Keith Ward: Biologists are too dogmatic about God... they are not philosophers

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The Independent Online

It is surely embarrassing for science to be defended on the grounds that it is founded on an absolute prior commitment to a highly disputed and deeply problematic philosophical view. If ever there was a dogmatic faith that zooms well past the evidence, this is it.

In a new book about Darwin, the philosopher A C Grayling writes, "Biological 'design' is manifestly not the outcome of previous planning and execution by an intelligent purposive agency, unless that agency is markedly incompetent or markedly malevolent."

Evolution is a lazy, stupid, cruel, malevolent, unintelligent, wholly accidental process. One leading evolutionary biologist assured me that the word "purpose" would have to be avoided at all costs if you hoped to be published in a peer-reviewed journal of biology. Another told me that he would not publicly discuss his belief in God lest it should compromise his biological reputation, and make people suspect that he was prejudiced.

There is clearly a strong anti-religious bias to much evolutionary biology. And yet a number of highly competent biologists have been religious believers. So it cannot be quite obvious that evolutionary biology is committed to materialism.

A C Grayling expresses what seems to be a wide consensus among scientists that Darwinism is a competing theory of explanation with theism. They are explanations of the same sort, but theism is obsolete, and has been effectively replaced by Darwinism.

What this shows is a refusal to make proper distinctions between philosophy, religion, and science. A paradigmatic form of scientific explanation seeks to explain the behaviour of physical objects in terms of general mathematically expressible laws which generate predictions that can be confirmed by experimental observations.

Philosophy does not do that. Philosophy has no equations, predictions, or conclusive confirmations – that is precisely why some of us become philosophers in the first place. Philosophy asks about the meaning of the terms we use, the grounds for human knowledge. Thus a philosopher might ask whether scientific explanation is the only sort of explanation there is.

Taken from the Bolye lecture given by Professor Keith Ward at Gresham College last week