Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Onward Christian Soldiers (Part 2) - Theism in Philosophy and Science

Stanford Memorial Church at the dead center of campus (the symbolism of which Daniel Dennett complained about when he was here a few years ago). Inside are inscribed Jane Stanford's words: "There is no narrowing so deadly as the narrowing of man’s horizon of spiritual things. No worse evil could befall him on his course on earth than to lose sight of Heaven; no widening of science, no possession of abstract truths can indemnify for an enfeebled hold on the highest and central truths of humanity."

In the field of Philosophy, there has been a revolution. The best description of it is by Atheist philosopher Quentin Smith. He writes in the professional journal Philo an Atheist call-to-arms and describes the “problem”:

The secularization of mainstream academia began to quickly unravel upon the publication of [Alvin] Plantinga’s influential book, God and Other Minds, in 1967. It became apparent to the philosophical profession that this book displayed that realist theists were not outmatched by naturalists… theists in other fields tend to compartmentalize their theistic beliefs from their scholarly work; they rarely assume and never argue for theism in their scholarly work. If they did, they would be committing academic suicide or, more exactly, their articles would quickly be rejected. . . . But in philosophy, it became, almost overnight, “academically respectable” to argue for theism… God is not “dead” in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments [1]

Smith estimates up to half of the thinkers in philosophy are theistic. Though, in William Lane Craig’s opinion, this may be the “Gideon effect” (Bible story about Gideon and Craig article about it in Philosophy) of startling an unsuspecting enemy into overestimation, it shows considerable advancement of theistic ideas in philosophy. And philosophy is the foundation of every discipline, be it science or math. Of all the disciplines to win, philosophy is the most strategic. Indeed, Craig describes it as a “beachhead” for Theists to be able to enter other fields as well.

Perhaps the “north campus” [2] “fuzzies” in the non-sciences are falling into the silliness of Theism. But what about the hard sciences? My impression after spending my entire adult life listening to lecturers was that all (or at least a vast majority) of my professors were Atheists. I knew only three of my professors who said or did anything even vaguely religious: a Jewish professor once had a guest lecturer “because of Rosh Hashanah,” and two others I discovered outside of class attended a local church. I must have had on the order of 200 professors and lecturers over the course of my schooling, and I only ever knew about 3 who did anything religious. Over almost a decade of schooling, that’s it. And that is generally the experience of most of my peers. The only problem with this experience is that it is an illusion.

According to the only data on the subject for since about when we landed on the moon (this hasn’t been a terribly well-researched question), among research scientists in the physical and social sciences, only a meager 34% do not believe in God [3]. That’s it. Of course this is much higher than the national average (2%). But it’s far lower than the perception that it is something like 99%. Furthermore, of all scientists pipetting early Monday mornings (or, as the case may be, writing grants to keep other people pipetting), one in five was at church the morning before [4].To my professional lecture-sitter-through-er ears, those numbers are absolutely astonishing.

It seems that a revolution has occurred in philosophy that is abrupt and apparent. But, assuming scientists were ever majority Atheist, there has been a quiet revolution in the sciences. And though Theism is not yet a valid framework for scientific hypotheses as it is for philosophic ones, it seems that there is an invisible majority.

So be heartened, my brothers in the Academy[5]! For though you feel alone, you are not!

[1] Quentin Smith, “The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism”  Philo 4/2(2001):  3-4
[3] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/blackwhiteandgray/2011/11/moving-forward-the-science-religion-debate/
[4]… or synagogue the day before, or mosque the day before that. And it’s not just biotech scientists. Come on, people! It's a metaphor!! :). Fine. Here it is in concrete terms: 18% of scientists attend weekly religious services.
[5] Yup. Another metaphor for "higher education" ;) Though I must admit, I had to Google what it was called: metonym.

Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - Theism in Philosophy and Science
Part 3 - Onward!

No comments:

Post a Comment