Monday, February 22, 2010

Fish, Stanley. "Must There Be a Bottom Line?" NEW YORK TIMES January 18, 2010.

Herrnstein Smith, Barbara. Natural Reflections: Human Cognition at the Nexus of Science and Religion. New Haven: Yale UP, 2010. January 19 marks the official publication of Barbara Herrnstein Smith’s Natural Reflections: Human Cognition at the Nexus of Science and Religion. The title would seem to identify the book as an addition to the ever-growing body of studies that explore the relationships and tensions between religion and science, usually with the intent either of declaring one epistemologically or morally superior to the other, or of insisting (somewhat piously) that the two are compatible if we avoid extreme claims and counterclaims, or of triumphantly announcing that science is a form of faith, or of purporting to demonstrate that religion can be explained in naturalist terms as an expression of the instinct to survive and propagate. While Smith rehearses these theses and shows limited sympathy for some of them (and disdain for some others), her object in the book is to interrogate and critique the assumption informing the conversation in which these are the standard contentions. The assumption she challenges — or, rather, says we can do without — is that underlying it all is some foundation or nodal point or central truth or master procedure that, if identified, allows us to distinguish among ways of knowing and anoint one as the lodestar of inquiry. The desire, she explains, is to sift through the claims of those perspectives and methods that vie for “underneath-it-all status” (a wonderful phrase) and validate one of them so that we can proceed in the confidence that our measures, protocols, techniques and procedures are in harmony with the universe and perhaps with God. It is within the context of such a desire that science and religion are seen as in conflict, in part because the claims of both are often (but not always) totalizing; they amount to saying, I am the Truth and you shall have no other truths before me. But if religion and science are not thought of as rival candidates for the title “Ultimate Arbiter,” they can be examined, in more or less evolutionary terms, as highly developed, successful and different (though not totally different, as the history of their previous union shows) ways of coping with the situations and challenges human existence presents. . . . Read the rest here: Herrnstein Smith's response is here:

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