Saturday, January 17, 2015

'Does Humanism Need God?' - on Unbelievable? podcast now up.

My discussion with Angus Ritchie about 'Does Humanism Need God?' is now up on the Unbelievable? podcast on itunes (Premier Christian Radio, Justin Brierley presents). Also broadcast 2pm.

1 comment:

Richard Wein said...

Hi Stephen. I wrote a comment in reply to your post on humanism at CFI:

After writing my comment I found that the blog wasn't accepting further comments, so I'm taking the liberty of posting it here instead. By the way, I've downloaded the Unvelievable podcast, and I'll listen to it when I have time.


"Argument 3" as quoted here (and as presented in the report) is ambiguous. I take it to be the following:

-- If our cognitive faculties evolved to be adequate for the purposes of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we shouldn't expect them to be adequate for the purposes of modern science and mathematics.

Behind the argument seems to be the idea that our hunter-gatherer ancestors could have done just as well with a significantly less capable set of faculties, ones that were insufficient for modern science. So there was no reason for the additional capability (needed for modern science) to evolve. I take it they are not denying that our ancestors gained practical benefit from having the ability to engage in discursive (verbal) reasoning, including the sophisticated general-purpose language needed to support such reasoning. But why think that modern science needs significantly more than that? The generality of our language faculty and reasoning ability means that they can be turned to a huge variety of subjects.

I suspect the objection arises in large part from the sort of essentialistic thinking that inclines people to see fundamental divides instead of continuities, and so sees science and mathematics as fundamentally separated from other thinking. But science is just an extension of more ordinary empirical thinking, having become gradually more systematic, precise and mathematical. Similarly, advanced mathematics did not appear fully-formed overnight. Mathematics probably started with the simple use of a few number words, just to count things. I think the onus is on the objectors to say just where in the development of modern science and mathematics (from their less sophisticated precursors) they would draw the line, i.e. to say "the abilities of our ancestors could have been enough to go just this far and no further", and give a good reason why.

This seems to me to be at heart a creationist argument: this trait (the ability to do science) could not plausibly have been reached by evolution; ergo God.