Books about religion and science get an intelligent reviewer in Thomas Dixon in the (London) Times Literary Supplement. He’s impressed by the restraint shown by would-be combatants Todd Tremlin of Central Michigan University (Minds and Gods: The Cognitive Foundations of Religion) and J. Wentzel Van Huyssteen of Princeton (Alone in the World? Human Uniqueness in Science and Theology).
Tremlin makes the cognitive-science case that human beings have “an almost irresistible natural tendency, embodied in every single human brain in much the same way, to explain natural phenomena as the results of deliberate actions by thinking, feeling, supernatural agents.” In other words we’re programmed to see gods where there aren’t any.
Van Huyssteen, a professor of theology and science, uses some of the same scientific theories to say that “the ‘image of God’ should be thought of as something that emerges in flesh-and-blood human beings during the course of their evolution.” In other words, perhaps our programming is there to help us to see an actual god.
Dixon is pleased that both authors are less dogmatic than I just made them sound: “Both authors resist the temptation to make hasty inferences from their observations about the naturalness of religious beliefs to a conclusion about either the truth or the falsity of those beliefs. The implication, but not the explicit conclusion, of Tremlin’s reductionist account is that religious beliefs can be not only explained, but effectively explained away by cognitive science. Van Huyssteen tends towards the opposite view – that the naturalness of religious beliefs argues, if anything, in favour of their plausibility and rationality. Of course most of us assume that all our beliefs – the true ones as well as the false ones – are, among other things, products of an evolved brain. The fact that many writers about science and religion no longer assume that such an observation is a knock-down argument either for or against religious faith is surely a sign of progress in the field of science and religion.”
My summary: We’ve evolved lots of natural tendencies — to reason and to rape, to do astronomy and to do astrology. Nothing follows about the value or truth of those tendencies. That has to be judged on logic and evidence, not origins.
Is it really progress to have grasped that the genetic fallacy STILL is a fallacy? Good grief.