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Christopher Barnett

on 16 September 2014

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Transcript of Responses:

What Is "Dialogue"?
: from the Greek term
("across" + "to speak")
: "a discussion between representatives of parties to a conflict that is aimed at resolution"
Since the advent of the 20th Century, dialogue between religious groups has become common.
However, between believers and unbelievers,
seems to be the norm. Just cf. YouTube!
Hindrances to Dialogue
: "All religious believers are ignorant fundamentalists;" "All atheists are immoral sinners."
: "What difference does it make? People are going to think what they're going to think."
: "It's not that I don't think these issues are important; but it's all so complicated that I don't feel like getting into it."
: "I'm comfortable with what I believe; to really enter into a dialogue might force me to change or to confront issues that prove disruptive."
What Can Be Gained?
Pope Francis to Eugenio Scalfari: there are two main reasons for Christian-atheist dialogue:
to open up the lines of communication and, in turn, to show that faith is not opposed to (or afraid of) reason;
to display that the humility intrinsic to dialogue is a part of what it means to be Christian.
Putting Science and
Religion in Dialogue
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Atheism and Religion in Dialogue

Bullivant adds two more reasons:
Clarity not only about what others believe, but also about what
"To see ourselves as others see us"
John Polkinghorne
Alister McGrath:
Awarded PhD in molecular biophysics from Oxford in 1977.
Former atheist: "The sciences were, for me, the...only true way to acquire reliable knowledge about reality...".
Began to doubt atheism after studying the history of science, seeing that empirical data still required interpretation, even faith.
Returned to his Christian roots, which give "the best way of making sense of things."
Today: Idreos Prof. of Science and Religion, Oxford
the Conversation
Science vs Scientism
For McGrath, science itself is not a problem, though "scientism" is.
"Scientism": the view that science presents absolute truth-claims based on undeniable, objective evidence.
Subscribers to scientism tend to promote a "warfare model" of the relation between science and religion--viz., that faith is irrational and superstitious and thus opposed to science.
But this not only misunderstands theology; it also ignores the historical development of science.
Humanity, Meaning,
and Religion
For McGrath, human beings are meaning-making animals; we don't merely process information but, rather, seek to understand what it tells us about ourselves and about the universe.
As he sees it, while science is also a natural human activity (an effort to understand things empirically), scientism is a newfangled development, which declares that the world, to quote Dawkins, has "no design, no purpose...nothing but blind pitiless indifference."
Here scientism wants to curb the human quest for meaning; in fact,
is why it's so hostile to religion, for religion is, at bottom, a meaning-making venture--indeed, humanity's oldest and greatest way to make sense of things.
Going Beyond
Science can explain phenomena but not why they are there or for what they are intended.
Thus science, per se, is committed to objective details (e.g., seismic waves) but not to any one way of explaining the meaning of those details (e.g., earthquakes indicate that the world is left to chance, etc.).
"[Nature]" can be interpreted in atheist, deist, theist, and many other ways--but it does not demand to be interpreted in any of these ways."
In turn, humans are left to seek the best possible interpretation of life's meaning--an exercise of freedom.
Some scientists hope for a day when a "grand unified theory" will emerge, but many doubt that will ever happen. Does science, then, not point beyond itself "towards a deeper level of intelligibility"?
"Imagine a cake being subjected to scientific analysis, leading to an exhaustive discussion of its chemical composition and of the physical forces which hold it together. Does this tell us that the cake was baked to celebrate a birthday? And is this inconsistent with the scientific analysis? Of course not. Science and theology ask different questions."
--Alister McGrath (via John Lennox)
A Finely Tuned Cosmos?
Questions from McGrath reading (58-81):
Does McGrath think that cosmic "fine-tuning"
the existence of God? If not, then why is it so important for him (64-65)?
What is the "multiverse"? And how can it be used to defend either atheism or theism (71-73)?
Why does McGrath think the debate between "teleology" and "contingency" is so important in biology (77-80)?
Full transcript