PZ takes Collins apart

PZ is not happy with CNN’s interview “Why this scientist believes in God” of Collins because he isnt happy with Collins. Collins is religious because science cannot answer some of the questions he finds most important. PZ finds all of his questions either meaningless or well within the answering purview of science.

Some of those questions are nonsense (“What is the meaning of life?” There is no meaning beyond what you give to it), some are more tautologies (“Who created the universe?” Why assume it was a who?), and some have been answered or can be answered by science (“Why do humans have a moral sense?” Look up the word “altruism” in an evolution text, buddy.)

I must agree with PZ on most counts except the first.  His answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything – “There is no meaning beyond what you give to it” – is no less meaningless and unfounded than any answer the evangelical Collins would give you. What PZ fails to understand is that some questions will always lie beyond the purview of science because they will always be reformulated over time, because they are trying to get at the ‘meaning’ of everything (including science) and thus will necessarily always elude a clear and distinct answer – but will always require some attempt at an answer because the questions are important, because the questions are asking about the meaning of meaning.

There might be nothing that will forever lie beyond the explanatory grasp of science. But (1) science has not yet proven that proposition and (2) that certainly does not mean that there are not questions that at the moment remain completely beyond scientific understanding.

Atheists – uppity atheists that is – often forget that their atheism is on the same metaphysical playing field as religion – not one level above it. Atheism might be more coherent, but some the questions that religion asks require unscientific answers and if atheism tries to answer them anyway, it will have to come up with its own unproven claims.


4 Comments to “PZ takes Collins apart”

  1. Actually, I agree with PZ on the first, too. The question about the meaning of life is a bit biased towards the existence of a god. “Meaning” as a concept doesn’t make much sense unless there is a conscious agent to give something meaning. This means that, for there to be an overreaching meaning (i.e. a meaning that is beyond what you give a meaning, a meaning that is common to all human lives), there must have been someone there to give it meaning – there must have been a creator. Granted, the creator could be an alien life form, but then you just push the question a level up: what is the meaning of this alien life form’s life? I have yet to see a good definition of “meaning” that doesn’t make reference to conscious agents. In fact, I think that the concept without reference to such is incoherent.

    So, for there to be a better answer than the standard one that PZ gives, there must be a creator. Since the question “what is the common meaning of life” implies that life was created for a purpose, it becomes nonsensical on a naturalistic worldview.

  2. here is a short paragraph re science vs religion



  3. Simen – don’t you think that there are different non-god answers to the meaning of life? I at least can see the standard “no meaning beyond what you give it” but there is also a slightly, but substantially different answer: “no meaning beyond what *we* give it” which is similar to “we are the meaning”; of course, “no meaning at all” has also been suggested and “meaning is being created as the universe unfolds” is also a possibility. And then there is the old and less interesting “god” retort.

    I will thus stand by my post but clarify: PZ is not dismissing the question of the meaning of life, but actually offereing one of many possible answers to the meaning of life, all of which are non-scientific and even somewhat religious. Moreoever, PZ’s answer is rather *uninteresting*, a rather egregious fault in the realm of science…

  4. My point is that, if there should be a meaning of life beyond the individual level (i.e. beyond what you/we give it), there has to be someone who gave it life. But you can push it up a further level, if you consider a god in the equation: what is the meaning of existence? If you look at it this way, there’s no answer.

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