Sunday, January 25, 2009


Philosophizing About Science

I had planned to review and critique Jerry Coyne's book review qua philosophical treatise qua theological discourse after a careful reading and full consideration. Unfortunately, I have been a victim of life's circumstances to a greater degree than usual of late and I won't be able to give it the attention it deserves presently. Larry Moran has given what he thinks are Coyne's salient points, while adding some of his own, and I'll just make some comments on them.

First of all, from Coyne, after admitting that some people can be both religious and scientists:

The real question is whether there is a philosophical incompatibility between religion and science. Does the empirical nature of science contradict the revelatory nature of faith? Are the gaps between them so great that the two institutions must be considered essentially antagonistic?
Theology is the philosophical explanation of and (attempted) justification for particular religious beliefs. A fully worked out theology is a "life philosophy" (as opposed to the more limited forms of philosophy, such as the philosophy of biology). An individual's theology is a "worldview." It somehow sounds better in German: "weltanschauung."

The problem I have with both Coyne's and Larry's views boils down to what counts as "science." It is my opinion that "science," properly understood, is not a worldview. Science is a tool -- a methodology by which humans attempt to discover the workings of the natural world. Like math, it operates on certain premises -- most famously in science's case, methodological naturalism or the assumption that natural phenomena have natural causes -- that, if false, will deliver results that do not represent "reality," even though it may still be useful as a model. The attempt to make science into a woldview (sometimes called "scientism" but equally at home in materialism or philosophical naturalism) is a valid weltanschauung but it is not the same thing as "science."

That Coyne and Larry are talking about scientism rather than science is clear. The only reason that a weltanschauung like theology needs to be made "compatible" (or in Coyne's other phrase "to harmonize") with science is if science is also a weltanschauung. If, on the other hand, science is a tool, then it need not be made to harmonize with theology any more than theology and math need to be harmonized. In short, there is only a conflict that needs to be resolved if both are answering the same questions.

Larry goes on to repeat something that we have argued over many times, namely his contention that there is a:

... fundamental conflict between science and religion; namely, that according to what we know about the natural world, humans are not special in any way and life does not have a purpose. There are very few believers who can stomach those ideas, hence their science and their religion are in conflict.
I'll just repeat in turn that Larry cites no scientific peer-reviewed papers, no empiric evidence, no narrowly designed experiments or observations directed to the question of whether or not there is "purpose" in the universe. I think there is a very good reason for that: science is not capable of answering that issue. Larry's assertion is, in fact, nothing more than his impression of what the limited results of science's investigation of the natural world means. In short, it is Larry's worldview. I was already pretty sure that Larry's worldview (which I respect, by the way, and largely share) is incompatible with theology. My objection is that "science" is not, and should not be, defined as "Larry Moran's worldview."

Finally, just a comment on Larry's claim that the difference between Ken Miller and Michael Behe is trivial, because Miller has suggested that the indeterminacy of quantum mechanics is an area where God could possibly influence the events in this universe. First of all, the biggest difference between Miller and Behe is that Miller states clearly that it is his theology that he is talking about, as opposed to Behe, who pretends that it is science that supports his claim of design in the universe. That point leads us to the irony that, as far as their worldviews go, Larry is closer to Behe than Miller is, since both Behe and Larry assert that science is capable of addressing the issue of purpose/design in the universe and merely disagree over the interpretation of the results.

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