The Science of Belief

Inayat Bunglawala, media secretary at the Muslim Council of Britain, has a very useful commentary this morning in the Guardian group blog ("Comment Is Free"). Using Francis Collins as a starting point, he makes a good case that Dawkins and other aggressive atheists are overstating the science in arguing that science shows that there is no God:

In his latest book, The Language of God, Collins seeks to reconcile the findings of science with faith in God.

"Science's domain is to explore nature. God's domain is in the spiritual world, a realm not possible to explore with the tools and language of science. It must be examined with the heart, the mind, and the soul - and the mind must find a way to embrace both realms."

Still, it's a tough time to be one who seeks reconciliation. Last year saw arch-atheist Richard Dawkins launch an all-out assault on what he disparagingly referred to as "faith-heads" in his bestselling book, The God Delusion, and on the other side, creationist and intelligent design movements continue to gather supporters. Indeed, dismayingly, it appears that creationist arguments are also now beginning to make inroads into some Muslim communities too.

Collins emphatically rejects the bleak worldview that Dawkins espoused in his 1995 book River Out of Eden:

"The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference."

As the late paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould often remarked, just as it was important for religious scholars not to overstep their boundaries by making unsupported assertions about issues that were within the domain of science, it was also unhelpful when scientists made similarly unsupported atheistic claims about what science had to say regarding questions of meaning and purpose.

So, the same data that Dawkins used to advocate his atheistic worldview can also be interpreted in a quite different way. "... The fact that the universe had a beginning, that it obeys orderly laws that can be expressed precisely with mathematics, and the existence of a remarkable series of 'coincidences' that allows the laws of nature to support life ..." can also lend strong support for the God hypothesis, says Collins.

And Collins makes just this case for the concept of theistic evolution, ie God caused the universe to come into being and set its laws and physical parameters precisely right to allow the creation of stars, planets, heavy elements and life itself. Such a belief does not contradict and is consistent with both science and faith.

In the final analysis, the scientific method has been astoundingly successful at investigating the natural world. Still, this should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the tools of science are powerless to answer some of our profoundest questions such as "Why did the universe come into being?", "What is the meaning of human existence?" and "What will happen to us after we die?" and yet there is clearly a deep-rooted human desire to seek answers to these questions.

Read it all.


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