Wednesday, October 25, 2006
A Latter Day Joshua
Shermer constructs a three-tiered model to examine that relationship:
- The conflict model: science and religion are mutually exclusive ways of knowing, where one is right and the other is wrong.
- The same worlds model: science and religion are two ways of examining the same reality; as science progresses to a deeper understanding of the natural world it will reveal that many ancient religious tenets are true.
- The separate worlds model: science and religion are neither in conflict nor in agreement. The job of science to explain the natural world, making obsolete ancient religious sagas of origins and creation. Yet, religion thrives because it still serves a useful purpose as an institution for social cohesiveness and as a guide to finding personal meaning and spirituality.
Among the books reviewed are The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, Blind Faith by Richard P. Sloan, God's Universe by Owen Gingerich, The Language of God by Francis Collins, The Creation by E.O. Wilson, and The Varieties of Scientific Experience by Carl Sagan.
Shermer has some sympathy for the conflict model espoused by Dawkins and Sloan but doesn't endorse it explicitly in his review. He finds a number of flaws with the same worlds model that appeals to Gingerich and Collins. In the end, Shermer finds the separate worlds model of Wilson and Sagan most satisfactory.
He quotes Sagan's longtime collaborator and wife Ann Druyan: "Carl Sagan was a scientist, but he had some qualities that I associate with the Old Testament. When he came up against a wall — the wall of jargon that mystifies science and withholds its treasures from the rest of us, for example, or the wall around our souls that keeps us from taking the revelations of science to heart — when he came up against one of those topless, old walls, he would, like some latter day Joshua, use all of his many strengths to bring it down."