What do we mean by the phrase: the fact/value split? It does not simply mean there is a difference between factual knowledge and moral knowledge. People have always known that. Rather, it is the claim that there is no such thing as moral knowledge at all—that morality and theology are reducible to non-cognitive feelings and personal preferences. Literally, whatever you happen to value.
This affects ID because any view that can be linked to religion is put in the “value” category—where it is reduced to private preferences and prejudices.
The way it works is a bit like the good cop/bad cop strategy. The New Atheists are a good example of the bad cop stance. They assert that science has disproved Christianity, and that those who are mature and courageous will discard the false comforts of religion. Christopher Hitchens has said, “I think religion should be treated with ridicule, hatred, and contempt.”
But when the public protests being treated with ridicule and contempt, then the good cops step forward. They assure everyone that there really is no conflict between science and religion, and that they respect everyone’s “cherished values” or “deeply held beliefs.”
But emotive language like that should be a red flag: It means theological views are being reduced to private feelings instead of objective truths.
Consider an example. Paul Kurtz, the founder of the Council for Secular Humanism, wrote an article in the Skeptical Inquirer denouncing religion as “fantasy and fiction.” Yet at the same time, he urged his fellow skeptics to soften the blow when talking to the public by assuring them that “religion and science are compatible.”
Depending, of course, on how you define religion. Kurtz defined religion as “moral poetry [and] aesthetic inspiration,” which can help us “overcome grief and depression.”
In other words, religion can be tolerated if it is defined as a form of therapy—psychologically useful, though ultimately false.
So when we hear secularists say that religion and science are compatible, we should always ask how those terms are being defined. They are compatible as long as religion is defined their way. They’re hoping you won’t notice that they have redefined the term to mean subjective fantasy—whatever gets you through the night.
Intelligent design theory is controversial precisely because it challenges the dichotomy between facts and values. It acknowledges that scientific theories have valid theological implications. By doing so, it shows that theology is not in a completely separate realm of noncognitive feelings. Instead it makes cognitive claims that can be rationally debated and defended.
Over to comments.
Next: (Exchange #5: What’s with this “You can have Jesus AND Darwin bumf – who wants Darwin anyway?”)
Previous: (Exchange #3: In your view, has deconstruction affected the sciences, and if so how?)
(Exchange #1, “Why bother saving Leonardo?” is here.)
(Exchange #2, “What to do with materialism’s pile of culture?” is here.)
Denyse O’Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.