Science and Imperialism

The Wall Street Journal commissioned Richard Dawkins and Karen Armstrong to respond independently to the question, “Where does evolution leave God?” Their answers became an article in the Life & Style section last month called Man vs. God.

Richard Dawkins said of Darwinian evolution, “We know, as certainly as we know anything in science, that this is the process that has generated life on our own planet.” Evolution, Dawkins concluded with his characteristic wit, is God’s “pink slip.” In other words, since science says Evolution is, we say God isn’t. (I discussed Dawkins’s argument for the non-existence of God in an earlier Salvo article.)

Karen Armstrong’s response was more artistic. She spoke of two complementary ways of arriving at truth, which the Greeks called mythos and logos, both of which were recognized by scholars as legitimate. Logos was reason, logic, intellect. But logos alone couldn’t speak to the deep question human beings ask like, What is the meaning of life? and, Why do bad things happen to good people? For that, she said, people turned to mythos – stories, regardless of whether or not they were true, that helped us make sense out of the difficulties of life. They were therapeutic. We could think of them as an early form of psychology.

“Religion was not supposed to provide explanations that lay within the competence of reason but to help us live creatively with realities for which there are no easy solutions and find an interior haven of peace; today, however, many have opted for unsustainable certainty instead. But can we respond religiously to evolutionary theory? Can we use it to recover a more authentic notion of God?

Darwin made it clear [that] we cannot regard God simply as a divine personality, who single-handedly created the world. This could direct our attention away from the idols of certainty and back to the ‘God beyond God.’ The best theology is a spiritual exercise, akin to poetry.”

Not only is the veracity of any religious story irrelevant, she seems to be saying, it is incorrect to believe any account concerning God as objectively true. To do so is to construct an idol of certainty. How do we know that? Because of the certainty of Darwinian evolution.

Her response, at bottom, isn’t much different from the atheist’s. Evolution is. God isn’t. But some of us like to imagine that he is.

Notice the source Dawkins and Armstrong consult for certain truth: Science. Why? Because Science proclaims what is.

The questions I’m pondering and posing are (1) At what point do the proclamations of science become imperialistic? and (2) At what point does an appropriate respect for science morph into worship?

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