Did you hear about the online debate at the “Intelligence Squared” forum between the atheists and the Christians? The atheists won.

A while back some Baha’i colleagues and I read the transcript of that Intelligence Squared forum debate on the motion “Science Refutes God.” We each considered the implications and wrote commentary on them. The essays in this series reflect my thoughts on the science vs. God question.

In the Intelligence Squared forum, two teams debated the motion that science refutes God. Team A (for Atheist), composed of Michael Shermer (American science writer, science historian and founder of The Skeptics Society) and Lawrence Krauss (Canadian-American theoretical physicist, cosmologist and professor of physics) argued for the proposition that “Science refutes God.”

does-science-refute-god

Team B (for Believer), arguing that “science SO does not refute God,” were Dinesh D’Souza (Indian-American conservative political commentator, author and former President of The King’s College, NY), and Ian Hutchinson (Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Both members of Team B were Christians, although neither was raised in their faith.

My general impression of the debate, which the two Christian scientists lost by several points in an audience vote, was that Team B undermined their position by trying to argue specifically and narrowly Christian doctrine, as opposed to making rational arguments for the existence of God, the evidences of Whom go far beyond a singular Christian context.

In the course of bringing Christian doctrine to the table, Ian Hutchinson said, “Of course, you know Christians think that Jesus was the son of God.” This simple sound bite opened up an unanswerable array of questions that were tangential but crucial to an understanding of God. One question being: “What does it mean to say that a seemingly human man 2000 years ago was the only progeny of an non-corporeal, supernatural entity?”

This observation opened the door further to the subject of original sin and salvation, allowing Team A to close their argument by asking the audience to bear in mind that Team B believed that Jesus Christ:

…is your savior, and you accept him for redeeming us for sins we never committed. Somebody else in the past committed them. So as I understand this, God sacrifices himself to himself to save us from himself. If that sounds as incomprehensible to you as it does to me, I urge to you vote for our side.

Stated that way, it does sound pretty incomprehensible and irrational. The audience, given a false choice between science or a God based on that narrow caricature, voted against such a God. I would too, for both scientific and religious reasons.

Unfortunately, no one raised a very critical point during the debate: that this caricature is not the only portrait of God available. It is not even a majority viewpoint in the world of religion. The teams debated whether science refutes God, not whether science refutes one specific sectarian dogma or doctrine about God. Yet that was what the atheist team refuted. Hutchinson and D’Souza helped them do it, in part, by failing to speak a common language—that of reason.

In the writings of the Baha’i Faith, both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha encourage a reasoned, rational approach to everything, including God and religion:

The third teaching or principle of Baha’u’llah is that religion and science are in complete agreement. Every religion which is not in accordance with established science is superstition. Religion must be reasonable. If it does not square with reason, it is superstition and without foundation. It is like a mirage, which deceives man by leading him to think it is a body of water. God has endowed man with reason that he may perceive what is true. If we insist that such and such a subject is not to be reasoned out and tested according to the established logical modes of the intellect, what is the use of the reason which God has given man? – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 63.

In the debate Team A, and those who accepted their explanation, believed that by rejecting their own understanding of a single sectarian doctrine, they were rejecting God. That made for a nice, neat conclusion—but one that does not reasonably follow. Reason, as Christ reminds his followers frequently, is the tool we use to independently investigate reality:

You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. – Matthew 7:16-20.

Reason, the Baha’i teachings say, is one of the greatest gifts bestowed on humankind by a rational God:

God has given man the eye of investigation by which he may see and recognize truth. He has endowed man with ears that he may hear the message of reality and conferred upon him the gift of reason by which he may discover things for himself. This is his endowment and equipment for the investigation of reality. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 293.

So let’s use reason to rationally follow the points made in this interesting debate, and decide for ourselves whether science really refutes God.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

12 Comments

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  • Roman Korvinus
    Mar 15, 2017
    The debate on Science and Religion is over, the only thing now to do is accept it, and do away with its sociopath style morality. Science and Relgion unlocked at last. https://www.scribd.com/document/321374556/The-Book
  • Behnam Beyraghi
    Feb 22, 2017
    I remember my participation to the conference given by William S. Hatcher in Brussels where he started by the following introduction: "I have already demonstrated the existance of God, and so God is an objective subject, and now we can explore..."
    I have read those books ("A Scientific Proof of the Existence of God" and "minimalism") and as enginneer I have not found any major error in the demonstration.
    I think that this demonstration is not well known because it does not match the view of God by most of religions and is neglected by the scientific community. But ...it could be a major bridge between the scientific and religiouse communities.
    Read more...
  • Feb 22, 2017
    Thanks, Maya - You know how we come to the Faith by different avenues, so one says he or she is a Christian Bahai, a Muslim Bahai, a Jewish Bahai, etc. Well, I am an atheist Bahai, and enjoyed and appreciated your article!
  • Melanie Black
    Feb 21, 2017
    Maya, I look forward to your series on this subject especially as there are so many different ideas out there.
  • Melanie Black
    Feb 21, 2017
    Maya, I look forward to reading your series on this very interesting topic since so many people have different ideas about it. I can't recall a time when I didn't believe in God, and my memories go as far back as 2 1/2 years old. Now that I'm 63 I observe the contingent world and see evidences of God's creation everywhere. All that is wrong in the world has been caused by humankind. We have free will and will be able to change things around...with God's help. IMHO.
  • Mark David Vinzens
    Feb 21, 2017
    "Atheism, true 'existential' atheism burning with hatred of a seemingly unjust or unmerciful God, is a spiritual state; it is a real attempt to grapple with the true God.… Nietzsche, in calling himself Antichrist, proved thereby his intense hunger for Christ."
    Seraphim Rose, Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age
  • Hasan Elías
    Feb 21, 2017
    Science and Religion are 2 different complementary systems, the first is for the body, the second is for the soul. Both systems are updated over time.
  • Feb 21, 2017
    I don't believe that there is a rational argument for the existence of God, which could be accepted by non-believers. Neither is there a rational argument against the existence of God. To me, the key is to recognize that the universe of discourse of science does not include such questions, pro or con. I believe in God because the belief affirms the value of life. I make the argument that although science cannot affirm or deny God, God gives a basis for belief in the basic assumption of science, that the universe follows universal laws.
    • Feb 24, 2017
      I know several atheists who accepted the faith at least in part through rational evidence of the possibility of of God. My husband, my best friend and my colleague in a science and religion blog, who is a physicist.
    • Feb 22, 2017
      Behnam, thanks for the reference. I tried to read it as a skeptical person would. Stephen Jay Gould argued that evolution does not favor complexity, but rather diversity (where complexity is one extreme of diversity). I think his argument makes sense but it does not change the logic of Hatcher's paper. The main "scientific" counter-argument I have heard is that there are an infinite number of universes and we just happen to live in one whose rules make it possible for us to have evolved. Logically I cannot rule this out but it sure seems ...to fail Occam's Razor. The biggest obstacle to communication between believing scientists and atheists is that I have not encountered any atheists who are willing to discuss such matters.
      Read more...
    • Behnam Beyraghi
      Feb 22, 2017
      Please refer to the books "A Scientific Proof of the Existence of God" and "minimalism" from william S. hatcher who provides a demonstration of the existence of God on a rational and scientific approach. I am an enginneer and I have not found any error in the demonstration.
      This is a very old demonstration coming from Aristote and reviewed by Avicenna (Ibn Sina).
      In conclusion, I don't know why is demonstration is no wider know by the scientific and religiouse communities in the world because is an exceptional bridge between them.