Saturday, August 25, 2007


In the Province of Philosophy


For Wales? Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world -- But for Wales, Richard, for Wales!

.....- A Man For All Seasons

Philip Kitcher's book, Living with Darwin is a quite serviceable philosophical treatment of the failings of Intelligent Design as science (another is Doubting Darwin?: Creationist Designs on Evolution by Sahotra Sarkar). What most interests me in Kitcher's book, however, is his attempt to go beyond ID to the question of what effect Darwin and evolutionary theory has -- and should have -- on religious belief.

For one thing, Kitcher makes the case that "Darwinism" is not the real enemy of the belief in supernaturalistic and providentialist religion but, rather, that honor goes to Voltaire and Hume and the rest of the Enlightenment thinkers:

So the conflict between Darwin and providential religion leads inexorably into a broader battle. It pitches us into what is often (but wrongly) viewed as a war between reason and religion generally, one that erupted in the eighteenth century and that has intensified ever since. Darwinism is entangled with what I'll call the "enlightenment case against supernaturalism." Evolutionary ideas form a separable part of the case, as well as amplifying other themes within it. It is wrong to give Darwin complete credit as the "anatomist of unbelief." But it would also be wrong to pretend that his ideas are not important to the "delineation of doubt." (p. 131)

Kitcher believes Darwin is a prominent figure in the conflict but more as a bogeyman for evangelical Christians:
... [T]he enlightenment case is not widely appreciated, and most of the brilliant thinkers who have developed it are unread, if not unknown. More exactly, they tend to be unread and unknown in the United States. ...

Darwin, however, is visible. He is in the schools, potentially corrupting the youth and leading them to spurn the precious gift of faith. He serves as the obvious symbol of a larger attack on supernaturalist religion, about which thoughtful Christians know, even if they are not aware of all its details. Their concern is justified, although they may think, wrongly, that the onslaught on their faith is contained and condensed in Darwinism. For the enlightenment case will not surface in the education of their children, at least not until they attend universities, and probably not in any systematic way, even then. (p. 150-51)

So, where does this leave Kitcher?

Darwin's most militant defenders would insist that [the Enlightenment case and Darwin] take us all the way to secularism, even that they constitute a knockdown case for atheism. I dissent from that conclusion ... [E]ven though the enlightenment case demonstrates that, taken as literal truth, the stories and historical claims of all the religions about which we know are overwhelmingly likely to be mistaken, it does not follow that the world contains nothing beyond the entities envisaged by our current scientific picture of it. The history of inquiry shows that our horizons have often expanded to encompass things previously undreamed of in anyone's natural philosophy. Whether inquiry will ever disclose anything that can satisfy the religious impulse, that can merit the title of "transcendent," is itself doubtful ... It would be arrogant, however, to declare categorically that there is nothing that might answer to our vague conception of the transcendent -- there is too much that we know that we do not yet know. (p. 151-52)

I'm not as willing as Kitcher to accept that the highly persuasive Enlightenment arguments against providentialism constitute a knockout case against it. But most interesting of all is his discussion about what he calls "spiritual religion," and what, besides Wales, science and secularism could offer the religious. However, that will have to be the subject of another post.


Irrelevant nit: surely it was York, not Wales.
Apparently, Rich traded his soul for the position of Collector of Revenues for York first but, later, upped the ante to Attorney-General for Wales.
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