A commitment to the natural and the observable

Way back, near the start of this blog more than a year and a half ago, I posted an article titled “Science: not just another religion.”

In that article I agreed with Richard Dawkins’s contention that science, unlike religion, doesn’t give unyielding precedence to tradition and authority, and it doesn’t give any credence to claims grounded in faith or revelation.

Having recently finished viewing a full 24 hours of video lectures and discussions from the 2006 and 2007 “Beyond Belief” conferences — not consecutively, in case you were curious — I’d like briefly to pursue a somewhat more nuanced version of Dawkins’s claim. This seems especially relevant in the context of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

What I won’t do is to slacken in any way my thoroughgoing commitment to the supremacy of the natural and the observable as the only true reality. What I hope to do is examine the nature of that commitment itself, as an epistemological stance — there is no other way to know — and as a heuristic — there is no other way to know.
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Does physics trump philosophy?

Richard Dawkins loves Lawrence Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, claiming that it is the greatest thing since sliced bread, or at the very least since The Origin of Species.

What Dawkins loves is the book’s contention that not only did the universe emerge from nothing, but that it had to do so. So much for the teleology implicit in “Why is there something rather than nothing?” And nothing makes Dawkins happier than something that demolishes what he calls “the last trump card of the theologian.”

Or maybe not. Continue reading

“Now that I think about it, I’m not that religious after all”

According to a much-trumpeted new study, rational thinking has a negative effect on the strength of religious belief.

Well, gee, really? Isn’t that the whole idea behind rational thinking? Do we really need a new study to tell us this? Many religious leaders and almost all atheists readily agree that religious belief is more a feeling than a thought, more emotion than analysis. Continue reading

Footprints of Ages: reflections on reasoning in Texas

I don’t spend much time these days reading about the colourful and exotic habits of that other hominid species, homo creationist. It’s not that I’m not interested in the alien mythologies of strange creatures. It’s just that the subject is very old news. Much more than 6,000 years old, in fact.

But every so often I’m drawn to the weird world of these alien beings, and when I am, I’m reminded all over again that the big difference between our two species is not what we believe but rather how we believe.
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Reason on the ropes

I wasn’t intending to write about Science v. Religion again anytime soon, but a random conjunction of recent sources demand consideration as a group.

These disparate sources include an educator’s reaction to New York’s “banned list” of city exam topics, a noted blogger’s analysis of yet another piece of Tennessee anti-evolution legislation, and a listing of the anti-science views of Canada’s Conservative government.

Reading these sources one after another focuses the mind forcefully on the tenuous position that both science in particular and rationality in general have in the public mind. Continue reading

Five writers tackle the issue of God

Coincidentally, another periodical published last week a series of articles on one subject. Last time, it was free will.

This time, it’s God.

On March 21st, New Scientist made temporarily available online five articles from, and on, “The God issue.” The pieces’ authors include well-known apologists and atheists, pundits and professors. Like the free will pieces, these short God essays exhibit a wide range of interest in the question of the origins of belief in God. Continue reading

A free discussion of free will

Despite its frequent academic navel gazing and elitist condescension, The Chronicle Review manages to publish some pieces of broader scope and interest.

This time they’ve outdone themselves, producing a series of six short but engrossing articles on the subject of “free will.”

The articles, published online March 18th,  feature scientists, philosophers, and moralizers of various stripes– and these authors assume as wide a range of positions on the subject at hand. Taken together, the six short pieces are a useful summary of the key free will questions. Continue reading

The usual suspects lash out at hard atheism – again

I haven’t written very much about religion lately.

While a verbal war with Bible literalism was a feature of this blog’s earliest efforts, recently I’ve managed to ignore the subject in favour of more fruitful topics like politics and the human mind — despite the fact that fundamentalists continue to have too much contact with the former, and too little with the latter.

Besides, I haven’t felt much compulsion to defend the religion-haters among my fellow religion-deniers. Continue reading

Sanctimonious Santorum — Obama’s best bet for re-election

In 1964, as a newly-minted undergraduate with more enthusiasm than sense, I joined the quixotic effort to elect conservative Republican Barry Goldwater President of the United States.

Four years later, with less enthusiasm — too much had happened  — but with determination, I worked to push Eugene McCarthy (no relation to Tail Gunner Joe) to the Democratic nomination.

And in 1972, with the promise of LBJ’s Great Society horribly diminished by unending war in Vietnam, from the safety of the Great White North I hoped against hope for the triumph of George McGovern over Richard Nixon, whose personal letter (“Greetings from the President of the United States: You are ordered to report for induction to …”) started the sequence of events that led me north.

What do these forty going on fifty year old political campaigns have to do with today’s subject? Continue reading