Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Scientists on Mix of Science and Religion...cont'd.

Problems with the Defense of the Mix of Scientific Method and Religious Faith.

From the article:
Some scientists say simply that science and religion are two separate realms, "nonoverlapping magisteria," as the late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould put it in his book "Rocks of Ages" (Ballantine, 1999). In Dr. Gould's view, science speaks with authority in the realm of "what the universe is made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory)" and religion holds sway over "questions of ultimate meaning and moral value."

An atheist may be wondering here why it is essentially impossible to answer questions of ultimate meaning and moral value solely within the realms of both scientific and philosophical, as opposed to metaphysical, enquiry. Why is it that science, containing as it does, at least some fairly plausible part-explanations of how the universe works, is necessarily incapable of providing philosophy with sufficient material with which to construct answers to questions of ultimate meaning and moral value?

Atheists may reasonably assert that theories that purport to describe the world, be they scientific or philosophical, can indeed provide mankind with very satisfactory ontological and ethical systems. For example, a philosophical theory about how humans think and learn, provides an explanation for the effects of coercive behaviour. (Coercion is a matter of enacting a theory that is not active in the mind, with the consequent reduction in the ability to reason and be creative.) This simple perception has the potential to have all manner of ethical and political implications.

So the facts of the matter yield theories which explain what happens to humans. Explanations of the facts provide a possible basis for the development of an ethical code but the question then arises as to why and how we should ascribe value to these explanations. Do we not need a metaphysical force in order to convince us of the value of behaving well?

Of course, the presence of a problem does not necessarily mean that we can easily construct a meaningful answer to it, though you often would not be able to draw this conclusion if you were to take an oft-repeated argument in favour of religious faith seriously. This argument in favour of belief in God runs something like this: since we cannot apparently provide satisfactory answers to our ontological and ethical problems without a belief in a supernatural God, He must therefore exist. Hmm.

However, it is in fact perfectly possible to achieve a sense of worthiness and inspired imperative for our actions without the help of divine edict. We can quite reasonably choose to believe in the possibility that humans can subsequently solve any ontological or ethical problems that people may experience. In fact the laws of physics would seemingly suggest that such a thing is perfectly possible...(as described by Frank Tipler in his theories about the Omega Point, for example.) It may just be that people of the future will regard this period of history as almost unimaginably barbaric. Humans in the past have demonstrated an extraordinary capacity to solve problems and we cannot know which problems we will successfully solve in the future. What we can do therefore is put ourselves in the best possible position to attempt to solve these problems. This vision of hope alone is sufficient to provide a sense of meaning that in turn provides the impetus and inspiration to enact a moral system. (Home Education is often a consequence of adopting such theories!)

So rather than absolving ourselves of the responsibility for creating meaning and value by transferring these tasks to a supernatural being, we instead assume complete responsibility for it, in a way that feels empowering and exhilarating since it involves affirming the unique nature and unlimited potential of rational man.

Some may argue that the tentative nature of this system is a poor substitute of the conviction of faith, but it needn't be. The excitement of thinking that solutions can potentially be found is inspirational and the satisfaction of knowing that dearly held theories (whilst tentative) have withstood every criticism so far, and are all the more credible for it, is more than enough to generate hope and energy in their application.

Further from the article:
Dr Collins, a scientist who came to religious faith after a period of atheism quotes an argument from "Mere Christianity," by C. S. Lewis. "In the book Lewis, an atheist until he was a grown man, argues that the idea of right and wrong is universal among people, a moral law they "did not make, and cannot quite forget even when they try." This universal feeling, he said, is evidence for the plausibility of God".

More plausibly, it is evidence for the theory of evolution, since humans have evolved a number of capacities which have achieved a certain uniformity through the success of their characteristics and which therefore give rise to similar moral systems. It is not necessary to create another cause in the form of God here since there is no demonstrable evidence for it, there is a perfectly satisfactory explanation already and the existence of God simply creates further problems of demanding another set of explanations, such as about how was God created, and how he causes all of mankind to have similar views on matters of morality, even when they expressly do not believe in Him.

Also from article:
"Dr. Collins said, he does not embrace any particular denomination, but he is a Christian. Colleagues sometimes express surprise at his faith, he said. "They'll say, 'How can you believe that? Did you check your brain at the door?" But he said he had discovered in talking to students and colleagues that "there is a great deal of interest in this topic."

Yes but that doesn't address the issue of whether or not Dr. Collins has taken leave of his senses. A failure to address questions directly is often used as a way of attempting to defend religious faith from criticism.

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