Some scientists conclude that the sciences of the human nervous system and psychology have nullified the old, traditional belief that humans can act freely; i.e., that ‘free will’ is a myth that must be discarded by any scientifically informed person. This is a philosophical inference from the work of science, and like many such inferences from the data of sciences it should be subject to critical scrutiny. A good example of the nullification view (of free will) is given by James Miles (a British evolutionary theorist).
To argue, as Michael Shermer does, that the naturalistic fallacy is merely a pious pronouncement of philosophers ignorant of scientific solutions betrays a fundamental ignorance of the issues and problems with which ethical philosophers have long dealt. And to say, as Shermer and Sam Harris do, that our inability to find a scientific solution to a tough moral problem leaves us without any possibility of resolving the issue seems to me a bit of sophistry. It betrays a fundamental ignorance of moral dilemmas and assumes falsely that the only possible solution to a moral problem is a scientific one.
When asked to debate, scientists should immediately seize upon the opportunity to explain that such debates are really just entertainment venues – that they have nothing to do with real science – that it gives Creationism/ID undue credibility – that scientists would rather spend their precious time doing real science – and most importantly – that if forced to debate, the scientist’s time, reputation, and expertise is highly valuable.
Many people assume that when scientific cosmologists and theoretical physicists investigate the primordial conditions of the universe and advance theories purporting to explain how the universe may have originated, they are dealing with the philosophers’ Deep Question: Why is there something instead of nothing? But they are not. They are not investigating the why of the universe (as if they could find reasons, motives, or purposes behind the primordial conditions leading to the Big Bang).
Sam Harris, one of the “new atheistic” writers, apparently has a new book coming, The Moral Landscape: Thinking about human values in universal terms. Someone sent me a text of a recent interview in which he answers a few questions about the way in which science provides answers to moral questions. I found his his replies are as perplexing as they are problematic. He seems to discount the really hard questions of moral situations. To anyone (like myself) who holds out hope that the work of the sciences is relevant to moral philosophy, Harris’s perspective on these issues does not offer any help at all.
An acquaintance (call him “Bob”) tagged me in Facebook with a set of remarks arguing that random chance and physical processes alone could never explain how the universe came about. I considered his remarks, replied to them, and tried to show why I (like most scientists and rationally-critical people) reject this argument as even remotely close to a good case for an intelligent designer working behind the scenes to bring about the universe
We tend to be anthropomorphic. That is, we tend to view nature from our own perspective and apply our own ways and means of thinking and doing to nature. What makes Darwin’s insight – evolution by means of natural selection – so brilliant and magnificent is its counter-intuitiveness – and its continual confirmation since its debut in 1859.
There is plenty in philosophical literature which is not just analysis or elaboration of the work of science, and which is not modeled on science. What I stress is that philosophical discourse should at least strive for honesty, clarity and coherence, and that philosophers should not make obscurity a virtue, and should not offer vagueness and equivocation as profundity. I don’t have much patience for the pretentious type of speculative metaphysics which often parades as profound philosophy.
Wright, while trying not to be too obvious about it, argues for a form of teleology in biological evolution. He even attempts to recruit Daniel Dennett, a well-known exponent of Darwinian natural selection. We can admire Wright for his tireless effort, but ultimately there are good reasons for rejecting his attempt to show that teleology is part of Darwinian natural selection.
By insisting on naturalistic hypotheses instead of falling back on “God did it,” many of the key steps in the transformation from inanimate matter to living cells are now understood in considerable detail. Major discoveries in the past 60 years have already led to creating genetic material, proteins and other biochemical structures that begin to bridge the gap between non-life and life.