Thursday, October 19, 2017

How a Scientist Can Believe in God, Part 3

We now come to the end of my response to Albrecht Moritz' defense of theistic belief in a scientist.  Moritz presents 15 objections that an atheist might proffer in his article How can a scientist believe in God?, and attempts to debunk them.  Part 1 of my response is here, and part 2 is here. After addressing the last of his items, I will give a short summary.  I hope this hasn't been too drawn out for my readers.  Moritz makes some arguments, mainly for the benefit of his fellow believers, that don't hold water with scientifically-minded atheists, and that I feel should be answered.

11. The compartmentalization of the believer’s mind
This is something I alluded to in my introduction in part 1.  Moritz claims that he does not compartmentalize.  But I must disagree.  Moritz accepts biological evolution, but it is a theistic version, not the scientific one that claims evolution is an accidental, unguided process.  He rejects scientific theories of how the universe came into existence in favor of "God did it".  And he believes that that the universe is designed and "fine tuned", as he stated in item 10.  Not to mention that he believes the Christian myth that a rotting corpse came back to life.  As I have stated several times already, he seems to accept the scientific view in his own area of expertise, but rejects it everywhere else.  This precisely matches the very definition of compartmentalization, even if Moritz denies it.

12. Belief in God is driven by fear of mortality

Moritz says that consideration of life after death plays no role in his purely rational choice to reject atheism.  This is telling in the first place, because he speaks of "rejecting atheism" rather than accepting theism.  The significance of that is that theism is his default position - not based on any rational decision.  An empiricist's view would be that a belief is justified by evidence - not that a belief must be rejected on the basis of argument.  He doesn't need to be rationally convinced of theism, but he claims to be rationally convinced of the falsity of naturalism, apparently with objective evidence playing no role in that conviction.  And then he finishes by saying
Yet of course I am delighted and thankful to God for His promise of an eternal afterlife in His glorious presence.
So after denying that the promise of life after death has anything to do with his belief, he admits that this is indeed part of his thinking.  I think this is about as disingenuous as one can get.  Not to mention something that has no support whatsoever in science.

13. Belief in religious dogma conflicts with the scientific mindset
Moritz makes the argument that trust without verification is appropriate in matters of love, as well as in matters related to God and his revelation, and that this doesn't overlap with science at all.  (Compartmentalization, anyone?)  He says that it is not even appropriate to try to verify that one's loving relationship is reciprocal, but can he deny that we all want to see signs (or evidence) that our partner loves us?  If my wife winces every time she sees me, I would take that as a clue.  And I think Moritz is being less than honest here.  But he uses that as a lead-in to his assertion that belief in God similarly requires no evidence.  But he seems to miss the larger point altogether.  There are clearly some areas where religious dogma openly conflicts with science.  Not the least of these is belief in the soul as the seat of consciousness.  Deny it as he may, this is an area of active scientific investigation, and the answers to which science leads us are in direct conflict with religious dogma.  There's no getting around it.  The idea of non-overlapping magisteria is a fantasy, conceived by religious people or accommodationists to keep science at bay.  If something affects or interacts with the physical world, it is subject to scientific investigation.

14. Belief in miracles is unscientific
Here, Moritz makes the best of his arguments, as I see it.  It is based on the assumption that if a miracle actually happens as a one-time thing that leaves behind no traceable evidence of causation, then it would outside the scope of scientific investigation.
a presumed miracle healing does not leave researchable traces about a process from disease to health, since the healed person simply is at once healthy and thus indistinguishable from a person that was never sick to begin with. Science can say nothing about such a situation, except that there is no scientific explanation for the healing. Thus, the issue of miracles simply lies outside science.
And I agree completely with his logic.  Unless miracles happen on a regular basis, science can't provide a means to explain them in naturalistic terms.  Therefore, there is no scientific refutation of the event, and nothing unscientific about accepting this one-time violation of natural laws.  Except for one thing - and this is something that Moritz fails to mention.  He is presuming that miracles happen, but a scientific mind would want to see some kind of confirmation that this is really the case.  And there is none.  You can believe the stories in the bible, and you can believe the accounts of healing at Lourdes, but you can't produce reasonably solid documentation that these things actually happened.  They are stories.  God has never made his presence known unequivocally.  There are no independent historical accounts of the miracle stories in the bible.  No miraculous event has ever been caught on film as it happened.  No miracle has ever been confirmed by a group of objective or skeptical observers.  Science is based in evidence, and belief in miracles is not.  This is not a question of science rejecting some well-attested event, but a matter of theists believing that these things happen in the absence of reasonable evidence.  And so I must conclude that belief in miracles is unscientific on that basis.

15. Atheism is more scientific than theism
Moritz starts off by claiming that atheism is a philosophical position, usually based in naturalism, not scientific one.  But I think he is confused.  Naturalism is a philosophical worldview.  Atheism is not a philosophy or a worldview, but it is merely a position on belief in gods, which follows logically from naturalism.  All naturalists are atheists, but not all atheists are naturalists.  Moritz then goes on to say that the existence of the universe and nature itself can't be explained by science because the cause is outside of the observable natural realm.  I certainly agree that there are limits on what science can discover, but I think he's jumping the gun.  Aside from having a scientific theory that is fully consistent with all observation (including observation of matter popping into existence) and all natural laws so far, there have already been some scientific inquiries into whether our universe might be part of a multiverse, and I don't think those avenues of investigation have been exhausted.  Furthermore, if he thinks current cosmological theory is less scientific than theism, he really doesn't understand the theory, and I think that's very obvious.  Another point he makes is that God, being supernatural, is also beyond the scope of science, and so it is pointless for atheists to claim that they are more scientific on that basis, but they believe in the (obviously ridiculous) notion that there are many universes.  He seems to think that this is a religious belief, just like his own belief in God.  But as I mentioned before, the idea of a multiverse is not a product of ideology.  It is the inevitable conclusion from the best available cosmological theory that explains better than any other theory how our universe came into existence.  We may or may not ever be able to provide solid substantiation for this theory, but we don't believe it religiously, the way theists believe in God.  If it should turn out to be false, or not consistent with known reality, science will move on to some other theory that works better.  Theists, on the other hand, will never give up their belief in God, no matter what the evidence tells us.

In summary
Moritz offers a number of arguments that are based on a straw man.  In several cases, he avoids the real objections made by atheists, in favor of an unrealistic or contrived objection, which he can then attack.  In other cases, he presents an overly benign picture of the relationship between religion and science that is inconsistent with historical reality.  He denies any conflict between science and religion, as many religious people do, while ignoring obvious points of disagreement.  His understanding of evolution is unscientific, and his understanding of cosmic inflation is completely absent.  He sees himself as someone who holds a scientific view of the world, when in fact his views are clearly unscientific in many cases, such as his teleological views of evolution and the cosmos.  He insists that he does not compartmentalize, or separate his scientific work from the rest of his beliefs, but all the evidence tells me that is exactly what he does.  His arguments sound like standard theistic material, driven by ideological considerations much more than by science.  So once again, we may ask, How can a scientist believe in God?  In the case of Moritz, at least, it is only by setting science aside when it comes to justifying those beliefs.


  1. I don't disagree with anything you wrote - it is a very good write up. But I do wonder if it was worth all the effort. It just seems so pointless to discuss or argue with these folks.
    Or, maybe, I'm just tried.

    Now, for something completely different, have you read "Philosophy in the Flesh" by Lakoff and Johnson. I am interested in your assessment, especially wrt their idea of 'embodied realism'.

    1. I agree that this is just more of the same crap we hear over and over from theists. There is nothing challenging about responding to it. The thing is, I expected more from Moritz. He touts himself as someone who thinks scientifically. But it's clear to me that when it comes to religion, he really doesn't. My feeling about this is that when we hear religionsts using this as an example of "the scientific theist" that should be take seriously by atheists, we we will be armed with the knowledge that it's really an empty claim.

      Regarding Philosophy in the Flesh, I have just obtained a copy of it. It will be next on my reading list. I hope to have more to say about it after I've read it.

    2. Great. I look forward to your comments.

  2. I wish to ask you the following philosophical question. Please excuse me if it seems simplistic to you:

    Bacteria are probably the most ubiquitous organisms in the world.

    There are more bacteria in one human being than all life forms on earth put together!

    Bacteria are suited to thrive in almost every conceivable environment.

    Given all this: why would bacteria ever "evolve" into a higher life form? What selective advantage would they find higher up the theorized evolutionary ladder?

    Also: are you familiar with Professor A E Wilder-Smith? At 50:00 into this clip he explains that chemical evolution is impossible because, in aqueous environments lacking enzymes or catalysts, organic reactions favor reversal over synthesis:

    1. First, I don't know that modern higher life forms evolved from bacteria. But it doesn't matter. It simply means that there was an environmental situation (possibly isolated to a single location) at some time, where where a small step in the evolutionary development toward higher life forms ended up surviving and being passed to descendants. It doesn't imply that the entire population of these things evolved together.

      Wilder-Smith is a Christian creationist. Unlike Moritz, ha can't manage to separate his religion from his work.

  3. This argument seems like a devastating refutation of Darwinist speciation:

    When viewed in the light of actual features and organs, natural selection is shown to be a mechanism that can regulate variable, quantitative properties—such as skin color or beak size—but is unable to provide any helpful direction regarding discontinuous, qualitative changes, such as the development of radical new structures and abilities. Natural selection may very well explain how black moths would predominate when light-colored trees are covered with soot, but it does not and cannot explain the formation of wings, ears, hearts, eyes and feathers.

    Evolutionists also seem to forget that marginally detrimental mutations may remain for many generations and spread throughout a population before natural selection has an adequate opportunity to weed them out. Perhaps a mutation results in a slightly shortened life span or a modestly increased susceptibility to certain diseases. If this effect is not sufficiently virulent to wipe out the defective individuals within a few generations, they could interbreed with "healthy" individuals in the population, eventually contaminating the entire population.

    Once the entire population is infected with a particular "bad gene", natural selection ceases to be a factor in eliminating its effects. Since detrimental mutations are vastly more likely than favorable ones, one would expect the overall population to gradually become so poisoned by detrimental mutations that their negative effects would forever outweigh the positive contributions of any beneficial mutations. It would be like taking a million steps backward for every step forward, and yet Evolutionists expect us to believe that actual net forward progress of thousands or millions of steps could be achieved in such a manner.

    Nature itself demonstrates that natural selection is the wrong explanation for the development and complexification of life. Insects are some of the most prolific animals on earth (i.e. among those animals that can be viewed without a microscope), yet who would argue that they are the culminating product of Evolution? We need to remember that natural selection is supposed to choose those that are more viable, more successful. However, there is no evidence that fish are less viable than amphibians, nor that birds are less successful than mammals. Natural selection does not explain the fact that the ancestral forms and paradigms are apparently just as viable as their alleged descendants. And if the ancestral functions and structures are still proliferating today, then natural selection is the wrong explanation for the origin and progress of complexity.

    1. I've read plenty of creationist (and/or ID) literature. I'm not wasting my time on this one. But you show a severe lack of understanding of real science. I would suggest some reading for you. You can start with The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins. Very well written and easy to understand. I would also recommend Why evolution is True by Jerry Coyne. You can get both of them for free.

  4. Check these out too from same link. Cheers!

    Who could be a more prestigious representative of this group than Dr. Colin Patterson, Senior Palaeontologist at the British Museum of Natural History in London, who had this to say in his keynote address at the American Museum of Natural History in New York...

    One of the reasons I started taking this anti-evolutionary view, was ... it struck me that I had been working on this stuff for twenty years and there was not one thing I knew about it. That's quite a shock to learn that one can be so misled so long. for the last few weeks I've tried putting a simple question to various people and groups of people. Question is: Can you tell me anything you know about evolution, any one thing that is true? I tried that question on the geology staff at the Field Museum of Natural History and the only answer I got was silence. I tried it on the members of the Evolutionary Morphology Seminar in the University of Chicago, a very prestigious body of evolutionists, and all I got there was silence for a long time and eventually one person said, 'I do know one thing — it ought not to be taught in high school'.[55]
    Equally as distinguished is the eminent French scientist, Dr. Pierre P. Grassé. Dr. Gish elaborates...
    Recently, for example, Pierre P. Grassé, one of the most distinguished of all French scientists, published a book, L'Evolution du Vivant, which constituted a strong attack on all aspects of modern evolution theory.
    Dobzhansky, in his review of this book, states "the book of Pierre P. Grassé is a frontal attack on all kinds of 'Darwinism.' Its purpose is 'to destroy the myth of evolution as a simple understood and explained phenomenon,' and to show that evolution is a mystery about which little is and perhaps can be, known. Now, one can disagree with Grassé, but not ignore him. He is the editor of the 28 volumes of 'Traite de Zoologie,' author of numerous original investigations, and ex-president of the Academie des Sciences. His knowledge of the living world is encyclopedic." The closing sentence of Grassé's books is most interesting (and disturbing to Dobzhansky). In that sentence Grassé says, "It is possible that in this domain biology, impotent, yields the floor to metaphysics."[56]

    In 1972, the renowned space pioneer, Dr. Werner von Braun wrote an open letter to the California State Board of Education, urging that alternative theories of the origin of life be presented in the public classroom.
    While the admission of a design for the universe ultimately raises the question of a Designer (a subject outside of science), the scientific method does not allow us to exclude data which lead to the conclusion that the universe, life and man are based on design. To be forced to believe only one conclusion—that everything in the universe happened by chance—would violate the very objectivity of science itself.
    The inconceivability of some ultimate issue (which will always lie outside scientific resolution) should not be allowed to rule out any theory that explains the interrelationship of observed data and is useful for prediction.

    It is in that same sense of scientific honesty that I endorse the presentation of alternative theories for the origin of the universe, life and man in the science classroom.[57]


    1. In 1967, some highly respected Evolutionist authors, including Dr. Murray Eden and Dr. Marcel P. Schutzenberger authored a book titled Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution which arose from a series of meetings sponsored by the Wistar Institute. These meetings were convened so that Evolutionist scientists from various disciplines could discuss the mathematical probabilities involved in the Evolution of life. These meetings erupted into heated exchanges between those of the physcial sciences, such as mathematicians and physicists, who contended that the probabilities were outrageously opposed to current Evolutionary explanations, and the biologists, who insisted that life must have evolved by random processes, regardless of the small probabilities involved. To this day, the difficulties raised have never been satisfactorily answered. If anything, further research has shown the probabilities to be even more hostile to Evolutionist mechanisms!

      In 1985, the molecular biologist, Dr. Michael Denton, published a secular critique of Evolution entitled Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. (A review of Denton's book appears at In his book he writes...

      Is it really credible that random processes could have constructed a reality, the smallest element of which - a functional protein or gene - is complex beyond ... anything produced by the intelligence of man?[58]
      The biochemist, Dr. Michael Behe, Associate Professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University, is renowned for his work in molecular biology. Dr. Behe has done extensive work demonstrating that many of the essential features of living cells are "irreducibly complex", consisting of several interacting parts, each of which is vital to the proper working of the system. In other words, when you get down to the basic parts of living cells, you find things which are highly complex and interdependent, yet cannot be scaled down to a simpler, precursory version. This means that neither random molecular interactions, nor natural selection could have been responsible for their existence. Dr. Behe has written a book entitled Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, in which he discusses many of his findings.
      The celebrated philosopher of science, Sir Karl Popper, wrote...

      ...I have come to the conclusion that Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research programme—a possible framework for testable scientific theories.[59]
      The well-known British astronomer, mathematician and cosmologist, Sir Fred Hoyle, likened Evolutionary theory to a whirlwind in a junkyard...
      In a popular lecture I once unflatteringly described the thinking of these scientists as a "junkyard mentality". As this reference became widely and not quite accurately quoted I will repeat it here. A junkyard contains all the bits and pieces of a Boeing 747, dismembered and in disarray. A whirlwind happens to blow through the yard. What is the chance that after its passage a fully assembled 747, ready to fly, will be found standing there? So small as to be negligible, even if a tornado were to blow through enough junkyards to fill the whole Universe.[60]
      Dr. H. J. Lipson, F.R.S. professor of physics at the University of Manchestor, UK, writes...
      If living matter is not, then, caused by the interplay of atoms, natural forces and radiation, how has it come into being? ... I think, however, that we must go further than this and admit that the only acceptable explanation is creation. I know that this is anathema to physicists, as indeed it is to me, but we must not reject a theory that we do not like if the experimental evidence supports it.[61]

    2. For every scientist you can name in a field relevant to the topic that endorses some form of creationism, there are a dozen more out there who don't let religion cloud their scientific endeavors.

      People like Behe don't practice science. They don't follow scientific method, and that's why their work is not accepted by the scientific community. They know the answer they're looking for, and they only look at evidence that would support that answer. That's not science. See my challenge here.

      It's also interesting that you bring in Popper. He was skeptical of evolution before he finally became convinced that it was genuine science. But for some reason, the creationists don't tell you that.

      And all their stories about having all the evidence in their favor is nothing more that a lie. You can believe it if you want to. But if you are interested in a truer picture of science, you owe it to yourself to expand your reading to actual scientific literature, and not just the bullshit those creationists produce.

  5. Footnotes to the above:

    [55] Colin Patterson, Keynote address at the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, November 5, 1981.
    [56] Duane T. Gish, "Crack in the Neo-Darwinian Jericho (Part I)", Vital Articles on Science/Creation, December 1976. Posted at:
    [57] Werner von Braun, an open letter to the California State Board of Education on September 14, 1972.
    [58] Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (London: Burnett Books, 1985) p 342.
    [59]Karl Popper, Unended Quest (La Salle, Illinois: Open Court Pub. Co., 1976), p. 168.
    [60] Fred Hoyle, The Intelligent Universe (London: Michael Joseph, 1983), pp.18-19.
    [61] H. J. Lipson, "A physicist looks at evolution", Physics Bulletin, vol 31, p 138, 1980.