Sunday, August 2, 2009

Another Comment in Moderation

The rift exists becuase there really is a conflict between science and religion generally, and Christianity and evolution specifically. This simple fact is not contradicted by the existence of religious scientists or by the existence of forms of Christianity that have made their peace with evoluition. Saying there is a conflict between A and B does not mean that A and B are mutually exclusive. Jason Rosenhouse

The existence of religious scientists, many with more substantial careers than Myers, for example, are there. Their existence is a fact, their work is there to be seen. They are as there as the entire fossil record or the record of comparative genetics, it is a fact of history and of the real world. The historical fact that many of the most important scientists have been religious is a fact more objective than any of the speculations about undocumented behavior that Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett continually make to absolutely no objection by Rosenhouse or the other new atheists. Those people who produce both science and who believe in religion are the only ones qualified to tell us if they experience a "conflict between science and religion", Rosenhouse is incompetent to override whatever they have to say on that issue. Their existence in reality, in the objectively existing world is a refutation of the assertion more credible than anything he or Dawkins or PZ Myers theorize about it.

Biblical fundamentalism is in conflict with the science of evolution, many Christians would assert they are also in conflict with what's known about the history of "The Bible", and there are other scholars of those books who would say so too and who aren’t Christians. Those are real conflicts, but those aren’t the same thing as a blanket incompatibility of science and religion. Rosenhouse would have to explain how even some Biblical fundamentalists, even as they deny the reality of evolution, maintain successful careers in science. Even the assertion that fundamentalism is in “conflict” with “science” is objectively false. Richard Lewontin talks about a debate he and Carl Sagan had with an evolution denier who had a PhD in Zoology from the University of Texas in 1964. He asked what people should make of someone with that degree, clearly qualified as a “scientist” even in biology, who also denied the reality of evolution.

— Everything we know about human anatomy suggests that personality and whatnot are the products of physical phenomena in the brain; they die with the body. Jason Rosenhouse

As “human anatomy” is based in the physical body, of course anything you can ascertain by the study of it will end with death. But there isn’t any way to ascertain, scientifically, that the mind is a manifestation of chemistry. If there is a mind that exists independently of the body, then anatomy would be incapable of finding it or, perhaps, not be able to see it beneath what it could see. Rosenhouse is depending on the current fashion for the body only hypothesis instead of on actual fact, because that is only a philosophical position that isn’t universally held.

Here are two things I’ve read recently that are relevant to his assertion.

Suppose we concede the most extravagant claims that might be made for natural law, so that we allow that the processes of the mind are governed by it; the effect of this concession is merely to emphasize the fact that the mind has an outlook which transcends the natural law by which it functions. If, for example, we admit that every thought in the mind is represented in the brain by a characteristic configuration of atoms, then if natural law determines the way in which the configurations of atoms succeed one another it will simultaneously determine the way in which thoughts succeed one another in the mind. Now the thought of "7 times 9" in a boy’s mind is not seldom succeeded by the thought of "65." What has gone wrong? In the intervening moments of cogitation everything has proceeded by natural laws which are unbreakable. Nevertheless we insist that something has gone wrong. However closely we may associate thought with the physical machinery of the brain, the connection is dropped as irrelevant as son as we consider the fundamental property of thought, that it may be correct or incorrect. The machinery cannot be anything but correct. We say that the brain which produces "7 times 9 are 63" is better than a brain that produces "7 times 9 are 65"; but it is not as a servant of natural law that it is better. Our approval of the first brain has no connection with natural law; it is determined by the type of thought which it produces, and that involves recognizing a domain of the other type of law, laws which ought to be kept, but may be broken. Dismiss the idea that natural laws may swallow up religion; it cannot even tackle the multiplication table single-handed. A. S. Eddington Science and the Unseen World

To plead the organic causation of a religious state of mind, then, in refutation of its claim to possess superior spiritual value, is quite illogical and arbitrary, unless one has already worked out in advance some psycho-physical theory connecting spiritual values in general with determinate sorts of physiological change. Otherwise none of our thoughts and feelings, not even our scientific doctrines, not even our DIS-beliefs, could retain any value as revelations of the truth, for every one of them without exception flows from the state of its possessor's body at the time.

It is needless to say that medical materialism draws in point of fact no such sweeping skeptical conclusion.
William James Varieties of Religious Experience Lecture 1

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