The New ‘Two Cultures’ Problem: Theological Illiteracy of the Atheological
|January 3, 2011||Posted by Steve Fuller under Atheism, Darwinism, Intelligent Design, Philosophy, Religion, Science|
In 1959, the physicist-novelist-UK science policy advisor CP Snow gave his famous Rede Lecture at Cambridge, where he canonized ‘the two cultures’ , a long-standing and — to his mind at least — increasing distinction between the mindsets of those trained in the ‘arts’ (i.e. humanities, social sciences) and the ‘sciences’ (i.e. natural sciences, engineering). Even back then, and certainly more so now, there was another ‘culture’ that was increasingly set adrift from the rest of academic knowledge — theology. For example, it would be interesting to learn whether most academics believe that theology constitutes a body of knowledge — and, for that matter, whether most theologians themselves believe that their knowledge applies to more than just fellow believers. After all, most biologists believe that Darwinism is true even though most people in general — and perhaps even in the academy — don’t seem to share that belief.
I raise this point because of a remarkable piece that appears in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education, the weekly newspaper of American academia. The piece is called ‘Monotheism was a Civilizational Advance Because _______’ and it’s by David Barash, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Washington who has a regular column in their ‘Brainstorm’ section. (Well, at least only the brain is credited here — rather than the entire mind…) I suppose the piece is meant to be a cute way of showing that what kids learn in school about the formative role of the Abrahamic religions in world culture is an old wives’ tale. Thankfully, a couple of the respondents pick up on the science-religion link that Barash appears to have forgotten (or never to have learned), but the overall display is not edifying.
What always strikes me about these Darwinian dissings of religion — especially theology — is that theologians rarely fight their corner or, if they enter the fray, they end up conceding most of the relevant ground and aim for a NOMA-style settlement. (Whatever one makes of the details of his own theology, William Lane Craig is a very honorable exception to this tendency.) I sometimes wonder whether theologians are simply ashamed to defend their own knowledge base, as if they half-believe what their opponents think of them.
I say all this because ID has a tricky relationship with theology. Many people in both the ID and anti-ID camps seem to think that admitting any theological support for ID is tantamount to denying its scientific merit. Again, this suggests that such people have their doubts about theology as a body of knowledge. Yet, it is equally true that ID has had a long and productive relationship with theology — indeed, with ‘natural theology’, which Craig has done much to revive in recent years, especially with this book, and that Darwinists in particular have an elective affinity with an atheistic metaphysics.
When these background beliefs are put on the table, even though the discussion can soon become anxious and heated, it also becomes clearer why both sides assign different weights to different sorts of evidence. In the end, appeals to evidence can settle arguments only if the two sides agree to weight them in roughly the same way. And clearly that’s not happening in the current state of the debate.