An atheist says science can answer the big questions

by Matt Slick

I received an e-mail from someone who thought I might be interested in responding to a blog by an atheist who used to call my radio show.  Since I enjoy responding to atheists, I thought I would take a look. Through some email exchanges, I received permission from the atheist (he calls himself atheist Bob at crossexaminedblog.com) to reproduce his posts so that I can insert comments into them and reply to them on my website.

His original comments are in black and my comments are inserted in green.

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Science Answers the Big Questions

In a recent post, I argued that Christianity's smug claim to be able to answer the Big Questions of Life' is empty. Sure, it can answer these questions, but so can anyone. It's whether the answers are credible that matters.

For discovering reality, religion comes up short. And I would argue that Science does provide answers to these questions.

For example: Why are we here? We're here for no more cosmically-significant reason than why deer, jellyfish, and oak trees are here.

Atheist Bob fails to show how science can answer the big questions -- which is what his post is titled. How is telling us there is no reason why we are here an answer to the question "Why are we here?" All he has done is dismissed the question. He did not answer it.

Nevertheless, I would suggest that Bob attempt to clarify the question. What is meant by "why"?  Does he presuppose the question implies a purpose for our existence? But if that is the case, doesn't such a purpose imply a mind that gives purpose? And if our existence is a result of the mind, then his atheism falls flat on its face. Could this be why he dismisses the question by stating there is no answer instead of seriously examining it?

But his dismissal is consistent with his presuppositions of atheism and materialistic "science." First of all, because he is an atheist, he cannot properly entertain metaphysical questions as they relate to science because these are questions that deal with purpose and intent. Second, science deals with the observation of the physical world and its attempt to explain how the physical world works.  The "why" in science is actually "how." The "why" cannot imply a Purpose Giver in the physical universe. So, instead of asking "why are we here?" (implying a Purpose Giver) science is actually asking "How did we get here?" (implying unguided, mechanical processes). Science doesn't deal with metaphysical and philosophical questions. Instead, it is examines mechanistic reasons for our existence (i.e., evolutionary processes), not reasons of intent (we are put here by God to glorify God, Isaiah 43:7).

For example: Where did we come from? Science has some decent answers (Big Bang, evolution) and still has a lot of work to do in other areas (string theory, abiogenesis). Science never answers anything with certainty, but the scientific consensus, where there is one, is the best explanation that we have at the moment. The retort 'Well, if Science can't answer it, my religion can!' is hardly an argument.

"Where" is a word used to designate location. Bob confuses how we got here ("Big Bang, evolution") with where we came from (my ancestors originated in Germany). He is not being precise and this lack of precision leads to confusion. 

For example: What is my purpose? There is no evidence of a transcendental or supernatural purpose to your life. One great thing about rejecting dogma is that you get to select your own purpose! And who better than you to decide what that is?

Purpose implies a purpose giver. For example, the purpose of this website (carm.org) is multifaceted:  glorify God, teach Christian theology, answer objections to the Christian faith, and equip Christians. I am its designer and author; therefore, I designate its purpose and CARM's existence is intended to fulfill this purpose. 

When Bob says "there is no evidence of a transcendental or supernatural purpose to your life," he is making two mistakes. First, he is failing to properly deal with what science really is -- an attempt to look at the physical world and develop explanations for its behavior that are limited to motion, matter, energy, etc. Science does not postulate explanations that deal with morality, purpose, beauty, value, etc. Science is limited to how and why the physical universe behaves in the manner it does - in purely mechanistic, purposeless processes and explanations that reflect those processes. Transcendental and supernatural purposes are topics of philosophy, ethics, theology, etc. So, what he is doing is mixing categories:  science, philosophy, theology, etc. That is, he is saying science can answer metaphysical and philosophical questions - but it can't - because that is not what science does.

Second, he is begging the question. He said, "There is no evidence of a transcendental or supernatural purpose to your life." Really? Does he know all evidences so that he can make such an authoritative statement?

At the beginning of his article, he accused Christianity of being smug. Smugness is excessive self-satisfaction and overconfidence with one's abilities and/or situation. Perhaps the smugness he refers to rests not with Christianity but with himself. After all, he seems to be quite satisfied in attempting to answer philosophical questions -- that science is not intended to answer -- yet he mistakingly tries to do.

And so on. Science has answers; it's just that religion doesn't like them.

Science has only one reality to align itself with. By contrast, each religion makes up its own, which is why they can't agree. Science provides answers and doesn't demand faith to accept them.

Bob is not clear in what he means by "one reality." He lacks the precision of definition. But that has not stopped him from denigrating "religion" as a whole. In addition, he lumps all religions into one huge mess and then cites that they have disagreements - as if disagreements invalidate religion as a whole. Can we likewise dismiss science because there are scientists who disagree with each other? Let's be consistent Bob. But, of course, this is not how one does serious analysis. For Bob to lump all religions into one giant heap is sloppy at best.

Think about a church steeple with a lightning rod on top. The steeple proclaims that God exists, and the lightning rod says that it can reduce lightning damage. Which claim has the evidence to argue that it's true? Religion makes truth claims and so does science, but science takes it one step further: it actually delivers on its claims.

What does God's existence have to do with reducing lightning-strike damage on steeples? Believing in God doesn't mean that lightning doesn't strike tall metallic objects, including those atop churches. So what is his point? 

Bob says that science delivers on its claims. Hmmm. What does he mean by "deliver"? Does he mean that science can produce a motor, an airplane, or predict planetary orbits where religion cannot? If that's the case, so what? Are we to invalidate science because it cannot deliver when it comes to discerning what is morally right and wrong yet religion can? Come on Bob. Can't you do better than this?

Religion ' well, not so much.

Science (and Bob) well, not so much.

 

 

 

 
 
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