Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Big Problem Science Has With Religion

I've just been linked to a story I've seen before, entitled "the little problem science has with religion."  Since it's been around the block a few times and its author is unknown, I'll take the liberty of posting it in its entirety here.  I'll provide my thoughts and retorts throughout.  Quoted text is taken exactly as it was presented, without any alterations to the text or format, except to break it up for my commentary.

Note: Forgive the formatting errors in the quotations.  I'll try to fix it when I have the time, but I wanted to get this online quickly.

"Let me explain the problem science has with religion." The atheist professor of philosophy pauses before his class and then asks one of his new
students to stand....[/quote]
This immediately identifies the story as a fiction.  Professors simply don't push antireligion in the classroom, and they certainly don't pick on students for their religious beliefs.  That's the fastest way to be out of a job.  But, even as a fiction, it could still be an interesting philosophical dialogue.  Let's see where they go with this, shall we?

[quote]"You're a Christian, aren't you, son?"

"Yes sir," the student says.

"So you believe in God?"


"Is God good?"

"Sure! God's good."

"Is God all-powerful? Can God do anything?"


"Are you good or evil?"

"The Bible says I'm evil."

The professor grins knowingly. "Aha! The Bible!"

He considers for a moment, "Here's one for you.

Let's say there's a sick person over here and you can cure him. You can do it. Would you help him? Would you try?"

"Yes sir, I would."

"So you're good!"[/quote]
A reasonable, if a bit over-simplistic, observation.  Helping the sick is, by any reasonable moral standard, a good action.

[quote]"I wouldn't say that."

"But why not say that? You'd help a sick and maimed person if you could. Most of us would if we could. But God doesn't."

The student does not answer, so the professor continues.

"He doesn't, does he? My brother was a Christian who died of cancer, even though he prayed to Jesus to heal him. How is this Jesus good? Hmmm? Can you answer that one?"

The student remains silent.[/quote]
The student remains silent for a reason.  The professor's argument is valid.  Sure, there have been a few apologetics offered to counter this problem before, but none have stood up.  As the old saying goes...
Is god willing to prevent suffering but not able?  Then he's not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he's not good.
Is he neither willing nor able? Then why call him God?
Is he both willing and able? Then why is there still suffering?

[quote]"No, you can't, can you?" the professor says. He takes a sip of water from glass on his desk to give the student time to relax. "Let's start again,
young fella. Is God good?"

"Er...yes," the student says.

"Is Satan good?"

The student doesn't hesitate on this one,


"Then where does Satan come from?"

The student falters, "From God."

"That's right. God made Satan, didn't he? Tell me, son. Is there evil in this world?"

"Yes sir."

"Evil's everywhere, isn't it? And God did make everything, correct?"


"So who created evil?" The professor continued, "If God created everything, then God created evil, since evil exists and according to the principle that our works define who we are, then God is evil."

Again, the student has no answer.[/quote]
Technically, this is flawed logic on the professor's part.  Presumably, God's creation of evil could have been a mistake, error of judgement or other faux pas.  However, if one assumes that God is both omniscient and omnipotent, as Christian doctrine teaches, the thought that evil could be a mistake is out of the question.
Even the Bible makes this point perfectly clear, in Isaiah 45:7: "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things."
With this in mind, it's no wonder the student has no answer, as his own Bible goes against what he's been taught to believe.
[quote]"Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things, do they exist in this world?"

The student squirms on his feet. "Yes."

"So who created them?"

The student does not answer again, so the professor repeats his question, "Who created them?"

There is still no answer. Suddenly the lecturer breaks away to pace in front of the classroom. The class is mesmerized.

"Tell me," he continues onto another student.

"Do you believe in Jesus Christ, son?"

The student's voice betrays him and cracks. "Yes, professor, I do."

The old man stops pacing, "Science says you have five (5) senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Have you ever seen Jesus?"

"No sir. I've never seen Him."

"Have you ever felt your Jesus, tasted your Jesus or smelt your Jesus? Have you ever had any sensory perception of Jesus Christ, or God for that

"No, sir, I'm afraid I haven't."

"Yet you still believe in him?"


"According to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn't exist. What do you say to that, son?"[/quote]
Here's where we run into a bit of a snag.  Science is not limited to human perception.  Science attempts to overcome the limits of human perception through experimentation, because we know our senses are flawed.  You don't have to see something to know it's there.  You do, however, require EVIDENCE.  And evidence can take many different forms.

[quote]"Nothing," the student replies. "I only have my faith."

"Yes, faith," the professor repeats. "And that is the problem science has with God. There is no evidence, only faith."[/quote]
This is true.  There is no evidence, so science does have a problem with religion.  That doesn't mean we need to be able to see God, but in order to be accepted by science, we need some sort of evidence.  Faith, or belief without evidence, is the surrender of the mind.

[quote]The student stands quietly for a moment, before asking a question of his own. "Professor, is there such thing as heat?"
"Yes," the professor replies. "There's heat."

"And is there such a thing as cold?"

"Yes, son, there's cold too."

"No sir, there isn't."

The professor turns to face the student, obviously interested. The room suddenly becomes very quiet.

The student begins to explain . . . "You can have lots of heat, even more heat, super-heat, mega-heat, unlimited heat, white heat, a little heat or no
heat, but we don't have anything called 'cold.' We can hit up to 458 degrees below zero, which is no heat, but we can't go any further after
that. There is no such thing as cold; otherwise we would be able to go colder than the lowest-458 degrees." Everybody or object is susceptible to
study when it has or transmits energy and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-458 Fahrenheit) is the
total absence of heat. You see, sir, cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat we can measure in
thermal units because heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it."[/quote]
True.  I suspect any professor would realize this, and only use the word "cold" colloquially, but the student is not mistaken.

[quote]Silence across the room. A pen drops somewhere in the classroom, sounding like a hammer.

"What about darkness, professor. Is there such a thing as darkness?"

"Yes," the professor replies without hesitation. What is night if it isn't darkness?"[/quote]
Surely a professor would see the trap by this point.  That he'd walk into it again betrays the absurdity of the story.

[quote]"You're wrong again, sir. Darkness is not something; it is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing
light, but if you have no light constantly you have nothing and its called darkness, isn't it? That's the meaning we use to define the word. In
reality, darkness isn't. If it were, you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn't you?"

The professor begins to smile at the student in front of him. This will be a good semester. "So what point are you making, young man?"

"Yes, professor. My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start with and so your conclusion must also be flawed."

The professor's face cannot hide his surprise this time, "Flawed? Can you explain how?"[/quote]
Yes, please explain.  This is where the story gets interesting.

[quote]"You are working on the premise of duality," the student explains . . "You argue that there is life and then there's death; a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we canmeasure. Sir, science can't even explain a thought." It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life, just the a bsence of it." Now tell me, professor. Do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?"[/quote]
Oy vey!  There's a lot to talk about here.  Firstly, whether God is finite or infinite, measurable or not, there must be SOME evidence for his/her/its existence, or there's no reason to believe it.  I don't care if you can measure every detail of what it is, where it came from, what it can do.  I just want to see some evidence that it's actually there.
True, science has not completely cracked the problem of human consciousness, though there have been remarkable advances.  The difference is clear, however--we know that we think from firsthand experience.  We can measure brain activity, and begin to understand the processes.  Not only do we have evidence of human consciousness, we are well on our way to understanding it through experimentation.
Granted, death is not the opposite of life, in the same way that cold is not the opposite of heat.  But this is irrelevant.  If you're making claims of an afterlife, provide some evidence.  Otherwise, what's the point?
Finally, evolved from a monkey?  I thought we'd dispatched that misconception years ago.  Humans are great apes.  We didn't evolve from any modern species, monkey or otherwise.  We share a recent common ancestry with chimpanzees, a slightly more distant ancestry with other primates, more distant still with all mammals, and so on.  All life on earth shares a common ancestry, but we did not "evolve from monkeys."  This is a straw-man argument.

[quote]"If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, young man, yes, of course I do."[/quote]
A good answer.  The professor should have schooled the student in basic middle-school biology, but I'll give him a pass in that he properly answered the question (avoiding the straw man) without derailing the conversation.
[quote] "Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?"

The professor begins to shake his head, still smiling, as he realizes where the argument is going; a very good semester, indeed.[/quote]
Here is where things really fall apart.  Firstly, everyone who has witnessed a birth has witnessed evolution first hand.  Many scientists, particularly biologists, have witnessed speciation within the laboratory.  But the point isn't witnessing it firsthand.  The point is a preponderance of evidence.  We have amongst other things, fossils and genetics, each of which provide massive evidence demonstrating the fact of evolution.

[quote]"Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor, are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you now not a scientist, but a preacher?"[/quote]
False.  We have witnessed it in life and in the laboratory, and have massive evidence of its history.  The very basics of evolution are middle-school level science.  The basics of the scientific process are taught in grade school.  This student has demonstrated an absolute lack of knowledge of both.

[quote]The class is in uproar. The student remains silent until the commotion has subsided.

"To continue the point you were making earlier to the other student, let me give you an example of what I mean." The student looks around the room, "Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the professor's brain?" The class breaks out into laughter.

"Is there anyone here who has ever heard the professor's brain, felt the professor's brain, touched or smelt the professor's brain? No one appears
to have done so. So, according to the established rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol, science says that you have no brain, with all
due respect, sir."[/quote]
But of course they haven't SEEN it.  But there's evidence of it.  For instance, the knowledge that the brain controls nerve function in the body through experimentation.  It then follows that, when witnessing nerve function, this serves as evidence of the presence of a brain.  It's not a question of sight, for cryin' out loud, it's a question of EVIDENCE.

[quote]"So if science says you have no brain, how can we trust your lectures, sir?"

Now the room is silent. The professor just stares at the student, his face unreadable. Finally, after what seems an eternity, the old man answers, "I
guess you'll have to take them on faith."[/quote]
No one who can attain the position of professor would be unable to conceive the arguments I've just presented, even if flustered by a snippy student.  This is a ridiculous answer.  Furthermore, a good professor doesn't expect his students to believe or trust his lectures, but to be prepared to learn from them, and challenge themselves intellectually with them.  If legitimate flaws can be found, a good professor would be pleased with any student who could find them.  Needless to say, the "flaws" this student points out are not legitimate.

[quote]"Now, you accept that there is faith, and, in fact, faith exists with life," the student continues, now, sir, is there such a thing as evil?"

Now uncertain, the professor responds, "Of course, there is. We see it everyday. It is in the daily example of man's inhumanity to man. It is in
the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil."

To this the student replied, "Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like
darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God's love present in his heart. It's like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no
Well, I would have to take issue with believing in "evil" as a thing.  It is simply a label we ascribe to certain actions we deem unworthy of our respect.  Even with that in mind, the argument is a non sequitur, because while darkness is in fact the absence of light, "evil" however we may define it, is a proactive behavioral choice carried out by humans.

[quote]The professor sat down.

If you read it all the way through and had a smile on your face when you finished, mail it to your friends and family.

PS: The student was Albert Einstein.[/quote]
Obviously nonsense.  Albert Einstein was an atheist, as he repeatedly confirmed in his correspondence.

No comments: