Monday, December 15, 2008

Reaction #5: The Templeton Big Q--Does Science Make Faith in God Obsolete?

In this final reaction I ask about the wisdom of engaging in this exchange in the first place.

As indicated in an earlier remark, I view the "conversation" as a pastiche of opinions rather than a true conversation. And as was also indicated earlier, that alone has value, as the pastiche forms a pretty good view of the range of opinion on the subject. But did the dialog actually move "the big question" forward? On that question, the answer has to be no.

An example from my experience will be helpful. As readers will know, I offered an argument to the effect that religion offers existential guidance of a form that science does not and cannot (see Reaction #1). A telling and interesting way to challenge my argument would have been to note that unless religion--"God" for purposes of this post--is the only game around for informing existential questions, that my argument does not put "God" on very strong ground. In fact the very reason that Tillich's theology is next in line for posts here on Metaponderance is that Tillich's view of faith as "ultimate concern" makes that very point. But I digress. Here's how the "conversation" in the comments concluded on the thread my argument started:

RE: Whole Series
Walter W. Lee
Regarding John Cozijn's comment of (09/19): I submit a scientific theory: the inescapable basis for human values is the survivability of the species.

Observation on Mr. Lee's comment:

"Existentialism" is infamously difficult to define, but the reason is straightforward. In all of its forms it stresses the need for existing individuals to determine the meaning and values that guide them. Therefore the one way that a person can respond to a premise that claims that science cannot give human being existential guidance and completely miss the mark is to posit "survivability" as science's answer. ("Existence," in effect, cannot be the answer to an existential question. But the response does make me smile.)

Since I will assume for discussion here that the commentators on the Templeton exchange are bright and well intentioned, I must conclude that Mr. Lee has never taken the possibility that the opposing side has anything worthy of careful consideration to say. Which is to say that, at least where my comments are concerned, only the appearance of a conversation took place--and an appearance that is easily dispelled by careful consideration.

The final comment in the thread I started is worth noting, for the suggestion it provides on just what level the "conversation" was taking place.

RE: Whole Series
Jack King
Walter W. Lee (09/22) theorizes that the basis for human values is the survivability of the species. I agree, but I would add to that the survivability of the culture. The ongoing discussion on this page is testimony to that. This forum has become one of many battlegrounds where the God culture and the science culture struggle for supremacy. The survival of science is not in doubt. At this point I think that the culture of God just wants to coexist.

Observation on Mr. King's comment:

Here, as before, the fact that the comment has not even addressed the relevant premise has not dawned on the responder. And making "culture" rather than the individual the focus of the question does not change the fact. What the response does do is depict what Mr. King thinks the real point of the discussion is: that "the God culture and the science culture struggle for supremacy."

It is alternatively sad or absurd--and hence funny--that a supposed "exchange" of ideas is interpreted in a way that makes the ideas beside the point--it's a power struggle--and that does not take the suggestion of the person to whom one "exchanges" an opinion with seriously enough to even engage the opinion--making the word "conversation" a misnomer here. On that count, I can note that clearly my jumping into the fray in the comments to this Big Question was a waste of time.

Simply put, Mr. King's comment, at least, shows that he doesn't think there is a richer and more interesting debate to be had than that which we see daily in the so-called "culture wars."

I conclude with two observations that are at odds with each other. First, there is a real need for respectful inquiry on both sides. If there is no need for that, there is no point to the question. I believe there is a big need. Thus, the "culture war' mentality needs to be lost. And second, there may be little real hope for that any time soon. In my small way, nevertheless, I will try to contribute to a more rewarding approach to the question.

And that "try" will take the form of some basic ideas taken from Paul Tillich's thought that I think advance the conversation in a positive way, for those willing to seriously engage those ideas.

Note: This will be 2008's last post. What we call "the holidays" are in fact a very busy time of year for me, as they are for so many of us! Since it is important to give a good effort in representing Tillich's thoughts, I think it is wise to wait till there is time to do a proper job...

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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