20 voices of belief

August 9, 2011 • 10:06 am

To complement neurosurgeon Jonathan T. Pararajasingham’s videos of 100 academics explaining their atheism, he’s also made a 25-minute video of 20 academics and theologians explaining why they believe in god.  My comment on each speaker follows his name (they’re all men).

Here’s Pararajasingham’s explanation of the video and list of speakers:

It is easy to find examples of how religious thinking among lay or fundamentalist Christians can result in profoundly irrational ideas. But the evidence that reason is abandoned in Christianity equally comes from the mouths of “sophisticated” theologians, leaders, scholars and spokespersons practising it.

Speakers in order of appearance:

  1. Professor George Coyne, Astronomer, Vatican Observatory.  Not a relative! Doesn’t believe in most miracles except for the virgin birth and the resurrection.  He’s embarrassed to believe in that stuff as a scientist, but then maintains that he’s “c0nsistent.”
  2. Robin Collins, Professor of Philosophy.  Says that evil is part of God’s plan because it’s an inevitable byproduct of God-given free will.
  3. Dr Benjamin Carson, Paediatric Neurosurgeon. Doesn’t believe in evolution, and you’ll find his reason hilarious.
  4. John Lennox, Oxford Professor of Mathematics. Dawkins presses him hard to pinpoint when in human evolution the primates became “people.” He squirms. And this guy is an Oxford professor!
  5. Francis Collins, National Human Genome Research Institute Director. What can I say? He admits that he accepts God-created miracles, but doesn’t say which ones. In a panel discussion, he admits that his faith involves a suspension of rationality, and then says that he’s unwilling to deny the existence of Satan!
  6. John Polkinghorne, Cambridge Professor of Mathematical Physics.  “God is both connected with time and also outside time. That’s puzzling and difficult to work out, but I think it’s absolutely essential.”  He goes on to spew more deepities.
  7. JP Moreland, Professor of Philosophy, Biola University. “God is an individual person and angels are finite persons.”
  8. William Dembski, Research Professor of Philosophy. I can’t figure out what he’s trying to say about theodicy, but it involves God going back and changing the past to create the Fall, and God giving us vipers to serve as metaphors for the evil in our hearts.
  9. Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. OMG.  Miracles are not suspensions of the laws of nature, but “nature living up to its own depths.” Dawkins is too charitable here, giving the good Archbishop an out by suggesting that he’s using “poetic language.”  I never understand those atheists who see this man as a friend.
  10. Dinesh D’Souza, Hoover Research Fellow, Stanford. Claims that God instilled the soul into humans about 5,000 years ago, when all of a sudden there was an efflorescence of culture and the wheel was invented. Says that his faith was affirmed when he stopped letting his brain get in the way.
  11. Dr Ravi Zacharias, Renowned Christian Apologist. Tells gay people to “renounce their dispositions for the sake of Christ.”
  12. Brian Leftow, Oxford Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion. If you can figure out what he’s trying to say, please enlighten me!
  13. Dr William Lane Craig, Renowned Apologist and Philosopher. Laments the futility of human effort in light of the impending heat death of the Earth.
  14. Nicholas Saunders, Science and Religion Scholar, Cambridge. Argues that, in quantum mechanics, it could be God who makes probabilistic events actually occur.  You can’t prove it, but he says you can’t disprove it, either.
  15. NT Wright, Leading New Testament Scholar. Claims that the existence of males and females is not an accidental genetic quirk, but is the direct result of God’s plan.  And if you think that makes the Bible homophobic, well, you have to stand on some moral high ground.
  16. Alvin Plantinga, Notre Dame Professor of Philosophy. For a world to have the Incarnation and atonement, there has to be not just evil, but a lot of it.
  17. Alistair McGrath, Oxford Professor of Historical Theology. Dawkins asks him why McGrath claims that God doesn’t intervene in human affairs, but that God does intervene sometimes to save lives.  His answer is perhaps the greatest example of bafflegab in the whole video.
  18. Freeman Dyson, Physicist, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. Says that an electron and atom have “rudimentary consciousness;” implies that quantum mechanics has something to do with human consciousness.  Says his God is part of the universe, evolves with the universe, and has no idea what’s going to happen.
  19. RJ Berry, Professor of Genetics, University College London. Explains that we couldn’t be physically descended from Adam and Eve, but we could be spiritually descended from them (whoever they are). In one instant we became Homo divinus.
  20. Denys Turner, Yale Professor of Historical Theology. Espouses negative theology, in which “one doesn’t know what you’re talking about.”  He says that that, in fact, is what theology is about.  Sounds pretty much right to me.

137 thoughts on “20 voices of belief

  1. John Polkinghorne, Cambridge Professor of Mathematical Physics. ”God is both connected with time and also outside time. That’s puzzling and difficult to work out, but I think it’s absolutely essential.”

    He considers it essential because he will not give up his precondition that God exists. Intellectual dishonesty.

    1. To Mr Polkinghorne

      The puzzle and difficulty comes from you adoptign a position a priori and then having to work backwards to justify it in the face of numerous intersecting threads contradictory evidentiary threads. It’s akin to, say, a professor of mathematics thinking that it’s absolutely essential for 8 to be a prime number, then spending the rest of his life attempting to prove it, ignoring everything all his peers are discovering about the number 8.

      Hint: save yourself some puzzling. Do not, in the first instance, assume to be true something that you’d LIKE to be true or have been TOLD is true your whole life. Work out whether it IS true, then proceed.

      Does this really need to be pointed out to a sodding Cambridge professor?

      Oy vey.


    1. No one is compelling you to be here. If you don’t like what you see, you’re free to move onto another site.

  2. Dinesh D’Souza is no longer a fellow at the Hoover Institute. If he still claims that he is then he’s lying. Just go to the Hoover Institute web page and search for his name in their list of fellows. You won’t find it.

        1. He should really see Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The earliest paintings in Chauvet Cave have been dated to 32,000 BP.

          Obviously, he’ll just push back the date of soul implantation to whenever he likes.

          1. Not to mention that the oldest evidence we have regarding human ritual practices is that even Neanderthals appear to have developed funerary customs. That, and observance of the passage of the seasons appear to be the wellspring of human ceremonial practice.

          2. Maybe Philip Pullman was on to something in the His Dark Materials series. The dating of Chauvet would correspond with the chronology of the novels. Unfortunately, if that were true that would mean Freeman Dyson was correct about a QM/consciousness connection (“Dust” in the novels). It would also mean that Gawd is not the Creator but a fragile old poser.

            Theology is so confusing, but if it means I get my own daemon and ride an Armored Bear, well…

        2. Instinctively, I also initially had a feeling of bemusement. And then I realized that, just as Bernard points out, the actual facts don’t really matter to him, or his argument. It’s still annoying, though.

    1. I think that non-local hidden variable theories have not been ruled out, although local hidden variable theories have been effectively killed by the experiments of Alain Aspect.

      In the radio debate between Russell and Copleston about the existence of God, Copleston made a remark that sounded a bit like the same argument used by Saunders.

    2. It depends on how seriously you take special relativity, which is what Bell test experiments such as Aspect’s tests. You can insert imaginary “gaps”, which unfortunately is a good analogy here. I have learned that one of the early driving forces that raised a generation of researchers in this field is Anton Zeilinger, influential and award winning “ member of the board of advisors of the John Templeton Foundation” and of course a Templeton grant winner.

      Zeilinger has consistently promoted a gap for quantum woo throughout his carrier, for reasons of his own. “Mindful of the practical applications of his research for the processing and transmission of information, including quantum teleportation, quantum cryptography, and quantum computing, Dr. Zeilinger is also intrigued by the epistemological implications of quantum physics.

      He has met with spiritual leaders, including the Dalai Lama and the late Cardinal Franz Koenig, to discuss epistemological and conceptual issues and has challenged his scientific colleagues to consider which notions appearing distinct and even opposed today will turn out to be so for future generations.”

      There are quantum mechanical theories that outright rejects that gap, such as the realistic Many World Theory that Carroll and many other theoretical physicists (Deutsch, Tegmark, et cetera) promotes. There observables have no existence before they are observed, so no gap for non-local quantum woo and no non-local variables.

      This is the way of many religious organizations. Having members on key positions may frustrate the Enlightenment effort for generations. Collins, anyone?

    3. Sorry, I meant my previous comment as a response to both Rob and llwddythlw.

      Also, I forgot to mention that with or without “gap minders” larger systems of more than 2 entangled particles have been theoretically shown to obey special relativity. At least some cases of 3 particles.*

      The significance is that those systems are not necessarily localized in spacetime, hence closing the gap between hidden local and non-local variables that way.

      * This was so long ago, that I would be hard pressed to come up with a reference. Maybe others know of these results and have such?

      1. So, does this not rule out local hidden variable theories but still leave the door open for non-local theories?

    4. Nicholas Saunders: in quantum mechanics, it could be God who makes probabilistic events actually occur.

      No, at least if you want an explanation for the fundamental forces. People who raise the possibility of god or hidden variables never mention this glaring problem. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

      Bohmian mechanics does not account for phenomena such as particle creation and annihilation characteristic of quantum field theory. This is not an objection to Bohmian mechanics but merely a recognition that quantum field theory explains a great deal more than does nonrelativistic quantum mechanics, whether in orthodox or Bohmian form.

      Feynman addresses the emotional block that many have in accepting the fact of quantum mechanical laws here, at 3:27:

  3. Didn’t Freeman Dyson used to hang around with Feynman? If so, apparently none of Feynman’s logic and common sense rubbed off. Too bad. Maybe he should have taken bongo lessons instead. At least he could say that he learned something from the great man.

    1. Dyson is a catholic atheist I think. I saw this interview on the atheism tapes which didnt interview any believers to my knowledge. I suspect he is trying to get at the death of god. not sure as I have not read his work.

      1. Dyson is the one guy whom I really don’t get. A man who worked with Wheeler and Feynman and a lot of the important physics of the past half century and still buys into this stuff Of course he’s also a global warming skeptic, so he does have history on other nutty ideas.

        Another peculiar example might be John Von Neumann. Another might be Ken Miller. I tack these up to personality peculiarities, in otherwise great scientific minds.

        Another puzzle is Francis Collins. I don’t know how he can buy into CS Lewisism, when CS Lewis while a very seductive entertaining Children and fantasy writer, was really in a lot of ways a very very bad logical thinker and naive fool. Read particularly his book on Miracles where he reveals he’s about as gullible about believing miracles on hearsay as Arthur Conan Doyle was about fairies. CS Lewis is also peculiar as a patron saint of fundamentalist theology when he himself regarded much of the OT consisting of mythology.

        1. I never understood the purported persuasive powers of C.S. Lewis either. I haven’t read a lot, but what i have read has not impressed me.

          Although his fictional work did introduce children to sophisticated theological concepts, like talking animals.

        2. Dyson is brilliant. His proof that the various versions of QED are consistent and isomorphic was a tour de force, worthy of a Nobel prize if Nobels were given for that sort of thing.

          He also marches to a distant drummer, and has a completely open mind. Perhaps too open. I always read his stuff, his accommodationism not withstanding, because he invariably has an interesting perspective. He is not really a theist, as far as I can tell. Certainly, a bit of a mystic, or at least an oddball, however.

          1. He perplexes me, too. Extremely brilliant conceptualization and work on disarming the superpowers, on bringing us all back from the brink. He made a HELL of a lot of sense in “Weapons and Hope”, and was instrumental in keeping nukes out of the Vietnam war.

            I shake my head in disbelief.

          2. Fundamentally, Dyson’s problem is arrogance. I read him saying that ‘polar bears love it when its warm’ and that they’ll have no problem adapting when the arctic ice cap finishes melting. Never mind that the polar bear’s range is virtually identical to the arctic winter ice extent. He was interviewed in Salon a couple of years ago and it seemed pretty clear that the man’s arrogance simply blinds him to the fact that, despite his intelligence, there are a lot things he doesn’t know much about.

  4. Brian Leftow: he is invoking time-reversal causality to explain how God never changes, even though he knows everything that ever happened/will happen. Or something like that.

    1. I listened to Leftow a few times, and I think he’s suggesting that God is like the Tralfamadorians with full access to the past, present and future.

  5. “Says that his faith was affirmed when he stopped letting his brain get in the way.”

    No shit, Sherlock. L

  6. Most of these people are maximal conservatives which is basically a sort of fundamentalism which tries to contain criticism of the bible in a sophisticated way. James Barr took them apart in his books especially the one entitled Fundamentalism. They really want to keep the gods of the bible as one and equate him with the god of the philosophers. Leftow’s is a good example. He wants to have a platonic being which can not be diminished in perfection but can hear prayer like Yahweh. The effect not change thing he is talking about I think means he is trying to say that being can be influenced but that would not detract from its perfection if you never tried to influence it. He thinks if a being changes then it is an admission that it is imperfect. Yes its still incoherent.

      1. Most maximally conservative views are essentially deistic. They boil down to intelligent design arguments. They want aristole’s god which they get through traditional theology.

  7. I once watched D’Souza debating Dennett, and I noticed that he was using an interesting rhetorical device. I call it the argumentum ad clamandum. It consists of speaking in a very loud voice, so loud that your opponent can’t be heard.

    1. I can’t even read anything from Dinesh without my earplugs. He’s got the weirdest voice in all of Christendom.

  8. Like the ancient Greek sophists they are all masters of running on at the mouth to make it sound like truth but I also think they have studied “PILPUL” whch Jerry introduced me to. Pilpul,n. a method of disputation amoung rabbiical scholars regarding the interpretation of Talmudic rules and principles or Scripture that involves the developement of careful and OFTEN EXCESSIVELY SUBTLE DISTINCTIONS. [1890-95 < Aramaic <Hebrew] In this matter, the subtle distinction always seems to end in reason by faith and belief.

  9. Now for “balance” they should find 20 scientists who believe that Elvis is still alive and 20 more who think alien abductions are real.

    Why should one set of silly ideas get all the respect and air-time?

    1. Maybe because they are shared by the majority of the population?

      Solve that problem, and the media coverage problem will go away.

      1. So?

        Veracity is not determined by a popularity contest. This sort of stuff just gives weight to certain silly ideas.

  10. Oh, the anti-list illustrates anti-rationality of course! Very well, carry on.

    * General observation:

    Many christians believes in many gods.

    * Polkinghorne:

    “”God is both connected with time and also outside time.””

    WTF? Replace with anything: God is both connected with my desk and also outside my desk.

    Or the anti-tautological version: God is both connected with God and also outside God.

    I have seldom seen so little connection with rationality in so small a package. Polkinghorne’s religiodumbosity must have been working overtime on that one.

    * Zacharias:

    “Tells gay people to “renounce their dispositions””.

    To hear that the very day I learn that people rape lesbians to ‘convert’ them in some places in Africa. Too many missionaries, perhaps.

    * Craig:

    “Laments the futility of human effort in light of the impending heat death of the Earth.”

    While we lament the futility of evangelical effort in light of the yearly claims of the impending gods doom of the Earth. The Earth was killed by the christian god this spring and, according to the scratched “Open” sign at the railway station, will be killed again this winter.

    [What is it with the religious and the destruction of tax payer property anyway?]

    * Saunders:

    “Argues that, in quantum mechanics, it could be God who makes probabilistic events actually occur. You can’t prove it, but he says you can’t disprove it, either.”

    Hello? No hidden variables!

    * Dyson:

    “Says that an electron and atom have “rudimentary consciousness;””

    I don’t know which is the biggest public embarrassment; Davies, Penrose, Dyson, Kaku.

    Penrose and Dyson are _not_ excused by passing their “best before” date, it is legendary that old scientists can start to bloviate on topics that they don’t know much about.

    [/coffee-deprived rant.]

  11. [Video is blocked in the UK]

    “Dr Rowan Williams, … I never understand those atheists who see this man as a friend.”

    Williams is a walking contradiction. He, by obligation to his office, takes certain positions that I know he doesn’t believe. Positions he’s explicitly argued against in the past.

    As such I think, while he shares a lot of ground with atheists and liberals, he’s exceedingly dangerous. Someone willing to deliberately pretend to believe something he doesn’t, in full knowledge of that, is not someone who can be trusted, I think.

    He is, for example, a supporter of gay rights and the role of gay people in the church. But he’s sold them totally down the river with that two-faced dance, to the point where asked straight questions on the matter, he refuses to answer.

    Fascinating range of different reasons, and a range of different levels of orthodoxy and creative reinterpretation.

  12. 1. Robin Collins is a treasure who seems to have invented something novel: Probabilistic Christianity or Probabilistictarianism.
    2. These statements are so bizarre that it is difficult for one not to take them seriously.
    3. You cannot make this stuff up (no, Larry David, not even you).

  13. Negative theology. Indeed. *eye roll*

    It is flabbergasting how some of these people can march right up to the borders of “Reasonland”, take a look, and say “yes, it seems very nice and rational over there, but I’ll just stay over here, thanks.”

    1. Sophisticated theology – when you really in your heart of hearts don’t believe this stuff any more, but you just can’t quite get yourself to admit it, so you spend years writing sophisticated nuanced confused rubbish to explain how you still do believe in something that the paragraphs of obscurantism are hidden within.

  14. Just proves academically smart people (the biologists NOT the philosophers and theologists) can be intelligent in their discipline and still need to cling to Paleolithic fears.

    All these folks are banal. It doesn’t matter if one has a Ph.D., is a line cook or fixes roads, if you believe in a personal god, you don’t need evidence to believe, you just have to “feel” like there is something greater.

    Silliness knows no boundary when one discusses one’s faith.


  15. To view this video from the UK if you use FireFox browser:

    1] Install Hide My Ass! Web Proxy 1.2.3
    2] Restart browser
    3] in the add-on preferences…
    ** Select any non-UK proxy server (I used Chicago 2)
    ** Uncheck (i.e. untick) the ‘enable “HMA” keyword box
    ** Click the “OK” button
    4] Click bottom right of the video embedded in this site to view the video on YouTube
    5] You will get the not viewable message instead of the video if you are UK-based
    6] click the yellow “h” button on your FF toolbar
    7] Voila !

  16. Some time ago I visited a church in Italy: the public was exclusively 100% female. Only the performing priests were men, but then they wore long dresses. Is it not a shame that in this video only men are voicing their belief? But then, is it not a much much bigger shame that there are almost no women in Pararajasingham’s videos of atheists? Should we take this similarity as evidence for similarity between religious belief and atheism?

    1. Uh, no. I think it shows the similarity between lack of women represented in available theist and atheist videos on youTube.

      The two videos really only highlight the bafflegab, hand-waving, and plain dishonesty of the theists, and simple, evident forthrightness of the atheists.

        1. No more? How about the Glass Cathedral in California? In Barcelona they’re still building Gaudi’s Basilica of the Holy Family (although construction of that has been going on for over 80 years – almost 130 years if you count the original commissioning of the cathedral). There are many other cathedrals around the world slowly plodding along to completion or being redesigned and altered.

  17. I guess WL Craig has a point…

    I wonder if I should try the “impending heat death of the Earth” excuse, for not showing up at work tomorrow…

    After all, any software improvements I am currently involved in, will probably be gone and forgotten a few billion years from now, once the sun has engulfed our tiny planet.

    Now I think of it, maybe even sooner…

  18. “Dr Rowan Williams, … I never understand those atheists who see this man as a friend.”

    Maybe they think he was the guy in Blackadder.

  19. Well, that’s a random collection. Some of them are well-known fundamentalists (e.g. JP Moreland is at Biola), others are well-known evolutionary biologists (e.g. Berry).

  20. Yes, 17. Alistair McGrath is the front runner here ~ he takes squirming & obfuscation to a new level. I loved the way he needed to ‘refocus’ & attempt to re-explain why one innocent child life is saved by god while 99,999 other innocent child lives are not

    In YouTube comments Pararajasingham requests not to mark the video down as it drives away new viewers. Viewers who will not get to see the twaddle these eminent, scholarly apologists are spouting (my words)

  21. It’s a Who’s Who of the residents of Crazytown.

    What part of “it’s all superstition and mythology” are these people incapable of understanding?

  22. Some of these are Templeton prize winners.
    Polkinghorne (2002)
    Dyson (2000)

    did I miss anybody?

  23. It’s interesting to contrast these twenty academics with the 100 posted earlier on this site who were of a more atheist leaning, and even more revealing to watch how this group’s ideas were given such quick negative judgment by comments when those of the other side are largely afforded the opposite take. In both sets, the opinions are extracted out of their full context. It remains intellectually unfair to characterize anything significant from such brief comments, despite the “dismissal by sound bites” so common in our day. It is as if we are ready to pounce on opposing ideas automatically rather than search for common ground as a support to richer understanding. I am bothered by how self-deceiving that can be, how very defensive and angry it can become.

    As someone with respect for both religious and scientific worldviews and the potential for shared respect between them, I found it respectable that at least no one attacked evolution per se. It was thereby at least not the most conservative group of religious academics that could be found. I observed other things to appreciate about many of the views as well, and some things to criticize, just as I did about the atheist viewpoints I watched previously (again, as much as any brief statement can be appreciated or criticized out of its full context). I will give only one overall criticism here before taking my leave: I was struck by how the interest in, and problems of, reconciling paradox and the process of reinterpreting significance over time is common to both groups within their disciplines, but atheistic scientists seem to me to manifest knee-jerk rejection of any possibility that immaterial personhood is validly evidenced in human experience. I wonder if, despite science’s dependence upon mathematical probability, the defining categorical exclusion of immaterial principles (or call it spirit-based forms of energy) is something rooted in atheists’ need for certitude — akin to those who espouse fundamentalist religious interpretations. It is thereby another case of psychological need in the knower filtering what can be seen. Put another way, it’s the difference between looking for shades of truth in every meaningful perspective vs. the dependence on categorical orthodoxy to know anything at all. Best regards.

    1. I found it respectable that at least no one attacked evolution per se.

      Carson professed a non-belief in evolution. Some others have also said anti-evolutionary things, just not in these particular sound bites. William Lane Craig has repeatedly made stupid probabilistic arguments against evolution. I have seen a video put out by Ravi Zacharias arguing against atheism – by making poorly informed arguments against the origin of life. (The frequently seen BS about the improbability of proteins assembling randomly).

      1. And even if those guys hadn’t dismissed evolution, what a low bar respectability: simply not attacking evolution. I reserve my respect for positive actions.

      2. Oh, and William Dembski is also on the list. He is a card-carrying member of the Discovery Institute, and one of the chief proponents of Intelligent Design Creationism.

    2. but atheistic scientists seem to me to manifest knee-jerk rejection of any possibility that immaterial personhood is validly evidenced in human experience. I wonder if, despite science’s dependence upon mathematical probability, the defining categorical exclusion of immaterial principles (or call it spirit-based forms of energy) is something rooted in atheists’ need for certitude — akin to those who espouse fundamentalist religious interpretations.

      No, it’s the complete and utter lack of convincing evidence put forward in support of “immaterial personhood.” You can stop wondering now.

    3. Shades of truth?

      Not everything needs to be discussed for 2 hours to be identified as, being charitable, unlikely.

      Many of these clips contain all the context that’s necessary. McGrath claims god both intervenes and doesn’t intervene. What possible context could that claim be given to make it sensible?

    4. “spirit based forms of energy”, so can you light a candle with these forms of energy? WTF is a spirit based form of energy exactly?

      1. Funny, in a sick sort of way, since Bunge’s postulate concerning existence is that which is real is that which possesses energy (which is equivalent to equating the real with the changeable).

    5. To your common or garden atheist, it’s nothing to do with “certitude”.

      It breaks down like this:

      Is there a good reason for believing X/is there evidence to believe X exists/is X indicated logically?

      If YES – believe X (but leave open the possibility for X to be disproven)

      If NO – don’t accept X (but leave open the possibility for X to be proven)

      If NOT YET – keep looking (but leave open the possibility for X to be proven/disproven)

      Knowledge/truth are provisional. Only the faithful seem to not know that.

    6. More on whether “human experience” constitutes valid evidence:
      Do people make sincere mistakes? Yes.
      Do people lie? Yup.
      Do people suffer a variety of perceptual and cognitive illusions? Damn straight.
      Do people experience dreams, hallucinations, false memories and delusions? Yes again.
      Do people report “human experience” that contradicts the “human experience” reported by other people? They do.

      So then, when two people offer up contradicting testimonies of “human experience,” how do we decide which one to believe? How do we verify the testimony of “human experience”? It all comes back to finding more reliable, reproducible forms of evidence.

      You prattle on about respect. If you want my respect in this matter, try to meet the existing standards of science, instead of lowering the bar.

  24. Human language evolved. It wasn’t designed for logical consistency. It’s too rich in meaning and too self-referential, with too many words that mean essentially the same thing.

    We may need to abandon human language as a means to discover truth.

    Computer programming languages (and perhaps mathematics) were designed to avoid the semantic pitfalls of our evolved language. No theologist could ever employ such tools to demonstrate the existence of beings that exist out of space and time.

    Creating a conscious computer would merely create an exceedingly brilliant theologist, so I think we should abandon such efforts except for their use in robotic servants, concubines, and pets.

    At some point we’ve just got to stop the nonsense, pain, and destruction caused by the kind of imprecise language we see employed in this videos. Language indeed has a great capacity to entertain us and activate our pleasure centers, but the price we pay for using it in existential matters is religion and theology.

    Our evolved language should perhaps be placed into the bin of history as a mere hobby or pastime, similar to knitting or candlemaking.

    Computer science seems to be the path forward.

    1. We have the ability to shape our language to our needs. There is a reason why we use exact languages such as mathematics or jargon when we need such exactitude. Jargon can be in the service of exactitude and it can be in the service of obfuscation. It depends on what people want to do with their words. Theologians have devised ever more ingenious ways of saying nothing. The solution is for us to be vigilant is asking what they mean and what evidence there is for their claims. Those two questions are powerful antidotes to puffery.

      1. I think Stephen may be onto a worthy observation. There are many languages with which the concepts and logic (such as it is) exhorted in the 3 videos could not be expressed.

      2. You are certainly right, but it’s been nothing but frustration thus far (for me, anyway) to convince anybody of a religious persuasion that I’m correct in my views, no matter how vigilant I am. It doesn’t even seem to matter to these people that they are being irrational — thus my suggestion to change to a language where such “puffery” is virtually impossible.

        1. One further note:

          Yes, SOME people use mathematics, but not nearly enough. I’m proposing we use something like mathematics on a large scale, perhaps even teaching it in schools to children at a young age INSTEAD of English or even history, although history would be a tough nut to crack if its stories were told in COBOL, for instance.


    2. Creating a conscious computer would merely create an exceedingly brilliant theologian

      You are saying that a conscious computer would be unable to employ logical consistency ? Why do you believe this (assuming that’s what you mean) ? Also, are you assuming that consciousness is a necessary attribute for advanced thought ? What is consciousness ? Self awareness perhaps ?

      …so I think we should abandon such efforts except for their use in robotic servants, concubines, and pets

      I imagine that we will merge seamlessly with ‘robots’ ~ to the point that we are born suitably enhanced by ‘robots’. They will not be the clunky, metal things as currently realised, but personal assistants enhancing our memories & perceptions. By that time the world will be computer anyway & we will be utterly dependant on their magic mercies. We will be imprisoned & set free simultaneously.

      1. I went on a lark with my comment on conscious computers, and your points are well taken. If the Turing Test was our measure of consciousness, then what I meant is that perhaps it’s a waste of time to try and advance computers to that stage, because if they are able answer questions well enough to prove they are conscious to the average human, then they would probably be able to utterly confound the average human with clever obscuration.

        It’s just something that came to me the other day, and it’s too broad and deep to cover on Jerry’s website (See? I didn’t say “blog”).

        I’ve read Kurzweil and other futurists, and I largely agree with you that we will at some point merge seamlessly with them. It’s an exciting thought for me, yet you are correct it is also filled with existential perils.

    3. “Our evolved language should perhaps be placed into the bin of history as a mere hobby or pastime, similar to knitting or candlemaking.”

      While you’re right that natural language is horribly imprecise, I don’t think that’s just an unfortunate effect of its evolution. I think it would be impossible in principle to have a perfectly precise language that could explain the world at the level of abstraction that we need.

      That’s not to say, though, that rational thought couldn’t be considerably improved if people were more careful in their use of language. It seems to me that perhaps the most pernicious of fallacies is the fallacy of equivocation.

    4. You might want to check out Loglan, an artificial language created in the ’50s based on the structure of predicate logic. Its inventor developed it as a research tool for linguistic purposes, but probably would not have objected if someone managed to use Loglan to save the world.

      1. Thank-you for that Loglan link!

        Yes, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is exactly what started me thinking down this path.

  25. Thanks for the IP proxy addon so I could view this Michael Fisher.

    Also, since this is a first post I should say something with some substance:

    What I think most striking is the scientists, world renowned ones even, who suddenly dismiss all those years of rigour and critical enquiry and make what are basically guess’s about the nature of whatever version of god they believe in.

    Why do they do this? Surely they must realise that there unfalsifiable opinions about god (their faith) is no better than anyone elses. Surely they must know that faiths of other religions are contradictory to their own but have equal validity?

    I may be just cynical, but I think they are dishonest, and not honestly explaining their opinions because they are clearly intelligent enough to know about these things.

  26. Most of the views seem to fall into one of three camps: 1) “Of course it isn’t based on reason or rational thought, but I get to a point in my thinking where there is just this god shaped hole in my heart that I will explain with scientific sounding babble that can’t be refuted”, or 2) The human mind (actually my mind in particular) is so perfect and unique in all of nature that it must be the product of an intelligence that is even more advanced than mine (reluctant as I am to admit it), or 3) As as scientist I am open to all inquiry without preconceived bias. So that god thing is still on the table.
    Perhaps an overview of religious thought should be called “Religion: Total surrender, Total arrogance, Total idiocy.”

    1. IMO, a commonality among the believers is that they seem to share a trait that Catholics would refer to as “The Passion [of Christ]”. In some Catholic texts, the fervor and supernormal nature of “The Passion” seems oddly sexual.* A similarly intense obsession among Catholics is seen in discussions of “Mary [Mother of Christ]”. Some might interpret these phenomena as a simple expression of awe about or wonder of the unknown and/or of complexity and/or of some inexplicable power. But, then, in my experience, many non-believers seem to exhibit some these characteristic, also, though, admittedly in a secular guise.
      *Many have pointed out, of course, that Jesus’ relationships with his Apostles and other male associates appear decidedly homo-erotic.

      1. In John’s gospel, he repeatedly refers to himself as the disciple that Jesus loved. Perhaps this was not agape love, but rather eros.

  27. You can see how they switch from “God knows us and loves us” to “God is another name for the universe” when someone presses them about God’s actions.

  28. How can Dr Benjamin Carson operate on brains without accepting the evolutionary lineage of the brain?

    I wouldn’t let him operate on mine!

    1. Why not? He is reputedly the best at what he does. Would you object to a Christian, Muslim or a Buddhist doctor operating on you because of his or her religious beliefs? What Dr Carson’s surprising claim shows is that because someone is an expert in one area it does not mean that that expertise translates to other areas or even related areas. And if someone of his caliber can be so easily dismissive of evolution there is little hope of the general public buying into evolution. But yea I was surprised by that and even more shocked by the reason he gave. One obviously does not need to have even a basic understanding of evolution to be an expert neurosurgeon.

    2. It might seem so, I agree; however, as widely broadcast, fundamentalists generally see “complexity” as evidence of “God’s” work. BTW, unless I am mistaken, Carson’s practice specializes on children, and it is my understanding that he is very good, indeed, at what he does.

  29. Wow, Dembski was the one most full of crap. That’s quite an achievement given that the others were totally full of crap too. Wow.

  30. As to Rowan Williams being a friend or not – I like to draw a distinction between “wrong” and “evil”. All religions are equally wrong. Not all are equally evil.

    Williams has been a prominent figure in many social justice campaigns. He’s not always as strong as you’d want; he got very wishywashy in his support for gays. But I’d count him in the same class (though lesser) as Rev Martin Luther King and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Their imaginary friends told them to do good.

  31. I’d like to point out that in the atheists’ version of the video there were only one or two women – so I would say the lack of women in this one has more to so with the editor.

  32. “Dr Benjamin Carson, Paediatric Neurosurgeon. Doesn’t believe in evolution, and you’ll find his reason hilarious.”

    A neurosurgeon –might as well be an engineer who plays with tinker toys. He sees the parts but not the process. His answer shows how out of touch he is with the science.

  33. I didn’t know Dinesh D’Souza had a brain to get in the way of his faith. Is he really at Stanford U.?

    The one question I’d like to ask all of them of course is “how do you know what you say is true?” The answer of course comes down to “because of my faith”, so basically they believe because they know it’s true and they know it’s true because they believe – I thought that technique had been proven long ago to be a very bad way of attempting to discover things.

  34. The Benjamin Carson bit is particularly interestin for the simple reason that it is from a debate or public talk that also featured Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins. Collins could have easily corrected Carsons statement and being a genomicist he was probably even better qualified than Dawkins to give the reason why Carsons analogy fails. Unfortunately it appears that helping someone maintain their Christian faith remains more important than correcting their publicly expressed mistaken views about evolution. I suspect this reluctance explains why Biologos has failed to make an impact on evangelicals.

  35. When I see people matter-of-factly describing their view on what God can or can’t do, I can’t help but be reminded of the touching naivete of a very young child elaborating in specific details on the adventures or super-powers of their dolls and toys.

  36. McGrath’s defensive, nervous posturing filled me with such dread that I had to actually pause his response a couple of times in order to calm myself, I felt so bad.

  37. It’s a weird feeling to know you can out-think people old enough to be your grandfather who have PhDs and spend their entire lives on something.

    Just looking at this list, all I see is (from Plantinga, Craig, and similar types) sophisticated question-begging and from the others arguments to ignorance. And in nearly all cases, either complete lack of archaeological, scientific, and religio-historical knowledge, or in Collins’ case, willful blindness to same.

    This is fucking terrifying. I can only thank my lucky stars that van Til and Bahnsen are dead; they make Craig look sane and reasonable.

  38. Also, another thing: Craig’s lamentation of lack of grand teleological purposes, because that’s what it is, may conflict with his statements (also unprovable) that there are no physical infinities.

    The kind of purpose he has in mind necessarily has its endpoint at eternity/infinity. It’s a vanishing point at which everything vanishes, and can never be reached while anything at all exists.

    And it’s hilarious. You have this puffed-up overstuffed sack of shit in a turtleneck essentially emo-ing over the fact that we die someday, but using these huge words and complicated-sounding philosophies to do it..

    He and others like him are the worst sort of cowards; they want eternal life, and if literally everyone but them and people who think exactly like them have to suffer for eternity, so be it. Disgusting.

  39. I don’t think Ravi Zacharias should be on the list. That’s like putting Timothy Keller or Rick Warren on the list. They are popular people but not what I would consider a ‘distinguished academic’

  40. I missed this posting last August, but have a reaction. I used to think of myself as being somewhat dumb concerning science and theology. After reading/hearing what these esteemed academics and theologians had to say, I feel a whole lot more confident in my own understanding of the universe and its contents. Thanks.

  41. What tickles my caligula was the fact that the video wouldn’t play. Instead I got the following reply, “This video contains content from Channel 4, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds.”

Leave a Reply