Thursday, November 03, 2005

Facts and fancy on the campus

This sounds like something I might have written. Let's have a cheer for John Silber, who is a philosopher and the President Emeritus of Boston University. I don't mind that kind of company!
Scientists should acknowledge the difference between what is proven and what is merely a hypothesis. One is not attacking or denigrating science to point out its hubristic extensions unsupported by any evidence or methodology that could be described as scientific. Creationists cannot deny the fact of evolution—the development over extended periods of time of new forms of life and the survival of those forms that are the fittest. These aspects of the theory of evolution are adequately confirmed by facts and must be accepted as facts by rational observers. Those who insist that human beings were originally created in their present form are as irrational as those who believe the world is flat. But those who believe that an intelligence or some formative principle has guided the development of new forms of life have a right so to believe. At the same time scientists have the right to believe that random mutation alone accounts for the arrival of new forms of life. Each has the right to that credo or faith that best supports their view of the nature of things. At the same time, however, each should recognize that faith, not facts, supports their positions, for there is no scientific evidence or proof for either intelligent design or random mutation as a factual explanation of the arrival of the fittest. On my view, scientists and laymen should prefer to leave the issue as the mystery it is rather than commit to an answer for which scientific evidence is lacking. If scientists do not claim to know anything as factual unless it is supported by empirical evidence, they will, as Kant observed in his Critique of Pure Reason, leave room for faith. I recall as a child the sermons I heard in which ministers railed against evolution. I asked then, as I ask today, what are the theologians complaining about? Presumably God can use evolution as a method of Creation if He so desires. I couldn’t understand the conflict between science and religion then, and I can’t understand it now, except when literal fundamentalists interpret the Bible as a scientific book and treat the account of creation in Genesis as a factual scientific account. Or except when scientists dogmatically assert as factual explanations for the arrival of the fittest which lack objective scientific evidence and are nothing more than an assertion of their working hypotheses. The public places mistaken emphasis on the bane of political correctness in universities. Most examples of political correctness, however stupid and irritating, are relatively harmless. But the constant drumbeat and march of scientism—that assertion by scientists of dogmas unsupported by objective scientific procedures—has been an unrelenting assault on the dignity of the human spirit. In the intellectual climate of the present we are left with diminished human beings the facts of whose experience are denied by reductionistic scientism. Those who challenge the reductionistic doctrines of scientism have been subjected to verbal abuse and contempt by scientists that equal in intensity the denunciation from pulpits of those who question the literal interpretation of Scripture. Those scientists approach in hubris and ignorance pastors who rely on the literal interpretation of the Bible without knowing that the canon was not handed down in English at Sinai, but was determined by the fathers of the Catholic Church. With regard to the literalists and the reductionists, I would say, a plague on both houses. The literalists have no standing in universities. But what standing, we must ask, have the reductionists who claim the authority of science in areas of inquiry beyond scientific evidence or proof?

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