Not knowing exactly where the discussion reproduced on Marco's blog began, and unsure of where the participants in it actually agree or disagree with Prof Lennox, I will just throw out onto the aether my own thoughts about his book, 'God's Undertaker'.
I am in complete agreement with Prof Lennox wherever he is showing up the hubristic claims of the 'New Atheists'. They say things that are ridiculous and irrational and Prof Lennox does a good job of demonstrating this in his first five chapters.
Science is an instrument for making sense of the reproducible, comprehensible features of the experienced universe. To say that all features of this experienced universe are reproducible and comprehensible is a statement of faith - a defensible and rational statement of faith, but still a statement of faith. To say that nothing exists outside this experienced universe is a statement of faith that is irrational and indefensible.
The scientific worldview is not inconsistent with a belief in an omnibenevolent entity which is omniscient and omnipotent with respect to our universe. It just isn't.
The scientific worldview is not inconsistent with the definition of Good as a real feature of the universe, rather than a social construct or emergent biological epiphenomenon. Neither is the scientific worldview inconsistent with the survival in a 'location' outside the universe of the information describing a human life in its entirety; a belief in miracles; nor the active involvement in human affairs of free-willed 'macrobes' capable of masquerading as gods.
On the other hand, if 'belief in God' is conflated with 'adherence to a theistic religion', the situation becomes murkier in terms of the tension between science and religion. The scientific worldview posits a single source of authority - experience - and is antithetical in its spirit to all other sources of authority. Thus an organised religion resting on sources of authority that will in many cases appear to contradict experience - that is, all of them - will never be an entirely comfortable place for someone subscribing to a scientific worldview. Thus I have to disagree with his quotation (about 15% through) that 'vast tracts of science remain unaffected by such philosophical considerations': all of science is necessarily shot through with a spirit that is in opposition to all individual organised religions, even if it is not incompatible with theism in general.
So, where Prof Lennox is negative, I am on his side. Where he is making positive assertions, I am a little less happy. Though I have to say I didn't find anything particularly objectionable in the first five chapters.
In Chapter 6 he metaphorically wheels out his motorcycle and heads down to the aquarium when he starts talking about evolution. To me, this was because he quotes a large number of people who dissent from the 'neo-Darwinian' consensus, including Niles Eldredge of punctuated equilibrium fame, without telling us what they intend to put in its place rather than intelligent design. So, species are largely static: it makes sense that genetic change will be most rapid in small, isolated populations. So, random mutations won't cut it: but what about horizontal gene transfer? Changes in gene regulations giving major morphological changes from a minor chemical change? Some sort of Parigian neo-Lamarckism? There are a lot of possibilities, and Lennox doesn't talk about any of them because he has already written them off.
Where he talks about how unsatisfactory the current models for the origin of life are, in chapter 7, I - or more accurately, my real-world alter ego - am on pretty much the same page.
I think this just means we need to approach the question from a more fundamental direction, with simple building blocks for a metabolism, and be more open about the possibility of exogenesis. I think introducing Intelligent Design would be a terrible idea.
Consider the following syllogism, going back at least as far as the 1st century:
There is strong evidence that the universe was designed.
However, the universe is all ****ed up.
Therefore, the designer of the universe is an ****hole.
Expressed somewhat more elegantly, this is a syllogism that has convinced a great many virtuous and intelligent people over the millennia. The problem of reconciling the existence of a good God with a ****ed-up universe is the central problem of theism. I solved this problem to my own satisfaction when I was 19, but I could not have done so if I believed biology exhibited intelligent design.
"What a book a devil's chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horribly cruel work of nature!" (Charles Darwin)
The evil we see in nature can be explained as the consequence of natural selection and other natural evolutionary mechanisms: we do not see the perfect world of the divine vision, but the outcome of choices by free-willed beings that have led to a sub-optimal outcome. Extending this to a deep anthropomorphism that gives the attribute of free-will to the particles whose interactions give rise to physical law completes the process of letting God off the hook for the moral flaws of the universe.
Some more observations at different milestones through the book:
7% : I agree with Prof Lennox's argument about the 'forgotten roots of science'. I made the same argument here. I am pretty sure that both of us, and C. S. Lewis as well, got the argument originally from Chesterton, who doubtless made it better than any of us.
8%: I wish people wouldn't diss Aristotle. On the page before, Lennox has been talking about the dead hand of Augustinianism keeping people's attentions focussed on the supernatural world and encouraging a symbolic, allegorical intepretation of nature. What was Augustinianism? Baptised Platonism. The dethronement of Plato by Aristotle at the time of St Thomas Aquinas was the critical moment when the tide turned. Aristotle was part of the solution, not part of the problem. Whitehead's quote about people in Europe in 1500 knowing less than Archimedes in the 3rd century BC is just bogus: if he had said 1100, sure.
11%: 'The cosmos is all there is, or was, or ever shall be' (Carl Sagan)
This is the crux of the matter for me and though I repeated myself over and over and over again when we were talking about Dawkins' 'The God Delusion' before I am still not sure I got my point across.
Let's define the 'Universe' as all there is, or was, or ever shall be.
And let's define the 'universe' as this thing that is all we can ever access by experience, which appears to obey certain rules.
Conflation of the two is not tenable.
It was not tenable to clear-thinking people at the time of Lucretius. Speaking of Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Locke and Berkeley, Prof Lennox says correctly 'that the universe is not self explanatory, and that it requires some explanation beyond itself, was something they accepted as fairly obvious.' After Boltzmann's formulation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics and observations of cosmic background radiation suggesting the occurrence of a 'Big Bang', the conflation of the universe with the Universe has become yet more untenable.
12 %: I don't think the definition(s) of science offered by Lennox rigorous enough to illuminate the areas of tension and non-tension between science and religion. I would like to refer you to this monologue by my alter ego. This is just my view: there is no creed defining science that we have to sign up to when we get our degrees. But I doubt that Peirce or Feynman would find much to disagree with me about - and so there is my token argument from authority out of the way.
16 %: '...theists claim that there is someone who stands in the same relationship to the universe that Aunt Matilda stands to her cake.'
Since Aunt Matilda made the cake for her nephew's birthday, these particular theists would be good subjects for a Lovecraftian short story. "The worshippers of Pzgra claim that the end of time she will give the universe to her nephew Pthaak-Zroghoroom, who will eat it, after first blowing out the suns to the strains of music beyond human comprehension."
26%: 'Saying that the universe arises from fluctuations in a quantum vacuum simply pushes the origins question one step further back, to asking about the provenance of the quantum vacuum. More importantly, it leaves unanswered the question 'what is the origin of the laws governing such a vacuum'?
Something must be self-existent; otherwise nothing would exist. And it doubtless seems more reasonable to many people that this something be a quantum vacuum governed by certain laws, rather than God. But in essence, the problem is that the universe and everything in it are not self-existent, so we have absolutely no experience of what a self-existent thing might be like. I am pessimistic about the possibility of us ever making any meaningful stabs at figuring this out from inside the universe with our universe-bound reason. Which brings me to about 27%, and Prof Lennox's discussion of the anthropic principle.
I have never been particularly sympathetic to anthropic principle arguments.
I dislike them for two reasons: my scientific prejudice is that just as there are any number of rocky planets not so unlike ours, and our sun is nothing special, and our galaxy is nothing special, our universe ought to be nothing special. I also have a religious prejudice against the universe being somewhere where things have to balanced to 1 part in 1040 in order for us to be here: I don't like the 'author intrusion' of a Creator who would show off to that extent. It smacks of Oolon Coluphid's Babel Fish argument. I guess I have always thought,without explicitly putting it into sentences, that any amazing sensitivity of our existence to quantifiable features of the universe having certain extremely narrow quantities could be attributed to lack of knowledge and failure of imagination. That is, when we found out more about the universe and how it worked, we would find good reasons for why it was very probable that we would end up with these values, given unexciting initial conditions; and that when we thought about it more we would come up with all sorts of other ways matter could be organised so it could think, given all sorts of other specific values of these constants. Maybe I am wrong.
I am told I have been typing too long, so I will call this part one, and return to the anthropic principle real soon now...