Slash Boxes

SoylentNews is people

posted by n1 on Wednesday October 01 2014, @02:24AM   Printer-friendly
from the mental-gymnatiscs-championship dept.

David P. Barash, an evolutionary biologist and professor of psychology at the University of Washington, writes in the NYT that every year he gives his students The Talk, not as you might expect, about sex, but about evolution and religion. According to Barash many students worry about reconciling their beliefs with evolutionary science and just as many Americans don’t grasp the fact that evolution is not merely a “theory,” but the underpinning of all biological science, a substantial minority of his students are troubled to discover that their beliefs conflict with the course material. "There are a couple of ways to talk about evolution and religion," says Barash. "The least controversial is to suggest that they are in fact compatible." Stephen Jay Gould called them "nonoverlapping magisteria," noma for short, with the former concerned with facts and the latter with values." But Barash says magisteria are not nearly as nonoverlapping as some of them might wish. "As evolutionary science has progressed, the available space for religious faith has narrowed: It has demolished two previously potent pillars of religious faith and undermined belief in an omnipotent and omni-benevolent God."

The twofold demolition begins by defeating what modern creationists call the argument from complexity - that just as the existence of a complex structure like a watch demands the existence of a watchmaker, the existence of complex organisms requires a supernatural creator. "Since Darwin, however, we have come to understand that an entirely natural and undirected process, namely random variation plus natural selection, contains all that is needed to generate extraordinary levels of non-randomness. Living things are indeed wonderfully complex, but altogether within the range of a statistically powerful, entirely mechanical phenomenon." Next to go is the illusion of centrality. "The most potent take-home message of evolution is the not-so-simple fact that, even though species are identifiable (just as individuals generally are), there is an underlying linkage among them — literally and phylogenetically, via traceable historical connectedness. Moreover, no literally supernatural trait has ever been found in Homo sapiens; we are perfectly good animals, natural as can be and indistinguishable from the rest of the living world at the level of structure as well as physiological mechanism." Finally there is a third consequence of evolutionary insights: a powerful critique of theodicy, the effort to reconcile belief in an omnipresent, omni-benevolent God with the fact of unmerited suffering. "But just a smidgen of biological insight makes it clear that, although the natural world can be marvelous, it is also filled with ethical horrors: predation, parasitism, fratricide, infanticide, disease, pain, old age and death — and that suffering (like joy) is built into the nature of things. The more we know of evolution, the more unavoidable is the conclusion that living things, including human beings, are produced by a natural, totally amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator."

Barash concludes The Talk by saying that, although they don’t have to discard their religion in order to inform themselves about biology (or even to pass his course), if they insist on retaining and respecting both, they will have to undertake some challenging mental gymnastic routines. "And while I respect their beliefs, the entire point of The Talk is to make clear that, at least for this biologist, it is no longer acceptable for science to be the one doing those routines."

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.
Display Options Threshold/Breakthrough Mark All as Read Mark All as Unread
The Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not responsible for them in any way.
  • (Score: 2) by HiThere on Wednesday October 01 2014, @08:33PM

    by HiThere (866) on Wednesday October 01 2014, @08:33PM (#100639) Journal

    I think you need to reread the Old Testament. The basic rule was "Those who aren't believers should be taken all possible advantage of". Sometimes this meant killing an entire city because the ruler got overly friendly with your sister before marrying her.

    Javascript is what you use to allow unknown third parties to run software you have no idea about on your computer.
    Starting Score:    1  point
    Karma-Bonus Modifier   +1  

    Total Score:   2  
  • (Score: 2) by Kell on Thursday October 02 2014, @03:09AM

    by Kell (292) on Thursday October 02 2014, @03:09AM (#100799)

    I have read the Old Testament plenty of times, and I would wager I know it better than a great many Christians. Specifically I refer to Leviticus 24:17-20:

    24:17 And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death.
    24:18 And he that killeth a beast shall make it good; beast for beast.
    24:19 And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him;
    24:20 Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again.

    Last I checked, the pentateuch is generally considered part of the Old Testament.

    Scientists ask questions. Engineers solve problems.
    • (Score: 2) by HiThere on Thursday October 02 2014, @06:10PM

      by HiThere (866) on Thursday October 02 2014, @06:10PM (#101064) Journal

      Yes. There are sections where various things, given a modern interpretation, are said that are reasonably moral. (IIUC, originally that was only applied within the tribes of the Jews.) But there are lots of other sections. I pointed directly at one of them.

      Javascript is what you use to allow unknown third parties to run software you have no idea about on your computer.
      • (Score: 2) by Kell on Friday October 03 2014, @06:53AM

        by Kell (292) on Friday October 03 2014, @06:53AM (#101290)

        Since there seems to be some confusion, I will clarify.

        My aim was to correct the misconception that tit-for-tat is the same as the golden rule (which is more correctly 'always cooperate'). Tit-for-tat is the political strategy equivalent to an-eye-for-an-eye, which I agree is considered to be part of prototypical moral codes (and brutal ones to be sure). I am not arguing that eye-for-eye is 'good' or 'ethical' (or that 'moral' is synonymous for either of those). Rather I am arguing that political norms for social behaviour arise from iterated game theory.
        Morality may be thought of as behaving in such a way that the rest of your tribe doesn't get angry and kill you. Game theoretic self-maximising behaviour can be seen to explain the prevalence and benefit of moral behaviour, without recourse to transcendental reasoning; it is pragmatic "enlightened self-interest".

        Scientists ask questions. Engineers solve problems.