Friday, March 24, 2006

E.O Wilson and God

This interview with E.O. Wilson in Salon wasn't exceptionally interesting, but one passage got to me. For the most part, I agreed with everything Wilson said, and have since high school. I actually get the impression Wilson has lived with these ideas for a long time, too, and would rather have talked about something else (like, say, his book) if the interviewer had not focused so exclusively on whether or not he thought there was a god.

Wilson's answer, like Mill's, is who knows - but if gods are around, they're certainly not like the ones described in the world's major religions, and they either don't care what we do or are not particularly benevolent. Here's the section that stuck with me.
I think this is actually of great importance when we're talking about science and religion. There are a lot of people who discount the literal interpretation of the Bible because it does not square with modern science. And even God is such a loaded word. What if we put that word aside? Can we talk about energy or some sort of cosmic force?

That's why I say, I leave this to the astrophysicist.

Not the religious scholars?

Oh, of course not. They don't know enough. Literally. I hope I'm not being insulting. But you can't talk about these subjects now without knowing a great deal of theoretical physics, particularly astrophysics and developments in astronomy concerning the origins and evolution of the universe. But one thing we may very well be able to understand from start to finish -- we haven't done it yet -- is the origin of life on this planet. And that's what counts for human beings. Where we came from. And it's beginning to look -- it's looking pretty persuasively -- that we are in fact ultimately physical and chemical in nature, and that we evolved autonomously on this planet by ourselves. There's no evidence whatsoever that we're being overseen or directed in our evolution and actions by a supernatural force.

It's very strange, because I have never really had a strong faith in anything supernatural or divine, but this passage really disturbed me. Something about the way it was said. I think it was the phrase "ultimately physical and chemical in nature," as vague and obvious and accurate as that sounds -- something about it seemed horrible. Maybe I've never really forced myself to think about what logically follows from agnosticism.

I think previous generations had to fight their way through the fraudulence of their faiths; and they had to overcome the emptiness that comes with its loss on their own, by making some sort of meaning out of apparent pointlessness. But agnosticism seems to come ready made for my generation - most people I know didn't really start out with faiths to lose; religion struck them as either silly or beside the point pretty much from the time they began to think about things. If it's a given that there isn't a god - the reflection that previous generations, who had to make an active decision to renounce their faith, were forced to engage in, never really happens. Maybe this is why I see some people my age returning to church largely out of confusion; I've never seen anyone who has actually lost faith go back.

No comments: