Timeline of events in science and religion debate

November 13, 2007

Canadian philosopher Ian Hacking provided a useful bibliography and timeline of events that led to the sociological phenomenon in the United States of widespread religious fundamentalism that informs contemporary debates on the roles of science and religion.

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Canadian secular philosopher and author of The Taming of Chance and honorary professor at the Collège de France, Ian Hacking, in his essay entitled “Root and Branch” published in The Nation, argued that the metaphor of a tree of life with linear roots, trunk and branches as used in genetic anthropology was inadequate. Classification, particularly in tiniest life forms such as fungi, is a mess. While his arguments against the anti-science perspective of hard Intelligent Design proponents, are convincing — and he clearly states he is atheist — he does not adopt a hard line approach such as Richard Dawkins and others whom he describes as destructive, “arrogant religion-baiters”. He provided a useful bibliography and timeline of events that led to the sociological phenomenon in the United States of widespread religious fundamentalism that informs contemporary debates on the roles of science and religion. Hacking considered Leibniz’ proposal “that the actual world is the one that combines the maximum of variety with the minimum of complexity for its fundamental laws. The “best” world, the world sought by the most intelligent designer, is one that maximizes variety in its phenomena and simplicity of basic law. Such a world has no place for a specific set of plans for the Arctic tern. The upshot is not attractive to those who favor intelligent design. It is in effect a proof that we live in a world of quantum-mechanical laws that are counterintuitive (to humans) but intrinsically simple–a world that, once these laws are in place, is then allowed to evolve out of a very few raw materials by chance and selection into unendingly complex patterns, including life on earth as we know it. It is a fact that you will get complex structures if you just let such systems run. The wisest designer would choose the governing laws and initial conditions that best capitalized on this mathematical fact. A stupid designer would have to arrange for all the intricate details (the Arctic tern again) that anti-Darwinians eulogize, but an intelligent designer would let chance and natural selection do the work. In other words, in the light of our present knowledge, we can only suppose that the most intelligent designer (I do not say there is one) would have to be a “neo-Darwinian” who achieves the extraordinary variety of living things by chance.”

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