Metaphors and perception

Over at the BioLogos blog, Michael Ruse offers a short summary of his new book, Science and Spirituality: Making Room for Faith in the Age of Science.  Go read it and come back for a few observations below the fold.

I really liked the attempt to break-down the whole religion-science relationship into four dimensions.

Ruse wrote, “Not just questions not answered, but not even asked.”  The reliance on metaphors, and the implications of this reliance, boil down to perception.  Perception itself is formed from two directions: bottom up processing, which stems from sensory information and top-down processing, which stems from conceptual templates.  Psychologists are able to tease these apart a bit with the phenomenon of ambiguous figures (like Joseph Jastrow’s Duck-Rabbit).  For example, children tested on Easter Sunday are more likely to see the figure as a rabbit, even though it is also a duck.  Thus, when Ruse talks about questions not asked or answered, he are talking about the role of top-down processing in formulating and entrenching our perceptions.

That bunny can be very helpful. If we can accept that our reality is inherently ambiguous, given the various limitations of being human, then this insight from psychology might help illuminate the four divisions of Barbour:

Warfare boils down to two people arguing, “It’s a Duck, I tell you!”” and “No!, It’s a Rabbit!”  This position denies the figure is ambiguous.

Independence boils down being unable to see the Duck (or Rabbit), thus also believing the figure is not ambiguous.

Integration amounts to an insistence the figure is not a Duck or Rabbit, but actually must be a new species we can call the Duckrabbit (or is the Rabbitduck?).

Dialogue acknowledges the existence of both Duck and Rabbit and says, “Yes, that’s the Duck’s bill, but it is also the Rabbit’s ears.”

I think the Dialogue dimension is the most rational option.

As for the business about the machine metaphor, it’s worth mentioning that this metaphor has been especially useful in biology and now (unexpectedly) extends deep into the heart of biology’s basic unit – the cell.  In other words, if I now perceive life as carbon-based nanotechnology, this perception is supported by massive scientific evidence and there is nothing in science to tell me this perception is erroneous.  And if I perceive life as carbon-based nanotechnology, it seems quite reasonable to take the next step and to begin suspecting that life itself was designed.  As for Darwinan evolution?  The machine metaphor allows me to perceive life as a process designed to exploit it.  Now, at this point, will Dr. Ruse step in to inform me that it’s “only a metaphor?”  Let’s not get too carried away with this powerful metaphor.  In other words, the reach of the metaphor just happens to stop at the very point where a suspicion of design kicks in.

One response to “Metaphors and perception

  1. Now, at this point, will Dr. Ruse step in to inform me that it’s “only a metaphor?”

    My guess is no, as he has already bailed from the thread.

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