Top New Zealand Christian scientists held seminars in Auckland and Wellington around the time of the visit to this country of famous atheist Professor Richard Dawkins, who was promoting his book Science in the Soul.
Professor Dawkins was supposed to have gone on tour with another famous atheist Lawrence Krauss, but the latter backed out after facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards women.
New Zealand Christians in Science project director Dr Nicola Hoggard said the seminar named “Is Religion really bad for science?” was organised in response to Professor Dawkins’ tour, “but also because the arguments for atheism and the critiques of religion are assumed by many in this society even when they haven’t heard of him”.
“And because it is good to stop every now and then and reconsider what the evidence for a belief in a loving God really is, and how it works in practice,” she added.
The seminar in Auckland was held at the Maclaurin Chapel of the University of Auckland on May 5 while the one in Wellington was held at St John’s Centre
on May 12.
In Auckland, physicist Professor Jeff Tallon illustrated through examples from biology, cosmology and physics the impossibility of the non-existence of a Divine Creator.
He based his talk on the late Stephen Hawking’s question: “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”
“The Christian view of creation is necessitated by Hawking’s question,” he said.
“In a self-contained universe, effect always follows cause but in a singular moment in the big bang in which no prior space existed and no prior time existed, physical or temporal cause is absent. Cause and effect break down and the only solution for this is for the causal origins of the universe to lie outside of this universe, namely by the purposeful action of a Creative God,” Professor Tallon explained.
He further asserted, “if years of science cannot provide the answer, then we must turn from research to revelation to find one”.
Professor Tallon said the Bible simply but brilliantly declares, “in the beginning God made the heavens and the earth”.
“These words suggest so much more than a mere capricious inventive whim of the Creator. They tell us that the creative act was purposeful, [the] beginning of a story that is intended to unfold through the actions of humankind by the exercise of their free will for good or ill,” he said.
Philosophy lecturer at Good Shepherd College Rev. Dr John Owens ,SM, submitted that religion is not even moderately dangerous to science.
“But it should be dangerous to something else, scientism, or scientific naturalism, the view that the empirical sciences cover the whole of reality, so that there aren’t any sensible theoretical questions that lie outside the range of the empirical sciences,” he said. “I think that Richard Dawkins is a scientific naturalist in this sense.”
Fr Owens compared the ontologies of Dawkins and Aristotle. “Dawkins points out that the word ‘living’ itself refers simply to materials that have developed very complex properties, which engage in complex activities,” Fr Owens said.
“We might feel however that something deep is missing. Biology is the science of life, and the life seems to be missing. We want to object that the process only ever produces complicated machines, gigantic lumbering robots.”
Aristotle, on the other hand, “has a single basic insight about living things, one that often [is] missed”, Fr Owens said. “It is that being alive is not in the first place a matter of being able to do certain things, or to perform certain complex functions.”
“It is rather to be able to aim at something, to have an interest in a particular outcome, and to be able in some way to set about achieving it.”
Other speakers tackled the issue of pain and suffering as they related to faith.