No God, no Science?

This book is definitely on my reading list.

“A truce is sometimes called between science and theology, by thinkers on both sides. Michael Hanby, however, shows a way forward more profitable than truce, found in the common ground between theology and science that is metaphysics. Here is theology offering its most to the discussion by being most theological. For decades we have heard that science can lend clarity to theology. With No God, No Science, we have the metaphysical fluency of theology helping science be better science.”—Andrew Davison, Westcott House and the University of Cambridge
“In an era in which it is widely assumed, both popularly and among many professional scientists and philosophers, that the arrival of the Darwinian pronounces the final ‘it is finished’ upon every metaphysical account of reality, theology often appears increasingly pressured by the need to defend its existence against this verdict at the court of scientific rationality. Michael Hanby’s eagerly-anticipated and monumental new book radically inverts this standard order with a bold and simple thesis: without God, there is no science; that no scientific account of the world can justify itself apart from God, without whom there is no ‘world’. A work of stunning erudition and insight that is not only a devastating critique of scientific and theological un-seriousness but a constructive argument for what difference this metaphysical vision makes to the way we live in the world. A profound – and profoundly human – book.”—Peter M. Candler Jr., Baylor University
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11 Responses to No God, no Science?

  1. Burk Braun says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    Hmm- devastating! stunning! Sounds a bit overblown.

    At risk of putting our recent alliance in jeopardy, let me take a critical turn here. It is helpful to contemplate what metaphysics is. The wiki site begins.. “Metaphysics is a traditional branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:
    What is there?
    What is it like?
    A person who studies metaphysics is called a metaphysicist or a metaphysician. The metaphysician attempts to clarify the fundamental notions by which people understand the world, e.g., existence, objects and their properties, space and time, cause and effect, and possibility. A central branch of metaphysics is ontology, the investigation into the basic categories of being and how they relate to each other. Another central branch of metaphysics is cosmology, the study of the totality of all phenomena within the universe.”

    Firstly, it is not easily defined. I can offer a reason for that, which is that it is about “notions”, which means it is really about our own minds- how we divide up our surrounding world, rather than what is actually objectively in that world. If you actually pay attention to the world, you are a scientist. But if you ruminate on notions of categories of ontology, possibility, time, being, mind, etc.. you are really thinking about our own mental apparatus.

    Which is important, surely, as a way to critique and sometimes even affect the investigations of others into whatever those others are doing. And this is true of historians, politicians, and many others besides scientists.. thinking about all our preconceptions and limitations is surely a good thing.

    But it is not the same as actually engaging with the world. Metaphysicians were not the ones who came up with the relativity of time. Why is that?

    So one has to say that this whole one-up-manship of how philosophy, let alone theology, is somehow superior to science in any serious or influential sense seems like purile sour grapes. But if they manage to say something significant, I will be very appreciative.


  2. Darrell says:


    You miss the point of the book and the author’s intention. He is not trying to show how metaphysics is superior to science. The whole idea that science is in some battle or antagonism with religion is a myth. He is showing how they are mutually dependent. Philosophical Naturalism is a metaphysics. Science is always already a metaphysical endeavor. The actual work, methodology, experimentation, testing and the entire practical framework is always being done within or from a metaphysical frame. Metaphysics is really just philosophy.

    The only people who think religion and science are in some sort of battle are secular and religious fundamentalists.

    Books like this are important because they help dispel the myth and seek constructive engagement.

    From this site:
    “A metaphysician is someone seeking to understand the substance of reality: why things exist at all and what it means to exist in the first place. Much of philosophy is an exercise in some form of metaphysics and we all have a metaphysical perspective because we all have some opinion about the nature of reality. Because everything in metaphysics is more controversial than other topics, there isn’t agreement among metaphysicians about what it is they are doing and what they are investigating.

    Why Should Atheists Care About Metaphysics?:
    Because atheists typically dismiss the existence of the supernatural, they may dismiss metaphysics as the pointless study of nothing. Because metaphysics is technically the study of all reality, and thus whether there is any supernatural element to it at all, in truth metaphysics is probably the most fundamental subject which irreligious atheists should focus on. Our ability to understand what reality is, what it is composed of, what “existence” means, etc., is fundamental to most of the disagreements between irreligious atheists and religious theists.”


  3. Burk Braun says:


    Yes, I would generally agree. We all have a metaphysical stance. But one has to ask.. what have metaphysicians done for us lately? The way it looks is that the journeyman metaphysics that scientists have been doing, following on the enlightenment philosophers, has been quite sufficient and extraordinarily powerful in its fruits. It works well, and subsequent input from formal metaphysicians, let alone theologians, has been minimally helpful, and is typically absurdly misguided.

    Take supernaturalism, for instance. Your comment implies that this is some kind of live topic in metaphysics, rather than pretty well resolved as a psychological projection descended from various mythical residues of theology. If it is a live issue, so much the worse for metaphysicians.

    One also has to ask.. exactly what data are these metaphysicians working with? Reality has proven to be richer by far than armchair philosophers ever conceived of, either in natural philosophy or in metaphysics. Some of the questions do remain live. The brain-in-a-vat question is as live as it ever was. The origin-of-everything question as well. Not to mention the how-the-mind-works question. But who is going to ever find an answer? Not the metaphysician, who has no data and looks for none. The best she can do is to say cogito ergo sum. Which does not amount to much.


  4. Darrell says:


    “We all have a metaphysical stance. But one has to ask.. what have metaphysicians done for us lately?”

    What it (metaphysics) is doing for you right now as you make this argument and what it does every day in the life of every scientist who is also a theorist, author, speaker, policy analyst, or professor.

    “One also has to ask.. exactly what data are these metaphysicians working with?”

    The same data everyone is working with.

    I think you misunderstand what is being said. You are thinking there is some group out there called metaphysicians working in a separate laboratory apart from scientists or something. There are certainly professional philosophers, like Eric Reitan, but no one confuses what a scientist does and what a philosopher does. The difference however is that every thinking scientist is also a philosopher whether she realizes it or not. They either are reflective about it and aware of it or they are not, but their work and theorizing is guided always and already by a metaphysics of some sort and their work would be impossible without it.

    Getting back to the point of the book, while fundamentalists want to keep the science v. religion myth alive and well, books like this one seek constructive engagement where science is praised but also notes the critical role of metaphysics in science. I think such an effort is extremely important and worth praising.

    Clearly we differ there.


  5. Burk Braun says:


    Saying that there is a “Critical role” for metaphysicians in current science or other issues is like saying that there is a critical role for Exxon in discussions of Climate heating. Or for phlogiston theorists in discussions of contemporary chemistry. The subject is dead and solved for all practical purposes, and “teaching the controversy” is of great historical interest, and a source of delightful abstract play, but little other interest or application.

    Any remaining significant questions are, as I noted, in far more competent hands. I would recur to the delightful book “The truth about everything”, by someone inside the madhouse.


  6. Hi guys

    Could perhaps one ask what metaphysical assumptions in particular are necessary for science to occur? I'd suggest only the assumption that there is sufficient regularity in the world that one can reasonably form the expectation that the descriptions that worked best in the past are the best bet for the future.

    If this is the only assumption needed, (and we all make this assumption) the observation that science relies upon metaphysics reduces to a banality.

    Do you have other metaphysical assumptions in mind, Darrell?



  7. Darrell says:


    You are allowing the word “metaphysics” to trip you up. It is a word that just encompasses philosophy and is entirely bound up in what we have been talking about as far as world-view/narrative/faith. We’ve been over this–there is nothing new here.

    My suggestion would be to read the book. We could then perhaps develop a conversation around it.


    “Saying that there is a “Critical role” for metaphysicians in current science or other issues is like saying that there is a critical role for Exxon in discussions of Climate heating.”

    Then it is also like saying that atheists/philosophical naturalists have a critical role. The phlogiston example doesn’t even apply to the discussion. Yes, we should teach the controversy…as the myth that it is.


  8. Hi Darrell

    I understand the term metaphysics pretty well, I think. My point is only that one can do science with a minimum of metaphysical assumptions, and if all of these assumptions are commonly held, then the claim that science relies upon metaphysics is indeed banal. Not so if you can identify further necessary assumptions, of course.



  9. Darrell says:


    I don't know what you mean by “do” science. This boils down to the difference between methodological naturalism and ontological naturalism. How steam is produced may indeed be banal, but it also has nothing to do with what we are talking about here.

    Here it is again:
    “I'll explain what I mean. Generally speaking, there are two types of naturalism: methodological and ontological. The former is the approach that science must take when it engages with the universe insofar as it will fail to make any progress unless it brackets the divine. The latter holds that bracketing the divine is not merely methodologically necessary but constitutive of reality as such.

    A certain methodological naturalism is commonsensical. It wouldn't be very helpful when making a cup of tea if, when the kettle boiled, we became overly entranced by the mystical wonder of the emission of steam, thinking it was the communication of the spirits of our ancestors. Science must preclude this, and thus it seeks to explain phenomena in purely natural terms. This is eminently sensible – we may expect the farmer to pray to his maker, asking for a good harvest, but we don't then expect the farmer to put his feet up and leave God to get on with ploughing the fields.

    Ontological naturalism goes further. While methodological naturalism issues no philosophical or metaphysical opinion of what exists, ontological naturalism is less modest. It tells us not only that science must stick to what we take to be natural, but that the natural is all there is – indeed, all there ever could be.” (Cunningham)

    And knowing this difference is anything but banal.


  10. Hi Darrell

    By doing science, I mean the building and refining of models that allow us to extend our range of prediction and interaction in the physical world. So, methodological naturalism. This is the type of science carried out in labs and research centres throughout the world. And this project is not reliant upon any particular set of metaphysical assumptions, beyond an expectation of regularity.

    In this sense, science as it is practised is not dependent upon a unique metaphysical framework.



  11. Darrell says:


    Well, of course it isn't now after centuries of practice. But it came about through a paradigm shift and was once revolutionary. Even though rote now it is still based upon a Judeo-Christian narrative, which has simply become the air we breathe, and as you say, banal. That is a triumph. To say it doesn't matter now is irrelevant to the greater point. It would be like an adult saying because he could read now the fact he had parents, teachers, and support early on wasn't significant.

    But what in the world does this have to do with the book–the reason for this post? Why isn't anyone pulling something out of the blurbs and dealing directly with what the book is about?


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