Something more from that article by Paul Davies in the Atlantic, which answers a question I’ve been wondering about for a longish time.
Even if Homo sapiens as such may not be the unique focus of God’s attention, the broader class of all humanlike beings in the universe might be. This is the basic idea espoused by the philosopher Michael Ruse, an ardent Darwinian and an agnostic sympathetic to Christianity. He sees the incremental progress of natural evolution as God’s chosen mode of creation, and the history of life as a ladder that leads inexorably from microbes to man.
The question that’s been puzzling me is about Michael Ruse, because some of his work that I’ve read sounds quite religious and some of it doesn’t. Though I’m not entirely sure I understand what Davies means by ‘agnostic’ there – but it doesn’t matter much; the basic point is clear enough: Ruse is a theist. I’m relieved to get that straight. I did a N&C on a review of his a few months ago, picking at some woolly language – woolly language of just the kind that Davies uses in this article, if I remember correctly. Why will people do that? January, it was, now that I’ve looked it up.
People like Dawkins, and the Creationists for that matter, make a mistake about the purposes of science and religion. Science tries to tell us about the physical world and how it works. Religion aims at giving a meaning to the world and to our place in it. Science asks immediate questions. Religion asks ultimate questions. There is no conflict here, except when people mistakenly think that questions from one domain demand answers from the other. Science and religion, evolution and Christianity, need not conflict, but only if each knows its place in human affairs — and stays within these boundaries.
I said it in January, so I won’t bother saying too much of it again. But really – I do think that’s pretty woolly stuff. Pretty bogus symmetry. ‘Science asks immediate questions. Religion asks ultimate questions.’ Well, yes, but then science does a better job of coming up with answers that have a good shot at being true. And what is an ultimate question anyway, and why is religion better at asking them than anyone else? If the questions are just unanswerable, is it really to religion’s credit that it not only asks them, it claims to have answers? And the same applies to ‘aiming’ at giving meanings to various things. That’s just empty! It amounts to saying ‘Religion invents answers to ultimate questions and invents a meaning for the world and our place in it.’ And the domain thing seals it all off. ‘This is religion’s domain, where it’s okay to make everything up, and you don’t get to bring science or reason in here to this other domain and ask tiresome questions about all this meaning and all these ultimate questions.’ Come on…can’t people see what a cheat that is? That it’s just not grown-up to make special rules for themselves that way?
Oh well. If they want a domain, a domain they shall have. People like Davies and Ruse can have their domain where they get to have special rules, but the result will be that people who prefer to try to think rationally won’t take them seriously. At least not unless they do better than that.
The odd thing is that that review was published in a science magazine. Why, one wonders. A reader wondered the same thing.
Update: Phil Mole says that Davies’ description of Ruse is not really accurate; that Ruse is sympathetic to religion without actually believing its doctrines, and that his sympathy leads him to say woolly things at times, but he’s not as supportive of religion as Davies implies. I thought it would be fair to add that.