Tuesday, 3 February 2015

God’s creation stands to reason, but atheism requires leap of faith?

Another weak and unconvincing defence of God in Greg Sheridan's forum article God’s creation stands to reason, but atheism requires leap of faith. Sheridan writes:
Eric Metaxas tells us in a fascinating article that the existence of intelligent life as we know it is astonishingly unlikely without God. The universe looks like a put-up job, almost impossible to arrive at by chance. 
Metaxas says if even one of the four basic forces — gravity, electromagnetic force and the strong and weak nuclear forces — had been fractionally different, there would not even be a universe. Then there is the astonishing number of factors necessary to fluke a pro-life environment such as Earth. You even need a big neighbour such as Jupiter to divert the asteroids.
A reference to Metaxas and his anthropic argument about the four basic forces would have been useful. I suppose you’re expected to know Metaxas or just Google him. And haven’t I heard this argument somewhere before? Isn't it just the Anthropic Principle? A useful reference, also with a religious bias, would be The Anthropic Cosmological Principle by Barrow and Tipler (1988).
Therefore, logically, Metaxas argues, it’s much more likely that God created the universe than that it just happened along by chance.
Really? How do you compute the likelihood of (a) God, and one creating the universe? Sheridan mentions and then dismisses the anti-deist argument, confined to a multiverse viewpoint, with the following undergraduate nonsense:
No, no, say the anti-deists. We live in a multiverse with an infinite number of universes coming and going, of which we are just a lucky one. That of course may be true. But it may equally be true that Pluto is made of green cheese. There is an equal amount of evidence — that is to say none — that Pluto is made of green cheese and that we inhabit one of an infinite number of multiverses.
Sheridan writes:
Here is the real nub. Atheism requires at least as much religious faith as religion. Agnosticism, meaning I just don’t know, operates within the limits of rationality. But atheism, the confident assertion that there is no God, requires a leap of faith, of commitment, which is an act of the will, not the intellect.
This is wrong on several levels. Rationality only requires one to believe in the scientific principle — not to believe in things that cannot be proven to exist. Otherwise fairies and the flying spaghetti monster have the same status as God.
I believe you can get fairly well to the proposition that God exists and created the universe from reason alone.
And that, in a sentence, is the essential problem with Sheridan's viewpoint. What he believes is false.
Metaxas is taking us to the old Christian insight of discovering God through design. This is a suggestive argument. It’s a poem, not a maths equation.
No, it's not even a poem, or a compelling suggestive argument. It's just lazy thinking.
That the vast majority of human beings who live today, and who have ever lived, believe in God is also suggestive.
Suggestive of what? Dawkins has a view on this in The God Delusion.
Modern science is arrogant to think its claims and assumptions have liberated humanity from the need for God. It was perfectly open to ancient Greeks or Romans, or to ancient Chinese too for that matter, to come to the view that while there was plenty about nature they didn’t understand, there was no God. The modern discoveries of science make no difference to this question at all.
Actually they do. Anglican clerics in the 18th Century were smart enough — many were trained in both Science (or Natural Philosophy) and Theology — to see the danger and to try to avoid the god of the gaps. The condemnation of Galileo in 1633 — the Galileo affair — which continued up to this Century, shows just how much the Catholic Church is afraid of science.
But there are a few things that it is reasonable to infer from the experience of humanity. One of our fondest fantasies — time travel — is surely not real. Where’s my evidence? No one from the future has come to visit us.
Time travel to the future is obviously and clearly real! Time travel to the past is problematic.
Equally, if there truly are billions of habitable planets, and most of them presumably have evolved intelligent life, isn’t it strange that none of them — some presumably far ahead of us in technology — has developed a way of communicating with us?
Why does Sheridan presume intelligent life has evolved so widely. Also, does he have any idea of the scale of the universe? Our galaxy is 50,000 light years across and so communication, just across our galaxy, is problematic.
The inheritors of Victorian anti-deism mock the idea that God could have taken billions of years to evolve intelligent life and created such a vast galaxy for us even though we inhabit only one tiny planet in one tiny corner of it.
What? Sheridan needs to do some more reading. And it would be good if this nonsense were not published, uncritically, in our National Newspaper.
Everything one can imagine of God suggests that it would be utterly characteristic of him to spend billions of years to create for us this garden. And if we only need one small part of the garden, what’s wrong with that? Christianity involves some version of intelligent design, because God, as Christians believe, created humanity in his own image. That’s an interference with evolution. The faux science brigade go from denying the possibility of God’s existence to knowing for sure how his mind would work if he did exist. 
To get a nice alternative viewpoint on Sheridan's Victorian God, listen to Stephen Fry.
If a thing is incredibly unlikely, such as intelligent life coming about by chance, that doesn’t prove it is absolutely impossible.
Actually, the simple fact that we exist — in the absence of proof of God — does prove it's possible. However, shallow thinking, like in this column by Sheridan, reminds me of the Monty Python song, which goes: "... and pray that there's intelligent life somewhere out in space because there's bugger all down here on Earth."
It’s perfectly reasonable to believe in God.
How does Sheridan consider that this follows from the above clause, or from anything he's written here. So, no, it is not perfectly reasonable to believe in God.
Nothing in the shape of the universe seriously discourages that belief. But when science overreaches into metaphysics, it looks silly.
Actually it's Sheridan that looks silly. I'd like to say that he should stick to Foreign Affairs, but there, too, he writes a lot of nonsense.

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