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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ruse: Questions that science can't answer

Michael Ruse is not a Christian. He is a much better philosopher than I am, or, for that matter, than almost anyone else is. He knows science well.

In a recent article, he argues two significant things:
First, science and Christianity (and other religions) should be able to co-exist, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking and others notwithstanding.

Second, as it is currently usually understood, science cannot answer the following:
Today's mechanical science does even set out to ask or answer certain questions, and hence if the religious want to have a crack at answering them, they can. Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the ultimate foundation of morality? What does it all mean? Perhaps, what is consciousness that sets animals, humans particularly, apart?

I agree with Ruse on these points. I have been very slow to continue my series on the book by Kitty Ferguson. I intend to continue, and conclude that, God helping me.

4 comments:

Pete DeSanto said...

Yes, well, there may be a great many questions that science does not answer at the present. There may be a great many questions that science does not ask at the present. That does not mean they will not eventually be asked and answered (nor does it mean they will!). None of this suggests that any answer can fill such a gap in our knowledge (I think you know why I use the word "gap" here). For every potential answer there is a potential "why" and a new round of questions science cannot answer.

I think Ruse mischaracterizes his version of the "New Atheist" position as not allowing one to "make room for faith in the age of science." New Atheism is pretty much the same as Old Atheism, but more explicit and audible in its protestations of non-evidentiary answers to such questions. Religious claims tend not to be focused on the fuzzy things described by Ruse, but on much more specific things such as who is the true god, how can I please him, what specific acts are right/wrong, etc. Every atheist, old or new, I know admits the right of every person to believe and act on whatever they want so long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others. That doesn't mean they won't criticize it, nor should it.

As far as making room for faith in science itself, it cannot be. Faith as used in a religious sense relies solely on revelation without evidence. Science cares not a whit about revelation and relies solely on evidence. How can the two be reconciled?

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for your insightful comment, Pete.

I think you are more optimistic about the scope of science than I, or Ruse, but you are probably right that that scope may change.

I'm not well qualified to discuss the New Atheism.

I disagree about faith in religion depending solely on revelation -- I consider changed lives, including my own, answered prayer, and other phenomena to be evidence supporting my personal faith, if not evidence readily transferable to others -- but I agree that science should not rely on revelation at all, with one possible exception. It seems to me that some scientists may have had the answers to scientific questions revealed to them miraculously -- Kekule's dream about the benzene ring being one possibility. However, even if such a type of revelation happened, and was supernatural, rather than just coming up from the subconscious, it wouldn't be much use without being as thoroughly tested by experiment as any other idea.

Pete DeSanto said...

There is good reason for optimism! A century ago, who could have imagined that we would be able to predict and detect effects from the beginnings of the universe?

New Atheism is the same as old atheism, it's just on the internet now.

I'm not so sure that phenomena coinciding with changes in belief and praying are such good evidence for god. You attribute people changing their lives due to god as evidence for god, but does that also count as evidence for Allah, Buddha, Vishnu, Scientology, the Secret, Ayurveda, etc.? The only reason you attribute phenomena to god is because the bible or someone has told you there is a god.

Things like Kekule's dream are hardly anything like revelation. There have been many times I have thought intensely about a problem that I was able to solve in more relaxing moments and even using bits remembered from dreams. The brain is a wonderfully complex thing!

You are willing to grant that revelation in science would not be much use without thorough testing, yet when we apply that same criteria to religion Ruse derides us as "New Atheists." E.g. we know that miracles by definition cannot happen via natural means, yet they are extremely important to religious belief to the point that without them god is nothing more than a generic name for nature. Now, how does religion thoroughly test any idea of the supernatural?

Martin LaBar said...

So that's New Atheism!

Quite correct about phenomena as evidence. I thought I covered that with "evidence supporting my personal faith." The key here is that personal faith comes first. Adherents of other faiths may experience similar, or the same, phenomena. I don't know.

Yes, the brain is wonderfully complex, and Kekule's dream may have been because he ate something the night before. But it seems to me that revelation can't be ruled out. (or proved)

Religion tests the supernatural through personal experience and faith in what one has been taught. I know, personal experience is subjective, and subject to delusions of all kinds, but I stand on my own experience, and it is consistent with what I have been taught.

Thanks again.