The Jury Talks Back


In praise of Darwin and the spirit of inquiry

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fritz @ 11:57 am

Keith Burgess-Jackson, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Arlington, has this comment about Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s column in The Times (UK):

Here is a column about the compatibility of science and religion. Not only is there no incompatibility between science and religion; there can’t be. Science is an attempt to understand the natural world. It has nothing to say about (1) whether there is a supernatural world or (2) what the supernatural world is like, if there is such a world. Think of the natural world as a box. Science makes claims about what’s inside the box. It has nothing to say about what’s outside the box. Religion makes claims about what’s outside the box.

Murphey-O’Conner notes that Darwin wrote,

“It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist and an evolutionist.”


  1. Charles and Emma Darwin were such a marriage of opposites. Emma adamantly believed in the Biblical account of Creation and thought Charles quite wrong. Yet she was his chief editor and sounding board. Quite amazing actually.

    Comment by Kevin Murphy — 2/12/2009 @ 2:23 pm

  2. He has it backwards. It is religion which builds a box out of imagination. Science has no boundaries. It is religion which bows before what it declares unknowable and demands faith. Science pursues the unknown.

    Yes, I suppose they are not incompatible. In the same sense that a leopard and a Rubik’s Cube are not incompatible. A human’s mind can as esily entertain the irrational as it can the rational.

    Comment by nk — 2/12/2009 @ 8:03 pm

  3. Preposterous. Science has boundaries; it’s called the scientific method. It can only consider observable phenomena; there’s no test a scientist can perform that could tell you the moral quality of an act. Or, more on point, science could tell you the chances that a coin will come up heads. It can’t tell you where to put your money.

    Centuries ago, St. Thomas Aquinas drew a distinction between what he called articles of faith and articles of demonstration. More recently, Steven J. Gould described science and faith as “non-overlapping magisteria”.

    More succinctly, you cannot get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. Science is descriptive, not prescriptive; positive, not normative.

    And the question was not about the irrational vs. the rational; religion is not irrational ipso facto. It is only irrational if it makes false claims, not unscientific claims (“Murder is wrong” is an unscientific claim, for instance, but not an irrational one).

    Comment by CliveStaples — 2/12/2009 @ 9:44 pm

  4. The scientific method is in fact a very narrow bridge traversing a bottomless chasm of ignorance. But philosophy and theology do not even have that bridge. They are in an endless freefall and they revel in the certainty that they cannot possibly be smashed to pieces on the rocky bottom of reality.

    I like this anology: The philosopher is a blind man in a pitch-black room looking for a black cat which is not there. The theologian finds it.

    Comment by nk — 2/13/2009 @ 3:35 am

  5. Vague denouncements about being “smashed to pieces on the rocky bottom of reality” aren’t particularly informative.

    Is your problem that you believe philosophy and theology cannot be proven right or wrong? I’m not quite sure what the objection is.

    Comment by CliveStaples — 2/13/2009 @ 5:48 pm

  6. Is your problem that you believe philosophy and theology cannot be proven right or wrong?

    They are a by-product of language. They exist only in words and nowhere else.

    Comment by nk — 2/13/2009 @ 6:02 pm

  7. They are a by-product of language. They exist only in words and nowhere else.

    Ah, so you’re against the notion of a metaphysic. How delightfully anti-intellectual of you.

    They are communicated by language, but they aren’t merely a by-product of it. That’s like saying math is a by-product of language, since you can’t see or touch multiplication.

    They are concepts. And I’m still not sure what you mean when you say they exist “only in words and nowhere else”. So your point appears to be that philosophy and religion don’t exist outside of language. But language is merely a tool to communicate ideas and meaning; it is how we think. So I’d agree that it doesn’t exist to us outside of language, since we understand concepts through language (like the notion of logical fallacies, or ethics).

    I could understand if your problem with a philosophy or religion was that you believed it was wrong. But your argument is quite puzzling.

    Comment by CliveStaples — 2/13/2009 @ 8:59 pm

  8. What is a “metaphysic” other than a word made up? Where can I find it? Where is anyone who is said to have found it? Where is a “supernatural”? Same thing, etc., etc.,.

    We can say and write a word but it ends there. We have only made a name for something running around in the box which is our skull.

    I suppose my biggest objection to metaphysics is its conceit that our one kilogram or so of gray matter inside our skulls encompasses infinity.

    Comment by nk — 2/13/2009 @ 9:30 pm

  9. NK reminds me of one of my old professors, Harry Neumann:

    Nihilism means that nothing-and only nothing!-has an identity or nature, a being not subject to radical change at any moment. No natural or divine support exists to reinforce the common-sense faith that anything is more than nothing. Nothing is more than what it experiences or what is experienced about it. Nothing is more than empty experiences (thoughts, per ceptions, feelings, etc.), impressions as Hume called them. Nihilism is not solipsism nor does it make man the measure of all things. The nihilist “self” or “man” which experiences its “world” is itself no more than empty impressions. It too is nothing.

    Check out the whole exchange.

    Comment by Fritz — 2/14/2009 @ 10:40 am

  10. Don’t get me wrong, Fritz. I have nothing against things that exist only in words. I love literature and poetry. But literature and poetry do not pretend to exist for any purpose other than edification. They do not claim enlightment. Much of philosophical and theological writing is edifying and I have read more than a little. But I have found nothing there that is above entertainment level.

    And me try talk pretty sometime, too.

    Comment by nk — 2/14/2009 @ 11:01 am

  11. Socrates: ΕΝ ΟΙΔΑ ΟΤΙ ΟΥΔΕΝ ΟΙΔΑ.

    Me: Well, that’s no wonder, buddy, because you thought you could know by thinking instead of looking and listening.

    Comment by nk — 2/14/2009 @ 11:13 am

  12. I don’t think I’ve previously seen someone exhibit both anti-intellectualism and pomposity in such a ratio.

    Nobody said “our one kilogram or so of gray matter inside our skulls encompasses infinity.” Shouldn’t you be disgusted by the very notion of infinity–or the very notion of notions? I mean, you can’t see them. Because everyone knows that truth exists only in things you can see, right?

    Edification is enlightenment. It’s learning. It’s knowledge. It’s comprehension. If everyone thought like you, we wouldn’t have mathematics textbooks–you can’t see a derivative, after all.

    And you should be criticizing Plato, not Socrates. But that would require you to actually read those evil books that contain those hated ideas and words instead of pictures.

    Comment by CliveStaples — 2/14/2009 @ 5:23 pm

  13. You no talk pretty never, Clive.

    Comment by nk — 2/14/2009 @ 6:14 pm

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