Robert Wright’s NYT commentary on science vs. religion makes some good points, but glosses over the arguments militant atheists use against God, and the arguments theists use against evolution.
Wright says militant atheists “might even grant that natural selection’s intrinsic creative power — something they’ve been known to stress in other contexts — adds at least an iota of plausibility to this remotely creative god.” How does that makes sense?
If a purely natural process has intrinsic creative power, how does that argue for the existence (or increased possibility of existence) of an intrinsic creative power outside of nature? That’s like arguing that the ability of a television broadcast to create the appearance of little people inside the TV screen adds at least an iota of plausibility to the notion that there are actually little people in the TV, and your 3-year-old has been correct all along.
Wright also suggests that religious folks are within shouting distance of getting the concept: “The first step toward this more modern theology is for them to bite the bullet and accept that God did his work remotely — that his role in the creative process ended when he unleashed the algorithm of natural selection (whether by dropping it into the primordial ooze or writing its eventual emergence into the initial conditions of the universe or whatever).” Yeah, right, Wright.
The problem isn’t that there are a lot of people who think evolution needed a bit of divine nudging here and there once it started, the problem is that there’s a disturbing number of people who don’t accept evolution at all — who insist that God created everything in 6 days, a few thousand years ago, just like a literalist interpretation of the Bible declares. And those people have a ridiculous amount of influence in our society. Nudging the moderate folks a bit more toward science isn’t going to do anything about the (pardon the lapse in etiquette) yahoos who are still driving the religious discourse in America.
But Wright has some good points as well, like this one: “Of course, religion doesn’t have a monopoly on awe and inspiration. The story that science tells, the story of nature, is awesome, and some people get plenty of inspiration from it, without needing the religious kind.” As the late Douglas Adams said, “I’d take the awe of inspiration over the awe of ignorance any day.”
(cartoon via Palmyria)