Sunday, January 21, 2007

Making Iraq Work

There is no more fertile a mind in politics than Newt Gingrich's and no politician with a more scintillating record for achieving success in governing in difficult circumstances than Rudy Guiliani. The two team up to present what they think to be the recipe for standing Iraq on its economic feet.


Ten Myths About Atheism (Pt. V and VI)

We continue our critique of Sam Harris' Ten Myths About Atheism with a look today at numbers 5 and 6. Harris claims that the following assertion is a myth:

5) Atheism has no connection to science.

Although it is possible to be a scientist and still believe in God - as some scientists seem to manage it - there is no question that an engagement with scientific thinking tends to erode, rather than support, religious faith. Taking the U.S. population as an example: Most polls show that about 90% of the general public believes in a personal God; yet 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences do not. This suggests that there are few modes of thinking less congenial to religious faith than science is.

Harris words this myth rather tendentiously. Of course, there is a connection between atheism and science because science employs a methodology which assumes naturalism. It is thus easy for someone already disinclined to believe in a personal God to have that disinclination continually reinforced in his/her work. The point is that there is no logical nexus between atheism and science. One can be a scientist without having to forfeit one's theistic beliefs. We could just ask Newton, Galileo, Kepler, Faraday, Boyle or dozens of other great thinkers from the classical era of science.

Harris also disputes the following:

6) Atheists are arrogant.

When scientists don't know something - like why the universe came into being or how the first self-replicating molecules formed - they admit it. Pretending to know things one doesn't know is a profound liability in science. And yet it is the life-blood of faith-based religion. One of the monumental ironies of religious discourse can be found in the frequency with which people of faith praise themselves for their humility, while claiming to know facts about cosmology, chemistry and biology that no scientist knows. When considering questions about the nature of the cosmos and our place within it, atheists tend to draw their opinions from science. This isn't arrogance; it is intellectual honesty.

Well, I don't think this is quite true. From which fact of science, after all, do atheists draw their opinion that there is no God, that the cosmos is not designed by an intelligent creator, or that we are not made in the image of God? When Harris claims that scientists don't pretend to know things that can't be known he creates a problem for himself inasmuch as a lot of scientists and people like himself who write on science pretend to know that there is no purpose to the universe's existence, that those first self-replicating molecules he mentions arose through purely naturalistic processes, and that there is no God, but none of these are things that can be known.

If Harris really wants to demonstrate his intellectual honesty and lack of arrogance, he could start by admitting that he really has no idea whether the universe has a purpose or not, or whether an intelligence was behind the emergence of the first bio-molecules, or whether God exists or not. He could admit that his atheism is not based upon any clincher of an argument but is actually based upon little more than his preference that God not exist.

Such admissions would be a gratifying display of both honesty and humility, but I don't expect that we'll hear those words pass his lips anytime soon.

For our discussion of his first four "myths" go here and follow the links.


Knowing God

I came across this interesting and challenging observation in Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament by Christopher J.H. Wright.

The people of God as a whole will be characterized as a community who know Him. Now if we go on to ask what it means to know God, Jeremiah allows us no sentimental feelings of private spiritual piety. He is absolutely clear. To know God is to delight in faithful love, justice and righteousness, as God himself does (9:24). More than that, it means not only to delight in such things, but actually to do righteousness and justice by defending the rights of the poor and needy - that is to know God. Jeremiah defines the knowledge of God in one of the most challenging verses in the Bible.

"Your father (i.e. Josiah) did what was right and just.
He defended the cause of the poor and needy and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the Lord. (Jer. 22:15-16)