Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Another Iranian Scientist Hit

You'd never know it from watching the news talk shows, obsessed as they are with Mitt Romney's machinations at Bain Capital, but we seem to be hurtling toward war with Iran. The Iranians are determined to build a nuclear weapon and, one hopes, we're determined to prevent it. The U.S. is now poised to impose tough sanctions on Iran which, if they do what they're supposed to do, will cripple Iran's already feeble economy.

Iran threatens to retaliate by shutting down the Strait of Hormuz which would block a lot of oil from getting from the wells to the market and cause oil prices to skyrocket around the globe. Of course, it would also shut down their own ability to sell oil which seems somewhat counterproductive.

In any event, the U.S. has vowed it will not let the Iranians close the Strait.

Meanwhile, Debkafile reports that yet another Iranian nuclear scientist has been assassinated in Tehran:
Forty-eight hours after Iran began advanced uranium enrichment in the fortified Fordo bunker near Tehran, Prof. Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, deputy director of the first uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, was killed early Wednesday, Jan. 11 by a sticky bomb planted on his car by two motorcyclists. It exploded near the Sharif technological university in northern Tehran.

The pair made their escape. Prof. Ahmadi-Roshan was the fourth Iranian nuclear scientist to be mysteriously assassinated in Tehran in two years. The same method of operation was used in a similar operation last year. Iran has blamed them all on Israel.
There's more on this at the link. One wonders how deep the Iranian's bench of nuclear scientists is and how much it has to be attrited before the nuclear weapons program grinds to a halt.

One also wonders how these guys sleep at night knowing that they're probably on the list to be blown to smithereens, and that if they escape and are successful in building a nuke, it'll be used to blow a lot of children to smithereens. It must be as tough on the nerves as it is on the conscience, if they have one.

Anyway, perhaps the Iranians can be persuaded to give up their nuclear ambitions before it comes to war or before any more scientists are dispatched to Paradise, but there's not much grounds for optimism, I fear.

The Conflict

I've just finished reading Alvin Plantinga's latest book Where the Conflict Really Lies and recommend it enthusiastically to anyone interested in issues lying at the interface of science, philosophy, and religion. Plantinga is probably the most consequential philosopher of the last thirty years so whenever he speaks the entire philosophical community listens.

His project, as he makes clear several times throughout the book, is not to argue for the existence of God, nor to argue that atheism is false, nor to argue that evolution is bogus (he himself accepts the principle of descent through modification), but rather to argue that those who believe that science and religion (or more precisely, theism) are incompatible with each other are mistaken.

Indeed, he argues for much more than that. He mounts a persuasive case that whatever conflict there is between science and theism is superficial, but that there is profound conflict between science and naturalism - the belief, as Plantinga states it, that there is no God nor anything like God. He also wants to show that the concord between science and theism is deep while the concord between science and naturalism is superficial.

This will not surprise those who've been reading Plantinga for a while since he's been making this case in various venues for at least twenty years, but it'll come as a shock, perhaps, to many who've been inculcated with the idea that science and religion have been at war with each other ever since the Enlightenment.

Plantinga argues that the notion that evolution discredits theism is simply wrong. There's no conflict between evolution and theism. There is, however, great conflict between theism and unguided evolution, the idea that evolution is a purely fortuitous unplanned process governed only by natural forces. The belief that evolution is unguided in this sense, however, is not any part of proper science. It's metaphysics. It's an entailment of naturalism.

Moreover, naturalistic evolution is incompatible with confidence that our cognitive faculties (our reason) are reliable. If unguided evolution is a fact then we have no grounds for trusting any belief that we hold including the belief that unguided evolution is a fact. One can be an atheist (or naturalist), or an evolutionist, or believe that his reason is trustworthy, but he can't hold all three positions at the same time.

Plantinga has been making this argument for a long time and he's at his persuasive best in Conflict. Since the theory of evolution is a major pillar of modern science and since it's virtually impossible to dispense with confidence in our cognitive faculties, it seems that the conflict is between science and any metaphysics which entails the conclusion that we can't trust our cognitive faculties. That is, the conflict is really between science and naturalism.

This is not the place to lay out Plantinga's argument in detail, so I encourage anyone interested in these issues and who has read a little bit of philosophy to read the book for themselves. It's very accessible to the layman and constitutes one of the best rebuttals to the New Atheists on the market today. It can be ordered from our favorite bookstore Hearts and Minds.