Friday, December 31, 2010

An Atheist's Dilemma

It's not easy being an intellectually honest atheistic lefty in America. Just ask philosopher Michael Ruse who gets insulted by his left-wing allies simply for raising honest and incisive questions. For example, in a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education, he relates how Eugenie Scott, who heads up the National Center for Science Education, called him "dumb" for posing this perfectly reasonable conundrum:
[Evolutionary biologist David] Barash and I are united in thinking that Creationism (and the rest) are religion, and that they should not be taught in biology (or other science classes) of the nation—the publicly financed ones, that is.

So my question (and it is a genuine one, to which I don’t have an answer) to David Barash is this....[I]f you accept modern science, then religion—pretty much all religion, certainly pretty much all religion that Americans want to accept—is false. Is it then constitutional to teach science?
There are several fascinating things to note in what Ruse says here.

First, in his mind, science entails the falsity of religious belief. Second, this being so, teaching science to students is tantamount to teaching that religion is false. Thus, if creationism (or intelligent design) can't be taught because it entails religious conclusions about the world, how can science be taught in public schools if it does the same thing?

Ruse is genuinely perplexed by the problem, as well he should be.

We've posed this very question ourselves many times in the past, albeit in slightly different ways, and it's gratifying to see an atheist recognizing the problem.

One way we've put the difficulty is this: The basic claim of intelligent design is that natural forces and processes are not by themselves adequate to account for the origin, structure and diversity of both the universe and life. If that's a religious claim (which it's not, but never mind that now) and is constitutionally disqualified from being presented in a public school science classroom, how is it that its negation - the claim that physical forces are adequate to account for the origin, structure and diversity of the universe and life - is constitutionally permissable? If the claim P is religious then surely the claim not-P is also religious.

Parenthetically, I happen to disagree with Ruse that science entails atheism (It would certainly be awkward to try to convince Isaac Newton or dozens of other giants in the history of science that it does), but a lot of his fellow atheists believe it, so it would be interesting to see how they respond to his consternation. Perhaps some of them will have something more helpful to say than that his puzzlement is just "dumb".

Thanks to Bradford at Telic Thoughts for calling Ruse's article to our attention.

What Women Want

Dennis Prager seems to know his way around both the male and female psyches. In an article at NRO he explains to us what it is that women want and, in the telling, what men want as well. If you're at all interested in the relationship between the sexes this relatively short piece contains some very good advice.

Prager not only tells us what women want most from a man, and what men want most from a woman (it's not what you think), he also tells us what sort of man a woman is going to find most attractive. I don't want to give anything away, but I will mention that what he says is about as incendiary in some politically correct circles as napalm at a paper mill. It all makes for good fun and tasty food for thought.

More on the Ethics of Abortion

A few days ago we discussed an exchange between Michael Egnor and John Rosenau on the subject of abortion.

Subsequent to Egnor's response to Rosenau a blogger who goes by the name of Tantalus Prime posted a further series of questions for Egnor to answer. The questions are interesting even if Tantalus' insolence is off-putting.

His challenge to Egnor can be found here. Egnor's response, which is very good (though I don't agree with all of it), is here.

A big part of the case Tantalus puts to Egnor and, indeed, to anyone who is pro-life, is in this paragraph:
Egnor asserts that humanity is a discrete, not a continuous variable. If so, then would he kindly point to the exact point at which the human begins? After all, fertilization itself is a multi-step process. So, where is it? When the sperm breaches the oocyte membrane? Formation of the pro-nuclei? Initial DNA replication? Degeneration of the pro-nuclei membrane? Formation of the mitotic spindle? Fusion of the chromosomes? Division of the chromosomes and formation of the first daughter cells? This really should be an easy answer for Egnor. Since biological science affirms that there is a discrete distinction between human and gametes, pointing to that magic point should be trivial.
Egnor's response to this and Tantalus' other questions is worth checking out.