Oxford Biology Professor Richard Dawkins
Oxford Mathematician/Philosopher Dr. John Lennox
Monday, September 22 @ 4:00 p.m.
Woodward IRC Room 6, UBC Gate One
Screening of a film of a recent debate on The God Delusion followed by a panel discussion with
Dr. Dennis Danielson English Department UBC, and Dr. David Helfand, President of Quest University, Squamish, BC
If you want to watch the entire film of the Dawkins-Lennox Debate go to YouTube:
Post-Event Commentary on the Helfand-Danielson Dialogue
A. Dr. Bert Cameron, former Head of Nephrology at UBC
se are deluded and doing harm”, there is little to discuss. Prof. Helfand’s statement that the universe is meaningless, reflects his subjective conclusion based on his personal experience and reasoning. As such, according to his own criteria, this opinion should not be given weight as scientific evidence.
I thought Dennis Danielson’s contribution was helpful
– rejection of the “non-overlapping magisterium” approach
– accepting God as an agent but more interest in what kind of God
– faith supported by scripture, history and experience
– pointing out that roots of science inspired by theological insight (I would add health care to that)
Professor Helfand’s presentation took me by surprise so I have had to think about it. He claims to be a complete sceptic. He begins with the premise that “there is absolutely no meaning to life whatsoever” therefore he claims not to be looking for meaning but only for understanding of mechanism. From this starting point he is convinced that the methods of science provide the best basis for understanding. Even here however, all findings are tentative, he claims to have “no faith” in any theory. “Subjective evidence is not a category” for him. Even the fact that the universe is explicable is just a “contingent hypothesis”. He would give little credence to any theory, including the “multiverse”, until there was some empirical evidence for it.
Thus, though Dawkins and Prof. Helfand both claim to be atheists, he isn’t particularly a Dawkins fan. In this, he is in company with a number of other non religious intellectuals such as Terry Eagleton, John Gray and Thomas Nagel.
We really didn’t question Prof. Helfand on this, but he does not seem to be driven by the same moral imperative of Dawkins and some others such as Hitchins and Harris, that religion is so harmful it needs to be driven from the world.
He seemed rather to be expressing a personal perspective that might be summarized like this: “At this point in my life I have come to the conclusion that there is no overarching or ultimate meaning. I look at this fascinating and strangely intelligible universe that I love to explore but I am not inclined to consider the possibility of a designer. I find sufficient personal meaning in exploring and understanding the mechanisms of the cosmos which the physical and evolutionary sciences seem to be in the process of elucidating while recognizing that this understanding is based on a ‘contingent hypothesis’.”
It seems to me, that unless Prof. Helfand takes some moral conclusion from this, such as “others ought to think as I do” or “people who find meaning in the universe are deluded and doing harm”, there is little to discuss. Prof. Helfand’s statement that the universe is meaningless, reflects his subjective conclusion based on his personal experience and reasoning. As such, according to his own criteria, this opinion should not be given weight as scientific evidence.
Most of our understandings and decisions in life are based on data that would be considered “subjective” since it is not empirically tested or testable. However, that does not mean that it is unreasonable to accept it. As far as Christian faith is concerned, as Dennis quoted, Christians are called to “give a reason for the hope that is within them.”
David Helfand, a prestigious Columbia astronomer, placed his whole position behind Karl Popper and the falsification doctrine. He took the position of mechanism and claimed that meaning is in the realm of religion which he rejects. From is perspective life is meaningless. He held to a non-overlapping magisterium between science and religion. He didn’t totally agree with Dawkins on all points. Danielson does not see this sharp distinction between the realm of science and the realm of religion. He believes in both God and good science; religion and science are two ways of understanding one world as physicist Jon Polkinghorne might say.
B. Dr. Richard Johns, Philosophy of Science and Logic at Langara College writes: “Most philosophers of science reject falsificationism. Duhem and Quine showed, for example, that theories only make predictions when combined with a framework of background assumptions. So when a prediction is false, the problem could be with the framework, not the theory itself. Kuhn showed that all theories, even the best ones, are inconsistent with some of the data. Hempel showed that many scientific statements aren’t falsifiable. Bayesians (who are now the dominant group) reject Popper’s fundamental claim that theories are never probably true. Popper is much more popular among scientists than among philosophers of science.
Also, while there is disagreement among Bayesians and others, present views don’t allow such a sharp separation between science and religion. Kuhn for example says that the present “paradigm” isn’t open to rational scrutiny, but shielded from criticism, and paradigm shifts are only partially rational. Bayesians says that science depends on subjective judgements of plausibility in addition to logic and data, etc.”
See also Roy Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality; An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories (rev. ed.; University of Notre Dame Press, 2005).
Professor David J. Helfand, President and Vice-Chancellor, Quest University Canada; President, American Astronomical Society, Professor of Astronomy, Columbia University (on leave). He has spent 35 years as Professor of Astronomy at Columbia University, where he served as Department Chair and Co-Director of the Astrophysics Laboratory for more than half that time. He is the author of nearly 200 scientific publications on many areas of modern astrophysics including radio, optical and X-ray observations of celestial sources from nearby stars to the most distant quasars. He is engaged in a research project designed to provide a complete picture of the birth and death of stars in the Milky Way.
But most of all, David is an inspirational teacher, who received the 2001 Columbia Presidential Teaching Award and the 2002 Great Teacher Award from the Society of Columbia Graduates. He has a deep concern about the state of the modern research university which he sees as dysfunctional, in part because of the impossibly large number of functions which the research university is expected to fulfill in 21st. century North America and in part because of the low priority given to teaching excellence. Because of these concerns, he has taken the radical step of pioneering a university dedicated to innovative teaching. David believes that he is a better cook than he is an astronomer and, ambiguously, colleagues who have sampled his gastronomic delights agree. We welcome him as a major public intellectual and a personal friend of many of us.
Dennis Danielson professor of English at the University of British Columbia, is a literary and intellectual historian who has made contributions to Milton studies and to the early modern history of cosmology, examining scientific developments in their historical, philosophical, and literary contexts. His books include Milton’s Good God: A Study in Literary Theodicy (1982) and the Cambridge Companion to Milton (1989, 1999), both published by Cambridge University Press. His subsequent work in the history of astronomy, especially The Book of the Cosmos: Imagining the Universe from Heraclitus to Hawking and The First Copernican: Georg Joachim Rheticus and the Rise of the Copernican Revolution, has engaged both humanities scholars and scientists in dialogue about the historical and cultural as well as cosmological meaning of Copernicus’s legacy. Danielson was the 2011 recipient of the Konrad Adenauer Research Prize from Germany’s Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. His new book Paradise Lost and the Cosmological Revolution is in press and scheduled for publication by Cambridge University Press in 2014.
Grad Students may also check http://ubcgcu.org for relevant information and activities.
pdf of Dialogue Between David Helfand and Alister McGrath on the New Atheists SKM_C554e14091911460
Paper on Scientism by Dr. Gordon Carkner SCIENTISM:Apologeetics Canada
Canadian Science & Christian Affiliation (CSCA) ( local contact: Dr. Arnold Sikkema TWU Physics) http://www.csca.ca/
Scholarly Responses to New Atheism
Iain Provan, Seriously Dangerous Religion: what the Old Testament really says and why it matters. (Baylor 2014)
Hart, David Bentley, The Experience of God: being, consciousness and bliss. Yale, 2013
Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: science, religion and naturalism.
Thomas Nagel, Mind & Cosmos. (questions whether reductionistic explanations are adequate)
Alister McGrath, A Fine-Tuned Universe: the search for God in science and theology. (2009 Gifford Lectures)
——————–, The Dawkins Delusion
David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: the Christian Revolution and its fashionable enemies.
John C. Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? Lion.
——————, Gunning for God: why the new atheists are missing the target.
John Lennox debates Richard Dawkins at Oxford’s Museum of Natural History: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0UIbd0eLxw
Craig & Meister (eds.), God is Great; God is Good: why believing in God is reasonable and responsible: http://ubcgcu.org/2013/09/06/gcu-book-study/
Peter Hitchens, Rage Against God: how atheism led me to faith.
Denis Alexander, Evolution or Creation?
Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making sense of the Old Testament God.
Further Reading on Science & Religion
Polkinghorne, Sir John, One World: The Interaction of Science & Theology. Princeton. (physicist/theologian—leading light on Science & Religion)
Polkinghorne, Sir John, Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of Science: Religion, Science and Providence.
McGrath, Alister. A Fine-Tuned Universe: the quest for God in Science and Theology. (Gifford Lectures)
Hutchinson, Ian. Monopolizing Knowledge.
Craig & Meister (eds.). God is Great; God is Good.
Gingerich, Owen, God’s Universe.
Collins, Francis, The Language of God. Free Press.
Pascal, Blaise. Pensees. Trans. A. J. Krailsheimer. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1966.
Capell & Cook eds., Not Just Science: Questions Where Christian Faith and Natural Science Intersect. Zondervan
Jaki, Stanley, The Road to Science and the Ways to God. Chicago (Gifford Lectures on history of science)
Russell, Colin, Crosscurrents: Interactions Between Science & Faith. Eerdmans
Danielson, Dennis (ed.), The Book of the Cosmos. Perceus.
Plantinga, Alvin, Where the Conflict Really Lies: science, religion and naturalism. (a critique of the new atheist and the hegemony of Philosophical Naturalism)
Lewis, C.S., Miracles. Macmillan (a classic)
Waltke, Bruce, “Gift of the Cosmos” (article on Genesis 1:1-2:4) Chapter 8 in An Old Testament Theology, Zondervan, 2007.
Alexander, Denis, Rebuilding the Matrix: Science & Faith in the 21st Century. Zondervan (director of Faraday Institute in Cambridge, UK)
Burke, ed., Creation & Evolution: 7 Prominent Christians Debate. IVP UK.
Livingstone, D. N., Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders: The Encounter BetweenEvangelical Theology and Evolutionary Thought.
Owens, V.S., Godspy: Faith, Perception, and the New Physics.
Gingerich, Owen, “Let There Be Light” article on natural theology by America’s top Christian physicist at Harvard’s Smithsonian Institute.
Theology of Creation
Alexander, Denis, Evolution or Creation?: Must we Choose?
Capon, R. F., “The Third Peacock” in The Romance of the Word. Eerdmans
Gunton, C., The Triune Creator: a historical and systematic study. Eerdmans (English theologian)
Walsh & Middleton, The Transforming Vision. IVP (on Christian worldview)
Bouma-Prediger, S., For the Beauty of the Earth: a Christian vision of creation care. Baker Academic, 2010.
Nagel, Thomas, Mind and Cosmos.
Limits of Science
Medawar, P., The Limits of Science.
Schumacher, E.F. A Guide for the Perplexed. Abacus. (brilliant challenge to ontological reductionism)
Carkner, Gordon, Unpublished paper: “Scientism and the Search for an Integrated Reality” (several posts from this on the Blog)
McGrath, A. & J., The Dawkins Delusion? IVP 2007.
Lennox, John. God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? Lion Books, 2011.
Jeeves & Berry, Science, Life, and Christian Belief. Apollos Books.
Ward, Keith, Pascal’s Fire: Scientific Faith and Religious Understanding.
Harper, Charles Jr. ed., Spiritual Information: 100 Perspectives on Science and Religion. Templeton Foundation Press.
Spencer, N. & White, R. Christianity, Climate Change, and Sustainable Living. SPCK, 2007.
See also DVD Series called Test of Faith from Faraday Institute in Cambridge, UK