Over at the Huffington Post Blog, Sam Harris, author of the best selling book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, has posted his reaction to President Bush’s comments about teaching Intelligent Design. Harris’ post received gushing approval from well-known, pro-evolution author Richard Dawkins.
In the church we often repeat the aphorism that there is no real conflict between Science and Religion.
Prolific Evolution advocate Stephen J. Gould often insisted that there is no conflict between Religion and Science because they are two different, non-competing realms. ID advocates like Phillip Johnson, author of Darwin on Trial and Reason in the Balance, have argued that this is nonsense and that even though the idea is often repeated, it is insincere double-speak; that despite these assertions to the contrary, a majority of evolutionary advocates believe that evolutionary science disproves religion and that they are only separate realms in the same way that reality and fantasy are different realms.
I am not interested in retreading the specifics of the Evolution vs. Intelligent Design debate here. If you want to discuss that topic you can do so here.
I am interested in your reaction, especially you faithful LDS scientists, to the following paragraph of Harris’s post:
It is time that scientists and other public intellectuals observed that the contest between faith and reason is zero-sum. There is no question but that nominally religious scientists like Francis Collins and Kenneth R. Miller are doing lasting harm to our discourse by the accommodations they have made to religious irrationality. Likewise, Stephen Jay Gould’s notion of “non-overlapping magisteria” served only the religious dogmatists who realize, quite rightly, that there is only one magisterium. Whether a person is religious or secular, there is nothing more sacred than the facts. Either Jesus was born of a virgin, or he wasn’t; either there is a God who despises homosexuals, or there isn’t. It is time that sane human beings agreed on the standards of evidence necessary to substantiate truth-claims of this sort. The issue is not, as ID advocates allege, whether science can “rule out” the existence of the biblical God. There are an infinite number of ludicrous ideas that science could not “rule out,” but which no sensible person would entertain. The issue is whether there is any good reason to believe the sorts of things that religious dogmatists believe — that God exists and takes an interest in the affairs of human beings; that the soul enters the zygote at the moment of conception (and, therefore, that blastocysts are the moral equivalents of persons); etc. There simply is no good reason to believe such things, and scientists should stop hiding their light under a bushel and make this emphatically obvious to everyone.
As an interesting, related tangent, many of you are probably aware of Punk Rock legend Greg Graffin of the pioneering California punk band Bad Religion and author of the influential Punk Manifesto. What you may not know is that Graffin has a Ph.D. from Cornell in Evolutionary Biology. He is the head of Cornell’s Evolution Project where he takes a more circumspect position than Harris, but still declares:
The idea that naturalism might be a kind of modernist religion has been advanced in recent years (Johnson, 2000). Evolutionary biology enjoys a privileged position at the core of this belief system because it offers explanations about why and how humankind originated. Any teacher of evolution is by default a teacher of a deeply philosophical world-view, one that differs dramatically from that of traditional theistic religion.
The proposition that one must “believe in evolution” as people blindly believe in God is easily discounted. Still, much of modern evolutionary biology today is sprinkled with tinges of dualism. Notions of progress, purpose, emergent properties, optimality, and increasing complexity in evolution all contain vague hints of dualism, and are debated in symposia and published in books and journals by today’s most active evolutionists. These architects of modern naturalism have traditionally shunned the ideas of religions, but to what degree they discount the supernatural remains to be seen.
The most important feature of evolutionary biology is its integrated view of humankind’s place in nature that easily lends itself to a deeply satisfying metaphysics based entirely on materialist principles. This provision, coupled with the observation that theology has lost so much of its appeal to the average citizen, leads to the controversial conclusion that, in the modern world, Naturalism is a substitute for, and provides all the benefits of, traditional religion. If the naturalists have their day, theism is effectively dead.
What is your reaction to Harris’ declaration and Dawkins’ approval? Harris and Graffin both seem to be confirming Johnson’s accusation. Do you think most scientists agree with Harris? Do they agree with Graffin? Or do Harris, Graffin, and Dawkins represent a radical minority among scientists? I’m interested in what you all have to say.