Skip to comments.A New Foundation for Positive Cultural Change: Science and God in the Public Square
Posted on 10/28/2006 3:22:14 PM PDT by betty boop
Moral conservatives were shocked to read a thinly veiled defense of infanticide in the New York Times a few years ago by MIT [now of Harvard] professor Steven Pinker. But they would be even more disturbed if they saw Pinkers justification for his views in a book that appeared about the same time.
In How the Mind Works, Pinker argues that the fundamental premise of ethics has been disproved by science. Ethical theory, he writes, requires idealizations like free, sentient, rational, equivalent agents whose behavior is uncaused. Yet, the world, as seen by science, does not really have uncaused events.
In other words, moral reasoning assumes the existence of things that science tells us are unreal. Pinker tries to retain some validity for ethics nonetheless by offering a double truth theory: A human being, he says, is simultaneously a machine and a sentient agent, depending on the purposes of the discussion.
Its astonishing that anyone, especially an MIT professor, would be capable of sustaining two such contradictory ideas. But in fact, it is quite common, says Phillip Johnson in The Wedge of Truth. Since the Enlightenment, knowledge has split into two separate and often contradictory spheres: facts (science) versus values (ethics, religion, the humanities).
The trouble with this division is that eventually one side comes to dominate. This is the key to understanding why America is embroiled in a culture clash today, Johnson argues and why moral and religious conservatives are losing. The direction in intellectual history since the Enlightenment has been to grant science the authority to pronounce what is real, true, objective, and rational, while relegating ethics and religion to the realm of subjective opinion and nonrational experience.
Once this definition of knowledge is conceded, then any position that appears to be backed by science will ultimately triumph in the public square over any position that appears based on ethics or religion. The details of the particular debate do not matter. For, in principle, we do not enact into public policy and we do not teach in the public schools views based private opinion or tribal prejudice.
Johnson gives a rich description of how the fact/value dichotomy operates. Its origin is generally traced to Descartes, who proposed a sharp dualism between matter and mind. It was not long before the realm of matter came to be seen as more certain, more objective, than the realm of mind. The subject matter of physics is indeed much simpler than metaphysics, and hence yields far wider agreement. This was mistakenly taken to mean that physics is objective while metaphysics is subjective. The result was the rise of scientism and positivism philosophies that accord naturalistic science a monopoly on knowledge and consign all else to mere private belief and fantasy.
Today, Johnson writes, the dominance of the scientific naturalist definition of knowledge eventually ensures that no independent source of knowledge will be recognized.
Darwin, Buddha, Jesus, Fairies
Yet, depending on how scientists judge the publics mood, they are more or less blunt about this epistemological imperialism. When feeling secure in their role as the cultural priesthood, they insist that naturalistic science has completely discredited the claims of religion. Tufts philosopher Daniel Dennett, in Darwins Dangerous Idea, says Darwinian evolution is a universal acid that dissolves all traditional religious and moral beliefs. He suggests that traditional churches be relegated to cultural zoos for the amusement of onlookers.
I witnessed the same attitude at a conference last April at Baylor University: Nobel prize-winner Steven Weinberg lumped together all spiritual teachings, whether of Buddha or Jesus, as talk about fairies. A few months earlier he had told the Freedom From Religion Association, I personally feel that the teaching of modern science is corrosive to religious belief, and Im all for that. If science helps bring about the end of religion, he concluded, it would be the most important contribution science could make.
Using a sports metaphor, Johnson calls these outspoken scientists the offensive platoon, brought out as needed to invok[e] the authority of science to silence any theistic protest. At other times, however, when the public shows signs of restlessness at this imposition of naturalistic philosophy under the guise of science, the defensive platoon takes the field. That is when we read spin-doctored reassurances that many scientists are religious (in some sense) . . . and that science and religion are separate realms which should never be mixed.
But separate-but-equal in principle invariably means unequal in practice. For example, a report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) says, whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral. But a survey of NAS members by Larry Witham and Edward Larson in Scientific American found that 90% of scientists dont believe in a supernatural God. Witham and Larson conclude: The irony is remarkable: a group of specialists who are nearly all unbelievers and who believe that science compels such a conclusion told the public that science is neutral on the God question.
Or perhaps worse than an irony, Johnson comments; it may be a noble lie that the intellectual priesthood tells to the common people to conceal their own nihilism.
Keep the Public In the Dark
Similarly, Harvards Stephen J. Gould proposes a peacemaking formula he calls NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria), granting science and religion each its own distinct authority. This sounds fair enough but it all depends on where one draws the line. Consider Goulds assessment of the 1996 statement by John Paul II, in which the pope tentatively supported evolution while emphatically rejecting any theories that consider the spirit as emerging from the forces of living matter or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter.
How did Gould treat this affirmation of the reality of the spiritual realm? He condescendingly granted that such a quaint notion might have some metaphorical value, but added that he privately suspected it to be no more than a sop to our fears, a device for maintaining a belief in human superiority within an evolutionary world offering no privileged position to any creature.
In other words, Gould reduced religion to mere emotion at best at worst, to the sin of speciesism. This was a bit much even for John Haught of Georgetown University, himself an ardent evolutionist: He complained that Gould never concedes the slightest cognitive status to religion that for Gould religion merely paints a coat of value over the otherwise valueless facts described by science.
Precisely. For the modern Darwinist, Johnson explains, the only role left for the theologian is to put a theistic spin on the story provided by materialism. Theology does not provide an independent source of knowledge; all it can do is borrow knowledge to put a subjective interpretation on it.
Clearly, the function of the defensive platoon is merely to keep religious folk content with their subordinate status. Darwinists understand that it is sometimes more effective not to press the logic of the fact/value split to its unpalatable conclusions too adamantly, lest the public catch on and raise a protest. Instead of arguing that religion is false, by relegating it to the value realm, they keep the question of true and false off the table altogether. As Johnson says, religion is consigned to the private sphere, where illusory beliefs are acceptable if they work for you.
Thus the fact/value split allows the metaphysical naturalists to mollify the potentially troublesome religious people by assuring them that science does not rule out religious belief (so long as it does not pretend to be knowledge).
Once this division is accepted in principle however, Johnson warns, the philosophical naturalists have won. Whenever the separate realms logic surfaces, you can be sure that the wording implies that there is a ruling realm (founded on reality) and a subordinate realm (founded on illusions which must be retained for the time being). Hence, the formula allows the ruling realm to expand its territory at will.
The expansion of the fact realm into theology can be traced in the work of scientists such as Harvards E.O. Wilson, who seeks to explain religion itself as a product of evolution. Religion is merely an idea that appears in the human mind when the nervous system has evolved to a certain level of complexity.
In Consilience, Wilson says religion evolved because belief in God gave early humans an edge in the struggle for survival. Today, he says, we must abandon traditional religions and develop a new unifying myth based squarely on evolution a religion that deifies the process itself, where no teaching, no doctrine, is true in any final sense because all ideas evolve over time.
A similar expansion can be traced in ethics, where sociobiology and evolutionary psychology now presume to answer moral questions. In the notorious New York Times article mentioned above, Pinker argues that since infanticide is widespread in human cultures, it must be a product of evolution. As he puts it, the emotional circuitry of mothers has evolved to include a capacity for neonaticide. It is simply part of our biological design.
Accept this logic, Johnson warns, and you will be pressed to the conclusion that killing off babies is not a moral horror but a morally neutral act, a genetically encoded evolutionary adaptation, like wings or claws.
Pinker does not draw this conclusion yet. But when the time seems ripe to overthrow the traditional moral view, Johnson predicts, doctrinaire naturalists will complete the logic by observing that the moral sphere is as empty as the religious realm, and therefore has no power to stand against the conclusions of science.
Shortly after Johnson finished his book, his forewarnings were confirmed by the appearance of a book titled The Natural History of Rape, which argued that, biologically speaking, rape is not a pathology; instead, it is an evolutionary strategy for maximizing reproductive success: In other words, if candy and flowers dont do the trick, some men may resort to coercion to fulfill the reproductive imperative. The book calls rape a natural, biological phenomenon that is a product of the human evolutionary heritage, akin to the leopards spots and the giraffes elongated neck.
The book roused sharp controversy, but as one of the authors, Randy Thornhill, said on National Public Radio, the logic is inescapable: Since evolution is true, it must be true, he said, that every feature of every living thing, including human beings, has an underlying evolutionary background. Thats not a debatable matter. Every behavior that exists today must confer some evolutionary advantage; otherwise, it would not have been preserved by natural selection.
The fact realm has even expanded into the philosophy of mind, where consistent Darwinists tell us there is no single, central self, residing somehow within the body, that makes decisions, holds opinions, loves and hates. Instead, in the currently popular computational theory, the mind is a set of computers that solve specific problems forwarded by the senses. The notion of a unified self is an illusion, Pinker says an illusion selected by evolution only because our body needs to be able to go one direction at a time.
Of course, computers operate without consciousness, so the question arises why we are conscious beings. Some neuroscientists conclude that we arent that consciousness too is an illusion. Philosopher Paul Churchland says mental states do not exist, and suggests that we replace language about beliefs and desires with statements about the nervous systems physical mechanisms the activation of neurons and so on.
Piling example upon example, Johnson illustrates the epistemological imperialism of the fact sphere. This explains why moral and religious conservatives seem to have little effect in the public square: Their message is filtered through a fact/value grid that reduces it to an expression of mere emotional attachment and tribal prejudice. To turn the tide of the culture war, conservatives must challenge this definition of knowledge, and make the case that religion and morality are genuine sources of knowledge. We must assert the existence of such a cognitive territory, Johnson writes, and be prepared to defend it. [Emphasis added.]
Of course, others have offered philosophical arguments to undercut the fact/value dichotomy, notably Michael Polanyi and Leo Strauss. What makes Johnsons approach unique is that he takes the battle into science itself. He proposes that Darwinian evolution itself can and should be critiqued, since it functions as the crucial scientific support for philosophical naturalism. For if nature alone can produce everything that exists, then we must accept the reductionist conclusions described above. If, to take the last example, the mind is a product of material processes at its origin, then we must concede that it consists of nothing more than material processes that our thoughts are reducible to the firing of neurons.
How Information Changes Everything
In science itself, the cutting-edge issue is information, Johnson says. Any text, whether a book or the DNA code, requires a complex, nonrepeating arrangement of letters. Can this kind of order be produced by chance or law? The answer, he argues, is no. Chance produces randomness, while physical law produces simple, repetitive order (like using a macro on your computer to print a phrase over and over). The only cause of complex, nonrepeating, specified order is an intelligent agent. [Emphasis added.]
Ordinary laboratory research implicitly assumes the reality of intelligent design, Johnson notes. Biologists talk of molecular machines and evaluate their engineering design. They conduct experiments that are described as reverse engineering to determine what functions biological structures perform. They talk about libraries of genetic information stored in DNA, and about how RNA translates the four-letter language of the nucleotides into the 20-letter language of proteins.
All this implies that information is real and information in turn implies the existence of a mind, a personal agent, capable of intention and choice. Thus purposes and ends [e.g., formal and final causes, to use the Aristotelian language] are real and objective, and the value realm is restored to the status of genuine knowledge.
Johnson only hints at what this would imply for a revival of traditional theology and ethics. But he suggests that it would begin with the many-layered verse in John 1:1, In the beginning was the Word, the Logos reason, intelligence, information. These simple words make a fundamental statement that is directly contradictory to the corresponding starting point of scientific materialism, Johnson writes, and they open the door to a much richer definition of knowledge and of reason itself.
This conclusion is certainly suggestive, though not well developed. Johnsons greatest accomplishment is to give a deft analysis of the imperialism of the fact sphere. Unfortunately, he barely touches on the opposite dynamic the incursion of the value sphere into the fact realm which is well advanced in many fields. It is called postmodernism, and it reduces all knowledge claims to social constructions at best, to power plays at worst. Johnson devotes a chapter to the impact of postmodernism on the humanities, but it is the thinnest chapter in the book, and it is clear that his greatest concern is with the scientific fields where the older Enlightenment rationalism still reigns.
For the rationalist, Johnson is no doubt correct that the only approach that carries weight is a scientific one. Only a demonstration that the scientific data itself has theistic implications bridges the sphere of objective, public, verifiable knowledge. Johnson includes clear and readable discussions of standard anti-Darwinian arguments. (There has long been skepticism within the scientific community about the enormous extrapolation from minor variations within living things to explain the origin of living things.) He also gives a deliciously witty account of the Kansas controversy.
The strength of the book, however, is to show the wide-ranging implications of intelligent design theory in other fields, and to trace its relevance for nonscientists indeed, for all who are concerned about preserving a free and humane society.
Copyright 2000. Human Events. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. File Date: 10.23.00
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This data file may be reproduced in its entirety for non-commercial use. A return link to the Access Research Network web site would be appreciated.
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As for me and my house, I would much rather put my trust in God than in what Erich Heller, in his excellent work on existentialism entitled The Disinherited Mind, calls "the vast lovelessness of a chance constellation of energy."
I spell how I want to.
But facts are advantageous to a party in cooperation with supressed information. When a kind of scientific thinking is raised so high (no doubt for its amorality, nonmorality, content neutrality, etc.) then it becomes exclusive. It will turn a blind eye to all else. Religious dogmatists are not exempt.
What we end up with is an old office joke:
Rule #1 A cause is what we say it is?
Rule #2 If another cause is found, see rule number one.
Okay, the atheists argue that morality is the result of blind evolutionary forces rather than an omnipotent Creator.
This view is flawed because it cannot explain motive and intent, it denies rather than explains morality, and it cannot account for the "oughtness" of morality. (Most of us know what "ought" to be right or wrong.)
Given the widespread existence of moral concepts in humanity regardless of race, creed or religion, as well as the obviously negative results of immorality, the existence of a Higher Intelligence seems to be the best explanation for morality.
The point is the ongoing fragmentation of conservatism. It's not enough to be a socon, ie, social conservative. Now we have the newly-coined MORAL conservatives. It's looking like the fragmented splinter groups in Monty Python's Life of Brian, which I assume a MORAL conservative would have refused to watch.
LOL tpaine! I'll really, really try, I promise!
You're most welcome, oh wise one!
As you (and A-G) know, I am both a physical scientist and a Christian who believes that all that is was created by God. I was mentally preparing a statement for this thread when I read this:
"My relationship with Christ, however, is intensely personal and subjective. I cannot objectively prove that this relationship even exists. I can, however, stand on it absolutely and accept it as the unequivocal Truth in my life, before which all other truth must stand or fall."
beautiful and apropos proclamation by Amos the Prophet.
It is so fitting that, Amos, I hope you wil permit me to adopt (and adapt) it to describe my own position.
Thanks to you both!
And, in Defeating Darwinism, Phillip Johnson points out the difference between "matter" and "information." He even quotes George C. Williams, who Johnson describes as having done "more than anyone to develop the gene selection theory". Johnson offers the following quote from Williams:
"Evolutionary biologists have failed to realize that they work with two more or less incommensurable domains: that of information and that of matter....The gene is a package of information, not an object. The pattern of base pairs in a DNA molecule specifies the gene. But the DNA molecule is the medium, it's not the message. Maintaining this distinction between the medium and the message is absolutely indispensable to clarity of thought about evolution."
When I first read this quote from Williams, I immediately thought of the Apostle John's words, "In the beginning was the Word". Then--a few paragraphs later, Johnson mentioned that same Gospel passage!
Oh jeepers, gcruse, I gather you mean we have to be vigilent against the emergence of the boogy-man hiding under the bed!
Yet if MORAL is what makes a free, prosperous, and peaceful civil society, then what, exactly, is wrong with MORAL?
Not that I in the least imagine that the American civil order is in any way, shape, or form a CHURCH. I leave that construct to the Wahabbis (Islamofascist jihadists).
The point is you cannot deny -- assuming you've read the Declaration of Independence -- that the American civil order -- our very Constitution -- is established on the basis of the specifically Christian view of man, and of the Creator God who endues him with his inanlienable rights. And that all men are "created equal" precisely because each is equally the child of God. That is ineffably a MORAL insight.
FWIW. Thank you for writing!
Well, here's what gets me. An evolutionary explanation for all moral conduct requires that such conduct be genetically determined. Morality rides on the genes, as it were, and one generation passes on favorable morality to the next, according to the evolutionists.
If moral virtues are genetic a random combination of molecules, why do we see fluctuations from generation to generation in moral standards? Why have we seen an explosion of illegitimate births and single parenthood in the current generation - - is that the result of inherited genes or the result of a change in moral standards?
If illegitimate births have increased through the process of natural selection, then evolutionary forces have "selected" rather odd behavior patterns to effect the survival of the species. I mean, dont those dunderhead genes know two parents are better than one?
Thanks for the Ping.
Amen, dear Amos. This is the "unpleasant truth" that utopians and doctrinalists of all persuasions would most dearly love to ignore. But they simply can't, at least not in the long run. To fall afoul of that truth is to set oneself up for the day when the Truth "bites one on the butt." So to speak.
Man did not make this world, nor give it its rules. God did. And we cannot evade our accountability to Him for the "truth" of the way we live.
Thank you so much for writing, Amos!
So very true.... Thank you so much, milagro, for this "indispensible" insight!
Some not believing "essential truth" may be NOT BE from a negative motive.. Could be they must believe as they do according to the 2nd reality they live in.. I do not fault them for that..
The competition between truth and UNtruth proves the truth.. and challenges the UNtruth, always.. I believe it is a Holy Drama.. And Free Republic highlights that drama.. After all whom has total truth among us.. I appreciate the reparte'...
Almost universally I agree with you(so far), at least that that I can understand that you transcribe.. Sometimes you go over my head.. Spiritual merging might cure that(BookOFWorms).. but that is for a future time.. Same with me to you but I appreciate your spirit..
Morals observed, is observed, in different ways.. which is a drama all its own.. Free Republic has been beautifully preserved (by Jim Robinson) to allow that drama.. I relish his wisdom.. It takes a boatload of UNtruth to cover up ONE truth.. As the EVOS (and other closet liberals) prove daily..
Now there's a brilliantly asked question! Thank you for asking it!
I try very hard myself not to "fault them" for that. But to the extent that I value Truth above all else, I find forgiveness very difficult under the circumstances. Fortunately, I am no man's judge.... That's God's job.
May the Lord forgive me my shortcomings.
FreeRepublic really is a "microcosm" in its diversity of opinion, isn't it? And JimRob affords hospitality to all points of view -- provided the respondents observe the rules of civil, rational, good-faith debate....
Thanks so much for writing, dear hosepipe!
OH! God.. me too... Guard me from arrogance and hubris..
Cling to that false belief if you really can after all that has transpired here in the past year, but don't expect those of us who have been paying attention and been deeply involved in this issue to be naive enough to fall for it.
Once again, I must insist that you respect my oft-repeated statement that I have no desire to have you ping me to any of your through-the-looking-glass posts or threads, at any time, for any reason. You have burned that bridge too thoroughly, and then been so disingenuous as to pretend not to know the reason why even after it has been explained to you more than once. Whatever you choose to say, I have no interest in it. Do not ping me.
Some people just need a good dose of peroxide
That sure states it clearly. The accusations of people with certain religious views as being *pig ignorant* and other more derogatory terms, is all part of the strategy. Try to make them look so stupid that others will not want to be associated with them and pull back and lend their support to the *scientific* view. All that'll do is hasten the day when Christian morals are no longer considered valid and anything goes.
A freeper, whose screen name I unfortunately do not remember, commented that right now, we are still riding on the coat tails (so to speak) of the moral hertitage we inherited and so that although, there is moral compromise now, there is still enough to protect us. But in a couple generations, our grandchildren will be reaping what we are now sowing and it just may be too late to do anything about it then.
Yes, you are so right, Metmom. We used up the interest a long time ago and we are right now living off the principal, which is disappearing fast.
I heard a minister preach a sermon to that effect, said we were living "off the fumes" of our parents and grandparents
Thanks betty boop, for the great thread.
It's even more than that. There is reality that exists beyond which science can know or measure. To try to reduce everything to merely it's physical properties,to act like anything that's not physical is not real but a fairy tale or delusion, is what's being *intellectually dishonest*.
It's like a horse with blinders on, they can only see a small part of reality, it gives a distorted view of the world around them and to say that that's all there is and it's accurate is incorrect. For them to pontificate about things they have no knowledge of because they have deliberately excluded them from their consideration, is deceptive.
Just because science cannot measure or record it, doesn't mean it's not real.
There's a difference between amoral and immoral. I agree the science in and of itself is amoral. It's what's done with it that has the morality attached to it.
Oh, pul-eeze dude. Haven't you found a half-decent rational argument so to engage in serious rational discourse in support of your position, after all this time? And so I see that what you do instead (as usual seemingly) is to insist that I never speak with you again? Well, that solves everything: That helps to illuminate the public discourse regarding thorny public issues in science, technology, ethics, et al. NOT!!!
And pul-eeze stop crying like that in public: It's embarrassing to at least some of the rest of us....
Thanks a lot.
Truly I hope you will do better on your next outing.
" == However, isn't there an ethical code attached to the practice of each discipline? And when this ethical code is breached, isn't the science therein in danger of becoming "perverted" science? == "
Yes, and we have a very topical example of the perversion in the form of the professional "bioethicist." I believe that the more accurate rendering of the vast majority of these people is more like "bio-DEATH-ASSIST," because they all seem to me to be an incredibly bloodthirsty lot, both at the beginning and the end of life.
Bookmark, and bump.
And thank you all for this thread. A breath of fresh air after being attacked on certain recent threads!
I've entered the room...give me a few minutes to mingle!
Which of the three books you mention explains the soul ?
Which of the three books you mention explains the soul ?
I would like to recommend a wonderful book, "The Privileged Planet" by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards. I recently saw the TV documentary based on it and was deeply impressed. The main thesis is fascinating: that the Earth is situated in a "galactic habitable zone," an area of the universe that is protected from the deadliest cosmic dangers. They provide an endless array of mathematically improbable, but favorable factors that allows Earth to support complex life. It would appear that advanced life may be much, much more rare than has been suggested by Carl Sagan, et al.
Earth is also in a unique position in the galaxy to allow a clear view of the heavens so mankind can study and discover its secrets. Not only are there no cosmic dust or gas clouds surrounding us, we have been given an unusually transparent atmosphere, a rare thing in itself.
This was a new idea to me. I had always taken for granted that other star systems would be just as good a vantage point for observation of the rest of the universe. Not until you see the documentary do you realize how strange and mysterious (and lucky) our planet's location is.
It's difficult to argue chance causation under these circumstances. The confluence of so many mathematical improbabilities is serendipitous, to say the last.
Thanks for the excellent post, Liberty Wins, and for the book recommendation! "The Privileged Planet" sounds fascinating.
This bears repeating! Excellent, Amos. Thank you so very much!
Enjoyed this conversation in the corner by the window with Cicero very much! More champagne, anyone? (;
Also delighted in my chat with hosepipe on the red couch by the fire! (; Pass that man a cigar!
There's at least one good joke teller at every party, thank God!