Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Science Vs Religion (Pt. V)

This is our fifth and final post on materialist biologist Jerry Coyne's essay in The New Republic on the alleged incompatibility between science and religion. Previous installments can be found here, here, here, and here.

Coyne observes in his piece that:

Beginning with Plato, philosophers have argued convincingly that our ethics come not from religion, but from a secular morality that develops in intelligent, socially interacting creatures, and is simply inserted into religion for convenient citation.

With all due respect to Professor Coyne, the term "secular morality" is gibberish. There can be no secular morality except insofar as a group of people arbitrarily agree upon certain rules that have no basis in anything other than the subjective preferences of the people who agree to them. There's no reason to think that a morality so arrived at imposes any kind of obligation upon anyone and there's no reason to feel guilt if one breaks the rules. Only morality grounded in something transcendent can obligate us. So far from secular morality being inserted into religion, it actually piggy-backs on religion, claiming itself to be independent but all the while relying on religion to carry it and give it credibility.

He continues:

In the end, then, there is a fundamental distinction between scientific truths and religious truths, however you construe them. The difference rests on how you answer one question: how would I know if I were wrong? Darwin's colleague Thomas Huxley remarked that "science is organized common sense where many a beautiful theory was killed by an ugly fact." As with any scientific theory, there are potentially many ugly facts that could kill Darwinism. Two of these would be the presence of human fossils and dinosaur fossils side by side, and the existence of adaptations in one species that benefit only a different species. Since no such facts have ever appeared, we continue to accept evolution as true. Religious beliefs, on the other hand, are immune to ugly facts. Indeed, they are maintained in the face of ugly facts, such as the impotence of prayer.

I doubt very much that Darwinians would be dissuaded by the discovery of any of the things Coyne mentions. All such discoveries would do would be to inspire the true-believers to become more creative with their hypotheses. If human fossils were found together with dinosaur fossils then we would read about the possible mixing of rock strata or the surprising survival of dinosaurs long after they had previously been thought to have gone extinct. The Darwinist metanarrative certainly wouldn't be falsified by such finds, only a particular part of the overall theory would be considered in need of an adjustment.

But let's apply Coyne's "How would we know we were wrong" test to Darwinian beliefs about the origin of life. How would we know that life did not arise through blind, impersonal forces if, in fact, it did not? What "ugly fact" would falsify the claim that life is the product of those blind, impersonal forces? No one can offer a candidate, but Darwinian materialists nevertheless continue to insist that their speculations on the matter are scientific. Since no discovery could possibly falsify their belief that life arose purely mechanistically must we not disqualify such beliefs about abiogenesis from the domain of science?

Professor Coyne adds this:

There is no way to adjudicate between conflicting religious truths as we can between competing scientific explanations. Most scientists can tell you what observations would convince them of God's existence, but I have never met a religious person who could tell me what would disprove it. And what could possibly convince people to abandon their belief that the deity is, as Giberson asserts, good, loving, and just? If the Holocaust cannot do it, then nothing will.

I'm not sure what this is supposed to demonstrate other than that religious faith is not the same sort of thing as empirical science, but then nobody said that it was. Coyne is comparing apples and oranges. All anyone he has quoted in his article has said is that science and religion are compatible, not that they're identical. The appropriate comparison is between theistic belief and materialism. The very same phenomena that would falsify materialism, an unmistakable appearance by God, say, would serve to verify theism. On the other hand, if theistic belief cannot be falsified that simply means that materialism cannot be verified. So given this epistemic symmetry why does Coyne believe so adamantly that a scientist can consistently be a materialist but not a theist? How is a scientist's materialism any more compatible with his practice of science than would be his theism? They're both theological.

To be sure, particular religious beliefs may be incompatible with certain scientific beliefs, just as contrary scientific beliefs can be incompatible with each other, but it's one thing to say that a particular tenet of religion is incompatible with a tenet of science, it's quite another to say, as Coyne does, that religious belief is incompatible with science.



Rita Kramer, at The American Thinker, gives us a fascinating history lesson on the origins of the NAACP. Here are her opening paragraphs:

This is Black History Month, perhaps an appropriate time to call attention to an aspect of black history that has been papered over and all but forgotten in the official accounts and in what is taught in schools.

How many people today, black or white, know that the National Association for Colored People was founded by three white folks, two WASPS and a Jew, and that it was led and funded until well into the last century by whites, many of them Jews? It is understandable that after a hundred years some degree of historical Alzheimers may appear in the memory of the organization-as it does on its web-site-but perhaps it is time to remember the truth about how it all happened.

Exactly one hundred years ago, on the centenary of Abraham Lincoln's birth and just one hundred years before a man of color would be elected to the Presidency of the United States, the situation in the Southern states was dreadful for dark-skinned Americans. Most eked out a living as tenant farmers, exploited by the owners of the land they worked. They were prevented from voting and their children, if they attended school at all, went barefoot to ramshackle buildings with few books or other supplies. Negroes (the polite term then, which we will adopt for this article) were subject to arson, rape, and mob murder by lynching, with little or no interference by the elected authorities. In many places it was a crime for black and white to frequent the same place at the same time. The South was a society of complete and brutally enforced segregation.

Northern indignation was roused by a race riot at Springfield, Illinois in the summer of 1908. It began when the local newspaper ran a story about a white woman who claimed she had been raped by a black man. Police arrested the accused man and took him to the city jail. A crowd of angry white citizens gathered and demanded the prisoner, but the local Sheriff had been able to secretly transport him to safety. Enraged, the crowd trashed homes and businesses belonging to Jews downtown and to Negroes in black neighborhoods. A man who tried to defend himself was killed, his barber shop burned and his body hung from a tree. By this time an estimated crowd of 12,000 people had gathered to watch black-owned homes burning. Realizing that the local authorities were powerless in the face of the crowd, the governor called out the state militia. Order was restored, but not before an elderly black man married to a white woman had been lynched. The riots left 40 homes and 24 businesses in ruins. A grand jury indicted nearly 80 individuals for participation in the riots but only one man was convicted. He was a Russian Jew who peddled vegetables, and he was convicted of stealing a sword from a member of the militia. The woman whose story had started it all later admitted that her accusation was false.

Out of these and other injustices and atrocities the NAACP was born. Get the rest of the story at the link. It's a good read and an appropriate way to conclude Black History Month.