Challenge: Is It Rational to Believe in God in an Age of Science?

Posted: August 25, 2010 by Amy Hall in God is Real, Weekly Challenge

We’re starting something new today on the STR Place Blog–a weekly “how would you respond” challenge. We’ll describe a scenario that you might encounter while talking to someone who doesn’t share your beliefs, and then the challenge begins! You take your best shot at a response, then later in the week Brett will post a video giving his own response and offering you tips for yours. This is a great way to train with Brett and get some practice putting what you’ve learned to work. So without further ado, here is the first challenge…

The following was just overheard by my roommate at her workplace:

When we can genetically modify human DNA, I don’t understand how rational people can still believe in God.

Now it’s your turn. How would you respond? What would you say first? How would you steer the conversation? What would you ask? What would your game plan be?

We’re looking forward to hearing your ideas! Check back again this week to hear Brett’s.

(View Brett’s response.)

  1. Nick says:

    Modifying DNA is completely different than creating DNA. Do we have the ability to put the necessary chemicals together and create DNA for something meaningful, if at all? Where does the DNA that we can modify come from?

  2. Sam says:

    The first thing I’d do is ask what the connection is. What does our ability to genetically modify human DNA have to do with whether or not God exists?

    Assuming the person says something to the effect of, “If we can engineer human DNA, then it’s unnecessary to appeal to God as a creator,” I would have two responses:

    First, I would say that the ability of intelligent beings, such as ourselves, to modify human DNA does not in any way demonstrate that nature could have produced the same thing without the aid of an intelligent being. If anything, the fact that we can engineer DNA demonstrates that DNA may in fact be the result of an intelligent designer, such as God. So God certainly isn’t inconsistent with our ability to modify human DNA.

    Second, I would say that even if our ability to engineer DNA makes God an unnecessary explanation for human life, it doesn’t follow that God therefore doesn’t exist. At best, all that follows is that human DNA cannot be used as evidence for God. But maybe there are OTHER reasons to think God exists, such as the kalam cosmological argument, the moral argument, etc. Or maybe God exists, and we have no way of knowing. But in no way does it follow that God doesn’t exist just because some particular argument for his existence turns out to be flawed.

  3. Daniel says:

    Question: How does our ability to modify coded information negate the fact that the existence of that information requires a primary Code-writer? That would be like saying that since we can change text in a document on a computer, there is no need to think that the file had an original author.

  4. Sam says:

    I like that, Daniel. Much more succinct than what I said.

    Another response I might give (and have given) when somebody says, “I don’t know how a rational person can believe in God,” is to say, “You should read some of their stuff. There are some very smart people who believe in God for what seem to me to be good reasons.” My brother-in-law told me a while back that there was no evidence for God. I asked him how he could possibly know that if he hasn’t read a single book arguing for the existence of God. Does he think all those books are just full of blank pages?

  5. The reality is that a person asking this question wants to know if it is rational to believe in God regardless of what age we are in. They are asking for evidence, not an argument related to this age. If it is rational to believe God exists in any age at any point in time, that rationality doesn’t change with time. God and science can coexist because science keeps changing, and God does not. The purpose of science is knowledge, the purpose of God is eternal. The constant pursuit of knowledge in any area does not diminish God for it is not in knowledge that we gain an understanding of Him.

  6. Amy Hall says:

    >>The first thing I’d do is ask what the connection is. What does our ability to genetically modify human DNA have to do with whether or not God exists?

    That’s exactly what I was thinking. Clarifying question! He’s definitely making a leap that he needs to explain.

  7. Jojo Ruba says:

    There so many fundamental assumptions made by those comments.

    I would first ask, if it’s significant that we can modify DNA – obviously the atheist thinks so. If that’s the case, why is it significant? If we are truly beings which came to existence only through blind random chance, then how does any of our accomplishments merit significance?

    If it is significant because sequencing human DNA is only possible because of scientific endeavours, then I would ask about those endevours. How is it possible that information can be studied by beings like us in the first place? How is that as random as the world is supposed to be, DNA can not only be studied but also understood and manipulated. Why would we need to know how to manipulate DNA – and then celebrate that accomplishment – in a Darwinian model? In other words, how does that in anyway help us with survival of the species?

    Oh, and of course: if we can now manipulate DNA, what ethics should we use to determine how we manipulate it? Should all short Asian people be allowed to have only tall kids? Should darker people be allowed to manipulate their DNA to be lighter? Should we eliminate anyone whose DNA doesn’t conform to a certain standard – and whose standard would that be?

    When we can genetically modify human DNA, how can rational people not believe in God?

  8. Anne says:

    Well, I’m irrational then?

  9. Mike says:

    I would ask, “Do you think our ability to genetically modify DNA is an example of intelligence? If so, doesn’t that reinforce the argument for intelligent design?”

  10. Luke N says:

    The primary assumption is that the alteration of DNA in the lab eliminates the need for God. I agree with the arguments provided thus far. However, I think that it should be noted that rather than eliminating God from the realm of possible conclusions, it adds other intelligent sources (e.g. extra-terrestrials) alongside God. Since the alternation was performed by an intelligence (the researchers), natural processes have not been added to the realm of possibilities; but neither have they been removed. Since neither are accomplished this evidence may not be cited as evidence for or against natural processes.

    We can recognize that this allows for other intelligent sources besides God. We need to identify who or what the other possibilities are. Then provide arguments against their possibility, while providing positive arguments for God. The arguments for God have already been mentioned, but arguments against other intelligences need to be provided. I would quickly go over the anthropic principle and dangers of space travel. I would also mention that even if those objections were overcome, the other intelligence must be demonstrated to be itself eternally existent or must have a creator of its own- God has not been eliminated, even if it is demonstrated that a physical intelligence can alter DNA.

    For further investigation, I would refer them to “Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men” by Kenneth Samples, Mark Clark, and Dr. Hugh Ross; and the up-coming book from Dr. Fazale Rana “Creating Life in the Lab” (which actually argues against a “stronger” version of the evidence provided initially)

  11. The Columbo tactic is in order for unraveling just what it is that the maker of such a statement really means, because it’s a non-sequiter as is.

  12. Samuel says:

    The argument this hypothetical person is making is as follows:

    Since the dawn of history we humans have wondered about the causes of the natural phenomena we observe (including our own origins)… early humans often described these phenomena by invoking a supreme being (in their own image). Science has since delivered us from this complete ignorance of the mechanisms of the natural world. What this person is stressing is that we’ve reached a point in our scientific understanding where we know so much that all of the old myths that people used to use to explain natural phenomena have been abandoned in favor of the scientific explanation.

    Though there are still open questions that science has yet to answer completely (such as the origin of life on earth, the beginning of the Universe, etc.), there’s really no reason to believe that the unanimous trend of natural explanations replacing supernatural ones will suddenly end and a supernatural cause will be found for a natural phenomenon.

  13. Adrian Urias says:

    “Um…dude, but how does us being able to manipulate DNA make people irrational in believing in God?” Non seq., columbo, ect, points to be brought up.

    Possible to response to Sam above.

    “Well, I could totally grant that to it’s fullest extent, but there would still be no contradiction (or negation, or anything resembling something contrary) between belief in God (especially if it’s the God of the Bible) and ability to manipulate DNA.

    “You know man, I once heard this joke, and I think you’d like it. Some scientists meet God one day and they say to him, ‘God, we can create life, just like you did.’ and God says, ‘Yeah? Show me.’ So the scientists say, ‘Ok, first, we get some dirt.’ and God interupts them and says, ‘Whoa whoa whoa, holdonjust a sec. Get your own dirt first!’ So co-worker dude, I think you’ve gotten a lot of issues confused here. Here’s a great website (STR) that will help you understand the issues more clearly, and perhaps help you come to the conclusions I’ve come to…” and badabing!, he becomes a Christian a few days later!

  14. When we can genetically modify human DNA, I don’t understand how rational people can still believe in God.

    My first question would be, “What do you mean by that?” followed by a, “How did you come to that conclusion?” both being used in an effort to get a bit more information. It definitely is an odd statement to make and I’d be wanting to hear and understand how it follows that being able to modify human DNA leads to the conclusion that it is irrational to believe in God. I’d be wanting a definition of what he/she means by rational.

    From there I think there are two lines I’d take, first would be to work with his/her definition of rational and see if his/her definition of rational also causes problems for to any of his/her views. Secondly would be to show that there are other good arguments for why it is rational to believe in God, i.e. a Big Bang needs a Big Banger.

  15. Ben says:

    We can modify human DNA and do MRI’s and so much more because of rational people who believe in God. Why is scientific enlightenment is mutually exclusive with theism for you?

  16. TIm says:

    As one who tinkers with automobile engines, I can work on them and modify them… I can change them to perform completely different functions. However, being able to do that does not require that I posess the knowledge or skill to create one from scratch.

    I know that there are others who do design and make these things. Have I met anyone who has?


    But I know they exist, simply by testimony of the obvious elements I can examine! And also by the testimony of others who have seen the designers and builders.

    Being able to modify something that exists does not explain a complete and cursory understanding of how or why it was created. Let alone explain those who created it. The only logical conclusion to come to is that I can modify an existing machine!

    Perhaps my modifications ultimatley harm the original design, lessening the life, efficiency or some other attribute with which I am not concerned. I may want to increase horsepower, or torque, but may ultimately damage the longevity of said engine.