Michael Ruse’s new book

I swear, Michael Ruse is like your befuddled old uncle who behaves nicely most of the time, but then, in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner, says something like, “Oops, I wet myself!”  In matters like his recent attack on evolution-denying philosophers, he’s right on the mark.  But then he goes and has an accident, like the appearance, three days ago, of his new book Science and Spirituality.   I haven’t read it yet, and won’t unless somebody pays me to review it, but it sounds like The Faitheist Manifesto.  Here’s its description on Amazon:

In Science and Spirituality: Making Room for Faith in the Age of Science, Michael Ruse offers a new analysis of the often troubled relationship between science and religion. Arguing against both extremes – in one corner, the New Atheists; in the other, the Creationists and their offspring the Intelligent Designers – he asserts that science is undoubtedly the highest and most fruitful source of human inquiry. Yet, by its very nature and its deep reliance on metaphor, science restricts itself and is unable to answer basic, significant, and potent questions about the meaning of the universe and humankind’s place within it: Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the ultimate source and foundation of morality? What is the nature of consciousness? What is the meaning of it all? Ruse shows that one can legitimately be a skeptic about all of these questions, and yet why it is open for a Christian, or member of any faith, to offer answers. Scientists, he concludes, should be proud of their achievements but modest about their scope. Christians should be confident of their mission but respectful of the successes of science.

Yes, of course religions are permitted to answer questions like, “What is the nature of consciousness?”  But there’s no way to determine whether their answers are right.

Jesus and Mo cartoon h/t to: Far away

54 Comments

  1. Posted March 11, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Review: “by its very nature and its deep reliance on metaphor, science restricts itself and is unable to answer …”

    Unlike religion, which uses no metaphors. OK.

  2. Dr. J
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see the questions as valid in the first place. Why does their need to be some greater meaning applied to “all of it”? Why can’t 42 be the answer? What evidence is there that this is a better answer than 42?

    • Occam
      Posted March 11, 2010 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

      47. If you think deeply about it. Feel it in your soul. All of Creation cries it out loud: for theological reasons, it has to be 47. Douglas Adams was an apostate.
      The proof: 42 + 5 = 47.

  3. newenglandbob
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Yet, by its very nature and its deep reliance on metaphor, science restricts itself and is unable to answer basic, significant, and potent questions about the meaning of the universe and humankind’s place within it

    Science relies on metaphor? Really? – No, it is about evidence, process and testing.

    Meaning of the universe – there is none.
    Humankind’s place in it – insignificant.

    …and that is just one sentence.

    The rest is inane blather.

    • Posted March 11, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      I think the confusion is because scientists, being human after all, do indeed rely on metaphor as a tool for achieving intuitive understanding. The science itself has no metaphors, but we as human beings rely heavily on metaphors to make sense of it all.

      It remind me of Midgley’s critique of The Selfish Gene. Dawkins goes out of his way to say that the idea of a gene as “selfish” is merely a metaphor, and that we must return at times (as he does frequently) to the underlying science and make sure that our intuitive metaphor still aligns with reality, and is not just a speculative flight of fancy. He repeats this message at least once a chapter, almost to the point of tedium. And yet some people, such as Midgley, still missed the point. “It’s all just a metaphor! How can he assert all that based on metaphor?!” facepalm…

      • newenglandbob
        Posted March 11, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

        Sure, but the metaphors are for communicating it, not for the underlying science, as you stated.

        Religion, on the other hand, is nothing but metaphors, fairy tales and myths, followed by apologetics and irrationalizations coupled with denial and delusion.

    • Posted March 11, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      Meaning of the universe – there is none.

      I’d answer slightly differently: What each individual chooses to make of it. I think answering “there is none” is answering in the negative to a question that is Not Even Wrong.

      To explain: The word “meaning” is itself meaningless unless it is specified, whether implicitly or explicitly, what sapient creature(s) are doing the meaning-ing. Most of the time, the meaning-er is clearly implied, or is at least implied clearly enough that it does not make it difficult to answer the question. If I say, “What is the meaning of the word ‘blather’?”, it’s implied that the meaning-er is ‘your average English-speaker’… but of course, ‘blather’ could have a completely different meaning in another language, so in some contexts it might be important to explicitly specify who is doing the meaning.

      When the question is, “what is the meaning of the universe,” it becomes critically important to explicitly specify the meaning-er. If you don’t specify a meaning-er, then the answer is not “There is none” — the answer is that it’s not even a question…!

      (I realize that wherever I said “meaning-er”, “meaner” was probably more appropriate, but it doesn’t sound right… too similar to “more mean””. heh…)

      • Cathy Sander
        Posted March 11, 2010 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

        It sounds Zen-like, isn’t it? The most important lesson I’ve learnt in philosophy is to question the assumptions inplicit in the questions people ask.

  4. Barry
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    What can I say about Ruse? His name isn’t ruse for nothing.

  5. Neil
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Is he on the Templeton gravy train, yet? If not, he sounds like he is waiting for it at the station.

    • ennui
      Posted March 11, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      From his CV(pdf), posted on his web page at FSU:

      John Templeton Book Prize, 1999

  6. Jonn Mero
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    I’d love to see the religious come up with a well argued, coherent and intelligible reason why we are here, and the meaning of our existence.
    And find some tangible evidence that their lord and master had anything to do with it.

    We’ve been waiting for a very long time, so a few more years won’t make much difference.

    Notice also on Amazon that the believers can’t understand how anyone can tell that the books by the IDiots and the DiscoTuters have nothing to further knowledge by reading just the first few pages.
    The word ‘experience’ doesn’t seem to gel with them.

    • Tulse
      Posted March 11, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      I’d love to see the religious come up with a well argued, coherent and intelligible reason why we are here

      God got lonely, and wanted sycophantic subservient beings to tell him how great he is. Isn’t that obvious?

      and the meaning of our existence.

      Sycophantically and subserviently telling god how great he is. What more could you possibly want from life?

  7. Nofanofruse
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Your diagnosis is eerily correct. I know Michael Ruse, and “Oops, I wet myself!” is exactly the kind of thing he would say at Thanksgiving dinner, but only in order to shock those at the table and draw attention to himself. He’s a shameless self-promoter and a muddle-head who wouldn’t recognize a valid argument if it bit him in the ass. I see that he got a Templeton Book Prize in 1999. I have no doubt that he’s now angling for the big prize. He plays whichever side of the field suits his self-aggrandizing ambition at the time.

  8. Eric MacDonald
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been searching around the web for a reasonable review of the book, but there isn’t one out yet. I fear it’s going to be usual science answers questions, religion asks questions that science can’t answer sort of nonsense. I wish Ruse would get his act together. One day he’s saying something that every sane person will have to agree with – like his Chronicle article – but the next time you read something he’s written is fallen off the edge of the map.

    One of the things that concerns me is the assumption that the so-called “New Atheists” are somehow extreme, as though they are suggesting that only scientists can answer questions of interest to human beings. That, of course, is not true, as anyone who has read a novel, watched a play, seen a movie, enjoyed and opera, or admired the Partenon can tell you. But none of the New Atheists are making such ridiculoous claims. What the New Atheists are doing, finally, is saying, Hey, there’s been lots of stuff that tends to show the pointlessness of religion, and it’s been around for a long time. Let’s take stock of it. To listen to people like Ruse and his mates, you’d think that what New Atheists are saying is really really new, but it’s not. It’s been around since the Greeks and even the Hebrews. After all, the book of Job is a powerful argument agaisnt the existence of a just god. Ecclesiastes asks all the questions and basically says, Get on with your life. It’s the only one you’re going to have, so make the best of it. Ruse and his allies should get out a little, read something from the tradition, and realise that New Atheism is only the old atheism, WRIT LARGE.

    • Eric MacDonald
      Posted March 11, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      Ignore this one. I reworked it below, if you’re interested.

  9. Eric MacDonald
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Sorry about Partenon = Parthenon, of course.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 11, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      That’s what they call it in Chicago!!!

      • Eric MacDonald
        Posted March 11, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

        Hey, I supppose they do, but where I come from the ‘h’ is pronounced.

  10. Eric MacDonald
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I should try that again:

    I’ve been searching around the web for a reasonable review of the book, but there isn’t one out yet. I fear it’s going to be usual: “science answers questions, religion asks questions that science can’t answer” sort of nonsense. I wish Ruse would get his act together. One day he’s saying something that every sane person will have to agree with – like his Chronicle article – but the next time you read something he’s written he seems to have fallen off the edge of the map.

    One of the things that concerns me is the assumption that the so-called “New Atheists” are somehow extreme, or, actually, new, as though they are suggesting that only scientists can answer questions of interest to human beings. That, of course, is not true, as anyone who has read a novel, watched a play, seen a movie, enjoyed an opera, or admired the Parthenon can attest. But none of the New Atheists are making such ridiculoous claims.

    What the New Atheists are doing, finally, is saying, Hey, there’s been lots of stuff that tends to show the pointlessness of religion, and it’s been around for a long time. Let’s take stock of it. To listen to people like Ruse and his mates, you’d think that what New Atheists are saying is really really new, and all of it the result of science, but it’s not (although science contributes the important accumulation of evidence for things held for similar reasons thousands of years ago). It’s been around for a long time, since the ancient Greeks and even the Hebrews, and you can go back into Hindu tradition and find atheistic Hindu writings as well.

    After all, the book of Job is a powerful argument against the existence of a just god. Ecclesiastes asks all the questions and basically says, Get on with your life. It’s the only one you’re going to have, so make the best of it. Ruse and his allies should get out a little, read something from the tradition, and realise that New Atheism is only the old atheism, WRIT LARGE. It’s not science extending its scope. Its scientists recognising that its dependence on evidence, while never systematised before relatively recently, has been around a long time, and those who looked for evidence, in Greece, ancient Judaea, the ancient sages of the Hindu tradition, and most of the Chinese philosophers, all recognised that we don’t get any evidence for gods or supernatural doings, and so we’d better try to make the most of the lives that we have, and of the world we live them in.

    But it’s a bit tiresome when someone like Ruse, who should know better, since he is, after all, or purports to be, a philosopher, and he must know that this tradition is a long one, and does not depend simply of the imagined hubris of scientists.

    As I say, apologies again for doing this twice, but I think it’s better the second time around.

    • Pete Cockerell
      Posted March 11, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      The first version seemed fine to me, but I only skimmed the revised version, I must admit!

    • TreeRooster
      Posted March 11, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      Both versions were well written! It is very refreshing to see Job and Ecclesiastes characterized as, at least in part, counterpoints to the Old Testament theism.

      About the “questions that science can’t answer,” specifically the moral questions: I am comfortable with the idea that moral instincts evolved, partially as side-effects of reinforced cooperative behavioral patterns. Then there is Dawkin’s distinction between the world as it is and the world as it should be. (In the preface of The Selfish Gene he makes it clear that he believes that we should often disobey the instincts we inherit, opting for altruism.)

      My question is about the use of the word “should” in such a discussion. Is it not an expression outside of the scope of science to say we should behave a certain way? Even outside the scope of social science! There are certainly ways for science to study the utilitarian outcomes of actions, but there is a residual amount of moral absoluteness in the idea that we should always act in a loving, compassionate way. It cannot be based only upon the idea that most people want to live in a compassionate society. This is usually true (thus the golden rule is a good heuristic) but it does not answer the question “why should we cater to the desires of others even when doing so in no way benefits ourselves?” Or “should we never sacrifice an unwilling individual in order to save many others from great suffering?”

      It might not require a specific religion to answer those questions; perhaps just art or philosophy can approach it. However, it seems that it will have to stated at an axiomatic level by some discipline other than those calling themselves scientific. Religion would perhaps add a layer to the chain of reasoning by positing God as love, and God as good, thus love as good.

      I haven’t read Ruse, so I have no idea how these comments relate to his arguments!

      • TreeRooster
        Posted March 11, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

        correction: “[answers to absolute moral questions] will have to be stated at an axiomatic level.”

    • Michael Fugate
      Posted March 11, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

      I think Eric is so right in terms of the muddled mess Christians have made of the Bible. One thing they have done is make God into the equivalent of a Wall Street firm – too big to fail. They have padded his resumé with every attribute they can imagine. To be too big to fail you can’t be creative; you must be willing and able to fail to create something.
      The OT is a chronicle of God’s creative failures, but Christians have transferred the responsibility to his creation. Much like the responsibility for the economic failures have been transferred to the poor people who were loaned money instead of those who made the loans.
      God’s failures have been remarkable – after creating man he created millions? billions? of species as companions before he thinks up woman? This is a genius? Then this creation, which is supposedly in his own image, disrespects him so frequently that he has to send floods, prophets, judges, and kings, changes their languages, and even exiles them in slavery before coming to earth in the form of a man all without much effect.
      The Christian version is so out of tune with the OT that you really have to wonder what is going on.

    • Clive
      Posted March 12, 2010 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      Actually, I’ve just read ‘God and the New Atheists’ by John F Haught, and one of his themes is that the ‘new’ atheists aren’t new, ’cause there’s been, like, atheists before, but those atheists were proper atheists who realised how radical atheism is, that it ought to drive you mad, for instance, whereas Dawkins and co are lightweights.

      Oh, and his students would spot this and have a good laugh at the New Atheists’ expense.

      I read it because I really wanted to find some actually compelling religious argument, and it’s awful. The points which he makes against Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris which are, in my view, of some force have been just as well made by other atheists.

  11. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    by its very nature and its deep reliance on metaphor, science restricts itself

    As mentioned here already science is only restricted by method, mainly testing.

    That is how I know what Ruse discusses is despite his claims amenable: he seriously test anyone’s patience.

  12. Martin
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    I know it’s been said before, but what writers like Ruse tend to ignore is that religion isn’t just a vague new ageish concept of god that accepts all sorts of crazy ideas. Religions are individual belief systems based on very specific crazy ideas, and they make very specific claims, about the nature of the universe. These claims often conflict with those of other religions just as they often conflict with the observations of the natural world made by scientists for generations. In order to really reconcile science and spirituality, it would have to take these claims, one by one, and show how they’re compatible. To gloss over the specifics makes any such attempt look like nothing more than a clever, er, ruse.

  13. jose
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    “What is the ultimate source and foundation of morality? What is the nature of consciousness?”

    Science is not unable to answer these questions. (I’m not saying “this book settles it”- I’m saying science actually can dig into these topics.)

  14. SaintStephen
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    <em<Why is there something rather than nothing?
    Why not? (Dennett)

    What is the ultimate source and foundation of morality?
    Selfish genes (Dawkins)

    What is the nature of consciousness?
    A high-level operating system that has too much free time.

    What is the meaning of it all?
    Ill-posed question.

    • TreeRooster
      Posted March 11, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      Hi! I just wrote a small piece about the Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene and morality, several comments above. It makes a partial reply to your comment as well.

  15. Posted March 11, 2010 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Questions like, “Why is there something rather than nothing” immediately raise my bullshit detector. These questions are similar to “If a tree falls in the woods ……….” They’re little more than amusements for credulous, vacuous minds.
    ~AB

  16. Far away
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    jesus ‘n mo say it best:
    http://www.jesusandmo.net/2008/12/17/edge/

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 11, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      So good I posted it above. Thanks!

  17. AdamK
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    If there WAS nothing rather than something, no one would know about it.

  18. Michael Freeling
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    re: “But there’s no way to determine whether their answers are right.”

    Of course. But, sometimes its the process, not the answer, that matters. In such cases, right or wrong doesn’t matter. Just read Ruse’s book. Even if the book is flawed (and I’ve no doubt that it is), I’m sure you’ll find something you haven’t already made up some opinion about.

  19. Neil
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    TreeRooster said: “My question is about the use of the word “should” in such a discussion. Is it not an expression outside of the scope of science to say we should behave a certain way?”

    I don’t think so. For example, a society where each of us cheats on others would be less pleasant for everyone to live in than a society where people do not cheat. However, our selfish genes mean that we would all like to cheat, and hope others do not–so cheating happens. But we have the nature-given intellectual capacity to realize that we can overcome that sort of free-rider problem and we can all enjoy greater happiness by not cheating. Societies can and do develop ways to control cheaters, such as tit-for-tat rules.

    • TreeRooster
      Posted March 11, 2010 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

      I mentioned above that there is no debate over the development of moral instinct, via tit-for-tat and kinship bias. Also, it is clear that we can use our intellect to choose a happier world. But the question is whether there is any requirement that we do so.

      Perhaps what you are saying is that there is no such thing as “should.” That is, perhaps there is no moral imperative, just a set of pragmatics which we can parse in order to maximize happiness for all, and thus maximize the probability of lasting happiness for ourselves as individuals. There is no reason why we should choose to maximize happiness, and even more so no reason why we should behave in a sacrificial manner. On the contrary, if we have the chance to beat the system there is no reason why we shouldn’t! If there is, it must lie outside of testability.

      • Neil
        Posted March 11, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

        At the risk of putting words in Dawkins mouth, I think he is saying no more than “humans can overide instincts that are destructive to our happiness (such as the tragedy of the commons) and in that sense we should overide our instincts, unlike our fellow creatures that are less endowed with intellect and therefore will go on over-grazing, over-breeding, over-whatever.

        • TreeRooster
          Posted March 11, 2010 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

          Right, my guess is that he would agree with the statement: “right and wrong” do not exist as such, rather there are only “useful and not useful” designations. Each individual to some extent gets to define as useful what it is that makes them happy. Frequently we also accept some common definition of happiness for the purpose of crafting law.

          So it may be true that science cannot “make things up” as the cartoon points out, but it is truly limited in that it cannot even produce axioms like “love is good.” Who gets to be in charge of that?

  20. Rob
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    “Yes, of course religions are permitted to answer questions like, ‘What is the nature of consciousness?’ But there’s no way to determine whether their answers are right.”

    So?

    There’s no way to tell if your proposed answers (or anyone else’s) are right either — on that subject or in most of the other really interesting areas of life, including politics, economics, the arts, etc. Indeed, I find your politics (for example), almost hopelessly naive and silly. You’d almost surely hate mine too. But I don’t see that as necessarily a bad thing. Answers in areas like that can’t be demonstrated; they must be argued. What’s so bad about that?

  21. llewelly
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Consciousness is almost certainly a phenomena of the brain. As neuroscience advances, scientists are finding ways to test many of the claims the religious make about the nature of consciousness. It is likely that within our lifetimes, the majority of religious claims about the nature of consciousness will have been tested, with most of the remainder having been identified as too vague or too ill-posed to ever be formulated in a testable manner. That is what has happened with religious claims relating to every other area of science; nearly all religions once made claims about the structure of the cosmos, the shape of the earth, the nature of weather, the creation of plants and animals – and as science advanced, those claims became testable, and they were tested, usually in numerous different ways. There’s no reason to believe religious claims about the nature of consciousness will be any different in this regard.

  22. llewelly
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Yes, of course religions are permitted to answer questions like, “What is the nature of consciousness?” But there’s no way to determine whether their answers are right.

    Consciousness is almost certainly a phenomena of the brain. As neuroscience advances, scientists are finding ways to test many of the claims the religious make about the nature of consciousness. It is likely that within our lifetimes, the majority of religious claims about the nature of consciousness will have been tested, with most of the remainder having been identified as too vague or too ill-posed to ever be formulated in a testable manner. That is what has happened with religious claims relating to every other area of science; nearly all religions once made claims about the structure of the cosmos, the shape of the earth, the nature of weather, the creation of plants and animals – and as science advanced, those claims became testable, and they were tested, usually in numerous different ways. There’s no reason to believe religious claims about the nature of consciousness will be any different in this regard.

  23. bad Jim
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    Religion does offer answers to questions that science can’t, like “What is God’s will for my life? or “Why is (some) sex sinful?” or “What must I do to be saved?” or “Why is a bacon cheeseburger an abomination?*”

    These are not questions that most of us take seriously. I regard “What is the meaning of life?” as comparable to “What is the flavor of dinner?” I don’t eat Purina Bachelor Chow and I find life’s meanings to be various and varying.

    The American public feels differently. Recent surveys showed, for example, that “71 percent said they believe that when good or bad things happen, these occurrences are simply part of God’s plan for them.” When someone gets sick or dies, they’ll point out that it helped reconcile them with an estranged relation or renewed their faith. We ignore this at our peril.

    * Not that there aren’t sound nutritional and environmental reasons to abjure them, of course.

    • Posted March 12, 2010 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      Heh, it occurs to me that my feelings towards a bacon cheeseburger are probably rather similar to the feelings a person who adheres to a strict sexually-repressive religion might have towards hot and dirty sex: I know it’s wrong, and when it’s not even in front of me I might even say it’s disgusting… but when you’re in the middle of one, OH MY GOD. The guilt can wait until afterwards.

      Suddenly, Ted Haggard makes so much more sense to me. If he felt as good stepping out on his wife to smoke meth with a gay prostitute as I felt the last time I stepped out on my (vegetarian) wife to eat bacon cheeseburger… Well, it doesn’t make either indiscretion right, but god damn..

  24. Daws
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 2:52 am | Permalink

    There a more specific link to that cartoon (like that specific one) you can give?

    Good stuff, but a bitch to find in the general site…

  25. Matt Penfold
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    Don’t we already have a discipline for asking and trying to answer questions such as Ruse poses ?

    Just what does he have against philosophy ?

  26. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    So it may be true that science cannot “make things up” as the cartoon points out, but it is truly limited in that it cannot even produce axioms like “love is good.” Who gets to be in charge of that?

    This seems to be a misconception based on equivocation on the term “should” as used by Dawkins. Evolution predicts both that morality exist (“is”) and that it is contingent (“should be”). I.e. that it distributes over individuals and differs between species.

    This is empirics so there are no axioms. “Love is good” is an observed morality, and no one but the process and its set of contingencies is in charge (is the cause).

    There’s no way to tell if your proposed answers (or anyone else’s) are right either

    ‘Course there is, testing.

    To expand on SaintStephen’s list:

    1. “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

    1.1. Sean Carroll:

    ‘Ill-posed question: “Nothing” isn’t part of distributions of things.’

    Test: If everything that can be observed is distributions of things, “nothing” has to be rejected.

    Status: Passes test, is both an observable fact and a passed hypothesis. Parsimonious.

    1.2 Vic Stenger:

    ‘ “Nothing” is chaotic, and chaos is the perfect symmetry state. This is to be expected of an initial state, as symmetry is unavoidable (and here there are applicable math theory for once). Perfect symmetry states is observed to break symmetry spontaneously in an avaricious way.’

    Test: If big bang cosmology goes from a maximum entropic state (has all the entropy it can have) to one with entropic freedom (albeit then increasing entropy), “nothing” as not chaotic has to be rejected.

    Status: Passes test, is both an observable fact and a passed hypothesis; the big bang maxed out the entropy at the time. Predicts more than Carroll’s theory.

    1.3 Andrei Linde:

    ‘Chaotic inflation is past eternal, since the sup inf of worldlines can be pushed eternally back.’ It is highly unlikely a dynamic system starts close to a fixed point such as self-similar inflation, but a deterministically behaving chaotic system such as this one forgets its past history.

    Test; If inflation is chaotic, “nothing” has to be rejected.

    Status: Inflationary theory is ~ 2.5 or so sigma, not the full 3 needed in physics. Simplest theories of chaotic inflation is not, as opposed to other inflationary theories, rejected. Predicts much more than both Carroll and Stenger.

    So 3 theories outright reject nothing, in one case replacing it with chaos. (Actually 2 cases, if inflation is passed as everyone expects but past eternal chaotic inflation is out. Ironically most other inflationary theories has a chaotic pre-space universe initial boundary state.)

    Which of these will survive more testing is anybody’s guess. Except that Carroll’s theory is weakest, and has passed all the tests it will make. So the religious answer is rejected by physics, and we know that there will remain a physics answer – but not yet which one.

    2. “What is the ultimate source and foundation of morality?”

    Evolution. This is a source of morality (albeit not the only one), a prediction which has passed numerous tests. See first part of the comment.

    3. What is the nature of consciousness?

    Modeling self. A very basic but pervasive brain function that helps form memories, models and maps. Latest they have found that rats orient going from A to C, if earlier passed A to B and B to C, by gluing those memories together as in automatically modeling self.

    This too is a source of consciousness (albeit not the only one), a prediction which has passed numerous tests. One such is related above.

    4. What is the meaning of it all?

    To nick bad Jim’s exposition: What is the taste of dinner? This is the same type of question as the one and has the same answer, there is a distribution over individuals (and species) which form their own meaning of life as they have to.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 12, 2010 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      In the last part, question of “meaning” is same type of question as the morality one.

    • TreeRooster
      Posted March 12, 2010 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      Definitions are always somewhat circular, since we have to use words to express them. Especially so when we try to define things like “morality” and “meaning.” The debate seems to be over whether these two things, in a universal sense, are simply experienced or exist apart from individual experience (viz. the falling tree, or the clapping hand.)

      Experienced morality could certainly be claimed to be contingent. In other words nothing necessitated the eventual conclusion of philosphers that “love is good.” This conclusion arose from the way in which individual conscious creatures evolved, and gradually realized that in their ecology, selflessness often caused happiness. Again, this means that in a science text we cannot claim existence of a moral imperative; that the only judgements of behavior we can make are along the lines of “this will cause much happiness.”

      In contrast, a (religious) philosopher can claim that even in the absence of a particular ecology, there is a moral law stating that altruism and compassion are the correct modes of behavior. There are two levels of law here. The first is actually testable. We might claim that, just as inertial mass equals gravitational mass, maximal selflessness always equals maximal happiness. Secondly though we might claim that whatever brings happiness, it is the absolute obligation of individuals to behave that way. This second claim is the sort of axiom I speak of. Of course you can observe whether or not I seem to believe this claim, but you cannot ever observe whether or not the claim is intrinsically true.

      The question of “meaning” of the universe is similar. Of course there are experienced meanings, like the taste of dinner. Religious philosphers however go further, proposing that all our individual experiences constitute different encryptions of a universally delivered message, a message with actual intentional meaning.

  27. Posted March 12, 2010 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    The problem is if musing about or seeking some ‘meaning’ of various esthetic, moral, or similar kinds of things, in the psychological or edifying sense of ‘meaning’, has anything to do with science. It should provide no conflict with science, and it’s not clear why it merits a book, except that people on both sides in today’s food fights over ‘creation’ may forget that whether I like the Mona Lisa or find some sort of meaning in a spring morning has anything to do with whether my sensibilities were, in ways we don’t yet understand, enabled by our evolutionary history.

    What’s to argue over?

  28. Neil
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Anyone who has read Doug Adams knows that the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything has already been answered. The answer is 42.

  29. Posted March 13, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Hey I’ll pay you to review Ruse’s book! Is a dollar enough? (Look, I work pro bono myself. Well maybe not exactly bono, but anyway, nobody pays me to do it.)

    You’d have to buy the book yourself of course…

    • Posted March 13, 2010 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      Gee, no dice, huh? But think of the fame, the glory…


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