Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s cause for canonization has been suspended due to differences about removal of his body from New York, it seems. One upside of the story, though, is that while reading about Sheen’s biography, I discovered he had written a Philosophy of Science, and it’s available online here. The video above is of the Archbishop praising the “Glories of Science”, complete with his characteristic jokes throughout.
Back to Sean Carroll. He writes:
“It’s interesting that the “religious beliefs are completely independent of evidence and empirical investigation” meme has enjoyed such success in certain quarters that people express surprise to learn of the existence of theologians and believers who still think we can find evidence for the existence of God in our experience of the world. In reality, there are committed believers (“sophisticated” and otherwise) who feel strongly that we have evidence for God in the same sense that we have evidence for gluons or dark matter — because it’s the best way to make sense of the data — just as there are others who think that our knowledge of God is of a completely different kind, and therefore escapes scientific critique. It’s part of the problem that theism is not well defined.”
It is also part of the problem that “evidence” is not well-defined. “Evidence” does not mean self-evident. I consider Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophy to be “evidence-based”, for instance, in that it is based on observation and reflection on the world around us, though not in the measurable, scientific sense. What Carroll forgets is that scientific observations are not self-evident. Observations are, as they say, theory-laden. They only make sense within complex chains of reasoned connections—and if there are errors in that reasoning, the observations don’t show what they are claimed to show. To make a measurement with an instrument—say, a particular value of X-ray intensity, or electrical charge, or some such thing—and then to interpret that as “evidence” for a particular value of the age of the universe or for some cosmological process requires a chain of logic, induction, and deduction. But then, philosophical reasoning works the same way. Science depends on metaphysics. Science depends on philosophy. You can’t just say it is “evidence-based” as if that means its results, unlike those of philosophy, are independent of potentially controvertible lines of reasoning.
Is this Neanderthal artwork? It was found etched onto a table-like rock in a cave in Gibraltar (Nature). The design is identified as Neanderthal because it was found beneath sediment layers containing clear Neanderthal tools, before modern humans had migrated into the region. The archaeologists investigating the remains also determined that the designs could only have been made by repeatedly carving the same design, i.e., it is not likely to be an accidental byproduct of some other process. But it’s also not obviously a representation of something identifiable. So did Neanderthals make art?
Maybe. There’s been a few other circumstantial cases that have suggested they did as well. “Art is the signature of man,” Chesterton wrote. So was Neanderthal man?
I suspect he was, though that’s just a hunch, as there’s not evidence enough yet to conclude such firmly. For theological and philosophical purposes, what matters is that each individual man contains an immaterial, God-created intellect, and is biologically unified (through descent) with the human race. It is not required that he fall within that particular genetic and phenotypic range that is identified today as Homo sapiens.