View Full Version : The Good News: Believers and Atheists Rejoice!

07-09-2009, 10:47 PM
From the NY Times: "I bring good news! These two warring groups have more in common than they realize. And, no, it isn’t just that they’re both wrong. It’s that they’re wrong for the same reason. Oddly, an underestimation of natural selection’s creative power clouds the vision not just of the intensely religious but also of the militantly atheistic."

Read more in "A Grand Bargain Over Evolution" (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/23/opinion/23wright.html?pagewanted=all).


Kevin Bonham
07-09-2009, 11:31 PM
The article fails to make its case convincingly. At least the atheist side is badly straw-manned in it and I won't be too surprised if the believers don't recognise themselves either.

Many atheists don't have any problem with the consistency of "any god whose creative role ends with the beginning of natural selection" with Darwinism. After all it translates as "a God who has nothing to do with Darwinism is compatible with Darwinism". They just don't see any reason to believe that such a God exists, or they think that such a God is logically incompatible with scientific understandings other than Darwinism, or that the whole God concept (as defined) is tosh for philosophical reasons.

The claim that talk of "higher purpose" is "ingrained in science" is a sneaky (or perhaps just plain clueless) twist. Analysis of why individuals believe in higher purposes, or of whether evolution occurs in a particular direction, are areas of scientific enquiry, but this is not the same thing as saying those higher purposes are anything but what has (perhaps) been naturally selected for. Similarly, even if evolution appears to have been going somewhere inexorably (which I'm not that convinced of anyway), that doesn't mean it's doing so because anyone or anything wants it to.

If evolution does tend to eventually “converge” on certain moral intuitions, does that mean there were moral rules “out there” from the beginning, before humans became aware of them — that natural selection didn’t “invent” human moral intuitions so much as “discover” them?

No of course not. All such a convergence would show was that individuals behaving according to such moral conceptions tended to be evolutionarily successful on the whole. It would not even show that these individuals would continue to adhere to such moral concepts when placed in unusual circumstances (and indeed we have lots of evidence, such as wartime atrocities by previously "normal" people, that when tempted they quite often don't).

It goes on with Pinker arguing that certain moral truths might be facts independent of our existence (eg they might be true for all possible intelligent beings). The problem with these so-called moral truths is that they are inextricably conditional. "Moral code of behaviour X is the best way for a species to survive and for individuals within that species to pass on their genes" does not mean moral code of behaviour X is a moral truth. It just means that it will tend to work in a reproductive and evolutionary sense.

And even floating the idea of "God initiating natural selection with some confidence that it would lead to a morally rich and reflective species" doesn't just have weak links in its chain but brushes over the fact that the species in question has frequently committed atrocities on its own kind for which God would then be responsible (and have some reason to expect.)

Spiny Norman
08-09-2009, 03:55 AM
The article is a bit of feel good, populist drivel. The first clue is this bit:

"Believers could scale back their conception of God’s role in creation, and atheists could accept that some notions of “higher purpose” are compatible with scientific materialism."

Can't we just all get along? No, not without giving up that which we truly believe. An atheist who believes in a higher purpose is just confused. Ditto a believer who scales back their conception of God. :doh:

08-09-2009, 08:42 AM
Soft filler article that pays the rent.

Suggestions of confluence between science and the teleological always activates my bulldust detector.

10-09-2009, 09:30 AM
There you have it Arosar: the atheists and Christians on ChessChat likewise have something in common: both find this article unconvincing!

15-09-2009, 06:50 PM
The only thing they have in common is that atheists are trying to save the creationists for this life, and the creationists are trying to save the atheists for the next life. Don't know if this is original or I read here recently.

Kevin Bonham
15-09-2009, 07:35 PM
I was very surprised to see a poster in a cafe advertising an appearance by Simon Conway Morris in Hobart tomorrow night.

Morris was heavily involved in the Burgess Shale stuff that Stephen Jay Gould wrote about in "Wonderful Life". He is a committed Christian and attempts to argue for what I would call an exclusivist compatiblist position (that not only are evolution and God compatible but that anyone who disbelieves in either is wrong.) Hence my mentioning him on this thread.

There is a promo for his Vic lecture here (http://www.iscast.org/event_2009_09_17_lecture)

Wikipedia has the following summary of his views:

* Evolution shows an eerie predictability, leading to the direct contradiction of the widely-held view that insists on evolution being governed by the contingencies of circumstance
* Eyes are not the only example of repeated evolutionary convergence on the same solution. There is evidence for fundamental equivalences of sensory perception and the implication that deeper in the nervous system there is only one mentality. Minds may be not only universal, but also the same.
* Evolutionary convergence can give us some very strong hints as to how any aliens will sense their environment, how they will move, how they will evolve agriculture, and intelligence.
* Humans have passed a threshold that means we now transcend our animal origins. But birds, whales and humans all converge in song, and far from being the pinnacle of Creation we may be mere juveniles.
* The regularities of the physical world [5], strongly indicate that there must be universal principles of mind. The evidence from evolutionary convergence, not least in terms of intelligence and music, is that the trajectories towards consciousness are embedded in a universe that in some ways is strangely familiar, where personal knowledge (to use Polanyi’s phrase) is valid.
* Any attempt to explain, entirely in naturalistic terms, the fact that universe can now understand itself seems doomed to failure. Not only is the Creation open-ended and endlessly fertile, suggesting that in the future science itself faces an infinity of understandings, but so too there is good evidence of realities orthogonal to every-day experiences. Rather than trudging across the arid landscapes skimpily sketched by the materialists, we need to accept the invitation and accompany the Artist that brought Creation into being.

I shall assume this is an accurate summary since it sounds pretty much like a lifted one. :)

Well, it's all very poetic but the last dot point is largely an argument from lack of imagination. As for the first five, even if it turns out there are certain ways of arranging material that work, and certain ways that don't, and evolution is good at finding the former given sufficient time, I'm not sure what this is meant to show about design.

Wikipedia quotes Morris as criticising reductionism and materialism thus:

That satisfactory definitions of life elude us may be one hint that when materialists step forward and declare with a brisk slap of the hands that this is it, we should be deeply skeptical. Whether the “it” be that of Richard Dawkins’ reductionist gene-centred worldpicture, the “universal acid” of Daniel Dennett’s meaningless Darwinism, or David Sloan Wilson’s faith in group selection (not least to explain the role of human religions), we certainly need to acknowledge each provides insights but as total explanations of what we see around us they are, to put it politely, somewhat incomplete.[6]

That satisfactory definitions of life elude us just shows again that pretty much any word worth defining is difficult to define perfectly (Wittgenstein strikes again). I agree that specific reductionistic explanations will often turn out to be oversimplified, at least when first advanced. I don't really see that as relevant to the question of materialism as such.

What may be the same lecture can be downloaded here (http://www.stmarylebow.co.uk/?download=BoyleLecture05.pdf) for those interested.

I get the impression this is about preaching to the converted (indeed the talk is quite explicit that that's the point) and so I won't be going; I would be interested to go to a debate between Morris and an atheist evolutionist on these issues. The website of the group involved in presenting it is at http://www.iscast.org/about

15-09-2009, 11:15 PM
There you have it Arosar: the atheists and Christians on ChessChat likewise have something in common: both find this article unconvincing!Yep. Good one, Jono. Well put!

Redmond Barry
21-09-2009, 02:35 PM
would anybody pay good money to see richard dawkins and stephen jay gould fight it out in a match of chess boxing.

i would pay to see that.

21-09-2009, 02:42 PM
would anybody pay good money to see richard dawkins and stephen jay gould fight it out in a match of chess boxing.

i would pay to see that.
You'd have to pay lots, to fund technology able to resurrect SJG.

There is actually a book Dawkins vs. Gould: Survival of the Fittest by Australian atheistic philosopher Kim Sterelny (http://www.victoria.ac.nz/phil/staff/sterelny.aspx) (who is also quite a strong chessplayer, >1800 IIRC).

Redmond Barry
21-09-2009, 03:00 PM
You'd have to pay lots, to fund technology able to resurrect SJG.

There is actually a book Dawkins vs Gould by Australian atheistic philosopher Kim Sterelny (http://www.victoria.ac.nz/phil/staff/sterelny.aspx) (who is also quite a strong chessplayer, >1800 IIRC).

i vaguely remember reading a couple of dawkins popular science books about 10 years ago and his rivalry with stephen jay gould. overlooked the fact that gould may have died since then. but ressurection of the dead does sound fun.

maybe thats why saragossa feels the need for a zombie containment plan (in the teen forum). its quite possible the person he fears that will endanger the community is the zombified body of stephen jay gould. maybe the technology is already here to resurrect the dead and gould has arisen for an upcoming encounter with dawkins in the ring for celebrity chessboxing.

im excited .............