People have asked me to post the questions from the paper I presented at the Darwin Festival — the paper to which Dan Dennett responded in his verbal comments and in his blog on Dawkins’ website. Here’s the excerpt from the paper:
Sample Big Questions
It is not difficult to list the “big questions” in the biology-theology discussion over the 150 years since Darwin published On the Origin of Species. Consider just these seven:
• Is there directionality to evolution? If so, is it a sort of directionality that we should speak of as progress and, if so, why?
• Is this directionality (if it exists) purposive? That is, is it a sort of progress that is analogous to cases of intelligent agents bringing about changes in the empirical world?
• Obviously evolution produces emergent structures, functions, and behaviors. Can these emergent properties be fully (sufficiently) explained in terms of laws, properties, and dynamics occurring at lower levels of organization and at earlier stages in cosmic history? To what extent do explanations given at the level of the emergent properties and dynamics themselves constitute an irreducible part of the scientific results?
• Among the corollaries of the recent debates on emergent complexity is the (still unsolved) question: what is the relationship of biology to physics? This question continues to be unresolved, and more turns on it than is often realized.
• Biologists often complain that physicists overestimate the power of their discipline to answer the deepest and most interesting biological questions. Is it possible that we are similarly guilty of overestimating the significance of our results for explaining distinctively human behaviors, cognitions, symbols, and ideas? What is the role of the human sciences (psychology, sociology, and cultural anthropology) as special sciences; do they supplement the biological sciences in understanding human thought and behavior? If they do, as I think, how, why, and under what rules does this work?
• In addition to the obvious similarities of Homo sapiens to other animals, what are the distinctive features of our species? How are those features to be understood philosophically? Which features, if any, are qualitatively different from the other species? How did such qualitative differences arise, and what is their significance? In particular, what are the contributions of evolutionary psychology and what are the inherent limitations that it faces?
• Both ethical and religious beliefs have played an important role in cultural evolution and thus, given co-evolution, have had biological effects, sometimes positive and sometimes negative. Can human ethical and religious convictions be fully explained within the framework of evolutionary biology? If not, why not? What are the limits of biological explanation to which this result points? What, exactly, is it that does the limiting here?
What gradually becomes obvious is that these are meta-biological questions. I suggest that they are natural next questions for humans to formulate when one has understood the biological results. It is on this basis (and only so), I think, that one can understand what theological reflection entails.
— Philip Clayton