There's a good review of Cambridge Press' new book on Donald Davidson over at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. I came upon the review by accident by truly enjoy the site and suggest others check out some of the reviews. A few I enjoyed that others with views similar to mine might like.
Philosophy of Science Today
God and Design: the Teleological Argument and Modern Science
Aquinas on Being
I've intentionally avoided evolution discussions most of the past few years. There are several reasons for this. For one those criticizing it seem to not be very familiar with the evidence. For an other it seems an overwhelmingly settled issue in science. Scientists tend to love places where their theories fail. They almost always focus in on those. Look at physicists who are extermely excited whenever a result appears to be problematic for the Standard Model. The fact that debate in biology seems occur over slight variations within a basic model of evolution suggests that such complaints are rather pointless. Finally most criticisms of evolution by theists generally adopt very questionable Protestant scriptural hermeneutics that are at odds with Mormon conceptions of scripture. They also frequently depend upon the notion of a God outside of the universe upon which all else depends ontologically. (Creation ex nihilo is tied into this) Now some Mormon textual literalists who are ignorant of science often attack evolution. However by and large the relationship between the LDS church and evolution is quite different from Protestantism or Catholicism. The Eyring-L FAQ has numerous resources on views on evolution within Mormonism including the official statement of the First Presidency which is quite neutral on evolution.
Recently though the topic has come up in various conversations I've been in. Often in somewhat interesting ways. One is the interesting complaint about species. Now the notion of species is a human conception. To assume that our categories of thought - especially Aristotilean taxonomies - reflect an underlying ontological reality seems very problematic. Beyond this basic "connection" to outmoded views of science unrelated to any revelation, there is the issue of whether any category could be so absolute within modern physics. Even the old division between energy and matter has broken down. If we are primarily composed of molecules interacting via the laws of physics, then one must ask whether our conceptions of what a "kind" is ought not itself be seriously rethought. This is perhaps less of an issue for those Protestants who are not primarily materialists. But for Mormons who are primarily materialists in our theology, it seems quite odd that issues of form and category are so often appealed to. It seems that they make sense for those whose theology goes back to Aquinas but not for Mormons who reject that entire historical development of Christianity.
Beyond the philosophical issue of real categories there is the problem that species can be observed evolving. In particular there are numerous examples of groups evolving into new species.
Where then does God enter into all this? Clearly the issue of God and Evolution is quite different for a Mormon than for an other Christian who accepts the more Augustinian view of God and creation ex nihilo. For Mormons God is co-equal in existence with all intelligent entities. While that doesn't entail that all matter is co-equal with God, it has historically often been assumed that the universe is infinite into the past including matter. Modern Mormons have refined this somewhat. For instance knowledgeable Mormons often embrace physicist Andrei Linde's notion of inflationary bubble universe. Richard Gott has a good paper on the modern notion of self-creating universes. These basically have an infinite number of universes where presumably we can have the Mormon notion of eternity. God thus is a being within a possible infinity of universes working within the natural laws that apply to all reality. As I said, this is quite at odds with how most other Christians view things.
I bring all of this up because of late there have been several models of theistic evolution. Mel Tungate recently brought to my attention some writings of John Haught's writings on evolution. One of the best online is Does Evolution Rule Out God's Existence?" I'm very impressed with Haught's writings. The problem is that its conception of God seems much more the One of neoPlatonism. As I've written here before, I think Mormons end up adopting many of the positions of neoPlatonism towards reality. However as the Orson Pratt - Brigham Young debates of the 19th century show, Mormonism fundamentally requires that God essentially be a person in such a way that reconciling the One and God is impossible. Further with our rejection of ex nihilo creation we can't have reality dependent on God in the same way as I think Haught discusses.
[God is] a divine source of being that resides not in a timeless present located somewhere "up above," but in the future, essentially "up ahead," as the goal of a world still in the making. The term "God" in this revised metaphysics must once again mean for us, as it did for many of our biblical forbears, the transcendent future horizon that draws an entire universe, and not just human history, toward an unfathomable fulfillment yet to be realized. (Quoted in Christianity Today)
Still Haught offers many interesting ideas that may be of interest to Mormons. I especially like his notion quoted in "Does Evolution Rule Out God's Existence" regarding infinite love.
However, there may be an even deeper way in which faith in God nourishes the idea of evolution. The central idea of theistic religion, as the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner (among others) has clarified, is that the Infinite pours itself out in love to the finite universe. This is the fundamental meaning of "revelation." But if we think carefully about this central religious teaching it should lead us to conclude that any universe related to the inexhaustible self-giving love of God must be an evolving one. For if God is infinite love giving itself to the cosmos, then the finite world cannot possibly receive this limitless abundance of graciousness in any single instant. In response to the outpouring of God's boundless love the universe would be invited to undergo a process of self-transformation. In order to "adapt" to the divine infinity the finite cosmos would likely have to intensify its own capacity to receive such an abounding love. In other words, it might endure what we now know scientifically as an arduous, tortuous and dramatic evolution.
The difficulty with reconciling this notion with Mormonism is the requirement that there be spirits in a pre-mortal world who need bodies somewhat like God's. Mormons differ from many other Christians in seeing both God the Father and the Son as essentially embodied and require that this world have as one of its purposes just this opportunity. Thus evolution is problematic as we must not simply explain evolution (which for reasons similar to Haught offers no problems) but must accept that man truly is in our form for a reason. i.e. Mormons more than most other Christians require that there be some direction to evolutionary history.
There are ways of resolving this. But hopefully I've at least touched upon the issues here. The issue is less the theory of evolution than reconciling direction and evolution.
A thread at Times and Seasons evolved into an interesting set of questions regarding laws. I've been thinking about it all day since "eternal law" is rather central to Mormon thought. Let me add my usual preface that I'm not terribly well versed in ethical philosophy. So perhaps I'm missing something terribly obvious. I have read a fair bit in philosophy of science though and the discussion of laws there. I've noticed that a lot of people want to speak of eternal law as if it were akin to physical law.
I think there is some reason for this. First off I think most Mormons, because of our conception of God, prefer to think that God is God by adherence to some eternal law that describes the ultimate reality of the universe. In a sense there is some absolute Good that makes God the kind of being he is. I don't want to go too far down a tangent along those lines, but there is definitely a sense in which we don't see eternal law the way we view most human laws. (i.e. passed by a lawmaker and requiring interpretation) That's not to say we don't accept the notion of laws as given by God. I think most Mormons would accept the Law of Moses as a law given by God, for instance. However we'd also say that it isn't an eternal law in the sense of being absolute and universal. I'll assume for now that most reading this blog are familiar with LDS theology and not really focus in on all of these views. For those not familiar with LDS theology I'd just caution that not all Mormons agree with these common beliefs. Some see God and Law as much more intrinsically related and some deny that the teachings of the King Follet Discourse are technically doctrine. (I disagree with them - but we'll avoid those tangents)
Let me approach the question more from a scientific rather than an ethical perspective. In science when we use the term "law" what do we mean? Well there are two main views. One is that laws are descriptions of how things behave. The other is that laws express some necessary relationship. A kind of universal "must be." Both views occur a lot in science. The issue is, however, whether eternal law related to behavior can possibly be considered as a law in a scientific sense. Is there some equivalent to the law of gravitation, for instance? I don't see how. For one we talk about being obedient to eternal law. But no one talks about being obedient to the law of gravity. (How could one possibly disobey?)
Over at Times and Seasons someone suggested that laws either are (or describe) God's necessary response to our actions. The problem is, how on earth does it make sense to obey some description (or representation) of God's response. Surely God responds based upon our behavior. But our obedience isn't to this response but the response to our obedience. Even grammatically this doesn't make much sense.
If we consider eternal law akin to our judicial laws as something decreed then it makes more sense. ( D&C 130:7) However a decree obviously is a series of statements arising out of someones intents. To deal with a decree requires that we interpret the statements. That entails that what we obey is not the statement but rather the meaning of the statement. I'll not get into a debate about meaning, but clearly with decrees we need worry about the intents and understanding of the lawmaker (the decreeer), the enforcer of the decree, and the judge of the decree. For instance if there is a decree from the state legislature regarding a speed sign, our own understanding of the law doesn't really count. Rather the meaning that counts is what the police officer pulling us over and the judge say the law means. What we are obeying or disobeying isn't the text of the law or even our conception of the law. We are obeying the police officers and the judges. (And they in turn probably are trying to make themselves follow the intents of the legislature)
Why do I get into all this? Well there is a point to it. I think that obedience is not obedience to a law meaning some proposition or text. Rather I think we always obey people. If we speak of eternal law we are obeying the Godhead. To me eternal law represents the full intents of divinity (meaning the Godhead). An other way of putting it is that obedience is bringing ourselves into harmony with divine nature.
I recognize that it isn't really considered this way that often. We like to think of obedience as the first law of heaven in terms of having a set of propositions which describe our actions. The problem is that I don't think there is a finite set of propositions which describe "eternal law." I think eternal law literally is the way of being of God. Further if you try to live eternal law by making a list of "dos" and "don'ts" I think you will always fail. The reason you fail is because you are entirely caught up in outward appearances missing the fact that all "dos" and "don'ts" are for a reasons. God acts with intents. If we are trying to be in harmony with him, then we must not only act as he would act, but bind our will to God's will. And will is a lot more than simply descriptions of actions. Rather it is desiring what God desires.
An other way to think of this is to contrast immediate descriptions of causes with final causes. In Aristotilean terms this is the difference between final causality and efficient causality. Laws, as typically discussed in physics deal only with efficient causality. Laws in terms of enforcement also are closely tied to efficient causality. (The judge and police cause you to act or punish you) However final causality represent the ends for which something was created: its goal. To consider obedience in terms of final causality is to share the same goal as the one you obey. Any adherence to descriptions of a law will always miss that final desire to achieve some end. Such descriptions, even of the ends, can never capture that desire and intent.
Galileo is a very interesting character. As much for how he is used for various aims as for his actual history. For instance one recent use relative to Mormonism is Thomas Murphy's discussion of his work on DNA and the Book of Mormon as a "Galileo event." By that they mean an even that overthrows the prior view in such a way that no one can really accept it anymore.
For Galileo, this "event" was his work on mechanics which overthrew the old Aristotilean view of physics. Now Galileo is the figure typically brought up in the conflict between science and religion. Unfortunately the way the history is brought up is often rather unfair. Those using him as the martyr of science to religion often forget that his research was supported by the Catholic church and downplay his attacks on the Pope and other figures.
As I mentioned, the actual debate was as much over Aristotle as Catholicism. (Although at that time they were rather intertwined due to the place of the Thomist philosophy in Catholic theology) Yet many often forget that at the time physics was conceived of in Aristotilean terms. Many of Galileo's attacks were as much on the physics establishment as they were science against religion. In modern terms it would be akin to someone saying all of Quantum Mechanics is flawed. Often, without a lot of evidence, such people are thought quacks. None of this is to overlook the role of the Catholic church in suppressing Galileo's thought. Merely to point out that things are far more complex than they first appear. Indeed ignoring the political overtones of the debate it often seems like the oppentents of Galileo were in a better position in terms of arguments.
One interesting paper on this is a discussion of Aristotle vs. Galileo arguing that Galileo's arguments actually fail. Galileo's revolutions took place in the context of a general rebellion against Aristotle. This "revolution" continued to various degrees through much of the philosophy and science of the Renaissance. The problem is that a lot of this wasn't done, as is often portrayed, for empirical reasons. Rather it was much more akin to what Kuhn might call a paradigm shift. The positions of each side couldn't be established unambiguously empirically. (When empirical evidence was even offered - there was far less careful experimentation on Galileo's side than many assume) While Kuhn overstates this somewhat, this idea that the paradigm shift isn't "obvious" has to be kept in mind.
I don't really want to discourage the use of a "Galileo Event" too much, although I hardly think Murphy's example fits the phrase. (He is largely attacking a strawman that few Mormon intellectuals accept) It is a useful concept. While Kuhn has strongly argued against it as something "obvious" except in hindsight, clearly a shift took place. Yet the complexities of the actual history are in many ways more interesting than the simplified characatures which we find in political attacks.
Galileo's views of heliocentrism are often seen as being in conflict with the Catholic Church and part of the basis for the conflict between science and religion. Yet Copernicus, who developed the idea, was a Catholic cleric and published his work under the approbation of both a Cardinal and a Bishop. No attacks, either philosophical or scriptural, were raised against Copernicus for years afterwards among Catholics. (Protestants were an other matter - but they aren't typically the ones brought up in the debate) While Galileo argued for heliocentrism, his arguments were rather weak and hardly convincing. Tycho Brahe and Francis Bacon were not convinced, for example.
Galileo made many discoveries with his telescope, but he was praised for this and not condemned at all. Indeed his discoveries led to him being very respected in Rome. The problem was that, like many geniuses, he was very opinionated and ill tempered in how he viewed his beliefs. He tended to not exactly debate them in the most socially acceptable ways. This led him to making enemies.
The learned in the Church wouldn't have cared except that the popular mind assumed that the geocentric view of the universe was part of scriptural teaching. The problem was that while many agreed with Galileo, the evidence at that time wasn't that strong and the Church wanted the notion introduced more gradually. While the Church prohibited Copernicus' work, they wanted to do so only to give them time to teach heliocentrism. Now that is admittedly not that in keeping with modern views of freedom of information. And we must agree. But it is hardly the science vs. religion controversy that some make it out to be. Further Galileo agreed to this. However his tendency to be dogmatic and sarcastic got the better of him leading to conflicts. It was his manner more than his teachings that were the source of the conflict.
I've written too much and may come back to touch upon these issues since they offer so much of interest to the student of the conflict of religion and science. Often, as with Galileo, what is in conflict is less the scientific theories than conflict over ways of dealing with theories. Certainly at the time of Galileo there was plenty of blame on both sides. I think that had Galileo been more tactful and not tried to make the Pope a laughing stock, that he would have been far more warmly received. But sometimes people seek conflict even when it isn't necessary.
A longer discussion of Galileo from a Catholic point of view can be found at the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Galileo. Thomas Kuhn's use of Galileo can be found in his seminal work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. A brief overview can be found here.