Topic: God and US
Troublemaker: The Ant Man Speaks
There's much more at the link. This is the fellow who argued that the preservation of the gene, rather than the individual, is the focus of evolution. Richard Dawkins did a riff on that in The Selfish Gene (1989), a book that caused some stir arguing that all human behavior, even altruism, is a non-conscious attempt to forward our own particular genes on in time, or some such thing - we're all puppets but we really should know about the strings.
Dawkins is a "popularizer" explaining things in simple terms. Wilson is the real deal, as you see it what he's written -
Of course in this day and age Wilson is something like the antichrist to the Intelligent Design crowd. That last title is his annotated complication of Darwin's works, or four of them. With recently polling show more than half of all Americans believing that the biblical account is creation is literally true, it's a wonder Norton published it. Why bother? But he has argued, again and again, with evidence, that what we do, and what we call aggression, altruism and hypocrisy, are just adaptations. They can be explained mechanistically. This put him at the center of one of the greatest scientific controversies of the last fifty years. He pretty much started it.
This God stuff, even this free-will stuff, may be nonsense.
What He's Saying Now
Wilson now is being a bit more blunt, if possible, and that came up this week here -
Religious Belief Itself is an Adaptation
Sociobiology founder Edward O. Wilson explains why we're hard-wired to form tribalistic religions, denies that "evolutionism" is a faith, and says that heaven, if it existed, would be hell.
Steve Paulson, SALON.COM, March 21, 2006
That's a hoot.
This is an interview Wilson gave Paulson before Wilson gave a sold-out lecture at the University of Wisconsin, and it's full of starting comments. It's a fascinating read, if you're willing to watch a brief ad to get to it (it's worth it).
What follows are some highlights with comment, only a sample.
Paulson does note that sociobiology, that once got everyone so upset, is now pretty much mainstream. Universities have departments for it now. The good old days are gone as when -
Wilson does upset people. And that book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge does have "the effect of elevating science at the expense of religion and the arts. In his view, knowledge of the world ultimately comes down to chemistry, biology and - above all - physics; people are just extremely complicated machines. Paulson also notes that Wendell Berry called this scientific reductionism, and a "modern superstition."
Anyway, the two of them talked "about Darwin and the growing rift between science and religion, as well as Wilson's own take on religion - his 'provisional deism' and his personal horror of an eternal afterlife in heaven.
Cool. Provisional deism? Thomas Jefferson and his fellow deist might have been onto something.
There's much here on the new Darwin editions, and on Darwin's being deeply religious, then shifting - "But what really turned him against religion was the doctrine of damnation. He said if the Bible is true, you must be redeemed in Christ and be a believer in order to go to heaven. And others will be condemned. And that includes my brothers and all my best friends. And he said that is a damnable doctrine. Those are his words."
Darwin would have little use for Pat Robertson, who called for Disneyworld to be destroyed by God (a hurricane would be handy) when they hosted a gay event, for something the same for Dover in Pennsylvania when they voted out the school board after his side lost the Intelligent Design case, who saw Ariel Sharon's stroke as God's punishment for the Gaza real estate deal, who called for the assassination of the president of Venezuela. Pat Robertson has little sue for Darwin of course. Maybe the whole thing does revolve around damnation. Pat's in favor.
As for Intelligent Design itself, there's that recent statement from Vatican's scientific spokesmen - the Church has no problem with Darwin and evolution. It's perfectly acceptable - evolution is just God's way of "creating the diversity of life." But you can still be religious - the human soul was injected by God, as they would have it, and that's just another matter entirely. So we're just talking two different things. They do the soul stuff. Darwin and Wilson can do the evolution stuff. Peaceful coexistence.
Maybe. Is there such a thing as a soul? What is it? What about neuroscience and all the discoveries of how the brain works and center for cognition and emotion and all the rest?
Wilson - "Yeah, that's the dilemma. Of course, there is no reconciliation between the theory of evolution by natural selection and the traditional religious view of the origin of the human mind."
Oh. This brain and soul stuff is a problem - "Well, you have to choose between the scientific materialist view of the origin of the mind on the one side, and the traditional religious view that the spirit and the mind are independent of the process of evolution and eventually non-corporeal, capable of leaving the body and going elsewhere."
It seems you have to just believe in that soul. The evidence points the other way.
Note this exchange -
They don't care? No, they don't. They're on the trail of what can be figured out.
But is there common ground? Wilson is having none of it - "The only common ground that I see is the one that was approached by Darwin himself. Religious belief itself is an adaptation that has evolved because we're hard-wired to form tribalistic religions. Religion is intensely tribalistic. A devout Christian or Muslim doesn't say one religion is as good as another. It gives them faith in the particular group to which they belong and that set of beliefs and moral views."
So we're hard-wired for religion. It's just another evolutionary adaptation. This guy will be shot sooner or later.
What went wrong here (or right, depending on your point of view)-
Gee, and he doesn't even mention the war in Iraq and the business with the man in Afghanistan sentenced to death by the new government we installed for converting to Christianity sixteen years ago. He doesn't need to.
So what does he believe? He says he's a provisional deist - "Yeah, I don't want to be called an atheist."
He doesn't want "to exclude the possibility of a creative force or deity." But then this - "I do feel confident that there is no intervention of a deity in the origin of life and humanity." If there is or ever was such a creative force or deity it's long gone, and seems to have nothing to do with who we are and what it all means. Those who created us? "Well, they are now either lurking on the outer reaches of the universe, watching with some amusement as the eons passed, to see how the experiment worked out, or they moved on. Who can say?"
The guy deals in reality. Others don't. And you cannot get around it -
We're not something else? Some would disagree, but then Wilson would ask why they think so, as the evidence keeps mounting we're just what we are, thinking and temporary mechanisms, trying to live long and be happy.
And that's not so bad. Wilson thought through the heaven thing. We want that? Best settle for happiness here.