I love reading Stanley Fish’s long blog posts on the New York Times web site. A recent post of his reviewed a book which, apparently, repeats Stephen Jay Gould’s argument that religion and science are “non-overlapping magisteria” (NOMA)—that is, two separate things doing separate jobs which need not come in conflict so there.
Several times in the past, Fish has skewered sloppy thinking about science and faith, but this time his postmodern sensibilities (he’s a premier postmodern literary critic, author of Is There a Text in This Class and many other influential books) determined his read of the book. He cheered on the author for not taking sides, but of course she did. Everyone does in a world where there are only two real rulers.
Along the way he tried to summarize one leading argument from each side of the religion and science divide. He quotes the science side as challenging the religion side with this question:
“Well, if your philosophy tells you that facts are relative to belief systems, how come you don’t walk through walls or jump out of your apartment window?”
The faith side, he says, has this question for the science side:
“Well, if your philosophy tells you that religion and ethics are reducible to materialist evolutionary forces, why do you bother to be ethical at all?”
I think the first question is inaccurate and the second is unanswerable from within a secular materialists’s worldview. So I left a comment—only it hasn’t been posted [see update below], even though others were posted after mine. This is the second time this has happened to me at the Times, and the first was in a nearly identical situation. I do believe I have been censored.
Other comments tend to be like the following, from “Ehkzu”:
Magnum mysterium shmisterium.
Religion is entirely explainable via anthropology and sociobiology. So are ethics. Religion and ethics derive from us being pack animals that take a decade and a half to raise our young….
The message you get after commenting reads, “Thank you for your submission. Submissions are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.” Judge for yourselves whether my comments were on-topic and not abusive:
Mark L. Ward, Jr.
January 19th, 2010
Q: ”Well, if your philosophy tells you that facts are relative to belief systems, how come you don’t walk through walls or jump out of your apartment window?”
A: Because you didn’t represent the Christian position accurately—truth isn’t relative to belief, but to God. He constitutes the ultimate standard, the lodestone of inquiry. He even constitutes walls as physical barriers, “for by Him all things consist” (Colossians 1:17).
Q: “Well, if your philosophy tells you that religion and ethics are reducible to materialist evolutionary forces, why do you bother to be ethical at all?”
A: … I do not believe Smith has answered this question.
The only reason naturalistic materialists view the question as ridiculous on its face is that they have an innate moral sense planted in them by God (Romans 1:18–21). Otherwise they can’t get oughts from ises.
Smith did takes sides! She just pretended to be the umpire instead of one of the players on the field.
Update: Let me eat crow. Or at least a little. They did post my comment after three hours—and that might simply reflect the amount of time it took them to go through the comments in the queue. But they didn’t post my other comment from several months ago. Of that I’m sure, because I checked for several days afterwards.