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Evolution, Science, and God

I've been a fan of Darwin's ever since I read On the Origin of Species when I was a kid. I've even read parts of Steven J Gould's The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. I think there aren't really a whole lot more interesting scientific theories around (well, OK, I've become a recent fan of non-locality.) A while back, a couple of articles piqued my interest. The first was a story about a "scientific" study, which seems to suggest that:
... our minds are conflicted, making it so we have trouble reconciling science and God because we unconsciously see these concepts as fundamentally opposed, at least when both are used to explain the beginning of life and the universe.
I spent a good bit of time as a scientist teaching about issues related to how scientists think about a topic can influence how they ask questions, and how they analyze data. If there was ever a classic case of how the assumptions of scientists affected how they did their research, and what conclusions they came to, this is it. The scientists read students two different statements about the origin of the universe. One said that "the theories were strong and supported by the data," and the other said the theories "raised more questions than they answered." They were then required to do a word categorization task, while the words "science" and "God" were flashed intermittently (and too fast for the subjects to be consciously aware of.) And this is what they found:
... subjects who read the statement in support of the scientific theories responded more quickly to positive words appearing just after the word "science" than those who had read statements critical of the scientific theories. Similarly, those who read the statement suggesting that the scientific theories were weak were slower than the other group (who read the theory-supportive statement) to identify negative words that appeared after they were primed with the word "God."
And the scientist says the following:

Preston says her research shows that a dual belief system, for instance the idea that evolution explains biology but God set the process in motion, does not exist in our brains. "We can only believe in one explanation at a time,"

Huh? Who comes up with this idiocy? Hard wired? Why couldn't this be, for instance, a fairly straightforward demonstration of a set of cultural assumptions? And, of course, starting out with using only the words "God" and "science" and pairing them with strong vs. critical representations of scientific theories of origin is setting it all up to be oppositional and dualistic.

The second article was a report about a Vatican conference on Darwin, which had decided to add Intelligent Design to their agenda. And the article goes on to ask whether ID belongs at a Vatican conference on Darwin, and asks, in the headline, is it "culture or science?" Intelligent Design is nothing more than creationism in different clothes. There is nothing scientific about it. Both articles do the standard journalistic thing of setting science and religion against each other. The second article at least remembers to state that the official position of the Vatican is that "science and faith are compatible."

Of course, the major culprits in this are not the journalists (they do play a role.) It's the Young Earth creationists who insist on saying the universe is less than 10,000 years old, and all evolutionary science is either fraudulent or the work of satan, and the "new atheists," like Richard Dawkins, who insist that the lack of evidence of God proves that God doesn't exist.

Back to Stephen J. Gould for a moment. He  came up with something that makes a lot of sense to me. It's called "Non Overlapping Magisteria." It's the idea, basically, that you don't use the tools of one domain to look at the other. From Wikipedia:

In his book Rocks of Ages (1999), Gould put forward what he described as "a blessedly simple and entirely conventional resolution to ... the supposed conflict between science and religion."He defines the term magisterium as "a domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution" and the NOMA principle is "the magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what the Universe is made of (fact) and why does it work in this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty)." In his view, "Science and religion do not glower at each other...[but] interdigitate in patterns of complex fingering, and at every fractal scale of self-similarity."

I like this one. As someone who has spent most of my life with both feet deeply in both magisteria, I love that concept of interdigitation, and of no need for conflict. And sometime I'll write a blog entry about Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit priest who was a paleontologist who tried to integrate the two, with interesting result.

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Comments

Funny, but that "God set it in motion, and evolution took over" thing is what the Catholic school I attended taught.

Great blog here. We find what we are searching for, and the first study clearly wanted to show the two were incompatible. Look forward to the blog on de Chardin and and how to discover fire for the second time.

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