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Quote of the Week

November 9, 2006

“I had been struck for some time by certain remarkable prophetic and metaphysical passages that appeared suddenly in scientific books about evolution, often in their last chapters. Though these passages were detached form the official reasoning of the books, they seemed still to be presented as science. But they made startling suggestions about vast themes such as immortality, human destiny and the meaning of life. These are difficult topics with which philosophical and religious thinkers have long wrestled. But the scientific writers did not usually refer to any earlier discussions. They simply and confidently laid down their own surprising views about them. Their pronouncements seemed to be seriously intended. But it was far from clear on what level they were meant to be taken.”

“One kind of faith will, if expanded without limit, compete with another. The enterprise of justifying any given kind therefore leads almost inevitably into a general discussion of our different aims and the priorities among them. And this is a general philosophical topic. It is not an internal one to be settled by faith which is trying to expand.”

“Thus, people today who have a specially strong faith in science–expressed by speaking of the ‘omnicompetence of science’ and claiming that it is the sole legitimate intellectual method open to humanity–are not themselves merely talking science. They are stating a very bizarre position in metaphysics. They are out-Descartesing Descartes, who did indeed claim that physics was in some sense omnicompetent for understanding the physical world, but still thought it quite irrelevant to conscious subjects, and grasped the need to use other methods there. The claim that the methods of physics are everywhere appropriate cannot be justified by Descartes’ position that what physics tells us about the physical world is the fullest and clearest truth about it.”

Mary Midgley, Evolution as a Religion


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