Thursday, October 15, 2009


Ice Skating

A thought:

From the late nineteenth century on, religious people who have thought hard about the Darwinian view of the history of life have found it deeply troubling. George John Romanes, author of books on religion and works of science, found Darwin's vision agonizing. It seemed to him that the universe had 'lost its soul of loveliness." In his groundbreaking The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James articulated more extensively this sense of loss, offering an arresting image. "For naturalism, fed on recent cosmological speculations, mankind is in a position similar to that of a set of people living on a frozen lake, surrounded by cliffs over which there is no escape, yet knowing that little by little the ice is melting, and the inevitable day drawing near when the last film of it will disappear, and to be drowned ignominiously will be the human creature's portion. The merrier the skating, the warmer and more sparkling the sun by day, and the ruddier the bonfires at night, the more poignant the sadness with which one must take in the meaning of the total situation." Given this picture of life as early twentieth-century science seems to depict it, James can only view cheerfulness, or even the absence of despair, as based on false optimism, on failure to face reality It is hardly surprising that he sees religious impulses as cries, triggered by the need for something different or for something more -- "Here is the real core of the religious problem: Help! Help!"

Perhaps this is overwrought, even neurotic? I don't think so. Romanes and James, like the evangelical Christians who rally behind intelligent design today, appreciate that Darwinism is subversive. They recognize that the Darwinian picture of life is at odds with a particular kind of religion, providentialist religion, as I shall call it. A large number of Christians, not merely those who maintain that virtually all of the Bible must be read literally, are providentialists. For they believe that the universe has been created by a Being who has a great design, a Being who cares for his creatures, who observes the fall of ever sparrow and who is especially concerned with humanity. Yet the story of a wise and loving Creator who has planned life on earth, letting it unfold over four billion years by the processes envisaged in evolutionary theory, is hard to sustain when you think about the details.

- Philip Kitcher, Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith

...which explains why we keep hearing about how materialism robs life of all meaning, all morality, even the possibility of real knowledge. I think it is a genuinely hard place to get over, that life doesn't have to embedded in a transcendental matrix to have all those things.
I don't understand.

After all, it is the creationists who are telling us that God is only needed some thousands of years ago, to form life as it has remained ever since then.

But evolution is no more materialistic than many other aspects of science. The idea that organic chemicals are no different from inorganic, just to take one example.

Tom S.
I saw a painting once of burning candles with human eyes--a nice metaphor for our awareness of mortality.
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