New at CSPO: "I find efforts to reconcile science and Judeo-Christian religion rather bizarre, despite many well-meaning efforts (such as the recent book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence of Belief, by NIH National Human Genome Research Institute director Francis Collins). After all, religion cannot exist without ultimate meaning, and science cannot exist with it. It would be a strange God who laid reality out as a mystery for scientists’ continual amusement, and a strange science whose job was simply to reveal the mechanics behind God’s mysterious ways. But wait a minute, that’s what Copernicus, Kepler, and other titans of early Western science thought they were doing. Kepler, for example, saw in science a gift to humans that allowed them “to some extent taste the satisfaction of God the Workman with his own works,” and he viewed celestial mechanics as “this music which imitates God.” Sounds a little too close to Intelligent Design for comfort, doesn’t it?
On second thought, it is not particularly problematic for science to trace evolution or celestial mechanics back to an ultimate origin in God’s work, since ultimate origins don’t really make any difference one way or the other to the validity of the science. The authority of an evolutionary biologist is in no way threatened by the notion that it all started through supernatural intervention, since you can push “it all started” as far back into pre-history as you like, say, 15 billion years. Where you get into trouble, though, is when you try to explain phenomena like moral reasoning or religious belief in terms of, say, neurological activity or the evolution of the brain, which of course is just the sort of thing that researchers in fields such as cognitive neuroscience and evolutionary psychology try to do. This type of trouble was acknowledged with rare candor by Columbia University biologist Robert Pollack in his book The Faith of Biology & The Biology of Faith, who writes that “evolution through natural selection explains certain facts of life that touch on matters of meaning and purpose . . . [T]he vision of the natural world these explanations produce is simply too terrifying and depressing to me to be borne without the emotional buffer of my own religion.”