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Monday, July 10, 2006

Faith@science:Theologian debunks atheist's god

Have you noticed a double standard in the way science issues that concern people of faith are addressed in the public square? Phillip Johnson, author of The Wedge of Truth , calls this double standard the Two-Platoon Strategy, borrowing the term from American football. He uses the evolution–intelligent design controversy as his example, but the strategy applies to many other issues as well, including human embryonic stem cell research.

Here's how it works: When leading evolutionary biologists feel free to say what they really believe, they make clear that God is dead, using their authority in science to silence any dissent from religious believers. That's Platoon One. But when Christians protest that science educators are teaching an atheistic worldview, not science as such, the defensive platoon appears. Then come the "spin-doctored reassurances saying that many scientists are religious (in some sense), that science does not claim to have proved that God does not exist (but merely that he does not affect the natural world), and that science and religion are separate realms which should never be mixed (unless it is the materialists who are doing the mixing)." Having placated the foolish masses, the defensive platoon leaves and the offensive platoon goes right back to business attacking the theistic worldview.
McGrath shows that, actually, very little science underlies Dawkins' claims
Thanks to the Internet, more and more of the foolish masses can find out what is really happening for once, so this trick isnt working so well any more. But identifying a problem isn't the same thing as providing an answer. Fortunately, a just-published book may help us.

Alister McGrath, Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, is a world-renowned theologian who also holds a PhD in molecular biophysics. So he is well qualified to discuss faith and science. In Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life, he takes aim at fellow Oxford professor Richard Dawkins, the world’s most famous Darwinist. Dawkins has long used Darwinian evolution as a platform for promoting atheism.

McGrath's attack is devastating because he aims at the science that underlies Dawkins' claims for atheism. McGrath shows that, actually, very little science underlies Dawkins' claims.

Here are just a few examples:

- Dawkins' hero is Charles Darwin who, he says, enabled him to feel fulfilled as an atheist. But Darwin himself wasn't an atheist. He was an agnostic who couldn't quite be an atheist because the evidence didn’t really support it. Dawkins, by contrast, blunders on, heedless of the roar of contrary evidence.

- Dawkins insists that faith means belief without evidence. But no Christian theologian actually teaches that. So most of his attacks are simply irrelevant.

- Dawkins claims that religion is bad for you. But the vast majority of studies on the subject demonstrate that it is good for you. Dawkins' only response is that we must choose between health and truth. But how likely is it that, in a reality-based universe like ours, the things that make for health are untrue?

Interestingly, Proverbs 3 set out, thousands of years ago, the practical benefits of following the commands of God: " ... they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity" (v2); "This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones." (v8) If that’s all false why has it been demonstrated to work so consistently?
Dawkins insists that faith means belief without evidence. But no Christian theologian actually teaches that. So most of his attacks are simply irrelevant.

McGrath’s book comes at an interesting time. A world famous British philosopher, who has championed atheism for more than fifty years, now believes that there is a God … on account of intelligent design theory.

Antony Flew, who became an atheist at 15, used to debate the great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis in the 1950s, which shows you how far back he goes. (Lewis died in 1963.)

So why did Flew change his mind? He says that the investigation of DNA “has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved.” Notice, we are talking here about evidence that life forms are designed. We are not talking about stuff you can know only by faith. What convinced Flew was evidence from science, not faith.

If you are interested in faith and science issues, I would recommend that you try to get hold of Dawkins' God. Let's hope Flew has one more book in him too.

(Note: This column originally appeared in Canada's interdenominational biweekly ChristianWeek, January 21, 2005.) If you would like to read more columns like this, look for Faith@Science, an award-winning collection of Denyse O'Leary's columns on faith and science issues.
Are you looking for one of the following stories?

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove ?

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

O’Leary’s comments on Francis Beckwith, a Dembski associate, being denied tenure at Baylor.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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