Brandeis University, Philosophy Department
Fall 2004
Brandeis University Web Stite

Philosophy 1A

Introduction to Philosophy

Professor Andreas Teuber
Prof. Teuber


THE GREAT DEBATE

Imagine that you are invited to sit on a panel with A. Cressy Morrison, an astronomer and President of the New York Academy of Sciences. Imagine, too, that you and Morrison are scheduled to appear together two weeeks from now, on Tuesday, the 12th of October, to be exact. Imagine that you have been invited to comment on what he has to say and through the careful planning by the organizers of the panel you are being given the opportunity to see his remarks ahead of time to enable you to prepare your own comments accordingly. Since you are slightly nervous, never having appeared on the same program with such a distinguished guest, you welcome the opportunity to have an "advance" copy of Morrison's remarks. Here then is what Morrison plans to say:

We are still at the dawn of the scientific age and every increase of light reveals more brightly the handiwork of an intelligent Creator. . . . since Darwin we have made stupendous discoveries; with a spirit of scientific humility and of faith grounded in knowledge we are approaching even nearer to an awareness of God.

For myself, I count seven reasons for my faith:

First: By unwavering mathematical law we can prove that our universe was designed and executed by a great engineering Intelligence.

Suppose you put ten pennies, marked from one to ten, into your pocket and give them a good shuffle. Now try to take them out in sequence from one to ten, putting back the coin each time and shaking them again. Mathematically we know that your chance of drawing number one is one to ten; of drawing one and two in succession, one in 100; of drawing one, two and three in succession, one in a thousand, and so on; your chance of drawing them all, from number one to number ten in succession, would reach the unbelievable figure of one in ten billion.

By the same reasoning, so many exacting conditions are necessary for life on earth that they could not possibly exist in proper relationship by chance. The earth rotates on its axis one thousand miles per hour; if it turned at one hundred miles an hour, our days would be ten times as long as now, and the hot sun would then burn up our vegetation each long day while in the long night, any surviving sprout would freeze.

Again, the sun, source of our life, has a surface temperature of 12,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and our earth is just far enough away so that this "eternal fire" warms us just enough and not too much! If the sun gave off only one half its present radiation, we would freeze and if it gave half as much more, we would roast.

The slant of the earth, tilted at 23 degrees, gives us our seasons; if it had not been so tilted, vapors from the ocean would move north to south, piling up for us continents of ice. If our moon was, say, only 50 thousand miles away instead of its actual distance, our tides would be so enormous that twice a day all continents would be submerged; even the mountains would soon be eroded away. If the crust of the earth had been only ten feet thicker, there would be no oxygen, without which animal life must die. Had the ocean been a few feet deeper, carbon dioxide and oxygen would have been absorbed and no vegetable life could exist. Or if our atmosphere had been much thinner, some of the meteors, now burned in space by the millions every day, would be striking all parts of the earth, setting fires everywhere.

Because of these and a host of other examples, there is not one chance in millions that life on our planet is an accident.

Second: The resourcefulness of life to accomplish its purpose is a manifestation of all-pervading intelligence.

What life is, no man has fathomed. It has neither weight nor dimension, but it does have force; a growing root will crack a rock. Life has conquered water, land and air, mastering the elements, compelling them to dissolve and reform their combinations.

Life, the sculptor, shapes all living things; an artist, it designs every leaf of every tree, and colors every flower. Life is a musician and has taught each bird to sing its love songs, the insects to call each other in the music of their multitudinous sounds. Life is a sublime chemist, giving taste to the fruits and spices, and perfume to the rose, changing water and carbonic acid into sugar and wood, and, in so doing, releasing oxygen that animals may have the breath of life.

Behold an almost invisible drop of protoplasm, transparent, jelly-like, capable of motion, drawing energy from the sun. This single cell, this transparent mist-like droplet, holds within itself the germ of life, and has the power to distribute this life to every living thing, great and small. The powers of this droplet are greater than our vegetation and animals and people, for all life came from it. Nature did not create life; fire-blistered rocks and salt-less sea could not meet the necessary requirements.

Who, then, had put it there?

Third: Animal wisdom speaks irresistibly of a good Creator who infused instinct into otherwise helpless creatures.

The young salmon spends years at sea, then comes back to its own river, and travels up the very side of the river into which flows the tributary where he was born. What brings him back so precisely? If you transfer him to another tributary he will know at once that he is off course and he will fight his way down and back to the main stream and then turn up against the current to finish his destiny accurately.

Even more difficult to solve is the mystery of eels. These amazing creatures migrate at maturity from all ponds and rivers everywhere- those from Europe across thousands of miles of ocean- all bound from the same abysmal deeps near Bermuda. There they breed and die. The little ones, with no apparent means of knowing anything except that they are in a wilderness of water, nevertheless start back and find their way not only to the very shore from which their parents came but thence to the rivers, lakes or little ponds-so that each body of water is always populated with eels. No American eel had ever been caught in Europe, no European eel in American waters. Nature has even delayed the maturity of the European eel by a year or more to make up for its longer journey. Where does the directing impulse originate?

A wasp will overpower a grasshopper, dig a hole in the earth, sting the grasshopper in exactly the right place so that he does not die but becomes unconscious and lives on a from of preserved meat. Then the wasp will lay her eggs handily so that her children when they hatch can nibble without killing the insect on which they feed; to them dead meat would be fatal. The mother then flies away and dies; she never sees her young. Surely the wasp must have done all this right the first time and every time, else there would be no wasps. Such mysterious techniques cannot be explained by adaptation; they were bestowed.

Fourth: Man has something more than animal - the power of reason.

No other animal has ever left a record of its ability to count to ten, or even to understand the meaning of ten. Where instinct is like a single note of a flute, beautiful but limited, the human brain contains all the notes of all the instruments in the orchestra. No need to belabor this fourth point; thanks to human reason we can contemplate the possibility than we are what we are only because we have received a spark of Universal Intelligence.

Fifth: Provision for all living is revealed in phenomena which we know today but which Darwin did not know-such as the wonders of genes.

So unspeakably tiny are these genes that, if all of them responsible for all living people in the world could be put in one place, there would be less than a thimbleful. Yet these ultramicroscopic genes and their companions, the chromosomes, inhabit every living cell and are the absolute keys to all human, animal and vegetable characteristics. A thimble is a small place in which to put all the individual characteristics of two billion of human beings. However, the facts are beyond question. Well, then-how do genes lock up all the normal heredity of a multitude of ancestors and preserve the psychology of each in such an infinitely small space?

Here evolution really begins-at the cell, the entity which holds and carries the genes. How a few million atoms, locked up as an ultramicroscopic gene, can absolutely rule all life on earth is an example of profound cunning and provision that could emanate only from a Creative Intelligence; no other hypothesis will serve.

Sixth: By the economy of nature, we are forced to realize that only infinite wisdom could have foreseen and prepared with such astute husbandry.

Many years ago a species of cactus was planted in Australia as a protective fence. Having no insect enemies in Australia the cactus soon began a prodigious growth; the alarming abundance persisted until the plants covered an area as long and wide as England, crowding inhabitants out of towns and villages, and destroying their farms. Seeking a defense, the entomologists scoured the world; finally they turned up an insect which lived exclusively on cactus, and would eat nothing else. It would breed freely, too; and it had no enemies in Australia. So animal soon conquered vegetable and today the cactus pest has retreated, and with it all but a small protective residue of the insects, enough to hold the cactus in check forever.

Such checks and balances have been universally provided. Why have not fast-breeding insects dominated the earth? Because they have no lungs such as man possesses; they breathe through tubes. But when insects grow large, their tubes do not grow in ration to the increasing size of the body. Hence there never has been an insect of great size; this limitation on growth held them all in check. If this physical check had not been provided, man could not exist. Imagine meeting a hornet as big as a lion!

Seventh: The fact that man can conceive the idea of God is in itself a unique proof.

The conception of God rises from a divine faculty of man, unshared with the rest of our world-the faculty we call imagination. By its power, man and man alone can find the evidence of things unseen. The vista that power opens up is unbounded; indeed, as man's perfected imagination becomes a spiritual reality, he may discern in all the evidences of design and purpose the great truth that heaven is wherever and whatever; that God is everywhere and in everything but nowhere so close as in our hearts.

It is scientifically as well as imaginatively true, as the Psalmist said: The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork.

You are admittedly a bit puzzled why you were chosen to comment on Morrison's reasons for believing in God. You suspect it may have something to do with the fact that you have been taking a course in Philosophy in which you have been doing some reading and listening to a few lectures on God and religion, but that course is introductory and you think to yourself "who are you to go up against such a formidable ally or opponent?" But there is little time to reflect upon this strange business and even less time to waste. Your remarks need to be written out in just a "tad" 1 less than fourteen days! You decide to knuckle under.

Even more puzzling is the fact that, if your memory serves, Morrison has been dead for some time now. Morrison wrote a number of books on scientific topics as well as Man Does Not Stand Alone, from which the above remarks were adapted and published separately under the title "Seven Reasons Why A Scientist Believes in God." But Morrison lived from 1884 and 1951 and here we are fifty years later. Is Morrison really going to appear on the panel in ten days time? You ask the organizers and they ask you too imagine that you and Morrison - a completely healthy, fully resurrected Morrison with all his wits about him - are scheduled to appear together in about two weeks, at 12:10 PM on Tuesday, the 12th of October in Pollack Auditorium at Brandeis University for "The Great Debate." They ask you not to waste your time thinking about Morrison's health, adding if for any reason Morrison cannot make it, someone very much like Morrison will come in his place

Morrison is not all that well known. Ask anyone you encounter in Harvard Yard on a weekday and I am willing to bet no one will have heard of him. This fact should also help to boost your confidence. You and Morrison may be about equally well known to the general public. So, no one will say, "Who is that ("up there") with A Cressy Morrison?"

The organizers of the panel have asked you to put your (recently acquired) philosopher's cap on and respond to Morrison. That much is clear. Here in succinct form is the question they have put to you:

"Drawing on your own reading in the philosophy of religion and your own considered judgment, make an argument or arguments for or against Morrison's defense of his belief in God, offer what you think are several powerful objections to your arguments, and respond to them."

They also suggest you give some thought to the following: If, for example, you wish to argue against Morrison or against Morrison in part, they suggest that you give some thought to how Morrison might best respond on his own behalf, and how you would (then) respond back.

If, on the other hand, you elect to defend Morrison either in whole or in part, they suggest that you think about what objections might be raised to your position, and how you might best meet those objections. In thinking of objections to your position, whether they be Morrison's or someone else's, they suggest that it is often useful to think of the best possible objections that someone with a point of view other than your own might come up with. If you can respond to the other side at its strongest rather than at its weakest point, they say, sounding very much like Professor Teuber from Philosophy S-7, that can only help to strengthen your own case and make it that much more persuasive as well as make the subsequent discussion from the floor all the more satisfying.

You know from talking with the organizers that they are hoping for a lively debate, but you are not sure if you agree or disagree with Morrison or if you agree with his conclusions but not with his reasoning or whether you think some of his reasons are better than others or whether you think he's just plain wrong from beginning to end. You realize that you first have to sort out in your own mind whether you agree or disagree with all or a part of what Morrsion has to say. This is what you both love and hate about philosophy. To paraphrase what one very good contemporary philosopher, J. R. Lucas, has said: "Philosophy has to be self-thought, if it is to be thought at all. It is an activity rather than a set of positions. You need to think out the problems and solutions for yourself, and although another person's philosophizing may help you in your own, you cannot accept their conclusions, or even understand their arguments, until you have already argued a lot with yourself."

You decide to look back over some of the reading you have been doing in Philosophy 1A to get yourself thinking. From your own experience of the first few weeks of Philosophy 1A, you have come to the conclusion that, whatever else it may involve, philosophy involves constructing and evaluating arguments.

In reading Morrison's "Seven Reasons Why," however, you are not sure if Morrison is making seven distinct arguments for believing in God or even whether one or another of his arguments ought to count as an argument at all. Sometimes you are not sure what the argument is that he is making and if he is making an argument, whether all the steps of the argument are available to view. From your own (brief) exposure to philosophy, you have come to notice that philosophers do not just argue with one another - although they do seem to do an awful lot of arguing - they examine the assumptions we make about ourselves and the world to determine not only whether those assumptions are rationally defensible but whether those assumptions make sense. Yes, yes, philosophers spend a lot of time arguing. But they also spend a lot of time clarifying concepts, so they will know what they're supposedly arguing about and they devote some time, too, to seeking to uncover the assumptions and preconceptions of a given argument in order not to be led astray.

But enough of this ruminating. It's time to adjust your philosopher's cap, settle in, and deliver the goods. Your remarks should be about five pages in length or longer if you prefer. They are due on Tuesday, October 12th, in class.

GOOD LUCK!


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NOTES
1. "tad" from the OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY, See quots.below Obs.
A small amount; freq. used advb. in the expression a tad, a little, slightly.
1940 Amer. Speech XV. 448/1 Tad, a very small amount. ‘I want to borrow a tad of salt.’ 1969 L. MICHAELS Going Places 159, I tried to smile. ‘You come back later, baby. I'm a tad indisposed.’ 1976 Time 27 Sept. 39/2 ‘Pull 'er up a tad, please, mister,’ said the nonchalant teen-ager pumping gas. 1977 Time 14 Mar. 28/3 White House watchers also think they can glimpse a tad of arrogance showing through the good ole boy pose. 1977 Globe & Mail (Toronto) 15 Dec. 8/2 Things are a tad hectic. 1979 D. ANTHONY Long Hard Cure xv. 116 Why don't we sit here on the veranda? There's a tad of breeze. 1980 N.Y. Times 12 Aug. A18/1 The Mayor's pitch is a tad exaggerated both on the law's certainty and on the roominess of New York's prisons.

 

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