Andrew’s post got me to thinking about inter-individual differences. I’ve had many religious friends who claim that if they didn’t believe in God they would happily rape & murder. Though frankly I have a tendency to keep my distance when people enthusiastically admit their predelicition for these acts if there wasn’t an eye-in-the-sky, the reality is that I don’t believe this is true (just as I don’t believe that many Christian evangelical men would participate in homosexual orgies if they’re religion didn’t preach against it). I accept that humans have a moral sense, and that religious and philosophical systems of morality & ethics only formalize, explicate and systematize what was already extant. But the more interesting issue than the problem of moral action is that of modeling the psychology of others. It is not uncommon for religious people to feel pity for non-religious people who do not have access to “teh awesome” that is God. This is especially ironic in the case of the large number of non-religious people who were religious at some point, and so presumably do not think that the state of religiosity is the bee’s knees.
There are extreme cases of those who have never been religious, in particular, never truly believed in God, and those who have always been religious, always believed in God. As someone in the former category I do occassionally ask atheists who did believe in God, or religious people who do believe in God, the details of what this was or is like. But what about those atheists who are in the category of wanting to believe, or not being able to? There are many of these as well who I have met.
I was thinking about this in reference to John McWhorters strange conversation with Michael Behe. It was strange because McWhorter, an avowed atheist, admitted that for him evolutionary theory could never plausibly explain the diversity of life. His visible enthusiasm for Behe’s ideas seem at least in part due to his consistent unsatisfaction with evolutionary theory. I have never shared this problem, I was raised in a Creationist household personally but evolution always just “made sense,” to the point where I recall being enraged when I mistakenly checked out a Creationist book on the origin of man from the library as an 8 year old (it was in the science section!). But I’m probably not typical. Several years ago the psychologist Paul Bloom, an atheist, reported his results which showed that children are innate Creationists in a piece in The Atlantic Monthly. Those who shed these beliefs do so because of what they are taught by parents and teachers, those who do not do not because of reinforcement from parents and religious leaders. In other words, to some extent Creationism may be a default setting, and lack of intellectual fulfillment may always lurk under the surface in regards to evolutionary biology. Most people do not have a deep understanding or comprehension of evolutionary biology, and so it may seem an abstruse and unsatisfying replacement for their intuitive understanding of the world. For an intellectual who has these gnawing intuitions, Intelligent Design is tailor-made, its packaging is definitely a cut above Young Earth Creationism, and its implicit answer fills the hole in one’s intuitive world-view.
What’s the resolution to this sort of problem? Until we can reprogram our intuitions there is no resolution; one could study evolutionary biology and so slowly allow its structure of axioms and inferences to bleed into one’s background assumptions, or, one could trust that natural scientists know what they’re doing even if those conclusions are somewhat at odds with your intuition. For intellectuals, who exist in a culture where reverence of achievement of the mind loom large, much of the acceptance of ideas which one might surprising at first (e.g., comparative advantage, quantum indeterminacy, simultaneity, etc.) has to be enforced through social pressure as opposed to personal intellectual inspection. In a world of specialized focii there is no time to be a jack-of-all-trades who can hold every model of the world in one’s mind. In the case of quantum theory it can be argued that one can never align intuition with the model and the empirical data; reality simply defies comprehension in some cases.