Thursday, July 10, 2014

Michael Ruse Against Scientism (the Idea That "Science" Can "Explain Everything")

Pierce Stocking Drive, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan

I admire atheist philosopher Michael Ruse. The clincher for me was when he said Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion made Ruse embarrassed to be an atheist. (Unfortunately, many uneducated atheists viewed Dawkins as their intellectual champion.) God Delusion was a feast of philosophical and logical errors - I made (I think) 45 posts on it.

Ruse is interviewed by Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting here - "Does Evolution Explain Religious Beliefs?" Here are some highlights, with comments.

  • Does science, or can science "explain everything?" Ruse says (rightly, thank you) "No." "In my view, none of our knowledge, including science, just “tells it like it is.” Knowledge, even the best scientific knowledge, interprets experience through human cultural understanding and experience, and above all (just as it is for poets and preachers) metaphor is the key to the whole enterprise. As I developed my own career path, as a historian and philosopher of evolutionary biology, this insight grew and grew. Everything was metaphorical — struggle for existence, natural selection, division of labor, genetic code, arms races and more." (Note: Hence the need for philosophy, as against silly Krauss-like and Hawking-like dismissals of philosophy as they make non-scientific, philosophical claims against philosophy.)
  • Ahhh... Ruse is talking about "metaphor." My doctoral dissertation was on metaphor theory (Metaphor and Theology: A Multidisciplinary Approach). Science is highly metaphorical, employing metaphors as, e.g., heuristic devices. For example, "since the scientific revolution, one metaphor above all — the root metaphor — has dictated the nature and progress of science. This is the metaphor of the world as a machine, the mechanical metaphor." This root metaphor (as any root metaphor does) rules out certain questions. But the metaphorical use of language in science is not itself scientifically verifiable. Thus science, as inextricably metaphorical ("even the best scientific knowledge, interprets experience through human cultural understanding and experience, and above all (just as it is for poets and preachers") cannot and does not, in principle, "explain everything." To think so is to be under the spell of the myth of scientism.
  • Gutting asks:  "What do you think of Richard Dawkins’s argument that, in any case, God won’t do as an ultimate explanation of the universe? His point is that complexity requires explanation — the whole idea of evolution by natural selection is to explain the origin of complex life-forms from less complex life-forms. But a creator God — with enormous knowledge and power — would have to be at least as complex as the universe he creates. Such a creator would require explanation by something else and so couldn’t explain, for example, why there’s something rather than nothing." Ruse's response is priceless, and BTW correct. He says: "Like every first-year undergraduate in philosophy, Dawkins thinks he can put to rest the causal argument for God’s existence. If God caused the world, then what caused God? Of course the great philosophers, Anselm and Aquinas particularly, are way ahead of him here." (Read the interview for more.) If God is a metaphysically necessary being then ipso facto God needs no cause. Ruse adds, "Unlike Hume, I don’t think this is a silly or incoherent idea, any more than I think mathematical Platonism is silly or incoherent."
  • Ruse describes himself as an "evolutionary skeptic." He then say that "it is true that in a sense I see all knowledge, including claims about religious knowledge, as being relative to evolutionary ends. The upshot is that I don’t dismiss religious beliefs even though they ultimately can be explained by evolution. I think everything can!" Correct, again. If we dismissed a belief because it can be explained by evolution then we could dismiss all beliefs since they all can be explained by evolution which would, of course, exclude atheism and belief in the theory of evolution.
There's more in the interview - Ruse is someone to pay attention to.