Atheists just ask for proof


In a somewhat biting but entertaining bit of writing, "New Atheists" just asking for proof, God," Dan Gardner takes the authority of Dawkins and challenges all comers. And outside of some misguided understanding about scriptural interpretation he makes some fine points concluding with this:

But just what is the core of Dawkins’ radical message? Well, it goes something like this: If you claim that something is true, I will examine the evidence which supports your claim; if you have no evidence, I will not accept that what you say is true and I will think you a foolish and gullible person for believing it so.

As the ensuing letters to the editor attested, Gardner’s article managed to twist the noses of a few Christians.

But, now, the first thing a theist might ask regarding "New Atheists" just asking for proof," is why does the burden of proof fall entirely on the side of God’s existence. Isn’t it reasonable to ask for a shared burden? In the realm of origins, is it really out-of-bounds to ask an atheist to consider proving the non-existence of God?

This brings up what I see as a critical issue. In my view, (certainly not mine alone) asking for proof of God from within the realm of science, as atheists would have theists do, amounts to something like asking for proof of the Big Bang. (Most, if not all atheists hypothesize a Big Bang.) Neither God nor the Big Bang can be observed, measured, repeated, or shown to be false, therefore they are outside the realm of science.

For Dawkins however, there is nothing outside the physical, so he’s not being dishonest or objectionable when he asserts, “the presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question.” But how does that work? I could as easily assert that it is unequivocally a metaphysical question. Because, what possible observable, measurable, repeatable evidence could verify or falsify the God hypothesis? The question of why there is something and not nothing is simply not answerable by science.

And that’s the rub. Science and faith are two different species (not my analogy). Of course when two different species mate they produce a hybrid which is almost always infertile. The attempted mating of religion and science has produced many mules. But once in awhile, just as in evolution, the offspring is fertile. I think Kenneth R. Miller, a leading micro-biologist and an admirer of Dawkins, is providing some fertile ground.

Miller was a critical witness in the victory of evolution over Intelligent Design in the Dover school trial. He is categorically an evolutionist. For Miller Intelligent Design is dressed up Creationism. For Miller evolution is not only theory, it is also science, tried, tested, with a host of verifiable scientific conclusions.

Now, what you can do from evolution is draw anti-theistic conclusions. That’s legitimate. And that’s what Dawkins does. And Dawkins is no fool. But it’s also legitimate to draw theistic conclusions from evolution. That is, that something beyond the physical is being pointed to. This is what Miller does. Miller is no fool either. His evolutionary biology squares with Dawkins’. But he is also a devout Catholic Christian.

I believe Miller would say that there is something called mystery. And not mystery in the sense that we just haven’t figured it out yet, but mystery as inhered presence.

So until mystery is banished I am not foolish for drawing a something-beyond-the-physical conclusion. And obviously I’m not alone. If the mystery i.e. religious impulse is an evolutionary modul of our make up, then so is the scientific impulse. They can and should live in harmony.

In the mean time, the mystery that I believe I have existentially experienced, hand in hand with the rationality bequeathed by my scientific culture, seems to be pointing me toward mercy and love and peace in the acceptance of the commonality of all things.

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  1. Yes different species, but along the lines of the commonality of all things, I think Dawkins and Berg aren’t all that far apart. Dawkins, through his work as a scientist, sees the beauty of the world, the amazing constructs of bugs and microbes and mountains; in fact, he revels in them in order to understand their nature. As Fred says, a true seeker. Berg, in the same way, glories in the natural world – the beauty of a sunrise, a poppy, the hearty hope of a dumpster diver. Perhaps he, she, it or the cosmos doesn’t give a flying fig which perspective is correct – the true mystery appears in the dance of these two thinkers thoughts – delightful children who are really trying hard to make sense of this wacky place we live in. Thanks Steve, your God-tinged dance steps are lovely to behold.

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