Origins & Science
Massimo Pigliucci (University of Chicago Press: May 2010), 332 pages.
Creationists who dismiss Darwin's theory of evolution. Parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. Climate change deniers who dismiss the warming planet as a hoax. These are just some of the groups that, despite robust scientific evidence, embrace pseudoscientific beliefs and practices. Why do they believe bunk? And how does their ignorance threaten us all? Noted skeptic Massimo Pigliucci sets out to separate the fact from the fantasy in this entertaining exploration of the nature of science, the borderlands of fringe science, and– borrowing a famous phrase from philosopher Jeremy Bentham–the nonsense on stilts. Covering a range of controversial topics, Pigliucci cuts through the ambiguity surrounding science to look more closely at how science is conducted, how it is disseminated, how it is interpreted, and what it means to our society. The result is in many ways a "taxonomy of bunk" that explores the intersection of science and culture at large. ~ Product Description
James Hannam (Icon Books Ltd: May 2010), 448 pages.
The adjective 'medieval' is now a synonym for superstition and ignorance. Yet without the work of medieval scholars there could have been no Galileo, no Newton and no Scientific Revolution. In "God's Philosophers", James Hannam traces the neglected roots of modern science in the medieval world. He debunks many of the myths about the Middle Ages, showing that medieval people did not think the earth was flat, nor did Columbus 'prove' that it is a sphere. Contrary to common belief, the Inquisition burnt nobody for their science, nor was Copernicus afraid of persecution. No Pope tried to ban human dissection or the number zero. On the contrary, as Hannam reveals, the Middle Ages gave rise to staggering achievements in both science and technology: for instance, spectacles and the mechanical clock were both invented in thirteenth-century Europe. Ideas from the Far East, like printing, gunpowder and the compass, were taken further by Europeans than the Chinese had imagined possible. The compass helped Columbus to discover the New World in 1492 while printing allowed an incredible 20 million books to be produced in the first 50 years after Gutenberg published his Bible in 1455. And Hannam argues that scientific progress was often made thanks to, rather than in spite of, the influence of Christianity. Charting an epic journey through six centuries of history, God's Philosophers brings back to light the discoveries of neglected geniuses like John Buridan, Nicole Oresme and Thomas Bradwardine, as well as putting into context the contributions of more familiar figures like Roger Bacon, William of Ockham and St Thomas Aquinas. Besides being a thrilling history of a period of surprising invention and innovation, God's Philosophers reveals the debt modern science and technology owe to the supposedly 'dark' ages of medieval Europe. ~ Product Description
The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History (WW Norton & Co.: 1980), pp. 20-21.
Our textbooks like to illustrate evolution with examples of optimal design — nearly perfect mimicry of a dead leaf by a butterfly or of a poisonous species by a palatable relative. But ideal design is a lousy argument for evolution, for it mimics the postulated action of an omnipotent creator. Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution — paths that a sensible God would never tread but that a natural process, constrained by history, follows perforce.
Thomas Nagel on Explanations said...
"Dawkins and Atheism" in Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament (Oxford University Press: 2009), pp. 22-3.
The reason we are led to the hypothesis of a designer by considering both the watch and the eye is that these are complex physical structures that carry out a complex function, and we cannot see how they could have come into existence out of unorganized matter purely on the basis of the purposeless laws of physics. For the elements of which they are composed to have come together in just this finely tuned way purely as a result of physical and chemical laws would have been such an improbable fluke that we can regard it in effect as impossible: The hypothesis of chance can be ruled out. But God, whatever he may be, is not a complex physical inhabitant of the natural world. The explanation of his existence as a chance concatenation of atoms is not a possibility to which we must find an alternative, because that is not what anybody means by God. If the God hypothesis makes sense at all, it offers a different kind of explanation from those of physical science: explanation by the purpose or intention of a mind without a body, capable nevertheless of creating and forming the entire physical world. The point of the hypothesis is to claim that not all explanation is physical, and that there is a mental, purposive, or intentional explanation more fundamental even than the basic laws of physics, because it explains even them.
A Clarification in Response to Luke Muehlhauser's "Who Designed the Designer?"
Luke, the wunderkind over at Common Sense Atheism, continues to be a tremendously salutary voice in the online conversation about God. Recently, Luke set out to kill a sacred cow, "one of atheism's most popular and resilient retorts", namely: "Who designed the designer?". This, he argues, simply is not a defeater to theistic arguments. I should add, what he offers with one hand, he takes with the other. "The problem with offering 'God did it' as an explanation is that such an explanation has low plausibility, is not testable, has poor consistency with background knowledge, comes from a tradition (supernaturalism) with extreme explanatory failure, lacks simplicity, offers no predictive novelty, and has poor explanatory scope." But returning to the more common objection, Luke points out 1) that we accept unexplained explanations in science, and 2) that if every explanation must be explained to count as an explanation, we end in an infinite regress and nothing is ever explained. It is the nature of the case that some explanations must be ultimate explanations. Both of Luke's points are well taken, and echo the responses offered by William Lane Craig and other theists to this common rejoinder. However, throughout, Luke characterizes the supposed conclusions to the natural theologian's premises as simply: "God did it". Luke undoubtedly knows that this is an oversimplification of such arguments when they are carefully articulated, that much like postulates in physics, their conclusions are of the form: some entity x exists with property p. We'll give it the name y. I do not mean to nitpick, and I understand the use of shorthand, but this distinction is critical in evaluating the appropriateness of a given explanation, the very subject matter of the post. My attempt at a constructive response follows.
The Evolution of the Soul (Clarendon Press: 1986), p. 191.
There is a crucial difference between these two cases. All other integrations into a super-science, of sciences dealing with entities and properties apparently qualitatively very distinct, was achieved by saying that really some of the entities and properties were not as they appeared to be; by making a distinction between the underlying (not immediately observable) entities and properties and the phenomenal properties to which they give rise. Thermodynamics was conceived with the laws of temperature exchange; and temperature was supposed to be a property inherent in an object. The felt hotness of a hot body is indeed qualitatively distinct from particle velocities and collisions. The reduction was achieved by distinguishing between the underlying cause of the hotness (the motion of the molecules) and the sensations which the motion of molecules cause in observers. The former falls naturally within the scope of statistical mechanics — for molecules are particles; the entities and properties are not now of distinct kinds. But this reduction has been achieved at the price of separating off the phenomenal from its causes, and only explaining the latter.
Essays on the Powers of the Human Mind (1788), Chapter III.
There is such proneness in men of genius to invent hypotheses, and in others to acquiesce in them as the utmost which the human faculties can attain in philosophy, that it is of the last consequence to the progress of real knowledge, that men should have a clear and distinct understanding of the nature of hypotheses in philosophy, and of the regard that is due to them. ¶ Although some conjectures may have a considerable degree of probability, yet it is evidently in the nature of conjecture to be uncertain. In every case, the assent ought to be proportioned to the evidence; for to believe firmly what has but a small degree of probability, is a manifest abuse of our understanding. Now, though we may, in many cases, form very probable conjectures concerning the works of men, every conjecture we can form with regard to the works of God has as little probability as the conjectures of a child with regard to the works of a man.
C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man (1943), chp 3.
Lewis observes that man's increasing power over nature is at the same time the unavoidable empowering of some men over other men, whether it be nation over nation, the majority over the minority, or this generation over the next. "Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger." Lewis imagines that day when science conquers the last domain of nature, human nature, and gains the power to determine even what it is to be human. Released thereby from the dictates of the Tao, an ultimate rule that guides behavior and law in conformity with the natural order, we will have recourse only to impulse, to emotion, to whim. "At the moment, then, of Man's victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely 'natural' — to their irrational impulses. Nature, untrammelled by values, rules the Conditioners and, through them, all humanity. Man's conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature's conquest of Man." Our defeat by nature is the inevitable outcome of making ourselves mere constituents of nature. "Either we are rational spirit obliged forever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own 'natural' impulses." Lewis' Abolition of Man has been widely lauded as one of the great prophetic works of the twentieth century. ~ Afterall
The Existence of God, 2nd Edition (Clarendon Press: 2004), p. 134.
From time to time various writers have told us that we cannot reach any conclusions about the origin or development of the universe, since it is (whether by logic or just in fact) a unique object, the only one of its kind, and rational inquiry can only reach the conclusions about objects which belong to kinds, e.g. it can reach a conclusion about what will happen to this bit of iron, because there are other bits of iron, the behaviour of which can be studied. This objection of course has the surprising, and to most of these writers unwelcome, consequence, that physical cosmology cannot reach justified conclusions about such matters as the size, age, rate of expansion, and density of the universe as a whole (because it is a unique object); and also that physical anthropology cannot reach conclusions about the origin and development of the human race (because, as far as our knowledge goes, it is the only one of its kind). The implausibility of these consequences leads us to doubt the original objection, which is indeed misguided.
The Problem of Evil and the Problem of God (Fortress Press: 2005), pp. xv-xvi.
What kind of theory is a theory about the structure of the world? If by "the world" one wants to mean "everything", there is no such theory. Certainly, science has no such theory, nor could it have. "Everything" is not the name of one big thing or topic, and therefore, there can be no theory concerning a thing or topic of this kind. To speak of a thing is to acknowledge the existence of many things, since one can always be asked which thing one is referring to. Science is concerned with specific states of affairs, no matter how wide the scope of its questions may be. Whatever explanations it offers, further questions can be asked about them. It makes no sense to speak of a last answer in science, one that does not admit of any further questions. Science is not concerned with "the structure of the world", and there are no scientific investigations which have this as their subject.
A Treatise of Human Nature, original 1739 (Longmans, Green: 1909), pp. 303, 398.
If we see a house ... we conclude, with the greatest certainty, that it had an architect or builder; because this is precisely that species of effect, which we have experienced to proceed from that species of cause. But surely you will not affirm, that the universe bears such a resemblance to a house, that we can with the same certainty infer a similar cause, or that the analogy is here entire and perfect. The dissimilitude is so striking, that the utmost you can here pretend to is a guess, a conjecture, a presumption concerning a similar cause; and how that pretension will be received in the world, I leave you to consider.
"The Project of Natural Theology" in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (Blackwell: 2009), p. 12.
In contemporary particle physics, objects without mass are posited with primitive charges or spins, which are presumed to be the basic foundations for explaining more complex events. Positing a basic power, terrestrial or divine, is not, ipso facto, explanatorily empty. ... In the sciences, we may well claim that with respect to any explanation, further questions can be asked of it, but this is not the same thing as claiming that science does not or cannot posit basic powers and accounts that are not themselves explained by further powers or scientific accounts. If the sciences can allow that subatomic particles have basic powers, it is hard to see how we can rule out that intentional agents have basic powers.
"The Use and Abuse of Philosophy of Science" in Perspectives on Science & Christian Faith: The Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 46, no. 1.
Philosophers of science have generally lost patience with attempts to discredit theories as "unscientific" by using philosophical or methodological litmus tests. Such so-called "demarcation criteria" — criteria that purport to distinguish true science from pseudo-science, metaphysics and religion — have inevitably fallen prey to death by a thousand counter examples. Well-established scientific theories often lack some of the allegedly necessary features of true science (e.g., falsifiability, observability, repeatability, use of law-like explanation, etc.), while many disreputable or "crank" ideas have often manifested some of these same features. ... As the philosopher of science Larry Laudan has shown, such contradictions have plagued the demarcation enterprise from its inception. As a result, most contemporary philosophers of science regard the question 'what distinguishes science from non-science' as both intractable and uninteresting. Instead, philosophers of science have increasingly realized that the real issue is not whether a theory is scientific, but whether a theory is true, or warranted by the evidence.
The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World (Basic Books: 2000), p. 56.
Can we gain any deeper insight into what makes the problem of consciousness run against the grain of our thinking? Are our modes of theorizing about the world of the wrong shape to extend to the nature of the mind? I think we can discern a characteristic structure possessed by successful theories, a structure that is unsuitable for explaining consciousness. ... It there a "grammar" to science that fits the physical world but becomes shaky when applied to the mental world? ¶ Perhaps the most basic aspect of thought is the operation of combination. This is the way in which we think of complex entities as resulting from the arrangement of simpler parts. There are three aspects to this basic idea: the atoms we start with, the laws we use to combine them, and the resulting complexes ... I think it is clear that this mode of understanding is central to what we think of as scientific theory; our scientific faculty involves representing the world in this combinatorial style.
"Introduction" in Modern Philosophy of Mind (Everyman: 1995), p. iv.
Physicalism] seem[s] to be in tune with the scientific materialism of the twentieth century because it [is] a harmonic of the general theme that all there is in the universe is matter and energy and motion and that humans are a product of the evolution of species just as much as buffaloes and beavers are. Evolution is a seamless garment with no holes wherein souls might be inserted from above.
"An Ideal of Service to Our Fellow Man" in This I Believe (1950).
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious — the knowledge of the existence of something unfathomable to us, the manifestation of the most profound reason coupled with the most brilliant beauty. I cannot imagine a god who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, or who has a will of the kind we experience in ourselves. I am satisfied with the mystery of life's eternity and with the awareness of — and glimpse into — the marvelous construction of the existing world together with the steadfast determination to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature. This is the basis of cosmic religiosity, and it appears to me that the most important function of art and science is to awaken this feeling among the receptive and keep it alive.
John C. Lennox (Lion UK: September 2009), 224 pages.
Intended to provide a basis for discussion, this captivating study evaluates the evidence of modern science in relation to the debate between the atheistic and theistic resource addresses such topics as the origin of life; the genetic code and its origin; the nature and scope of evolution; and the scope and limits of science. Gripping and thoroughly argued, it is an illuminating look at one of man's greatest debates. This updated edition features 10 percent new content and a brand new forward from the author. ~ Product Description • "A brilliantly argued re-evaluation of the relation of science and religion, casting welcome new light on today's major debates. A must-read for all reflecting on the greatest questions of life." ~ Alister McGrath
Theism and Explanation (Routledge : June 2009), p. 132.
One might argue that this history is just that, history. Past failure does not, strictly speaking, preclude future success. Who knows? we may yet require the theistic hypothesis. That is true. But it is also true that any proposed theistic explanation comes out of a stable whose horses have previously performed badly. A prudent punter will be reluctant to put money on its future success. From a Bayesian point of view, you might argue that the past failure of the tradition of theistic explanation lowers the prior probability of any proposed theistic hypothesis. But even from the explanationist perspective which I have chosen, you can argue that past failure counts against present acceptance. It establishes what one might describe as a defeasible presumption in favour of natural explanations.
Gregory W. Dawes (Taylor & Francis, Inc.: Jun 2009), 212 pages.
In this timely study, Dawes defends the methodological naturalism of the sciences. Though religions offer what appear to be explanations of various facts about the world, the scientist, as scientist, will not take such proposed explanations seriously. Even if no natural explanation were available, she will assume that one exists. Is this merely a sign of atheistic prejudice, as some critics suggest? Or are there good reasons to exclude from science explanations that invoke a supernatural agent? On the one hand, Dawes concedes the bare possibility that talk of divine action could constitute a potential explanation of some state of affairs, while noting that the conditions under which this would be true are unlikely ever to be fulfilled. On the other hand, he argues that a proposed explanation of this kind would rate poorly, when measured against our usual standards of explanatory virtue.
John H. Walton (InterVarsity Press: May 2009), 192 pages.
Here is a book that calls out to be read and discussed-widely and thoughtfully-by serious-minded Christians, inquiring scientists, high school science teachers and students. Those entrenched on either side of the creation/evolution debate owe it to themselves and others to read and consider carefully John Walton's evidence, arguments, insights and remarkable conclusions. • "This book presents a profoundly important new analysis of the meaning of Genesis. Digging deeply into the original Hebrew language and the culture of the people of Israel in Old Testament times, respected scholar John Walton argues convincingly that Genesis was intended to describe the creation of the functions of the cosmos, not its material nature. In the process, he elevates Scripture to a new level of respectful understanding, and eliminates any conflict between scientific and scriptural descriptions of origins." ~ Francis S. Collins