Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Notes Toward a Future Post

I'm working on an article--as preparation for a class on the same topic I'm teaching this winter--of C. S. Lewis and Science. I'll simply put three key citations in juxtaposition on the way to a future post.

The prominent Harvard neuroscientist Stephen Pinker has laid down the gauntlet in this way:
The neuroscientific worldview—the idea that the mind is what the brain does—has kicked away one of the intuitive supports of religion. So even if you accepted all of the previous scientific challenges to religion—the Earth revolving around the sun, animals evolving, and son on—the immaterial soul was always one last thing that you could keep as being in the province of religion. With the advance of neuroscience, that idea has been challenged.
It seems that materialism has won the day with scientists and that, according to many, it represents the crucial argument against religious faith today.

Then from the famous mid-20th century geneticist and evolutionary biologist--and atheist--John Scott Haldane, 
It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.
And then finally from C. S. Lewis (who was a contemporary of Haldane's), as he presents why Christian theology, reason, and science all come together.
Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions. The scientific view [such as in H. G. Wells or Pinker] cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself. I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
Any thoughts? (This is especially helpful as I pursue this topic further.)

1 comment:

M Fitzpatrick said...

Greg, I think this juxtaposition is quite interesting, but it makes some bold claims. Pinker is making the assertion that neuroscience can touch the previously unreachable areas of human thought (quite literally). Haldane raises the epistemological objection to this claim, but of course this doesn't falsify Pinker's claim. He could easily retort that we do have some reason to believe our beliefs are true - namely, that we have survived evolutionarily. If I mistake what the world means, it might cost me my life. The fact that we thrive shows we are probably getting something right. The question remains why, and it isn't obvious that Pinker's suggestion is impossible.

Regarding Jacks' reflections, there is a sincere debate raging in philosophy of science and evolutionary psychology as to whether science, art, morality and religion can fit in the scientific worldview. We already know, from past Triad discussions, that morality probably can be given a naturalistic basis which science could study. Science itself could be the object of study if we consider sociology a science. Art? Religion? Well, anthropologists have given their best crack at these, as have philosophers. Whether these will ever merely reduce down to good neuroscience, I don't know (and hope not). But there are sincere scientists who would claim that each of these can in fact be subsumed under the scientific worldview. Pinker definitely thinks religion can, as does Daniel Dennett. As for art, you might watch this short Ted Talk by Denis Dutton on the subject of beauty. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PktUzdnBqWI