Monday, August 14, 2006

Keith Parsons against Varghese's case for a creator

My former housemate strikes again.

1 comment:

JD Walters said...

You can't really say anything in response to criticisms like these. Like Dan Dennett might say, this is like playing tennis with the intellectual net down. To obviate Roy Varghese' argument Parsons basically just removes the question of 'why there is something rather than nothing' from the sphere of legitimate inquiry. He is right to question the demand that every aspect of reality be transparent to our rationality, and if he wants to take the 'ultimate physical facts' as a brute given he is certainly welcome to. But that does not say anything about the existence (or lack thereof) of a Creator. For a biologist like Kenneth Miller, God is to be found 'between' the gaps, in the significance of what it is we have already found out about the Universe.

But of course here too the intellectual net is down for atheists. When it comes to 'choosing' between 'religion' and 'science', of course science with its superior track record and physical theories of incredible aesthetic beauty are to be preferred to the 'irrational' pronouncements of revealed religion. But when theists ponder whether the astonishing success of science is itself metaphysically suggestive (cf Polkinghorne 1993), then suddenly our scientific acheivements are not really that impressive, reality isn't actually that transparently beautiful and there are some questions that we have no right to expect answers to.

In a column awhile back in the New York Times on cosmology, creation and religion, the columnist concluded with something like, "In the end, it comes down to two choices: either the Universe 'just is' or 'God said so', take your pick". Parsons chooses 'it just is' but gives no rational justification for his choice, other than the apparently unquenchable desire to avoid postulating a Creator. 'It just is' is not inherently a more rational choice than 'God said so', despite what Parsons seems to think. Modern science has not demonstrated that there is nothing left for a Creator to do and it never will. Of course this does not seem to advance theistic apologetics very much, but then again neither does this sophisticated piece of 'it ain't necessarily so' maneuvres advance the cause of unbelief. We're down here to existential predilections where reliable signposts are thin on the ground and hope springs eternal (on both sides of the eternal divide between God and nothing).

Parsons is right to question whether by itself there is any rational justification for the idea that God both creates and sustains the world in existence. But no Christian belief should be examined in isolation. The doctrine of 'creatio continua' forms part of a much larger web of beliefs concerning God's activity and purposes for this world and taken together there is substantial rational evidence for the role of God in 'explaining' a wide variety of phenomena, as Richard Swinburne tries to demonstrate in "The Existence of God".