Friday, April 17, 2009

Video: Philip Kitcher - Religion after Darwin?

Philip Kitcher was our Science & Religion speaker earlier this month. He is an excellent speaker - and this is a timely topic. I'm sure some will totally agree and some will completely disagree with him. In any case, he presents a very thoughtful analysis. Here is the video of his talk: Religion after Darwin? (video of Q&A and the abstract is below). Enjoy!


Hampshire College | Dr. Philip Kitcher's Science & Religion Lecture from Hampshire TV on Vimeo.

Here is the video of the Q&A:

Hampshire College | Q&A from Dr. Philip Kitcher's Science & Religion Lecture from Hampshire TV on Vimeo.

Abstract
Many people believe that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection poses a threat to religion (specifically to Christianity). I shall suggest that, taken on its own, Darwin’s work can be assimilated by many world religions and many versions of Christianity. There is, however, a deeper problem. The scientific approach that underlies Darwin’s achievements is inimical to all but the most liberal forms of religion. Once this point is appreciated, it is tempting to believe, as the militant Darwinian atheists of our time triumphantly proclaim, that religious practices should simply be eradicated. I shall argue that this is incorrect, and that a genuinely humane secularism – a real Secular Humanism – should absorb some characteristically religious attitudes. We need to discard the myths offered by supernaturalist doctrines, but we also need what Dewey called “A Common Faith.”

13 comments:

ungtss said...

What intellectual and/or moral justifications for belief in god does theistic evolution provide?

Marina said...

Way to bring in a Star Trek reference in the first minute of the introduction.

(I'm so excited for the new movie!)

Salman Hameed said...

ungtss:
Why are you looking for justification of God from theistic evolution? There are many ways to come to (or move away) from God. For many it comes from within. Look at the Q&A part of our Science & Religion lecture with Father George Coyne. Has he reached his conclusion form an intellectual inquiry that you desire?

For another approach, check out Ken Miller's Finding Darwin's God.

So there are multiple ways of looking at it - and still be consistent with evolution (both Ken Miller and Father Coyne accepts that diversity of life on the planet is through evolution via natural selection). You, personally, may agree or disagree with the way they get to God and may find it unsatisfying to accept evolution such a way. That is ok - people are different. But none of these approaches reject one of the foundational ideas of modern science. And I think that is important in the 21st century (at least to scientists).

Marina:
You see I had to wait 3 years to bring in a Star Trek reference. May be the series was "intelligently designed" or "fine-tuned" particularly for that purpose ;)

Well...the new movie better not suck! The trailer looks really good and it seems to be much darker than usual (which you can do with Kirk - but not Picard - even though I liked TNG much better than the original).

ungtss said...

I've been so out of the loop here in Adana I didn't even realize a new Trek was coming out! Thanks!

Seems to me those authors of those books (and the many books like them) just assume God's existence, and try to reconcile it with evolution. I think it's a mistake to assume God's existence. Belief should be empirically based, rather than based on a priori assumption.

When you look at a theistic evolution scenario and then honestly ask yourself "Why believe God exists?" you're left with no intellectually legitimate reason.

Empty poetry about a "fertile universe?" Yeah, we got that. Speculation about how we should envision God now? Check. But any real, epistemologically legitimate basis for belief? Not even a little bit.

Salman Hameed said...

I think it's a mistake to assume God's existence. Belief should be empirically based, rather than based on a priori assumption.Hmmm?? So you want science (or however you are planning your empirical testing) to prove the existence of the supernatural? Unless you are looking for a naturalistic god (for example, really advanced aliens), this may turn out to be a futile search.

The point I was trying to make was that different people come to believe (or disbelieve) for different reasons. You may not agree with those approaches - but it is good to acknowledge that diversity.

And about Father Coyne: I wasn't referring to his talk - but rather to the Q&A following the lecture. He is a priest but he also has absolute faith (ha!) in science providing explanations of the physical world. I think his answers were quite interesting when he was pushed on the matters of faith. It wasn't just about poetry.

ungtss said...

You you want science (or however you are planning your empirical testing) to prove the existence of the supernatural?Well, empirical understanding is much broader than science. Science deals only with the repeatable, testable, and falsifiable. History is not repeatable -- yet we use the tools of history to understand past events. Archaeology is not repeatable -- yet we use the tools of archaeology to infer events of the past.

Science functions within only a very limited sphere -- human understanding necessarily relies on tools that are outside its scope, but still empirically based.

So I would argue with theism. The Quran and Hebrew Bible provide purportedly historical accounts of the acts -- in history -- of people, messengers of God, and God. Those purported histories may be true, false, or some combination. But they are certainly not mere "faith." Just as the Saga of Erick the Red is a mix of truth and legend, but is useful in seeking to understanding the past, so it is with the scriptures.

The problem with too many scientists is that they do not understand the nature and limitations of scientific inquiry. Science is highly reliable, but it only works within a limited realm of inquiry. History is outside that realm of inquiry -- therefore, if we seek to answer historical questions, we have to use historical tools.

Salman Hameed said...

I agree. By the way, much of astronomy is not repeatable either. Neither is cosmology. But we can still make predictions to test the theories (i.e. background radiation from the Big Bang).

But I'm still not sure what you are trying to get from history. Looking for the validation of miracles? That will lead you to problems from what we know from psychology etc and the unreliability of memory and eye-witness testimony. This doesn't mean that the events did not happen - but that there is no way to be sure (beyond a reasonable doubt).

As far as history in ancient books is concerned - sure enough there is much work done in that field - but it also assumes a more human/naturalistic explanations (hence back to a priori assumptions). If a historical event is mentioned - and at present scholars have no idea how it got in there - they will wait for more evidence before jumping to "God of the historical gaps" argument. I actually do see parallels here with the way we conduct science.

ungtss said...

But I'm still not sure what you are trying to get from history. Looking for the validation of miracles? That will lead you to problems from what we know from psychology etc and the unreliability of memory and eye-witness testimony. This doesn't mean that the events did not happen - but that there is no way to be sure (beyond a reasonable doubt). Agreed. But in history, memory and eye-witness testimony are all we have -- as flawed as they are. Everything we know of the Trojan war is from those historical accounts -- and they're all almost certainly part truth, part fiction, part error. We can't be scientifically sure, but that is because the nature of the problem does not permit a scientific (i.e. repeatable) solution.

I think that the ancient books should be approached the same way. As a mix of truth and fiction. But if you have hundreds of independent histories all asserting that we were created by intelligent beings of enormous power, and the evidence remains consistent with that historical account (i.e. there has been no demonstration of how life arose from non-life without intelligent arrangement), then one is intellectually justified in granting those histories some degree of credibility. Doesn't mean you have to. Just means you believe them the same way you might believe Muhammed had four wives, and what their names were -- because the sources show indicia of credibility and are consistent with the physical evidence.

Sinbad said...

Belief should be empirically based, rather than based on a priori assumption.So I should give up my belief in human equality because it can only be based upon a priori assumption?

ungtss said...

Sinbad:

First, you'll need to define what you mean by "equality." In what sense to you mean that people are equal? Certainly not in strength or running ability, so what?

Do you mean humans should be treated equally by the law? If so, you're talking about a value judgment, not a claim about the cold, hard facts of physical reality. And in this context, we were not talking about the question "is God good?" (a value judgment) but rather "does God exist?" -- a claim about reality which (in my opinion anyway) requires some empirical justification.

Or did you mean "equality" in some other way?

Sinbad said...

Do you mean humans should be treated equally by the law? If so, you're talking about a value judgment, not a claim about the cold, hard facts of physical reality.

So you really didn't mean what you said about belief and how it should be based upon empirical grounds. Your claim only relates to certain beliefs.

And in this context, we were not talking about the question "is God good?" (a value judgment) but rather "does God exist?" -- a claim about reality which (in my opinion anyway) requires some empirical justification.So now you want to limit your claim about the alleged need for empirical justification to "claims about reality." Putting aside the question of whether your "value judgments" make claims about reality as well as questions about what historical evidence can tell us about God (if anything), your purported limitation doesn't work either. I take it from your earlier claim about there being no legitimate basis for belief in God that you reject testimonial evidence of God. Yet such evidence is acceptable in any other forum. If a trusted friend called from another continent and told you it was raining there, I suspect you'd believe the friend rather than replying that you must reserve judgment until you receive empirical support for the claim. Oh, and it's ironic that your claim ("opinion") about the need for empirical justification for "claims about reality" is itself without empirical justification. Imagine that.

ungtss said...

On your first statement, yes, you're right -- because we were talking about the existence of God, I didn't clarify that what I was saying only applied in that context.

On your second point, I've been misunderstood -- I personally believe there's a very strong empirical basis for belief in the existence of God or gods, including history. History's not perfect, and it's not science, but it is empirical in nature and In think it's only right that it be given due credibility in the context of this question as well.

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