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Religion and Science

Noah J. Efron on Opposing Narratives of Science and Religion

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A Newtonian might put it this way: for every myth there is an equal and opposite myth. Consider popular accounts of Christianity’s relations to science. Everyone is familiar with the myth that popes, bishops, priests, ministers, and pastors all saw it as a sacred duty to silence scientists, stymie their inquiries, and stifle their innovations. Lately, a new account of Christianity’s link to science has been put forth, opposite in attitude to the first but equally bold and, in the end, equally wrong. In this account, not only did Christianity not quash science, but it and it alone gave birth to modern science and nurtured it to maturity. And the world is a far better place for it.

Dennis R. Danielson on Heliocentrism as a Promotion

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Rather scandalously, heliocentrism was seen as “exalting” the position of humankind in the universe and pulling the earth up out of the cosmic sump that Copernicus’s predecessors thought it occupied — and conversely, placing the divinely associated sun into that central yet tainted location. To preempt this charge, Copernicus and his followers did what they could, rhetorically, to renovate the cosmic basement … Copernicus tried to enhance the status of the center by envisaging it as an advantageously located throne (solium) that formed a poetically fitting place from which the kingly sun (sol) could illuminate and govern his subjects. In Copernicus’s cosmology, the center was transformed into a place of honor, while at the same time earth was promoted to the status of a “star” that “moves among the planets as one of them.”

Lesley B. Cormack on the Medieval View of the Earth’s Shape

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Did people in the Middle Ages think that the world was flat? … From the seventh century to the fourteenth, every important medieval thinker concerned about the natural world stated more or less expliclity that the world was a round globe, many of them incorporating Ptolemy’s astronomy and Aristotle’s physics into their work. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274), for example, followed Aristotle’s proof in demonstrationg that the changing positions of the constellations as one moved about on the earth’s surface indicated the spherical shape of the earth. Roger Bacon (d. 1294), in his Opus Maiusi (ca. 1270), stated that the world was round, that the southern antipodes were inhabited, and that the sun’s passage along the line of the ecliptic affected climates of different parts of the world. Albertus Magnus (d. 1280) agreed with Bacon’s finding, while Michael Scot (d. 1234) “compared the earth, surrounded by water, to the yolk of an egg and the spheres of the universe to the layers of an onion.” Perhaps the most influential were Jean de Sacrobosco, whose De Sphera (ca. 1230) demonstrated that the earth was a globe, and Piere d’Ailly (1350-1410), archbishop of Cambria, whose Imago Mundi (written in 1410) discussed the sphericity of the earth. Both of these books enjoyed great popularity; Sacrobosco’s book was used as a basic textbook throughout the Middle ages, while d’Ailly’s book was read by early explorers like Columbus. … With the exception of Cosmas, no medieval writer denied that the earth was spherical — and the Catholic church never took a stand on the issue.

Religion and the Sciences of Origins

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Religion and the Sciences of Origins critically discusses issues in religion and the sciences of origins in both historical and contemporary contexts. After developing options on the relationship of science to belief — conflict, separation, and integration — the book treats three historical events: the scientific revolution, the Galileo affair, and the reception of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Special attention is paid to the influential yet misleading myth of the warfare between science and religion. The book examines theoretical issues —chance and purpose, the evolutionary psychology of religion, the relation between mind and body (and neuroscience and free will), and the relation of God to the good. After discussing God and the big bang, the book concludes with an analysis of evolution in the Muslim and Jewish traditions. The book, which assumes no prior background on the part of the reader, offers insights into the crucial past and into the most heated current debates surrounding science and religion.

Samuel Wilberforce on Reconciling Nature and Revelation

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He who is as sure as he is of his own existence that the God of Truth is at once the God of Nature and the God of Revelation, cannot believe it to be possible that His voice in either, rightly understood, can differ, or deceive His creatures. To oppose facts in the natural world because they seem to oppose Revelation, or to humour them so as to compel them to speak its voice, is, he knows, but another form of the ever-ready feebleminded dishonesty of lying for God, and trying by fraud or falsehood to do the work of the God of truth. It is with another and a nobler spirit that the true believer walks amongst the works of nature. The words graven on the everlasting rocks are the words of God, and they are graven by His hand. No more can they contradict His Word written in His book, than could the words of the old covenant graven by His hand on the stony tables contradict the writings of His hand in the volume of the new dispensation. There may be to man difficulty in reconciling all the utterances of the two voices. But what of that? He has learned already that here he knows only in part, and that the day of reconciling all apparent contradictions between what must agree is nigh at hand. He rests his mind in perfect quietness on this assurance, and rejoices in the gift of light without a misgiving as to what it may discover…

Samuel Wilberforce’s Review of Origin of Species

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Any contribution to our Natural History literature from the pen of Mr. C. Darwin is certain to command attention. His scientific attainments, his insight and carefulness as an observer, blended with no scanty measure of imaginative sagacity, and his clear and lively style, make all his writings unusually attractive. His present volume on the ‘ Origin of Species’ is the result of many years of observation, thought, and speculation; and is manifestly regarded by him as the ‘opus’ upon which his future fame is to rest. It is true that he announces it modestly enough as the mere precursor of a mightier volume. But that volume is only intended to supply the facts which are to support the completed argument of the present essay. In this we have a specimen-collection of the vast accumulation; and, working from these as the high analytical mathematician may work from the admitted results of his conic sections, he proceeds to deduce all the conclusions to which he wishes to conduct his readers.

Michael H. Shank on Medieval Churches and Universities

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Put succinctly, the medieval period gave birth to the university, which developed with the active support of the papacy. This unusual institution sprang up rather spontaneously around famous masters in towns like Bologna, Paris, and Oxford before 1200. By 1500, about sixty universities were scattered throughout Europe. What is the significance of this development for our myth? About 30 percent of the medieval university curriculum covered subjects and texts concerned with the natural world. This was not a trivial development. The proliferation of universities between 1200 and 1500 meant that hundreds of thousands of students — a quarter million in the German universities alone from 1350 on — were exposed to science in the Greco-Arabic tradition. As the universities matured, the curriculum came to include more works by Latin masters who developed this tradition along original lines.

John William Draper on the Antagonism Between Religion and Science

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The antagonism we thus witness between Religion and Science is the continuation of a struggle that commenced when Christianity began to attain political power. A divine revelation must necessarily be intolerant of contradiction; it must repudiate all improvement in itself, and view with disdain that arising from the progressive intellectual development of man. But our opinions on every subject are continually liable to modification, from the irresistible advance of human knowledge. ¶ Can we exaggerate the importance of a contention in which every thoughtful person must take part whether he will or not? In a matter so solemn as that of religion, all men, whose temporal interests are not involved in existing institutions, earnestly desire to find the truth. They seek information as to the subjects in dispute, and as to the conduct of the disputants. ¶ The history of Science is not a mere record of isolated discoveries; it is a narrative of the conflict of two contending powers, the expansive force of the human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other.

Biologists on a United Front Against ID

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The number of biologists calling for change in how evolution is conceptualized is growing rapidly. Strong support comes from allied disciplines, particularly developmental biology, but also genomics, epigenetics, ecology and social science. We contend that evolutionary biology needs revision if it is to benefit fully from these other disciplines. The data supporting our position gets stronger every day. ¶ Yet the mere mention of the EES [Extended Evolutionary Synthesis] often evokes an emotional, even hostile, reaction among evolutionary biologists. Too often, vital discussions descend into acrimony, with accusations of muddle or misrepresentation. Perhaps haunted by the spectre of intelligent design, evolutionary biologists wish to show a united front to those hostile to science. Some might fear that they will receive less funding and recognition if outsiders — such as physiologists or developmental biologists — flood into their field.

Why Science Does Not Disprove God

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The renowned science writer, mathematician, and bestselling author of Fermat’s Last Theorem masterfully refutes the overreaching claims of the “New Atheists,” providing … a clear, engaging explanation of what science really says, how there’s still much space for the Divine in the universe, and why faith in both God and empirical science are not mutually exclusive. A highly publicized coterie of scientists and thinkers, including Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, and Lawrence Krauss, have vehemently contended that breakthroughs in modern science have disproven the existence of God, asserting that we must accept that the creation of the universe came out of nothing, that religion is evil, that evolution fully explains the dazzling complexity of life, and more. In this much-needed book, science journalist Amir Aczel profoundly disagrees and conclusively demonstrates that science has not, as yet, provided any definitive proof refuting the existence of God. Why Science Does Not Disprove God is his brilliant and incisive analyses of the theories and findings of such titans as Albert Einstein, Roger Penrose, Alan Guth, and Charles Darwin, all of whose major breakthroughs leave open the possibility— and even the strong likelihood—of a Creator. Bolstering his argument, Aczel lucidly discourses on arcane aspects of physics to reveal how quantum theory, the anthropic principle, the fine-tuned dance of protons and quarks, the existence of anti-matter and the theory of parallel universes, also fail to disprove God. ~ Publishers Description

Sana Saeed on Relishing Science and Religion

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I’m supposed to hate science. Or so I’m told. ¶ I spent my childhood with my nose firmly placed between the pages of books on reptiles, dinosaurs, marine life and mammals. When I wasn’t busy wondering if I wanted to be more like Barbara Walters or Nancy Drew, I was busy digging holes in my parents’ backyard hoping to find lost bones of some great prehistoric mystery. I spent hours sifting through rocks that could possibly connect me to the past or, maybe, a hidden crystalline adventure inside. Potatoes were both apart of a delicious dinner and batteries for those ‘I got this’ moments; magnets repelling one another were a sorcery I needed to, somehow, defeat. The greatest teachers I ever had were Miss Frizzle and Bill Nye the Science Guy. ¶ I also spent my childhood reciting verses from the Qur’an and a long prayer for everyone — in my family and the world — every night before going to bed. I spoke to my late grandfather, asking him to save me a spot in heaven. I went to the mosque and stepped on the shoes resting outside a prayer hall filled with worshippers. I tried fasting so I could be cool like my parents; played with prayer beads and always begged my mother to tell me more stories from the lives of the Abrahamic prophets. ¶ With age, my wonder with religion and science did not cease. Both were, to me, extraordinary portals into the life around me that left me constantly bewildered, breathless and amazed.

Michael Shermer on Placeholders for Mysteries

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Science operates in the natural, not the supernatural. In fact, I go so far as to state that there is no such thing as the supernatural or the paranormal. There is just the natural, the normal, and mysteries we have yet to explain by natural causes. Invoking such words as “supernatural” and “paranormal” just provides a linguistic place-holder until we find natural and normal causes, or we do not find them and discontinue the search out of lack of interest. ¶ This is what normally happens in science. Mysteries once thought to be supernatural or paranormal happenings — such as astronomical or meteorological events — are incorporated into science once their causes are understood. For example, when cosmologists reference “dark energy” and “dark matter” in reference to the so-called “missing mass” needed to explain the structure and motion of galaxies and galaxy clusters along with the expansion of the universe, they do not intend these descriptors to be causal explanations. Dark energy and dark matter are merely cognitive conveniences until the actual sources of the energy and matter are discovered. When religious believers invoke miracles and acts of creation ex nihilo, that is the end of the search for them, whereas for scientists the identification of such mysteries is only the beginning. Science picks up where theology leaves off.

Where the Conflict Really Lies

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This book is a long-awaited major statement by a pre-eminent analytic philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, on one of our biggest debates — the compatibility of science and religion. The last twenty years has seen a cottage industry of books on this divide, but with little consensus emerging. Plantinga, as a top philosopher but also a proponent of the rationality of religious belief, has a unique contribution to make. His theme in this short book is that the conflict between science and theistic religion is actually superficial, and that at a deeper level they are in concord. Plantinga examines where this conflict is supposed to exist — evolution, evolutionary psychology, analysis of scripture, scientific study of religion — as well as claims by Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Philip Kitcher that evolution and theistic belief cannot co-exist. Plantinga makes a case that their arguments are not only inconclusive but that the supposed conflicts themselves are superficial, due to the methodological naturalism used by science. On the other hand, science can actually offer support to theistic doctrines, and Plantinga uses the notion of biological and cosmological “fine-tuning” in support of this idea. Plantinga argues that we might think about arguments in science and religion in a new way — as different forms of discourse that try to persuade people to look at questions from a perspective such that they can see that something is true. In this way, there is a deep and massive consonance between theism and the scientific enterprise. ~ Book Description

God’s Undertaker

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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

Gregory Dawes on Luckless Theistic Hypotheses

Go 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.

Eric Reitan on the God Hypothesis

Go And, if as most theists would agree, God transcends our finite understanding, wouldn't it be better to define "God" in a way that makes our understanding of the divine susceptible to development in the light of critical reflection? What we need is a definition that points us to something without presuming to describe every key detail; a definition that gets all of us "looking in the same direction" so that we can have a debate about the properties of what we're looking at. ¶ Of course, any definition of this sort will make it difficult to test the God Hypothesis scientifically, even if it were theoretically possible to do so. And so the new atheists may view such a definition as a deliberate evasion of their efforts at falsification (I can almost hear the indignation). ¶ My initial response to such views is simply this: Get over it. Since the God Hypothesis concerns a reality that transcends the world investigated by science, it can't be investigated scientifically anyway, and so such indignation is irrelevant. Theologians and philosophers of religion should not be forced, out of deference to those scientists who want to subject everything to their methodology, to adopt a definition of God unsuitable to its subject matter.

The Big Questions in Science and Religion

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Can religious beliefs survive in the scientific age? Are they resoundingly outdated? Or is there something in them of great importance, even if the way they are expressed will have to change in the new scientific context? These questions are among those at the core of the science-religion dialogue. In The Big Questions in Science and Religion, Keith Ward, an Anglican minister who was once an atheist, offers compelling insights into the often contentious relationship between diverse religious views and new scientific knowledge. He identifies ten basic questions about the nature of the universe and human life. Among these are: Does the universe have a goal or purpose? Do the laws of nature exclude miracles? Can science provide a wholly naturalistic explanation for moral and religious beliefs? Has science made belief in God obsolete? Are there any good science-based arguments for God? With his expertise in the study of world religions, Ward considers concepts from Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity, while featuring the speculations of cosmologists, physicians, mathematicians, and philosophers. In addition, Ward examines the implications of ancient laws and modern theories and evaluates the role of religious experience as evidence of a nonphysical reality. Writing with enthusiasm, passion and clarity, Keith Ward conveys the depth, difficulty, intellectual excitement and importance of the greatest intellectual and existential questions of the modern scientific age. The diversity of views provides the general reader as well as opinion leaders with unbiased information in the science-religion field. ~ Product Description

Thomas Nagel on Inferring Either Way

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From the beginning it has been commonplace to present the theory of evolution by random mutation and natural selection as an alternative to intentional design as an explanation of the functional organization of living organisms. The evidence for the theory is supposed to be evidence for the absence of purpose in the causation of the development of life-forms on this planet. It is not just the theory that life evolved over billions of years, and that all species are descended from a common ancestor. Its defining element is the claim that all this happened as the result of the appearance of random and purposeless mutations in the genetic material followed by natural selection due to the resulting heritable variations in reproductive fitness. It displaces design by proposing an alternative. ¶ No one suggests that the theory is not science, even though the historical process it describes cannot be directly observed, but must be inferred from currently available data. It is therefore puzzling that the denial of this inference, i.e., the claim that the evidence offered for the theory does not support the kind of explanation it proposes, and that the purposive alternative has not been displaced, should be dismissed as not science. The contention seems to be that, although science can demonstrate the falsehood of the design hypothesis, no evidence against that demonstration can be regarded as scientific support for the hypothesis. Only the falsehood, and not the truth, of ID can count as a scientific claim. Something about the nature of the conclusion, that it involves the purposes of a supernatural being, rules it out as science.

Thomas Nagel on Scientific Orthodoxy

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The political urge to defend science education against the threats of religious orthodoxy, understandable though it is, has resulted in a counterorthodoxy, supported by bad arguments, and a tendency to overstate the legitimate scientific claims of evolutionary theory. Skeptics about the theory are seen as so dangerous, and so disreputably motivated, that they must be denied any shred of legitimate interest. Most importantly, the campaign of the scientific establishment to rule out intelligent design as beyond discussion because it is not science results in the avoidance of significant questions about the relation between evolutionary theory and religious belief, questions that must be faced in order to understand the theory and evaluate the scientific evidence for it.

Religion and the Challenges of Science

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Does science pose a challenge to religion and religious belief? This question has been a matter of long-standing debate – and it continues to concern not only scholars in philosophy, theology, and the sciences, but also those involved in public educational policy. This volume provides background to the current ‘science and religion’ debate, yet focuses as well on themes where recent discussion of the relation between science and religion has been particularly concentrated.The first theme deals with the history of the interrelation of science and religion. The second and third themes deal with the implications of recent work in cosmology, biology and so-called intelligent design for religion and religious belief. The fourth theme is concerned with ‘conceptual issues’ underlying, or implied, in the current debates, such as: Are scientific naturalism and religion compatible? Are science and religion bodies of knowledge or practices or both? And, do religion and science offer conflicting truth claims?By illuminating contemporary discussion in the science-religion debate and by outlining the options available in describing the relation between the two, this volume will be of interest to scholars and to members of the educated public alike. ~ Product Description

God’s Universe

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In God’s Universe, Owen Gingerich, a Harvard University astronomer and science historian, tells how in the 1980s he was part of an effort to produce a kind of anti-Cosmos, a television series called Space, Time, and God that was to counter Sagan’s “conspicuously materialist approach to the universe.” The program never got off the ground, but its premise survives: that there are two ways to think about science. You can be a theist, believing that behind the veil of randomness lurks an active, loving, manipulative God, or you can be a materialist, for whom everything is matter and energy interacting within space and time. Whichever metaphysical club you belong to, the science comes out the same. In the hands of as fine a writer as Gingerich, the idea almost sounds convincing. “One can believe that some of the evolutionary pathways are so intricate and so complex as to be hopelessly improbable by the rules of random chance,” he writes, “but if you do not believe in divine action, then you will simply have to say that random chance was extremely lucky, because the outcome is there to see. Either way, the scientist with theistic metaphysics will approach laboratory problems in much the same way as his atheistic colleague across the
hall.” ~ Scientific American

Pascal’s Fire

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In Pascal’s Fire, Keith Ward reflects on the relationship between faith and the findings of modern science, treating topics such as — among others — chance and necessity, quantum physics and the mechanistic universe, the evolution of order in the universe, leading to life and ultimately to self-awareness and responsibility, the origin and future of the cosmos etc. The existence of an ultimate mind who chose to create a rationally intelligible universe which functions through laws that can be expressed in mathematical terms, but who also freely intervenes in the context of an otherwise autonomous progress of self-organisation of the universe, for which it was originally set up and by which it reaches goals of intrinsic value, are presented — and, in my view, convincingly so — as a rational and coherent explanation for the universe. In other words, the observation of the universe suggests such a mind. The argument progresses to show that this ultimate mind can also be viewed as personal, loving and compassionate, though in a way far beyond anthropomorphic projections. A purely scientific approach, however, is blind to the personal side of God, Ward argues — this is where personal experience, feeling and intuition come in, and may legitimately be taken seriously.  All in all, Keith Ward’s holistic approach, integrating faith and reason in his intellectual quest, is inspiring and reminded me of the "two wings" of faith and reason by which man strives toward the truth, of which John Paul II wrote. ~ Xiangmao at Amazon.com

Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction

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Scott, a physical anthropologist, runs the National Center for Science Education, which defends the teaching of evolution in high schools. (She advised the parents fighting the Dover school board.) Scott could be said to be the one doing God’s work as she patiently rebuts people who make most other scientists spit gaskets like short-circuiting robots. Her book is both a straightforward history of the debate and an anthology of essays written by partisans on each side. Its main virtue is to explain the scientific method, which many invoke but few describe vividly. Scott also manages to lay out the astronomical, chemical, geological and biological bases of evolutionary theory in unusually plain English.” ~ The New York Times Book Review * At last a book that both Henry Morris, of the Institute for Creation Research, and Niles Eldredge, a prominent scientist, can agree upon! Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, is an articulate and engaging author. She has written a book suitable for a wide audience: high school and college students, teachers, and nonspecialized general readers. The book is comprehensive, treating scientific evidences for evolution, religious views, and a history of the so-called evolution-creation controversy. ~ Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

Evidence and Faith

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Emphasizing shifting views of faith and the nature of evidence, Taliaferro has written a dynamic narrative history of philosophical reflection on religion from the 17th century to the present, with an emphasis on shifting views of faith and the nature of evidence. The book begins with the movement called Cambridge Platonism, which formed a bridge between the ancient and medieval worlds and early modern philosophy. While the book provides an overview of different movements in philosophy, it also offers a detailed exposition and reflection on key arguments, and the scope is broad from Descartes to contemporary feminist philosophy of religion.