Welcome back from Thanksgiving break (at least for our American readers). This week’s collection of missing links features a batch of philosophy articles. Or should it be called a hoard of philosophy articles? Or an assemblage? At any rate, you’ll have to forgive my disciplinary bias for injecting this much philosophy into your virtual lives. These are the stories that caught my eye this week.
Gary Gutting is a philosophy professor at the University of Notre Dame, which is also the home of my favorite college football team, which is now out of the college football playoffs, which should really be expanded to eight teams! But I digress. Gutting writes pretty regularly for the NYT Opinionator blog “The Stone” and has a new book out called, What Philosophy Can Do. He published an excerpt of it at Salon under the title, “Can We Prove That God Exists? Richard Dawkins and the limits of faith and atheism”. In it he gives a careful philosophical analysis of Dawkins’ case for the non-existence of God—most seasonally relevant, the claim that Dawkins and his compatriots often make that arguments for God are like arguments for Santa Claus. Not surprisingly, Gutting finds the soft underbelly of such claims and wields his philosophical sword deftly.
Philosopher Michael Ruse has appeared on our blog before, as a friendly atheist who doesn’t think science undermines the case for God (he says the reason for his unbelief is the problem of evil). He published an essay last week about Richard Dawkins. His essay, titled “Curb your enthusiasm”, is at the online magazine Aeon and claims that the humanism of the new atheists has come to function like a religion (with Dawkins as their high priest). He connects the history of this movement from Thomas Huxley through his grandson Julian Huxley and on to E.O. Wilson, Jerry Coyne, and Dawkins. What he finds so similar between their brand of humanism and some versions of religious faith is enthusiasm.
“The Humanism I have been discussing in this piece does bear strong similarities to conventional religion. One finds the enthusiasm of the true believer, and this encourages a set of unnerving attributes: intolerance, hero-worship, moral certainty and the self-righteous condemnation of unbelievers.”
Perhaps in Ruse’s sense, then, we religious believers would do well to curb our enthusiasm too.
The Library of Congress lumped psychology books together with philosophy in the B’s, so I’ll take that as reason enough to include an essay by a psychology professor in this week’s philosophy-themed passel of links. Furthermore, it provides a counterbalance to Ruse’s claim about scientific faith. Professor Paul Bloom claims “Scientific Faith is different from Religious Faith” at the Atlantic. The article is worth reading and definitely has some fair contrasts to religious and scientific claims to knowledge. This is not one of them, though:
“Many religious narratives are believed without even being understood. People will often assert religious claims with confidence—there exists a God, he listens to my prayers, I will go to Heaven when I die—but with little understanding, or even interest, in the details.”
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the same is true of many who hold to scientific narratives. And Bloom acknowledges this, saying that all of us defer to authorities for topics outside of our specialties. But, he says, “some sorts of deference are better than others. . . the methods of science are demonstrably superior at getting at truths about the natural world.” OK, I’m going to agree that it is better to consult scientists than priests if I want to know how photosynthesis works. But it seems to me that the proper conclusion to draw from this line of argument is that there are disciplinary boundaries—both for theological claims and scientific ones.
This is one of the points of Alister McGrath’s blog post “A Meaningful Conversation” in the Huffington Post. McGrath doesn’t have a degree in philosophy, but he has doctorates in Molecular BioPhysics, Theology, and Intellectual History from Oxford, so I’m calling that close enough for this congeries of philosophy links. Besides, he’s discussing a point made by the 20th century Spanish philosopher Ortega Y Gasset, summarized by McGrath as:
“Any philosophy of life, any way of thinking about the questions that really matter, will end up going beyond science -- not because there is anything wrong with science, but precisely because its substantial intellectual virtues are won at a price. Science works so well because it is so focused and specific in its methods.”
McGrath has published more words than most of us will speak. This comes from his newest book, The Big Question: Why We Can’t Stop Talking about Science, Religion, and God. Anyone want to review it?