This is the last installment of my exploration of the Intelligence Squared debate between four stars in the firmament of science and commentary (scientists Ian Hutchinson and Lawrence Krauss and writers Dinesh D’Souza and Michael Shermer). I’d like to close by taking a look at one of the central ideas that was addressed (though unsatisfactorily, in my opinion) during the debate: the nature of God.
If God is supernatural, that is, outside of the space and time, there’s no way for us to know it. Therefore, whatever God is, it would have to be a natural being or at least some kind of a being that reaches in to stir the particles, and if he does, then we should be able to measure it, because that’s what we do as scientists. We measure the motions of particles. And so far we have no evidence of that.
Shermer may not be aware of the evidence that God stirs the particles, but that may simply be because he is one of the particles being stirred. I would submit that the very intellect that allows us to ask these questions and attempt to answer them is, itself, evidence of the particles being stirred. The history of science is replete with examples of scientists observing things and describing them erroneously because they didn’t know what they were looking at. There’s an old aphorism that when one has a hammer, everything looks like a nail. How one interprets information one receives depends in large part on context.
This is true of something as simple as a word or phrase. Take this headline: “Island Boy Taken by Sharks.” Horrific, right? Not really. The headline was about a Hawaiian youth who was drafted onto the San Jose Sharks hockey team. Context is important because it sets up our expectations for what comes next. Fortunately, the weight of evidence for something can overcome this tendency.
Further evidence of this stirring (shaking, whipping whatever) is in the experience and teachings of such subject matter experts as Krishna, Buddha, Christ, Bahá’u’lláh, etc. Their teachings and the transformation they bring to human lives are a parallel to the motions of particles. Science deals in physical reality; religion deals in spiritual reality. But the two intersect, and the audience question about what we derive from a belief in God (which Donovan didn’t submit to be answered) is apt. In effect, D’Souza answered it when he related that while science can tell us animals feel pain it doesn’t suggest what we should do with that information.
D’Souza’s closing in part reframed the question about science refuting God:
American botanist Asa Gray wrote Darwin a letter in which he said, “As a Christian, I was very inspired upon reading your book, because I have read in the book of Genesis that God made the world and God made man, but there’s no information about how this might’ve occurred. And when I read your book, I understood not only why God made humans, but why there’s so much suffering in the world. Evolution helps to account for the reason why there’s suffering both for humans, but also in the animal kingdom.”
Now, we’re debating here has science refuted God? And at some senses, we’ve been talking past each other. If I take a pot of water and put it on the stove, what am I trying to do? I’m trying to make a cup of tea. Now, Lawrence Krauss would come along and say that the molecules are heating up, he could give a full scientific account of what’s going on, but he would’ve completely missed the purpose behind what I’m doing. Scientific explanation doesn’t refute the purposeful explanation, it coexists alongside it, and so it is with God.
This is the point, I think. And I’d like to take this to a more real-world level. I write books. If you asked me how I did that, I can give you two different types of answers. I can talk to you about inspiration, about characters that talk to me and dictate their behavior. I can talk about how the ideas come together in my head, about ‘aha’ moments and epiphanies and about how when that all comes together, I feel as if I’m doing barrel rolls in an airplane and how the words pour out onto the page with lightning speed and seemingly little effort on my part. Or I can talk to you about sitting down at the computer and typing 100,000 words or so and how the MS goes to my editor and passes back and forth between us before galleys are sent for the final book, and how the book is printed from an electronic file. I could talk to you about what sort of ink is used and what font and size. I can talk to you about the fabrication of the paper, the printing press, the cover art and how the books are packed into boxes and shipped to bookstores.
One explanation is about the how of the physical manufacture of the book you hold in your hand. The other is about how the content was generated. One explanation isn’t right and the other wrong. And indeed, they’re interdependent. That book can’t have come into physical existence without both parts of the process. But here’s the deal: the absolutely critical part of that process is the first one—the imagining and writing of the book. Without that creative act, all the paper and ink in the world would be meaningless. No one would derive any benefit from the ink and the paper without the creative act that preceded it of necessity.
Consider the lady beside me who is writing in this little book. It seems a very trifling, ordinary matter; but upon intelligent reflection you will conclude that what has been written presupposes and proves the existence of a writer. These words have not written themselves, and these letters have not come together of their own volition. It is evident there must be a writer.
And now consider this infinite universe. Is it possible that it could have been created without a Creator? Or that the Creator and cause of this infinite congeries of worlds should be without intelligence? Is the idea tenable that the Creator has no comprehension of what is manifested in creation? Man, the creature, has volition and certain virtues. Is it possible that his Creator is deprived of these? — Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p115 (from a talk at the Hotel Plaza in Chicago, IL, 1912)
When we look for proof that God stirs the particles, I think we often neglect to look at ourselves. This is a puzzling oversight, given how many sacred texts insist that we are created in the spiritual image of God. As Bahá’u’lláh puts it: “He hath known God who hath known himself.”