Atheism Archives

Name That Scientist

Jeff Jacoby presents, in a style not unlike Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story”, a story about a scientist, and the school that he applied to, that will amaze you.

DID YOU hear about the religious fundamentalist who wanted to teach physics at Cambridge University? This would-be instructor wasn’t simply a Christian; he was so preoccupied with biblical prophecy that he wrote a book titled “Observations on the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John.” Based on his reading of Daniel, in fact, he forecast the date of the Apocalypse: no earlier than 2060. He also calculated the year the world was created. When Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning,” he determined, it means 3988 BC.

So we have a young-Earth guy who seems really into this Christianity thing, and who is applying for a science job at a very prestigious university. Did he get the job?

Hire somebody with such views to teach physics? At a Baptist junior college deep in the Bible Belt, maybe, but the faculty would erupt if you tried it just about anywhere else. Many of them would echo Oxford’s Richard Dawkins, the prominent evolutionary biologist, who writes in “The God Delusion” that he is “hostile to fundamentalist religion because it actively debauches the scientific enterprise. . . . It subverts science and saps the intellect.”

In today’s academic climate, things don’t sound promising for our intrepid physicist. Religion and science don’t mix, so they say.

But such considerations didn’t keep Cambridge from hiring the theology- and Bible-drenched individual described above. Indeed, it named him to the prestigious Lucasian Chair of Mathematics….

To find out who this guy was who beat all the odds to get hired, click here for the full column. (And if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may already know the answer. I covered it last month.)

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Mixing Science and Religion (It Can Be Done)

Richard Dawkins, scientist, atheist, and author of “The God Delusion”:

Refusing to believe that science and religion could ever be happy bedfellows, the self-confessed atheist said that professional scientists who did promote that theory needed to prove the existence of god because it was a scientific question.

Emphasis mine, to point out that there have been many scientists who indeed were very religious. For instance:

Three-century-old manuscripts by Isaac Newton calculating the exact date of the apocalypse, detailing the precise dimensions of the ancient temple in Jerusalem and interpreting passages of the Bible — exhibited this week for the first time — lay bare the little-known religious intensity of a man many consider history’s greatest scientist.

Newton, who died 280 years ago, is known for laying much of the groundwork for modern physics, astronomy, math and optics. But in a new Jerusalem exhibit, he appears as a scholar of deep faith who also found time to write on Jewish law — even penning a few phrases in careful Hebrew letters — and combing the Old Testament’s Book of Daniel for clues about the world’s end.

Any scientist who does that today would no doubt be considered a nut by Dawkins and his supporters. And yet I’m certain that Dawkins has no problem accepting the scientific conclusions of someone he’d consider a religious fanatic today.

In one manuscript from the early 1700s, Newton used the cryptic Book of Daniel to calculate the date for the Apocalypse, reaching the conclusion that the world would end no earlier than 2060.

“It may end later, but I see no reason for its ending sooner,” Newton wrote. However, he added, “This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail.”

In another document, Newton interpreted biblical prophecies to mean that the Jews would return to the Holy Land before the world ends. The end of days will see “the ruin of the wicked nations, the end of weeping and of all troubles, the return of the Jews captivity and their setting up a flourishing and everlasting Kingdom,” he posited.

This is not someone with just a passing interest in a popular religious text of the time, this is someone who takes it seriously. Oftentimes, this sort of religious display is handwaved away as purely cultural, but I don’t think you can do that here.

Yemima Ben-Menahem, one of the exhibit’s curators, said the papers show Newton’s conviction that important knowledge was hiding in ancient texts.

“He believed there was wisdom in the world that got lost. He thought it was coded, and that by studying things like the dimensions of the temple, he could decode it,” she said.

The Newton papers, Ben-Menahem said, also complicate the idea that science is diametrically opposed to religion. “These documents show a scientist guided by religious fervor, by a desire to see God’s actions in the world,” she said.

They are not mutually exclusive.

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ABC to Webcast Christian/Atheist Debate

Kudos to ABC for webcasting a debate between 2 Christians and 2 atheists this coming Wednesday. It won’t be on network TV, but will be on their website live. Speaking for the Christian side will be Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron (yes, that Kirk Cameron).

Two Christians are meeting two atheists in a televised debate with the subject the existence of God, and Ray Comfort, a best-selling author and expert on Christian evangelism, says he can prove the existence of the Almighty in his allotted 13 minutes – without mentioning the Bible or faith.

“The network originally offered me only four minutes to present my case,” Comfort said. “After speaking with Kirk [Cameron, former Growing Pains and Left Behind series movie star] and conferring with the atheists, they settled on 13 minutes. I’m ecstatic. I can prove the existence of God in that amount of time.”

The debate will be Saturday in New York, and ABC had originally planned a live webcast of the 90-minute event, but changed plans to capture a larger audience, officials said.

ABC instead will broadcast the entire debate on on May 9, at 1 p.m. EST.

The old adage goes that no one was ever argued into heaven, but some are at least influenced by reasoning. I’m not really concerned about what the atheists might say.

The idea for the debate developed after several atheists launched the Internet site Blasphemy Challenge, which offers to send people a DVD if they post on a video of themselves condemning themselves to hell.

The self-described “Rational Response Squad” said its DVDs, “The God Who Wasn’t There,” was described by the Los Angeles Times as “provocative – to put it mildly.”

These guys have some sort of special vendetta against Christianity specifically, and their MO is shock. No, not worried about what these guys will come up with.

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Faith of our Founders

Joe Carter at The Evangelical Outpost takes an honest look at the religious faith of America’s Founding Fathers. His first conclusion is:

With the exception of the handful of orthodox Christians, the majority of the founding fathers subscribed to a religious view that we would nowadays classify as Unitarianism. A rejection of Trinitarianism clearly puts one outside the bounds of orthodox Christianity. We should not, therefore, claim that a historical figure is a “Christian” when we would consider someone who held those beliefs today to be a heretic. The leaders during the revolutionary era may have subscribed to a Judeo-Christian view of morality, but few of them were orthodox believers.

However, his second conclusion is:

While we Christians can claim few founding fathers as fellow believers, the atheistic secularist can claim none. Not one of the significant leaders was an atheist, much less subscribed to the modern idea of secularism.

Essentially, Carter says that the whole modern idea of government working from a purely secular/atheist point of view is not something the Founders would have generally recognized as their idea. An “established religion” meant something specific to them, and it wasn”t that government should be devoid of religious influence at all. (Military chaplains were set up by these same fellas, as an example.) The Michael Newdows of the country should take note.

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“The God Delusion”

Professor Academic professional John Bambenek, writing at Blogger News Network, has a devastating review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. What some are hailing as a defense of reason, Bambenek shows to be what he calls, “a rehash of pop philosophy and loosely strung together anecdotes, half-truths, and outright falsehoods”. Well worth reading.

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