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Peering down a microscope can bring us closer to God

Science can lead to wonder in the way it reveals the beauty and harmony of creation

By on Friday, 1 June 2012

A sample about to be loaded on to a helium ion microscope in Dublin (one of only ten in the world) (Photo: PA)

A sample about to be loaded on to a helium ion microscope in Dublin (one of only ten in the world) (Photo: PA)

I have just been reading Fr Aidan Nichols’s book, Lost in Wonder: Essays on Liturgy and the Arts. It is an erudite reflection on the need for beauty in liturgy and church architecture, among other things. The phrase “lost in wonder” is meant to suggest the sense of awe a person would feel intuitively when in the presence of the numinous or transcendental, ie in the presence of God.

I am not trying to arouse debate on banal modern liturgies or churches that, as Fr Nichols describes them, look like “hotel foyers”. What interests me here is his conclusion, which he calls “By way of an ending: Religion, Science, Art”. Science and art are two different strands of human endeavour. They both reflect the beauty and harmony of creation. Nor does scientific knowledge have to be in an antagonistic relationship to a religious understanding of the universe made by God. The secularist mindset today thinks that science can “prove” everything, including why and where the quaint impulse to religious belief is located in the brain. But what if, as Fr Nichols asks, “Symmetry, balance, rhythmic sequence [are] disclosed through cinematographic enlargements of the microscopic… By analysing the size, surface and volume relationships of a wide variety of living forms, it can be shown how there is a degree of mathematical orderliness in virtually every realm of organic nature.”

This was the experience of the scientist Francis Collins, director of the genome project, when he looked through a microscope; it led him to “awe” and belief in God. Naturally, not all scientists respond in the same way. Fr Nichols remarks, “As the name of Richard Dawkins reminds us, some scientists remain at the mercy of a 19th-century ideology of materialism, for which organisms are merely very complex machines, their organisation determined by physical and chemical laws, rather than functional wholes purposively organised, each more than the sum of its parts.”

Fr Nichols is optimistic that the Dawkins-type mindset is changing. He writes: “When science and art come together again, we can see that the universe itself is the ultimate work of art, exhibiting to an astonishing degree the integration of parts within the whole – which was… St Augustine’s definition of beauty.” My own scientific knowledge is pitiful. But I understand enough of what Fr Nichols is saying to know that science is a more beautiful, because awe-inspiring, pursuit than its atheist purveyors would have us think.

Incidentally, biographer Peter Ackroyd, interviewed last Sunday on Desert Island Discs, remarked that there were two ways of looking at the world: a “spiritual” way and a “secularist” way. He identifies himself with the former outlook, adding: “I am convinced there are forces and powers in the Universe of which we have no inkling.” He is not yet “lost in wonder” – but getting closer.

  • Cestius

    Would agree that you can marvel at the wonder of God’s creation through a microscope, through a telescope and in things in the periodic table. But there are those those like Richard Dawkins that are determined not to see it, and they do not see it.

  • Jeannine

    Didn’t Dawkins admit recently that there is a possibility of a superior being? If yes, he made his 1st big step.—– Prayers for him are working!

  • Anon

    so much media airtime and damage done, this man who has an  -ology in zoo.

  • Jonathan West

    “organisms are … functional wholes purposively organised, each more than the sum of its parts”

    It would be very nice if Nichols could offer some evidence for this claim. Just a little bit.

  • TreenonPoet

     No. As far as I am aware, Dawkins has never denied the possibility, however small, of a supreme being, let alone a superior being. He says so in The God Delusion (2006).

    Your use of prayer for remote effect is as futile as ever.

  • Acleron


    science is a more beautiful, because awe-inspiring, pursuit than its atheist purveyors would have us think.’

    Which atheist scientists have ever claimed that science is ugly?

    In fact, science is neither beautiful or ugly, it is a method for finding out. And it has been enormously effective in finding out so many parts of reality, including what we consider to be beautiful and the mechanisms for your belief in some deity.

    In fact as Feynman showed, a scientist can not only appreciate the beauty that is apparent to the non-scientist but many layers of deeper beauty, all without the necessity of any deity.

  • theroadmaster

    Symmetry and beauty and proportion form the basis for the harmony that we see in nature.  This criteria has been reproduced in Art form by the celebrated artists, sculptors and architects, musicians, writers and poets, who have enthralled us by the masterpieces over the centuries.  Their appreciation for the qualities which tantalizingly give us a glimpse into the mind of the Divine Creator, inspired them (consciously or unconsciously, depending on belief) to reach for the sublime in the Natural order as arranged by God.

  • Daniel_Borsell

    The beauty of science is that it has no consideration for our interests, desires or opinions.
    It is only concerned with what is true. The reality of the universe can be difficult and sometimes impossible for us to understand but to surrender to
    ignorance and call it God is futile.
     

    Science is a logical process of inquiry that has led to the current developments in
    medicine, aerospace, telecommunications, genetics to name just a few. God, as far as we can logically ascertain, is no more than a figment of the imagination. Nothing has yet been
    shown to have been caused by supernatural forces, while the progress of science, despite religious influence, continues to reveal more of the components and mechanisms of life and the universe.

     

    As for prayer, I’d love to see evidence of a miracle, such as someone whose mangled limbs had
    grown back, or lost eyes had reappeared in empty sockets. But all we hear about are individuals recovering from misdiagnosis, or that their bodies have recovered from a serious illness or disease.

    Extraordinary, unlikely, improbable,
    miraculous (whatever you want to call them) events occur all the time.

    What knowledge has
    God given? There is nothing contained in the Bible that an archaic Middle
    Eastern man could not have known at the time of writing. Why did God not
    proffer up any truly useful insight or knowledge, such as how to minimise the
    spread of infectious diseases? – Just think how much suffering that one simple
    act would have saved.

    If Jesus was God’s way of communicating vital knowledge to the whole of
    humanity it was undeniably a very ineffective method. The Australian peoples,
    for example, had to wait over 1700 years to hear the messages of Jesus, and
    when finally the Christians did arrive, they abused and butchered them.

  • Parasum

    People are scum. That is why they behave scummily. That is not an objection to God – it’s an objection to man. It is man who is the problem – not God. Far too often the revolting  behaviour of man istreated as though it were somehow the fault of God. This lets man off the hook, so that ddoes nort have to repent of his vile behaviour. Leading to a repetition of the nastiness committed.

    “If Jesus was God’s way of communicating vital knowledge to the whole of humanity it was undeniably a very ineffective method.”

    ## False premise. If Washington is a factory for producing flying pigs, it does a rotten job. But that is not the purpose of it.

    “What knowledge has God given? There is nothing contained in the Bible that an archaic Middle Eastern
    man could not have known at the time of writing. Why did God not
    proffer up any truly useful insight or knowledge, such as how to
    minimise the spread of infectious diseases? – Just think how much
    suffering that one simple act would have saved.”

    ## False premise again. The knowledge of salvation is more valuable than earthly life, which ends eventually however healthy one may be. The knowledge of salvation is very useful – but useless if one’s outlook on life does not allow it to be useful. It might be interesting intellectually, but there is nothing in atheism upon which something that is God-centred – like salvation – can get a grip. The scale of values in which salvation by God has meaning, is no more relevant to atheism than the I Ching would be to a shoal of fish. The atheist & the Christian may well agree that X is unjust – but their scales of value are radically different. The resulting value-judgement by each person, that X is unjust may overlap, but it does not follow at all that the two scales of value are the same value-scale. They are incommensurable, because the atheist’s notion of the supreme good is not that of the Christian. It can’t be the same, because the Christian believes in a God Who is the Supreme Good – atheists, by definition, do not. A massive amount of harm & misunderstanding has arisen from the false idea that the Christian scale of value & view of the world is compatible with that of the atheist, or the atheist’s, with that of the Christian. One result has been the dilution of Christianity: which merely compounds problems.     

    To blame a book or library for lacking good things it does not claim to provide, is as reasonable as blaming crows for being mis-shapen eagles, or trees for not having enough scales to be healthy pythons.

  • theroadmaster

    Dawkins has subscribed to certain theories, no matter how improbable, to deny the possibility of a Divine Creator in relation to the causation of our universe  e.g mulitiverse theory-infinite number of universes being formed just to create one.  It seems even more improbable than the belief in an omnipotent God.
    As for your crass remark regarding the beneficial effects of prayer.  Numerous recent studies have found solid evidence for it’s efficacy.  In 1998, Dr. Elisabeth Targ and her colleagues at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, carried out a controlled study of the effects of “distant healing,” or prayer, on patients with advanced AIDS. Those patients who were prayed for, survived in greater numbers, got sick less often, and recovered faster than those not receiving prayer.   

  • Acleron

    You have to look at as much evidence as possible before reaching conclusions about the efficacy of prayer.
    The Cochrane database has done this at:-http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19370557 They concluded that’These findings are equivocal and, although some of the results of individual studies suggest a positive effect of intercessory prayer,the majority do not and the evidence does not support a recommendation either in favour or against the use of intercessory prayer. We are not convinced that further trials of this intervention should be undertaken and would prefer to see any resources available for such a trial used to investigate other questions in health care.’

    These findings are typical of a modality which is ineffective.

  • Jonathan West

    To follow up on what Acleron has said, if you want to draw the most reliable possible conclusion, you don’t cherry-pick the most favourable bits of evidence and hope that the rest goes away.You look at all the evidence. The Cochrane Foundation has done that, and has concluded that there is no evidence of any effect.

    The Cochrane Foundation is interested simply in saving lives. It is as independent as you get. If there had been evidence that intercessory prayer has an effect, then they would have said so. Instead, they have suggested that further studies on the subject should be abandoned, and the resources devoted to studying something else which might actually work.

  • theroadmaster

    I am sure that some studies might show some evidence to the contrary to the findings to the ones that I have indicated.  But you cannot act ostrich-like and deny the evidence from studies which do not conform to the expected scientific biases of our day.  I have read the conclusions of the Cochrane report and it seems to rule out a priori the theological aspects of the trial studies under review.  Thus from the start, the lack of open-mindedness on the part of the reviewers would skewer the nature of the conclusions that they would reach.  We know that Faith cannot be encapsulated in empirical scientific terms as it involves a belief in an omnipotent Being who is open to our petitions in the form of prayer communicated through the ether.  They conclude that the findings need “further research” which is a back-handled complement coming from them.  Thus the positive aspects of prayer cannot be dismissed out of hand by a narrowly interpreted scientific rationale.

  • theroadmaster

    I will answer your points and ny comments will be the same as I posted to “Jonathon West” as his contribution was essentially the same as your’s.  
    I am sure that some studies might show some evidence to the contrary to the findings to the ones that I have indicated.  But you cannot act ostrich-like and deny the evidence from studies which do not conform to the expected scientific biases of our day.  I have read the conclusions of the Cochrane report and it seems to rule out a priori the theological aspects of the trial studies under review.  Thus from the start, the lack of open-mindedness on the part of the reviewers would skewer the nature of the conclusions that they would reach.  We know that Faith cannot be encapsulated in empirical scientific terms as it involves a belief in an omnipotent Being who is open to our petitions in the form of prayer communicated through the ether.  They conclude that the findings need “further research” which is a back-handled complement coming from them.  Thus the positive aspects of prayer cannot be dismissed out of hand by a narrowly interpreted scientific rationale.

  • Daniel_Borsell

    and I’m sure you can waffle on like this for hours, but what it ultimately comes down to is that you are not seeking the truth because you have faith.

  • Jonathan West

    I think that you need to understand how these studies are conducted. Humans are different from each other, so they respond in different ways, to drugs, to almost anything. So trials involving the effects of things on humans use statistical techniques to try and distinguish the effect from mere random variation.

    But because random variation is random, it can sometimes happen that it gives you what appears to be a positive result. If for instance you wanted to test whether a particular dice is loaded, you could roll it 600 times and see whether you get about 100 sixes.  if you get a lot more, then you can conclude the lice probably is loaded. But just occasionally, you can get a disproportionate number of sixes from a fair dice and so draw the wrong conclusion

    This is not the only problem with trials on humans. There are two others. One is called “the placebo effect” where people who believe that a treatment will be effective tend to get better quicker, whether or not the treatment actually has any effect at all. The other problem is called “regression to the mean” which means that in fact, most people do tend to get better after being ill.

    A well-designed trial has to eliminate both these effects and be large enough to minimise the effects of random variation.

    It is not unknown for trials to be deliberately badly designed with inadequate randomisation so as to increase the chance of a “positive” result.

    There have been several trials of intercessory prayer with varying sample sizes. Provided the trials are sufficiently similar, you can add up all the trials so that you can treat it as one single trial with a very large sample rather than lots of trials with small samples.

    The way Cochrane goes about this is that they first eliminate from consideration those trials which look as though they have been badly designed, then they take the remaining trials together and calculate the results of the samples taken as a whole. By doing this they have saved innumerable lives by discovering evidence of effective treatments which individual trials had been too small to uncover.

    Cochrane did this for the trials of intercessory prayer. The results were negative. There is no evidence of intercessory prayer having an effect on the sick.

    Of course, you could say that God doesn’t allow himself to be counted in this way. But this puts you up against two problems. First of all, such a claim would mean that by means of counting up the results, scientists can prevent God from working in the world. That would make God not as omnipotent as traditionally understood. the other problem is that the claim is unfalsifiable, that there is no possible test that could be devised even in principle that would allow you to tell whether God answers prayers or not.

    You cannot disprove unfalsifiable propositions. But by the same token, there is no reason to believe them

  • TreenonPoet

     I am not qualified to comment on the probability of any of the multiverse hypotheses being true, but until any of those hypotheses is disproven, how can they have a lower probability of being true than the probability of any randomly postulated entity existing?

     If a deity is defined in such a way as to make its existence impossible (by, for example, claiming that the deity is all-powerful, yet at the same time claiming that some of its power has been ceded to man), then the probability of that particular deity existing is zero. Otherwise, if there is no evidence whatsoever for the existence of a particular deity, then it has the same probability of existing as any of the infinte number of other deities that could be postulated. Until some new knowledge puts a given deity ahead in the field, the probability of its existence is infinitesimal. It surprises me, therefore, that on his scale of 1..7 (1 representing certitude that God exists, and 7 representing certitude that God doesn’t exist) Richard Dawkins placed himself at 6 in The God Delusion.

    Perhaps the original intention was that certainty be rounded to the nearest integer, but that would still put him below 6.5. If he now claims to be nearer a 7 (but still an agnostic athiest), then that would indicate a hardening of his stance. Does this have parallels with the survey that showed that patients who know they are being prayed for tend to get slighly worse?

  • cephas2

    Prayer is never futile. 

  • theroadmaster

    Whatever solution Dawkins or anyone else postulates must have a finite beginning, as reputable scientists will tell you, that there is no infinite regression concerning the origins of the Universe.  You may say that the multiverse theory is as good as any, but again it requires a finite point from which it had to be generated and thus a cause.  The presence of physical and mathematical laws which guide the interactions of  celestial particles at a sub-atomic level, would tell us, that order was made out of potential chaos.  The very fine-tuning of the conditions which facilitated life(in whatever form) to exist, again points to the most probable of all posited theories, i.e the case for a Divine Creator.  Scientists have calculated that if those conditions had varied by even a  very miniscule amount, the chances for any form of life would have been zero.  An inquirying mind would at least entertain the prospect of a superior intelligence being responsible for the reality of our cosmos.
    Dawkins is the ultimate materialist, and his granting of 6 to God on a scale of 1.7-6 in relation to certainty that He does not exist, would surprise no-one.  Thus he has a priori made up his mind and he chooses any theory(however improbable) but God.  I don’t see any parallels here with patients getting worse, who know that they are being prayed for.  But I can cite you many examples of people who have received the grace form intercessory prayer and got better.

  • TreenonPoet

     I meant futile in attempting to achieve a remote (intercessionary) effect. There may be an effect on the person praying or on that person’s witnesses. For example, in believing that prayers are answered, the person praying may feel that they have done something worthwhile. I think a better use of one’s time is to actually do something worthwhile.

  • theroadmaster

    Thanks for your detailed breakdown of the processes involved in weeding out the extraneous factors which could distort the findings of such studies as the Cochrane one. I have a working knowledge of how such reviews are carried out and the facts extrapolated for a final analysis in terms of stats and the patterns which occur with them.  But your articulate explanation has enlightened me further.
    I take your point that statistically, the Review reached the conclusion, that there was no clear evidence either way, to prove/disprove the efficacy of Intercessory prayer.  But scientific studies and surveys can have only a limited understanding in terms of dealing with Faith matters.  It can be validly argued that God is not a variety act who responses to a prompt.  Medical recoveries which defy scientific belief are very few and far between, such as those which have been verified by the doctors panel(mixture of Catholic,non-Catholic and atheistic medical practitioners) at Lourdes in France.  Prayer depends on the disposition of the petitioner and the nature of the request. Some requests are granted and others are not.

  • theroadmaster

     But scientific studies and surveys can have only a limited understanding in terms of dealing with Faith matters.  It can be validly argued that God is not a variety act who responses to a prompt.  Medical recoveries which defy scientific belief are very few and far between, such as those which have been verified by the doctors panel(mixture of Catholic,non-Catholic and atheistic medical practitioners) at Lourdes in France.  Prayer depends on the disposition of the petitioner and the nature of the request. Some requests are granted and others are not. 

  • Isaac

    “I’m sure you can waffle on like this for hours”

    And how would you know that? By “faith”, perhaps?

    “but what it ultimately comes down to is that you are not seeking the truth because you have faith.”Such knowledge of the depths of other people’s lives! What scientific experiment, I wonder, lead to this insight?

  • Jonathan West

    No, what Cochrane found is no evidence that there is any effect. the results were within the range of random outcomes that you would expect if there were no effect.

    If, as you suggest “God is not a variety act who responds to a prompt” then two things follow. First, as I described before, this aspect of God is being defined as unfalsifiable. there’s no way to distinguish between a God who doesn’t answer prayers and a God who only answers prayers in a way that you can never tell whether he has done so. Second, if God is as you describe, then the promises in the New testament concerning prayers being answered are simple false. Look for instance at Matthew 21:21-22, James 5:13-16.

    As I mentioned before, humans are very variable. Some years ago, there was a survey carried out in Australia on about 5000 cancer patients whose cancer was so advanced that all treatment to attempt to cure or slow the cancer had been abandoned, and the patients were on placed palliative care only. The average survival time was about 6 months. Some died sooner, some lasted longer. A very small proportion (about 84 if I recall correctly) were still living after 5 years!

    Now, if you consider Lourdes, a huge number of sick people pass through the place every year. If you look only at the most remarkable apparent cures and not at the many thousands of lesser outcomes, and you just draw a target round the 0.01% of best outcomes, you can call them miraculous if you like, but there’s no reason to think that these people are just the fortunate few whose bodies happen to have staged a remarkable recovery for reasons unknown. My only surprise about Lourdes is that there aren’t a good deal more miraculous cures claimed there that is actually the case.

    Now, you might think that I’m trying very hard to find ways of avoiding acknowledging miraculous cures, but I’m not. This kind of skepticism looking for all possible ways by which a phenomenon might occur is just the standard scientific approach to things. As Richard Feynman once said “We’ve learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right. Nature’s phenomena will agree or they’ll disagree with your theory.”

    With regard to the theory that intercessory prayer has effect on the person being prayed for, the results are in. It doesn’t work.

  • Acleron

    I have no wish to tag-team you, Jonathon West makes the major points about these studies.

    But I would make a prediction. If the accumulated studies in the Cochrane report had been in favour of intercessionary prayer, such scruples as making a variety act out of your god would not be mentioned.

  • TreenonPoet

     It is a good point that if the multiverse hypotheses are as far-fetched as the creator hypotheses, then my argument fails as regards the relative probability of a creator.

    I would remark that your arguments for a divine creator (which I have opposed elsewhere in Catholic Herald comments, including the first cause argument) do not support the existence of the god that needs to be worshipped, answers prayers, etc. To say that the two gods are both called God and so must be the same god (as Aquinas seems to) is not logical. Whether the former (deist) god exists is rather irrelevant, it is belief in the latter god, and similar deities, that causes some of the problems that Dawkins targets.

    I don’t agree that Dawkins has made up his mind a priori. It is the religious method to work backwards from a conclusion and reject facts that contradict it. Dawkins follows the scientific method and would accept the existence of God if sufficient evidence for it were to be discovered. That the complexity of life (for example) can be explained without the need for divine intervention may seem improbable, but in retrospect (i.e. post Darwin), the process seems not only obvious, but mathematically inevitable. I am sure that Dawkins did not ‘choose’ that theory because it goes against God hypotheses, but it is true that there is an inevitable bias because the God hypotheses don’t actual explain anything, they just push answers to the big questions further out of our reach, and because whatever predictions are made (such as He answers prayers) are not supported by scientific investigations, and  because there is so much evidence that the Bible is a work of fiction, and so on.

  • Acleron

    The fine tuning argument is not complete. There could be physical laws that govern and force such a combination of physical constants. On the other hand, most of the calculations demonstrating that life as we know it couldn’t exist involve varying only one constant while the others are kept static (if you know what I mean :)). The full landscape of varying all six constants has not been performed and may demonstrate other areas of baryonic stability.

    But even if the constants are shown to be unique and ‘chosen’ it does not offer support for a personal god interested in humanity. In fact the chances that an entity has created our universe and then taken an interest in a smear of biological life around a planet of an insignificant sized planet, orbiting a very ordinary sun in the backwoods of a galaxy that is one of hundreds of billions of galaxies is essentially zero. And that very small chance would also have to explain why such an entity placed that particular galaxy smack in the path of larger galaxy.

    The complete lack of any evidence of a supernatural effect in everything we have closely studied leads to illogical statements by theists. Either such a god has affected the real world, in which case why cannot we detect this at any scale, or it has no effect on reality, which is as good a definition of non-existence as I could imagine.

    The areas that are still unknown to us, ‘dark energy’ and ‘dark matter’, may indeed be shown to be inexplicable (unlikely) but even this will not support a personal god hypothesis unless some connection between those phenomena and mankind can be demonstrated.

  • Justathought

    The most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.
    ( Albert Einstein - The Merging of Spirit and Science)

  • Jonathan West

    Here is Prof David Deutsch on the subject of fine tuning.

    “I do not believe that the ‘fine-tuning’ of physical constants provides any sort of argument for the existence of God or anything else supernatural. That is because if the constants had been set intentionally by supernatural entities, then the intentions of those entities must themselves have been at least as ‘fine-tuned’ when they set the constants, and that fine-tuning would remain unexplained. Hence that supernatural hypothesis does not even address the fine-tuning problem, let alone solve it.

    More generally arguing for supernatural explanations on the grounds that the current scientific explanation for something or other is flawed or lacking is always a mistake. There are two main reasons for that. One is that there are always unsolved problems. But they get solved. Science continues to make progress even (or especially) after making great discoveries, because the discoveries themselves reveal further problems. Therefore the existence of an unsolved problem in physics is not evidence for a supernatural explanation any more than the existence of an unsolved crime is evidence that a ghost committed it.

    The second reason is that supernatural explanations are always empty explanations. That is to say, ‘the gods did it’ is invariably a bad explanation because, as you can see, to invoke that explanation I didn’t even have to say what it is they did. It could ‘explain’ anything whatsoever and hence actually explains nothing.

  • theroadmaster

    God is unquantifiable in terms of science, as His is by nature omnipotent and omniscient.  Scientific studies in relation to areas like intercessory prayer, statistically may come to a conclusion, one way or the other.   As the Cochrane report reviewers stated, more work needs to be done on this topic, before a firm conclusion can be reached.
    As for Lourdes, the miraculous cures deemed to be valid after a century of pilgrimages to this holy shrines, stand around 70.  As you state, they appear to be miniscule in number, compared with the multiple millions of visitors who visited Lourdes in that time.  But cures on demand, would be putting God in the role of a cabaret act who has to please everyone every time that he performs.  His ways are not our ways.  Jesus did not cure everyone who gathered around Him during His ministry on earth.  But evidence of His miraculous powers are recorded in the gospel accounts.
    I still think that at best those who are skeptical about the effectiveness of intercessory prayer believe that more in-depth studies are required to prove or disprove it either way.

  • theroadmaster

    More work needs to be done in the scientific analysis of intercessory prayer as studies to date have been sketchy(the Cochrane review is a distinct improvement on similar ones which preceded it).  We can wait and see.. 

    Your comments concerning my use of the word “variety act” to describe some people’s expectation of God bear little resemblance to the reality of a Creator who created the physical and mathematical laws which govern our universe.  He is not subject to the scientific probes that we set up to prove His existence, one way or the other.

  • theroadmaster

    Well, if you or anyone else can state that an uncaused caused, operating by blind chance, managed to arrive at the perfect balance in terms of constants and conditions to achieve life, then you will have overturned all the logic that a person’s mind can operate with.   We are talking about the virtually impossible here.  It is like expecting someone to throw bricks, mortar, rooftiles, window-frames, etc into the air and expect them to assemble into a house, without any form of external guidance or intent.
    I am just operating on a profound logic here, which tells me that the universe is no accidental creation which by random chance gave rise to the possibility of life.

  • theroadmaster

    Your very tenuous grasp of the Holy Trinity as understood in Christian theology is very clearly showing.  You are no different in terms of your understanding from people who proposed heretical or distorted theories in the past.  There is one Godhead with three distinct persons in it and all equal in majesty and glory.  It is a difficult concept to grasp and one reply to your previous comments will not suffice to go into it’s background.  Just think of it like the Trefoil shamorck which St Patrick anecdotally used to instruct the newly converted Irish regarding the nature of the Triune God.
    Dawkins stated in a blog in 2002 that he was relishing the adoption of the Atheistic position as opposed to an agnostic position, because of the controversial arguments and celebrity associated with it.  There may be more than a purely ideological aspect at play here.  It seems materialstic self interest as well. The great monotheistic religions have been with us in one form or another for 4-5000 years now.  There is no overt sign of a loss of appetite globally for belief in our Creator.  The atheists and agnostics seem to be confined mostly  to western nations and the post modern era and man-made ideologies seem to be collapsing there, in terms of their ability to guarantee any form of permanent happiness or contentment. The big questions will still nag those questing for a meaning to life, which these ideologies are not equipped to answer. i.e why we are here?  what is the purpose of our existence?.  Science cannot roam beyond the materialistic.  Your crass dismissal of the bible as “fictional” betrays an distinct ignorance of the  historical, social and religious  background and legacy of this Iconic book.  Archaeologists have verified many of the historical sites, personalities and events which took place in ancient Judea.  We have eye-witness gospel accounts of a man called Jesus Christ who walked the foothills and deserts of the regions with a close band of followers.  He paid the ultimate price for his socially subversive teachings which taught how to prepare for a paradise beyond our earthly real. Extra-biblical sources such as the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius who lived around the time of Jesus,  recorded events that Jesus was involved in during His ministry.

  • Jonathan West

    Well, if you or anyone else can come up with explanation for how God was so fine-tuned that he could create a fine-tuned universe, then please do so.

  • theroadmaster

    As I have stated in my latest comments to “Jonathon West”, it seems that people like Dawkins will twist and turn to any theory(however improbable), in order to avoid the distinct possibility of a Divine Creator.  The pin-point accuracy of the positioning of the universal constants vis-a-vis optimum conditions for life point to intention rather than blind chance.  It is virtually impossible for unguided forces operating out of chaos to achieve such an accurate balance. The odds against  it are so incalculably great, that we can practically disregard this as an option. Sir Fred Hoyles, the great astronomer, likened to odds to a tornado blowing throw a scrapyard to produce a supersonic jet.
    You describe our location in the universe as a “biological smear” but the cosmos is so gargantuan in terms of it’s various dimensions, that it is inconceivable that life did not spring up elsewhere.  Our communication systems and space travel capacity are on the verge of reaching the point, where contact with other celestial civilizations is a tangible reality.  But we are talking about decades here and not centuries.

    You say that there is a “complete lack of evidence” in regard to intervention by a Creator God on our earth.  But the gospel first-hand accounts of the birth, life and death of our Messiah, Jesus Christ, give the lie to that assertion.  We have had eye-witness accounts of marian apparitions and claims of mystical meetings with Jesus by saints and other believers down the centuries.  The Church has approved the veracity of some of these claims and rejected others.  But sometimes God subtly intervenes through His chosen human agents, as in the influence of the late, great, Blessed pope John Paul 11 regarding the fall of the communist regimes.  There were of course other factors at play e.g people power and western governments, but the late pontiff took on the authorities in Poland and by extension Russia and helped to precipitate the unraveling of these regimes.

  • theroadmaster

    God is an infinite being who is the source of all creation.  He is perfection itself and the instigator of everything that is good, beautiful and true.  I suppose this is not scientifically verifiable in a test laboratory, but it takes Faith to grasp it.

  • Jonathan West

    That’s a nice piece of stirring prose, but it isn’t an explanation. 

  • JByrne24

    The largest and most highly reputable study of the effect of prayer on illness was conducted by the University of Harvard in 2006.
    See the link below to the Harvard University Medical School press release on the results:

    Link:  http://web.med.harvard.edu/sites/RELEASES/html/3_31STEP.html

  • JByrne24

    But his “religiousness” did not have a god.

    He spoke and wrote many times saying that he did not believe in the existence of a god. I do believe in God, but this man didn’t – and there is no good trying to make-out that he did.

  • JByrne24

    But IS the universe really
    fine-tuned?

    See Link:
    http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/Cosmo/FineTune.pdf 

    up-to-date adobe needed.
    University of Colorado.

  • JByrne24

    Please see my comment a bit above
    (probably).

  • Acleron

    The constants are no support for any supernatural being, that it has been carefully and fully explained to you and ignoring those explanations and just repeating your error is not a good debating point.

    There is no quality evidence of any supernatural manifestation, whenever such reports are examined by independent analysts, the effects are found to be either fraudulent or delusion. There is no discernible error in the best physics theories we have and those are the theories that allow the calculation of those constants. There is no room for the supernatural.

    As for eye witness reports of any person called Jesus? To start with those reports were written several years after the event, have been heavily edited, translated and censored. And offer no more evidence than any other more recent claim of the supernatural, that is no evidence at all. But the story of Jesus is strange, the Romans were avid record keepers but only contorted references to Chrestus can be found, again many years after the event and no references to any supernatural happenings at all.

    The claim that other life may exist on other planets, detracts nothing from my argument that any ‘universe creator’ would be totally uninterested in mankind, in fact if life is common, it would be even more disinterested.

    The Hoyle comment is about abiogenesis not the physical constants, and he got that wrong anyway, he ignored the most important part of that equation, the selection part.

    As for travel to other star systems, this is extremely unlikely. To reach another star system in a reasonable time would involve the ability to alter those very constants you mistakenly think support your position. So if we can get out there it destroys the need for any deity. 

  • Acleron

    The null hypothesis is that intercessionary prayer is that it doesn’t happen. To disprove the null hypothesis then some real and statistically proven difference must be shown between those prayed for and those not prayed for. In all the studies examined by Cochrane as a whole, no difference was found and the recommendation was that further work would be a waste of resources.

    You introduced the study by Targ to show some effect of your deity was detectable.
    So you are now saying that your god has no effect on the physical universe and therefore doesn’t exist.
    Just saying this entity set things up prior to us being able to detect things  doesn’t make such an entity in anyway interested in mankind and is therefore no proof of a personal god.

  • liulan991

    tinyurl.com/73huk6r

  • Jonathan West

    If God is as undetectable as you suggest, how can you be so sure that he has in fact been detected and that you know so much about what he wants of us all?

  • Jonathan West

    The miraculous cures don’t impress me in the slightest, given the great variation there is among humans.

    If you are defining God so that he is undetectable and unfalsifiable, then there are two things which follow from this.

    First, it means that the only thing you can say about God is that you know absolutely nothing about him at all – an neither does anybody else. 

    Second, it means that anybody who does claim any knowledge of God (to take  an example at random, that God disapproves of gay marriage) is inventiing ideas. He must be, because if your undetectable definition of God is right, he has no means of ever having evidence of God’s ideas on this.

  • JByrne24

    Parasum says :  “People are scum.”

    Well, what can I say to that? 

    Is it right to agree with you Parasum, or right to disagree with you?
    What do you think?

  • JByrne24

    The largest and most highly reputable study of the effect of prayer on illness was conducted by the University of Harvard in 2006.
    See the link below to the Harvard University Medical School press release on the results:Link:  http://web.med.harvard.edu/sit…

  • theroadmaster

    It is your right not to accept the expert medical opinion of the Lourdes doctors in relation to claims of medical recoveries which defy scientific explanation.  The stories of the people who directly experienced these recoveries are real and their claims were minutely examined over the years by an independent panel of doctors.  In fact, the Church errors more on the side of caution where claims of miraculous interventions are concerned.
    To know God is to know His Son Jesus Christ.  I know that you are not a believer, but the recorded life of Christ is the supreme way of knowing the unseen Creator of our universe.  We can see glimpse of God’s handiwork in the Cosmos and our natural environment on the earth.  The ontological destiny of mankind in the sense that we are more than atomic particles. Ultimately it is down to Faith as explained by St Thomas Aquinas-To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

  • theroadmaster

    The Jury is still out and the positive effects of Intercessory prayer have never been fully disproved.  More studies need to be done in this area to come up with a fuller picture. But ultimately statistics are limited in relation to comprehending prayer and how it works.