July 10, 2012

Portsmouth Institute, Day 2, Session 4: Dr. Michael Ruse, "Making Room for Faith in an Age of Science"

Justin Katz

With a joke about philosophers and theologians (he being the former), Michael Ruse used the dinner speech of day two of the Portsmouth Institute conference on "Modern Science, Ancient Faith" to take up the ostensibly neutral (mutually skeptical) approach to arbitrating between religion and science.

He referred to both approaches to knowledge as "symbolic" — presenting metaphors to explain reality. For its part, science long ago became wedded to the metaphor of the universe as a machine. The human brain, for instance, is "a computer made out of meat." (That made me wonder whether they could be seen as accessing a spiritual Internet.)

Ultimately, he suggested, if your area of interest is investigating the clockworks of the world, then you're "just not talking about" things like ultimate causes, morality, and the point of it all. Of course (I'd interject), a great many people who see science and religion as opposed and incompatible insist that it can and should dabble in such philosophy.

Because they see science as potentially providing "ultimate causes," and they "worship chance" as Kevin O'Brien put it, in the character of Dom. Stanley Jaki, they do claim access to moral discernment. That, for instance, has been the core cause of push-back against evolution in the classroom. As misplaced as they may be, those religious believers aren't imagining that evolution as presented has given the faith of materialism a way around the otherwise iron-fisted separation of church and state.