Mark Houldsworth

Mark Houldsworth

I’m not at all comfortable writing this piece. I’ve never done this before. What’s driving me is what seems like an unusually large number of guest columns from either an atheist or someone proselytizing atheistic things.

I have an irrational fear that readers will find intelligence in these columns with nothing competing. Hence this.

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206;


(26) comments

Bailey Jones

Your characterization of science is inaccurate, but I don't disagree with the basic premise. Science describes the physical universe, it has no opinion about the spiritual. And "theism" is useless if you want to build a telescope or treat a cancer.

When I was about 13, I began a decades-long quest for "the truth". Even then it was clear to me that science had nothing to offer but facts, and religion had nothing to offer but faith. Neither is sufficient but both are necessary. After learning everything I could about every branch of science and everything I could about every flavor of spirituality, I finally split the difference and became a (not very good) Buddhist. I highly recommend it. But I'm not proselytizing.

I appreciate your letter very much. Thanks for giving me something to think about.

Ed Buckner

Thanks, Mark Houldsworth. As one (possibly the only?) of the explicitly atheist guest column writers carried occasionally in the Daily News, let me say I welcome an explicitly non-atheist offering, and that I'd like to see more, from Mr. Houldsworth and from others. What I'd prefer, though, is Christians explaining their beliefs rather than inaccurately describing what atheists think. My own experience in reading a wide number of atheists and theists is that beliefs and ideas vary widely.

Mark Houldsworth

Couldn't agree more that beliefs vary widely. I suppose, maybe it didn't come through, I'm mainly concerned that atheists frequently challenge Christian's beliefs asking them to provide proof of their assertions. Which is silly. By accepting the Christian faith one has already announced that they don't believe that natural, scientific reasoning explains the first person, subjective experience they see. Why then would a Christian try to provide a scientific proof. They frequently see that they can't explain things with nature and begin to admit super nature into their model of how things work (world view). Think also, I'm merely positing that we're all working with faith, not just Christians. Having no belief in God is really the same thing as having faith that there is no God, without scientific proof.

Ed Buckner

Mr. Houdsworth, sorry, but you're mistaken. i don't have "faith that there is no God"--I just don't have faith that there is. This is just a matter of logic: I'll bet big bucks that you don't believe in wee little fairies in your garden, yet no one should say you must have faith to not accept that there are. A lack of belief is not the same thing as a belief. I do understand, of course, that it's unreasonable to demand that Christians provide scientific proof for their beliefs. Science, done properly, is a wonderful approach to greatly understanding of the observable, natural world--but science is not the same as philosophy or other approaches. I think human sympathy and love and mutual respect are quite important, but I don't think science can prove I'm right. Atheism is not a religion or a set of organized and interconnected beliefs--it's merely the absence of belief. And i for one don't think it's possible to prove that there is no god--I'm an agnostic regarding knowledge and an atheist regarding belief.

Paul Sivon

Science is not responsible nor intended to prove your beliefs. Although there’s a lot apologists trying to make a career out of it.

Ed Buckner

[thumbup], Mr. Sivon.

Mark Houldsworth

You're correct on this. And perhaps the article was a little more harsh than it should have been on scientists as scientists. Of course there's lots of hard scientists that are Christians. And there's a number of hard science Nobel Laureates that have accepted a creator. But I think of apologetics as something of a reaction to the notion that Christians are unreasonable, following blind faith. And that atheist/scientists have already explained all we need to know about our reality. We should just adopt their conclusions into policies for running our lives. It is interesting to see how many big things they haven't actually solved scientifically. And to observe that we're all working with faith, working on our world view.

Gary Scoggin

I recommend the book “Language of God” by Francis Collins…

From Wikipedia….

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief is a bestselling book by Francis Collins in which he advocates theistic evolution. Collins is an American physician-geneticist, noted for his discoveries of disease genes, and his leadership of the Human Genome Project (HGP). He currently serves as the director of the US National Institutes of Health. In the book, Collins describes briefly the process by which he became a Christian.

Collins raises arguments for the idea of God, drawing from science and philosophy. He cites many famous thinkers, most prevalently C. S. Lewis, as well as Saint Augustine, Stephen Hawking, Charles Darwin, Theodosius Dobzhansky and others. In 2007 Christianity Today judged it one of the best books of the previous year.”

George Croix

None of us knows the final answers until we die.

Ultimately, the Great Debates over What Is and What Is Not, either in science or faith, will never end as long as Man endures, as the final answer will never be known, until there is no one left to wonder either which point we will have All Knowledge, and it won't matter, because no one will be alive to pass it along...

I think there was a movie somewhat along these lines.....Catch something or other

Margaret Jimenez

I love these responses! Intelligent, courteous, thought-provoking. Thank you.

I want to share that I am an 82 year-old great-grandma who used to get up before dawn and sit in a rocking chair on my back porch and watch the sun "rise." I would pretend that I was on a slow moving roller coaster coming upon the brink of an amazing day ahead. And back then, I was often in need of the reminder that the sun didn't revolve around me.


Ed Buckner

[thumbup], Ms. Jiminez[beam]

Mark Houldsworth

Margaret, thank you for your comment. I agree. Courteous and thoughtful.

Thomas Carpenter

"Scientists have given up on the origin of the universe." I guess the Hubble and Webb telescopes are looking for Mr. Ponce's wallet so he can pay his bet.

Mark Houldsworth

Famous astrophysicist (name escapes me) once said something like: "We're not likely to say anything scientific about the origin of the universe - from inside the universe."

Bailey Jones

Yes, Mr. Houldsworth, it seems to be a logical conundrum as to how we could know what happened before the universe existed. The analogy for theism would be, "Where did God come from?"

But science can tell us a lot. We can directly see light from the universe all the way back to about 300,000 years after the Big Bang (or creation, if you prefer). Given that the universe is 13.77 billion years old, that means we can directly observe the universe for 99.998% of its lifetime. We have theories, based on our ever-evolving understanding of quantum physics, that gets us to the tiniest fraction of a second after the birth of the universe.

And, it's not like we're lacking in theories for what came before, we just lack any data to prove them.

Considering that we figured out that the earth goes around the sun less than 400 years ago, and the equations that describe light only 160 years ago, and why the bare-nosed wombat poops in cubes just this year, that's pretty incredible progress. We may get there, we may not. There's a little dance that goes on in science. A new instrument or method gives us new data, from which arise new theories, which often require new mathematics to prove, which leads to the next new instrument or method for collecting data, on and on, forever.

Theism, in contrast, typically has a book or a set of books, such as the Bible. The Bible is what we have, and it's all we will ever have, to explain the mysteries of the Christian god. It is, in this sense, a dead end, a single set of data that never changes. (That's not to say that the historical and literary study of the Bible isn't a vibrant and fascinating field of research, indeed it is, and one which I very much enjoy reading about.)

As far as I'm aware, there has never been a scientific discovery based on Biblical scripture. Meanwhile, science, for all but the most fundamentalist Christians, is constantly informing the understanding of God, since, beyond the Bible, the nature of God can only be inferred from His Creation. Religion has nothing to offer science, while science has much to offer religion.

If gods exist, it's not unreasonable to expect that science will someday find them. But, so far, there's nothing there.

Gary Scoggin

For me, science and religion address two different questions. Science addresses “how” and religion addresses “why”. If I keep these a bit separate, I don’t have to struggle with how one explains the other.

As a Christian with a scientific background (engineering is close enough), as soon as I back off some of the creation legends and a few other things, I have no problem reconciling my faith with science. (I’ve got some theories about Christ, chaos theory, and Quantum Mechanics about how this can work together but they are not baked well enough to bore everyone with right now.)

A great approach for this is built into the physical layout of many schools - for example, University of St. Thomas in Houston. They have a quad with the library at one end and the chapel at another. Along the sides are classrooms. The metaphor is you have “reason” and “faith” and they are connected through learning.

Bailey Jones

Gary, I'm guess I'm content not to worry or wonder about the "why". For that one humanities class we had to take in college, I took philosophy. One of the concepts that I remember is the Latin phrase, "to este este". I say I remember it but I can't find it anywhere on the Internets so I assume I'm misremembering it entirely. But I'm sure the translation was "that which is, is". Or as we say at work whenever a project gets canceled - "it is what it is".

There is a somewhat similar idea in Buddhism - “There is no fear for one whose mind is not filled with desires.”

But, yeah - science and religion are two different spheres of enquiry. One based on facts, one based on belief, as I alluded to earlier. It's the doctrinal beliefs that have always kept me away from religion. As you mentioned, you can make it more palatable by chucking some of the doctrine, like the creation stories, but then, why not chuck it all?

I was baptized when I was 7, but I never really "got" it. I remember sitting in the pew when I was about 12 and hearing the preacher say something to the effect that if the Bible doesn't make rational sense, rational sense is wrong because the Bible is always right. And that was when we parted ways.

What attracts me to Buddhism is a couple of things. First, it's not a religion but rather a way of living. And as such, it's compatible with any religion, or no religion. And second, the Buddha taught "Don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought that ‘This is what my teachers say", but rather that every idea should be tested "just as a goldsmith tests his gold, by burning, cutting, and rubbing it". I think that's the path to wisdom, no matter what you believe.

Ed Buckner

Bailey, quod est, est.

Bailey Jones

Yeah, Ed, that's what the internets said. It just doesn't match my memory. Maybe I just heard it wrong.

Ed Buckner

que será, será

Mark Houldsworth

We're not likely to say anything interesting about the origin of the universe - from inside the universe. In the same way, if God created science, we're not likely to say much interesting about the Creator of science - from inside science. Again, it's not unreasonable that the Author of the Bible was more concerned with telling us who He is, what He expects, and His plan for our redemption. Filling in all the nano details of Genesis 1 that some want would have a required a book too large to print and take home. Think He accomplished exactly what He intended.

Bailey Jones

The notion of "theism" is an interesting problem and one I've spent a good portion of my life grappling with. I've come out of this grappling with some general notions. Take them for what they are worth:

Mr. Houldsworth mentions "love" as something that speaks to the possibility of a reality beyond science. I've used this same argument myself and for the same reason. Now, any behavioral scientist worth her salt will tell you that the experience we call "love" is just chemicals and electrical impulses, and that's all well and good. After all, all human experience is ultimately just patterns of chemicals and electrical impulses.

With regards to religion, in the widest sense of the word, I always go back to anthropology. There is no culture in human, or pre-human, history as far as we know that hasn't exhibited some sense of spirituality - some sense of connection to some greater consciousness. That fact raises the question of "why" - why is this connection part of the human experience? There are two possible answers - either this sense of spirituality is some hallucinatory byproduct of our consciousness, or this sense of spirituality is the actual sensing of some actual phenomena. Richard Dawkins, arguably the most famous atheist author around suggests the former. I tend toward the latter. My arguments are two. First - humans spend an ungodly amount of time, energy, and resources pursuing spirituality. It doesn't make evolutionary sense to do this if there is no evolutionary benefit. Now, it's possible that nursing these hallucinations does provide an evolutionary benefit in the form of societal cohesiveness and "making sense" of the world, and that's a perfectly reasonable explanation.

But I would offer another. I believe in evolution as a natural and inevitable outcome of the basic properties of matter and energy - I don't need any "intelligent designer" in my evolution. In fact, as a designer, I don't find the design to be particularly intelligent. But, I do find it sufficient to explain this connection to a greater consciousness that we've labeled as "spirituality". (And yes, I recognize that the question of where the basic properties of matter and energy came from remains unanswered. We just don't know. "God made them" is another way of saying exactly the same thing.)

We evolved eyes because we are immersed in a field of light. We evolved ears because we are immersed in a medium (air) that conducts sound vibrations. We evolved a sense of smell because we are immersed in a medium (air again) that is filled with tiny bits of volatile matter. We evolved senses of touch, heat, and cold because there are things in our environment to touch, and some of them are hot or cold. So, it doesn't seem like a stretch that we may have evolved consciousness because we are immersed in a field of consciousness. I can't prove this, of course.

But if we look at the basic properties of matter and energy that I alluded to earlier, what we see is that matter, in the presence of energy, inevitably tends toward more and more complicated forms. We see this in the evolution of the universe itself, where matter/energy starts off as subatomic particles that coalesce into hydrogen - the simplest material element - and then through nuclear fusion and other well-understood processes becomes helium, carbon, oxygen, and so on until the whole periodic table is filled out.

Then these elements combine into increasingly complicated compounds. The most complicated of these compounds - hydrocarbons, lipids, proteins, nucleic acids, etc. - it's a long list, combine with chemical processes and electromagnetic energy (sunlight, heat) to become living matter. I posit (again, with no proof) that life is simply the next stage in this natural process of the evolution of matter and energy, and that consciousness is merely the next inevitable step after that. (And who knows what comes after consciousness.) This idea that consciousness is a state of matter isn't just something I saw on YouTube, it's the bleeding edge of research into quantum physics.

So, for me, the idea of some sort of mega-conscious state of matter/energy is entirely consistent with physics if we add this postulate about the nature of matter and energy to tend towards greater complication. And since we observe this tendency every day, I see nothing in the natural world that precludes it. I just can't prove it. To use a phrase from the week's news - I have theories but no evidence.

And the reason I don't have evidence is that our science and physics are almost entirely based on our ability to detect electromagnetic energy. And consciousness is not electromagnetic in nature. The individual elements are chemical and electrical, but consciousness arises from the patterns - in the same way that a whirlpool isn't water - it's a pattern in the water. We have no instrument that can measure these patterns and no mathematics that can as yet describe them. Perhaps if we were more intelligently designed we could.

I have no religious beliefs in the sense that I hold no religious doctrines to be true. To my mind, religious doctrines are simply the proverbial blind men describing the proverbial elephant. But I'm also one of those annoying people who has literally climbed to the mountain top and fasted and prayed until revelation presented itself. So, I'm not easily dissuaded from my beliefs. And part of that revelation is that beliefs are simply that, and no more. While I have the personal experience of contact with this greater consciousness, I can't escape the possibility that I simply suffer from the same hallucinations that plagued my Neanderthal ancestors. Similarly, I also can't escape the possibility that the feelings I have for the people that I love are simply sparks and farts in the gray matter between my ears. I (consciously) choose to believe it's more than that. Self-delusion may be a bug, but I prefer to think of it as a feature.

As a point of interest in the discussion of the intersection of belief and science, I recommend "The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science" by Richard Holmes. It traces the development of science and scientific thought in the early 1800s. Science began with people of faith who set out to either glorify or prove the existence of the creator that they sincerely believed in. As the nature of the design became known, the assumptions about the nature of the creator had to be adjusted, until finally, the creator became more or less irrelevant to the explanation of the creation. That's how we got to where we are today.

Yes, I know - tl;dr.

Gary Scoggin

"humans spend an ungodly amount of time, energy, and resources pursuing spirituality." - Interesting turn of a phrase

Bailey Jones

The devil made me do it.

Ted Gillis

Well you all have spent more time tying to figure this all out. I myself could care less what religion a person belongs to. And as I’ve said before, I seem to have more friends when I do not know what religion they are.

Charles Douglas

All these discussions and bold statements reminds me of the story in the Bible which mentioned things and actions concerning a very astute an educated man of his day, called....nicodemus!

I'm also reminded of what Jesus said to him when he came to talk with jesus, embarrassed & under the cover of darkness concerning being Born Again and Godliness! Old Nicodemus probably knew a lot about science too, but God put him in his place. I can never understand why many in the world today think HELL is a joke! It is a joke when one compares it to the LAKE OF FIRE, which is seven times hotter and where the worm dieth not, and the fire is never quenched!!!!! I personally don't want to be so smart and so educated that I can say all that is a lie ln the name of science, but to each his own! My main focus is on me! Free country, you can provide the water but you cannot compell anyone to drink the water of life! Once an individual dies, you ARE LOCKED IN TO SALVATION OR DAMNATION ......... for ETERNITY!

PS. TAKE HEED!!!![wink]

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