Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Dallas Willard searches for discussion

Dallas Willard searches for discussion

For a deadlock to be broken, one must find a key. Willard’s column struck me as well thought out and managed to hit some pressure points on my recent thinking and reading. While I can comprehend the frustration that scientists and other such intellectuals exhibit when religious people waffle on about God and creation. It is unfair to then degrade the religious as intellectually inferior and presume the permanent infantilism of their beliefs. A common thought pattern among many scientists reasons that once an individual has reached a certain tier in their academic thinking, they begin to dismiss the existence of God in favour of a more robust and clearly superior, scientific belief.

Richard Dawkins dismisses the belief in a God-created earth on one of these seemingly robust reasons. In the process of invoking a God in creation, one must automatically explain further the origin of this God and, if need be, what created it and so on. This does not, however, make question of the existence of a God answered.

For Dawkins, his belief in a God like this is on par with the alleged absurdity of believing in Him in the first place. To even begin to view God in our dimension strips all the omni attributes God is believed to possess, and I suppose make Him able to be tested.

His reasoning is flawed if this God he talks about exists outside our limited understanding of time, space, and physics; three of sciences most intriguing and far-from-understood fields and what Dawkins claims to understand in making such a comment.

Even Dawkins claims that a convincing scientific test will never be ready to firmly prove or disprove the existence of God. This is where Dallas Willard’s analogy of the professor who will never be asked to demonstrate how the resurrection of Christ is inconsistent with physics, completes my correlation. The professor can continue to disregard the resurrection as superstition and fairy-tale because he will never have the means to test it scientifically. It is easy to make the conclusion that such a miracle could not have occurred, if there is no way to test it. Many scientists stand here, and feel very comfortable in their stance. Perhaps the questioning student failed to question the professor further, not because he was too “gracious or stunned” as Willard hypothesises, but maybe because he had some previous experience of an atheistic scientists tendency to skip nimbly around a question and answer in a profoundly ambiguous way. Perhaps the student thought better of making himself look like a fool to a smug, experienced professor. Mark Strom (Director of the Bible College of New Zealand) said over the weekend that, “a good question can be better than an answer” and many a good question has been the answer.

Willard yearns for a place in which people of scientific and religious thought can discuss healthily, the truth. He says with conviction, “To be genuinely open to truth and able to seek it effectively is surely one of the greatest human attainments”, and there is resounding agreement, apparently, from both sides of the discussion spectrum. Dawkins for instance displays a genuine desire for finding the truth and applying it to the human condition. Many theologians desire to decipher the Bible and find the truth. Both display a unifying hunger for exploration and discovery.

Perchance the reason the professor, and indeed Dawkins, cling so tightly to the Theory of Evolution is it’s resounding logic and clear beginning from which they themselves, alongside fish, bacteria and laughter came into being. The perceived logic and cohesion rests on the same foundations of faith and belief that is required of a person who believes in a God. Far be it from be to say that both are wrong, but I feel that there is a common ground where both scientist and theologians can work together. This common ground may just require the dismissal, in the professional sector at least, of both scientific and religious beliefs. For in invoking either God or Natural Selection in a communication is a sure-fire method to end a decent conversation attempt. Willard may just be thinking of the same ideal.

Willard states, “Unfortunately, religion frequently invokes its own non‑explanations as a means of holding its ground. Usually these involve the idea that God's power is so great that we can say with reference to anything simply that He did it and thus have an explanation that protects us. There's no need to look further or think further.”

Willard points out this common thought progression amongst some secular and atheistic scientists. They foresee that Intelligent Design, if applied, will somehow stifle scientific exploration and strangle human advance by simply stating upon a new discovery that, “God did it”. This is an absurd reason to dismiss ID. ID gives us an end answer and will allow us to work backward, just the way scientists are presently, to find just how God made it and apply it to the universe or a patient. This method simply places an ending to an otherwise totally wide open discovery that could be ripe for exploitation (for instance, the prolific belief that aliens exist and “seeded” us here on earth). ID is by no means a fool-proof theory and should not be used in its current form. However, just like evolution, it should be subject to constant modification and adjustment as science advances its knowledge of the universe. But to dismiss it on such un-founded claims is counter-productive.

Willard’s dissection of the personality is fantastic. No-one disagrees that personality exists, but, there is as yet no physical test to prove that it does exist. This, by no means, suggests that we should dismiss a person’s personality as his faith that it exists. Such a theory would be jeered and called a lunacy.

Willard states that until “…people devote themselves to the humble examination of facts and evidence rather than to defending their positions” there will be no fair or balanced discussion on how to conduct science. Willard rightly attributes to this hoped-for phenomenon a God-like, indeed Christ-like, potential for humanities conversation and the duty for us to bring it about. All too often are scientists and theologians caught in their belief structure through either fear of less government subsidy (global-warming anyone?) or a loss of congregational subsidy. Until the two sides are capable of discussing their views over a good cup of coffee, humanity will be stuck in persistent battling between intellectual minds each with his agenda. Such battling will not see the potential collaboration of intelligentsias on both sides for a long time yet.

I would only agree with Willard up until the point he alludes that they reason we should succeed in this cohesion is the ulterior motive of spreading a belief in Christ amongst the academic elite. This would be counter-productive and only force the recurrence of division. Productive conduct would be the honest exploration for a common ground.

I found a fantastic line written by a viewer of a Richard Dawkins interview on YouTube the other day, it read, “Let's face it -- thinking takes energy, and living things try to conserve energy. Religion is a handy way to save energy, even if it's wrong”.

I have been challenged to think about my beliefs the way I never have done before, and I have felt all the more rewarded for the process. Even if it takes a little bit more energy, I feel that critical thinking is a skill my generation has, for the most part, lost and needs desperately to regain. Reading Willard and other such opinions is a good place to start.

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