Render Unto Darwin: Philosophical Aspects of the Christian Right's Crusade Against Science.
James H. Fetzer is Distinguished McKnight University Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota at Duluth. He has authored several books on the philosophy of science, computer science, artificial intelligence, and cognitive sciences. He is also known for his advocacy of conspiracy theories concerning 9/11 and the Kennedy assassination.
Fetzer discusses the philosophical issues from which public debates about Creation Science and Intelligent Design (ID) derive. He argues that while God's creation of the universe can be reconciled with the scientific evidence, the literal account in Genesis cannot be. He claims that attempts to deny biological laws are misconceived. Creation Science is not science because its claims are not conditional, not testable, and not tentative. He thinks the distinction between microevolution (accepted by many Creation Scientists) and macroevolution cannot be sustained.
According to Fetzer, creationists routinely misrepresent evolutionary theory. Evolution does not tend toward what is best, but only toward what is good enough. "Survival of the fittest" can avoid tautology if fitness is defined in terms of probabilities. Attempts to describe the evolutionary process as one of solving algorithms are misconceived.
In Fetzer's view, the failure of Creation Science (which is committed to a young earth and a worldwide flood) to bring creation into the science classroom has led to ID, a creationist movement with more modest claims and a broader constituency. ID rests on an imperfect and misplaced appeal to the analogy of a human designer. The alternative to ID is not "chance," but the interaction of chance with law-governed causal processes.
Concerning morality, Fetzer thinks we rely on our beliefs to guide our actions, and that we are morally entitled to hold a belief only if it is logical. He then looks at eight commonly held moral theories. He also argues that morality can be objectively validated independently of religion, and that only a deontological standard of ethics (treating other persons as ends-in-themselves) passes the essential tests. On this basis, Fetzer argues that persons acquire rights in graduated stages; stem cells, zygotes, embryos, or early fetuses are not persons and hence it is immoral for religious persons to interfere politically with abortions, stem-cell research, or cloning.
On a similar basis, Fetzer concludes that flag burners, hookers, and pot-heads are not immoral. Furthermore, he provocatively argues that an unholy alliance of fundamentalist propagandists and right wing politicians is playing its part in the rise of a new American fascism. This is based on the domination of civic life by unscrupulous business corporations who subordinate everything to the pursuit of profit. He claims that the Bush administration is crushing liberties at home while wreaking mayhem abroad in contravention of international law. In his view, American policy represents the triumph of the most corrupt form of morality: the pursuit of the interests of one's own exclusive group.
In an epilogue, Fetzer indicates how science can help public policy. Culture enables evolution to incorporate the inheritance of valuable acquired patterns of behavior. While science cannot set society's goals, it can help society attain them. The Good Society is founded on the deontological principle that every member of society is entitled to the same rights and opportunities as every other member. Fetzer also argues that public schools should be secular but not atheistic. Further, members of a moral society must tolerate group differences as well as individual differences.
The book contains an appendix on the definition of science from a formal philosophical aspect. A glossary is included. Nonetheless a lay reader may find the going hard. Someone who is already familiar with the creationism evolution controversy will find interesting points in the book, if only because of the wide range of topics discussed. However, the book cannot be recommended as an introduction to that controversy. For one thing, the treatment of ID is shallow, in my opinion; the author is too ready to take it as just a development of Young Earth Creationism. While a philosophical approach can add to the lucidity of an argument, the conclusions of the argument are no more valid that the assumptions made at the beginning: garbage in leads to garbage out. Thus, for example, few Christians will be satisfied with Fetzer's assumptions that Scripture and traditional theology can be bracketed out of a treatment of morality.
Reviewed by Donald Nield, Associate Professor of Engineering Science, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.
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|Publication:||Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2008|
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