An exploration of science, evolution and belief in God

god is here to stay“God Is Here to Stay: Science, Evolution, and Belief in God” is a 2014 publication written by Thomas R. McFaul and Al Brunsting. The chapters consist of scientific findings that support the idea that humanity is structured for knowledge, spiritual experiences, justice, and universal morality. These findings, the authors argue, support belief in a God rather than non-belief.

In the opening chapter the authors glance over general versions of the cosmological, teleological, ontological, and moral arguments for the existence of God. Each argument is summarized in a couple of paragraphs, then they are dismissed. It is concluded that the lack of consensus for these philosophical arguments entails shoddy support for either belief or disbelief, so science will step in to show us where the evidence leads.

From the onset, this dismissal of the common philosophical arguments for/against God’s existence creates a minefield for the following chapters. For example, while rejecting the teleological argument in the first chapter, the authors later make a teleological argument in a chapter titled “The Universe Is Structured for Conscious, Self-Aware Life.” They make a teleological argument by analogy of a car (rather than a watch). After making the argument, it’s asserted that it is, in fact, not a teleological argument. At which point I said aloud, “but it is.”

The readers, as the argument goes, are to imagine an explosion at a junkyard, which has the bulk of its debris amassed in the center. After the explosion, we have in the center of the junkyard a new car. The car is immaculate and hosts plenty of expensive bells and whistles. It is concluded that it would be impossible for a single event to create this complex car—let alone if we gave it 4.5 billion years.

At this point, the standard objections to Paley’s watchmaker argument came to mind. However, before I could even begin to bare my teeth, the authors end up rebutting their own argument by saying, “… it is reasonable to conclude that producing such a new car would take thousands of purposeful engineering person hours of investigation and design time, powerful computers… engineers… assembly technicians… and transportation” (p. 58). This is a classic David Hume argument, and it serves as a counter against arguments from design. We infer a car (or a house) is designed, but we also infer it had multiple builders. The authors do not consider this critique after they, perhaps by accident, conjure Hume. The pro-polytheistic and anti-monotheistic implications are never addressed. It seems the power this singular intelligent designer has is simply assumed and taken for granted, and it is implicitly agreed upon that this single deity can manage the workload. This recurring theme of failing to ascribe or make clear the properties of the intelligent designer is a constant hindrance throughout the book.

Coupled with the rejection of philosophical arguments and the proposal of science as the arbiter in the debate, the authors end up with arguments closely resembling the stripes of scientism. Scientism, loosely defined, is the belief that science is the only way of knowing. Ironically, scientism has been largely endorsed by new atheists, who happen to be one group that the authors are attempting to refute. Some new atheists have attempted to dismiss the existence of God on the grounds of science alone, and they believe philosophy no longer has any room in the debate (along with more egregious claims such as science can determine morality, mathematics and logic fall under science, and empiricism is science). As with new atheists who hold to scientism, the case here of overreaching science and dismissing philosophy begets non-science and poor philosophy.

This is a rather serious charge, but I would level it against any material that argued philosophical arguments have a lack of consensus, so we should, therefore, defer to science. It’s putting science in rather unscientific territory and strong-arms philosophy out of territory it should inhabit. This is scientism incarnate. Whether it takes the form of new atheists (such as Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss) or theists, it is stretching science’s epistemic limits to the point of buckling.

In chapter six the authors state, “We believe all human actions emanate from self-interest and that it is impossible for any person or group to act apart from it” (p. 117). At this point I decided to put down my copy of “God Is Here to Stay” in order to salute my copy of “Atlas Shrugged,” but soon after I began to wonder how this contentious claim came to be. On the same page, self-interest is defined as “… the motivation that lies behind every person’s and group’s desires to achieve their goals—however defined.” This is a minor point in the book, but it deserves attention due to being, almost paradoxically, too safe yet too bizarre of a claim.

Take, for example, the first sentence of the prior paragraph and replace “self-interest” with the definition later provided. We would get something such as: “All human action emanates from motivation that lies behind every person’s desires to achieve their goals—however defined—and it is impossible for any person to act apart from it.” This idea of self-interest could have been left out entirely, and the arguments would not have suffered if they had decided to forgo such a claim.

In the closing chapter, the authors contend that if a multiverse theory were true, then this would rule out an intelligent designer. However, a multiverse theory is not in contradiction with an ill-defined intelligent designer. To take again from Hume, this universe or other universes could be the product(s) of an infant deity. The designer, in creating these multiple universes, could just be learning from trial and error. Throughout “God Is Here To Stay,” the intelligence God possesses is never established or argued for. Hence we get well-defined findings trudged out to support an ill-defined concept.

Overall, the arguments that demonstrate humans are naturally capable of knowledge, spiritual experiences, justice, and universal morality carries baggage that needs to be unpacked. The authors attempt to infer these traits as the products of God’s guiding hand. It is, again, tacitly argued by the authors that God favors these traits and intended for us to have them. If God is good, then surely he would favor these traits. If he intended for us to host these traits, then he would design us as such.

Yet we do not get this treatment for the unflattering traits humans host. Did God purposefully structure humans to carry cognitive biases, tribalism, and violent tendencies? If so, it seems these traits provide just as much evidence for a being who created the universe. To appeal to the argument’s crux, the universe was required to be fine-tuned for such complex structures to exist. The breathtaking amount of cognitive biases we struggle with have such an astronomically low chance of arising by random forces. If he did structure humans for these tendencies, proponents of a creator should make these awful tendencies compatible with positive ones in order to maintain God’s goodness.

Or we can end the paltering and begin to define God as not good but perhaps incompetent, malevolent, indifferent, just one of many gods, no longer existing, or never existed. Perhaps he intended for us to have these negative traits because he is evil. At this point, however, those who posit an evil god designer must account for positive traits—just as benevolent designer proponents must account for negative traits. This inverse, often used by philosopher Stephen Law, displays that moves we make to safeguard a benevolent designer from the evil he created, we can also make mirrored moves to protect an evil god from the good he created. I believe, however, the best inference we can make is the one biologist J.B.S. Haldene came to after he was asked about the nature of God, who he believed had “an inordinate fondness for beetles” due to the thousands of beetle species.

If any explanatory power was put toward describing how a creator of the universe operates, then many of my objections could be countered or at least explored further. God’s intent and how he operates is never argued for, and the scope or limitations of his power, intelligence, or benevolence goes untouched. The vagueness and tacit properties of a being lends itself to be both supported and exposed by humanity’s propensity for positive traits, negative traits, and everything in between—including beetles.

“God Is Here to Stay” avoids vitriolic rhetoric, which is laudable in itself and makes for a pleasant read. Throughout the various chapters, interesting tidbits can be found that pertain to the topic at hand. Whether it’s about non-life to life, spiritual experiences, or justice, there is often intriguing information presented before the actual arguments. I must acknowledge, too, that the terms used were often clearly defined. By this, I do not mean unheard of terms causing confusion, but terms that are familiar but are used differently by the authors. The arguments are not new, and, if I have not been clear, I detest the treatment philosophy received, but the arguments are interesting to dissect and may relay information that could transcend the God debate.