Re: [asa] Nature editorial

From: Rich Blinne <>
Date: Wed Jun 13 2007 - 22:40:26 EDT

On Jun 13, 2007, at 6:44 PM, Randy Isaac wrote:

> Many thanks for the tip, Charles. I'll draft a letter to the editor
> tonight.
> Randy
The editorial in context is even more outrageous than the pull quote:

> The vast majority of scientists, and the majority of religious
> people, see little potential for pleasure or progress in the
> conflicts between religion and science that are regularly fanned
> into flame by a relatively small number on both sides of the
> debate. Many scientists are religious, and perceive no conflict
> between the values of their science values that insist on
> disinterested, objective inquiry into the nature of the Universe
> and those of their faith.
> But there are lines that should not be crossed, and in a recent
> defence of his beliefs and disbeliefs in the matter of evolution,
> US Senator Sam Brownback (R, Kansas) crosses at least one. Senator
> Brownback was one of three [unmentionable party] presidential
> candidates who, in a recent debate, described himself as not
> believing in evolution. He sought to explain his position with
> greater nuance in a 31 May article in The New York Times, in which
> he wrote: "Man was not an accident and reflects an image and
> likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary
> theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human
> knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth,
> however, should be firmly rejected as atheistic theology posing as
> science."
> Humans evolved, body and mind, from earlier primates. The ways in
> which humans think reflect this heritage as surely as the ways in
> which their limbs are articulated, their immune systems attack
> viruses and the cones in their eyes process coloured light. This
> applies not just to the way in which our neurons fire, but also to
> various aspects of our moral thought, as we report this week in a
> News Feature on the moral connotations of disgust (see page 768).
> The way that disgust functions in our lives and shapes our moral
> decisions reflects not just cultural training, but also biological
> evolution. Current theorizing on this topic, although fascinating,
> may be wide of the mark. But its basis in the idea that human minds
> are the product of evolution is not atheistic theology. It is
> unassailable fact.
> This does not utterly invalidate the idea that the human mind is,
> as Senator Brownback would have it, a reflection of the mind of
> God. But the suggestion that any entity capable of creating the
> Universe has a mind encumbered with the same emotional structures
> and perceptual framework as that of an upright ape adapted to
> living in small, intensely social peer-groups on the African
> savannah seems a priori unlikely.
> In Brownback's defence, it should be acknowledged that these are
> deep waters. It is fairly easy to accept the truth of evolution
> when it applies to the external world the adaptation of the
> orchid to wasps, for example, or the speed of the cheetah. It is
> much harder to accept it internally to accept that our feelings,
> intuitions, the ways in which we love and loathe, are the product
> of experience, evolution and culture alone. And such acceptance has
> challenges for the unbeliever, too. Moral philosophers often put
> great store by their rejection of the 'naturalistic fallacy', the
> belief that because something is a particular way, it ought to be
> that way. Now we learn that untutored beliefs about 'what ought to
> be' do, in fact, reflect an 'is': the state of the human mind as an
> evolved entity. Accepting this represents a challenge that few as
> yet have really grappled with.
> It remains uncertain how the new sciences of human behaviour
> emerging at the intersections of anthropology, evolutionary biology
> and neuropsychology can best be navigated. But that does not
> justify their denunciation on the basis of religious faith alone.
> Scientific theories of human nature may be discomforting or
> unsatisfying, but they are not illegitimate. And serious attempts
> to frame them will reflect the origins of the human mind in
> biological and cultural evolution, without reference to a divine
> creation.

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Received on Wed Jun 13 22:45:24 2007

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