Sunday, January 27, 2008


How vs. Why, the Confusion Continues

There have occurred two recent events which served for me as a reminder that the central contention of this blog is certainly relevant. Those two events being first, the publication of Richard Dawkins’ new book entitled “The God Delusion followed with the announcement of Answers in Genesis, a Christian ministry that are launching a (contended to be) scientific journal called “Answers Research Journal” (reported in Nature)that will be accessible online. These two certainly exemplify what I see as the true problem in regards to humanity's search in the understanding of our world. Also, it serves to further demonstrate how our two central philosophies, one which are called religions and the other science have come to being even more strongly diametrically opposed.

In attempting to explain what I mean, first I’d like to expand a little on who Richard Dawkins is and what he reports to represent. Dawkins’ is an ethologist, evolutionary biologist and popular science writer out of England. He currently serves as the Charles Simonyi Chairman (Oxford’s) for the Public Understanding of Science. He first came to public attention in the writing of the book “The Selfish Gene” in 1976 (which I’ve read). This book’s central contention is that evolution is executed primarily from (and for) the single cells perspective, rather then the organisms’ as a whole. In Dawkins’ view the organism is simply the extended machinery though which all this is manifested and observed with genes being the expeditor of this process. This is one possible logical extension of Darwin’s theory and it is not my intention to contest it. What issue I have with Dawkins is his new books primary intent and focus is to take it upon himself to become the self appointed representative/champion of science to insist that his theory and connected others amount to a proof that there is no “why” to the world. His limited understanding of this is of course is that there is no God.

Now on the other side of the coin we have this Christian Ministry headed by Ken Ham which is a propagator of the creationist (Intelligent Design) view. He headed up the effort to fund and execute the building of what’s called the Creation Museum whose claimed sole purpose is to educate people of the validity of holding such a position. Now what has been just recently started by the same group is what is reported to be a Scientific journal called “The Answers Research Journal” which is to represent what they contend will be a traditional, peer reviewed scientific research publication. The peer review however will be carried out by only scientists that are supportive and sympathetic to this concept.

What I find most revealing (and disconcerting) in all this is the polarity that is clearly demonstrated when you consider the attitude of many scientists when compared with those of many religious philosophies. They both somehow misunderstand and misrepresent their indepenantly decided and defined limited roles in terms of the search for understanding. First as I have explained in the past the separation of the roles is defined as such. First for modern (homocentric) philosophy as previously defined as the following:

“Investigation of the nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods“.

Now I remind here the role served by science and it’s methodology as defined by Newton which is:

“In this philosophy particular propositions are inferred from the phenomena, and afterwards rendered general by induction.”

So then, what this time is my point? First it must be realized that those of Dawkins stripe are now stepping outside of their philosophical mandate to say that it is science’s responsibility to prove and insist that not just creationist religions,yet rather all religions are false and should be dismissed as not only just being wrong yet also being dangerous. Then we have many religious philosophies that contend that they not only know the “why” yet many of the details and can prove it and thus science must be dismissed in this regard. What this demonstrates to me is that those scientists such as Dawkins thus claim in effect that they (I paraphrase)” believe or have faith in science” while religious figures such a Ken Ham claim in effect (I paraphrase)” they have proof for the existence and intent of God”. I will thus simply point out that both statements in terms of their central methodologies are oxymorons.

In conclusion today, I would like to once again remind that this need not remain to be a problem. For it has been demonstrated by people such a Plato, Descartes, Darwin and Einstein who found it possible to find the “how” and the “what” of the world while remaining convinced and assured that we will ultimately discover the “why”.

Nice article. One interesting thing about Dawkins writing is that the scientific content of "The Selfish Gene" is more than a tad wishy washy, and his central idea (i.e the gene-centric hypothesis) is philosophical, not scientific, as he himself admitted when he wrote:

"What I am advocating is not... a hypothesis which can be verified or falsified, not a model which can be judged by its predictions" [Extended Phenotype, p1, (1981)].

It's a shame that he has become synonymous with evolutionary biology, because he does great damage to more serious debates.
Hi Jos,

Thanks, I’m glad you liked it.

“"What I am advocating is not... a hypothesis which can be verified or falsified, not a model which can be judged by its predictions" [Extended Phenotype, p1, (1981)].”

Interesting and yet not surprising. This does however go further to demonstrate how those such as Dawkins have taken to the pulpit so to speak. I find it sad when that he fails to realize that he does not do his vocation any good when conducting himself in such a manner; just as those religious representatives do when they try to pass themselves off as serious scientists.

I have had a gander at your blog and on many levels we see things in a similar fashion. That’s not to say that I’m a Christian as you, yet I do insist that it is both naive and unfortunate that many scientists feel that it is important to their understanding that they omit the why from their considerations. I suppose you also know that according to the most recent surveys your scientific specialty is the most likely of all of the scientific disciplines to think this way. The ones still most open to such consideration being mathematicians. I find this all quite ironic and yet understandable at the same time.

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