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Inaugural Walton Lecture Revisits the Science-Religion Relationship


Noted philosopher of biology and self-proclaimed “gentle skeptic” Michael Ruse, Ph.D., argued for the peaceful coexistence of science and religion at Fordham’s inaugural John C. and Jeanette D. Walton Lecture in Science, Philosophy, and Religion on April 30.

Philosopher Michael Ruse, Ph.D., discussed the compatability of science and religion.
Photo by Ken Levinson

Ruse is the Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Florida State University, and one of the world’s foremost philosophers of biology. He played a key role in McLean v. Arkansas, the federal court decision that ruled that the teaching of creation science is unconstitutional.

In “Making Room for Faith: Religion in the Age of Science,” Ruse told an audience at the Lincoln Center campus that he finds fault with those on both extremes of the science-religion debate. He suggested that there is room for religion to contribute to the questions that science does not address.

Ruse, who was raised in England as a Quaker, set forth the idea that science has long used metaphors to give language and meaning to its concepts, for example the notion of “cracking the code” of DNA, or the concept of “attraction” with regard to magnets.

Focusing his talk on Western thinking about both science and religion, Ruse said that modern science has adapted the machine as its root metaphor. While the machine metaphor proves useful in many applications, however, there are certain questions that are simply unanswerable within the context of modern science.

“The world considered as a machine does not give us morality,” he said.

He presented questions he said science is not asking and cannot answer: why is there something rather than nothing; questions of morality and of sentience, and the question of what it all means.

While some on the extreme side of atheistic philosophy would deny the legitimacy of such questions, Ruse said he believes they are questions worth asking—even if science cannot offer answers.

“I think it’s safe to say I don’t know,” he said. “I think they are genuine questions. It’s just that I don’t know how to solve them within my agnostic context.”

“Science has not offered answers,” Ruse said. “I don’t see why religion can’t.”

While he is happy for religion to propose answers to the questions modern science is not asking, he suggested those thinking from a religious point of view carefully consider the scope of applicability of their ideas.

“It’s illegitimate to offer scientific answers from a religious perspective,” he said. “It’s open for the Christian to offer an answer, just as it’s open for me to criticize it.”

William Jaworski, Ph.D., associate professor of philosophy, said the Walton lecture series was created to address the complex issues at the intersection of science, philosophy, and religion in conversations that reach beyond the confines of academia.

“Many people have suggested ordinary people could benefit from more exposure to philosophy, and that philosophers could and should do more to address the conceptual difficulties ordinary people confront,” Jaworski said.


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