God in the Age of Science? The reader is presumably invited to draw the lesson that science supplanted religion sometime in the eighteenth century, but this painting also has surprisingly macabre overtones. The onlookers are not gathered religiously around the crib of Christ, but watching with curiosity and horror as a bird is slowly suffocated by an early air pump. Whether intended or not, the cover therefore raises fascinating moral and social questions about the scientific enterprise that would have been interesting to explore but unfortunately are not addressed within the book itself.
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God in the Age of Science? The reader is presumably invited to draw the lesson that science supplanted religion sometime in the eighteenth century, but this painting also has surprisingly macabre overtones. The onlookers are not gathered religiously around the crib of Christ, but watching with curiosity and horror as a bird is slowly suffocated by an early air pump.
Whether intended or not, the cover therefore raises fascinating moral and social questions about the scientific enterprise that would have been interesting to explore but unfortunately are not addressed within the book itself. By the end of the book, Philipse concludes that if we aim to be "reasonable and intellectually conscientious," we should become not just agnostic but "disjunctive strong" or "strong disjunctive" universal atheists By the latter he means we should conclude that: Either religious believers have not succeeded in providing a meaningful characterization of their god s , or the existence of this god or these gods is improbable given our scientific and scholarly background knowledge.
To summarize metaphorically, it is as if the last chance to secure a foundation for the throne of God is to rest on the shoulders of the Emeritus Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion at Oxford and, if he has failed, as Philipse argues he has, the game is pretty much all over for God.
Philipse goes about this ambitious task in a series of commendably clear steps. In Part I, he argues that statements such as the assertion that God or some other god exists have to be interpreted as claims to truth, the only philosophically interesting option. Once Philipse has disposed of the challenge of the reformed objection of Alvin Plantinga et al. Given, however, that we are living in the age of science, Philipse argues that the natural theologian is faced with a dilemma he calls "The Tension" 89 : either to justify theological claims in the manner of scientific methods and theories, which involves making empirical predictions with negligible chances of success, or risk being too dissimilar from scientific and scholarly rationality to be credible As either option is unpalatable, he argues that the best option for the theist is to accept a probabilistic account of scientific and scholarly methods as consisting in rules of inference to the best explanation, "which enable us to assess how probable a hypothesis is in the light of an evidence-set," the approach he ascribes to Swinburne This conclusion sets up Part II, which considers the question of "whether theism really is an explanatory theory or hypothesis, which can be confirmed by empirical evidence" ; The following chapter then examines the question of the necessity of God.
Nevertheless, assuming for the sake of argument that theism is a meaningful theory, Philipse devotes the rest of Part II to arguing that it lacks any "significant predictive power" , that specific evidence adduced to confirm theism inductively can be better explained by rival secular explanations and that other countermoves fail, notably an appeal to miracles such as the Resurrection and phenomena that are "too big" for science.
Part III considers the probability of theism assuming that it does have some predictive power and evaluating claims to be able to explain the state of the cosmos on this basis. This section offers critiques of cosmological arguments, arguments from design and an assortment of other arguments and their defenses, concluding with a chapter on religious experience that refutes the attempt to shift the burden of proof to the non-believer The number and complexity of these issues precludes making more than a few observations.
In my judgment, many of the tactical steps of this book are well argued, notably chapters 3 and 4 on Reformed Theology, as well as the critique of the notion of the personhood of God on the basis of natural reason and the discernment of anthropomorphically-oriented divine purpose on the basis of cosmic order , Indeed, Philipse is at his best, I think, when he challenges claims belonging to revealed theology that have been appropriated and presented as natural theology.
Cultural influences make it hard for many philosophers today to draw this distinction clearly, which is one reason I judge it is normally better practice to go to classical sources, such as Plato and Aristotle, if one wants genuinely to establish what might be known about God or the gods on the basis of natural reason alone. Is natural theology inadequate to regard God as personal? Spaemann has already said as much. Newman denied this. The Book of Job raises the same issue and with great subtlety.
The Jewish people knew this nearly two and a half millennia ago, which is why they used circumlocutions to refer to God and forbade the holiest name to be spoken, and also why Christian theology is based on the understanding that the only word adequate for God is God, the Word made flesh.
First, a serious examination of natural theology usually presupposes, or takes a view or presents some case for a particular understanding of causation, which alone gives us access to knowledge of remote forces and agents of any kind. For this reason, philosophers in the past who constructed very diverse arguments relating to God, such as Thomas Aquinas or David Hume, were similar insofar as they prioritized the issue of causation.
By contrast, Philipse says very little in a positive sense about what he means by a cause, either using the term in passing without reflection or restricting his brief comments to denying particular views of causation advanced by others for example, the doctrine of "double causation", In response, I would say that laws of nature presumably shape our predictions of phenomena, so at least one kind of phenomena, scientific predictions, are indubitably caused at least in part by the laws of nature.
The inverse square law is a consequence of deeper principles, notably the conservation of flux in a three-dimensional space, and the relevant number of dimensions may itself be a contingent consequence of the early physical evolution of the cosmos. Physicists, at least, do not consider it nonsensical to enquire into such matters. The deeper issue, however, is that although Philipse is emphatic about what kinds of things cannot be causes, his positive account is ambiguous.
A second and related problem concerns domains, especially the proper domain of what is meant by God in natural theology and the domain of science. An example is when Philipse raises the possibility of an omniscient, omnipotent, and morally indifferent god MIG as a rival hypothesis to theism and makes the odd point that the necessity of God would raise a problem for theism as a "theory" The problem is that a focus on undercutting proofs for a specific theism under the banner of traditional terminology risks confusing readers, undermining the stated aim of building a case for universal atheism and obliterating a target that many other theists would take issue with anyway.
I was also left curious to know what possibilities Philipse himself advocates or might be willing to accept as an impersonal uncaused cause or causes of the cosmos, or whether he thinks the reliability of our inferences in trying to resolve such questions simply breaks down at some point.
With regard to the domain of science, Philipse places great value on the power of scientific methods to make predictions. In chapters 6, 9, 10, 11 and at many other points he argues repeatedly that theism has no significant predictive power and compares it unfavourably with science on this basis. In adopting this strategy, Philipse is unquestionably correct that the power of prediction is one of the great successes of modern science, the anomalous magnetic moment of the electron being predicted and tested to more than ten significant figures.
Nevertheless, as one goes to higher levels of complexity than those natural systems that can be modelled as aggregates of two-body systems, science becomes less a matter of prediction and more a matter of discovering and unifying phenomena under common explanatory frameworks, as is the case, for instance, with zoology. So by placing so great an emphasis on prediction as a litmus test of success in a scientific age, Philipse runs the risk of doing too much, of cutting away not just God as a "theory", but those sciences that are not in the business of making predictions, along with the humanities as well.
Philipse does seem to verge on taking this step, criticizing Heidegger, Levinas and Jean-Luc Marion among others on the basis that their approaches to questions of natural theology "seem to have zero reliability in the pursuit of truth," but why stop with them? To accomplish this goal, however, Philipse has to address, and quickly dismiss as unreliable or contradictory, any knowledge that is derived from revealed theology in order to establish the priority of natural theology, the main target of his critique in the remainder of the book.
Philipse devotes chapter 1 and parts of chapter 10 to this task, but many of the arguments he puts forward in his critique of revealed theology are too brief and superficial to establish credibility with his colleagues in those areas of the academy that specialize in such matters.
Philipse uses this slender claim to support his case that there are contradictions within the New Testament that make any revealed theology drawn from it unreliable, but in theology, as in science, a single counterexample, even if genuine, rarely suffices in itself to overthrow a paradigm. Gal This book might have been successful as a focused critique of excessive and poorly justified claims that are sometimes made in the name of natural theology. Indeed, I shall find parts of this work valuable in future on that basis.
Oxford: Clarendon Press, , Norton Co. Daniel J. Harrington, Sacra Pagina Liturgical Press, ,
God in the Age of Science?
Mojind Abraham — — In William J. Reconstructing Reality Margaret Morrison. The Book of Job raises the same issue and with great subtlety. Philipse explores the four options a This is absolutely the best book on this subject. Classical, Early, and Medieval Poetry and Poets: In response, I would say that laws of nature presumably shape our predictions of phenomena, so at least one kind of phenomena, scientific predictions, are indubitably caused at least in part by the laws of nature.