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Friday, May 8, 2009

Dispatch from London

FROM KARL GIBERSON: I have been hanging out with philosophers this week at the Thomas More Institute in London. The occasion is a conference in honor of Mariano Artigas (pictured here), my co-author for the book Oracles of Science. Artigas was a much-loved scholar and priest, mentor to many students, and the author of many other books, including the acclaimed Galileo in Rome. He was 68 when he passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2006, and he received his first copy of Oracles of Science from Oxford University Press as he lay dying in the hospital.
The conference, titled "Metaphysics, Ontology and the Science-Religion Debate" is, as the name suggests, a ponderous examination of some of the deeper philosophical questions about how to relate science and religion. The topics, coupled with my jet lag, have made it challenging in various ways.
What is very clear from the emphasis at this conference is the growing sense that science is facing something of a crisis. The journalist and author Dr. James Le Fanu gave a great talk about the large number of scientific accomplishments of the last 50 years that simply cannot be repeated (essentially making the same case that John Horgan makes in The End of Science). Fanu contrasted that with the present work on genomes and how little we really understand about what we are discovering there. Science, in his view, has over-promised and under-delivered and now is having to hide its failures. Thus, we see the aggressive tone of polemicists like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett as they try to defend science as an all-powerful enterprise.
Steve Fuller, a sociologist who testified at Dover on behalf of the "intelligent design" movement, took me to task for equating ID and creationism in my remarks. He thinks the ID folk are in a long-standing philosophical tradition challenging the naturalism of science. I tend to see ID, however, as a secularized and repackaged set of anti-evolutionary arguments that the creationists were using decades ago and that William Paley was using before Darwin ever set foot on the Beagle.