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1 Kara Jackson Professor Ken Clatterbaugh Philosophical Reflections on Religion 13 March 2010 Morality: The Final Frontier for

Religion? Can science and religion coexist logically? At present, they of course both do exist as separate practices, but are they warranted in doing so? Mainstream Christians, Jews, and Muslims do not often reject the teachings of science- inertia, thermodynamics, and climate patterns are all part of everyday life. For the neither the Bible nor the Quran say nothing of the composition of matter, weather patterns, photosynthesis, and other such sciences. There is nothing inherently sacrilegious or heretical about theoretical leanings. But the more the science is applied to humans, the more the two domains encroach upon each other. The Bible offers a creation story, a guide to common morality: concretely, what is correct behavior and what is incorrect behavior. Even as the composition of the human body gets stripped down to molecules and firing electrons, theists have designated the soul and human consciousness as something inexplicable, something too complex to not be the product of a creator. Our complex emotions, our great capacity for love and friendship, and the inherent value of human life are all signs that point to goodness. However, the fields of cognitive psychology and neurology have invaded this final frontier of morality. All our traits are what are evolutionary best for passing our genes down and our feelings are electrons running down the spinal cord. Eminent psychologist Steven Pinker details this in his book, The Blank Slate.

2 Here, he writes on morality too can be explained evolutionarily: humans survive better when they work in groups and cooperate, so genes that allow for better human interaction are more likely to be passed on. Thus, it behooves humans to be generous, empathetic, and kind, as it proves their worth for future social interaction. These personality traits are genetic, manifested through genes and passed down through progeny. This points to Pinker that there is no God, just science. Religion is harmful to humans: illogical and incorrect, diametrically opposed to science and the cause of many evils. A scientific dispassionate school of thought would serve humanity best. As a theist and student who is interested in neuroscience, I take issue with Pinkers argument against religion. In this paper, I intend to argue two points. The first is to draw into question Steven Pinkers assessment of religion, which I believe paints religion ignorantly with a wide brush and makes assumptions that he is not qualified to make as well as logical blunders. Perhaps the statements he makes would render his understanding of religion invalid, but that incarnation does not exist in this world. Additionally, if Pinker and friends are saying that proving morality through empirical data is the final piece that will make religion obsolete, I think they are wrong. It makes sense that morality is as far as the argument can reach, but I believe it reaches a moot point: Pinkers science indicates to him that humans are moral because they have to interact with others, and religion, specifically Christianity1,

Though I wont be explicitly referring to anyone faith throughout my paper, I think its important to note that I am from a Christian background and so feel most

3 believe the same thing. Both schools are in agreement regarding the basis of morality, so science does nothing to disprove religion here. Rather, I believe it can be argued that theism is more satisfying in explaining the principle of human equality than naturalism, as theism provides that human beings are prior to their empirically measured qualities and all of equal worth. Background The relationship between science and religion has always been contentious. Its hard enough to define such nebulous terms. What is science? What is religion? Im being presumptuous and assuming that you, as a reader, have enough to knowledge to make your own generalizations, but the key characteristics are as follows. Science: empirical fact finding, based in repeatable experiments that are indicative of natural laws. Religion: an institution devoted to practice of belief and community rooted in a higher spiritual being. Stephen Gould, the well-known evolutionary biologist, suggested once that science and religion could coexist because they have no overlap- they fall into what he called separate magisteria2 and rule over separate domains. They only fall into conflict when one encroaches on the others area of authority. However, upon opening a newspaper or periodical, one would find this proposition to be sweetly nave. Science and religion, as broad institutions, are having very much trouble coexisting comfortable talking about theism and religion from my understanding, which will have a Christian bias. 2 Gould, Nonoverlapping Magisteria

4 and if Gould is right, there seems to be a whole lot of overstepping of boundaries. However, Gould is a minority belief holder: both Pinker3 and Plantinga4 agree that it is not possible that science and religion occupy different realms. We see the results of these conflicts of beliefs everyday, and we are familiar with the claims of either side. Science promotes nihilism and is blasphemous! Religion brainwashes its followers from the clear and apparent truths! Plenty of mud gets slung from either side. Where does the conflict between the two domains start? I believe that it begins when religion begins to make assertions about humans and human history. In an essay examining the plausibility of evolution, erudite Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga details what he calls Duhemian Science. He relates how a Catholic scientist, Duhem, developed a theory and practice of theologically neutral science. As a physicist, he saw that physical theories were dependent on ones metaphysics, which was contingent on religious beliefs. Gould writes: But of course if the aim is to explain the phenomena in terms of the ultimate nature or constitution of matter, then it is crucially important to get the latter right, to get the right answer to the metaphysical question What is the nature or constitution of matter? In this way, he says, physical theory is subordinated to metaphysics . . . Therefore we should not employ in science views, commitments, and assumptions only some of us accept- that is, we should not employ them in a way that would make the bit of science in question less acceptable to someone who did not share the commitment or assumption in question. So in Duhemian science, one must put his or her

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Pinker, TIME magazine and Templeton Foundation Plantinga, When Faith and Reason Clash, 2

5 personal and metaphysical beliefs aside so as to work with others on concepts that are widely agreeable.5 Plantinga then goes on to say that this Duhemian science is quite valid and most applicable to the non-human world. Holy texts never go so far as to specify atomic structure and the mechanism of RNA transcription and gravity, a round earth, and chemical principles are all fairly neutral stuff that do not necessarily and obviously contradict the existence of a god or greater creator. The harder the science, the easier it is to apply Duhemian principles. Physics, chemistry, and certain sections of biology are disciplines that stir up much less religious vigor than human sciences. That is to say, science and religion seemingly need not intersect until the topic begins to involve humans. Now we can start asking the controversial questions: How old is the earth? How did life first come to appear on the earth? Were Adam and Eve real? Did God create the earth verbatim in seven days? These questions have answers that are either implied by scientific natural laws or the scripture directly, and these answers can differ greatly. Both sides believe themselves to be correct, and the other side to be wrong because their views are in direct opposition. The topic of evolution is especially prominent contemporary example in this area of disagreement. Is evolution a real thing? Do we all have one common ancestor? Fundamentalist Christians would say no to both, because saying yes conflicts with the Biblical view that God made the earth in seven days and made Adam separate from the other beasts. Other reformed Christians would say that evolution could coexist with their faiths; perhaps that evolution was a mechanism for Gods creation. Finally, we get to

Plantinga, Methodological Naturalism?, 11-13

6 our man, Steven Pinker, and his ilk, who hold that a belief in evolution and a belief in God are not compatible as well as that religion is poisonous when it impedes science and forces its view on others. Beckwith, in writing about Pinker, describes this school of thought further. Where is he coming from? She writes that there are two factors to consider in his belief system: they are Enlightenment Liberalism and Scientific Materialism. Enlightenment Liberalism is, roughly, the view that a state that aspires to justice and fairness ought not to embrace one view of the human person as the correct view because to do so would be to violate the principles essential to liberal democracy . . .The second idea, Scientific Materialism, is, roughly, the view that science is the best or only way of knowing, and that science is committed to methodological naturalism6 Under these two doctrines, religious practice has become widely criticized as both impeding correct scientific knowledge and preventing enlightenment liberalism. Pinkers Argument Until fairly recently, neuroscience remained mysterious. Science could not definitively state what was going on, and so the concept of a soul, or a human essence that was separate from the body remained a distinct probability, especially for those religiously inclined. Steven Pinker writes: People used to think that biology could not explain why we have a conscience. But the human moral sense can be studied like any other mental faculty, such as thirst, color vision, or a fear of heights. Evolutionary psychology and cognitive neuroscience are showing how our moral

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7 intuitions work, why they evolved, and how they are implemented within the brain7 The door has been opened to make claims about the brain, and make claims Steven Pinker does. There are two main claims within his oeuvre: The biology of morality and the implications of the biology of morality Lets first deal with the biology of morality. Steven Pinker elaborates in the most detail in his book, The Blank Slate, in which he refutes the idea that humans can be molded, have spirits, and are naturally pure and good. Instead, he proposes that human traits, abilities, and personalities are very much genetic and inherited. Because humans depend on reciprocal relationships, people that demonstrate selfless traits: kindness, generosity, trustworthiness, helpfulness- are more likely to be trusted in social situations and form stronger inter personal relationships, which is better for their survival. The genes have selfish motives- they want to pass themselves on- but the way in which these genes are manifested are not consciously or subconsciously selfish on the actors behalf- rather, acts of kindness that have no clear and obvious biological benefit, such as adopting a child or pet, can stem from pure motivation that is successful because it creates a social currency. In short: Humans are mostly good because it helps them survive.8 Second are the implications of the biology of morality. Pinker believes that because we now can pinpoint the roots of common morality, it will make belief in God obsolete. His argument, as articulated in an article for the Templeton foundation, is as follows:
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Pinker, Templeton Foundation Pinker, The Blank Slate, 191-193

8 1. God was created for the purpose of the explaining the unexplainable. 2. Science can now explain these things through an empirical, repeatable a fashion 3. Morality and the soul were the final frontier for religious creationism. 4. Though science cannot in a strict sense determine what is wrong and what is right in a lab, we still can explore morality reasonably and God has nothing to do with it. So, he is claiming that humans have moral facilities created in a naturalistic fashion, and that these moral faculties prove that God does not exist. But what does he identify specifically as the problems with religion? Pinkers Arguments Against Religion and Rebuttals 1. Religion inherently causes bad things Pinker consistently writes that religion is a problem because it uses the feature of omnipotence for evil. For example: Many people who accept evolution still feel that a belief in God is necessary to give life meaning and to justify morality. But that is exactly backward. In practice, religion has given us stonings, inquisitions and 9/11.9 and The recurrence of evil acts committed in the name of God shows that they are not random perversions. An omnipotent authority that no one can see is a useful backer for malevolent leaders hoping to enlist holy warriors. 10 I find this to be one of the most jejune and obvious arguments brought up against religion. I would argue that that is evil that the humanity that has given us,
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Pinker, TIME Magazine Pinker, The Blank Slate, 189

9 and perversions of power can be found in any system that allots any one person too much power. Religion is composite of semiotics. Its cultural, its spiritual, and its personal. Its a reflection upon human nature in general, which yes, has the potential for great evil. Beckwith has a similar critique of Pinker in his article on Pinkers views on dignity.11 Pinker determined that dignity was a silly concept because it was subjective and leaders often used the concept of dignity for the greater good in perverse, inhumane ways. Well, of course the leaders would say their actions are in the name of dignity, but that does not necessarily it so because no external moral standard has been applied to the action. The same follows with morality in the religion: just because one group or one leader claims religion as its purpose does not save it from being judged against a common, spiritually based morality. Additionally, Pinker fails to mention the consistently positive aspects of religion. Religious people in America give more to both secular and religious charities in about even amounts, though they are generally poorer than secular households. They also volunteer more and give more blood.12 Its interesting to note that theyre better at sharing, which Pinker would characterize as a positive genetic trait. 2. Evolution disproves God as a creator

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10 Pinker argues that our bodies are riddled with purposeless quirks; no one would have designed them, so they must have been the byproducts of evolution. Also, what benevolent God would have created disease and evil?13 Again, this argument is simple to the point of being offensive. First, Pinker assumes that religious people cannot believe in evolution by talking about vestigial traces. Not all theists are fundamentalists who believe that God scooped Adam out of clay and proceeded from there. It is quite possible for Christians to believe in evolution and God as a creator. If evolution was the mechanism that God choose to use to create and edify humans, then it would follow that we still have vestigial quirks. The second assumption, and the one I find more problematic is the ignorant belief that suffering automatically disproves a benevolent Gods existence. Has Pinker done any reading on religion at all? This is one of the first problems that any logical theists comes to when first confronting his or her faith. I think its offensive to assume that no theist could have possibly considered this discrepancy before. There are several theodicies that provide possible explanations, such as God created suffering for contrast, or God created suffering for net good and so on. As someone who was not religious, I think Pinker remains woefully uneducated about many theists marriage of science and religion and who they believe God is. Religion is not as simple as he wants it to be. 3. Psychologists have identified universal moral sentiments14/ Moral values dont stem from religion.

Pinker, TIME Magazine

11 Pinker is right: morality can stand on its own feet, independent of who created it. However, he ignores the question of who created the standard of goodness and morality. Whether or not God plays a role in it varies from person to person, and I find that his claim that morality is inherent is compatible with a creation story. Both believe in the ultimate good, so I would say as a Christian that god made us via evolutionary biology to seek the good traits out. Pinker later states The essence of morality is the interchangeability of perspectives15. There is nothing that contradicts Christian faith. In fact, it seems to echo an oft recited New Testament verse, Matthew 7:12. So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. The Bible also acknowledges that the sum of its moral guidance is just to treat other as you wanted to be treated, which relies on Pinkers interchangeability of perspectives. They say the same thing, but stem from different reasons. I think that assuming morality as the final frontier of religion is ultimately an impasse that is determined by whether one is a theist or an atheist- the fact that science proves the Golden Rule- the tenet of the Bible- cannot disprove the legitimacy of the Bible or religion as Pinker supposes it will. Thoughts on compelling reasons for theism A popular, secular viewpoint of standard morality would be Everyone deserves equal respect. But how do we ground this if there is no belief in God? With theism, the belief that a greater creator with an imposed external morality made all of us, and created us alike in dignity. That is the reason that many Christian sects
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Pinker, The Evolutionary Psychology of Religion Pinker, Templeton Foundation

12 oppose death on all fronts: war, abortion, and death penalty. But with naturalism, how does one come to the conclusion that all humans are equal? Francis Beckwith writes Intrinsic human dignity, if it indeed exists, cannot be a degreed property like rationality, intelligence, good looks, height, or weight. For these are accidental properties that by their very nature change, develop, or diminish or cease to be actual over time for the human being who has them. But that means that the human being is logically prior to its accidental properties, for the human being subsists as a unified being through all the changes it undergoes. 16 Physical properties are not sufficient criteria: the injured, the disabled, the very young, and the elderly would almost certainly receive different treatment. Wouldnt it be more efficient if we as a society were to euthanize all people who were not able to care for themselves, as they constituted a waste of everyone elses resources? Yet this idea is repugnant, and suggesting it in polite company would color one as demented or cruel. Spirituality imbues humans with characteristics that cannot be measured. Though this does not prove anything one way or the other, I believe it is a point to take into consideration when considering the validity of theism. Conclusion To the scientific mind Steven Pinker makes a lot of valid points, but to the theistic mind he isolates. He makes several complaints against religion that are fitting with his background in methodological naturalism. However, his arguments are weak, and lack nuanced knowledge. Religion does not cause only bad thing, nor

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13 is it for ignorant people who failed to see the initial logical difficulties with it. It is possible to believe in God and evolution, and not all theists interpret the Bible literally. Pinker wrote with regards to religious doubts on science that Overcoming nave impressions to figure out how things really work is one of humanitys highest callings17 I think the same sentiment applies to his understanding of religion. Pinker has no nuanced knowledge other than some visceral, easy reactions. But when he assumes that religion is the non- thinking mans way out, he made the wrong assumption. Religion and science are not facing down in a last stand over morality, as they are ultimately compatible in agreeing that humans should treat others, as they want to be treated. Additionally, religion provides a substantial benefit to morality: it provides dignity and human worth in a way that science cannot empirically by stating unequivocally that all humans were made of equal value.


Pinker, TIME Magazine

14 Works Cited Beckwith, Francis. "Dignity Never Been Photographed: Scientific Materialism, Englightenment Liberalism, and Steven Pinker." Ethics & Medicine: An International Journal of Bioethics. 26.2 (2010): 93-110. Print Campell, David E., and Robert D. Putnam. "Charity."Wall Street Journal 10 Dec 2010: n. pag. Web. 14 Mar 2011. Gould, Stephen. "Nonoverlapping Magesteria." The Unofficial Stephen Jay Gould Archive. N.p., 1997. Web. 10 Mar 2011. <>. Pinker, Steven. The Blank Slate. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2003. Print. Pinker, Steven. "Can You Believe in God and Evolution?." Time Magazine 07 Aug 2005: n. pag. Web. 8 Feb 2011. <,9171,1090921,00.html>. Pinker, Steven. "Does science make belief in God obsolete?." John Templeton Foundation. John Templeton Foundation, n.d. Web. 7 Mar 2011. <>. Pinker, Steven. "The Evolutionary Psychology of Religion." Annual Meeting of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Freedom from Religion Foundation. Madison, WI. 29 Oct 2004. Address. Plantinga, Alvin. "Methodological Naturalism?."Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. 49 (1997): 143-154. Print. Plantinga, Alvin. "When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible." Christian Scholar's Review. XXI.1 (1991): 8-33. Print.