Over at Premier Christian Radio (!), Eugenie Scott, former director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), and Ruth Bancewicz, a research associate at the Templeton-funded Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at Cambridge University (and author of the new book God in the Lab: How Science Enhances Faith) have an 80-minute discussion called “Unbelievable? Is faith good for science.” Here is the precis of her book on Amazon:
An exploration of how the work of scientists in different disciplines has enhanced their faith, God in the Lab is an exploration of the common ground that exists between science and faith. Science provides the opportunity to use creativity and imagination, to appreciate the beauty of the natural world, and to experience the wonder and awe of discovering new things. Experiencing scientific research firsthand has given Dr. Ruth Bancewicz a sense of awe that has enhanced her faith, and for ten years she has been a communicator of the positive expressions of the science-faith dialogue. Through her own insights and those of six other experienced scientists, she shows how science can build faith in God, and gently urges non-Christians to consider the connections they have with their Creator.
You can listen to the podcast for free, which deals (nominally) with the relationship between science and religion. I’ve concentrated mostly on Scott’s comments because she is an influential figure in science education, while Bancewicz seems to be largely, a garden-variety Christian who, despite her book, is given to spouting soothing platitudes that we’ve heard many times before.
Here are a few “highlights,” if you can call them that:
5:29: Genie Scott says she doesn’t consider herself an atheist, but a “nonbeliever”, because, she says, the U.S. connotation of the word is “antitheist,” and she’s not antireligious. She says that “from an anthropological prespective, it makes as much sense to be antireligious as to be antikinship.” That’s not really a fair comparison, because kinship doesn’t cause near the problems that religion does. Yes, religion is an institution to be studied as a human construct, but why is it senseless to oppose a construct (ISIS is one instantiation of that construct) that has terribly harmful consequences?
19:57: Scott claims that scientific hypotheses can be stimulated by religion. Maybe that was true in Newton’s day, or among ID advocates today, but I’m not aware of a single hypotheses beyond creationist ones that derive from religious belief. Readers can correct me if I’m wrong.
23:30: Scott claims that atheist scientists aren’t thinking clearly when they say that “science compels a particular perspective like atheism or humanism.” Sorry, Dr. Scott, atheism is a direct outgrowth of the doubt and skepticism endemic to science. Atheism is not by definition a part of science, so in that sense doesn’t compel atheism, but it should. For least if you demand evidence for your conclusions, then there is an intimate connection between science and atheism, the refusal to accept gods on the grounds of no evidence. That, of course, is one reason why American scientists are vastly more atheistic than “regular” Americans.
30:41: Bancewicz argues that one does not have to pick between science and religion. Well, that’s true, as there are religious scientists and science-friendly believers. But if you want to be intellectually honest, you should espouse a consistent worldview: either one that relies on evidence and confirmation, or one that relies on faith, revelation and dogma. If you hold both, you are in a state of cognitive dissonance.
34:30: To Scott’s credit, she essentially denies the existence of miracles, saying that “a coherent religion has to be compatible with what we know of the natural world.” This shows that she recognizes the hegemony of scientific truth over religious truth, and, in effect, denies (without saying so) the view that Jesus was resurrected. I would love to debate Scott on this issue, for if she really believes what she says, then Christianity is not a coherent religion since it makes a claim about reanimation of dead bodies that is not “compatible with what we know of the natural world.”
40:00 Bancewicz cites Simon Conway Morris’s flawed argument that the evolution of humanoid creatures was inevitable (this, of course, is because we’re supposed to be made in the image of God). I analyze and refute Conway Morris’s argument in Faith versus Fact, for I don’t see the evolution of humanoid creatures (i.e., those creatures with high intelligence, language, and the ability to apprehend and worship God) as inevitable. But then Bancewicz reinterprets “in God’s image” as simply meaning “a gift,” which is incoherent.
47:15: Bancewicz, a Christian who “follows Jesus,” defines “faith” as “taking the available evidence and putting it together in a way that makes an inference to the best explanation”, and says that this is precisely what science does. I wonder, then, why the “faith” of Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Christians all gives them different inferences to the best explanations. Why, for instance, do the first three faiths give data different from the conclusion that “Jesus is the son of God/God and is our sole route to Heaven”? One sign of the desperation of modern theists is their eagerness to redefine “faith” as something beyond “belief without evidence.” It’s a touchstone of Sophisticated Theology™ that they try to say that faith is something more than what the Bible says (Hebrews 11:1):
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
And, as we know, the Bible is infallible!
59:00: Bancewicz flirts with the argument that modern physics may be telling us that there’s Something Out There Beyond the Laws of Nature (i.e., God). In other words, she’s approaching Natural Theology.
1:03: Bancewicz asks Scott why pure naturalism is not a “bleak picture of the world.” Scott responds, correctly, that there is no evidence of the universe of having an “ultimate purpose”, but she herself has an individual purpose for her life. She says (shades of Steven Weinberg), “The universe is pointless; my life is not pointless.”
Conclusion: Scott doesn’t cozy up to religion as much as she used to, and I agree with her substantially on several points. But I wish her organization, the NCSE (which she still helps direct), would just deep-six all the religion stuff, and stop saying that religion is compatible with science, which, as we all recognize, is largely a tactical move to enlist believers in the cause of evolution-acceptance. But she still won’t admit what she really is: an atheist. Nor will she admit that atheism can be seen as a logical and philosophical conclusion of the scientific method. And it is really part of science, because science has discarded as useless the concept of a god or the supernatural, in the same way it’s discarded the paranormal.
As for Bancewicz, she’s a lost cause—so deeply steeped in faith that there is nothing that will make her admit that the correctness of Christianity and the reality of Jesus are the “scientific” conclusion of her “researches.”