Can Science Kill God?

Today, I found this post from Andrew Sullivan’s blog site The Daily Dish: (Sullivan quotes and comments on a claim made by J. Anderson Thomson.)

J. Anderson Thomson claims it “is no longer a question of whether religion shall wither away, just when.”:

There is a massive, irreconcilable conflict between science and religion. Religion was humanity’s original cosmology, biology and anthropology. It provided explanations for the origin of the world, life and humans. Science now gives us increasingly complete explanations for those big three. We know the origins of the universe, the physics of the big bang and how the basic chemical elements formed in supernovas. We know that life on this planet originated about 4 billion years ago, and we are all descendants of that original replicating molecule. Thanks to Darwin we know that natural selection is the only workable explanation for the design and variety of all life on this planet. Paleoanthropologists and geneticists have reconstructed much of the human tree of life. We are risen apes, not fallen angels.

But in what sense are we risen? Merely by intelligence? And isn’t it worth exploring why we first experienced our alienation as having fallen rather than risen? Maybe we have risen intellectually, but feel fallen spiritually – because we have a semblance of a sense of the transcendent?

And couldn’t religion, having been abused for so long and put to so many inappropriate purposes over the centuries, actually free itself from this trap and relate to truths beyond science and experiences of the whole? That is the real work ahead. And it will come within the churches or outside of them. The hierarchy will be the last to know.

Thomson writes, “We are risen apes, not fallen angels.” Well, there is no evidence that we were ever angels, but there is abundant evidence that we are related to other primates. Whether we are “risen” or “fallen” is open to debate—and it is certainly a meaningless distinction in Darwinian terms. So a third possibility is that we are neither risen nor fallen. Maybe it’s not useful to think in Biblical terms about our differences from other species.

Andrew’s premise is that we are “alienated.” But isn’t any species “alienated” from the experiences of others? One could say we don’t live close to nature insofar as we wear clothing, cook our food, fly in planes, live in climate-controlled houses, etc., but these are just the things we do as humans; it is our nature to do them. We protect ourselves from inclement weather and disease, and we invent countless ways to make our lives more comfortable and enjoyable. The word “alienation” is warmed over from Sartre and Marcuse. Maybe cats and dogs would feel “alienated” from all the perks of being human if they could figure things out…

When things go awry, is it because we are “fallen” (Biblical language), or is it because we are insufficiently “evolved” (the language of science)? Have we “lost” something that we once had (innocence, as in the Garden of Eden)? Or could it be that we just haven’t yet realized our full potential?

Andrew’s language is itself pre-scientific and actually unhelpful in understanding some of the dilemmas of being human.


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