Anyone who has not read evolutionary theorist Jerry Coyne’s essay on science and religion in the New Republic is missing a tour de force. Under review are two books attacking creationism and intelligent design. Their authors–a physicist at Eastern Nazarene College and a cell biologist at Brown University—then try to reconcile their Christian faith with evolution and physics. This, Coyne concludes, authors Karl Giberson and Kenneth Miller fail to do, however masterful their demolition of creationism:
It would appear, then, that one cannot be coherently religious and scientific at the same time. That alleged synthesis requires that with one part of your brain you accept only those things that are tested and supported by agreed-upon evidence, logic, and reason, while with the other part of your brain you accept things that are unsupportable or even falsified. In other words, the price of philosophical harmony is cognitive dissonance. Accepting both science and conventional faith leaves you with a double standard: rational on the origin of blood clotting, irrational on the Resurrection; rational on dinosaurs, irrational on virgin births.
Coyne touches on several topics already discussed on this site, such as the unwillingness of certain high-minded apologists to discuss what Coyne calls “religion as it is lived and practiced by real people.” But what struck me most while reading the review is how post hoc theological reasoning has become. It has been reduced to forever playing catch-up to science. Whatever new insights about the universe science establishes, religious divines will immediately conclude that that is exactly the way God would have done things and what they had meant to say about him all along. Did it take 14 billion years before God’s intent to create a species that would worship him reached fruition, 14 billion years of laborious preliminaries before anything even remotely resembling human beings could have been glimpsed on the scene? Well, of course! It makes perfect sense; that’s exactly what any omnipotent God would have done. If scientists tomorrow found powerful evidence that in fact species came into existence whenever a giant sling-shot fired a wad of chewing gum at the earth, we would learn that the sling-shot is the divine instrument par excellence.
The religious might object: “But of course religious explanation proceeds in this post hoc fashion; we already know that God is the creator of all things, so science will always merely unveil his complex project and show us his design in ever more accurate detail.” Maybe so. But wouldn’t it be nice if for once the religious put out a strong and falsifiable hypothesis about God’s actions that wasn’t parasitic on science? Correct me if I am wrong, but I would say that Genesis Chapter 1 (or 2; too bad they’re not consistent) was the last such attempt, and we know how that turned out. And yet, Genesis 1 (or 2) seems a lot more plausible as a description of how a God with total power over existence and non-existence would work: if he wants a species, he just creates it, rather than waiting billions of years for random mutations to work their way through. Compare the robust agency of “Then God said, Let us make man in our image … in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” with the tortured narrative devised by Kenneth Miller to fit God into what the best physics and biology research currently tells us about the world:
The indeterminate nature of quantum events would allow a clever and subtle God to influence events in ways that are profound, but scientifically undetectable to us. Those events could include the appearance of mutations, the activation of individual neurons in the brain, and even the survival of individual cells and organisms affected by the chance processes of radioactive decay.
If you wanted to create the universe and a certain set of species, wouldn’t you just do it? Am I being too anthropomorphic here? I don’t think so. God is composed exclusively of human attributes lent to him from our own vast arsenal; assuming that he would use the maximum of his power to create what he wanted rather than devising an elaborate Rube Goldberg scheme to realize his will is no more fanciful than thinking that he would answer the prayer of a suffering widow out of compassion. The latter is what many of us would do, which is why we think God would, too; why not assume as well that he would employ a direct, efficient method of creation?
Despite not having a single independent source of knowledge about God’s MO beyond what they can borrow from science, the religious still insist that the burden lies on non-believers to show how the latest findings of science are not consistent with God’s work. They can insist all they want, but it still looks to me like they ran out of ideas long ago.