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.