Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Hard Wired?

Joy and Mike Gene have both recently posted blog entries ("Hard-Wired" for God: Part 2 and Some Thoughts on "Darwin's God") related to religion, God and evolution. Joy's post references the article Are Humans "Hard Wired" for God? From that article:

"Atran's research interests have led him to the question of God, which he approaches from cognitive science and evolutionary biology. He asks why religion has persisted for so long if it provides no evolutionary benefits. His answers reveal a deep divide within evolutionary science - the debate between those who believe that belief in God originally served some evolutionary, adaptive function and those who believe that belief in God is merely a byproduct or consequence of some other adaptation in the evolution of the human brain."

Philipp Johnson's recently published article, Intelligent Design in Biology: the Current Situation and Future Prospects, contains some remarks that bring up unasked questions. Quoting Johnson:

"But religious questions may be reasonable and important questions. Here is an example: I’ve repeatedly posed the question, “Is God real, or imaginary?”. Evolutionary naturalism classes god among the subjective products of the human brain, and thus among the products of evolution itself. If God is truly real, however, and really our creator, then to enforce a definition of knowledge based upon the assumption that ONLY nature is real, and that God exists only in the human imagination, would be to make a big mistake."

If God is not the construct of human imagination, but has an independent existence, then analyses based on the imagination assumption need to be revisited. Anyone who spends much time discussing evolution and intelligent design on internet forums, will encounter the argument that science cannot make intelligible claims about the supernatural, as its methodology is limited to the natural world. The properties attributed to God do not allow a scientific declaration as to his existence or non-existence. The question lies outside the boundary of science.

Yet an assumption of God's non-existence is inherent to evolutionary explanations that cite selection of a hard-wired mental property as linked to illusory adaptive beliefs. This raises a question or two. Are related musings about what mental faculties might be hard-wired, prejudiced by a non-scientific determination of God's existence, which makes an illusory assumption inevitable? To revise the question, would the assumption that God's existence is real negate hard-wired findings or simply attribute them to design? If this last assumption about God is deemed non-scientific (as opposed to unscientific) then how can findings based on the negation of a belief, presumed to lie outside the purview of science, be deemed scientifically plausible? Mike Gene's blog entry had this to say:

"I would also add that the truth of God’s existence is not dependent on humans having some supernatural ability to perceive such existence." Indeed.

More from Johnson:

"The goal of the Intelligent Design Movement is to achieve an open philosophy of science that permits consideration of any explanations toward which the evidence may be pointing. This is different from the current restrictive philosophy that rules out of consideration the possibility that a creator may be responsible for our existence, even if the evidence is pointing in that general direction."

This leads to another set of questions. How are hard-wired hypotheses tested? Can they be tested by allowing for the hypothesis that God is not illusory? What type of test results would advance a design paradigm and which would oppose it? Or are inferences limited by the artificial scope of the inquiry?


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