Do you believe in God or in science?
Can you believe in both at the same time or do you have to choose?
According to Jonah Lehrer only the most ignorant among us deny evolution. Only those who have studied the most science are mentally tough enough to turn off the mental instincts that are leading them astray. To Lehrer, being led astray is being led to God.
Gallup has just done a poll about evolution. Apparently large numbers of Americans believe that God had a hand in the creation of the human species. Some believe that he did it through evolution. Others do not.
Some Americans believe that God guided evolution; some believe that God created human beings in their present form 10,000 years ago. Together they comprise 78% of the sample.
15% believe that God had no part in the process at all, therefore that evolution proceeded more or less randomly.
Most of us are therefore suffering Lehrer infelicitously calls “the stubbornness of our ignorance.”
Of course, the questions are somewhat confusing. So is Lehrer’s analysis.
Do you believe that human beings are currently evolving? Have we evolved since, for example, the time that the Bible was written… a few thousand years ago?
If the ethical thinking in the Bible or in philosophers like Aristotle and Confucius is still valid that would tend to suggest that human nature has not evolved over the past few thousand years.
If you believe that, are you denying science?
What if you believe, as many do, that the advent of human beings corresponds to the origin of language? There are numerous theories about how and when it happened. Some believe that it happened in an instant, because of a chance genetic mutation. Others believe that it developed over time.
A variation on Darwin’s theory would explain the genetic mutation. But then, why hasn't the species evolved significantly since the time that it acquired language? Those who believe that the species has not evolved significantly since that time are surely not mired in superstition?
Surely, we have improved on things over the past millennia. Does that mean that the species has evolved or that we have made better and better use of abilities that we have always possessed?
These questions are anything but clear. In principle, science describes what happens in the physical world. Clearly, the existence of the physical world does not preclude the existence of a metaphysical subject like God. You cannot prove that God does or does not exist by invoking science.
It’s silly even to try.
And then, polls do not tell us what people mean when they say that God had a hand in the creation of the human species.
Are they defending their community against the atheists who deny God’s existence and would undermine their faith and community?
Are they saying that human life means something?
Are they saying that human beings have moral agency and moral responsibility?
Are they saying that they do not believe that an orderly universe arose at random or by accident?
No less a scientist as Albert Einstein once said: “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.” How would Lehrer account for the stubbornness of his ignorance?
And what of the fact that some ideologues have wrapped their agendas in the mantle of science?
After all the empty rhetoric about the “settled science” of anthropogenic global warming, don’t rational individuals have a right to doubt scientists?
Some people do believe in science as an article of faith, but is a belief in science the same thing as a belief in God?
Is it fair to say that we need to choose between two fundamentally different kinds of belief? Just because we use the word belief in both cases does not mean that we are talking about the same thing.
Perhaps Lehrer has framed the question in order to help his readers to feel better than the rubes who do not believe in Darwin.
What if you formulate the question differently? What if you ask people whether they believe that human sexuality and gender identity are universal scientific facts or social constructs?
Darwin would deny that they are social constructs. How many of those who claim to be believers in Darwin would agree? Is the social construct school a modern version of ignorant superstition?
Some people believe that God created men and women. Does that not correspond more closely to Darwinian thought than the notion that gender is a social construct?
These questions are difficult and complicated. To appreciate how difficult they are, examine the following chain of thought.
Let’s posit that Kepler discovered the law that determines the orbits of the planets. Clearly, that law existed before Kepler discovered it. Its existence has nothing to do with the fact that any human being is or was thinking it.
If this law has existed as long as there have been planets revolving around the sun, where is it?
I think it fair to say that the law is a metaphysical entity and thus does not have a location in space or time. Still, the planets obey this law.
If the law exists as a metaphysical entity, it is fair to say that it is an idea. But, if it is an idea and if it was an idea, then, before Kepler thought of it who or what was thinking it?