Haack v Ruse

Another passage from Haack’s book that is relevant to Ruse’s argument.

The commitment to naturalism is not merely the expression of a kind of scientific imperialism; for supernatural explanations are as alien to detective work and history or to our everyday explanations of spoiled food or delayed buses as they are to physics or biology. And the reason is not that supernatural explanations are alien to science; not that they appeal to the intentions of an agent; not that they rely on unobservable causes. The fundamental difficulty (familiar from the central mystery of Cartesian dualism, how mental substance could interact with physical substance) is rather that by appealing to the intentions of an agent which, being immaterial, cannot put its intentions into action by any physical means, they fail to explain at all.

Just so. Which is why it’s so irritating when religion-symps say, or jeer, that science can’t explain everything. Meaning religion can? Or meaning religion can explain the bits that science can’t? But religion can’t explain anything – not anything at all. Not really. It can pretend to, but it can’t actually do it. Answering ‘magic’ to every question really doesn’t explain anything whatever, does it. Well, answering ‘God’ for all questions that science can’t answer amounts to the same thing. If science can’t answer it, that means it’s the kind of question which can’t be answered by means of inquiry. Well – what else is there? Is there some other kind of epistemic endeavour that genuinely does find out things, but does it with completely different (yet still reliable, testable, coherent, logical, repeatable) methods? Some kind of science+++? Some kind of >science? No. No, what people mean when they say ‘science can’t explain everything’ is that there are some things that can only be explained by making up the explanations out of our own dear heads, without checking them against anything. And that isn’t an explanation. It’s a story, or an aphorism, or a pretty thought, but not an explanation.

It’s irritating in the same way when people say, as Michael Ruse did in a review of Dawkins’ A Devil’s Chaplain last year, that religion asks ultimate questions.

People like Dawkins, and the Creationists for that matter, make a mistake about the purposes of science and religion. Science tries to tell us about the physical world and how it works. Religion aims at giving a meaning to the world and to our place in it. Science asks immediate questions. Religion asks ultimate questions. There is no conflict here, except when people mistakenly think that questions from one domain demand answers from the other. Science and religion, evolution and Christianity, need not conflict, but only if each knows its place in human affairs – and stays within these boundaries.

I pitched a fit about this at the time – but that’s no reason not to pitch another. There is a conflict here – unless one is content to accept empty answers to questions, and ‘meaning’ based on the empty answers to those questions. It’s just way too easy to think we can be rational in one ‘domain’ and out in the ozone in the other ‘domain.’ Of course lots of people do that, but it doesn’t follow that philosophers ought to encourage the practice. It’s a dereliction of duty, if you ask me.

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