An imbecile habit has arisen in modern controversy of saying that such and such a creed can be held in one age but cannot be held in another. Some dogma, we are told, was credible in the twelfth century, but is not credible in the twentieth. You might as well say that a certain philosophy can be believed on Mondays, but cannot be believed on Tuesdays. You might as well say of a view of the cosmos that it was suitable to half-past three, but not suitable to half-past four. What a man can believe depends upon his philosophy, not upon the clock or the century.
–G. K. Chesterton
What Christianity says is merely this. That this repetition in Nature has its origin not in a thing resembling a law but a thing resembling a will. . . . Christianity holds that the world and its repetition came by will or Love as children are begotten by a father, and therefore that other and different things might come by it. Briefly, it believes that a God who could do anything so extraordinary as making pumpkins go on being pumpkins, is like the prophet, Habbakuk, Capable to tout [capable of anything]. If you do not think it extraordinary that a pumpkin is always a pumpkin, think again. You have not yet even begun philosophy. You have not even seen a pumpkin.
—G. K. Chesterton
Science is great, but only when we respect its limits to explain our universe. There are really three disciplines of study necessary to understand life: Science, Philosophy, and Theology. Just like a three-legged stool, the rejection of any one of these disciplines leads to imbalance. Unfortunately, we live in times when far too many think that Science is the ruler of all truth and many schools have dismissed the study these other disciplines…
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In these days we are accused of attacking science because we want it to be scientific. Surely there is not any undue disrespect to our doctor in saying that he is our doctor, not our priest or our wife or ourself. It is not the business of the doctor to say that we must go to a watering-place (seaside resort); it is his affair to say that certain results of health will follow if we do go to a watering-place. After that, obviously, it is for us to judge. Physical science is like simple addition; it is either infallible or it is false. To mix science up with philosophy is only to produce a philosophy that has lost all its ideal value and a science that has lost all its practical value. I want my private physician to tell me whether this or that food will kill me. It is for my private philosopher to tell me whether I ought to be killed.
All Things Considered
In 1889 the French novelist Paul Bourget wrote a novel, The Disciple. He described the “egghead” existence of a noted philosopher and psychologist: seemingly lost in things “merely academic,” living up four flights of stairs, caught up in the humdrum routine of meals and walks, coffee and lectures. Three times a week he had visits from scholars and students from four to six, and then dinner, short walk, a little more work, and bed promptly at ten. It was the existence of an inoffensive, scholarly man who, in the words of his housekeeper, “wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Then one day he was summoned to a criminal inquest concerning a brilliant young man who had been his student and had climbed those four flights of stairs to drink in illuminating and liberating discussions. In prison awaiting trial for murder, this young disciple had written an account of what he had done and how those liberating doctrines enthusiastically discussed in the abstract had worked out in actual practice. The results are only infrequently a matter of murder, but world as well as individual events ride upon the waters of an ideational sea. “The killing fields of Cambodia come from philosophical discussions in Paris” (Paul Johnson).
The Divine Conspiracy
But I think first that these people (the New Atheists) do a disservice to scholarship. Their treatment of the religious viewpoint is pathetic to the point of non-being. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course. Proudly he criticizes that whereof he knows nothing. As I have said elsewhere, for the first time in my life, I felt sorry for the ontological argument. If we criticized gene theory with as little knowledge as Dawkins has of religion and philosophy, he would be rightly indignant. . . . Conversely, I am indignant at the poor quality of the argumentation in Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and all of the others in that group. . . . I have written elsewhere that The God Delusion makes me ashamed to be an atheist. Let me say that again. Let me say also that I am proud to be the focus of the invective of the new atheists. They are a bloody disaster and I want to be on the front line of those who say so.
–Philosophy professor Michael Ruse
Many key aspects of life (such as ethics: what is good and what is bad, and aesthetics: what is beautiful and what is ugly) lie outside the domain of scientific inquiry (science can tell you what kind of circumstances will lead to the extinction of polar bears, or indeed of humanity; it has nothing whatever to say about whether this would be good or bad, that is not a scientific question).
Attempts to explain values in terms of neuroscience or evolutionary theory in fact have nothing whatever to say about what is good or bad. That is a philosophical or religious question (scientists trying to explain ethics from these kinds of approaches always surreptitiously introduce some unexamined concept of what is a good life by the back door). And they cannot for example tell you, from a scientific basis, what should be done about Israel or Syria today. That effort would be a category mistake.
–George F. R. Ellis
Physicist, mathematician, cosmologist