Are Scientists who hold strong religious beliefs, or 'faith' as it may be called, scientists of a lesser calibre? I ask this because traditional scientific method entails entering into scientific work with a clear and unbiased mind in relation to the subject. If there are two scientists, one of 'faith' and one of no religious persuasion both trying to prove a particular point in say, evolution, is the scientist of 'faith' not heavily inluenced by his need to prove his faith true in his method. While the other scientist may have a more reliable opinion as he relies on reason and scientific method alone?

No, there's no reason whatsoever that being religious should make someone less successful as a scientist. Whether one is a "person of faith" has nothing to do with whether one is capable of reason and the like. Any suggestion to the contrary is, frankly, not just insulting but ignorant. Moreover, the question contains several other assumptions that are simply false. First, a religious scientist need have no "need to prove his faith true" by scientific means. She may simply think that science and faith don't really intersect all that much, not because she "partitions" or "compartmentalizes", but for much the same reason she might think science and poetry don't intersect all that much. Second, a non-religious scientist may well have some irrational investment in, say, the truth of some hypothesis that she formulated as a graduate student and interpret all her data in terms of it. Being non-religious doesn't insulate one from bias. Third, it is simply a myth that scientists rely upon "reason and...

In relation to the debate raging in the US about evolution and Intelligent Design, I would like to know whether positing the existence and prior activity of an intelligent designer is a scientific or a philosophical question. Is it scientifically conceivable that the existence of a designer and of things having come about purposefully as opposed to randomly could ever be deduced from available or putative evidence?

Surely there could be evidence for this kind of claim. Maybe we'd find when we went to Mars that there were some super-smart aliens working on the creation of life, and then we'd find when we returned evidence to back up their story that they'd done the same thing here. But, at the moment, there doesn't seem to be any prospect of such evidence. But, as the judge in Pennsylvania clearly recognized, Intelligent Design isn't really a scientific hypothesis. It's a religious doctrine. That, to my mind, isn't a bad thing. What's unfortunate is that so many people on both sides of this debate seem to think science and religion are fundamentally opposed.

I am a physician, and cannot find literature references to recent cognitive neurophysiological research which should theoretically radically impinge on modern philosophical understanding of reasoning. I have read that we should be starting to call the love of wisdom 'neurophilosophy', but I haven't seen much collabaration in print. Is it happening, or are the two disciplines sitting snugly in their separate ivory towers? If it is happening, could you direct me to books/publications, etc. which are not too dense. With thanks, Paul Maher

There are many philosophers who take a serious interest in neuroscience. Perhaps the best known are the two who were, I believe, responsible for the term "neurophilosophy", Paul and Patricia Churchland, both of whom are at UC-San Diego. But I'm no expert in that area and wouldn't know precisely where to send you for popularized treatments of that kind of work. There is plenty in the journals. You might care to look at Brain and Behavioral Sciences , which publishes a good deal of such work. Perhaps most intersting is the fact that they tend to publish papers with a lot of commentary from people in nearby disciplines.

Is astrology really a science that can be proven? Can the alignment of the planets of when and where someone was born make them who they are?

It's perhaps worth adding the astrology evolved at a time when people's conceptions of what planets are were very different from what they are now. There was a time when it was thought that the planets were points of light embedded in giant crystalline spheres whose rotation was caused by the tireless work of angels. If that were what planets were, then, well, gosh, who knows what strange and wonderful inferences could be made from their positions. That astrology survives despite the downfall of this kind of conception is testament to some profound human impulse.

Does infinity exist in reality?

My thesis supervisor, George Boolos, wrote his own dissertation on the analytic hierarchy, whose description I shall omit. Suffice it to say, for present purposes, that the sets it concerns are infinite, and there are infinitely many of them. At the end of his oral defense, one of his examiners said, "So tell me, Mr Boolos. What does the analytic hierarchy have to do with the real world?" George's response was: It's part of it. Perhaps you had in mind physical reality. Then the question is a scientific one. Space is not, according to current physical theory, infinite in extent. But physics, in its contemporary form, typically describes both space and time as continuous (though, as I understand it, there are or at least have been proposals to quantize space). If that is correct, then space is, in one sense, infinite, in so far as there are infinitely many points even in bounded regions of space.

I was reading Time magazine of August 15 of this year. I was curious about the fact about what would happen if natural selection is proved wrong? Then if it is proved wrong, is our understanding of the reality relative? And if it is relative, how are we sure that the way we understand our surroundings is the correct one? I really need you to answer this question because I am afraid of devoting my life to something that later will prove completely wrong. Thanks.

There have been many instances over the centuries in which well-confirmed scientific theories were later shown to be wrong. Usually, they weren't simply wrong. There was something they had right, but then it turned out that there were various sorts of problems, and a very different theory had to be introduced, often with a wholly different background metaphysics. Natural selection, as well confirmed as it now seems, could turn out to be wrong. (And there are very different takes on natural selection itself, anyway.) So yes, our understanding of the world is no more guaranteed to be correct than was that of our forebearers. (I'm not happy with the term "relative", which tends to be used in a different way.) But that doesn't mean that we don't have good reason to believe what we believe. We do. If we find we have better reason to believe something else, then we'll believe that. But until we do find better reason to believe something else, we should, well, believe what we have best reason to believe...

At like an atomic level, like really small, is it possible to determine where one thing stops and another begins? Say like where my finger stops and a key on my keyboard begins? (This might be a bad example, because a plastic key and my finger probably have quite different atoms, but still the line between them would be hard to find right.)

I'm going to say something here that is way over-simplified, but perhaps it will do. According to quantum mechanics, of which my knowledge is very limited, such things as atoms don't have distinct boundaries in the sense you have in mind. This is because their parts (protons, neutrons, etc) don't have completely determinate positions in space (except under certain exceptional assumptions). Rather, the location of a given particle is described in terms of the probability that it is in a particular location. In fact, the same is true of macroscopic objects. Even waiving the blurriness of my boundaries, my location is not completely determinate, either. It therefore seems reasonable to say that, no, it isn't completely determinate where your finger ends and the key begins, even if we can say which particles constitute the one and which the other (another hard problem), because it isn't determinate where those particles are.

The mathematical examples used to support the notion of chaos in nature (e.g., fractals resembling coastlines) seem at times to have more the force of analogy than scientific persuasiveness. Is there currently a philosophical debate over the veracity of chaos theory?

I'm not a philosopher of science, so I have no first-hand knowledge here. But a search of Philosopher's Index turned up a review by Jeffrey Koperski, in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 2001, of Peter Smith's Explaining Chaos . I also found a few papers on the relation between chaos theory and quantum mechanics, in which there is, apparently, no room for chaos. See, for example, Gordon Belot's "Chaos and Fundamentalism", Philosophy of Science 67 (2000), 454-465. Oddly enough, most of the references I discovered were to papers in philosophy of religion....