Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Marilynne Robinson on the Difference Between Theism and New Atheist Science

"If a positive test were brought to bear on this idea, the multiverse, it would be discarded as meaningless because it can never be falsified. But in fact the idea is interesting and relevant for just this reason. Given what we think we know about the origins of the universe, there is nothing implausible in the idea that like phenomena of creation might have occurred any number of times. Biblical and traditional conceptions of God have enough of grandeur in them to accommodate the theory without difficulty, so there are no religious grounds for rejecting it. Its importance to the new atheist argument lies precisely in the fact that, true or not, falsifiable or not, it amounts to a statement of the fact that our experience of being is special and parochial, no basis for grand extrapolations from the structure of the carbon atom or the fortunate placement of our planet relative to its star. An even grander extrapolation, of course, is the one that proceeds from the observed importance of genes in transacting the business of organic life on this odd little planet to the insistence that, QED, there is no God. The being, or reality, that expresses itself in everything we know and are able to know may well find an infinitude of other expressions, unlike the reality of our experience in ways we cannot begin to conceive. Fine. But what is being described here, inconceivable and unknowable as it may be, is nevertheless the reality of which we are a part. If we do not know the character of being itself -- I have never seen anyone suggest that we do know it -- then there is an inevitable superficiality in any claim to an exhaustive description of anything that participates in being. And the assertion of the existence, or the nonexistence, of God is the ultimate exhaustive description. The difference between theism and new atheist science is the difference between mystery and certainty. Certainty is a relic, an atavism, a husk we ought to have outgrown. Mystery is openness to possibility, even at the scale now implied by physics and cosmology. The primordial human tropism toward mystery may well have provided the impetus for all that we have learned."

--Marilynne Robinson, "Cosmology," When I Was a Child I Read Books (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), 196-197


  1. This is nonsense. This woman does not understand science. Read Alex Rosenberg for enlightenment: "the physical facts fix all the facts" Everything else is an illusion.

  2. @Anonymous: What you've written doesn't make any sense. Even if everything except observable, physical facts is an illusion, how should we know it? We would need a kind of meta-fact outside of all such facts in order to guarantee that only what is not physical fact is illusory. Without this meta-fact (to bind all facts together) we only have Rosenberg's word for it.

    Marilynne Robinson has a creamy intellect - I love it!

  3. Creamy - as in filled with fat. Eating too much cream will give you a heart attack.

    Robinson is hopelessly confused about scientific issues in this essay. She doesn't understand "junk DNA", she doesn't understand the selfish gene idea, and she doesn't understand what it means when a biologist says a mutation is random. She has no scientific training, as far as I can tell; she teaches creative writing in Iowa. So why should her opinions about science be worth anything?