Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Agnostic mathematician: God is in the discoveries, not in the gaps (assuming he exists)

This comment, from Logan Gage's review of David Berlinski's The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, encapsulates why there is an intelligent design controversy:
Intellectuals often separate God and Science like fighting schoolchildren into "non-overlapping magesteria," to use Stephen Jay Gould's nomenclature. They say arguing that God (or more generally, an intelligence) is the best explanation for certain features of nature -- as intelligent design scientists do -- is a mistake. For the more nature is explained, the more this "God of the Gaps" vanishes. If God overlaps with the realm of physical reality, He is vulnerable to meddling scientists. He should stick to the safe spiritual-ethical dimension.

But has the last century confirmed this zero-sum thinking? The argument, says Berlinski, unjustifiably assumes all gaps will be filled. "Western science has proceeded by filling gaps, but in filling them, it has created gaps all over again," he writes. "Anomalies have grown great because understanding has improved." Physical theories "have enlarged and not diminished our sense of the sublime" and mysteriousness of life. How does the mystifying, unpredictable realm of subatomic particles produce breathing, thinking, worshiping creatures? We know one thing for sure: Dawkins doesn't know. But he'd rather accept an infinity of universes than a single God.

[ ... ]

This is a book in -- but not of -- our times. It is profoundly honest about the nature of human knowledge. It is postmodern without being cynical. Perhaps only an agnostic can renew science's humility without undermining its quest for truth.
My own review, "Berlinski, the Devil, and the Long Spoon", is here.