Moran Replies

Larry Moran has replied to my previous post criticizing his treatment of Ken Miller’s views on science and religion. I’ll let him have the last word, except for the quick comment that I still think he’s misinterpreting Miller’s intent. Certainly Miller believes that God is active in the world and might influence events in ways that are undetectable to science. But he manifestly does not say that there is some gap in modern evolutionary theory that must be filled by divine intervention. That is a crucial difference between his views and those of the ID folks.

On the other hand, maybe Moran has him right and I am wrong. When Miller writes about science he is a model of clarity and concision. But when he turns to religion his arguments become muddled and vague.

As an aside, I reviewed Miller’s book for Skeptic around seven years ago. It is available here, in PDF format, if you are curious. It was my first published piece of writing about evolution. I stand by nearly all of it today, though I am somewhat embarrassed now that I endorsed Miller’s chapter criticizing people like Richard Lewontin and Daniel Dennett.

Comments

  1. #1 SLC
    December 4, 2006

    The bottom line here is that Moran and Myers believe that philosophical naturalism is required to do science. Miller thinks otherwise. Millers’ latest podcasts and videocasts, make it clear that their is no difference between himself and the former two relative to methodlogical naturalism, which is science. Philosophical naturalism is not science, anymore then philosophical thesim is science.

  2. #2 Pseudonym
    December 4, 2006

    I think SLC has got it right, here, though I’ll go a bit further.

    The philosophy of science is somewhat separate from the philosophy of everything else. A good example is ethics. Everyone needs some working ethics to be an effective human being. Ethics may be motivated by science, but it’s not science.

    Naturalism can only tell us what we do, or what we can do, not what we should do. For that, you need some kind of moral/ethical philosophy.

    Some theists, of course, will try to tell you that theism is the only way to come up with an objective moral philosophy, but this begs the question. Unlike science, moral philosophy doesn’t need to be completely objective and, indeed, will necessarily change as what humans are capable of changes.

  3. #3 Tyler DiPietro
    December 4, 2006

    “The bottom line here is that Moran and Myers believe that philosophical naturalism is required to do science.”

    SLC, I’d like you to produce a quote where either Myers or Moran has said that one has to be a “philosophical naturalist” (whatever this little bit of jargon actually means) to do science. I have never seen Myers or Moran ever deny that Miller does science. I have, however, read them as they pointed out, quite correctly, that Miller’s purchase on reason and empirical evidence ends when he ventures into religious apologetics.

    The “bottom line” is not that one has to be a “philosophical naturalist” to “do science”, but that the standards by which one judges claims shouldn’t shift from evidence and rational argument into whimsical emotivism when someone decides that a certain claim counts as “religious”.

  4. #4 Pseudonym
    December 4, 2006

    I’m not going to defend Miller’s specific beliefs here, but there’s a point outside science where “evidence” doesn’t cut it.

    The proposition that “free speech is a universal right of humanity” doesn’t even come close. It’s not a statement about the natural world, it’s not falsifable, and there’s no evidence that would either support or refute it. (You could find evidence that correlates lack of free speech with human suffering, I suppose, but that’s eviodence about what is, not what should be.)

    Basically, any argument for it is going to come down to what you call “whimsical emotivism”. Most people call it “philosophy”.

  5. #5 Sastra
    December 4, 2006

    You know, it strikes me as a bit odd that a lot of science bloggers have been going after Deepok Chopra tooth and nail, and haven’t stopped at any point and said “while of course his arguments against evolution are nonsense and his claim that quantum physics supports a cosmic consciousness are ridiculous, the Cosmic Consciousness itself is a matter of metaphysics and philosophy. Science is simply not capable of addressing the issue one way or another. Vitalism doesn’t factor into our understanding of how individual life forms on earth work, sure, but there’s no saying that Vitalism isn’t a basic principle of the universe anyway.”

    I don’t think I’ve seen anyone say anything like that, but I could have missed it.

  6. #6 SLC
    December 5, 2006

    Re DiPietro

    1. The term “philosophical naturalism” is used by philosophers such as Barbara Forrest to mean that naturalism is all there is. She used that term in her testimony in the Dover trial and also uses it in her book on intelligent design co-authored with Paul Gross.

    2. Mr. DiPietro is correct that Myers and Moran don’t use this term explicitly. However, they use it implicitly when they bash Ken Miller for his theological views. Based on the use of the phrase by Dr. Forrest, Myers and Moran are philosophical naturalists while Miller is a philosophical theist.

  7. #7 MarkP
    December 5, 2006

    Pseudonym wrote: The proposition that “free speech is a universal right of humanity” doesn’t even come close [to being a question science can answer]. It’s not a statement about the natural world, it’s not falsifable, and there’s no evidence that would either support or refute it. (You could find evidence that correlates lack of free speech with human suffering, I suppose, but that’s eviodence about what is, not what should be.)

    There is a good argument to be made there, and if religious people restricted their claims to that category, there would be little beef. But they never do, and Miller is no exception. He is not making some philosophical moral claim when he states his belief that God did this or that. He is making factual claims.

    God (however defined) either exists or does not. He either performed certain acts or did not. There is no should to it. Now if you would like to posit a factual category of epistemology that is “outside science”, I’m all ears. I can’t think of one.

  8. #8 Russell Blackford
    December 5, 2006

    …which is part of the trouble with the NOMA theory. Religion has never restricted itself to making moral claims, and it’s too late in the day to change that. You’d be turning religion into something else. Nor does it have the field of making moral claims to itself, as Gould appeared to think in the poorly-conceived Rocks of Ages.

    There is an interesting question here about the factual status of moral claims, but I won’t go into that. Let it suffice to say that I think a lot of commonsense thinking about moral claims is in error.

  9. #9 Blake Stacey
    December 5, 2006

    Instead of asking if there are truths about the human condition which are “beyond the reach of science”, what if we ask if truths can exist which are beyond the reach of observation, deduction and rational criticism? That, I think, is a tricker question to answer in a knee-jerk way.

    There is nothing in the scientific method which says a priori that an absolute morality does not exist in nature. We just looked and didn’t find one. I can, just barely, wrap my mind around the notion of such a universe, but my difficulty might be a consequence of having steeped in a naturalistic heritage from a very young age. (Timothy Ferris, Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan were guiding lights of my youth. Other children had bogeymen in the closet; I had to contend with black holes in the nighttime shadows outside my bedroom window. . . .) Certainly, lots of people don’t seem to have any problems accepting a Cosmic Creator who also pays an interest in human affairs, however ludicrous this idea sounds to me — “The stage is too big for the drama,” to quote Richard Feynman.

    The earliest inklings of modern science also fueled astrology. Set the Way-Back Machine to Ancient Greece: the Ionians of twenty-five hundred years ago conceived of the world as a Cosmos, an ordered entity which could be admired through reason. It is not too radical to see the largest scales of nature, the macrocosm, as a reflection of the microcosm we see in ourselves. It is in human nature to see human nature writ everywhere, and so we shouldn’t be too shocked to see the Greeks justifying astrological mumblety-mumble with cosmic parallels. To be sure, concepts of astrology had been in circulation for a long time, and rationalizing a common practice must have presented a tempting intellectual lure. The fact remains that Plato and others did attempt to rationalize astrology in this way. George Sarton wrote in the first volume of his History of Science,

    The astrologic nonsense that has done so much harm in the Western world and is still poisoning weak-minded people today was derived from the Timaios, and Plato’s astrology was an offshoot of the Babylonian one. In justice to Plato it must be added that his own astrology remained serene and spiritual and did not degenerate into petty fortunetelling. To his contemplative mind the planets were like perfect clocks which reveal the march of time, the rhythms of the universal soul.

    [...]

    The poetic analogy between the little world and the big world (microcosm and macrocosm), between our body and the universal body, can be carried very far. It guided Plato’s thought and, largely because of him, dominated the minds of many medieval thinkers, and even of such a “modern” man as Leonardo da Vinci. The particular aspect of that analogy which interested Plato most was of course this one: the perfect city of his dreams is an image of the divine city. Timaios is a cosmologic justification of the Republic.

    So, the idea of a moral order coded into the fabric of the Cosmos is not foreign to human contemplation. If this turned out to be true — that is, if Platonic astrology were scientific — then morals would be a perfectly proper subject for scientific investigation, as much as extrasolar planets and dark matter are today. It just so happened that we looked and never found a moral message in the Cosmos. Natural law, we learned, is innocent of such things.

    We could not have known about this limitation of science before we had tried the process of scientific investigation. It was not reason alone which toppled the Timaios, but reason, observation and a tradition of relentless criticism.

  10. #10 Tyler DiPietro
    December 5, 2006

    1. The term “philosophical naturalism” is used by philosophers such as Barbara Forrest to mean that naturalism is all there is. She used that term in her testimony in the Dover trial and also uses it in her book on intelligent design co-authored with Paul Gross.

    Well, I’d assume that for one to be a philosophical naturalist one would have to believe that all things are reducible to natural explanations. In a methodological sense, science already operates on this principle.

    It is also the case that discussion of the validity of any ideas involving the supernatural are in principle separate from a discussion of naturalism. Naturalism, like atheism, is an entirely negative, and logically default, position. If there is any reason to believe the supernatural exists, or more broadly, that there is a way to judge whether such phenomena outside of reasoning, I haven’t quite seen it. Despite what Chris might think, I am genuinely interested in hearing about it.

  11. #11 SLC
    December 5, 2006

    Re DiPietro

    I would strongly suggest that Mr. DiPietro obtain and read Dr. Forrests’ testimony in the Dover trial for a discussion of the difference between philosophical naturalism and methodological naturalism. This was carefully explained for the edification of Judge Jones; he found it very persuasive. The latter does not imply the former, contrary to Mr. DiPietros’ claim.

  12. #12 Tyler DiPietro
    December 5, 2006

    The latter does not imply the former, contrary to Mr. DiPietros’ claim.

    I never said it did. I said that in a methodological sense science already accepted naturalism. Meaning, of course, that it doesn’t accept either the positive universal (there is no supernatural) or necessarily accept the negative position (i.e., lacking belief in the supernatural), but behaves as though it did.

    My claim is that naturalism, like atheism, is a negative and the logical de facto position on the supernatural question. Bringing it back to the actual debate that is going on, does anybody have any convincing reason that I should take supernatural claims seriously?

  13. #13 Pseudonym
    December 5, 2006

    There is a good argument to be made there, and if religious people restricted their claims to that category, there would be little beef.

    I agree, but I’ll step back a little.

    Does Miller think that you should believe in a deity? If he does, that’s a problem. If he doesn’t care, then as a courtesy, I don’t care what he believes, so long as he does his science the right way (which is a point that’s not under question).

  14. #14 SLC
    December 6, 2006

    Re DiPietro

    The position of Dr. Forrest, which is also the position of Dr. Scott and Dr. Miller is that philosophical naturalism is philosophy, not science. Similerly, philosophical theism is philosophy not science.

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