Monday, January 12, 2009

More Templeton "Big Q" Comments

Here's one more exchange in the comment section of the Templeton Foundation's Big Question, "Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete?"

RE: Whole Series
Eugene Bucamp
I fail to identify any substantive point in Tracy Witham's comment (12/19) or indeed in any of his previous comments. Animals, small and large, as well as prehistoric man...and Home sapiens have all thrived for eons without the support of the Ten Commandments. Witham may think religion or a belief in God can help, but he still needs to substantiate this strange notion, whereas we already know how science can help. Nobody really needs religion or a belief in God.

RE: Whole Series
What really needs to be done is to advance the whole "God" discussion. For example, it seems to me that the question is largely rhetorical, and many of the essayists said so in their opening statements. It is not about belief or if there is a God, but whether, if there is a God, you can prove it or not. It seems things like these could be organized on a flowchart of sorts--that is, let's clarify where to begin the discussion of God by discarding or explaining away the standard errors in logic.

RE: Whole Series
Tracy Witham
Eugene Bucamp (01/05/09) comments that he fails "to identify any substantive point" in the examples I gave to illustrate that existential questions are not answered by science but can be answered by religion (12/19/08). But then how could he, since he does not know what an existential question is? For Bucamp: Jean Paul Sartre's famous slogan, "existence precedes essence," is the usual shorthand way of defining existentialism. From it we are to grasp that--in contrast to other kinds of beings--human beings can decide what their lives are about.

Careers, moral frameworks, marriage, children, and, yes, belief in God are all subject to choices via values and assumptions that science cannot determine for us. Religion informs value systems and so helps answer existential questions in ways that science cannot. In a discussion about whether science makes belief in God obsolete, that is a very "substantive" point. I take this to be an instance of Mary Midgley's view that the question of God "is an element in something larger and more puzzling" than science considered apart from wider questions of human existence.

On a separate point I think that p (01/07/09) made a great suggestion: "let's clarify where to begin the discussion of God." How about starting with two separate definitions that would give us a real subject matter that everyone can subscribe to: 1. objectively, God is whatever explains the existence of the universe (or would explain it if human beings understood it), and 2. subjectively, God is whatever contributes most fundamentally to one's value systems. In both cases, "God" attains agreed upon "existence" via semantics, albeit semantics that retain core aspects of the traditional meaning of "God," and yet real referents are also given. It might be a way to start p's "flowchart."

Note to readers: The more i think about the difficulty of having a productive conversation about this issue the more I think that Tillich's contribution to it is crucial. I'll put the next Tillich post up on Saturday (the 17th).

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