Thursday, October 23, 2014

Atheist arguments are still in the nineteenth century while theists have modernized

Interview with Manuel Alfonseca published in

Manuel Alfonseca was born in Madrid in 1946. He is the son of the painter and sculptor Manuel Alfonseca (Santana), is a doctor in Telecommunication Engineering and a Computer Scientist, has been a full professor, and is currently a honorary professor at the Universidad Autónoma of Madrid. 

His great gift is his ability to popularize science and express himself clearly, which has led him, not only to teaching and science, but also to the literary world (he has published fantasy, science fiction and historical novels). His work makes a bridge between "science" and "humanities", attested in his blog on popular science and his personal website. Now, in addition, he is one of the co-editors (along with Francisco-José Soler-Gil) of an unusual work for its breadth and ease of comprehension: 60 preguntas sobre ciencia y fe respondidas por 26 profesores de universidad (60 questions on science and faith answered by 26 professors). Without getting into the 60 questions, we shall try to explore the science-faith dialogue with a few questions, while strongly recommending the book to those who seek answers to the others.

- What brought you to be interested in describing the progress in the science-faith dialogue?
- When I was a teenager and became interested in biology, I performed within myself a science-faith dialogue, and when I finally brought together these two fields, I naturally went on to popularization. The first book I wrote ("Human cultures and evolution", 1979) dealt with scientific and historic questions, and while I was writing it I automatically developed, within the subject matter, those points related to the science-faith dialogue. I've always done the same in all my later books on science, and also in my fantasy and science fiction novels.

- How do you value ​​the dissemination in Spanish of advances in the science-faith debate? Do works on the debate on science and faith arrive to bookstores and libraries in the same way as books of the "new atheists" like Dawkins or Onfray?
- The books of the authors you mention, and those of even more famous authors like Stephen Hawking, who lately is speaking out in favor of atheism, receive immediate attention by the Spanish media, which is heavily influenced by scientism and atheism, so they are translated and published immediately. By contrast, many books on the science-faith dialogue by believer authors, especially from the Anglo-Saxon world, are rarely translated and published in our language, and when they are, they have much less audience.

- What is, in your opinion, the influence of Internet in the circulation of hoaxes (or memes) about faith and the history of science?
- Internet is a powerful tool, but one must remember that tools are neither good nor bad, what is good or bad is the use we make of them. Internet can be used to increase the ease of communication and inter-relationship between human beings, and the world wide web gives us an external memory more accessible than paper. But Internet can also be misused. Consider these facts:
a) In May 2012, 77% of all email was spam (unsolicited advertising).
b) In 2011, one in every 300 messages were phishing (swindle attempts).
c) In 2007, 56% teenagers had put false information on their profiles in the social networks.
d) As a volunteer editor for Wikipedia, I attest that there are some people who enter false information knowingly (usually this is detected and corrected quickly).
e) Studies show that the debates in social networks can lead to unanimity or to conflict.
f) And, of course, Internet accelerates remarkably the proliferation of canards and misinformation.
Given these dangers, the need to educate ourselves to avoid being manipulated (or worse) is greater than ever. We must evaluate and confirm whatever data or news we receive through the Internet, just as we must do with those spread by the media, or even with what our friends and acquaintances tell us. Othello, the Shakespeare tragedy, shows to what extremes we can go, if the information we receive is not corroborated.

- Is the current debate between the atheistic and theistic stances different from the debate with pamphlets and books in the nineteenth century, or from Soviet scientism literature?
- From the atheist point of view, the current debate between science and faith is very similar to what happened in the nineteenth century, because they are using the same discredited arguments, scarcely bothering to update them. The arguments of theists, on the other hand, have been modernized throughout the twentieth century, but the atheists are unaware of this, because they do not read them. So debates between believers and atheists often fall on deaf ears, because believers provide arguments, and atheists answer trying to ridicule their opponents. See, for example, the debate among the American philosophers Alvin Plantinga and Daniel Dennett. There are exceptions, of course, but they are quite rare.

- What is most influential and what spreads better: a canard about the alleged obscurantism of the Church or the “absurdity” of religion, or a popular article on science and faith?
- Taking into account the high level of disbelief in our society, where the Spanish media have a lot of responsibility, as I said above, it is clear that hoaxes attacking the Church spread much better than popular articles on the balance between science and faith. I can vouch for this, because my environment receives many of these hoaxes that spread like wildfire. Sources such as popular science blogs (for instance) get a much smaller audience.

- What danger do you see more plausible and growing during the XXI century: para-sciences and esotericism; religious fanaticism that rejects reason; or arrogant and materialistic scientism?
- I think the fundamental danger of our time is arrogant and materialistic scientism. Para-sciences and esotericism have always spread, especially among uneducated people, and will continue to do so, but I do not think that their influence is growing. As regards Christian fanaticism, it is testimonial in the United States and practically absent in Europe. Although it is true that fanaticism in other religions, especially Islam, seems to be gaining strength.

- Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion, says that God is very improbable, for He would be more complex than the universe... which is itself very unlikely. He usually ends by posing this question... "And who created God?" What would you answer to this question by a child preparing for First Communion? And to a philosopher of science?
- Dawkins knows nothing about philosophy, and his famous argument against God is a textbook case of the straw man fallacy (see my article "The Dawkins Delusion" published here). Stephen Hawking said that philosophy is dead, and immediately started to make philosophy, although he does not realize it (this is explained in more detail here).
To the question "Who made ​​God?" by a child preparing for First Communion, I would answer that this question is badly posed, because what happens is the opposite, God made everything. To Richard Dawkins I would say that his question is badly posed, because God is not a physical object and therefore does not need a cause.
It's funny: in the nineteenth century, atheists tried to use this argument to deny that the universe needs a cause, asserting that it is not a physical object, but gave it up when Einstein described the universe with an equation (which shows that it is a physical object), because they could no longer use it, and now they forget that their own argument applies perfectly to God.

- Does the fact that the universe has a beginning in time - or not - have anything to do with the Christian teaching that God created the universe from nothing? Could ancient philosophers like St. Augustine have any relevance to questions like this?
- Of course it does! Augustine distinguished two different forms of creation:
a) Creatio ex nihilo (creation from nothing), without specifying when. This form would be consistent with a universe without beginning or end.
b) Creatio originans (creation from a beginning), which would have taken place at an initial instant.
St. Thomas Aquinas asserted that the first is necessary, but the second is undecidable (we can never prove whether or not there was an initial moment).
Stephen Hawking believes that, denying the existence of time zero, God is no longer needed. Another indication that he knows nothing about philosophy.
The fact that current cosmology seemed for a while to demand a time beginning, unnerved atheists, who desperately sought solutions to this situation, fearing that they would be forced to accept the existence of God. Thus all these theories of quantum gravity and the multiverses, which really are metaphysical exercises rather than scientific theories, for they cannot be tested experimentally.
It is ironic that, in fact, Christian philosophy had come long ago to the conclusion that time zero is not essential for creation.

- Why atheists seem so excited about the hypothesis that there are many universes, as if that would not require a creator of universes?
- Because they confuse “nothing” with the vacuum. They believe that if they can reach the conclusion that the universe "came out by itself from nothing" as a quantum fluctuation of huge energy amplitude, they would no longer need God.
But “nothing” is not the vacuum. “Nothing” does not exist, as Parmenides proved over 2,500 years ago (another sign of the ignorance of scientific atheists about philosophy). The vacuum is very different, it has properties such as existence, time, space, energy... If we were to conclude that the universe came out of the vacuum (which is far from being proven), it would not do them any good, because another question would arise immediately: "And where did the vacuum come from?" For, like the universe, the vacuum is a physical object and needs a cause.

- In a survey in the nineties at the National Academy of Sciences, just 7% declared their belief in "a God who can be prayed to, waiting for a response." But in a 2009 study by the Pew Forum with 2,500 scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 33% believe in a personal God and 18% believe in "a universal spirit or a higher power." How do you explain this difference? What is the real statistics about scientists who believe that there is a personal God, and that their belief is reasonable and logical?
- The difference is due to the fact that the National Academy of Sciences is a very small body that feeds itself. Obviously their members are being selected (between atheists), a process which could even be unconscious.
Anyway, it is likely that in a similar survey in Europe, which is more de-Christianized that the United States, atheism would get better results (in the AAAS survey, which you mention, they only reached 17%) .

- What would you advise a young Christian high-schooler or college student who thinks - because that’s what they have read or heard - that science leaves no room for (or makes unnecessary) the "God hypothesis"?
- Do not believe it. Think for yourself, research, read or hear both sides of the debate, and draw your own conclusions.
I've heard that Richard Dawkins's book, "The God Delusion", has given rise to several conversions. Seeing the ridiculous arguments offered by the proponents of atheism, some readers come to the conclusion that perhaps the religious side of the questions is, after all, true.

Thematic Thread on Science and Atheism: Previous Next
Pablo J. Ginés
Translated into English by Manuel Alfonseca

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