Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Let’s Declare a Truce in the Culture War

From American, a magazine I just discovered (which has a bit of a conservative bent), comes this interesting article: Let’s Declare a Truce in the Culture War. The author is fairly clearly on the side of faith as opposed to atheism, so there is a bias here.

But he makes good points. Science cannot answer some of the fundamental questions of existence, but neither can faith explain (at all) how the universe came to be in its present form (the notion of a higher being is not falsifiable, so it is not a valid construct).

Faith and science are fundamentally different. One is an objective, exterior viewpoint (science), while the other is a subjective, interior viewpoint (faith). They do not examine the same things in the same way, so they are bound to bump up against each other. As it should be.

Let’s Declare a Truce in the Culture War

Monday, June 16, 2008

Neither faith nor science can answer the most important questions. So why are believers and atheists still bickering?

I went to a debate recently in New York, between a rabbi and the famous polemicist Christopher Hitchens, on the question “Does God exist?” Hitchens was called on to speak first, and he won the debate with his first two sentences: “I don’t know why I have to speak first. He has the burden of proof.” The mostly secular New York audience heartily applauded this sally, which was based on the premise—never challenged by the rabbi—that science provides an explanation of everything and any need there might be for a Supreme Being is more an artifact of human psychology than anything else.

But it turns out that this premise is false; science has no explanation for any of the major questions about our existence, the existence of the universe, or even the nature of reality. What’s more, by the standards of science itself—the view that if something can’t be falsified it cannot be the subject of scientific inquiry—science will never be able to provide an answer to these questions.

Under these circumstances, it is just as rational to believe in the existence of a Supreme Being as it is to believe a Supreme Being does not exist. Since science will never be able to provide answers to the deepest spiritual questions, and the Supreme Being has not appeared to mankind in a way that all of us will accept, the most rational position is to describe oneself as an agnostic—a person who just does not know. One of the results of the Enlightenment was a broad recognition that squabbling about the correctness of this or that religion was pointless and counterproductive. In this sense, the Enlightenment has not yet come to those who relentlessly pursue the culture war between believers and nonbelievers.

Before exploring why this is true—why science does not and never will have the answers to the deepest spiritual questions—it’s important to distinguish between religion and a belief in the existence of a Supreme Being. In most cases, religion posits a God who intercedes in human affairs. There are, it is said, no atheists in foxholes. It may or may not be true that God has his eye on the sparrow as well as on individual human beings, but that is not what I am concerned with here. I simply want to make clear to those who call themselves atheists—even boastfully, at times, as though it is a badge of their intelligence—that they may in fact be more ignorant than those they disparage as benighted believers in spirituality. At least people of faith have made a decision based on something that gives them personal comfort, while the atheist has simply remained ignorant of basic facts that would call his atheism into question.


Peter J. Wallison is the Arthur F. Burns Fellow in Financial Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

Read the rest here.

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