why there is something rather than nothing, with surprising and fascinating results. With his characteristic wry humor and wonderfully clear explanations, Krauss takes us back to the beginning of the beginning, presenting the most recent evidence for how our universe evolved—and the implications for how it’s going to end. As Richard Dawkins writes: This could potentially be the most important scientific book with implications for supernaturalism since Darwin.

Tickets are first come, first served at the door. Seating is limited. $8 for Skeptics Society members and the JPL/Caltech community, $10 for nonmembers. Your admission fee is a donation that pays for our lecture expenses.

Christopher Hitchens & Kenneth Miller on:
“Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete?”

In last week’s eSkeptic, we presented Christopher Hitchens’ answer to the question “Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete?” This week, we present the same question in the form of a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Kenneth Miller. Hitchens (self-proclaimed anti-theist and author of God Is Not Great) and Kenneth Miller (a pro-evolution Christian and author of Finding Darwin’s God) are worlds apart both by profession and belief, and yet both have brilliant minds for dissecting arguments both scientific and philosophical. First, Hitchens comments on Miller’s essay, followed by Miller’s response, and then the remaining dialogue between the two. This debate was edited by Michael Shermer for the Templeton Foundation’s Big Question Essay Series.

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A debate between
Christopher Hitchens & Kenneth Miller

edited by Michael Shermer

Christopher Hitchens (1949–2011). Photo by Christian Witkin.

Christopher Hitchens (1949–2011). Photo by Christian Witkin.

Christopher Hitchens: I am not scientifically certified in any field, but when I read a “creationist” account of an Eden-based evolutionary fairy-story, I consider myself sufficiently qualified to understand and to refute the mental process by which it is argued. On the other hand, I do possess some small qualifications in the world of language and its relationship to cognition and I have to confess that I simply cannot make sense of a single one of your most important assertions or (perhaps I should better say) avowals.

What does it mean to say, “The Deity they reject so easily is not the one I know”? If you have such an extraordinary acquaintanceship, or source of information, is it only humility that keeps you confined in the small compass of Rhode Island? You go on to state that a rather intriguing and immense question (why is the world “bursting” with so much bio-diversity?) has in fact a rather obvious answer. You write: “To a person of faith, the answer to that question is God.”

Well, I hope I may be excused if I state that I already knew about the things that faith can apparently cause people—without a rag of evidence—to believe. But is this same reply also the answer to the question: “why have 99.9 per cent of all known species on our planet become extinct?” If so, then god—I don’t capitalize my concepts—explains everything and nothing with equal ease.

This same tenacious addiction to tautology and non-sequitur must be the explanation for the latter part of your essay, in which you accuse atheists of trying to make god “an ordinary part of the natural world” (no we don’t: the pantheists and the Paleyites do that). You make the circular assertion that god is “the reason for nature, the explanation for why things are” and the incoherent proposal that “He is the answer to existence, not part of existence itself.” I have heard Zen koans uttered with more articulation. It would be unkind to ask you how you proceed from such deistic assumptions to your theistic ones—the Resurrection, for example. Why do you believe in such things? Do you believe that you have a superior access to the numinous, and because such beliefs—in common with all other superstitions—are not subject to direct disproof or falsifiability? If so, you will, by the same token, have to accept my deeply-held belief that such opinions are the moral and verbal equivalent of white noise.

Before any further damage to the good name of science is done, let me point out that it is perfectly absurd to say that there is a “scientific faith” which assumes that all matters are reducible to the immediately comprehensible. I would briefly cite J.B.S. Haldane’s observation that the universe is not just queerer than we imagine, but queerer than we can imagine. I might add Einstein’s remark that the miracle is that there are no miracles: that the natural order is in fact harmonious and not to be interrupted by capricious supernatural interventions. If that doesn’t take care of deism, it takes care of theism—and it’s religion we are talking about in this debate. Professor Miller, you appear to me to fail the elementary test of being able to say what your opponents are talking about. But then, by your absurd use of the term “validate” in the closing sentence of your essay, you would seem to have no idea what you yourself are talking about, either.

Kenneth Miller

Kenneth Miller

Kenneth Miller: I must confess that I was surprised by the tone and the content of your writing, and especially by your eagerness to move the discussion away from science. You invoked history, writing that revelation came at the wrong time and to the wrong people. Apparently a proper God would have avoided “gaping peasants,” and delivered his message instead to high table at Oxford. You deliberately misread my reference to personal belief as a claim of special revelation, and even found time to ridicule a tiny American state—ironically, the very one which first gave birth to the concept of religious freedom. Why such departures from the issue at hand?

Perhaps it is because you sense the inherent weakness of your argument. Your essay cited three scientific points, which, you were confident, would have kept us from “adopting monotheism.” Ironically, in essence these were: 1) our species had a beginning, 2) the universe had a beginning, and 3) our existence will come to an end. Last time I looked, each of these was actually a teaching of the great monotheistic faiths. So much for the profound contradiction you sought.

You tip your hand when invoking extinction as a problem for faith, having fixed your arrow on nothing more sophisticated than an “Eden-based evolutionary fairy-story.” You declare yourself, just as young-earth creationists do, unable to stretch the cloth of Genesis around the Big Bang, mass extinction, and human evolution. But scripture reflects the flawed cosmology of its age, just as one might imprint today’s imperfect and incomplete science on the specifics of either your disbelief or my faith. Finding that old conceptions of nature are wrong, just as many of today’s theories surely are, does not even begin to invalidate the religious message that we live in a universe reflecting the will and rationality of a creator. You say that the natural order is harmonious. I agree. At issue is the source of that harmony.

You say that the grand sweep of the cosmos makes “pathetic nonsense” of the notion that human existence is part of a plan, but on what scientific basis do you make that judgment? In reality, the potential for human existence is woven into every fiber of that universe, from the starry furnaces that forged the carbon upon which life is based, to the chemical bonds that fashioned our DNA from the muck and dust of this rocky planet. Seems like a plan to me.

I was particularly impressed—but not in a good way—by your misuse of Einstein. In saying that there are “no miracles,” he was not ruling out the divine, but speaking to the scientific comprehensibility of nature. Einstein also said there are two ways to live: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is. I choose the latter, and clearly, so did he. Finally, you say that I am an “opponent” who simply does not know what you are talking about. Mr. Hitchens, I regard you as a friend, not an opponent, and would suggest that the real problem is I understand what you are talking about all too well.

Hitchens: To take these points in reverse order: Albert Einstein took a Spinozist worldview that excluded the idea of a personal god or a deity that intervened in human affairs. The natural order does not respond to prayer or propitiation: it maintains its extraordinary regularity. This may not rule out a certain non-specific deism or pantheism, but it does make nonsense of the idea of a god to which human beings can address themselves.

The argument from design has seldom been stated more sloppily than in the “grand sweep” paragraph that (in ascending order) undergirds this misreading of Einstein. Pray tell, is it all designed, or just the apparently harmonious bits? The impending collision between our galaxy and Andromeda: part of the plan or not? A series of lifeless failed planets in our own solar suburb: good design or random coincidence? As with every other such invocation, the fans of the designer must convict him either of a good deal of waste and fumbling or a great deal of cruelty and indifference, or both.

It is cheap to compare me to a young-earth creationist just because I suggest that one must choose between “scripture” and science. The former does indeed reflect “the flawed cosmology of its age,” but that is precisely because it is a work of man and not a work of a deity. Which was my original point.

I cannot see how this insistence on an apparently designed harmony can be squared with your original assertion that god is “the answer to existence, not part of existence itself” or with your scorn for the idea that god is “an ordinary part of the natural world.” Is he or isn’t he the key to the natural order, or at any rate a dynamic element in it? I can understand you avoiding my question about resurrection, but if you want to stay focused on science then you can’t have this both ways.

It’s good of monotheists to accept that things have beginnings and ends. (“By god, sir,” as Samuel Johnson said in a slightly different connection, “they had better”.) I suppose one difference here is the eschatological one, or the way in which religion looks forward to the end. That important distinction to one side, the materialist view is simply that science can provide us, and indeed has provided us, with explanations for the origin and the terminus, of our cosmos and our species, that require no supernatural element. If this is not a scientific refutation of faith (which it isn’t, since faith isn’t susceptible to such procedures) it makes faith and science look increasingly hard to reconcile.

I was ridiculing you and not Rhode Island, as any careful reader will see. And yes, I do think that the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary and other apparitions ought at least once in human history to have shown themselves to people who were able to read and write, who were not terrified of demons and ghosts, and who possessed the ability to test evidence in the crucible of experiment. It hasn’t happened yet and I predict that it isn’t going to happen, either. Nonetheless, the witchdoctors and shamans can always count on the credulity of second-and-third-hand witnesses, descending to tenth-and-twentieth hand, some of whom will sadly claim to base their beliefs on scientific method.

Miller: You know, Christopher, I think we’re making progress. In your invocations of Einstein and Spinoza there is a grudging, if indirect, deference to the argument in my original essay—specifically, that faith “includes science, but then seeks the ultimate reason why the logic of science should work so well.” In each of your contributions to this dialogue, you’ve dismissed this as implying nothing more than deism, as if that alone was sufficient to refute it. As you well know, it is not.

Classic deism involves a God who is creator and prime mover, yet uninvolved in the affairs of his universe. But apply some logic here. By what principle would a God, capable of creating such vastness, be constrained from intervening in its affairs? Clearly, that restraint could only come by choice, and given such power, it would have to be a willing choice. The distinction between theism and deism, therefore, is really a claim about the personality of God, and the nature of his actions (or lack of same) in our created world. Earlier, I wrote that the atheist places God within the realm of science to investigate and test. The arguments you raise against scripture and reports of the miraculous take this form exactly, and that is also why they fall short—because they consider God to be a part of nature rather than nature’s cause. I do wonder what sort of God would meet your tests for clarity of teaching and evidence of existence, and I would love to hear your answer.

I accept that your first response was an attempt at personal ridicule. However, I wonder why you resort to such tactics if the logic of your case is so compelling. You note sarcastically that it is “good of monotheists to accept that things have beginnings and ends.” Can you possibly be serious, when Abrahamic monotheism has always spoken of ends and beginnings? As you acknowledge, science has indeed given explanations for “our cosmos and our species that require no supernatural element.” On that point you and I agree. But this means only that science has now confirmed nature’s sufficiency to fulfill the promised work of its creator.

You ask if all is designed, including galactic collisions, “failed planets,” and the extravagant waste of nature. Yet by what rubric do you know the “purpose” of galaxies and planets, in order to pronounce them “failed?” There is waste and death in nature and the cosmos, but there is something else as well. Amid the material from which you draw the bleak conclusion of purposeless chaos, there are the very laws and elements that make evolution (and humanity) possible. A great biologist, whom we both admire, once wrote that there was “grandeur in this view of life,” and science has done nothing since to set that judgment aside. A world of “endless forms, most beautiful and most wonderful” is the one in which we find ourselves, and I believe there is a reason for that.

Hitchens: That there might have been a “mind” at the beginning of the cosmos does not in the least entail that there still is one, or that its abstention from intervention in human affairs is conscious. (If the mind took the form of an intelligent and self-conscious “god”, as Lucretius pointed out, it would obviously wish to stay out of our petty quarrels and strivings.) And this mind would also need to have been created or inspired by still another mind, as in turn would that mind. No wonder that Christians prefer to start speaking about “mysteries” at this point.

Incidentally, are you a Christian? I have no idea which religion you do or do not believe in. Do you think that this eternal mind waited until two thousand years ago, then donated a son for a human sacrifice and thus enabled us to purge ourselves from sin? Or do you prefer to think that Mohammed is god’s messenger, or that the eternal mind has made a covenant with one special tribe? With atheists, it is always possible for our opponents to know and understand (if they choose to) what we believe (or do not believe). With religious people it is possible to spend a long time in discussion without ever discovering precisely what role they believe the supernatural to play in our lives. And no two claims are ever quite the same—further proof that the whole religious enterprise is improvised by primates.

To answer your challenge: if I had faith I would not presume to act or think as if god owed me an explanation. Surely that is the point of faith to begin with: to fill the unbridgeable void between evidence and the entire lack of it. That’s why I consider it the most over-rated of the virtues.

Miller: As we conclude, I am struck by your careful avoidance of our question—whether science makes belief in God obsolete. Instead you puzzle over my religion (I’m a Catholic) and invoke the old standbys: scripture is unreliable, faiths contradict, miracles are delusional fabrications, and God’s reported interventions in human affairs make no sense (to you). You dismiss a “mind” as first cause by invoking an infinite regression of minds—ironically unaware that your own view requires exactly that—an infinite regression of natural causes. A theist sees the logical problem here, but apparently you do not.

You avoided my direct question (to you, a “challenge”) of what might convince you of God’s reality. You wrote, in effect, that no evidence would do—a very fair summary of your views on this issue, I admit.

In the end you have no answer to why science works, why the physical logic of natural law makes life possible, or why the human mind is able to explore and understand nature. And I agree that there is no scientific answer to such questions. That is precisely the point of faith—to order and rationalize our encounters with the world around us. Faith is human, and therefore imperfect. But faith expresses, however poorly, a reality that includes the scientific experience in every sense, and therefore has become more relevant than ever in our scientific age. END

Skeptical perspective on the Big Questions…
cover Origins & The Big Questions
Conference 2008 (5 Part Set)

with Donald Prothero, Leonard Susskind, Paul Davies, Sean Carroll, Christof Koch, Kenneth miller, Nancey Murphy, & Michael Shermer

Today, there is arguably no hotter topic in culture than science and religion, and so much of the debate turns on the “Big Questions” that involve “origins ”: the origin of the universe, the origin of the “fine-tuned” laws of nature, the origin of time and time’s arrow, the origin of life and complex life, and the origin of brains, minds, and consciousness. Now, science is making significant headway into providing natural explanations for these ultimate questions, which leaves us with the biggest question of all: “Does science make belief in God obsolete?” we have assembled some of the world’s greatest minds to discuss some of the world’s greatest questions. In 2008, the Skeptics Society held a conference wherein we assembled some of the world’s greatest minds to discuss some of the world’s greatest questions…

READ more about this conference and order the 5-part DVD set.

OR, order single DVDs: part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5

cover The Evolution of God
by Robert Wright

From the Stone Age to the Information Age, Robert Wright unveils an astonishing discovery: there is a hidden pattern that the great monotheistic faiths have followed as they have evolved. Through the prisms of archaeology, theology, and evolutionary psychology, Wright’s findings overturn basic assumptions about Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and are sure to cause controversy. He explains why spirituality has a role today, and why science, contrary to conventional wisdom, affirms the validity of the religious quest. And this previously unrecognized evolutionary logic points not toward continued religious extremism, but future harmony. READ more and order the DVD.

cover Why People Believe in God
by Michael Shermer

Shermer presents data from an empirical study of 10,000 Americans — why do people believe in God? Why is belief in God increasing, not decreasing as predicted? How the fact that we live in an age of science influences the reason people give for their faith. How people assume others believe in God for different reasons than they do. The psychology of rationalizing beliefs arrived at for non-rational reasons.
READ more and order the DVD.

Other Books & Lectures on Evolution & Creationism

Our online store has a wide selection of books and lectures (at Caltech) on the topics of evolution and creationism.

Tim Farely Card

Tim Farley illustration by Neil Davies. Card design by Crispian Jago.

2011: A Year in Review
with Tim Farley

This week on Skepticality, host Derek sits down with Tim Farley to reflect on what happened in the skeptical world over the course of 2011 and ponder what is in store for 2012. Tim Farley is the creator of the website Whats the Harm (a catalog of actual cases of people suffering physical, medical, financial or other harm because of their beliefs in concepts not supported by science) and Skeptic History (a collection of historical dates of interest to skeptics).



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  1. Roo.Bookaroo says:

    This debate between Christopher Hitchens and kenneth Miller seems to be the same old beating around the bush.
    Many assertions by Kenneth Miller are noticeably striking and worth commenting upon.

    “a God, capable of creating such vastness,”

    Again, this is in complete opposition to what such a confirmed physicist as Richard Feynman thought, as reported by James Gleick in his biography of Feynman, “Genius”.
    “Feynman found this style of accommodation (between religion and science, à la Gould) to be intolerable. He repudiated the conventional God: ‘The kind of a personal God, characteristic of Western religions, to whom you pray and who has something to do with creating the universe and guiding you in morals.'” Some theologians had retreated from the conception of God as a kind of superperson — Father and King — willful, white-haired, and male. Any God who might take an interest in human affairs was too anthropomorphic for Feynman — implausible in the less and less human-centered universe discovered by science. Many scientists agreed, but his views were so rarely expressed that in 1959 a local television station, KNXT, felt obliged to suppress an interview in which he declared:
    ‘It doesn’t seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil — which is the view that religion has. THE STAGE IS TOO BIG FOR THE DRAMA.’ (My emphasis, ROO.)

    “a claim about the personality of God, and the nature of his actions (or lack of same) in our created world.”
    Early Christians spent hundreds of years debating the “personality of Jesus” and could never reach an agreement until the Roman Emperors brought all the bishops together and forced them to come to an agreement under pain of exile and excommunication.
    Modern believers have transferred the debate to questions about the “personality” of God, and we suspect that nothing but a strong political and military power can bring the parties to an agreement.
    The idea that the cogitations in our human brain can determine features of the “personality” of God seems to imply that this is possible only if we assume that our brains contain a tiny spark of the “divine mind” to make the connection possible, which in a way is what old-fashioned Gnostics and mystics believed.

    “God to be a part of nature rather than nature’s cause.”

    The concept of “nature’s cause” is based on a simple working man’s analogy. What is meant by “nature” here seems to be the whole of the physical world. To ask for a “cause” of the world is meaningful only because it makes the comparison of the world with a pot that a potter is making with his hands and tools. The hands and tools of that “Cause” remain for ever mysterious. As well as all questions of place (what is the nothingness where the “Cause” starts acting its wonders?) and time (before the beginning of time? How come?)

    “science has now confirmed nature’s sufficiency to fulfill the promised work of its creator.”

    This sentence left me wondering about what it exactly meant. “The promised work of its creator”? How can we judge anything about that? What on earth is the “promised work” of this creator? How can we judge “nature’s sufficiency”? This leaves me stumped and uncomprehending.

    “A world of “endless forms, most beautiful and most wonderful” is the one in which we find ourselves, and I believe there is a reason for that.”

    Again the recourse to the big sentiments of grandeur and the sublime that are necessary to evoke the images of “divinity” in our brains.
    Hitchens had already remarked in his article “No, But it Should”, in his answer to the same question “Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete?” that it may not be possible to extirpate from the brain the emotional and “primitive” source of religious thinking, with a crusader’s hope of replacing this primary mental mode with abstract reason.
    Christopher Hitchens was perspicacious enough to emphasize that “science” is NOT going to make religious beliefs in God obsolete. And this for some fundamental reasons related to the structure of the brain and human thinking, which were well enumerated by Hitchens in his previous article:
    1) The brain activity that produces ideas of Gods is more primary (primitive) and immediate than the reasonings of science;
    2) The immediate power of strong emotions on the brain is an ineradicable given: Hitchens cites the “human capacity for wonder,” the fact that “religion is our first, and our worst, attempt at explanation. It is how we came up with answers before we had any evidence”;

    “invoke the old standbys: scripture is unreliable, faiths contradict, miracles are delusional fabrications, and God’s reported interventions in human affairs make no sense (to you)”

    Those standbys are old, but still relevant, and will remain relevant in the future as long as the debate is actual.

    “a “mind” as first cause”
    This is the fundamental assumption that supports all beliefs in the supernatural. Religion automatically becomes belief in magic. Each religion, including Christianity, proclaims its possession of a stronger magic than competing ones. Not only is God the greatest magician, but his representatives as well. Mary, Jesus, were able to perform the most incredible miracles. Religion opens the door to the unrestricted power of the supernatural.

    “In the end you have no answer to why science works, why the physical logic of natural law makes life possible, or why the human mind is able to explore and understand nature.”

    Again, this kind of language assumes that abstract words represent realities “Why science works” as if “science” was a tool that you can take off the shelf and determine that oh yes, it does work. “Science” in this sense does not exist. It is a process that involves the experimenter’s body, his senses for perception, his material tools, his recording of data and quantities, his hypotheses, his conclusions, his reports to the community, always tentative and subject to correction and improvement. “Science” is not a finished product with its label, packaging and price.

    “faith expresses, however poorly, a reality that includes the scientific experience in every sense,”

    I tried, but could not make any exact sense of this sentence. It sounds as if it is saying something terribly profound and terribly relevant, but I could not put my little mental finger on it. Again this language uses abstract words “faith,” “reality”, “the scientific experience” as if they represented well-defined objects. But those concepts are not objects, but mostly processes involving the complex interaction of human beings with the environment, with language and communication with other human beings.
    This misuse of abstractions is what makes such debates frustrating, because the concepts are objectified and treated as if they represented given, objective, entities. Any kind of mental gymnastics and legerdemain are then possible. And believers indulge this sport in their debates against non-believers.
    Some of the most magnificent examples can be found while reading the report on the various Councils that early Christians had to convene to try to “exactly” define what their main ideas were about. Without ever reaching a “definitive” wording that satisfied everybody.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      Thank you for posting this commentary on the debate. It was thoughtful and made an excellent ‘capper’ for it.

      I think you hit the nail on the head (or rather, you hit plenty of nails on their heads)
      Ultimately these debates, although thought provoking and entertaining aren’t are productive as, say, debating how much human activity causes global warming. The latter topic has enough concrete evidence that you don’t get as many responses starting with “But you missed my point” (although, that debate has other idiosyncrasies).

      Hitchens was right that no two faiths are the same – when you finally get down to articulating what people truly believe – but besides that, no two mindsets about religion are exactly the same. It takes a considerable amount of effort to articulate all of the assumptions and definitions – and for most of us, after that exhausting exercise we lack the will to actually get into the meat of the debate.

      Indeed, Miller & Hitchens seem to stop just about when it started getting interesting!

  2. bill wallace says:

    There are many arguments to be made against the idea of a personal god. The only I care about is this: what kind of a god made us as we are? Prone to thousands of disorders attributable to genes. In god’s image? HAHAHAHAHA!

    We are a very flawed product, unable to live without microbes and often unable to live with them. Not even properly built to walk upright.

    The suffering of mankind is another and all of you know about that one.

    My daughter thinks finding her cat was a true miracle. Yet millions of kids die of simple diarrhea every year. Miracles? Bah.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      We are only flawed if you make certain assumptions of our purpose.
      If you make different assumptions these short comings aren’t flaws
      at all.

      A Ferrari sports car is a very flawed way to move furniture – but
      on the other, hand it’s sure fun to drive.

  3. John Hayes says:

    I seem to recall reading Chris Hitchens’ obituary recently, yet there’s no acknowledgement of it in these last several pieces. Are you in denial, or (and this would be the height of irony) is he able to communicate from the “great beyond”?

    • Dr. Sidethink says:

      It is not a remote possibility that the debates were conducted some time before his death.

      Dr. S

    • Fatboy says:

      Hmm. I just assumed that Hitchens’ death was common knowledge, and that re-posting his articles was a tribute.

  4. Z Parzen says:

    These articles are more obfiscating than revealing
    Diffferent interpretations of god
    *The creator of the universe ala Genesis
    *A god that created many universes.
    *A person god that takes care of each individual
    *A god that promises imortality for ‘me’ if I am ‘good’ and hell if i am ‘bad’
    *A god that controls evolution
    *A vengeful god
    *A god that started things and is no longer interested, including in me.


    First these articles have to define what they mean by god

  5. BaronPike says:

    @Miller: “You dismiss a “mind” as first cause by invoking an infinite regression of minds—ironically unaware that your own view requires exactly that—an infinite regression of natural causes. A theist sees the logical problem here, but apparently you do not.”

    I see no problem with an infinite regression of causation – it beats the hell out of something ever having come from nothing. And to at least that extent, both of these debaters are wrong. Also both wrong about the nature of a plan, which where our lives are concerned, is a trial and error anticipation process of planning, and likely the same applies in some yet unknown way to the evolution of the universe.

  6. Jim Knapp says:

    The answer to the question is resounding “YES!” Science does make belief in God obsolete. if anyone wants to say they are a scientist and believe in any sort of diety they may certainly do so but they have to acknowledge they believe in something which is unscientific. Miller spent a good deal of time using the old rhetorical arguements for why his belief is OK and no time whatsoever stating any real evidence to support his hypothesis. The nonsense that a deity is the root of nature and thus stands above the need to provide evidence for same is as unscientific as you can get. That a man claiming to be a scientist is saying it is sad. Too bad Richard Dawkins (hope I got the name right, he wasn’t the guy on Family Feud was he?) didn’t get to chew Miller’s ideas to shreds.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      I am a scientist at a major University in California and I believe in
      *many* unscientific things – things with absolutely zero physical evidence.

      I believe in love, justice, honor, commitment, beauty, the satisfaction of accomplishment, the joy of solving a mystery … well I could go on and on.

      Here’s a shocker: I also believe that those unscientific things are far, far
      more important than more scientific things like Newton’s laws of motion,
      the Ideal gas law, and Maxwell’s equations. Scientific descriptions and
      explanations of natural phenomena are useful but they lack the power to
      motivate me to get to out of bed in the morning – or put my needs on
      hold for someone else’s sake.

      Also, we should never make the mistake of confusing science (the study
      of nature using certain methodologies) with reality. The two are *not*
      the same … in fact, a war movie is probably more like a real war than
      science is to reality – but then how would we know what the reality is?

      • Dr. Strangelove says:

        Of course you can believe anything you want. Yes even the unreal. So my answer is no, science does not make belief in god obsolete. Hitchens was trying to show the absurdity of theism. But that is irrelevant to the belief of the faithful. Nihilistic atheists believe in the absurdity of human existence. Why should the faithful be bothered with the absurdity of theism.

        Is there scientific evidence for god’s existence? That’s a different question. My answer to that is none. But that does not rule out its possibility. If god does exist, he is not as powerful and thoughtful as the gods of religion. He is more like the Vogons in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who destroyed earth to give way to a galactic highway. Capricious and indifferent to humanity. Science fiction and theology are both pure speculation. I think the former is more credible.

  7. Disappointed says:

    I was very disappointed at Christopher Hitchen’s style of writing. Especially in the first two responses, he made many personal jabs and snarky comments that should be beneath him. I was hoping to read an actual debate where they directly answered each others points in a logical manner, not a personal attack. I wasn’t impressed.

  8. David says:

    Those who believe in a god are smug in their knowledge because they believe they have sufficient evidence to prove the existence of a god. However, it is not the evidence, but the means by which the evidence is obtained, which is important, and clearly the methodology by which religious truth is found is faulty. First, the bible is regarded as an ultimate, infallible authority which needs no questioning, and those who do question it are guilty of blasphemy and thus dismissed. But truth ought to be able to withstand all scrutiny. Also, the confirmation bias at play is so blatant. Religious people choose stories which they believe bolster their claims, and utterly ignore contradictions. As a recent example, Tebow thanks his god for victory, but doesn’t blame his god for defeat. And what about a god who would allow pain, suffering, and crime? The common rebuttal is that a god could not interfere in human affairs without trampling on free will. I submit that humans do not have free will. The very first requirement for free will is to have the ability to make an informed decision about the most basic question: to be or not to be. Yet none of us made the choice to exist and to exist as a human being. And once we do exist as a human being, we are saddled with all kinds of instinctual drives, needs, and fears which necessarily exclude the expression of free will. The best we can hope for is to fight against such shackles. But many cannot fight and prefer to hide behind a comforting mirage of eternal life. Indeed, many who believe in a god actually counter atheist ideas with what to them seems a most reasonable question: “Wouldn’t you rather believe that there is something more than this life?” Science is not about what we would rather believe, and truth cares not about human desire.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      I’ve long felt that religion is an ideology of convenience rather than truth.

      Astrology is another convenient belief – studies have shown the popularity of Astrology correlates with times of uncertainty and stress (like religion). People turn to it to get (false) comfort and security. And even if it is baseless, comfort and security can reduce stress levels and make people happier and more successful.

      I used to rail against Astrology in my Astronomy class – since it is virtually a scam. But I realized that as long as people aren’t ‘betting the farm’ on it, it’s a fairly harmless scam (in fact, a paper in the AER showed that a belief in Astrology doesn’t even correlate negatively with science literacy). So I no longer try to kick away this crutch from my students – that age is painful enough without realizing that the Universe doesn’t care about you. (Besides, we all have our crutches and I’m not ready for anyone to take mine away).

      • Dr. Sidethink says:

        It’s not always ho-hum parlor game or a sociial opener.
        Folks who take Mantics Worldview seriously are inclined to make judgments of a harmful or unethical nature. (not restricted to Astrology by any means)

        An example ( perhaps extreme)…

        I knew a lady Carole C. in Denver.
        She was on public Assistance but would disconnect the phone the moment that Mercury went retrograde. (So she could not either refuse nor accept an offer of employment.
        You’re not supposed to make important lifestyle decisions during this time, ( nor even buy a different car)

        Relationships are frequently structured or avoided by astromomancers on the basis of Quadrature of “SUN” signs ignorantly ignoring such stuff as precession of equinoxes.
        Astrology is the last resort of the religiously desparate person.

        R.J. Pease

      • Dr. Strangelove says:

        When fanatics start killing in the name of religion, it is no longer just an ideology of convenience. Well it still is, depending on which side you are. This is not idle pessimism. History is full of holy wars. Christians, Muslims and Jews killed each other in the name of their gods. It is not that these people were just plain psychopaths (though that is also true). Their religions were also partly to blame for espousing the righteousness of killing.

        • john says:

          murders happen daily very few are based on any religion, and most that are, are done by fanatics that even the others in that religion dont condone.

          Murders happen becouse we are animals and until recently we got most of our food by hunting and killing our prey. Until those instincts are gone we will continue to kill each other and the only ones we have to blame our ourselves.

  9. Ted Fontenot says:

    It almost pains me to say it, since it might seem to be a concession to the merits of Miller’s argument, being a Dawkins-type militant atheist and all, but for a supposedly renowned debater Hitchens doesn’t come off well. Miller, OTOH, acquitted himself with aplomb and good humor, deflecting and deflating Hitchens insults and general acerbic tactical style rather expertly in the way it should be done—direct good-humored confrontation. Call someone on it when they pull that sort of smirky shit in a debate. Miller intelligently puts the best face that can be made for the anemic proposition he defends and promotes.

    I’m not really surprised, though. Miller is formidable, first because he is a first-rate communicator, very intelligent and unfailingly affable and remarkably well-prepared when it comes to these things. This has stood him in good. stead before: for instance, both at the Dover trial and in a panel debate on evolution v. intelligent design on the old William F. Buckley’s Firing Line show some 15 years ago that he took part in–indeed, where he single-handedly demolished the opposition, composed of Buckley, Michael Behe, some Berlinski guy, and maybe one other person I forget. But he was prepared and very focused. He stuck to the topic and he coolly and humorously handed them their collective head (especially Behe), all the while joking, laughing, and smiling. You’re not going to win a debate with him by trying to show he doesn’t know his science, and you’re not going to score points by trying to belittle him with cheap snarks—he’s much too self-assured to allow that to get to him. Jerry Coyne in his review of Miller’s book for The New Republic was much better than Hitchens. Too bad the New Republic and the Edge, where it was reproduced with plentiful commentary by other contributors there, don’t have Coyne’s entire essay. Miller’s reply to Coyne was weaker and more defensive—maybe like Hitchens here, it just wasn’t his day. But, of course, it was also weak because he’s got the handicap of defending the indefensible side of the argument. Still, he’s a good guy. He’s just wrong.

  10. Roo.Bookaroo says:

    Here is an old quote from Strabo that ties in well with Hitchens’s argument that it is impossible to remove the images of gods due to the primacy and immediacy of emotion over any reasoning process in the brain’s activity:

    “The multitudes are restrained from vice by the punishments the gods are said to inflict upon offenders, and by those terrors and threatenings which certain dreadful words and monstrous forms imprint upon their minds…For it is impossible to govern the crowd of women, and all the common rabble, by philosophical reasoning, and lead them to piety, holiness and virtue — but this must be done by superstition, or the fear of the gods, by means of fables and wonders; for the thunder, the aegis, the trident, the torches (of the Furies), the dragons, etc… are all fables, as is also all the ancient theology. These things the legislators used as scarecrows to terrify the childish multitude.”
    (Strabo, 64 BC – AD 24)

  11. john says:

    The real question in this is “why does it even matter?”

    Why argue over the question “Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete?”, when Athiests will never believe in any god and spiritual people will always believe that there is at least one god.

    No matter what evidence you put in front of ether, they will both they will both try to tear it down. If the religious people are unable to tear down the evidence in front of them they will see it as a test of their faith. On the other hand athiests will simply see any evidence they cant disprove as a speed bumb.

    So no matter what evidence ether side has it will not be accepted by the other. Science cant be used to disprove the existence of god, becouse science is an invention of man and is therefore flawed, therefore the only way that any argument on this subject could be settled is if god does exist and decides to reveal himself in a way that leaves no doubt in anyones mind that he is god.

  12. Ted Fontenot says:

    It matters, for one reason, because it has political ramifications.

  13. P.A. Wahid says:

    God is not something to debate over to get at the truth. If scientists can claim they have found out how universe evolved without Creator, none will believe it because it is impossible to prove scientifically. Scientific community may claim many such things but to prove it is not possible. But now scientists are unwittingly proving the existence of God. The case in point is phenomenon of life. Life can only be understood and defined in conjunction with Scripture. The failure of experiments to create life from non-life proves the validity of Scriptural revelations of nonmaterial nature of life, which in turn proves God. And it is through atheist scientists God proves His existence scientifically. What an irony!!
    Although biology is the science of life, biologists have not yet been able to define “life”. Although molecular gene is the foundational atom of modern biology, the “gene” also remains undefined. Likewise “species” is the foundation of evolutionary biology, but evolutionists (including Darwin) have not been able to define “species” yet. It is without knowing these, biology is ‘advancing’. Is biology on the right track? If it is, why we are unable to get clear understanding of these things in spite of substantial research already done in biology? We do not pause to ponder over this issue. It is high time we at least doubted something is fundamentally wrong in biology.
    It is without knowing what “life” is, we are trying to create life. The basic reason why we cannot define or understand the phenomenon of life is the erroneous concept of biological information. Molecular gene (genome) concept is wrong. Biological program responsible for life and the functioning of an organism is not encoded by a chemical molecule (DNA). By treating DNA as the molecule of life, we are superimposing biological information over chemical information. This implies that DNA is the only molecule in the whole universe that carries biological information over and above chemical information. This is wrong. The molecular gene concept is therefore flawed and is scientifically untenable. It is violation of chemical principles. The Scriptures lend a helping hand to resolve the issue. Just because the help comes from Scriptures, we should not reject it. That is unscientific. But if the Scriptural revelation cannot be proved scientifically we can reject it. The Quran and Bible reveal that life is nonmaterial phenomenon validating the original proposal of ‘nonphysical gene’ by Wilhelm Johannsen in 1909. He warned against two things while proposing the gene concept; one is against treating gene as material entity, and the other is against assigning gene for particular character. Both these warnings have been since proved correct.
    The nonphysical biological information can be conceived on the lines of computer model of the organism. Phenomena of life and death can be defined and explained in the light of the Quranic revelation based on the computer model of organism. The Quran informs that God created Adam by “breathing rooh into a clay model of man” (Q. 15:28-29). The term nafs is also used in place of rooh in the Quran (Q. 4:1). On ‘breathing of rooh’, the clay model (nonliving matter) sprang to life. The Bible tells us the same story but uses the phrase “breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). Both these sources thus reveal the cause of life is something nonphysical. The Scriptural revelations are metaphors, which can be explained based on computer model of organism. In the computer model, the chemical structures (including DNA) from cells through tissues to organs constitute hardware of the organism. The nonphysical “rooh” is the biosoftware of organism. The Scriptural revelations (“breathing of rooh” or “breathing of life” into the clay model of man) can be explained as installation of biosoftware in the nonliving clay model. Upon installation (‘breathing’) of the “rooh”, the clay model sprang to life much like a computer springs to “life” on installing software in it. Our computer software is also nonphysical although it requires a physical medium (disk) for storage. Similarly biosoftware also requires a physical medium for its storage. The hard disk of organism is chromosome. The invisible software is the soul of the computer as the rooh is the soul of an organism. The Quran further reveals that it is the removal (deletion) of nafs that results in death (Q. 6:93). Deletion of software from our computer also brings it to a halt. A dead body is therefore like a computer without software. Based on this reasoning, life can be defined as the manifestation of execution of divine biosoftware in the body cells, and death as the result of its deletion from the body. Computers, robots, etc., which run on man-made software, can be considered as forms of ‘artificial life’. Biologists are currently pursuing a chemical trail to find out the source of biological information. A summary of my research in this area has been published in J. Software Engineering and Applications 3(7):728-735 (2010).
    The Scriptural assertion of nonmaterial basis of life is falsifiable and hence it is as good as scientific theory. It predicts it will never be possible to create life from non-life through chemical synthesis without using a living cell or organism at any stage of the process. It also predicts that a dead cell (or a dead body) cannot be restored to life chemically. In fact a dead cell has all the material structures including DNA intact at death. But yet the cell doesn’t show any sign of life. This is clear proof that a chemical structure (material) does not encode biological program. Chemical structure encodes only chemical information. All the experiments so far conducted to create life from non-life have failed so far. Going by the Scriptures, future experiments in this line will also fail. This proves two things scientifically; one is God exists, and the other is molecular gene concept is wrong.
    A dead cell is natural equivalent of prosthetic cell as it has all the material structures including genome except life. Instead of chemically synthesizing genome or cell from scratch, a more feasible proposition is to use dead cell for creation of life. If it can be shown that life can be brought back to a dead cell by purely chemical means (without involving a living cell or organism at any stage during the process), that will prove the material basis of life and also nonexistence of God. For detailed discussion please see particularly posts 4 and 5 at my blog
    Creating changes in organism through genetic manipulation is not creation of life. Nature herself shows such diversity within species. In computer model of organism, DNA technology is biohardware technology and not biosoftware technology. Employing DNA technology, biologists are unwittingly trying to find hardware solution for software problem.

  14. G DOLAN says:


    So it follows that IF any biological entity is created using only naturally occurring chemicals and non-artificial processes you will accept the non- existence of god?
    You will I think be in a minority of one amongst fundamental believers…and I suspect you may not have to wait as long as you may imagine.

  15. P.A. Wahid says:

    If life could be created from nonlife using pure chemicals and through chemical synthesis without involving a living cell or organism at any stage of the process, that would be the end of theism. The condition that living cell or organism should in no way be involved in the process directly or indirectly is to be strictly adhered to. To create life from chemical molecules through chemical reactions is impossible. When biologists admit failure, that will be the end of atheism and biology. The molecular gene (genome) concept will remain as the costliest and most misleading blunder ever to commit in the history of science. But the question is when will biologists realize it is impossible to create life from nonlife and quit?

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