Nothing decisive to say

Ayala does the NOMA dance.

Outside the world of nature, however, science has no authority, no statements to make, no business whatsoever taking one position or another. Science has nothing decisive to say about values, whether economic, aesthetic or moral; nothing to say about the meaning of life or its purpose.

Notice how quickly he moves from an emphatic absolute in the first sentence – no business whatsoever – to a qualified one in the second – nothing decisive to say. As Susan Haack says, there’s the bit where he says it and the bit where he takes it back. Science may have nothing decisive to say about values, but that’s not the same thing as having nothing to say at all, and of course science has a lot to contribute to inquiry into values economic, aesthetic and moral. (No, it’s not clear what he means by economic values, but never mind.)

Science has nothing to say, either, about religious beliefs, except when these beliefs transcend the proper scope of religion and make assertions about the natural world that contradict scientific knowledge.

But those beliefs nearly always do, of course. Ayala wants us to think that god-talk is not about the natural world, but of course it is unless the god is so Elsewhere that it makes no difference to anything (and nobody knows its name is god).

People of faith need not be troubled that science is materialistic. The materialism of science asserts its limits, not its universality. The methods and scope of science remain within the world of matter. It cannot make assertions beyond that world.

Whereas ‘people of faith’ can, because they have permission to just make stuff up? Okay…if that’s what you want.

Religion concerns the meaning and purpose of the world and human life, the proper relation of people to their Creator and to each other, the moral values that inspire and govern their lives.

See? There he goes – that’s an assertion about the natural world. If we have a ‘Creator’ then it created us, and that makes it part of the natural world. It can’t be radically separate from the natural world but still create something that is thoroughly embedded in the natural world. What would it do? Mail the blueprint from wherever it is to some agent in the natural world? But even then it would at some point come into contact with the natural world; if it didn’t the mail would never get picked up.

But of course Ayala won the enormous bulging Templeton Prize, and I did not, so he must be right

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