December 17, 2013
As shown in our recent documentary C.S. Lewis and the Case Against Scientism, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPeyJvXU68k&feature=c4-overview-vl&list=PL4vHn-FIBVPVajGjlfB20JHbtpTZVOOCW C.S. Lewis compared science to magic in three ways: (1) Science as Religion, (2) Science as Credulity, and (3) Science as Power. In the film, Discovery Institute’s Dr. John West explains that for many people, science (or better, scientism) serves as a quasi-religion. It gives their lives meaning. Evolution in particular provides an overarching, cosmic vision that many find satisfying: a view of something larger than their experience: the birth and ultimate fate of the universe, with mankind struggling against natural odds in its rise to dominance.
To further illustrate, here are a few recent cases from science news of evolutionary thinking serving in the role of religious faith.
Science provides The Big Picture. Space.com published a feature by Roger Briggs (author of Journey to Civilization: The Science of How We Got Here) called “Big Bang to Civilization: 10 Amazing Origin Events.” Briggs depicts “a coherent origin story for humanity,” offering “a grand tour of science.” His slide show takes the reader through the big flash that started the universe, through the origin of stars, planets, life, man, and “The Great Leap Forward” to modern humanity and civilization, with heroic life overcoming cosmic odds along the way.
Science provides a unified story and a mission for life. Science Magazine reviewed Manfred Eigen’s newest book, From Strange Simplicity to Complex Familiarity: A Treatise on Matter, Information, Life, and Thought. Reviewer Arne Traulsen sensed Eigen’s “elation” and “enthusiasm” for science in his attempt to unify all of reality by the “natural law” of evolution. Eigen distinguishes science from religion, but still seems to be doing religion in the book. “He sees science as ‘a cooperative endeavor of humans’ that tries to unravel the laws of nature,” Traulsen writes. “Like evolution, it never comes to a halt, and we will always find more to explore by adapting to what is there.”
Science provides access to the ineffable. Science also reviewed a new anthology edited by Charles Lineweaver, Paul Davies and Michael Ruse, Complexity and the Arrow of Time. Among the contributors are Stuart Kauffman, Simon Conway Morris, and several philosophers. Reviewer Daniel W. McShea was impatient with the quasi-religious tone of some of the chapters that treat the word “complexity” as “a placeholder for the ineffable, the quasimystical, the truly awesome.”
Science explains human nature. In the Harvard Gazette, Peter Reuell argues that uniquely human geometric skills can be traced to evolution. Our intuitive ability to recognize and understand geometric shapes and their relationships “may lie deep in our evolutionary history,” taking us to “a higher plane” than the other animals. In another article, Reuell writes about “deep pragmatism” as a source of morality — pragmatism early humans learned as they explored the complex relationships emerging from bigger brains provided by evolution.
Science tells the history of civilization. The National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBios.org) justifies its existence with an article on its website titled, “Math explains history: Simulation accurately captures the evolution of ancient complex societies.” Here, scientists deliver the prophetic word to the people: “The question of how human societies evolve from small groups to the huge, anonymous and complex societies of today has been answered mathematically, accurately matching the historical record on the emergence of complex states in the ancient world.” In particular, “Intense warfare is the evolutionary driver of large complex societies.”
Science provides guidance for ethics and morality in relationships. In another Space.com article, Miriam Kramer discusses “Extraterrestrial Etiquette: How Should Humanity Interact with Alien Life?” The article is illustrated with a scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, remembered for its childlike awe at the prospect of contact, its vision quest for the contact site pursued with missionary zeal. Kramer describes several non-governmental organizations that are pursuing standards for ethical contact with beings that may not exist.
Science provides theodicy. Evolutionary explanations for apparent evil are not wanting. On Telegram.com, Leanne Italie interviewed Yale developmental psychologist Paul Bloom about his book Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil. Bloom sweeps away religious notions of original sin or innate goodness with his own evolutionary version: babies are innately both sinful and good. The evolutionary psychologist is now the counselor, explaining why we do what we do.
Science provides guidance for living. In Astrobiology Magazine, Jeremy Hsu writes on “What Astrobiology Teaches Us About Living Well on Earth.” Using astrobiologist David Grinspoon as his chief guru, Hsu builds on the picture of humans as voyaging across time in Spaceship Earth, needing to protect its limited resources.
“We have to learn to become a new kind of entity on this world that has the maturity and the awareness to handle being a global species with the power to change our planet and use that power in a way that is conducive to the kind of global society we want to have,” Grinspoon said.
It should be apparent that such claims made in the name of science go far beyond the evidence. The feeling you get reading these optimistic articles uncritically is one of awe, of deep significance beyond experience — satisfaction in finding access to a unified picture on which to hang individual experience and give it meaning. Evolutionary science, to its adherents, delivers all the goods traditionally provided by religion. It has even surpassed religion as the creation myth of our time.
The remainder of the documentary discusses how C.S. Lewis also viewed Science as Credulity and Science as Power. John West remarks that Lewis’s comparison of science to magic is “very perceptive.” Indeed so. A powerful, credulous science acting as a quasi-religion can become very dangerous, Lewis feared. It must be reminded of its limitations and kept on the leash of evidence.