God in the Age of Science?

God in the Age of Science?
Author Herman Philipse
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Subject Religion, philosophy
Publisher Oxford University Press
Publication date
February 2012
Media type Hardcover
Pages 400
ISBN 0199697531

God in the Age of Science?: A Critique of Religious Reason is a 2012 book by the Dutch philosopher Herman Philipse, written in English and published in the United Kingdom. Philipse found his Atheist Manifesto (1995) to be too hastily and superficially written, and decided to set up a more complete work to systematically refute all the arguments for the existence of God epistemologically and to settle accounts with any reason to adhere to any form of theism.[1][2]

To gain insight in how a religious person substantiates the existence of God, Philipse presents a "religious decision tree" in God in the Age of Science?, that works thus:

Is the statement "God exists" a factual truthclaim? a) yes; b) no.
If yes (a), is it necessary to invoke any kind of (logical) argumentation or (empirical) evidence to back up this truthclaim? c) yes; d) no.
If yes (c), does this argumentation or evidence need to be scientific in nature (to have gone through the scientific method), and is there no possibility to completely achieve a proof of God through one's own standards? e) yes; f) no.

This leads to four categories of thinking about the existence of God(or gods):

  1. In the case of b), somebody claims that God does not factually exists, but is merely a metaphor. Defenders of this position are, according to Philipse, following the tradition of Wittgenstein, and are currently represented by people like D.Z. Phillips[3] and Karen Armstrong.[4]
  2. In the case of d), somebody claims that God factually exists, but that one may assert this without invoking any kind of argumentation or evidence. Alvin Plantinga is among those defending this position, aiming to explain the world in the case God exists, which itself remains a matter of faith.[5]
  3. In the case of e), somebody claims that God factually exists, and that his existence can be demonstrated using scientific evidence. This position is held by people like Richard Swinburne[6] and Stephen D. Unwin,[7] who, for example, try to show the probability of God's existence using Bayes' theorem. Especially in the United States, the intelligent design movement (ID) was active from 1987 until 2005, claiming to possess scientific evidence for a divine creation instead of the theory of evolution, but ID was defeated in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial. Aside from ID, there are many other creationist movements with scientific pretences.
  4. In the case of f), somebody claims that God factually exists, and that one can prove this, but not in a scientific manner. Although himself an agnostic, the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould described this point of view as non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA):[8] science and religion are two entirely different enterprises and have nothing to say about each other; therefore, the existence of God is a purely religious issue, which science has nothing to do with. The opposite of this is the god of the gaps argument, namely that if science can't explain any given phenomenon, religion can, often by postulating a god. Defenders of this position make use of what Philipse calls "typically religious arguments", such as revelation, religious texts, religious experience, prayer, speaking in tongues, a convulsion with foam at the mouth etc.

Next, Philipse tries to refute arguments from every category step by step, but especially the e) case, namely Bayes' theorem as used by Swinburne. He concludes that[9]

1) theism cannot be expressed in a meaningful way;
2) if theism were meaningful, it would have no predictive power regarding the existing evidence, wherefore Bayesian arguments can't get started; and
3) if the Bayesian cumulative case strategy did work, one should conclude that atheism is more probable than theism.

Notes and references

  1. Wilfred van de Poll (8 May 2012). "'Het hoofdstuk God is nu wel gesloten'". Trouw (in Dutch). Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  2. Klaas Landsman (3 January 2015). "Alles aan geloof in God is irrationeel". de Volkskrant (in Dutch). Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  3. Phillips, D.Z., Problem of Evil and the Problem of God (2005).
  4. Armstrong, Karen, The Case for God (2009).
  5. Plantinga, Alvin, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (2011).
  6. Swinburne, Richard, The Existence of God (2004).
  7. Unwin, Stephen D., The Probability of God (2003).
  8. Gould, Stephen J., Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (1999).
  9. "God in the Age of Science? - Book Description". Amazon.com. April 30, 2012. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
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