Q & R: will you publicly acknowledge and correct your mistake?

I recently posted a question from an agnostic atheist reader …
Here’s a follow-up. Because the post is lengthy with several questions, I’ll insert replies below (after the jump):

I understand that you are a busy man with many obligations and a very full inbox, so I am not the least bit offended that you did not reply to my previous message, but I wanted to send another one with some reflections on another part of your book Finding Faith in the hopes that you might be compelled to answer again.

I did get to reply – just belatedly, which often is the case. Thanks for understanding …

I moved on to the chapter called “Can I Believe in Atheism?” I have some responses to you that I hope you’ll consider, and I’d love to know your thoughts.
First, you write, “If there is no God, the questions remain unanswered.”
That’s true, they do…at least for a while. That’s OK with me. It doesn’t mean I don’t care, it means that I have confidence that we’ll get there eventually. Even you acknowledged in this chapter that science does have an impressive record of closing the gaps that so many people fit God into.
In fact, the whole Intelligent Design movement of Michael Behe is essentially a “God of the Gaps” argument…irreducible complexity and all. Not long after Darwin’s Black Box was published, I attended a speech by Dr. Kenneth Miller, and he addressed Behe’s discussion of the bacterial flagellum. Miller is a Catholic like Behe is, but he rejects this based on his direct area of research. This is a video of a very similar speech by Miller that addresses this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWoQ_EYE7lc
Miller and Behe went head to head as expert witnesses in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District…essentially science has already filled in a lot of the gaps Behe cites…he was just in Circle C instead of Circle B.
Similarly, Bill Nye addressed the Second Law of Thermodynamics problem you mentioned in his recent debate with Ken Ham — essentially that the law is based on the assumption of a closed system, and the earth is not a closed system…so it’s not surprising that things are becoming more complex over time. This is the entire debate…that discussion on the Second Law of Thermodynamics starts about the 2:14:50 mark. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6kgvhG3AkI
Similarly, Richard Dawkins has talked a lot about the evolution of the eye and how we can see how it has gradually evolved with increasing levels of functionality. http://www.youYtube.com/watch?v=Nwew5gHoh3E

I basically agree. I’m not a fan of the Intelligent Design movement or any God-of-the-gaps project. And your point (and Bill Nye’s) about any particular locale in the universe not being a closed system is a good one.

So I hope you’ll agree with me that these scientific ideas in your book simply don’t hold water…and I hope you’ll make a point to publicly acknowledge and correct that, especially if you publish future editions. I’m sure it was an honest mistake on your part…we all come from Circle B instead of Circle C. 🙂

As I said in the previous response, I’m glad for this feedback in hopes that I can someday update Finding Faith.

Another point that you made is that about evil and suffering. You write:

But what is one left with, having removed the God-factor from the equation? Now, the suffering is no less tragic. And worse, there is now no hope of the suffering being rendered meaningful or transcendent, redemptive or redeemable, since no interventions in this life or reparations in an afterlife are possible. True, there is no God to blame, but is that so great a consolation?

Like many people, the problem of evil was one that I struggled with for a long time in my transition from Christianity to agnostic atheism. (Essentially, my stance is that the existence for God is highly improbable, but I won’t totally rule it out.) To me it’s a consolation because I can accept that some things just happen…they’re accidents of chance. I have no problem accepting that some things are meaningless…they just are. The consolation is a coherent view of the world that does not need to extract meaning from everything that happens..
You talk about theism and evolution being compatible, but as much disdain as I have for Ken Ham, I actually do have to agree with him when he said in the debate that, “Christians who believe in millions of years have a problem with the Bible” because an acknowledgement of evolution requires you to accept that animals suffered for millions of years before humans appeared to bring suffering into the world, and I don’t see how you could make the argument that animal suffering could ever be “meaningful, transcendent, redemptive or redeemable.” This was a problem that obviously confounded the great C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain. Plus you would have to acknowledge that God, who would be omniscient, knew full well that this approach would lead to things like the ebola virus…which can hardly be blamed on human free will. This spiral was probably what pushed me over the edge away from theism.

I think there are better ways to think about animal and human death and suffering than Ken Ham or even C. S. Lewis have proposed. But that’s another story – maybe for an updated version of the book someday!

You also wrote:

The bitter regimes of the twentieth-century’s Hitlers, Stalins, Pol Pots, and their colleagues held as their core ideology overt or covert atheistic assumptions.

I assume by “covert atheistic assumptions” that you’re acknowledging the passage in Mein Kampf that reads, “I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord’s work” and assuming Hitler was just lying. I don’t accept that…but even if he was lying, the motivational power of that argument is a big problem for religious folks.
I don’t think you can pin the actions of Hitler or even Stalin or Pol Pot on atheism itself just because they happened to be atheists. Here you will see Richard Dawkins rip that argument to shreds. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FARDDcdFaQ
What are your thoughts on this?

You raise a good point. These days I would say that many of our problems are evolutionary (i.e. features of biological and cultural evolution that once may have had survival value but now threaten our survival). Those kinds of evolutionary problems – challenges of moral development common to all members of our species – would affect both atheist and religious communities; neither would be exempt. And my suspicion is that each community can bring resources to the other to acknowledge, engage, and overcome them. By the way, I recently read a brief article on the famous Milgram experiment that captures some of the complexity of moral development – you may not agree, but I think you will find it interesting. Thanks again for writing!