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Why did you write your book?
As a teacher, I believe it is my role to make things clear. This is important when there is a question of forming young minds that have not received instruction, but it is all the more important when communicating to minds that are confused. If anything characterizes our age, it is a great intellectual confusion.
In my book, I try to create a framework for understanding major questions about reality, about human knowledge, about the respective positions of religion and science. Then, I use that framework to clarify for the reader, in general and particular, what makes for trustworthy religion and trustworthy science. My hope is that the reader will put down the book with a new confidence in the truth when facing the smorgasbord of ideas with which we are beset today.
So, what makes for trustworthy religion and trustworthy science?
Both religion and science have to be realist; otherwise, they fall into irrationality and incoherence. By being realist, I mean that they must be based on objective reality and relate properly to our human way of knowing. We know with our body, through our senses, and with our mind, through our powers of abstraction and judgment.
Sometimes, however, religions have believers hold by faith things that our senses contradict. Likewise, scientists sometimes would have us hold as being scientific things that contradict reason.
Can you provide some examples?
Sure. Let me take a few examples from the book of religions becoming untrustworthy.
Chapter 6 is about Islam. The Koran says that converting infidels to Islam at the point of the sword gives glory to Allah. But this makes no sense. We all know from our human experience that conversion to a religion involves the acceptance of beliefs. But acceptance of beliefs is a process that takes place in the mind, not by way of our bodies. Now, it is obvious that someone converting to Islam in order to save his life is not changing what he believes. So, why would it give glory to Allah for a human being to be outwardly subjected to him but inwardly despising him?
Chapter 7 is about Protestantism. Luther held that God gave us reason only to humble it. Once God has humbled our reason, then we know not to trust our reason. Once we have given up on our reason, we will accept all that God tells us on blind faith. This, says Luther, is what God wants. But this also makes no sense. What kind of God would confer the faculty of reason on His creatures, for the purpose of then destroying that faculty?
What about science?
In fact, I am harder on modern scientists than I am on Islam and Luther, because some of them take irrationality to its furthest extreme. For instance, 20th century science provided solid, empirical evidence that our universe began with a huge burst of energy 13.7 billion years ago. This put atheist scientists in a terrible dilemma, because they had to admit that our universe, along with space and time, had a beginning. That would seem to make it obvious that an incredibly powerful cause had to be at the origin of our universe.
Instead of making this most reasonable inference, atheists have resorted to all manner of acts of intellectual desperation in order to get around a cause for the universe. I tell the tale, with the appropriate level of invective, in chapter 9. There I mention scientists who hold that universes spontaneously pop into existence when there are fluctuations in a quantum vacuum!
How do these examples relate to realism?
They both relate to realism, because they are both failures to be realist. Islam contradicts our common sense experience that conversion is not something physical, but something spiritual. Modern scientists holding that universes pop into existence from nothing contradict one of the basic principles of our reason, that nothing comes from nothing.
The realist commits himself to being faithful to both common sense experience and the principles of reason, body knowledge and intellectual knowledge. This, I argue, is the only way to avoid falling into the irrationality that the examples manifest.
Do you believe your book to be unique?
Well, I certainly would not have written it if I did not believe that it made a contribution to the whole religion/science debate. And it could not make a contribution if it did not address a worn out topic in a new way. That is precisely what my book does.
I would not say that the book comes up with any new ideas. But I do think it gives a very fresh face to an old debate. This is accomplished by two means. Firstly, by combining philosophy, religion, and science in a single work. Most people today are specialists and write as specialists. This makes books on religion and science seem overly technical and often not fair. The scientists don’t seem to understand religion and the believers don’t seem to understand science. The Realist Guide avoids this impasse by evaluating religion and science in terms of realist philosophical principles. That way, the reader does not get lost in details, because he or she is always aware of what the discussion is about and where we are in the discussion.
Secondly, the book is always straining to make difficult topics accessible to a popular audience. It makes use of a special meter, the ‘epistedometer’, to illustrate the general thesis throughout the book. It contains many tables to provide visual clarification of distinctions that have been made; it makes constant use of examples to illustrate concepts; and each chapter begins with a story to help maintain the reader’s interest.
Given these two aspects of the book, I can sincerely claim that I have never read a philosophy book quite like it. It was precisely because I had never encountered a book written in that way that I wrote The Realist Guide to Religion and Science.