Christian Worldview – Is There a Place? (RJS)

I’ve given my point of view on this blog on many occasions. Today I would like to put a slightly different point of view up for consideration. I had an e-mail conversation with a friend last week about intelligent design and the place for the Christian worldview in the academy in general and science in particular.  He supports intelligent design research and inquiry – but his faith does not hinge on evidence for design. He respects Francis Collins and his stand, and appears comfortable with the general evolutionary tree of life including common descent. But there is a significant issue that goes beyond “proof” of God or of design. The issue is one of consistent worldview and approach to intellectual life.

I will put some of our correspondence (with permission) up for consideration, so you get his words directly, not just my interpretation.

A major problem in the whole area, I feel, is the different assumptions about who has the burden of proof.  Origin of Life advocates seem to put the burden on skeptics.  As long as some hypothesized mechanism might conceivably get around whatever issue is raised, then the skeptic has been defeated, even if no evidence is available to back up the proposed mechanism.  I think they [the naturalists] feel this is fair, since they believe that naturalistic scenarios have proven so successful in science that anyone who doubts a naturalistic scenario must prove rigorously that no natural explanation can possibly work, or else it is reasonable to fall back on a naturalistic explanation, even if it is highly speculative.

I am uncomfortable with this, since it would be easily extended to the origin of the universe, and  to the life of Christ as well, which, interpreted naturalistically, would require that we believe his reported resurrection was due to fraud or error, since this is theoretically possible and is a naturalistic scenario.   In this way, the Christian worldview is excluded not just from science, but from history, and then from all intellectual discourse.

More after the jump. As you read – consider this question:

What place does Christian thinking have in the academy? How does this thinking distinguish itself? In the sciences, in the social sciences, in biblical studies?

On the other hand, if miracles are a live option in history, then they are a live option as an alternative to naturalistic explanations in science. So, I take the viewpoint that if origin of life researchers find good evidence for spontaneous origin of life, then I will be willing to accept this idea and I wouldn’t see this as being in conflict with my faith, since God can choose to create life through the laws of Chemistry, if He wishes.  But for me to believe in naturalistic explanations even if the evidence doesn’t support them commits me (I feel) to interpreting the world naturalistically as a basic assumption regardless of evidence.  To be consistent, then, I would then need to apply the same approach to history as I do to science.  This would be the end of my Christian faith, as it would require me to abandon belief in a supernatural explanation for Jesus’ life, if a naturalistic explanation is even remotely possible.   After all, this is what we do with the origin of life, and other puzzles in the sciences.

In another message:

The difficulty for me comes in deciding whether a Christian worldview is a contender in the academic setting.  Science and other knowledge, such as historical knowledge, cannot be severed from each other.  Thus, the methods of scientific inquiry spill over into other areas, including historical inquiry.  And this inquiry is now comprehensive – it seeks to understand all of human experience, including historical and religious.  Thus, a scientific-historical inquiry into the origins of Christianity must, following this reasoning, seek a natural explanation of Christ and the origins of the church.  Likewise, it seeks to understand our religious experiences and why we believe in God and Christ through a natural process, such as evolutionary forces.  This implies, by methodological naturalism, that we must seek to understand our belief in God, not on grounds of His existence and that He has impressed this knowledge on us, but on grounds of evolutionary forces, neurological processes, and so forth. We must seek to understand how our minds make us believe in something for which there is no real evidence, where “real evidence” here can only be what falls into the realm of the natural.  The goal is to explain how and why we believe in something like a resurrection.  It is taken for granted that this belief is ungrounded from rationality, since it implies a miracle, which is a priori rejected.

If one accepts methodological naturalism consistently as the basis for academic inquiry and rational thought,  it follows that Christianity and religious belief have no place in the university, or in rational discussions, except to do autopsy on them.   We must concede that a scientific-historical understanding of Christianity must be built with no reference to the possibility that He rose from the dead.  We must accept that our own beliefs must be explained in evolutionary and neurological terms, without reference to the possibility that they are true.  If we do this, what do we say to a Christian who wishes to become a historian of the first century church in academia?  What do we say to a Christian in a department of religious studies?   I think a retreat of a Christian worldview from the pool of live options in the intellectual community reduces our knowledge of God to mere “private feelings” and not universal truth.

I think he makes many good points here, worth discussion. The attitude in academia and much of intellectual life today demands rigorous secular naturalism. Faith is ridiculed and not allowed a place at the table, especially in the US. We saw something of this in the discussion concerning graduate schools in theology and biblical studies – and their response to evangelical applicants (original postScot’s response). The secular naturalism makes it hard to stand as a Christian in the sciences. I think that it is even harder at times in the social sciences and humanities. But if we take our faith seriously it is not something bracketed off to a corner. It permeates all parts of life, including our intellectual life, our approach to academic disciplines, and our work life. Intellectual integrity demands a coherent, consistent approach to problems and a willingness to consider and incorporate all of the evidence

As I reflect on this, the thinkers who have had the biggest impact on my growth as a Christian are those who look at the evidence rigorously and allow the Christian worldview a place at the table. This is most apparent in areas of theology and biblical studies. The academic method is naturalism. Dominic Crossan explicitly rules out miracles in the books I read (because they don’t happen), J. A. T. Robinson the same. In contrast NT Wright argues from the evidence with a mind open to the work of God, both miraculous and “natural” (see for example The Resurrection of the Son of God). CS Lewis (Mere Christianity), Larry Hurtado (Lord Jesus Christ), Scot (Jesus and His Death), and Pete Enns (Inspiration and Incarnation), provide other examples of a similar approach. These authors will encounter resistance in the secular academy – but it comes for allowing a Christian worldview, not for presenting weak scholarship.

In my experience, the most damaging works are not the secular writers, Dominic Crossan or Bart Ehrman for example, but the Christian apologists who present untenable arguments and rely on foundations built on sand, what I have called elsewhere “evangelical ghetto thinking.”

The same is true in any discussion of science – the damage done by shoddy intellectual work in the name of Intelligent Design compounds the problems in the academy by providing no ground on which Christian scientists, students, and scholars can  stand; subjecting the Christian worldview to unnecessary ridicule; and providing an excuse for dismissing it from the table. I am not interested in disproving design arguments – I am interested in promoting critical thought, evaluating the arguments on their strengths, and pointing out the weaknesses where they exist. Failure to do so will undermine any possible good arising from the consideration of design.

Thoughts, opinions, comments?

How do you think the Christian worldview can find a place at the table?

Who has had the greatest influence on your thinking and why?

If you wish to contact me, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]

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  • dopderbeck

    Great post, huge and important topic (or really multiple topics).
    First, on the space currently afforded to Christian and other religious perspectives in the academy: having been a professor at a secular college and a Catholic law school for about seven years now, in my experience, the story of exclusion is overstated but partly true.
    In the legal academy, there is a robust “law and religion” movement. I sponsored a Religious Legal Theory conference at my law school last year, which drew some outstanding scholars from around the country. I think the same can be said of some other disciplines, including philosophy (there is an excellent Society of Christian Philosophers and Society of Christian Ethics, for example.
    That said, it’s partly true that a problem remains. Not all of my colleagues think “religious perspectives” are meaningful at all, and I’m not sure it would have been as easy to organize this conference at an institution that wasn’t at least nominally religiously affiliated. And there certainly are some prominent people in the legal academy who are openly hostile to religious perspectives. Nevertheless, there have always been some very strong Catholic law schools: Notre Dame, Boston College, my own Seton Hall, Catholic U., and a number of others, as well as some more recent Catholic and Evangelical schools (Regent, St. Thomas) or religiously-affiliated schools that have relatively recently begun to take their heritage very seriously (Pepperdine). All of these schools have some excellent faculty who are publishing in mainstream journals, going to conferences, blogging, and so on.
    As in the natural sciences, there are populist organizations and popular Christian apologists that promote shallow thinking about law and culture and thereby (IMHO) damage the project of serious Christian intellectual engagement in my field. At the conference I sponsored, one of our keynote speakers, David Skeel of U Penn, talked about the “Unbearable Lightness of Christian Legal Scholarship” — a thesis that was hotly contested by some of the other participants. It may be interesting to note that Skeel is an evangelical. Whereas Catholics have a long, deep, rich, and nuanced tradition of thinking about social theory, evangelicals are relatively new to the game. Some of the divide over Skeel’s perception might be the result of the things we tend to hear and read. There is simply nothing in the evangelical world to compare with the erudition and breadth of Popes John Paul II and Benedict’s public encyclicals (not to say that the Popes or the Catholic Church are necessarily “right” on every social issue!).
    So, to sum up my long-winded response: I think one of the key problems we face here as evangelicals is the populist nature of our movement. It’s a great blessing that we are free to engage in, say, “small group” Bible studies in which lay people dig into scripture, pray together, and share each others’ burdens. Very few of my Catholic friends have that kind of intimate fellowship. But this comes with a detrimental distrust of critical thought and scholarship, along with a presumption that anyone can find the definitive solution to almost any question through a combination of scripture and common sense. This supports an apologetics industry geared towards this very simplistic notion of truth.

  • Phil

    A Christian Worldview needs a seat at the table in social sciences and discussion on ethics of all types. As far as a commitment to naturalism for history, I believe NT Wright separated that well in referring to history as interpreting events that only happen once. It requires reason, but not scientific method, but proper historical methods. The resurrection evidences are one of those things.
    I think that a Christian Worldview is characterized by believing Jesus is the Christ and a commitment to that, not a commitment against methods of seeing the world or reason. Therefore I think people that are committed to Christ (have faith) are able to work within any discipline with their methods.

  • Vaughn Treco

    “If one accepts methodological naturalism consistently as the basis for academic inquiry and rational thought, it follows that Christianity and religious belief have no place in the university, or in rational discussions, except to do autopsy on them.”
    This quote admirably characterizes the place of Christianity in contemporary academia. A radical, systemic, philosophical materialism rules. The tragedy is that many believers have bought into the lie that this situation represents a genuine, and intellectually honest approach to the life of the mind. Nothing can be further from the truth.
    We would do well to warning concerning language and power sounded by Joseph Pieper in “Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power” [Ignatius Press (April 1992)]. While Pieper was concerned with the distorting and destructive impact of tyranny, propaganda, and mass-media upon language, his analysis can be applied in an especially helpful manner to the pervasive naturalism of contemporary academia. It may appear extreme at first blush, but the claim that genuine intellectual inquiry has been banished from the university by the effective tyranny and propaganda naturalism and naturalists is not without merit.
    Frank J. Sheed was right when he said, “Materialism is repulsive… The man who knows the universe of spirit walks upright, the materialist hugs the earth” (“Theology for Beginners” 15). Those who wish to follow the Jesus Creed and love God with their entire being – heart, soul, mind and strength – cannot do so without re-calling the university to its true self: An open inquiry into all of reality!

  • Joey

    Here are a few articles by, and about, an English Professor from Huntington University who challenges the notion of “worldview”. They might be of interest here:

  • Phil Atley

    “Secular” naturalism is a philosophical faith commitment. It is premised on a negative assumption: that non-naturalistic realities do no exist. (By ‘non-naturalistic’ I mean non-sense perceptible, non-measurable realities, and with “measuring” being aided by laboratory equipment, sophisticated mathematics etc., but still ultimately based on sense-perception and measuring.
    As a method of inquiry into phystical realities, relying on sense-perception is the only game in town. But as a metaphysical principle, it is foolish, since it denies the existence of the “meta” and reduces to measurability (eventually measurable, if not yet measured) what metaphysicists say are unmeasurable. How does it do this? By blind faith assumption, belief. You cannot prove by measuring the non-existence of non-measurable things. You can only assume it, believe it, take it as one’s religious or philosophical faith.
    [I write “blind” faith here deliberately because a lot of people who believe this way have not philosophically examined very well what they are doing. Those who have examined the philosophy of science issues carefully and still make this leap of faith, are not doing blind faith but are doing faith.]
    I have never understood how intelligent people can not realize that proclaiming on the basis of non-measurability the non-existence of something that by definition is non-measurable is a faith statement, a religious statement, one that a scientist qua scientist cannot make. (He can make it as a believer in absolute measurability, of course; and I’m defining science as it has come to be defined: the study of sense-perception measurable realities.)
    For the life of me, I cannot understand why people cannot see that one is living in a philosophical/religious worldview premised on belief, on faith, regardless whether one accepts the existence of non-measurable reality (metaphysics) or one rejects it. The imperialism of the non-metaphysical naturalism faith (worldview) in rejecting metaphysical faith (worldview) is breathtaking. Why not remain at least agnostic as to the existence of the meta-physical? But that too is a matter of faith, a matter of philosophical/religious assumption, of worldview.

  • Phil Atley

    To sum up my long statement:
    why cannot “secularists” and “naturalists” see that everyone is always already committed to a faith worldview and that it cannot be otherwise? Why must they try somehow to enlist “science” in support of their particular naturalistic/non-metaphysical/measurability worldview?
    One answer: to realize this is to leave science qua science and enter the world of philosophy. No one can avoid doing philosophy, even if all one does is to take a naturalistic or anti-metaphysical approach.
    But for heaven’s sake, do that recognizing that one does it as a philosopher, not as a “scientist.” One may spend 99% of one’s time doing (measurable) science but whether one accepts non-measurable reality, is agnostic about it, rejects it, one takes any of those positions not as a “scientist” but as a philosopher even if one’s career is in nuclear physics.
    If this fact (and it is a simple fact) were recognized, there’d be a level playing field for worldviews in the Academy and we could actually make some progress.
    The short version suddenly has become long.

  • Hrafn

    Religious truths are subjective truths (as can easily be demonstrated by the fact that every religion, and sect thereof, has a slightly different set of ‘truths’). Therefore it is entirely unsurprising that these truths find little in the way of a foothold in fields dedicated to objective truths — particularly science, but to a lesser extent history. That does not mean that they do not have a far stronger place in fields dedicated to subjective truths — e.g. philosophy (which for instance includes ethics, and thus influences science via bioethics).

  • Hrafn

    Phil Atley (6):
    “Why must they try somehow to enlist ‘science’ in support of their particular naturalistic/non-metaphysical/measurability worldview?”
    Why shouldn’t they? Theists have long attempted to “enlist ‘science'” to support their views (Francis Collins being one of the latest). Why shouldn’t atheists do likewise? As long as neither side misrepresents what the underlying science says, and does not misrepresent their philosophical musings as science, I don’t see a problem.

  • So I teach at a secular university, and (in brief) the thing that stands out to me is two fold.
    (1) The most important book in my mind on this discussion is Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Go back to it. Worldviews are assumed. As such evidence is always colored. The most important details of our world that we see therefore are anomalies. Because anomolies cause shifts in pardigms.
    (2) In terms of Christians in the secular academy: “Be shrewed as serpants” men and women. Most Christians getting rejected at secular schools are not being crafty enough. Don’t do what everone else does. Be creative!
    Much love – Jeff

  • Even atheists talk about “methodological naturalism”, too. Here’s a discussion from yesterday:

  • The subject of methodological naturalism and its effects throughout the academy is important and deserving of much more discussion than it typically receives. While *methodological* naturalism does not necessarily presuppose naturalism per se (it may be adopted, as some claim, simply for methodological reasons), it invariably collapses into naturalism tout court. If one is determined to privilege naturalistic explanations of phenomena, then inevitably one develops a naturalistic view of natural and historical occurrences. Non-naturalistic explanations, no matter how reasonable, are rejected in favor of naturalistic explanations, no matter how improbable.
    These concepts have histories. We need to understand how it came to be the case that so many Christian scientists, who were not themselves naturalists (methodologically or otherwise), contributed to the creation of a naturalistic view of science and the world it reveals. One book I suggest is Michael Buckley’s “At the Origins of Modern Atheism.” An extraordinary book that was a real game-changer for me.
    There were several philosophical and theological moves made at the dawn of the modern age (in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) that really set us on a trajectory that has proven, to my mind, disastrous for Christian belief. Among them was the development of an incredibly narrow (and unrealistic) ideal of scientific inquiry and scientific rationality. Eventually, as rationality came to be defined exclusively as *scientific* rationality, and scientific rationality was understood in an extremely narrow sense, then anything that did not meet the criteria of this mythical scientific rationality did not warrant the title of ‘rational.’ Since Christianity, it was thought, could not demonstrate its essential claims according to the standards of a rigorous scientific method, it was rejected as irrational. But (1) something is not irrational merely because it cannot be demonstrated according to the canon of scientific rationality, and (2) scientific method was mis-defined, such that nothing of any import–not even the essential claims of what many today consider the ‘scientific’ worldview–could be demonstrated according to those false standards.
    Lastly, since I’m relatively new to this blog, who is “RSJ”?

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    Great post.
    But . . .

    The same is true in any discussion of science – the damage done by shoddy intellectual work in the name of Intelligent Design compounds the problems in the academy by providing no ground on which Christian scientists, students, and scholars can stand;

    The same goes for shoddy intellectual work in the name of evolution and theistic evolution.
    The problem is Collins and Biologos pretty much give a blanket attack on all of ID. Behe and Meyer do not attack all of evolution, just parts of it.

  • RickK

    The Christian worldview should have exactly the same seat at the science table as the Hindu, Navajo and Raelian religions.
    Underlying assumptions in science are as strong as their evidence. There is overwhelming evidence that natural phenomena have natural causes. There is more evidence for this than there is evidence that gravity is an attractive force.
    In an evidence-based discussion, this conclusion is proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
    Now, we have no evidence of the supernatural affecting the natural world – no evidence that doesn’t have much more mundane explanations.
    We have thousands if not millions of claims of supernatural causation that have later been explained naturally. So we know beyond any doubt that humans WANT the supernatural to affect their lives.
    And we know that people of a more mature, less literal faith understand the stories of the Bible can convey truths without being historically accurate. People of mature faith can look upon stories of talking snakes, global floods, parting seas and resurrection from death as aids in instruction, NOT as scientific accounts.
    Just because a large number of people WANT or NEED supernatural causation does not in fact make supernatural casuation true. And just because they WANT or NEED a seat at the evidence-based table of science, it does not give them a seat.
    As for Phil Atley’s “non-naturalistic realities” – whether they exist or not, their ability to affect our lives is driven exactly by what people believe and no more. Everyone can have a completely different and competing view of “non-naturalistic reality”, and it won’t matter one bit.
    The only things that we are able to agree upon, predict, and build upon are “naturalistic realities”, otherwise known as REALITY. And science deals only with reality.

  • But for me to believe in naturalistic explanations even if the evidence doesn’t support them commits me (I feel) to interpreting the world naturalistically as a basic assumption regardless of evidence.
    I think this is where things go wrong. I don’t see anyone asking anyone to “believe in naturalistic explanations even if the evidence doesn’t support them”.
    What I do see is people not assuming supernatural explanations in the absence of fully-developed naturalistic ones. For example, currently it’s not possible to disprove the idea that the first life on Earth was planted here by aliens or gods or whatnot. There are some suggestive bits of evidence and lines of inquiry that indicate that may not be the case, but that’s not disproof. Not in the same way as common descent of life after that origin, or an Earth with a lifespan in the billions of years, and so forth.
    It’s true that some people point to a very long history of phenomena being confidently declared ‘directly supernatural’ that turned out not to be, and inductively expect that centuries-long trend to continue. And, since “the methods of scientific inquiry spill over into other areas, including historical inquiry”, it’s hardly surprising this attitude would show up in the humanities, too.
    Miracles may be a “live option in history”, but they do need evidence… in the same way that alien visitations are a live option, too, but need evidence. I mean, if there’s evidence, what’s the problem?

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    By the way, one of the great things in Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell is his discussion of the different methodologies for doing operational sciences and for doing historical sciences. MN has a very different role in each. The methodology for the science of aeronautics and making planes fly is very different from the methodology for the historical science of origins.

  • dopderbeck

    Timothy (#11) — great comment. Have you read Polanyi? Much of what you’re saying here tracks with Polanyi.
    RickK (#13) said: The only things that we are able to agree upon, predict, and build upon are “naturalistic realities”, otherwise known as REALITY.
    I respond: This statement is a philosophical and metaphysical claim about the nature of reality. As such, it’s not empirically verifiable or falsifiable. Moreover, most people don’t agree with it, and it’s impossible to build human society on it because human beings must take so many important things as true without the sort of verification the statement requires. Therefore, I have to conclude that this statement, according to its own criteria, is not grounded in reality.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    Ray #14 re trends in science,
    But you are selectively looking at trends.
    Origin of life was not that big of a naturalistic problem when they believed in spontaneous generation, but it grew when that was debunked. It was not that big of a problem when they believed that the cell was just a blob of protoplasm. This whole last century was a progression of making naturalistic speculations about origin of life more and more implausible. Will that trend continue?
    We have many more evidences of cosmological fine tuning (and design) now than we did 100 years ago. Will that trend continue?

  • RickK

    dopderbeck #16 – Name one “non-natural” topic in which fundamental understanding has improved in the past 1000 years.
    Name one “natural” topic in which fundamental understanding HASN’T fundamentally improved in the past 1000 years.

  • RickK

    pds #17 said “This whole last century was a progression of making naturalistic speculations about origin of life more and more implausible.”
    That statement is staggering in its absurdity. Any rational person looking comparing the understanding of biology today to that of 100 years ago would conclude that we’ve learned rather a lot, and are MUCH closer to a true understanding of life’s origins than ever before. Talk about “selectively looking at trends”!
    We are now actively working with the very building blocks of life. We have created self-replicating molecules that act Darwinian while still being very far from any current definition of life. We’ve seen exactly how, within the very language of biology, how evolution occurs. We’ve mapped the exact changes that separate certain species.
    There is no biologist who isn’t committed to furthering a theistic ideology that would agree with your statement.
    And I’m STILL trying to understand how the apparent scarcity of detectable intelligent life among 60,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars is “fine tuning”. Does the existence of the houseplant on my office window indicate the city of Stamford was fine-tuned for my plant?
    It’s only intelligently designed if you’re a committed supernaturalist.
    I do hope you’re not hanging your faith on science’s ability to validate your beliefs in supernatural causation. History has proved that it is fruitless to believe in a mechanistic, interventionist god, or to make your faith dependent upon gaps in which your god can fit. History and the advance of human knowledge have a nasty habit of filling gaps.
    The Sun – was a god, now explained by science
    The Moon – was a god(dess), now understood by science
    The stars – were gods or spirits, now science
    The tides – were attributed to gods, now science
    The seasons – attributed to gods, now science
    Earthquakes – were caused by gods, now science
    Lightning – was thrown by a god, now science
    Rain & drought – was God, now science
    Health & disease – was God, now science
    Schizophrenia – was demonic possession, now science
    Epilepsy – was divine possession, now science
    Origin of species – was God, now science (evolution)
    Identity & personality – was the soul, now neuroscience
    “To surrender to ignorance and call it God has always been premature, and it remains premature today.”
    — Isaac Asimov

  • T

    Well, my first comment is that this friend of RJS articulates almost perfectly the issues in my mind every time we have a discussion here on design issues and others.
    It may be particulary odd for folks like me who practice and experience some level of “the miraculous” on a fairly regular basis (feel free to email me separately about that at freemanlaw at, to observe deep, deep faith in naturalist assumptions during these discussions, especially when held by Christians! For the growing number of Christians in the world who experience or witness the supernatural help of Christ not just as “a live option” but as a regular part of life with an all-powerful, all-loving Christ, folks that never turn off naturalist assumptions start to look like a man that lacks one of his senses. The senses that work are stronger than the average man’s because he’s become more careful at using them and getting all he can from them. Because of this, he can perceive through his working senses what others don’t, and this is valuable. But at the same time, his observations of the world are obviously limited and therefore only worthy of limited trust.
    When “origins” issues come up, I am nearly always more concerned about the quality of life and relationship and mission that is possible for someone, particularly a professing Christian, who is stuck largely in naturalist perspectives than I am about the specific theories being examined, interesting as they may be. In the same way (maybe with RJS’ friend), I’m less concerned about the space a Christian worldview has at the academic table than I am about the space that naturalism has in the minds of people, and how difficult it can be from within such a perspective to functionally and joyfully enter the reign of Christ that is at work in the world right now through a Spirit connecting this Christ to his creation and people. If we cannot trust this Spirit and his multi-scale, multi-faceted activity, how effectively can we receive and follow Christ’s leadership? How exactly can Jesus lead or do anything on earth (since he is bodily in heaven) without an active, immanent Spirit among and within us?
    Naturalistic assumptions are in direct opposition to the very possibility of Jesus’ resurrection and present reign on the earth, which is the center of our gospel, our prayer and our hope. IMO, we should remain aware of that central opposition as we pick them up and use them for this or that valuable, but limited, purpose.

  • Alan K

    Are not worldviews by their very nature provisional (including Christian worldviews)? And is not Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever?

  • PDS – What’s interesting is that those prospective ‘supernatural’ explanations are always at the fringe of what’s known. (Read the essay I linked to in my comment above.)
    The problems are a bit different from the way you characterize them, too. “Spontaneous generation” applied only to some life, primarily the type where eggs and parents and seeds were difficult to observe. The argument from design was well-developed as early as Aquinas. The cell was known not to be just a “blob of protoplasm” as early as 1833 with the discovery of the nucleus. None of these were discovered by people looking for design.
    Indeed, the whole idea of “mechanism” instead of “vitalism” in biology is a history of supernatural explanations being gradually uprooted and replaced by naturalistic ones… because the naturalistic ones worked. (An illustrative example here.)
    The “fine-tuning” argument is interesting… but definitely questionable. The unique properties of water that make (at least our kind of) life on Earth possible are remarkable… but given lower-level laws of physics, those properties are also inevitable. Other such constants have proven to have more subtle interrelations, which leads to the suspicion (note I don’t say conviction) that the laws we see are not quite as arbitrary as we suppose. (The sensitivity may also be overstated, as well; recent calculations varying three different physical constants discovered starlike objects in at least 40% of the possible universes studied. The article is now behind a paywall, sadly: )
    So I’m not sure that there actually is a trend toward more evidence for “design”.

  • John Mark Harris

    One thing I find odd in (and at-odds with true) “science” is the desire to have theories accepted in order to shut-off discussion.
    Real scientific investigation never actually arrives at a conclusion, there are no hard answers (except in theoretical science), only “confidence”. How many times has this been shown to be true? When someone says “the science is settled on that issue” as a means to stop debate (on any issue) I don’t think they really understand what science is.
    My personal belief is that God is real and true, and He is Jesus. At the same time, I believe the basic principles upon which scientific inquiry is based are sound. The “better” our scientific method is, the clearer our perception of God’s universe (and thus God Himself).
    Is the current (and I say current knowing there is no such thing as a unified) evolutionary model correct? Surely not, but I say that not just (though partly) based on my belief in Genesis 1:1ff as essentially historical writing (though utilizing phenomenological language), but on the fact that the evolutionary model has historically changed drastically over the years.
    The single most helpful book to me on this subject has been Marvin L. Lubenow’s “Bones of Contention: A Creationist Assessment of Human Fossils.” I mean, how many scientists know that the oldest fossil ever cataloged as having been discovered is KP271 the Kanapoi Fossil found by Bryan Patterson 1965 (Harvard) and is dated to 4.5 million years ago? This fossil is “Indistinguishable from modern homo sapiens.” Quote from Henry M McHenry “Fossils And The Mosaic Nature Of Human Evolution,” Science 190 (31 Oct. 1975): 428. This does not match with any evolutionary model, yet there it is.
    Thus, (while admittedly not offering an alternative) all current evolutionary models are incorrect (at least to some degree). The “posturing” of scientists when a self-proclaimed “creationist” begins to speak is quite telling. I don’t need to yell, the Bible can speak for itself. I also don’t claim to have all the answers, simply that there are answers and my ability to recognize that “you” (whoever dogmatically bows at the altar of Darwin and his cult of evolutionary theory) don’t have the answer.

  • Theophilos (“God-lover”)

    Intriguingly, the academic system as it exists today is a direct result of Christian history and the creation of the university.
    In his recent book “The State of the University,” Stanley Hauerwas spends countless time arguing how theology needs to be reintegrated into the university curriculum. Primarily, Hauerwas argues that theology helps people form into critical thinkers who can think outside of the box and view the world differently. That is the primary focus of education in general.
    As a campus minister, I deal with these questions of faith/science all of the time. Strangely enough, not as much as I used to, however. For whatever reason, many students are looking for answers in a higher power, whether that is Christianity, Buddhism, etc. The question is one that is important, and we should always challenge people to intellectually examine their faith. As I constantly tell students, “an unexamined faith is not worth having.” (Thanks for letting me butcher your quote, Socrates!)
    RickK, thank you for adding to the discussion here. Although we would fundamentally disagree over many of the facts in evolution/intelligent design, your point of view must be respected. We rarely get anywhere without first listening and understanding a different point of view. For me, evolutionary design has too many holes in the theory, and many other credible scientists (many of whom are not “believers” agree). But I have good friends who examine the same evidence I do and come out on the other side of the equation, believing in evolution.
    Keep the discussion going, and please never stop examining your beliefs (regardless of where you sit in the equation, from Creationist to Evolutionist.) Be willing to see that it might not be a literal Six Days, and also be willing to see that it might not be the Darwinian Evolutionary Model.

  • dopderbeck

    RickK (#18) — your questions aren’t responsive to my comments. But, in any event,
    you asked: Name one “non-natural” topic in which fundamental understanding has improved in the past 1000 years.
    I respond: off the top of my head, one that comes to mind is the doctrine of the Trinity. You’re aware of developments in the doctrine of the Trinity over the past 1000 years, right? What do you think of Rahner’s Rule? What do you make of the conversation about divine passibility, specifically Moltmann’s theology of the cross and Robert Jensen’s approach to the question? Somehow I’m guessing that you haven’t put in the effort to know what I’m talking about, except maybe for the Wikipedia version….
    and you asked: Name one “natural” topic in which fundamental understanding HASN’T fundamentally improved in the past 1000 years.
    I respond: Why? Science is a wonderful tool that has increased our understanding of the universe in amazing ways. I don’t see that as a threat to other tools for understanding things science isn’t competent to fully address.
    But how about this: we still don’t know what comprises over 90% of the matter in the universe, so we call it “dark matter.” In this sense, we’re still as ignorant about what we’re seeing when we peer into the night sky as Medieval astronomers. Yes, we still know more about the cosmos than they did, and yes, theoretically we might be able to figure out what dark matter is some day. Nevertheless, it’s rather humbling to have to admit that we have no meaningful account of the stuff that makes up 90% of the universe. Maybe the more interesting question is, what else don’t we know about “reality”?

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    RickK #19,
    Our knowledge of biology has grown. Our knowledge of the origin of life has not. Our recognition of our ignorance regarding the origin of life has grown.
    As our knowledge of biology has grown, the odds against the chance generation of life have grown as well. And we know of no process or mechanism that could do it.
    You said,

    We have created self-replicating molecules that act Darwinian while still being very far from any current definition of life.

    What would those be? “Created”?
    More citation of selective trends is not persuasive. Science continues to debunk superstitions. It has never debunked the design argument. Not even close.

  • John Fouad Hanna

    RickK (#19):
    The list you provide well summarizes what I think is a curious development over the past couple of centuries. That being as we continually discovered that this world was more complex and intricate and interesting than we ever knew, some concluded that this somehow demonstrated that God didn’t exist.
    The world is simple, God exists; the world is complex, God doesn’t exist? This doesn’t follow at all.
    Opening up an object and discovering how it actually works (hey, it’s not magic) shouldn’t limit or reduce my curiosity concerning such object, nor does it make obsolete questions concerning the object’s purpose, maker, etc.
    The view you are advancing seems to be based on the notion that if there’s a physical cause and effect explanation, that somehow eliminates God. But that is not the view of God Christian theology posits or that we are claiming in this discussion.

  • Randy G.

    RJS asked us to name thinkers that have inspired us in this realm. Cal De Witt a The University of Wisconsin is my richest inspiration. Cal has a way of breathing life into these too often arid arguments. The best place to see Cal at work is in the field or on a “nature walk” where he brings the science and the theology to life together.
    Thank you Theophilus (#24) for mentioning Hauerwas’ excellent book. Although the quality of the essays there is somewhat uneven, His essays on brick-laying and on a university shaped by Wendell Berry point us toward discussions that far too few “Christian scientists” have been welling to pursue.
    Randy Gabrielse

  • Hrafn

    PDS (26):
    “Our knowledge of the origin of life has not.”
    So extending our knowledge of the history of life on Earth from a few thousand years to hundreds of millions is no growth in knowledge?
    No, we don’t as yet know the details of how it all began — largely because (i) such primitive lifeforms leave very little in the way of fossils & (ii) the genetic record has been heavily overwritten since.
    So what? We know a heck of a lot more about how it might have happened than we did, and quite a bit about how it didn’t happen (i.e. not over six literal days 6-10 thousand years ago with a world wide flood not long thereafter — as a number of Stevie Meyer’s Disco ‘Tute colleagues would have us believe). I’d say that this is quite considerable ‘growth’.

  • RJS

    Come on, keeping it civil means don’t use ridicule names. Although I agree that we know that it didn’t happen over six literal days 6-10 thousand years ago as some at the Discovery Institute (but not all) claim.

  • Fisherman

    “The Christian worldview should have exactly the same seat at the science table as the Hindu, Navajo and Raelian religions.”
    This is where I come out. If scientific research were to take place in America and the Christian worldview used, does that mean if the research were to take place in Saudi Arabia they use an Islamic worldview? India?
    Science should be independent of culture. Perhaps the universality of science is what tells us there is only one God but many paths to Him.

  • RJS

    RickK (#13, #19),
    I don’t think that the issue here is in the practice of science itself. The questions is really one of the ultimate ground of all reality. Is ontological naturalism the only acceptable view? Allowing that is a view – but only one among many – is the issue.
    The biblical studies example is a powerful one – is Christianity only something to be autopsied and rationalized, or could it be truth? On another level … are morality, ethics, and love likewise something to be autopsied and rationalized, or is there a root reality here that goes beyond ontological naturalism?

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    Hrafn #29,
    If you would read my comment, I am talking about the origin of life, not the entire history of life on earth.
    To rephrase, over the last hundred years, the design inference in origin of life has grown stronger. Non-design speculations have grown more and more implausible.
    I might add another trend: the attempts by materialists to win arguments by combining misinformation with ridicule have grown as well. Attempts to win arguments by changing the subject have grown too, I think.
    RJS #30
    Curious that you choose to link young earth creationism with the Discovery Institute. You know that is misleading. “Shoddy intellectual work” I think, to use your language. I know of one DI fellow that is a YEC. Do you know of any others? And everyone at the DI distinguishes YEC from ID.

  • RJS

    I merely rephrased the last part of hrafn’s comment … in a fashion more keeping with the desired tone of the conversation.
    I have never bothered to research numbers – but I know of YEC, progressive old earth creationist and some more along the lines of Michael Behe among the voices.

  • Phil Atley

    “Theists have long attempted to “enlist ‘science'” to support their views (Francis Collins being one of the latest).” (Hrafn, no. 8)
    Poor choice of words on my part. Enlisting science in arguing for a philosophical or theological worldview is fine, as a way of doing philosophy and religious thinking. Theists do it and if materialists/naturalists did it and did it _acknowledging that that’s what they are doing_, we’d have no problem.
    What I was faulting was the claim that “science” (meaning naturalistic science, empirical/measurable-only science) solves the metaphysical question. By definition it cannot yet some advocates (e.g., RickK on this thread) claim that it does.
    Moreover, the difference between the two uses of “science” is that the materialist uses material evidence to prove the truth of a negative (the non-existence of non-measurable, non-“scientific”) reality, something that science cannot do.
    The theist believes in non-measurable, not-naturalistic reality. He recognizes that he is “doing belief” but doing so based on reason and that part but not all of the reasons for his belief arise from measurable “science.”
    The naturalistic/materialist simply cannot, legitimately, deduce an answer, positively or negatively about things beyond science without becoming a philosopher, which he insists he is not. The theist never narrowed his evidentiary base that way. So his use of science is legitimate. So too would be the “naturalistic/materialist” scientist’s use of science, IF he were willing to recognize that he’s crossed over into philosophy and religion in making his naturalistic claims.
    Nota Bene: I’m speaking only of reductionistic “scientism” here. Someone has adduced Kuhn and paradigms and all that. I agree that a lot of scientists understand that everyone is always already doing worldview. But, as Hrafn and RickK illustrate on this thread, far too many have not absorbed that philosophy of science fundamental principle.”
    If scientists all took Kuhn and others to heart and recognized they are always already doing philosophy and religion, doing worldview, RJS’s interlocutor would have a place at the table and this thread would be unnecessary.
    It should go with out saying but I guess I should say it, that young earth creationists are just as confused about the interrelationship of philosophy and science as are the naturalist/materialists I am criticizing here.

  • AHH

    One early commenter made the good point (citing NT Wright) that history (which involves one-off events) was not really the same sort of thing as science, so issues with “methodological naturalism” are different. Historical sciences (like much of geology or study of the development of life) would occupy a middle ground (often those who don’t like conclusions of historical sciences overstate its difference from other science).
    I think RJS’ correspondent has an unspoken Enlightenment assumption that equates “knowledge” with “science”. I actually agree with the correspondent that non-natural (supernatural?) explanations should not be out of bounds in looking for best explanations of things (whether they be historical events or phenomena in nature). But why need one expand the definition of “science” to do that? That would seem to be driven by an Enlightenment assumption that “science” is the only way to truth.
    It is philosophically wrong for a scientist (or anybody else) to say, when faced with an unsolved problem in nature, “only natural explanations for this are possible.” That is not methodological naturalism, that is metaphysical naturalism. The theistic scientist could say “I don’t think there is a natural explanation for this, so I think there was something supernatural.” But in the 2nd half of that statement, the theistic scientist has gone outside the bounds of science into metaphysics (which does not make the reasoning invalid). BOTH scientists can in good conscience continue looking for natural explanations, which is all one can do within the realm of science.
    While demarcation of the limitations of science does not solve all issues, I think we would do better in these discussions if both extremes (by which I mean people like Richard Dawkins on one extreme and “creationists” and some ID people on the other) would recognize that science is not the only valid path to knowledge, that it is well-suited to answer questions with nature but that other questions (including many valid and interesting questions) are simply outside its domain.

  • Phil Atley

    I’ll add one more point. There was no intrinsic epistemological necessity for “science” (empirical, naturalistic science) to have hived off from classic “natural philosophy” the way it did in the Galileo era. I think Galileo and his allies deserve some of the blame for this but then so too do some (not all) of his opponents. There is no reason why science could not have developed its immense insights into the measurable realities while still maintaining a locus from within the larger world of metaphysics/philosophy/theology, including Scripture.
    Would it have been easy to maintain the “natural sciences” within the Big Tent of metaphysics and religion and philosophy? No. It would have been very, very hard, which is probably why the cheaper solution of launching a war between the two was resorted to (blame on both sides, I think, but more blame on the “natural sciences” side, perhaps–perhaps not–complicated question–how much blame rests with Scotus and Ockham. . . . ??? Luther???). But it did not have to have happen that way in order for the “scientific revolution” to take place.
    But things happened as they happened. And this thread is simply a testimony to the immense confusion that arose from the way things happened.

  • Phil Atley

    Sorry, in trying to navigate the expired captcha I got dumped back into my preceding comment and it got posted twice. This is what I was trying to post when I was tripped up by the captcha jitters.
    AAH no. 36: “It is philosophically wrong for a scientist (or anybody else) to say, when faced with an unsolved problem in nature, “only natural explanations for this are possible.” That is not methodological naturalism, that is metaphysical naturalism. The theistic scientist could say “I don’t think there is a natural explanation for this, so I think there was something supernatural. ere is a natural explanation for this, so I think there was something supernatural.” But in the 2nd half of that statement, the theistic scientist has gone outside the bounds of science into metaphysics.”
    True. But there’s an alternative for the theis, found in, e.g., G. K. Chesterton, _Orthodoxy_ and Alexander Schmemann, _For the Life of the World_ (in different ways). Where no natural (measurable, empirical) explanation exists, one doesn’t have to resort to “supernatural” at all. The as-yet-unknown and unmeasured natural explanations remain “marvels” (miracles) without becoming supernatural; they are just “naturals” that are not yet understood.
    Because, there is no “super-natural.” There’s God himself and then there’s everything else, all created by God. The “everything else” then subdivides into that which has already been measured (“known” explanations) and that which has not yet been measured and then that which is by metaphysical definition not measurable but nonetheless knowable by creatures who share both measurable (physical) and metaphysical natures (God, humans, angels). Humans and angels don’t know the physical (measurables) fully now but as time goes on are knowing more and more of it (but don’t know just how vast the amount of measurable stuff yet to be measured and known might be, hence ought to be epistemologically humble even on a natural scale). They don’t know all the immeasurable (metaphysical) stuff either, though this stuff is infinitely knowable so that in eternity it is knowable but the knowing is never completed because eternity never ends.
    God knows all of it, both the metaphysical and physical, fully, completely, being eternal Creator of it all.
    So, the theist need not look at that for which no natural explanation is known and declare it to be supernatural. If he is wise, he won’t go there. He will say, “it either is an as yet unmeasured but measurable, physical phenomenon or it could be a metaphysical and unmeasurable phenomenon and I can’t say for sure which it is. But as a matter of philosophical/metaphysical faith, I believe some unmeasurable, metaphysical realities do exist, one of which is God (supernatural), another of which is my person/soul, which is a natural creature that participates in the supernatural and, by incorporation in Christ, actually can participated in supernatural Divinity (adopted Sonship, Jn 1 etc.).”
    And even naturalists might be wise to recognize that the properties of the already measured physical things might be far more elastic and potentially paradigm-shakingly different than our current degree of measurings tell us they are. Wise scientists already know this.

  • dopderbeck

    Phil (#37) — you could also blame the scholastic theologians, particularly Duns Scotus. This is why I’m so hesitant about some ID arguments and about very rationalistic apologetics. It seems to represent a revived scholasticism, and that path seems to me to lead away from a real holistic approach to faith and reason.

  • dopderbeck

    Phil just saw your #38 come up — excellent.

  • dopderbeck – You write, In this sense, we’re still as ignorant about what we’re seeing when we peer into the night sky as Medieval astronomers.
    Isaac Asimov has a wonderful essay about this titled The Relativity of Wrong:
    “[W]hen people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was [perfectly] spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”

  • dopderbeck

    Ray (#41) — true, we’re not as wrong now about cosmology as we were 1,000 years ago. Yet, it’s also undoubtedly true that, in some very important and perhaps even fundamental ways, today we are still “wrong.” I might suggest that one factor that has allowed science to advance so rapidly in the past few hundred years is the constant recognition that “we could be wrong” — i.e., science’s self-correcting nature. Honestly, this is what baffles me about some of the new atheist rhetoric. There seems to be a presumption that human beings can theoretically know and explain everything with complete accuracy — that there is nothing that is beyond the reach of human perception. The entire history of human experience, including in our scientific age, however, tells us otherwise. There’s an unbridled optimism about human capacities that seems to me as great a leap of faith as any ever made by a religious person.

  • There seems to be a presumption that human beings can theoretically know and explain everything with complete accuracy — that there is nothing that is beyond the reach of human perception.

    No, that’s not the presumption. It’s that assuming the contrary is automatically self-limiting. As Woody Allen put it, “Is knowledge knowable? If not, how do we know this?” If you assume that something’s beyond human comprehension, you will stop trying to understand it.
    Besides, how can we, in practice, distinguish between something ‘currently unknown but comprehensible’ and something ‘forever unknowable’? From a practical perspective, the only way to tell which category something falls into is to try to understand it; if you succeed, then it was knowable.
    The problem is, if you fail, you can’t conclude that it’s unknowable. It might be… but it also might be the case that you just didn’t happen to figure out something knowable, and you or someone else might have better luck on a subsequent attempt. Giving up and appealing to a ‘spiritual explanation’ is what I call Haldane’s Error, which I linked to above.

  • RJS

    There are some questions that science cannot answer. Or let me put this another way, there are some questions science can only answer by declaring the question meaningless. Origin of the species is not among them, nor is abiogenesis. Dark matter, dark energy, and other mysteries of physics … we operate, I think, on the assumption that an answer to these puzzles will be found. The material basis for consciousness is an even bigger mystery – and even here I think an answer will likely be found (but I don’t think that we can even fathom it yet).
    But there is a limit to our ability to understand in this fashion. When we move to consider questions of meaning, purpose, morality and such … the only answer science can give is that there is no real meaning or purpose, and morality is an evolutionary artifact. We can rationalize and autopsy – but in doing so we in essence deny they have any intrinsic meaning or reality.
    My reasons for rejecting philosophical naturalism rise from these kinds of considerations – not from gaps in our understanding of the natural processes of the world or universe.
    I have many atheist or agnostic friends – I am not saying that they are unhappy or immoral. Most are what we would call “good” people, and quite happy. The issues go beyond the ways people act and react to ultimate reality.

  • RJS – There are some questions that science cannot answer.
    True, though technically dopderbeck said “human perception”, not “science”.
    On the other hand, as to things like meaning and purpose – I perceive those directly. Many things mean a great deal to me, and I certainly have purposes. If a material basis for consciousness is found, it’ll have to account for those. (If on the other hand, you’re asking about “ultimate meaning”, then I have to say that the the question is ill-posed.)
    And as to morality being an “evolutionary artifact”, see the URL below my name on this comment. Morality is no more an evolutionary artifact than the rule “you shouldn’t sacrifice your queen early in a chess game”.

  • RJS

    Exactly – you have to resort to statements and essays declaring the question ill-posed.
    Now I cannot prove that I have the right answer to the questions of ultimate meaning. I can argue why I think I do – but that is a different thing. But the question is not ill-posed or off limits.

  • RJS

    Artifact may not be quite the right word – consequence may be better, although I think artifact will work. Morality is an artifact of evolution not in the sense that it is an accident or a contingent tag-a-long, but in the sense that it is created by evolution the way an human artifact is created by a human.
    “You shouldn’t sacrifice a queen early in the game” is essentially an argument that morality is an evolutionary artifact, nothing more. It is “playing the game smart.”
    Of course an unthinking irrational natural process doesn’t play a game smart – what happens is simply what must happen to reach the optimal possibilities in a constrained process. From a view of philosophical naturalism morality is akin to water running down hill.
    But this means that morality and meaning or purpose are not ultimate or even real.

  • I would recommend the book “For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery” (link to amazon in the comment entry line).
    Rodney Stark (whom I understand is not a Christian – or at least wasn’t when he wrote this book) – a socialogist – surveys pretty much all the historical literature out there and shows (among other things) how science could only have come out of a Christian world view (as it did). His reasoning is more or less that Christianity is the only world view that assumes God is not fickle and does not arbitrarily change the rules that nature operates by.
    He also shows the progression of the popular fabrication that science and religion have ever been at war with one another, and that science has been continually debunking Christianity.
    It is ironic that a discipline that grew out of Christian Universities (a truism, I know) is trying to sever itself from it’s roots.

  • R Hampton

    The faith of some is not strong enough to reconcile conflicts between Science and Biblical “history.” The global flood story is a perfect example of the tensions between (some) beliefs and Science as it highlights a variable threshold to Christian belief.
    Can one still be a Christian if you do not believe Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives were literally the only humans left alive or that the flood was truly global? Will that depends on your interpretation of Scripture and if you consider Creation to be the word of God, equal to the Bible in authority.
    Thus one’s view on the ability of Christianity to survive the authority of Science (vis-a-vis Creation) is wholly dependent on one’s need to have a faith based in a historically true Bible. If one’s threshold is very low – like Creationists – then quite likely modern Christianity appears morally bankrupt. If one’s threshold is very high – like the Jesuit researchers at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences – then modern Christianity appears to be truly morally harmonious with empirically observed nature.

  • RickK

    dopderbeck #25 pointed out how our understanding of the Trinity has grown.
    Yes, people have written books about the Trinity, have theorized about it, have discussed it as tool for apophatic acceptance of God’s unknowability, or as a rationalization to label a pantheon of deities as “monotheism”. We’ve even discovered how verses supporting the Trinity were added to the Bible hundreds of years after the original authors wrote the canonical books.
    But in the end, our understanding of the fundamentals of the Trinity has grown in exactly the same way that our understanding of the curriculum at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has grown. Both are fabrications. The Trinity is a catechism, a mantra, a Catholic version of “Ohm”, and its existence is entirely and exclusively in the minds of those that believe in it, and nowhere else.
    “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
    — Philip K. Dick

  • RickK

    John Fouad Hanna #27 said: “The view you are advancing seems to be based on the notion that if there’s a physical cause and effect explanation, that somehow eliminates God. But that is not the view of God Christian theology posits or that we are claiming in this discussion.”
    No, that’s not what I said at all. I’m saying that gods have failed utterly as the direct causes of natural phenomena. And therefore, it is perfectly acceptable for science to rule out supernatural causation in future investigations, just as the patent office rejects submissions for perpetual motion machines.
    Appealing to divine cause for natural phenomena is, according to history and to THOUSANDS of examples, a recipe for failure.
    I’m saying ALL the evidence is against an interventionist, activist god who makes miracles and tweaks bacterial flagella into motion. ID proponents who say life couldn’t have evolved naturally without the intervention of a divine intelligent designer are following a very well-trodden path that leads inevitably to scientific failure and spiritual emptiness. And appeal to the divine is scientific investigation is a failure – it is a surrender.
    And it is an ARROGANT statement. To say “God caused this phenomena” is to say “I don’t know how it happened naturally, and I’m certain nobody will ever be smart enough to bridge this gap in our knowledge. So I’ll just shove God in to fill the gap.”
    There is a very LARGE and well funded segment of Christianity that states that time is now, and it is time to put the Christian Bible back into school science classes. Look at John Mark Harris, who dredges up the creationist claims about the Kanapoi humerus. Mr. Harris uses his “Christian worldview”, pulls a quote off a creationist website, and conveniently ignores the later analyses of the bone that indicate it is most probably australopithecine (Lague and Jungers – 1996).
    THAT’S what happens when the “Christian worldview” is employed instead of naturalistic investigation. By cherry-picking quotes to try to use science to make a point that in fact is false, John Mark Harris exemplifies the danger when people try to wield science to support the divine.
    Based on the evidence of (1) a complete failure of the supernatural to offer any explanatory value for natural phenomena, and (2) the apparently irresistible urge to subvert science that many get from their Christian worldview, I think it is reasonable to keep the divine out of science.
    But unlike many who base their worldviews on scripture rather than evidence, I’m happy to be convinced otherwise. I’d LOVE to think we’re not alone, and that we’re all protected by a loving overlord who will save our beautiful planet and maintain our species no matter how foolish we are.
    All I need to change my mind is some evidence. But it better be good. The scribblings of superstitious fishermen from 2000 years ago, or some gap in our current knowledge of the evolution of blood clotting are NOT evidence of the divine.

  • RJS – but I linked to a very cogent essay that makes a very good point about why such questions are ill-posed:

    To say that some event means something without at least some implicit understanding of who it means something to is to express an incomplete idea, no different than sentence fragments declaring that “Went to the bank” or “Exploded.” Without first specifying a particular subject and/or object, the very idea of meaning is incoherent.

    Yet too often people still try to think of meaning in a disconnected and abstract sense, ending up at bizarre and nonsensical conclusions. They ask questions like: What is the meaning of my life? What does it matter if I love my children when I and they and everyone that remembers us will one day not exist? But these are not simply deep questions without answers: they are incomplete questions, incoherent riddles missing key lines and clues. Whose life? Meaningful to whom? Matters to whom? Who are you talking about?

    Once those clarifying questions are asked and answered, the seeming impossibility of the original question evaporates, its flaws exposed. We are then left with many more manageable questions: What is the meaning of my/your/their life to myself/my parents/my children? These different questions may have different answers: your parents may see you as a disappointment for becoming a fireman instead of a doctor, and yet your children see you as a hero.

  • RJS –

    Of course an unthinking irrational natural process doesn’t play a game smart – what happens is simply what must happen to reach the optimal possibilities in a constrained process. From a view of philosophical naturalism morality is akin to water running down hill.

    Even if that were right (and whatever we are, it’s not ‘unthinking’)…

    But this means that morality and meaning or purpose are not ultimate or even real.

    …it’s not ‘real’ that water rolls downhill? Look, morality may be ontologically different in this model, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real. Aren’t you a Platonist?

  • Brett Allen

    The ‘world view’ is just a new dishonest political lexicon to force christians to agree with certain, mainly right wing, positions. It is the same as claiming secular science is a belief. This reduces every argument to a choice of beliefs or ‘world views’ and this railroads the religious into only one choice. The ‘world view’ allows, actually demands, false and misleading arguements to be raised in any debate and forces every issue to be decided tribally.
    Christians may define themselves by their faith, but that does not mean you should freely abandon logic, reality and just plain reflection when discussing social or govt issues. The problem is faith gets tied up in some minds with articles of faith which are 2 different things. Republicans are adept at making people mix up their politics, science and religion into one big mess. Such people are then easy to manipulate. After awhile, because they are continously railroaded into one conclusion without exercising their brains, they give up thinking about any given issue. Thus we get the divided dumbed down nation we have today. It is not relgion’s fault but the ‘world view’.

  • Hrafn

    RJS (30):
    I consider the towering, incoherent hypocrisy of that Seattle thinktank to be worthy of ridicule and contempt (and have detailed the reasons why in a recent post). If you do not wish me to be quite so explicit about this well-merited disdain, then I will bow to your wishes.
    I would however point out to you that you have allowed a far more offensive label in an earlier post — one calling “materialism” “repulsive”.
    That description is both insulting to atheists, and also of those (including myself) who have since been labelled “materialists” on this thread for their strong defence of methodological naturalism.
    On the latter point, I would further point out that conflating faith and theism is inaccurate and that assuming this identity is a good way to make an ass out of yourself. There are at least a couple of religions, older than Christianity, but still going strong, that have no intrinsic basis in theism (though they have accreted a number of minor deities in the millennia since). I am a methodological naturalist and not a theist, but not a philosophical naturalist.

  • Hrafn

    Hmmm — “recent post” referred to @55 appears to have disappeared into moderation purgatory (sigh).
    Here goes an attempt to recreate:
    PDS (33):
    1) Where a viewpoint (yours or the DI’s) is ridiculous, it should expect ridicule.
    1) We have gone from knowing nothing about the origins of life to knowing approximately when, under what conditions and with what immediate results, life first formed on this planet, as well as a number of viable lines of enquiry into how this might have happened. Tracing back the history of life hundreds of millions of years was an important step in this inquiry, as will be any further refining of our knowledge of this history.
    2) I think it is reasonable to characterise an organisation that simultaneously purports to be working to improve science, whilst including YECs who deny a very large swathe of science, as ‘ridiculous’. The only commonality to the ID movement’s ‘big tent’ is rejection of evolution.
    3) To the extent that ‘materialist’ is taken to mean an emphatic methodological naturalist, I accept it proudly (and ignore the unsubstantiated claim of “misinformation”). Science is an unavoidably ‘material’ discipline. (i) Science cannot detect the immaterial. (ii) Science cannot (even if it wished to do so) distinguish between an as-yet-unknown material cause and a purported supernatural one — which means that any attempt to introduce supernatural causation cannot help but be a ‘God of the Gaps’ argument. (iii) Even assuming supernatural causation could be proven, science cannot distinguish between supernatural causes (even if it could prove that a lightning bolt was of supernatural origin, it cannot tell you if it was Thor or Zeus that threw it). (iv) Science cannot draw any predictions from a supernatural cause (it cannot infer from a supernatural cause when Thor might next throw a lightning bolt, nor how to build a better lightning rod).
    From this, I draw the conclusion that science gains no rational benefit from accepting the immaterial or supernatural into its workings.
    Phil Atley (35):
    1) I have seen no evidence that atheists are more likely to conflate their philosophical musings with science than theistic evolutionists are (IDers however appear to make such conflations pervasively).
    2) Are you sure that “the materialist uses material evidence to prove the truth of a negative”? From what I have read (indirectly admittedly) about the likes of Dawkins or Russell, they do not do this but rather attempt to demonstrate that theism is implausible and/or an unprovable superfluity.

  • Hrafn

    On the subject of Kuhn, I have seen nothing to indicate that Kuhn expected his revolutions to be either supportive of Christian worldviews (the historical examples he highlighted were generally disruptive of them) or continuing to be of a similar magnitude (one would hope that, if there has been real scientific progress, their magnitude would tend to decrease, and their effect would become more subtle, over time).
    I would also point out that Kuhn suggested as a precondition for revolution, “some outstanding and generally recognized problem”. I see no general recognition of any relevant outstanding problem within the scientific community.

  • RJS

    Hrafn (#55),
    I would like to have a conversation with an atmosphere of discussion and debate over coffee. Perhaps I am naive, but I think that the strength of the arguments will carry the day – and we need not resort to “name-calling” and such. Of course there will be diversity of position – but good arguments make a difference. The tone of comments matters, and because it is written (conversation never completely moves on), and body language and such is not available, the structure needs to be a little more restrained than a face-to-face conversation. When no moderation is used these discussions devolve to shouting matches between groups and “high fives” among like-minded individuals.
    I struggle sometimes with comments that make a good point in the continuing conversation but include elements that are not quite right on tone and often leave them. Some of yours – and probably the one you mentioned that referred to materialism as repulsive fit in this category.

  • RJS

    Ray (#52),
    Your essay is cogent and well written – but makes my point. The questions have to be posed with respect to yourself (or one’s self) and the perception of those closest to you. There is no ultimate meaning or purpose if the universe is nothing but quarks and leptons.
    (#53) We are not unthinking – but in a totally material world development of morality is not a rational process, rather a consequence of the rules of the game (laws of chemistry and physics) that guide evolution and survival. Thus no particular moral conclusion is absolute.

  • RJS –

    There is no ultimate meaning or purpose if the universe is nothing but quarks and leptons.

    The essay also points out that even a God can’t give “ultimate meaning or purpose”:

    Nothing about the situation of a God existing can alter the position that individuals are in with regard to finding meaning in their lives. No fact about the external world, no matter how weird and supernatural, can alter the situation we find ourselves in internally as thinking beings making value judgements.

    As I explained before, speaking about the “meaning” of one’s life is insufficient: whose meaning are we talking about? The original question was about you finding meaning in your own life. And thus we see that even the knowledge of a God existing and having a purpose for your life is not enough: for this to be meaningful, it still requires you to find it so. We can imagine that it might not, just as we can imagine a child who finds its parents’ purposes for it uncompelling and without meaning…

    …You either find your life meaningful or you do not, but it’s not even clear to me how one would even attempt to show that someone’s experience of meaning or lack of it was a mis-perception, let alone be outright false. What standard would you compare it against? If someone were to claim that your life isn’t meaningful to you, how would they prove it? How would you prove it to them, beyond merely expressing it? What would an argument even look like?

    That’s not declaring the question “off limits”, though. I haven’t seen anyone besides you even bring that up as a possibility. If you think the question is not ill-posed, though, you need to find a way to pose it that’s not subject to this objection.
    I’m not even saying that’s impossible. While “What happens when you divide by zero?” seems to be irrevocably ill-posed, it turns out that “What happens when you take the square root of a negative number?” has a coherent answer. What evidence do you have that “ultimate meaning” is ‘imaginary’ and not ‘incoherent’?

  • RJS –

    …but in a totally material world development of morality is not a rational process, rather a consequence of the rules of the game (laws of chemistry and physics) that guide evolution and survival. Thus no particular moral conclusion is absolute.

    Quick recap: There are basic rules of chess. When players appear – with their purposes, “to win the game” – this automatically and inevitably leads to second-order rules: strategies and value judgements, where moves now become “good” or “bad”. Now, in our universe we have laws of physics, and humans have purposes. I’ve argued that morals are second-order, strategic rules that arise from those two facts.
    Now, you appear to object that if the laws of physics were different, or human nature were different, then different strategic rules would develop from that.
    Somewhat puzzled, I reply: Sure, but so what? Human nature is what it is, and the laws of physics are what they are (unless you can produce a flying carpet). So, in effect, those strategic rules are absolute in this universe. If you want pan-multiversal moral rules, I’m not sure I can accommodate you… but I think you’re being a bit greedy.

  • dopderbeck

    RickK (#50) said: The Trinity is a catechism, a mantra, a Catholic version of “Ohm”, and its existence is entirely and exclusively in the minds of those that believe in it, and nowhere else.
    I respond: I expected you to respond this way, and it illustrates why you shouldn’t comment about theology or “advances” in theological knowledge. You don’t understand the history of this doctrine, you don’t understand how it has developed, you have no knowledge of the contemporary theological debates about it, and you have read none of the pertinent literature. You are, simply, ignorant about it. If you haven’t put in some serious work to understand both theology and the natural sciences, you aren’t qualified to comment on any relationships or lack of relationships between them.
    The same, of course, is true of religious people who haven’t put in any work to understand the natural sciences. Too may Christians who default to ID or other such ideas have no idea at all what the theory of evolution is actually saying, for example.
    The fascinating thing is that when serious people begin to make real efforts to understand what the different disciplines are saying, fascinating and fruitful dialogue begins to happen.

  • dopderbeck

    Ray (#61) — your confusing “rules” and “purposes.”
    The “rule” is “you can only move a Bishop diagonally.” That is like a rule of physics — e.g., a hard object impacting another hard object at a certain velocity will transfer inertia to the impacted object, causing damage.
    The “purpose” is, you can engage in various sequences of moves in order to achieve checkmate. In scientific terms, there is no analogue to this sort of “purpose” in the laws of physics or any other “law” of nature. (The metaphor of “law” or “rule,” here, BTW, probably is not apt in any event. There are no “laws” of physics, there are boundary probabilities). Teleology is anathema to the modern scientific method.
    What you really want to say is that the “rules” facilitate the “emergence” of “strategies”. But these aren’t really teleological “strategies,” they are rather emergent phenomena that we interpret as “purposeful.” What we call “morals” are just epiphenomenal — mere emergent patterns that are entirely reducible to their underlying “rules.”
    I, of course, don’t accept that reductionistic account of “morals.” It appears that you don’t either, because you’re assigning “purpose” and “teleology” such a prominent role through the chess metaphor. Who sez that “checkmate” is the “purpose” of the game? It seems to me that if you use this analogy, your approach to materialism is fundamentally incoherent.

  • T

    By the way, looking back at my comment, it may have come off as rude. I hope it didn’t, and apologize for not being more careful.
    In any event, I thought this was one of the most significant issues raised in this forum (and that’s saying a lot!), and your friend articulated so well what I think many Christians are thinking.
    The conversation seems to have drifted a little from what essentially seemed like a question of consistency and integration of thought, but c’est la vie. I hope you raise these same issues again.

  • dopderbeck: No, I am not confusing “rules” and “purposes”. They are two different things… but when purposes are applied to rules, it inevitably produces values and strategies.
    Some of those strategies are so fundamental that I call them “strategic rules”, e.g. “Don’t sacrifice your queen at the beginning of the game”. That’s not quite as solid as a law of physics or a basic rule of chess – but circumstances where sacrificing a queen early is a good idea are very rare.

    The “purpose” is, you can engage in various sequences of moves in order to achieve checkmate.

    No, in this case you are confusing purposes, rules, and strategies. The purpose that a player of chess has is to achieve checkmate. The rules of chess put constraints on how to achieve this. The strategies of chess arise as a consequence of that purpose and those rules, and produce value judgments of what moves are “good” or “bad”.

    In scientific terms, there is no analogue to this sort of “purpose” in the laws of physics or any other “law” of nature.

    Not in physics, no… but I have two words for you: game theory.

    What we call “morals” are just epiphenomenal — mere emergent patterns that are entirely reducible to their underlying “rules.”

    No, chess strategies are not reducible to just the underlying rules of chess. The notion of a ‘strategy’ is incoherent without an objective to achieve (as you allude to with your question, Who sez that “checkmate” is the “purpose” of the game?) The player’s purpose – their teleology – is an integral part of what makes a strategy a strategy.
    I think there is such a thing as human nature; humans are variable, but it’s meaningful to say that someone’s “human” rather than something else. Part of that nature is a rather broad commonality of purposes – there are things that humans want. Whatever the role of “boundary probabilities”, there are conditions in physics that it would be unreasonable to bet on; like I said above, I’m willing to accept the law of gravity until someone can present me with a flying carpet.
    So, we have rules and purposes. Toss in some game theory and strategies arise naturally. A lot of work on game theory in social situations has been and is being done, and the strategic rules that have developed look uncannily like our basic, cross-cultural moral intuitions.

  • dopderbeck

    Ray, you’re still confused about your own theory. BTW, I’ve published on game theory and law: see, e.g., “Patents, Essential Medicines, and the Innovation Game,” 58 Vanderbilt L. Rev. 501 (2005).
    Game theory gives you neither rules nor purposes nor strategies. Rather, game theory helps explain, given a set of potential rules, strategies, and payoffs, which strategies are most likely to be used by the players. The fascinating thing about game theory is that it shows why individual players often do not choose the highest individual payoff, an insight that is counter intuitive to many classical economic models.
    Thus, we sometimes use game theoretic models in legal scholarship to model the effects of changes in legal rules. For example, in my work I’ve modeled whether pharmaceutical companies will choose to “innovate” or “imitate” given varying levels of international patent protection.
    But note that the strategies “innovate” and “imitate” don’t just pop out of the game. Rather, the available strategies are part of the boundary conditions of the game. The equilibrium choice(s) of strategies arises from the rules, the potential payoffs, and players’ information about what other player(s) is(are) likely to do. Note also that sometimes there is no Nash equilibrium, depending on the mix of rules, payoffs, and information.
    With respect to evolutionary ethics, what game theory has been able to demonstrate is that the strategy of “cooperate” sometimes is an equilibrium strategy rather than “compete.” This helps explain the apparent anomaly, in evolutionary terms, of evidence of cooperative behavior in some animals. But this doesn’t create the strategy “cooperate”; it merely assesses the probability that the strategy “cooperate” will be chosen. It’s not possible, for example, that the strategy “turn into a space alien and rule the world” will pop out of the game. The choice of available strategies is limited by the boundary conditions of the game.
    More importantly, with respect to “purposes,” these models assume that the organism is always seeking to maximize its own welfare, defined by the survivability of its genes. The ONLY “purpose” allowed in evolutionary game theory is a choice among payoffs relating to the survivability of the organism’s genes. From the perspective of evolutionary game theory, “altruism” in reality is a “selfish” behavior. To the extent we attribute something “more” to such choices, such as “will” or “morality,” those descriptions are epiphenomenal.
    So, when you say “So, we have rules and purposes. Toss in some game theory and strategies arise naturally,” in game-theoretic terms, this is nonsense. If you want to bring in some “higher” purpose beyond maximizing the survivability of an organism’s genes, you must step outside the confines of evolutionary game theory and get into metaphysics. Consistent evolutionary sociobiologists and neurobiologists recognize this, which is why they tend to be determinists.
    BTW, I think evolutionary game theory is fascinating and I don’t doubt that to some degree the “moral sense” is hard-wired by evolution. That is entirely consistent with my theological belief that human beings are made in God’s image, which suggests that a moral sense is “built in” to humanity.

  • dopderbeck

    I put up a long comment that got bumped to moderation b/c of a link I think. Meanwhile, Ray (#65), if you’re interested in pursuing this further, here’s a great resource: Philip Clayton and Jeffrey Schloss, eds., “Evolution and Ethics: Human Morality in Biological & Religious Perspective” (Eerdmans 2004). The chapter therein by Michael Ruse summarizes the two prevailing views about evolutionary ethics:
    (1) a neo-Kantian view, e.g. of John Rawls, which says ethics are simply the only way human beings can exist socially because the rules are what they are;
    (2) a Humean reductionist view, which denies any “justification” for behavior at all — all behavior is ultimately just the expression of a preference built into biological nature.
    Ruse summarizes the picture as follows: “Ethics is a collective illusion of the genes, put in place to make us good cooperators. Nothing more, but also nothing less.” (Ibid. at p. 47)
    If materialism is true, it seems to me that Ruse is right.

  • RJS

    T (#64),
    The conversation did wander a bit off the main topic – but that often happens.
    I asked permission to post these excerpts from the e-mail conversation because it occurred to me that his comments actually shed light on some of the push-back I had gotten in these conversations on the blog. I gained insight from it. Your first comment is along the same line (#20). In fixing only on the scientific questions, I can miss some other questions of importance.
    We will come back to some of these issues in the future, when I have something to hang a post on.

  • Game theory gives you neither rules nor purposes nor strategies. Rather, game theory helps explain, given a set of potential rules, strategies, and payoffs, which strategies are most likely to be used by the players.

    That’s a rather too restrictive definition, I’m afraid. Wikipedia does a little better, with, “Game theory attempts to mathematically capture behavior in strategic situations, in which an individual’s success in making choices depends on the choices of others.”
    Even the simplest game-theoretic analysis assumes at the very least the implicit teleology that the players wish to maximize their payoff. If the player’s purpose were to minimize the payoff, entirely different strategies would be appropriate.
    In a practical sense, equilibrium solutions are usually the interesting ones – unlike in engineering, where the “steady state” solution is what you want to find. But dynamic systems and changeable rules do show up, too.
    And this is flat wrong:

    More importantly, with respect to “purposes,” these models assume that the organism is always seeking to maximize its own welfare, defined by the survivability of its genes.

    When analyzing biological, evolutionary scenarios, that’s true. But, again quoting Wikipedia, “Game theory is a branch of applied mathematics that is used in the social sciences, most notably in economics, as well as in biology (most notably evolutionary biology and ecology), engineering, political science, international relations, computer science, and philosophy.”
    Genes aren’t relevant to political and social game theory in general, and far more human motivations get analyzed there. Since I’ve been saying that morality isn’t an “evolutionary artifact”, why do you assume that I’m talking about “evolutionary game theory” as opposed to game theory as applied to politics and social sciences? (Even in the essay I linked to a few conversations ago, I said that evolution could allow us to recognize ‘moral strategies’, in the same way that we have instinctive talents for Earthly physics, but evolution couldn’t make something moral.)

    If you want to bring in some “higher” purpose beyond maximizing the survivability of an organism’s genes, you must step outside the confines of evolutionary game theory and get into metaphysics.

    Or just recognize that humans can have purposes unrelated to, or even at cross purposes to, their genes, as everyone except strawman “Darwinists” actually do. (Even Dawkins, I can produce cites if needed.)

  • RickK

    @dopderbeck 62
    Thank you for pointing out my ignorance.
    But regardless of the advances that human understanding of the Trinity that you say have happened over the years, the fact remains – if everyone agreed tomorrow that the Trinity is meaningless – that the concept simply doesn’t exist or doesn’t have relevance, nothing would change.
    Gregory of Nazianzus used the Trinity as a way to keep the mind in motion, swinging back and forth from the One to the Three. It is useful as an activity, a symbol to represent God’s fundamental “unknowability”. In other words, it is another way of recognizing and trying to surrender to transcendence. As Karen Armstrong points out – in this respect it is a symbol similar to a Buddhist mandala.
    That makes sense. Contemplation of the unresolvable is a way of entering a state like meditation. Monks and mystics of other religions achieve similar results through other practices. And I believe few public figures better articulated their appreciation of transcendence than Carl Sagan, who achieved it by contemplating the vastness of the cosmos. He used rationality and the stunning reality of the universe to appreciate humanity’s simultaneous insignificance and importance.
    Dismiss my opinions if you wish, because they come from a naturalist perspective rather than from deep contemplation of the Trinity.
    But if you’re going to talk about the Trinity as something more than a mental or spiritual exercise – if you’re saying the Trinity has characteristics independent of what human imagination invests in it, then you’re going to have to present some evidence. You’re then getting dangerously close to where rational thinking has something to say. So give me an argument. Feel free to use big words, I can take it.
    And don’t just say “go read this or that book”. That is the gambit used by Intelligent Design proponents when they’re losing a debate – they say “go read Meyer” or “go read Dembski”. It’s a brushoff, or a way of avoiding admitting that you’re not comfortable enough with the topic to argue it yourself.
    My original point in comparing the advances in our understanding of nature compared to the advances in our understanding of God was not non-responsive to your earlier post, dopderbeck. You were making statements about the metaphysical. Religion has never answered a metaphysical question. But science and naturalism have. How the planets were set in motion was once a metaphysical question. How life’s variety came to be was once a metaphysical question.
    I’ve never said naturalism can answer all metaphysical questions. But it is the only discipline that HAS answered metaphysical questions, so it’s a logical place to look.

  • RJS

    I don’t consider contemplation of the Christian doctrine of Trinity a way to keep mind in motion or contemplation of an unresolvable any more than I consider the concepts of quantum theory or cosmology a way to do the same.
    I don’t expect you to agree about the reality of the Trinity – but concepts outside of common experience are hard to fathom and grapple with because they escape intuition and analogical expression in common language. This doesn’t turn them into mere tools of meditation or mind games.
    To understand and grapple with the wave/particle duality of a photon or an electron is not a mere intellectual exercise. The universe as expanding but without a center also escapes intuitive understanding.
    The expressions of the Trinity are an effort to grapple with a reality (at least as Christians see it) that escapes intuition.

  • Phil M

    from #70

    I’ve never said naturalism can answer all metaphysical questions. But it is the only discipline that HAS answered metaphysical questions

    wow – you just entirely dismissed the various discipline of philosophy.

  • RickK

    Returning to RJS’s original topic, he quotes than an acceptance of naturalism means “We must accept that our own beliefs must be explained in evolutionary and neurological terms, without reference to the possibility that they are true.”
    Is the existence of God really what is important, or just the belief in God? If it is important to a Christian to have proof of an interventionist God who daily operates nature and the cosmos, tweaks new species in to existence, and takes time out for the occasional miracle, then history tells us that the domain of that God will continue shrink as human knowledge of natural processes grows.
    But if the miraculous stories of the Bible are treated as just that – stories, if “God” is seen as something that cannot be defined but can be worshipped, then the belief in God, with its attendant rituals, social binding mechanisms, contemplation of transcendence, pursuit of a common moral code, etc., can go on providing all the benefits associated with religion.
    And in a scenario where acceptance of God is not dependent upon the assurance of God’s active influence on the daily workings of the natural world, the future discoveries of science pose no threat.

  • Hrafn

    Phil M (72):
    I must admit that I disagree with BOTH of you.
    1) Science does not answer metaphysical questions (nor does or should it attempt to) — at most it provides some framing or grounding for those questions (e.g. the science of Neurology for Philosophy of Mind).
    2) But philosophy does not provide answers either — just arguments. Free will or determinism? No answer, but lots of arguments for either view. Does God exist? No answer, but lots of arguments for and against.
    I doubt if any metaphysical question will ever be solidly answered — but that is itself a metaphysical position which itself probably cannot be taken as a firm answer, but merely be argued over.

  • RickK

    Hrafn, many “metaphysical” questions of the past now have physical answers. “What guides the spheres” was a metaphysical question answered by physics and astronomy. “What is the nature of demonic possession?” was a metaphysical question answered by psychology, biology and neuroscience (in the cases of schizophrenia and epilepsy).
    Don’t fall into the trap of viewing the world just from a 2010 perspective. At least start by defining what you consider “metaphysical”. I define it as the consideration of questions beyond the scope of the physical sciences. However, since the scope of the physical sciences has expanded dramatically in the past 1000 years, by definition, historically “metaphysical” questions have received physical answers.

  • Hrafn

    RickK (75):
    That isn’t ‘answering a metaphysical question’ — it is turning a metaphysical question into a physical one. Once it is turned into the latter, it becomes quite appropriately part of science’s field of expertise.

  • dopderbeck

    Ray (#69) — now you’re misreading the Wiki definition. “Strategic situations” means a strategy set already exists. Game theory helps us determine equilibrium solutions to an existing strategic set. Read some of the actual literature and gain some understanding of the base concepts — not just some skeptic websites that misuse it.
    RikK (#70), you said: if everyone agreed tomorrow that the Trinity is meaningless – that the concept simply doesn’t exist or doesn’t have relevance, nothing would change.
    I respond: once again, you’re showing your ignorance of the theological and philosophical literature. Developments in the doctrine of the Trinity have led to some fascinating ways of thinking about ethics, the problem of evil, the nature of creation, and soteriology. These ideas have direct consequences for how billions of people live their lives. Therefore, quite a bit would change if “everyone agreed tomorrow that the doctrine of the Trinity is meaningless.”
    It’s of course true that this would not affect, say, how airplanes stay up in the sky, but billions of people think such mechanical questions, while important, are not all there is to life. If you want to argue that the material / mechanical is all there is to life, that’s fine, but you can’t dismiss the views of billions of other people by mere question begging.
    Long and short for you both: read the literature, which is vast and complex. Nothing in these debates is obvious or simple.

  • RickK

    Hrafn: Sorry, but I don’t see the distinction. Naturalism is a philosophical approach to answering questions, just like any other philosophy. However, it has a much better track record of answering philosophical questions.
    In the past, questions like “what guides the spheres” or “what is the nature of matter” were beyond the understanding of man, and were questions pondered by philosophers. The Atomism of Democritus was a philosophical conjecture to answer a metaphysical question.
    As it turns out, many “metaphysical” questions of the past had actual answers, and those answers were determined through methodological naturalism.
    Now, if metaphysical questions of the past had physical answers, so what? They’re still answers. Given this history, why would we rule out the possibility that metaphysical questions of today do NOT have physical answers?
    The philosophical approach that reigns supreme in answering metaphyiscal questions is methodological naturalism.
    I would contend, based on historical precedent, that diluting the naturalistic approach with others (like Christian theological assumptions) will merely delay finding real answers to today’s questions.
    Does this mean that theology (or poetry) have no place in naturalism? Not at all. They can provide a way of communicating the answers of naturalism in a way that touches the heart. Every scientist should study humanities, learn to write in an interesting, egaging manner, and learn the importance of communicating not only in the language of science but also in the language of inspiration. Alas, theology so often comes with established doctrine that resists incorporating new discovery.
    “In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed!’? Instead they say, ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.'”
    — Carl Sagan

  • dopderbeck

    RickK (#78), that quote from Sagan is just flat out false. Here is one good example that falsifies it.

  • Hrafn

    dopderbeck (77):
    I think you are over-estimating the degree to which theology changes people’s lives. One’s theological position would appear to exhibit a high degree of self-selection bias: greedy people are attracted to Prosperity Theology, social reformers to Liberation Theology, the vengeful to theology emphasising ‘fire and brimstone’, the hate-filled to theology that emphasises Leviticus.
    While there may be rare instances where theology has a transformative effect, I suspect that the main effect is reinforcement of existing traits. This leads me to the conclusion that if the doctrine of the Trinity (itself not codified until the 4th Century) did not exist, then most people would act much the same – and that the main effect would simply be that they would give different theological rationales for their behaviour.

  • dopderbeck (77) – …now you’re misreading the Wiki definition. “Strategic situations” means a strategy set already exists.
    No, it doesn’t mean that a set of strategies are already selected. It simply means that the situation is such that it admits of strategies. For example, a game with purely random payoffs admits of no strategy whatsoever.
    One very popular way that game theory is utilized is indeed as you’ve listed – given a set of pre-selected strategies, what equilibriums are possible? But even then, there’s the recognition that over time, static equilibria may not be possible – the balance of strategies can oscillate within bounds, for example.
    But it’s broader than that. Game theory is used to analyze games and generate new strategies. For an amusing and edifying illustration, look up Southhampton University’s entries to the 20th annual IPD tournament…
    Of course, technically, this is all a diversion. My original point was that humans have purposes, and the universe has rules. Even assuming that set strategies are required in advance, those strategies can be analyzed with game theory. We have a lot of experience with simpler games that strategies that are optimistic, forgiving, unenvious – but still willing to retaliate – do very well across a wide range of situations. I’d say our human history shows the same pattern.
    Heck, when preachers condemn the state of the world and how terrible things are, they are very explicitly appealing to self-interest to encourage people to behave morally, are they not?

  • dopderbeck

    Hrafn (#80) — your suspicions are interesting, but they seem to be belied by all of human history, and in any event are not of much evidentiary value, particularly according to your own standards of proof.
    Ray (#81) — We are talking past each other. The only strategic choices in the IPD are “cooperate” and “defect,” and the “purpose” of the game — achieving the highest individual payoff — also is preselected. The Southampton example is interesting because they “cheated” by exploiting a loophole in the boundary conditions (information signaling through tapping on the cell walls!). But regardless, the result is deterministic or at best probabilistic. There are boundary conditions, a preselected purpose, and some finite iterations of the game; the rest is just math.
    Like Michael Ruse said: if this is all there is to “morality,” then the concept of “moral choice” is a convenient delusion.

  • Hrafn

    “…belied by all of human history”? I don’t think so.
    Do you think it was pure chance or divine grace that attracted Ian Paisley (an ardent Unionist) to a theology that allows him to denounce Catholics as servants of the Antichrist, rather than some more ecumenical theology? That Jim Bakker advocated prosperity theology, lived a lavish lifestyle and suffered major financial scandals?
    “What do you think of Rahner’s Rule?” That it has been subject of considerable criticism and that its value has been subjected to considerable question. It’s main value appears to be in giving something for theologians to argue over, rather than giving any practical guidance to the wider church membership. To my mind, “the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity and the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity” appears to be some sort of theological Rorschach test.
    In reading up on this rule, I found the following quote:
    “The doctrine of the Trinity sits enshrined in textbooks and catechisms, but ignored in faith and practice. If trinitarianism were to be retroactively deleted from the history of the church, most of Christian literature would remain unchanged, because the doctrine has left only faint marks on “the catechism of head and heart.” In systematic theology proper, the doctrine of the Trinity has been sequestered into its own chapter near the end of the discussion of God’s being, and once dealt with is ‘never brought up again,’ exerting no formative power on subsequent doctrines such as creation, grace, salvation, or eschatology.” — Fred Sanders

  • RickK

    “The doctrine of the Trinity sits enshrined in textbooks and catechisms, but ignored in faith and practice.”
    Exactly. And to say that our advances in the understanding of the Trinity over the past 1000 years (my original challgene) can be set beside the advances in our understanding of the natural world is just wrong.
    This is an entertaining little illustration. Interesting all by itself, this is also interesting in reviewing just how sweeping our understanding of the universe (large and small) has become.
    Don’t let the website scare you away. Just let the counter finish, click the word “Play”, and use your left and right arrow keys to take a tour of the universe.
    After the tour, consider how much real, tangible knowledge is represented here, and how little of this was known 1000 years ago.
    And then, Dopderbeck, I’d really like you to offer one example of something truly tangible that we’ve learned about the Trinity. You criticize Hrafn for not offering evidence – perhaps you could offer something other than a restatement of my ignorance and the instruction to “go read the books”.

  • dopderbeck –

    Like Michael Ruse said: if this is all there is to “morality,” then the concept of “moral choice” is a convenient delusion.

    Just because there’s a strong analogy to a game doesn’t turn real life into ‘just a game’. The consequences and stakes for human life are much greater, and so the choices you make are dramatically more important.
    The ‘game theory’ argument is meant as a counterpoint to the people who claim that morality without gods is not ‘absolute’. Given human desires, what constitutes a good moral strategy is as absolute as the laws of physics.
    The question of free will is orthogonal to this. So far as I can see, there’s still plenty of room for moral choice. Just because something’s a good idea doesn’t force you to do it. (Heck, that applies even to theistically-based morality, no?)