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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Controversial Catholic Cardinal writes on evolution and purpose

Christoph, Cardinal Schoenborn, the highranking cleric who created a flap by pointing out that the Catholic Church does not in fact support purposeless evolution, has now written a book, Chance or Purpose?: Creation, Evolution and a Rational Faith (Ignatius Press):

It is endorsed both by Michael Behe and Owen Gingerich:
Michael Behe, Author, Darwin's Black Box:
"Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn's 2005 essay in the New York Times, which seemingly condemned Darwin's scientific theory of evolution, ignited a firestorm of controversy. Yet the hasty responses did not look deeply enough into the Cardinal's words. Rather than the science of Darwin, it is the philosophical claims made in its name that the prelate upbraided. Science cannot speak of ultimate purpose, and scientists who do so are outside of their authority. In Chance or Purpose? the Cardinal shows that the data of biology, when properly examined by reason and philosophy, strongly point to a purposeful world."

Owen Gingerich, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and History of Science, Harvard University. Author of "God's Universe":
"Cardinal Schoenborn writes with masterful simplicity on profound theological issues. I, as a scientist and Christian outside the Catholic tradition, welcome his wisdom. He argues effectively that there are multiple approaches to reality, and he states clearly that while intelligent design is worthy of human reflection, from a scientific perspective the evolutionary model is the true story."

The above division of opinion suggests that the Cardinal is steering his way through a minefield. The book's sales are respectable.

Incidentally, I wonder what Gingerich means by "the evolutionary model is the true story"? What evolutionary model in particular? That is, does he agree with Dawkins that evolution is without purpose or with John Paul II (and Schoenborn) that it has purpose?

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Intelligent design gives great deal of trouble to philosopher Mary Midgley

Over at Access Research Network, British physicist David Tyler comments on British philosopher Mary Midgley's recent worry over intelligent design:
At the end of her essay, Midgley writes: "Unless something like this can be done, it seems to me that ID is going to give us a great deal of trouble." She asks for people to seek out better ways of interacting on these issues. As a first step, I would advise that we recognise that there is a real struggle concerning the the nature of science. It is not the tired old battle of 'science versus religion'. The new concern is whether science is open to truth, wherever it leads or whether science should insist that every effect must have a natural cause. The contrast today is between the integration of all knowledge and the perpetual compartmentalisation of cognitive activity. ID is not the troubler of science! That dubious honour belongs to the advocates of philosophical materialism who have usurped science as a tool to further their own agendas.

Midgley seems to have bought into the guff first popularized by Stephen Jay Gould that science and religion are "non-overlapping magisteria" (= non-overlapping spheres of influence, acronym NOMA). But it takes no very great amount of digging to discover that in reality is it materialism and spirituality that are the "non-overlapping magisteria". And spirituality is always expected to surrender to materialism whatever materialism claims, no matter how ridiculous the materialist's assertions are. It is a shame that a woman who has been a good philosopher would fall on this all-too-familiar asses' bridge for faith-and-science bores. But maybe she'll get the picture later.

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Cosmology: The universe is a cosmic computer?

Yes, the universe looks fixed, but that doesn't mean that a god fixed it, says cosmologist Paul Davies, in a Guardian article, so titled.

Noting that
Scientists are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth - the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issue concerns the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient "coincidences" and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, and hence conscious beings, to exist.

he dismisses both intelligent design and the idea that there are zillions of flopped universes:
The multiverse theory certainly cuts the ground from beneath intelligent design, but it falls short of a complete explanation of existence. For a start, there has to be a physical mechanism to make all those universes and allocate bylaws to them. This process demands its own laws, or meta-laws. Where do they come from? The problem has simply been shifted up a level from the laws of the universe to the meta-laws of the multiverse.

Yes, and that's only for a start. With any luck, my next co-authored book will address the many other problems as well.

So what does Davies propose?
I propose instead that the laws are more like computer software: programs being run on the great cosmic computer. They emerge with the universe at the big bang and are inherent in it, not stamped on it from without like a maker's mark.

Over at Faith, Beer, and Other Things That Interest Geoff, Geoff Robinson makes the point that
Davies wants to go down the pantheistic route, as far as I can tell.

[ ... ]
Pantheism makes all of nature God. So how can pantheism give you a valid observer/non-observer distinction? I don't see how it can. Atheism and pantheism are very similar if not the same. One says nature is all there is (by and large). The other just labels everything as "god."

I am not sure that Robinson is entirely correct here, because pantheism allows for the existence of minds whereas modern materialism essentially does not, as Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard and I discuss in The Spiritual Brain, and that is a crucial distinction.

In any event, pantheism is an old tradition, largely rejected in the West for a number of reasons, including, I believe, the one that Robinson cites (observed-observer distinction).

Hence, I find Davies' willingness to revisit it most interesting. It just shows what a conceptual mess materialism has become!

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Today at the Mindful Hack

Change your mind, change your brain - Smithsonian conference - but what to do when my mind keeps instructing my brain: Want donut! ... ?

Atheists on the new shrill atheism. Apparently, not as good a vintage as the old. I hear this all over now.

Pope blames world's worst woes on atheism. Also blames stupid religion.

College students more intersted in spirituality than previously thought. Binge drinking advocates completely freaked by this

Visual art as old as human consciousness?

Meditation catching on at universities

Also: Coffee Break: How died the dinosaur?

Darwinists in real time - a reflection

Since the revelations from Monday's press conference in Iowa regarding the true reason for Guillermo Gonzalez's tenure denial, I have been studying the comments of Darwinists, to this and this post. The comments intrigue me for a reason I will explain in a moment.

Some commenters are no longer with us, but they were not the ones that intrigued me.*

I've already covered Maya at 8, 10, and 12 here, arguing a case against Gonzalez, even though the substance of the story is that we now KNOW that her assertions have nothing to do with the real reason he was denied tenure.

Oh, and at 15, she asserts, "The concern is not about Gonzalez’s politics or religion but about his ability to serve as a science educator."

So ... a man can write a textbook in astronomy, as Gonzalez has done, but cannot serve as a science educator? What definition of "science" is being used here, and what is its relevance to reality?

And getawitness, at 18, then compares astronomy to Near East Studies, of all things. NES is notorious for suspicion of severe compromise due to financing from Middle Eastern interests! I won't permit a long, useless combox thread on whether or not those accusations are true; it's the comparison itself that raises an eyebrow.

Just when I thought I had heard everything, ...

For the rest, go here.

Note: I have disabled comments for this post. Comment at Uncommon Descent, where the rest of the post is housed.

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