« Cabo San Lucas vacation-advice please.... | Gene Expression Front Page | Karma of brown folk »
February 10, 2004

Darwin's God

P.Z. Meyers & Abiola address the issue of religion & science. They seem to come out against S.J. Gould's lack of overlap between the magisteria of science & religion. Knowing how we feel about S.J. Gould here at GNXP, you might suspect that we would agree, and to some extent, I do. But, as the two bloggers above note, that depends on the religion in question[1].

The scientist who is the anti-Gould on the question of science & religion is Richard Dawkins. I'm not going to rehash his rather aggressive atheism, it is well known. He is a man who suffers no fools (his perception), and gives no ground to the less rational instincts of the human species, excluding his own biases[2]. I met Dawkins when I was a freshman in college when my biology professor somehow convinced him to give a lecture to about 35 of us. He is brilliant man, certainly as erudite as Gould was, but one thing I noted was that he made a half-a-dozen jokes about Roman Catholicism. In the book Science and Religion: Are They Comptabile, he launches another broadside into Roman Catholicism. The gist of his argument is that at least Christian fundamentalism is honest in its internal consistency, with a living, breathing, God of history, a God who encapsulates the reductio ad absurdum of Christian theism. For Roman Catholicism, he has nothing but contempt for its thin gruel of the God of the Gaps and appeals to historical continuity, ethics and morality (his characterization). His rage at Pope for commenting on matters of science is palpable and leaps out from the page.

I can not but help and wonder if Dawkins' background, with a chair at Oxford and his posh upper-middle-class accent, has not biased him against Roman Catholicism on the emotional level. I agree with him on merits that there seems a slippery slope toward the hiding of the Hand of God from this universe as science elucidates the mysteries of the cosmos. But like the Christian fundamentalists, Dawkins seems to see the world as a binary universe, with the rational & empirical and the credulous & superstitious being the only options, and those who fall in the fuzzy middle are not worth his respect.

While I respect Richard Dawkins, and I find supernatural belief rather peculiar from a personal perspective, I can not judge humans too harshly for being humans. In any ideal world (or my ideal world), all humans would have a high capacity for abstraction, a zeal for fidelity to the empirical, and Christians would bandy the arguments of Norman Malcolm, Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantiga. But most people are still embedded in webs of custom & tradition. That is a fact. And those with an evolutionary conception of the human species might wonder if there is a genetic predisposition to this sort of outlook. Those of us who abhor a demon-haunted-universe can not fall prey to the fantasy that the demons will disappear if we tell them to, as if there is a magic phrase of power that will banish them, rather, we must tame them so that they are made safe for the rational & empirical bubble that we so value. We must facilitate the natural selection of moderate demons.

Update: My post God & the scientists might be of interest to some readers that missed it-it details the religious break-downs in various disciplines.

fn1. Both bloggers note that deism or pantheism are rather easy fits with evolutionary biology, and science in general. Theisms of the conventional sort are more difficult to place, and there is a great deal of diversity, from liberal Christians who practice a faith that tends toward moral platitudes to fundamentalist Christians who believe that God lives & breaths in our world, that he will return in the flesh within their lifetimes. Religions predicated on magic, such as those that compete explicitly with science & engineering in modelling and designing the processes of the world, are of course easily falsifiable.

fn2. In one of his books, he asserts that he's willing to get into it with you about why it's not humane to boil lobsters alive.

Posted by razib at 02:06 PM