“The ‘Parable of the Invisible Gardener’ in John Wisdom’s paper ‘Gods’, published in the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society in 1944, achieved fame in the twentieth century principally through its reformulation in an article by Anthony Flew, ‘Theology and Falsification’. This parable of a believer and a sceptic who reach different conclusions about the existence of a gardener from the state of a neglected garden has long supported claims that theological utterances about evidence of purposeful divine action in the cosmos are incapable of falsification, worthless or even evil. In this presentation, I agree that arguments purporting to prove cosmic purpose are non-falsifiable, citing controversies over the Copernican Principle and ‘fine-tuning’. Nevertheless, I argue that such criticisms overlook the main lesson of Wisdom’s parable. Any discernment of purpose, cosmic or otherwise, is not the conclusion of a syllogism, but exercises a different intellectual virtue, known as intellectus (‘understanding’) to medieval philosophy and associated today with the operations of the right-brain hemisphere. Although such operations do not contribute directly to new empirical facts about the world, they shape how such facts are seen as a whole and organised. As a result, the diverging perceptions of the cosmos formed by believing and sceptical cultures give rise to different kinds of fruitfulness, with consequences that may indeed be empirically distinguishable.”
ANDREW PINSENT is Research Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion and a Research Fellow of Harris Manchester College. His research includes a period at CERN and he is a contributing author to thirty-one publications of the DELPHI experiment. He has a doctorate in particle physics, a degree in theology and a second doctorate in philosophy. His present interests include the philosophy of cosmology, complex systems and persons. His most recent book is The Second-Person Perspective in Aquinas’s Ethics: Virtues and Gifts (Routledge, 2012) and he contributes regularly to public lectures, debates and the media.
THIS PUBLIC SEMINAR WILL BE HELD IN THE SUTRO ROOM OF TRINITY COLLEGE, OXFORD, AT 8:30PM ON THURSDAY 1ST NOVEMBER 2012, WITH DRINKS AT 8:15PM.