I’ve decided I don’t want to waste time extensively rebutting critiques of scientism: there are too many of them, and they all say the same thing. Instead, for those who maintain an interest in this topic, I’ll summarize them as briefly as I can.
In the September 18 “Opinionator” column of the New York Times, “Science’s humanities gap,” Gary Gutting (a philosophy professor at Notre Dame), wastes a lot of space complaining that people like Steve Pinker call for more sciences in the humanities, but never call for putting more humanities in the sciences. Scientists should, he says, learn more philosophy.
I take issue with that on two grounds: scientists are so pressed for time that we can barely get our own work done and, more important, the potential benefit of philosophy to the conduct of science seems less to me than the potential benefits of infusing humanities with science—benefits described out by Steve in his New Republic piece.
I am not saying that philosophy or the humanities are without value. Far from it. What I am saying is that the marginal benefit of adding more science to the humanities is greater than vice versa. I personally absorb tons of what could be considered “humanities,” including literature, nonfiction, art, and philosophy. They’ve enriched my life immensely—but I can’t say with confidence that they’ve made my science better, or different. I’d still have published the same work on speciation if I’d never read philosophy, although I wouldn’t be writing this website. My benefits are personal, not scientific.
But enough of that. What I want to say is that Gutting makes one statement that’s a blatant falsehood:
Pinker also claims that science has shown that all traditional religious accounts of “the origins of life, humans, and societies — are factually mistaken,” since “we know. . . that humans belong to a single species of African primate that developed agriculture, government, and writing late in its history.” Here Pinker ignores the numerous religious thinkers, from Augustine to John Paul II, who have accepted an evolutionary account of human origins, maintaining that the process itself is the work of a creative God.
That’s just bullpucky. Really? Augustine, who believed in an instantaneous creation of all existing species, a global flood, and a literal Adam and Eve—an evolutionist? You can see him that way only if you’re blinded by the tendentious blinkers of accommodationism. Does Gutting really need an atheist biologist to correct him on matters of religious philosophy?
As for Pope Paul II, his famous 1996 message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences does accept a form of evolution:
Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than an hypothesis.* In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies—which was neither planned nor sought—constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory.
Sounds good, eh? Until you read more:
And to tell the truth, rather than speaking about the theory of evolution, it is more accurate to speak of the theories of evolution. The use of the plural is required here—in part because of the diversity of explanations regarding the mechanism of evolution, and in part because of the diversity of philosophies involved. There are materialist and reductionist theories, as well as spiritualist theories. Here the final judgment is within the competence of philosophy and, beyond that, of theology. . .
What are those materialist and reductionist theories, much less the spiritual ones? I am aware of only one going theory of evolution, which, while it has its controversial parts, does not deal with “materialism vs. reductionism” much less “spiritualism.”
And this (my emphasis):
. . .the human person cannot be subordinated as a means to an end, or as an instrument of either the species or the society; he has a value of his own. He is a person. By this intelligence and his will, he is capable of entering into relationship, of communion, of solidarity, of the gift of himself to others like himself. St. Thomas observed that man’s resemblance to God resides especially in his speculative intellect, because his relationship with the object of his knowledge is like God’s relationship with his creation. (Summa Theologica I-II, q 3, a 5, ad 1) But even beyond that, man is called to enter into a loving relationship with God himself, a relationship which will find its full expression at the end of time, in eternity. Within the mystery of the risen Christ the full grandeur of this vocation is revealed to us. (Gaudium et Spes, 22) It is by virtue of his eternal soul that the whole person, including his body, possesses such great dignity. Pius XII underlined the essential point: if the origin of the human body comes through living matter which existed previously, the spiritual soul is created directly by God (“animas enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides non retimere iubet”). (Humani Generis)
As a result, the theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. They are therefore unable to serve as the basis for the dignity of the human person.
6. With man, we find ourselves facing a different ontological order—an ontological leap, we could say. But in posing such a great ontological discontinuity, are we not breaking up the physical continuity which seems to be the main line of research about evolution in the fields of physics and chemistry? An appreciation for the different methods used in different fields of scholarship allows us to bring together two points of view which at first might seem irreconcilable. The sciences of observation describe and measure, with ever greater precision, the many manifestations of life, and write them down along the time-line. The moment of passage into the spiritual realm is not something that can be observed in this way—although we can nevertheless discern, through experimental research, a series of very valuable signs of what is specifically human life. But the experience of metaphysical knowledge, of self-consciousness and self-awareness, of moral conscience, of liberty, or of aesthetic and religious experience—these must be analyzed through philosophical reflection, while theology seeks to clarify the ultimate meaning of the Creator’s designs.
Evolution and neuroscience haven’t yet found a soul, and all evolutionary progress has made without assuming there is some divine “ontological leap” between humans and other creatures. Indeed, a genetic continuum is the assumption that’s produced our progress. But here John Paul is saying that consciousness and other features of human mentation are to be explained not by science, but by God.
Did I mention that the official position of the Roman Catholic Church is also that there was a historical First Couple—Adam and Eve—who were the genetic ancestors of us all?
The vaunted Pope was limning a watered-down theistic view of evolution, not the one held by scientists. Even if your view of “theistic evolution” is one in which God simply created the conditions for evolution to occur, rather than steering it in certain directions (the Pope’s held the latter view), it’s still not a scientific view. It’s a metaphysical view laden with woo.
As for Augustine, Gutting should go back and read him again before putting him in the box with Darwin.