Saturday, April 05, 2008

Science and Religion: Belief or Commitment? - audio lecture by Peter Lipton (online at Faraday Institute)

Quotes and comments;

1. Lipton introduces his lecture in a way I found refreshing. He tells us he's a member of the 'progressive' Jewish community in Oxford.

2. He's a rarity in that he actually slows down enough to define religion. He defines it as believing the words of religious texts are true. I think this is an inadequate (and partial) definition; but I appreciate any definition at all. Of course an obvious question is, 'what is a religious text?' - although one can assume he means the old and new testaments and the Koran.

3. He talks about our 'best' science; but how do we know what that is? Obviously we don't. (I guess it's what people say at Oxbridge :=)

4. The lecture deals with the 'contradictions' between science and religion. He outlines several methods of dealing with contradictions that he doesn't like.
- he doesn't like the metaphorical solution (i.e. that Gen. is mainly metaphor) although he doesn't deny all metaphor.
- he doesn't like the religion is a value zone and science a fact zone (e.g. Gould) Obviously science isn't value free; nor is 'religion' fact free.
- he doesn't like the 'pick and mix' method either (i.e. take and reject what you want... he refers to A. Plantinga)
5. Onward to Kant;
''After a scientific revolution the world changes...'' - Thomas Kuhn
- Lipton goes on to wonder what Kuhn meant by this enigmatic remark.

Lipton seems to be saying; that if one takes a 'Kantian' position (Kuhn is somewhat different) what we study in science is a 'mix' of the raw data, and what the human mind brings to to the data. Therefore; science can never be solely about raw data. (There is no raw data for human beings.) This is the great pretense of secular scientists; they (and only they) deal with 'reality' while 'religious' people deal with fantasies. (To simplify; the 'science' apologist imagines he's dealing with reality... when he is not.) I hope that's close to being right. The naive scientist then imagines the phenomena he observes is in fact noumena; ie. he thinks he's observing reality when in fact he's observing a human 'interpreation' of the data. (I take kant to mean Reality doesn't exist; that all we have is our human perceptions of some other realm.)

6. Lipton wants to take a 'seperate worlds' approach to this 'conflict.' I think he means by this that 'science' is one world (ie. raw data) and 'religion is another world (the human 'input' into our phenomenal experience) He then claims that there can be no contradiction between the two.

- I assume he means that without the human input there would be no phenomena for scientists to investigate. An obvious objection would be; 'why then does the E. and the C. see the world differently?' I guess the answer is that there is no such thing as generic input; that the 'world' is more complex than a rainbow... that while the E. and the C. both see a rainbow other things are more complex. ie. it's not simply physical organs that are involved, it's ideas, world views, desires, etc.

- if I'm right he's saying there is no such thing as our ability to know things in themselves; i.e. the E. will see things one way and the C. another. It's not that the E. sees correctly and the C. incorrectly (or vice versa) but that we see an expression of who we are so to speak. i.e. we cannot know the noumenal realm.

7. He talks about the view of Bas van Fraassen (who I've tried to listen to, but find confusing) who claims the function of science is not to be revelatory about some unseen world (i.e. raw data) but to be useful? (VF calls his view constructive empiricism?) VF sees theories as 'computers' that make predictions....? (The realist thinks theories are maps of reality) The instrumentalist asks not is it true but will it give us good predictions?
- see notes for a link to online lectures by Fraassen.

8. VF talks about 'immersion' - that you don't have to believe a theory is true to be able to use it... He also says scientists should never believe that their theories are true (but merely that they work?)
- I take it L. wants to apply VF to religion.

9. in the Q+A Lipton wants to make it clear he's not a fundamentalist, (horrors) that he believes some of the text but not all.

- This is what I've come to call the fallacy of abstractionism. i.e. while people talk about religion, in reality there is no such thing as religion; no such thing as text; etc.)

10. A questioner wants to play the old game of science giving us facts and 'religious' people giving us fantasies. He accuses Lipton of taking away the one thing religious people want; namely certainty.

- You can listen to the lecture to hear Lipton's reply but let me say that people like this young man can't seem to understand that its utterly useless to talk in these vague terms! A christian must speak as a christian... not about some vague thing called religion. It's impossible to speak meaningfully about 'religion.' (I would dispute his claim that the Bible is full of untruths, and I would point out that Materialism is full of them.) A generic debate is the most useless thing on earth. (It's like throwing marshmellows at one another :=) It will Never get anywhere.

11. the Q. person compares 'true belief' to a drug. He apparently doesn't have the wit to see his belief in materialism is true belief as well... in fact a far more certain belief than 99.999 percent of religious' belief. I don't think he doubts the materialist world view for a second. That's the kind of true belief he has!

12. Lipton wants to strip the supernatural out of religion. I'll always wonder, '' why bother then?" I don't get it.

13. L. seems to suggest that VF takes a fundamentalist approach to religion, and an instrumentalist approach to science... as a way of dealing with the tension between the two. (He at least suggested a person could do this he might not have had VF in mind.)

14. It seems to me that he misconstrues kant when he says, 'we can't know the noumenal realm when we talk about 'religion' but we can when we talk about 'science.' I don't think this is what Kant said. I'm the furthest thing from a kantian scholar there is but I think it was kant's view that one couldn't know the noumenal realm in any sense at all. I don't think he agreed with this pretense 'science' gives us facts and 'religion' gives us warm fuzzies. (It seems to me Lipton was very much a liberal and wanted to keep 'religion' but as a nice fuzzy; but is really keen on keeping the 'facts' of science which he claims are real.
This just is not Kant. (If it is... I reject it.) The fact you can see a rainbow doesn't make it any more real than god. Perhaps a bad illustration; VF uses it; i.e. we see a rainbow because of the way our 'brains' are constituted... not because it exists. In other words, our perceptions are very often illusory... no rainbow exists. So to say our perceptions of a 'physical' world are real and what the bible says about the 'supernatural' is unreal is just naive. I want to say that we cannot know the noumenal at all; certainly not if we are just mindless products of chemical Accidentalism.
A Christian believes on faith that god has given him a glimpse into the 'noumenal' realm; ie. without revelation he cannot know it all. If Lipton is saying 'I'm only talking about things we experience as physical' I would say that the physicicsts deny there's anything physical to the table I'm pounding on... that it's just particles. So here too the perception is illusory.

15. On reflection he might be right about Kant; but it's a joke. If what Kant says is true... there's NO reason to take perceptions to be snapshots of reality.

16. It's false to say only 'religion' has metaphor; modern science is shot through with metaphor... (ie. the big bang, natural selection, etc.)

17. After listening you might want to compare this lecture with one given by another Jewish fellow, this time at the evil (hisssss) Discovery Institute. (see notes) I remember he also talked about the Torah (or was it the commentary on it?) and how the rabbis had so much respect for what was said that they never rejected it outright, no matter how strange a comment seemed. They would just try (even for centuries) to figure out some way a seemingly 'fallacious' statement could be understood. Lipton on the other hand admits to rejecting various things in the Torah.

1.Bas van Fraassen, Terry Lectures ; lectures on science
1a. Ernest Nagel Lectures; 3 lectures on 'Trying to be an empiricist'
2. Benjamin Rosenblum; 'Is Darwinism Kosher?'
3. Lipton died in 2007, a year or so after this lecture (video) was given.
4. Let me admit that I'm over my head when dealing with Kant. I begin by thinking I get it, and then end up confused.
5. Lipton sounds very much like a liberal christian theologian; a kind of higher critic of the Torah.
6. I would think every true Christian ought to at least hold out a possibility the 'difficult' passages (claims) in the bible might be true; that he or she should reject nothing in an absolute sense. Let's take that favorite topic of controversy; the creation of the earth in 6 days, 6 thousand years ago. To anyone familiar with modern astronomy this seems impossible. Out of respect for scripture I want to believe that this is a true account; but it's very difficult to do. But rather than reject this claim outright I want to say instead that I don't understand how it could be true, that it's a mystery I can't account for. I don't want to say it cannot possibly be true. The universe of our perceptions may be quite different in reality (or at a deeper level) than we know, or can even imagine. The 'world' may not be what it appears. But I don't need to reject a 'literal' reading of Gen. to do astronomy. I can hold out a possibility a 'plain' reading of gen. could be true, and still suppose it's more likely the universe is billions of years old. I can admit that it seems to be the case that the universe is very much older than gen. would lead us to believe. At the same time it's necessary to point out that the 'old' age of the universe is based upon theories. It is a theory that the universe is 15 (or however big the number is today) billion years old. We can't prove that it's that old, or that young.


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