Blackford Replies to Ruse

Today is the last day of classes around here, meaning that I am just too darn happy to work up the righteous indignation needed for a proper blog post. So your homework is to go read this excellent essay from Russell Blackford. It is mostly directed at the recent chest-thumping of Michael Ruse, but also addresses some other issues as well. I especially appreciated this part:

For Ruse, the whole point seems to be that a bright line must be drawn between religion and science, but this is not merely simplistic, misleading and wrong – though it is all of those. It is impossible.

Whatever we find out about the universe we live in, whether through science as narrowly-understood, through work in the humanities (such as archaeology and historical-textual scholarship), or other means, is potentially grist to the mill of theologians and philosophers.

If physicists find that the fundamental constants are just right for the emergence of complex chemistry, and hence of life, certain philosophers and theologians will claim that this is evidence for the existence of God.

If physicists then find that the alleged “fine-tuning” of the constants does not exist, or that it can be explained in some independently attractive way, that will then undermine one argument for God’s existence.

If geologists find – as they certainly have – that our planet is four to five billion years old, that renders highly implausible a particular theological approach which, based on a literalist approach to the Bible, claims it was created by God about 6,000 years ago. Less literalist theologies thereby benefit.

If archaeologists and historians ever find good evidence for the Egyptian captivity, the decades that the Jews supposedly spent wandering in the wilderness, and the conquest of the promised land, all as described early in the Hebrew Bible, that will provide ammunition to theologians who take the relevant biblical accounts literally. If they don’t, it helps less literalist theologians and may also help some atheist arguments.

The theory of evolution provides an explanation for the intricately functional diversity of life on Earth. Accordingly, it undermines certain arguments for the existence of God based on that diversity – there is no reason to posit a supernatural designer of life forms.

Other theistic arguments will be undermined when and if we get a truly robust scientific theory as to how life arose from non-life in the first place.
Meanwhile, some theologians claim that the theory of evolution helps them get God off the hook for certain of the world’s evils: the latter are explained as the product of an unfolding process, rather than being specifically devised by God.

Some other theologians, however, along with many atheistic philosophers, think that evolution makes the Problem of Evil worse. It certainly undermines any straightforward explanation that suffering was brought into the world when Adam and Eve freely sinned at a specific time in history.

The continual adjustment of certain theological systems to conform to scientific findings may itself lead to theological inferences (such as the inference that the Bible was never intended as a quasi-scientific guide). It may also help some atheistic arguments.

I could go on with examples. Ruse may, of course, think that all of these empirically-based theological and philosophical arguments are bad ones. He may even dismiss them all out of hand – though that would be simplistic to say the least.

But what he can’t do is legislate this kind of discourse out of existence. Neither can the courts. It is pretty much inevitable that theologians and philosophers will draw conclusions based on empirical facts obtained by scientists and others.

Quite right. Blackford’s essay is fairly long, so go read the whole thing.

Comments

  1. #1 Sam C
    April 29, 2011

    As a scientist, I am happy that non-scientists learn from and use science and scientific knowledge and insight. Those non-scientists might be rational people, such as social scientists or philosophers, or irrational people such as theologians, but they are all welcome to learn.

    BUT I see that process as mainly one-way. Science has nothing to learn from modern theology. It has little to learn from modern philosophy. The scientific world may learn to communicate better from other fields, but they don’t inform the science.

    Science and religion are not co-equal and science should never lose its sense of superiority within its domain. Rational argumentation and experiment are a million trillion gazillion times better than idiotic musings based on folk tales, fairy stories and wishful thinking.

    As people we can usually learn from others, but modern science cannot learn from modern religion.

  2. #2 gillt
    April 29, 2011

    I think the more common argument is that today’s scientists can benefit from religious morality. That’s how religion benefits science.

    This is naive of course because most, if not all, of the “Mad Scientists” in history were actually just “Mad Engineers.” No mad hypothesis testing, no mad observations or mad control groups. Just a desire to take over the world. I ask, where are the calls from the religious for religion’s role in engineering?

    This is clearly a case of science jealousy.

  3. #3 Lenoxus
    April 29, 2011

    I think the more common argument is that today’s scientists can benefit from religious morality.

    And really, they don’t even have that. This Less Wrong post argues that well:

    The modern concept of religion as purely ethical derives from every other area having been taken over by better institutions.  Ethics is what’s left.

    Or rather, people think ethics is what’s left.  Take a culture dump from 2,500 years ago.  Over time, humanity will progress immensely, and pieces of the ancient culture dump will become ever more glaringly obsolete.  Ethics has not been immune to human progress – for example, we now frown upon such Bible-approved practices as keeping slaves.  Why do people think that ethics is still fair game? Intrinsically, there’s nothing small about the ethical problem with slaughtering thousands of innocent first-born male children to convince an unelected Pharaoh to release slaves who logically could have been teleported out of the country.  It should be more glaring than the comparatively trivial scientific error of saying that grasshoppers have four legs.  And yet, if you say the Earth is flat, people will look at you like you’re crazy.  But if you say the Bible is your source of ethics, women will not slap you.  Most people’s concept of rationality is determined by what they think they can get away with; they think they can get away with endorsing Bible ethics; and so it only requires a manageable effort of self-deception for them to overlook the Bible’s moral problems.  Everyone has agreed not to notice the elephant in the living room, and this state of affairs can sustain itself for a time.

  4. #4 Lenoxus
    April 30, 2011

    If archaeologists and historians ever find good evidence for the Egyptian captivity, the decades that the Jews supposedly spent wandering in the wilderness, and the conquest of the promised land, all as described early in the Hebrew Bible, that will provide ammunition to theologians who take the relevant biblical accounts literally. If they don’t, it helps less literalist theologians and may also help some atheist arguments.

    I don’t think this is true. There is nothing either supernatural or inherently “Biblical” about the kingdom of Egypt keeping a large number of Hebrew slaves who then successfuly revolt, escape, and wander through the desert. The only reason that evidence for such would be seen as good for the Bible is, ironically, because of the amount of evidence thus far that contradicts it. It’s only because of how little evidence the story has that anything substantive would be a “told you so!” from the literalists to the atheists and others. (Not to mention that any found evidence would have to be reconciled with the lack of discoveries prior; looking at it from a theistic perspective, we might ask “Why did God make us think the Exodus was a myth until now?”)

    I also don’t think it would really undermine the moderates either. Many of them argue only that the miracles are the “metahporical” parts, but allow for the possibility that things like the Exodus are in some sense history.

  5. #5 Robert Hagedorn
    April 30, 2011

    Ever wonder what Adam and Eve actually did in the story? Do a search: The First Scandal.

  6. #6 Badger3k
    April 30, 2011

    Scientists can benefit from religious morality? Sure, let’s just ask William Lane Craig for some clarification: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/04/wait_i_thought_they_believed_i.php

  7. #7 386sx
    April 30, 2011

    a·the·ism

    I would have thought it was four syllables (a·the·is·m). I guess not though.

  8. #8 bioser
    May 4, 2011

    So ! Ever wonder what Adam and Eve actually did in the story? Do a search: The First Scandal.

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