Do ID Folks Suffer From Weak Faith?

Via Andrew Sullivan I came across this article, from the Canadian magazine The Walrus, on the subject of science and religion. The article’s focus is on Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit astronomer. It was the article’s conclusion that really caught my eye:

Consolmagno has little patience for intelligent design. “Science cannot prove God, or disprove Him. He has to be assumed. If people have no other reason to believe in God than that they can’t imagine how the human eye could have evolved by itself, then their faith is very weak.” Rather than seeking affirmation of his own faith in the heavens, he explains that religion is what gives him the courage and desire to be a scientist. “Seeing the universe as God’s creation means that getting to play in the universe – which is really what a scientist does — is a way of playing with the Creator,” he says. “It’s a religious act. And it’s a very joyous act.”

And if people have no other reason for doing science than the dubious belief that they are playing with God then their commitment to rational inquiry is very weak.

Consolmagno is welcome to assume whatever he wishes, of course. Why, though, this admiration for a strong faith, based on an evidence-free assumption that God exists, as contrasted with a weak faith, based on a rational contemplation of the world? Does that not seem backward to you?

I do not think most ID folks believe in God solely because of the complexity of the eye. Rather, it is that a contemplation of nature reinforces a belief in God already held for other reasons. They are taking seriously Romans 1:20:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (NIV)

It is all well and good to say that science can not prove God, but Romans is telling us that contemplating nature makes His existence so obvious that men are without excuse for non-belief.

The reality, though, is that nature puts up one roadblack after another to faith. Christianity tells us that humans are the primary reason for the Creation, but evolution tells us we are just an afterthought of an evolutionary process that did not have us in mind. Christianity tells us that God’s nature is one of love and justice, but science tells us that we are the result of billions of years of savage and wasteful evolution by bloodsport.

A lot of clever people with advanced degrees in philosophy and theology, writing at book length, have devised ingenious arguments for why these seeming contradictions may not be fatal to Christianity. The fact remains that having to work so hard just to establish that Christianity is still possible is a far cry from leaving men without excuse.

Comments

  1. #1 Jonathan Lubin
    October 5, 2009

    Well, I insist that the most powerful religious experience I ever had was when, as a high-school student, I worked through to an understanding of a proof that exp(it)=cos(t)+isin(t). How is that so different from Consolmagno’s position? Unless, of course, he makes the explicit statement that learning about the Universe confirms his trust in the Nicene Creed.

  2. #2 Ann Klein
    October 5, 2009

    *It is all well and good to say that science can not prove God, but Romans is telling us that contemplating nature makes His existence so obvious that men are without excuse for non-belief.*
    Except this week, when contemplating nature: earthquakes, typhoons, tsunami’s, floods, forest fires, etc. If there is a God, she is truly angry! Science tells us why this stuff happens, religion can only guess. I’d rather have certainty that some disaster might happen, than worry about the possible wrath of God.

  3. #3 Glen Davidson
    October 5, 2009

    I do not think most ID folks believe in God solely because of the complexity of the eye. Rather, it is that a contemplation of nature reinforces a belief in God already held for other reasons.

    I’d say almost no one believes in god due to the complexity of the eye. Tradition, social reasons, and bias are about the only reasons for “believing” that are of any consequence.

    Where Consolmagno is right, and what I believe he means by his statement, is that IDists are searching for a “sufficient cause” to believe in the complexity of the eye. They know that they have no sufficient reason in the Bible, their feelings, or the beauty of a sunset, or whatever lame “reasons” they may give, so they reach for the pseudoscience of ID to supply a “reason.”

    Consolmagno has no reason to believe in god either, but at least he’s apparently okay with that, and at least claims to do science as past scientists did, to know god. I do not think that his statement reveals a lack of commitment to rational inquiry any more than Newton’s pious statements did, for many of these highly educated Catholics do indeed look at god as being behind the rationality of human and of “Creation.” In reality, I have cause to believe that evolution pretty much accounts for our rationalizations of the universe, which probably “acts” regularly due to “seeking to” reduce energies and to increase entropy.

    However, I see no problem with his doing science. He’s as backward about it as early scientists were, indeed, but that’s not an impediment to rational inquiry so long as one’s religion is not forming one’s “science,” as happens with the IDists.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  4. #4 NewEnglandBob
    October 5, 2009

    Where Consolmagno is very wrong:

    “Science cannot prove God, or disprove Him. He has to be assumed.

    and:

    …getting to play in the universe – which is really what a scientist does…

    The first is backwards, of course. Existence of a god requires proof and there isn’t any.

    The second quote – it is usually hard work, not play. Where else should it be done? Outside the universe? Did he think before he spoke?

  5. #5 Flippertie
    October 5, 2009

    @newenglandbob
    You said:

    Where Consolmagno is very wrong:
    “Science cannot prove God, or disprove Him. He has to be assumed.

    Well no. Consulmagno is absolutely correct. Science cannot prove or disprove the existence of a god (or any other supernatural phenomenon). What we can do is point out the current lack of evidence for such phenomena and discuss the probability (very low) of their existence.

    Existence of a god requires proof and there isn’t any.

    What? I’ve read that sentence several times and it still makes no sense at all.

    Did he think before he spoke?

    Did you?

    NB I think it’s a shame that some smart people (like Consulmagno) need to assume the existence of a god to “give[s] him the courage and desire to be a scientist” but just because he chooses to delude himself doesn’t mean that wooly, ill thought-out criticism of him should get a free pass.

  6. #6 Tony P
    October 5, 2009

    Jesuits are as near as you get to being an atheist in the Catholic church.

    Highly educated, very intelligent. That’s a Jesuit.

  7. #7 Anton Mates
    October 6, 2009

    And if people have no other reason for doing science than the dubious belief that they are playing with God then their commitment to rational inquiry is very weak.

    People do science for all sorts of reasons–to help their fellow man, to help their country win a war, to make their parents proud, to have a stable (if not usually very lucrative) job, to prove their intellectual superiority. I’m not sure that makes much of a difference to how well they do it.

  8. #8 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 6, 2009

    Anton –

    And people believe in God for all sorts of reasons–because of some personal experience, because of a rational contemplation of nature, because of some emotional need. I’m not sure that makes much of a difference to the strength of their faith.

  9. #9 Anton Mates
    October 6, 2009

    I’m not sure that makes much of a difference to the strength of their faith.

    Nor am I. Without a battery of psychological tests, I wouldn’t presume to decide whether Consolmagno or Michael Behe was more devout.

  10. #10 386sx
    October 6, 2009

    Well I guess I’m not alone. I always thought the “weak faith” thing was pretty freakin ridiculous. It’s just another way of belittling religions they don’t like. It’s the believer’s equivalent of the schoolyard game of “the dozens”. “Hey yo momma has weak faith! And cowboy boots!!”

  11. #11 386sx
    October 6, 2009

    “If people have no other reason to believe in God than that they can’t imagine how the human eye could have evolved by itself, then their faith is very weak.”

    Yeah, and I can’t imagine how that could possibly make sense. For one thing, they do have other reasons for believing in God. The very same reasons that Consolmagno has! What possible sense could Consolmagno be making there. Thanks Consolmagno for the little insight into some of the illogical contortions “believers” must go through to keep on believing.

  12. #12 IanW
    October 6, 2009

    Faith doesn’t come any weaker than it does in those people who have so little of it in their god that they have to wrench the reins from that god’s hand and do the job themselves.

  13. #13 Jud
    October 6, 2009

    I think I’m with Glen on this one – if someone’s doing good science, I don’t know that an inquiry into motivations is necessary.

    Re faith being stronger if it has less rational basis, hey, these folks are built differently than you, me, and the rest of the rationalist crowd – they love playing with these sorts of mind games. “I believe, O Lord – help thou mine unbelief,” and all that.

  14. #14 The Ridger
    October 6, 2009

    I believe what he’s saying is that people have “weak” faith when they’re terrified by any challenge to it. Thus, an explanation of how the eye evolved, rather than was specially created, could cause their entire belief in God to crumble. That’s “weak” as opposed to “strong”, which posits a God transcedent over the universe, so that nothing can disprove him, and no new fact can shake it.

    Like it or not, that’s a very defensible use of “weak” vs “strong”. And what he then goes on to say is that only people of “strong” faith can “play in the universe” (and when Sagan or Tyson says something like that, I don’t hear people sneer) because only they can go out and enjoy what they find, instead of being terrified by it. Obviously, people of no faith can also do it, but his discussion is not about them (us)…

  15. #15 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 6, 2009

    Just to clarify a few things: I was not calling into question Consolmagno’s abilities as a scientist, and I don’t especially care what his motivations are. But he was the one, recall, who brought up people’s motivations and used those motivations to make judgments about people. He was not usng “strong” and “weak” in some clinical sense, in the way mathematicians might refer to strong induction vs. weak induction. He was plainly criticizing those of weak faith and encouraging them towards the stronger version.

    If it is fair game for him to criticize people’s faith based on the motivations behind it, then surely it is fair for me to criticize his own motivations for doing science. A desire to play with God in the context of complete obedience to the Catholic Church does not seem to me to be a sound basis for scientific investigation.

    I also don’t get the impression that creationists or ID folks are “terrified” of any future scientific discoveries that might be made. Sure, their faith might crumble if someone creates life in a test tube, but they are supremely confident that will never happen. But to the extent that they are willing to revise their beliefs in the face of new evidence they should be commended, not criticized. They are the ones behaving admirably, while Consolmagno is encouraging blind faith.

    As for Sagan and Tyson, I think it is great to want to play in the universe. My criticism was directed towards Consolmagno’s idea that he is in some way getting closer to God by doing so.

  16. #16 qwerty
    October 6, 2009

    Jason I think you are misinterpreting Romans.

    It is not “telling us that contemplating nature makes His existence so obvious;” it is telling us that God’s divine nature–i.e., His character and invisible attributes, such as omnibenvolence or whatever–have been revealed to everybody and so there’s no excuse for ignoring Him.

    Horeshit, I know, but let’s get it right.

  17. #17 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    October 6, 2009

    Elsewhere under the big tent of Roman Catholicism:

    Cardinal Pell Shares “Dangerous Ideas”
    The cardinal stated that although there are many people, including anti-theists and provocateurs, who regard God as an enemy, recent developments in physics and biology have strengthened the case for God, reported the Archdiocese of Sydney in a press statement…
    He noted, however, that despite the affirmations of science, God cannot be contained within that field’s framework since he is outside space and time…

  18. #18 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    October 6, 2009

    Elsewhere under the big tent of Roman Catholicism:

    New astrophysical discoveries leave little to no room for Atheism, expert says
    Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, S.J, PhD… “Theism, in fact, can be better explained by contemporary science and modern philosophy better than ever before, but particularly interesting is what is happening in the field of astrophysics … to the point that I can’t imagine why agnosticism and Atheism are still popular,” Fr. Spitzer said….
    According to Fr. Spitzer, “this theory has become so scientifically solid, that 50% of astrophysicists are “coming out of the closet” an accepting a metaphysical conclusion: the need of a Creator.”…

  19. #19 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 6, 2009

    qwerty –

    Romans does not say simply that God’s invisible attributes have been revealed to people. It tells us specifically how those attributes have been revealed. It says, “…have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” I don’t think I am out of line in taking that to mean that a study of the Creation, that is, nature, should render God’s existence and attributes obvious.

    In context, Paul is excoriating people who follow other, false, gods, decrying those gods as human creations. He is saying, in effect, that those people can not claim ignorance of the truth because God has revealed Himself to them through His Creation. He certainly is not saying that everyone has received some personal revelation that reveals the truth to them, or that He has been revealed to people in some supernatural way.

  20. #20 386sx
    October 6, 2009

    Obviously Cardinal Pell and Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, S.J, PhD have very very weak faith. But at least their faith is not as weak as Kent Hovind’s though! Man, that is some weak faith there.

  21. #21 qwerty
    October 6, 2009

    Jason — You may be right, but the “scholars” who spend their lives parsing such rot seem to (mostly) agree with me here: http://bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Bible.show/sVerseID/27951/eVerseID/27951

    I know that’s a shameless appeal to authority, but when you’re talking about bullshit there’s not much else you can do.

    As for the “context” of Paul’s writing, I think all you need to know is that it became “all things to all men,” and so it can mean whatever you want it to mean. (That and the possibility that it was largely influenced by epilepsy.)

  22. #22 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 6, 2009

    qwerty –

    I don’t mean to be stubborn, but I followed your link and I don’t see how what is being said there differs substantially from what I said. Here’s the quote I found:

    Even without the Spirit of God, without God having fully revealed Himself to a person, it is still possible for him to recognize that a creation demands the existence of a Creator. He can see that an intelligent Designer is necessary rather than the natural world coming into existence by sheer chance. Thus, God says that they are without excuse because they can understand the things that can be known about Him, if they choose to accept it.

    Isn’t that saying that a contemplation of nature is sufficient to reveal the existence of God (and presumably also some of His attributes)) even without the benefit of a personal revelation? The commentator here is referring specifically to the argument from design, which is precisely what is at issue.

  23. #23 natural cynic
    October 6, 2009

    @newenglandbob

    ..getting to play in the universe – which is really what a scientist does…

    … it is usually hard work, not play. Where else should it be done? Outside the universe? Did he think before he spoke?

    There is a strong element of play along with work for most scientists. It is not lucrative for most scientists. If it was, why don’t they just shut off at 5PM and go home. Why would one spend 70 hours in the lab if finding out stuff wasn’t fun?

    And “outside the universe”? That’s where theologians go to speculate[and play mind games], scientists don’t go there.

  24. #24 Michael
    October 7, 2009

    natural cynic @23:

    You need to mark off your quotes. Your post is confusing.

    As for “play in the universe” I don’t think Consolmagno meant that we could play outside the universe.

    Rather, I think he meant that scientists get to play in the (whole) universe, not just in some little domesticated part of the universe. (Of course, he is speaking as an astronomer. He might also say that the universe is his lab.)

    (Analogy: I’m in the park with some little kids. They’re playing on the swings and a climbing structure. I tell them to “go play in the park” — thinking of the trees, the woods, the fields that I can see around me. Of course they’re already playing and they’re already in the park. That doesn’t make what I said unintelligible.)

  25. #25 Rikki
    October 7, 2009

    I wish Paul would have explained, with God so clearly seen from what has been made, why he had to go around the Mediterranean and tell them who God was. And why none of them, absolutely none of them, had a clue, with all that was so clear of his eternal power and divine nature. Personally, I think Paul knew – even though he still thought like a temple priest – that even those who didn’t know Jesus and the Hebrew God followed Him in some way, as best they could with what they knew at the time. And God was something more (with “invisible qualities”) than Paul could begin to fathom. And knowing God in our own way (calling God whatever suited what we, ourselves, could clearly see of God), we could go ahead and play in the universe. And Paul knew they could go play even without Paul to give them the rules. Maybe Paul finally realized, just for a minute, that God was bigger than Paul. Hmmmm. OK – back to slugging it out with the Creationists….

  26. #26 Jon S
    October 10, 2009

    Jason- “I also don’t get the impression that creationists or ID folks are “terrified” of any future scientific discoveries that might be made. Sure, their faith might crumble if someone creates life in a test tube, but they are supremely confident that will never happen.”

    I’m not sure why you think this would cause faith to crumble. If someone were to create life in a test tube, that would simply affirm that life cannot rise spontaneously, and that it takes intelligence to create life. Actually, I’m fairly confident that someday man will create life in a test tube. Genesis 11:6 alludes to the fact that nothing will be impossible for man (if left unchecked).

  27. #27 oldfuzz
    October 10, 2009

    The trouble with talking about God is one’s idea of “belief in God.” If the “existence of God” is taken literally, rather than symbolically, then the believer is sunk because, as has been stated here, there is no proof of god’s existence.

    The creationist’s problem is that they can not prove their belief, but there are many scientific “beliefs” which cannot be proven… yet? Those who say, “I believe” are fine by me. It’s those who say, “All who believe other than I are wrong.” who leave me cold… as do scientists of the same viewpoint.

    Scientists say they work from hypotheses which can be tested which means some who call themselves scientists aren’t, yet. The religious–creationist and otherwise–work from a premise, an I believe and can’t prove it position, which is altered by scientific discovery. There was a time when creationists subscribed to the earth being 6,000 years old. Now many say it’s 10,000 years old. Old earth creationists, OECs, accept the 13.7 billion year old universe. Why do YECs and OECs accept one another so readily and reject evolutionary theory. There’s a mystery.

    It’s a question of how we label what is unknowable (so far) and how we alter our beliefs as we learn. I believe there was a first cause to the creation of the universe, but I don’t call it God, I think of it as the source of creation. If I called it God I would be a theist. If I say, “I disbelieve in God.” I’m an atheist. I prefer to say, “I believe there is a cause for every effect even when we cannot identify it and the idea of god is inconsequential.” I see myself as neither atheist nor theist. I think of myself as a non-theist, but some atheists say that is a term reserved for them; therefore, I am a theistic inconsequentialist. Maybe I should start a divine order.

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