Friday, August 09, 2013

Accepting Complexity

A few days ago we had a visit from the Johavah’s Witnesses. We glanced out the window and didn’t recognize the van. When I saw them get out I guessed pretty quickly who they were and excitedly put on my shoes. By the time I got out to the car they were already in conversation with Kaleesha. She didn’t see me approach from behind. She was being very polite, letting them talk for quite an extended period. I wasn’t sure if she was going to quietly listen and let them leave or confront them. I piped up from behind when they produced an article titled “Should you trust religion?”

“Oh, no, we’re atheists.” I wasn’t interested in anything but being blunt and to the point. I’m happy to engage with them but it will be on my terms if they’ve come to my house. So, I happily let that cat out of the bag. I won’t really bother recounting the conversation as they didn’t have much to offer. My basic suggestion was that we relied on and believed in science and that the Universe was plenty amazing without an imaginary god. But they did leave a few things and agreed to come back next week for more conversation.

So, what was it they left? Well, let me sum it up as useless. Not that I’d expect anything of use from them. One of the “publications” was about science: “The Origin of Life: Five Questions Worth Asking”. Essentially, it can easily be summed up as this: Life and the Universe are far too complex to be anything but the result of intelligent design. That’s it, just their assertion. We’re supposed to take their word. While they actually do a pretty commendable job of introducing some actual science, giving credit and acknowledgement (in a minimal way) to the progress made by various fields of science, they end each section with a sort of “God of the Gaps” argument. Essentially, they’ve taken some big steps backwards from progress made 60 years ago. At least according to this humble non-believer. During World War II German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:
“…how wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know.”
Charles Alfred Coulson, in his 1955 book Science and Christian Belief wrote:
“There is no ‘God of the gaps’ to take over at those strategic places where science fails; and the reason is that gaps of this sort have the unpreventable habit of shrinking.”
The problem is that science continues the march onward, making fantastic progress across the many fields. From microbiology to astrophysics, the gaps in data, the gaps in knowledge, are being closed at an amazing rate. The writing on the wall. God is no longer needed and is being handed his hat. Thanks but no thanks, we can use the scientific method to explore and understand the Universe.

Some of them seem to think that the meager offerings of the Bible are sufficient but it is far from that. It is a religious document written over a thousand years ago that does not deal with a scientific exploration of the Universe. It explains nothing. Our visitors the other day seemed to think that they could point to a passage here and there to somehow prove the Bible’s accuracy. Nevermind the contradictions that exist, a passage here and there do little to explain the mysteries that the scientific method has been used with such efficacy to explain.
“The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true.” – Carl Sagan
Of course science is just a method, a tool used by humans to learn. But we recognize that mistakes can be made and the method is design to confront the mistakes. Nothing in science is sacred or above challenge. New data can confirm our understanding or might be used to challenge it. That is the beauty, resiliance and utility of science and what makes it such a valuable tool.

Addendum: As planned, we were revisited by the JW folks and had a nice conversation. I expect it was pointless but who can predict. To put it simply I shared with them everything I’ve written here. Whether they will consider my thoughts and criticisms or not I do not know.

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