Lame theses….

[ratings]

Here is an excerpt of a philosophical lecture series going on at my institution:

The Mangoletsi Lectures 2009: God, Science and Philosophy
Peter van Inwagen, John Cardinal O’Hara Professor of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame

Lecture 4: God and Science II

I return to the topic of a possible scientific disproof of the existence of God. Unlike the discussion in the first lecture, this lecture considers a particular scientific theory in detail—the Darwinian theory of evolution. I give a statement of the theory, present some reasons for being skeptical about whether it is in every respect true, and present an argument for the conclusion that, whether the theory is true or false, its truth is consistent with the thesis that the universe was created by an intelligent being. Finally, I defend a stronger position than the consistency of the Darwinian theory with the existence of an intelligent creator; I defend the thesis that, if the Darwinian theory were true and known to be true, our knowing that it was true would not provide us with any reason to believe that the universe does not have an intelligent creator.

He takes a Papal line by stating, ‘I defend the thesis that, if the Darwinian theory were true and known to be true, our knowing that it was true would not provide us with any reason to believe that the universe does not have an intelligent creator‘.

His erroneous use of the phraseology ‘if the theory were true and known to be true‘ demonstrates a fundamental disconnect in this man’s understanding of science. What we can say is ‘the theory is not false, and has been shown (countless times) to not be false’.

What he appears to be saying is, if you can’t disprove the existence of God, then ipso facto, he exists. It is a tenuous, and rather Catholic, position he hopes to defend, that demonstrating the validity of the theory of evolution, as we have, does not give us any reason to believe there isn’t still an intelligent creator. You could just as soon state the opposite. Obviously the existence of God is not open to scientific testing as no testable hypothesis could realistically be formulated; however, we can (and have) amassed enough data to obviate a need for a God in the equation.

Obviously he’s left himself some wriggle room in the form of, ‘its truth [the theory of evolution] is consistent with the thesis that the universe was created by an intelligent being‘; yes, sure, if you want to fudge it into your own creation story go ahead. It could be consistent with whatever you like, feel free to merge the rigorous science with anecdotal and fantastic origins theory, but this does not give it any more meaning, you’re merely hand-waving on the bits for which you have no explanation, i.e. the origins of life (which evolution in itself does not describe).

Meanwhile scientists will continue to remain curious and investigate the actual origins, rather than making up answers.

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2 thoughts on “Lame theses….

  1. I’m not a theist, and I wasn’t convinced by everything that van Inwagen argued for. Nevertheless, I think your comments are deeply unfair and uncharitable to van Inwagen.

    >> What he’s saying is, if you can’t disprove the existence of God, then ipso facto, he exists.

    This simply isn’t what he argued for. He didn’t take himself to be presenting any /positive/ reason for believing in God. Rather, he contested some arguments against the existence of God. He didn’t claim that refuting those arguments means that we should accept God’s existence. He simply disputed the ability of science to give us reason to disbelieve in God.

    >> You could just as soon state the opposite. Obviously the existence of God is not open to scientific testing, as no testable hypothesis could realistically be formulated; however, we can (and have) amassed enough data to obviate a need for a God in the equation.

    I take it that this challenge is similar to the ‘superfluity’ argument he considered in lecture 3 — so it’s not as if he didn’t address this.

    >> It could be consistent with whatever you like, feel free to merge the rigorous science with anecdotal and fantastic origins theory, but this does not give it any more meaning, you’re merely hand-waving on the bits for which you have no explanation, i.e. the origins of life.

    vI’s point is simply this: if your scientific theories are /consistent/ with theism, then why should I think that the former make it unreasonable to believe the latter? One answer is the superfluity argument, which, again, he addressed in the course of the lecture series.

    Finally: to call van Inwagen ‘dead wood’ displays your ignorance of the subject whose practicioners you’re criticising. He’s an eminent metaphysician and philosopher of religion whose work is greatly respected. (Oh, and he’s an Anglican, not a Catholic.)

  2. As I could not attend the lecture, the only information I have is his abstract. This was the abstract that was sent to everyone on the LifeNet mailing list, and it raised some eyebrows over in Biological Sciences.

    I trust that you are familiar with the importance of a good abstract in academic publishing, because frankly his sucked, for the precise reasons I quoted.

    You say he was arguing to the contrary, but as far as his abstract is concerned, he is merely following a tired old argument.

    “vI’s point is simply this: if your scientific theories are /consistent/ with theism, then why should I think that the former make it unreasonable to believe the latter?

    – If, if. For the entirety of human history, until 150 years ago, we all believed in theistic origins. Scientific theories are made consistent with theism by theists, and those empathetic towards theism. From a purely scientific viewpoint, the central tenets of physics, chemistry, biology simply have no requirement for an outside influence, thus it is only theists and apologists that seek to reconcile science with theism.

    It is unreasonable to believe in a theistic view point that is consistent with scientific theories because it is simply unnecessary. As I said, people can feel free to fit their world views around science as far as they like, but it doesn’t change the fact that a perfectly self-supporting castle [scientific theory] with good foundations and buttressed walls simply does not need an additional escarpment of scaffolding [theism] to prop it up; it will continue to stand regardless.

    I care not a jot that he’s ‘an eminent metaphysician and philosopher of religion whose work is greatly respected’, this is an ad hominem argument, as you should well know; his stature has no bearing on the validity of his position, nor the quality of his abstract. Both the Archbishop of Canterbury and Westminster are surely eminent fellows of high standing, but this doesn’t mean to say they don’t also spout a load of rubbish from time to time.

    I also don’t care whether he is Anglican or Catholic, his abstract does follow the Catholic line (and the Anglican for that matter), but this is neither here nor there, I could have stated either. I’m not addressing his motivations, merely his apparent absurd abstract.

    I did decide to remove the personal reference to him, which was possibly a little unfair, but this does not change the fact that too many philosophers are still unable to convey their actual meanings in a succinct abstract.

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