Friday, November 25, 2011

Keeping the Divine Foot out

Berlinsky quotes the Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin:
Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.
Jerry Coyne was a student of Lewontin, and attacks Berlinsky

The context for this is using biological evolution to repudiate religion.

It seems to me that physics does not have this commitment to materialism at all, as it accepts all sorts of theories and explanations that do not involve matter. There is light, electricity, magnetism, aether, gravity, and exotic particles. There is dark energy and dark matter, which is not really matter. Quantum mechanics uses wave functions that are not directly observable.
There are theories like string theory and multiverse that have no observable consequences at all. So I do not agree that materialism is absolute.

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