Posted on October 12, 2000
This article is aimed at summarizing the reviews of the books that
purportedly assert the compatibility of the Bible with scientific data.
Among the reviewed books are those written by professional Christian
preachers and Jewish rabbis, as well as by serious scientists who followed an
urge to reconcile their scientific ken with their desire to believe.
This is a strange company. At
one extreme we see among the authors of the reviewed books some
pseudo-scientists (like Drs. G. Schroeder or H. Ross) who try to disguise
themselves as real scientists but betray their ignorance of science by
propagandizing preposterous notions which they believe to meet scientific
criteria but which actually only show their dilettante level of understanding of
the topics under discussion. Some
other writers (like L. Kelemen or G. Jeffrey) are more honest in that they do
not pretend to be scientists themselves, but still offer various
quasi-scientific arguments, often distorting scientific data, in favor of their
prejudices and beliefs. At the
other extreme we see some genuine scientists
(like Professor N. Aviezer, Dr. L. Spetner or Dr. M. Behe) sometimes
prominent in their fields of research, who try to make excursions into the
dispute about the veracity of the biblical story, wherein they somehow lose the
normal rigor of scientific discourse and resort to argumentation of the type to
which they would never acquiesce in their professional fields.
There is a wide range of levels of discourse in the papers in question.
In some of the reviewed books we see egregiously meaningless statements
stemming from the writer’s profound scientific illiteracy (e.g. Schroeder,
Ross, Jeffrey). The authors of some other books (Aviezer, Spetner, Behe) avoid
gross misinterpretation of fundamental facts of science but offer conclusions
based not on the evidence but rather on the writers’ strong desire to keep
their religious faith even though it contradicts the elementary requirements of
Such variations within the group of writers in question testify to the
variety of motivations behind the efforts of those writers. Some of them make their living exploiting the popularity of
religious beliefs and prejudices. Others
satisfy their personal desire to find proofs supporting whatever they wish to
Science and religion are both purely human endeavors providing outlets,
one to the curiosity which seems to be an inseparable part of the human nature,
and the other to a hope that human life is something more than a purely
biological existence without reason and purpose and that the tragedy of
unavoidable death can somehow be rationalized.
The records of both science and religion are mixed. Science, driven by
curiosity, and its offspring – technical inventions- opened the way to an
enormous improvement of living standards and of well being of billions of men
and women, conquering many diseases, immensely enhancing food supplies,
increasing manifold the time available for pleasure, freeing many people from
the drudgery of monotonous, boring and tiring jobs.
On the other hand, science opened the way to Man’s unprecedented
ability to conduct mass killings and, along with the increase in Man’s ability
to master the forces of nature, has done very little to make people behave more
reasonably. Religion arguably
served to improve the moral fiber of society
by instilling in people notions like those succinctly presented in the Ten
Commandments. On the other hand,
religions are to blame for explosions of hatred, senseless murders of those who
dare to believe differently, suppressions of the progress of scientific
exploration and, as a side effect, the development of hypocrisy, which
accompanies every religion as a doppelganger.
The fact that some scientists invest considerable effort in trying to
reconcile science with the Bible testifies to a lack of the bravery necessary to
face the possibility that there is no higher purpose in our life and that death
means the complete disappearance of an individual conscience.
The fear of a possible absence of any higher meaning to our life is quite
understandable. How immensely
better it is to know that our life means something above and beyond mere
biological existence and that death will not exterminate that whole world which
each person has inside his or her soul. However, the desire to believe in that
higher meaning is very far from actual proofs of religion’s claims. The desire
in question itself creates an extremely powerful incentive to ignore any
evidence negating religious beliefs and to adhere to faith against reason. No
convincing proofs of their veracity have so far been discovered by any of the
thousands of religions which contradict each other and whose tenets are so
obviously inherently contradictory even at a perfunctory glance.
On the other hand, atheists may be suspected of another kind of fear.
We all know that each of us, in the course of lifetime, has committed a
multitude of small and sometimes not so small misdeeds, meeting the definition
of sin according to religious beliefs. Refusing
to admit the existence of God, whom everyone is destined to face and to possibly
pay in some way for his/her misdeeds, atheists play to their desire to avoid
that responsibility toward the Supreme Being.
I believe the two questions – one regarding the existence or
non-existence of God, and the other – the veracity of particular claims of
this or that religion – are very different.
I suspect that the existence or non-existence of God is a dilemma that
cannot be solved by any rational arguments, at least that is how the matter
stands now. Predicting the future
is a very unrewarding job (recall how many biblical prophets were stoned to
death) and therefore I would not dare to insist that no rational proof of
God’s existence or non-existence will ever be found, though I suspect that,
unfortunately, this may be the case. Therefore,
believing either of two alternatives remains a matter of personal choice, while
for those of a bent similar to myself, agnosticism is the third choice.
The question of the veracity of this or that religion or of some specific
image of God is very different and seems to be within the human capacity for
rational judgment. Having read many books and articles propagandizing various
religious systems, I have formed a rather firm opinion that all of those systems
have a purely human origin. I have
not seen a single good reason to accept claims of any religion, including
Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc., as plausible. All
of them are too controversial within themselves and contradict well-established
facts of science and/or of history.
Therefore, when I read the following statement by W. Dembski, made in his
paper in the collection “Mere Creation” (InterVarsity Press, 1998, page 14)
that “As Christians we know naturalism is wrong,” it offends me as a display
of arrogance and contempt for readers who may adhere to different beliefs (I
include atheism among beliefs). If
you “know,” why do you bother to look for proofs of your alleged knowledge?
If you already “know” then obviously your mind is closed to any
arguments that may be against your alleged knowledge.
Your statement means an end to the discussion, and renders all of the
rest of your discourse suspicious in regard to your adherence to facts, and
hence to truth.
In view of my assertion that I consider both religious faith and atheism
equally irrational (while realizing that one of these two attitudes must be
correct) a natural question seems to be: why are the reviews in this site
critical only of those books which are squarely on the side of religious faiths?
The reason is simple: whereas there is a multitude of books purportedly
proving the religious viewpoint, there are very few books of the opposite slant
and the latter rarely resort to such irrational arguments as those used by the
adherents of the supernatural origin of the universe and of life.
Atheism is not very popular, especially in the United States where every
presidential candidate bends backwards over to show his heartfelt religiousness.
Hence, books aimed at proving the religious viewpoint are much more
likely to find readers and even become bestsellers, without entailing any risk
for their authors to be disparaged by the mass audience.
On the other hand, trying to offer a view denying religious claims can
often cause various problems for their authors, starting with the considerable
difficulty of finding a publisher. The
latter prefer to play it safe.
Therefore, while viewing both religious faith and atheistic views equally
irrational, I did not see a real need and have had no real opportunity to pounce
on any false arguments proposed by the adherents of naturalism. Since the adherents of the theistic view normally do not miss
a chance to disprove even those arguments of atheists which seem to be
uncontroversial and based on indisputable facts, there is little chance that
some false arguments by atheists have been missed and not yet demolished by
believers in the supernatural Creation. Hence,
there was not much for me to do in that direction.
In my reviews I intended to reveal the falsity or the insufficient
substantiation of some particular arguments offered by the believers but did not
try to assert any choice between the two opposite views in general.
I do not expect that my reviews
will sway those readers who have already formed their own opinions in regard to
the discussed questions. I hope only that those readers who are searching
for a reasonable world look and find themselves in a shadow world of
uncertainty will find in my reviews some food for thoughts, which may help some
of them to make their own conclusions.
M. Perakh's home page http://www.talkreason.org/marperak/