Modern Biology and Natural Theology

By Alan Olding | Go to book overview

Introduction

With sadness I closed Martin Gardner’s recent collection of essays, Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener (Gardner 1985). In that volume he declares himself a fideist believing, for no reason whatsoever, in God’s existence and, for good measure, immortality also. The fideism is not concealed and the God confessed is unmistakably that of old-fashioned theology, a person who made and keeps in order the universe in which we live. There is no attempt to avoid reproach by making out that God is, say, the feeling we have when tripping through a wood full of daffodils or that he is what lurks somewhere in or at the depths of being; nor does he, after the manner of the ‘Wittgensteinian fideists’, speak of the logic of the ‘concept of God’ and, thereby judiciously misusing the former term, logic, arrogate the authority of its name to a redefinition of the latter. And this is the man who not only has taught so many of us so much about logic, mathematics and science, particularly through his formerly regular series of articles in Scientific American, but who has ruthlessly and wittily exposed ‘unreason’ in field after field of enquiry.

But why will Gardner give no reasons for his belief in God? It is because, very honestly, he thinks that there are no good reasons for the giving. The argument from design for God’s existence, the ontological argument, etc. are, all of them, irrevocably flawed. Is Gardner right and, in particular, is he justified in his poor view of natural theology, the kernel of which I take to be the argument from design?

Some of the issues involved, and which are taken up in detail in the body of this book, we can, in a preliminary way, get at by looking at a passage from a once influential seventeenth-century work of natural theology, the botanist John Ray’s The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation:

But the greatest of all the particular Phenomena is the Formation and Organisation of the Bodies of Animals, consisting of such vanity

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