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Saturday, November 22, 2008

First Things editor on Vatican evolution conference shutting out design theorists

In First Things (December 2008), editor Richard John Neuhaus comments on the decision not to invite intelligent design theorists like Michael Behe, author of Edge of Evolution to the Vatican conference next March:
So let's see now: The conference is strictly scientific. In that case, there would seem to be no reason for the Church to be sponsoring it, since there are numerous other institutions that attend to the strictly scientific. But then we are told the conference will also include philosophers and theologians, but only those who are rational - meaning, presumably, those who do not raise critical questions about the strictly scientific. We are told it will exclude scientific ideologues who reject that philosophers and theologians have to say about creation, history, teleology, and human nature, and will also exclude scientists who, on the basis of scientific evidence, contend, as the Catholic Church contends, for design and purpose in nature. The organizers seem to think they are being even-handed, but it is all quite confusing. One would not like to think that the purpose of the March conference is to secure for the Catholic Church a clean bill of health from Jeffrey Sachs and others who condemn any deviation from scientistic ideology as anti-intellectualism.
Actually, not inviting biochemist Michael Behe is scandalous. Behe, who happens to be a Catholic, is in no sense a philosopher; he is a biochemist, and the Darwin cult's howls of outrage against Edge are the best evidence that he is on to something and that his work should be seriously considered at such a conference.

However, I think the real purpose of the conference is precisely what Fr. Neuhaus hopes it isn't: Faith and science bores reassure each other that they are the clever ones - when they are merely the irrelevant ones.

Lots of faith and science bores are smart enough to read and understand Behe's Darwin's Black Box or Edge of Evolution (or for that matter Bill Dembski's Design Inference or No Free Lunch). But when talkng to me they they carefully avoid considering the arguments laid out therein, and utter instead some pious fatuity about God using evolution - like that was a new idea that had never occurred to anyone! And usually at considerable and entirely uncalled for length.

Come to think of it, Behe is a working biochemist, and the faith and science snooze fest might only be wasting his time.

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Materialist atheists: Beware astrophysics?

Richard John Neuhaus, writing in the December edition of First Things, draws our attention to British sociologist David Martin, writing in the Scottish Journal of Theology
A master narrative of the Enlightenment is that religion recedes as science advances. It would be more plausible were it supported by the evidence, writes Martin.

[ ... ]

It happens that three is no continuing Enlightenment institution in secular contexts comparable to the Church in religious contexts to take the moral flack hurled at the corruptions of power ... Christianity can be blamed for what happened when adopted as the faith of the Roman Empire, whereas Darwinism can innocently wash its hands of what happened when converted by capitalist society into Social Darwinism or deployed by Nietzsche. Yet the metaphors of Darwinism are decidedly more susceptible to malign conversion than the metaphors of Christianity." Martin concludes with this: If I were an atheist anxious to disturb the faith of intelligent young friends, I would recommend a course in biblical criticism, or in psychobabble and sociobabble, or, best of all, a vigorous drench in romantic literary Weltschmerz. But not, definitely not, a bracing course in astrophysics. They might too easily suppos they were tracing 'the Mind of the Maker.'
Yes, unless they take refuge in crackpot cosmologies.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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Science and culture: God as an "unnecessary hypothesis?"

In "Theology After Newton", physicist Stephen M. Barr notes:
In Newtonian physics, change and movement were explained by the inertia of bodies and the forces bodies exert on each other. And since God is not a material body, many people thought that the new science had relegated him to the sidelines. At most, he was allowed to act in the distant past, as an all-foreseeing designer, a conception of God that Pannenberg criticizes as leading, on the one hand, to deism and, on the other hand, to a clash between predestination and human freedom. Even worse, the belief that took hold after Newton-that everything could be explained naturalistically, through physical forces and mathematical laws--seemed to make the existence of God an "unnecessary hypothesis," as Laplace put it. As theology lost its explanatory role, its assertions came to be seen as lacking empirical content and therefore as untestable.

Some theologians took refuge in fideism or a "flight to commitment," such as Karl Barth's "altogether unsecured obedience" to the Word of God. Others retreated to the position that theological language is "performative" rather than "informative." Yet others reduced the gospel to social action. The result has been a situation in which theology is marginalized and seen as largely irrelevant to life and thought. Society and its institutions grew secularized, and intellectual life did as well: the study of history and science undertaken without concern for a wider context of meaning. (First Things)
I've been known to call this "flight to commitment" by a ruder name: "aimless Jesus-hollering."

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