There seems to be a standard set of arguments and questions that I hear continually from atheists on Twitter who reply to my tweets. Recently I had to answer the same question a dozen times from different atheists.
Following the example of my Twitter friend, and fellow scientist and Christian, Sarah Salviander, @Sarahsalviader, I have decided to post here a set of FAQs, to which I will refer those who ask these common questions. In many cases, I will link to my blog posts on this blog or to articles I have written that answer the question as well as I can.
First, some ground rules.
- I do not accept insults, or accusations of being a liar, fraud, dishonest (intellectually or otherwise) charlatan, moron, etc. I will immediately block anyone who wastes my time with that behavior, so don’t bother doing it. I never insult anyone online; I find such behavior to be cowardly. I do not block anyone for any other reason.
- I will ignore you completely as a troll if you use any of these terms of disrespect: “sky daddy”, “sky fairy”, “imaginary friend”, “invisible friend”, “zombie god” and so on.
- If I don’t answer you immediately, please do not assume I am hiding or avoiding the issue. I am very busy, and can only spend a limited amount of time on Twitter. I will get back to you.
- Are you really a scientist?
Yes, you can search for S. Garte on Medline, Google Scholar etc. You will find that I have a PhD in Biochemistry, have published over 200 peer reviewed publications, have an h index of 53. I have been a Professor at three Universities, and until I retired, I was a senior administrator at the grants review branch of the NIH. I did research on population genetics, molecular epidemiology, environmental carcinogenesis, and applied molecular biology. I now work on the theoretical biology of gene regulation.
- Were you really an atheist?
Yes, I was raised as an atheist, in a militant, communist household. I was taught from birth that religion (Christianity in particular) is not only wrong, but evil.
- What is your evidence for God?
There isn’t and cannot ever be scientific proof of God, but there is evidence for the existence of God, such as the fact of the existence and beginning of the universe. See: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/kalam, and other arguments linked at that site.
The fine tuning of so many physical constants is evidence for God, although I admit that other explanations are possible. The point is that for the alternative explanations, (a multiverse, some unknown mechanism) there is no more evidence than there is for God. So we are free to choose whichever we prefer based on faith or preference. Remember that any set of facts (like fine tuning) can be evidence for more than one theory.
I also find a great deal of evidence for the existence of God in biology and human nature. I think it is clear that emergence of enormous complexity that gave rise to life from chemistry, and to human consciousness from cell behavior, cannot be easily understood on the basis of purely naturalistic phenomena. One example of this is the universal existence of a moral law in human beings. I reject the concept from evolutionary psychology that this and all hum an transcendent characteristics are derived from adaptive evolution, a claim for which there is no evidence. A “just so” story is not evidence. The same can be said for the existence of human creativity, artistic talent, and even the development of science and philosophy.
In biology, I find it telling that everything we learn raises more questions than answers, and that the basic workings of all life, from cells to us, show evidence of purpose. While the source of most biological teleology is natural selection, (see: https://naturalphilo.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/pscf3-17garte1.pdf), the ultimate source of purpose in the origin of life had to come from some source.
For more on how I view science and faith in the context of scientific evidence, see these two posts: https://thebookofworks.com/2015/07/06/faith-and-proof/
4. Why do you believe in the Christian God, and not Thor, or some other god?
I went through periods of interest in Buddhism, Judaism, and Zen. I felt little affinity to their theology or philosophy. I loved Christianity because of the figure of Jesus Christ, an ordinary carpenter, who was the Son of God. It is almost impossible to relate to a remote intangible God, who cannot be described or experienced. But Christ came to walk among us, and to teach us. I found the Christ story compelling, and I felt that I could encounter God in the person of Jesus. I began going to Catholic Churches, but there were things about Catholicism that I found difficult or unpleasant, and I eventually became a United Methodist.
5. Are you a Young Earth creationist?
No, I fully accept all of the consensus of mainstream science on the age of the earth, the age of the universe, and the evolution of life
6. Do you believe in Evolution?
Evolution is not a matter of faith. I accept the idea of evolution by natural selection as God’s tool for creating the diversity of life. I do not think, based on scientific reasons that evolution has anything to contribute to the origin of life or the origin of human consciousness and the soul. I do not reject Intelligent Design outright, but I think a great deal more data is needed before we can fully understand how and to what extent the biological world is influenced directly by divine action.
7. Do you think the Bible is true?
I do. I believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God, inspired by God and written by fallible human beings. It is a great work, that provides the foundation for so much of Western civilization. The Old Testament is a complex work of literature, history, philosophy, theology and poetry. It is not a textbook of science, or history. The truth of the Bible cannot be taken from any sort of literal reading, and in fact nobody, including fundamentalist young earth creationists, take the text literally. There are many interpretations of the meaning of every passage of the Old Testament, and no objective way to determine which interpretation is “correct”. I generally follow theologians such as John Walton and Roy Clouser in their interpretations.
I take the New Testament literally as written. I believe all of the testimony given in the Gospels and in Paul’s writings are profound truths about Jesus Christ, our savior.
8. What about the fact that Christianity and other religions have caused so much warfare and bloodshed?
While there have been religious wars, and while too much blood has been spilt between rival Christian groups, and between different religions, the fact is that there have been about 10 times more deaths caused by non religious warfare and strife, than by religious warfare. I believe from my reading of history, that Christianity has been a major force for peace in the world.
Other myths about Christianity include the distorted history of the Gallileo affair, and the Giordano Bruno execution, myths that were unfortuneatly promulgated in popular media such as the Cosmos series.
9. How do you incorporate your faith into your scientific work?
I don’t. Science is a wonderful way to understand the natural world. It cannot address the spiritual or supernatural world of God and spirit. At the same time, there is no place for religion in science, except as an inspiration to learn all we can about the creation that God made for us to explore and understand.
10. Everyone is born an atheist.
I never understood this point. Everyone is born uneducated, ignorant and helpless. As we grow this changes. We can learn about God and the values of Christianity, or we can learn that the world is a cold dark, meaningless place, where animals (like us) live for a short time, die, and nothing has any purpose. I learned the latter as a child. I would never teach such things to any child.
11. How can any scientist believe in a supernatural being?
See this link.
(More to come).