Divine Action and Natural Selection

The major intellectual sin of science is that it can get boring. Let’s face it, most of us bang away at research that might be useful, even important for others in our subsubdiscipline, but it’s hardly a big deal. (Do you want me to talk about the effects of stratospheric relaxation in radiative forcing calculations? I didn’t think so.)

But our routine-but-boring usefulness can obscure the way us science-types can go off the deep end as easily as anyone else. And religion, as always, is the great basin of attraction for craziness.

Recently I contributed to an enormous volume, J. Seckbach and R. Gordon, eds., Divine Action and Natural Selection: Science, Faith and Evolution (New Jersey: World Scientific, 2009). It’s fairly unique in that it gives unrestricted voice to a very wide range of views on evolution, not just mainstream science and established opposition such as creationism and intelligent design, but some that I can only describe as crankish. In one chapter you can get someone espousing conventional but comfortable pabulum on how evolution is of course compatible with God, in the next you get someone who clearly inhabits a different universe.

Interestingly, most of the creationist and crankish material comes from scientists. Typically they’re not biologists but electrochemists or computer scientists or something, but they’re also productive workers in their field. I don’t want to dismiss all these as typical cases of scientists coming unglued outside of their area of expertise. They all know how to think through scientific questions, after all, and they seem to have devoted a lot of time, even a second career in effect, to thinking about evolution and creation. And yet as I read through the book, very often my reaction was that I couldn’t believe the loony stuff I was looking at, that I wanted to fling the book across the room. I found myself asking why the hell did I even contribute to such a volume in the first place.

But precisely because of all the weird shit, the book succeeds pretty well at its purpose. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants an interesting sample of legitimate scientists acting not as more typical boring people, but wild-eyed crazies. (Though in a dignified, boring scientific writing style.)

It gives me ideas about somethings to rant about, so I’ll post more connected to it.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15928227698528256439 Dick

    Dear Taner,
    Yes, different worlds. I happen to be on your side, but not so angry. Why just last week, when I mentioned evolution in response to his calendar festooned with chimpanzees, the fellow who fixes my cars said he “didn’t believe a word of those scientists”. I replied, amused, that he had just dismissed my whole life’s work.

    You are, of course, one of the threads that hangs:

    Seckbach, J. & Gordon, R. (eds.) (2008). Divine Action and Natural Selection: Science, Faith and Evolution, Singapore: World Scientific. [published in hardback, paperback and eBook formats: http://www.worldscibooks.com/lifesci/6998.html ]

    together. Thanks again for participating.
    Yours, -Dick

    Dr. Richard Gordon, cell: (204) 995-7125
    U. Manitoba, Department of Radiology
    Scientist, TRLabs & MICH, Books With Wings (http://www.bookswithwings.ca)
    http://www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/medicine/radiology/stafflist/rgordon.html
    gordonr@cc.umanitoba.ca, Second Life®: Paleo Darwin

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15928227698528256439 Dick

    ps: Whether they meant it or not, many of our hero scientists said that the purpose of science was to better understand God. So the scientists in the book who puzzle you are speaking in a long tradition.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Dick Gordon: “many of our hero scientists said that the purpose of science was to better understand God. So the scientists in the book who puzzle you are speaking in a long tradition.”

    True, but that’s not the only thing that gets me wondering. Someone might think the purpose of science is to enable us to brew the perfect beer, for all I care. It doesn’t mean they have to slip into never-never-land when they talk about science and beer. Or does it?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15928227698528256439 Dick

    Yea, Pasteur tried to brew a better beer, but he didn’t like the stuff, and so failed miserably. See:

    Duclaux, É. (1920). Pasteur, The History of a Mind. Philadelphia, W.B. Saunders Co.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13562135000111792590 RBH

    Dick wrote

    Whether they meant it or not, many of our hero scientists said that the purpose of science was to better understand God. So the scientists in the book who puzzle you are speaking in a long tradition.

    Once again I’ll mention Hans Reichenbach’s distinction between the context of discovery and the context of justification. It makes not one tiny bit of difference why a given scientist studies an area of inquiry; it makes all the difference in the world what causal variables he/she subsequently holds to be operating there. How many of “our hero scientists” who studied nature as a way to better understand God incorporated God as a term in their equations? And of those who might have done __ e.g., as Newton is alleged to have invoked angels to help stabilize planetary orbits — how did those equations fare in subsequent testing?


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