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Conway Morris vs. Dawkins

Agreeing Only to Disagree on God’s Place in Science
By GEORGE JOHNSON

September 27, 2005
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/27/science/27essa.html?ei=5070&en=a8b05baabb3ce5f6&ex=1128484800&emc=eta1&pagewanted=print

… On matters scientific, Dr. Dawkins, who came from Oxford, and Dr. Conway Morris, a Cambridge man, agreed: The richness of the biosphere, humanity included, could be explained through natural selection. [I've corresponded with Conway Morris; he regards natural selection as an engine that powers evolution but not as what gives it direction. --WmAD]

They also agreed, contrary to the writings of Stephen Jay Gould, that evolution is not a crapshoot. If earth’s history could be replayed like a video cassette, the outcome would be somewhat different, but certain physical constraints would favor the eventual appearance of warm-blooded creatures something like us, with eyes, ears, noses and brains.

Then, just millimeters from complete accord, they forked in orthogonal directions. For Dr. Dawkins, an atheist, the creative power of evolution reinforced his conviction that we live in a purely material world. For Dr. Conway Morris, a Christian, nature’s “uncanny ability” to converge on moral, loving creatures like ourselves testified that evolution itself was the handiwork of God….

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10 Responses to Conway Morris vs. Dawkins

  1. I love this: “You clearly can be a scientist and have religious beliefs,” Peter Atkins, an Oxford University chemist, has said. “But I don’t think you can be a real scientist in the deepest sense of the word because they are such alien categories of knowledge.”

    So long, Newton! Goodbye, Gallileo! (And don’t even talk to me about that Mendel character…) None of them were “real” scientists in the “deepest” sense.

    Is it just me, or is there a hint of desperation in this article? One gets the sense of someone trying to shore up a beleif system they aren’t entirely sure of anymore…

  2. “By financing programs like ‘Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest’ and ‘The Origin of the Laws of Nature and the Existence of God,’ Templeton almost single-handedly sustains the modern movement to reconcile science and religion – or, as some see it, he is keeping it alive on its death bed with extraordinary means of support.”

    Note to self: The IRD, Discovery Institute, and the Templeton are “extraordinary means” — a bunch of rich guys funding their pet metaphysical theories, while the materialistic bias abetted and promulgated by the Nobel, the NCSE, the AAS, etc., floated down from heaven on a gossamer fabric of deductive syllogisms and cold, objective reason.

    Got it.

  3. Personally, I don’t think you can be a real scientist and a positive atheist at the same time. Science is deeply agnostic – no knowledge in science is absolute, some is just more reliable. Dawkins is absolutely sure there is no God ergo he’s not a real scientist. He’s holding out an argument from ignorance and pretending it’s the truth.

    On the other hand I think you can be a real scientist and believe in God on a personal level. This is because God manifests, according to many, at a subjective level. This personal experience can’t be subjected to expermental confirmation but it can be compelling personal evidence nonetheless. There’s certainly enough people, myself included, that have had these experiences. One might reasonably say the experiences are illusory but it’s not likely everyone having them is lying about it thus it must be acknowledged that the experience is real and widespread. An atheist on the other hand, cannot confirm the non-existence of God via experiment so he stands on the same ground with regard to science and religion – science is and must be agnostic by definition. Where the theist and the atheist part company is that the atheist cannot claim any subjective knowledge that God does not exist. What’s Dawkins gonna do, claim that he had a deeply personal, compelling revelation from a materialist universe that told him there is no God? [nyuk nyuk nyuk]

  4. Good point, DaveScot!

  5. “By financing programs like ‘Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest’ and ‘The Origin of the Laws of Nature and the Existence of God,’ Templeton almost single-handedly sustains the modern movement to reconcile science and religion – or, as some see it, he is keeping it alive on its death bed with extraordinary means of support.”

    I’d have to disagree as well. Specifically, I’d disagree with the premise that any other organization or group thereof is “keeping the movement (to unite science and theology) alive on its death bed”. This would imply that these organizations have some kind of infallible line on all of the best people and ideas in the field, whereas this is not necessarily the case. In fact, there is no indication that any particular organization, e.g. the Templeton Foundation, is willing to support the work of just anybody, independently of credentials, affiliations, and associations, who might have something valuable to say on the issue. Every organization has its political and ideological constraints and opinions, and those mentioned above are no exception.

    The bridge between science and religion will be built by people who work for the sake of extending human knowledge and wellbeing, not necessarily by those who manage to join with or attract the attention of some wealthy or powerful organization. It follows that the endorsement of such organizations is of little substantive value in the marketplace of ideas.

  6. Just a quick comment touching on what DaveScot said… When I read the absolute claims of atheists like Dawkins, I just shake my head and grin. This is because I know the radical difference that the person of Christ has made in my life. Not religion, but a person. Deep character change that I could never have mustered up in my own strength or by my own “will-power”. I recognize that this is a purely “subjective” evidence… but there are countless others across the globe who share this same kind of life-transforming relationship with the person of Christ. I guess my point is that this is a pretty substantial phenomenon that atheists have to contend with. Again, I recognize the subjective nature of this, but still worth mentioning. What’s even more amazing to me is that this same Christ pursue’s the heart of even the most ardent atheist with a relentless and unconditional love.

    :-)

  7. Yeah, what’s the diffrence between a John Templeton and a John Brockman, whose sole mission in life seems to be to making quasi-rockstars out of any available reductionist academic with a theory? I don’t see the NYT or Guardian making innuendos about Brockman having an axe to grind. Templeton is keeping theology alive by “extraordinary means,” but Brockman gets lionized in articles like this: http://books.guardian.co.uk/re.....67,00.html

  8. Dawkins does believe in convergence. I assume he wouldn’t mind to buy into teleological evolution.

  9. Messrs. Templeton and Brockman are both examples of people who have no especially novel ideas of their own to offer, but instead throw money and/or publicity at various interesting problems…often, unfortunately, in the direction of exactly those people who have been responsible, or have falsely claimed, to have solved such problems in the past. Specifically, they both throw it exclusively in the direction of academia, which has already failed to devote sufficient talent and effort to certain outstanding problems (to confirm this, take a look at the Templeton.org website and examine the numerous strings on most of the organization’s grants). Such efforts are occasionally beneficial, but supporting only the ideas of professional academics is inefficient for any purpose but making or dispensing money and notoriety. Truth cares nothing for credentials, and crucial problems involving the relationship between science and religion shoud be open to the broadest available pool of talent.

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