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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sightings: Atheists and theistic evolutionists sip spring water on a panel together, and ...

I am so glad that Lawrence M. Krauss, cosmologist and director of the Origins Initiative at Arizona State University, exists, so we don't have to invent him.

He and I turned out to share a taste for talking about religion and about journalism, which I discovered during his evening address at the Canadian Science Writers' convention in Sudbury in May. Most recently, in "God and Science don't mix" for the Wall Street Journal (June 26, 2009), he advanced the view that "A scientist can be a believer. But professionally, at least, he can't act like one." Nonetheless, he insists,
... while scientific rationality does not require atheism, it is by no means irrational to use it as the basis for arguing against the existence of God, and thus to conclude that claimed miracles like the virgin birth are incompatible with our scientific understanding of nature.
However, I bet he doesn't have nearly the same sympathy for using facts of science to demonstrate the existence of God, as astronomer Hugh Ross does. A man of science cannot afford to be that broad-minded, after all, ... but I digress.

But now, here's something really interesting: Krauss relates that he was on a "Science, Faith, Religion" panel at the World Science Festival in New York City ( June 13, 2009). As an atheist, he was paired with philosopher Colin McGinn. On the other side were "devoutly Catholic" biologist Ken Miller and Vatican astronomer Brother Guy Consolmagno, with ABC's Bill Blakemore moderating. Krauss raised the question of the virgin birth of Jesus. He recalls,
When I confronted my two Catholic colleagues on the panel with the apparent miracle of the virgin birth and asked how they could reconcile this with basic biology, I was ultimately told that perhaps this biblical claim merely meant to emphasize what an important event the birth was. Neither came to the explicit defense of what is undeniably one of the central tenets of Catholic theology.
That's interesting. Because I was myself given to understand through discreet private sources that both men were devout Catholics.

Personally, I don't see the virgin birth of Jesus as much of an issue for science because it is regarded in the Christian tradition as an explicit act of God, apart from the ordinary workings of nature. So there is nothing to study and never will be.

Now, if you know for sure that there is no God, you know it didn't happen. If you know there is a God but are quite certain that he "wouldn't do things that way," you also know it didn't happen - though you are on less firm ground, more or less inventing your own modernist version of Christianity.

Dr. Krauss posts at Uncommon Descent now and then, and perhaps Ken Miller and Guy Consolmagno might also sign in and clarify their views. The latter two are, after all, important theistic evolutionists. With the appointment of near-theistic evolutionist Francis Collins, with his unusual views on the uniqueness of human life, to head of NIH, it might be a good idea to see how closely these guys map the mind space of the people they hope will listen to them.

Note: Over at Uncommon Descent, nullasalus warns that, based on an attendee's account, Krauss may have been trying to set the other panellists up, asking for a "naturalistic" account of the virgin birth, which is explicitly not available. As I say here, I hope they clarified that matter.

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