Over at Salon, there’s a fawning interview with Raymond Neubauer, who has just authored a book on the evolution of the emergent self. In the interview, Neubauer makes no distinction between genetic evolution and cultural evolution, seeming to thinking that our adoption of the internet is just another step in human evolution, however loosely defined.
But that’s not my big bone of contention. It’s Neubauer’s pathetic argument for accommodationism (the claim that that scientific and religious world views are compatible) that is irksome. Neubauer says:
I am religious, I’m Jewish, and I find that being totally open to what modern science has to say does not interfere with my religious beliefs, and my particular bias is monotheism. I talk about [humanity] as an apex of nature and as a culmination of this high information pathway and that is compatible with the idea that personality was there at the beginning. I’m very far from this kind of Bible thumping that says therefore there must have been a garden of Eden and therefore the earth is 6,000 years old, etc. I’m trying to outline a way in which evolution is actually a friend of religion rather than it’s enemy. I think that is possible and that one can be totally open to what science is saying and still retain religious faith.
From the mere fact that Neubauer can simultaneously entertain both religious and scientific claims, it most assuredly does not follow that those claims are in fact consistent. Psychological acceptance does not ensure logical coherence. and this is because of a well-known human failing whereby humans do not recognize that their beliefs will lead to cognitive dissonance.
Note, for example, that Genesis 1 (the well-known first chapter of the book which is the core of Neubauer’s faith) loudly proclaims that God created trees and plants before he created the sun.
11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds. ” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning —the third day.
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.
Modern science exactly reverses this order: the sun was necessary for the evolution of plants and trees, therefore it must have appeared first. And that’s exactly what the data confirms.
It’s no good here to hand-wave about Genesis I being intended as a metaphorical account, for we have no evidence that of the author’s intent. And even if that were true, we have no evidence as what the metaphorical meaning was (there could be a billion such meanings!) The most unlikely possibility is that where the Bible says, “plants first, then the sun” the most obvious metaphorical meaning is “sun first, then plants.”
And this is only one such contradiction out of many. And I’m deliberately avoiding the deeper methodological assumptions that divide scientific and religious inquiry: those regarding faith, naturalism, appeal to authority, etc.
Anther reason why Neubauer mistakenly thinks his religious beliefs cohere with his scientific beliefs is that he perhaps doesn’t understand science very well. Contra Neubauer above, evolutionists see no way to say that that humans rest at the “apex” of nature. Rather, they see this species as merely one branch on a very large tree of life.
Next, Neubauer has this to say:
The numbers which allow our universe to exist are so improbable. There are about 14 different numbers which cannot be derived from fundamentals in physics, that allow this kind of universe to exist.
This is yet another version of the well-known fine-tuning argument: the universe is improbably well-designed for humans, and science can’t explain this, so therefore God exists.
What is missing, of course, is some sort of explanation as to why belief in God would provide any better explanation. If religion can’t do this, then it’s doing no better than astrophysics.
Granted, an infinitely powerful being could create any sort of universe. But why, exactly, would he even want to create this one, setting those 14 variables at exactly the settings they’re at? I suppose the theist can reply that if we assume God wanted to create a universe just like this one, then this universe was more or less inevitable. But we have no independent evidence for God’s intentions. And if the theist replies that the universe itself is evidence of God’s intentions, the vicious circle is now complete.
But to this the naturalist can reply that she too is entitled to make a few assumptions: specifically that the initial conditions at or before the Big Bang were such that no other universe was possible. And by now it should be possible to see than neither of these assumption-ridden stories offer anything close to an adequate explanation.
And’ finally, in closing, Neubauer, a tenure-protected professor in one of the most intensely theistic developed nations accepts the interviewer’s congratulations for being “courageous” – merely for remouthing worn-out these defences of religious belief.