When I spoke to you last year about Battery Hens or Free Range Chickens, I described in some details aspects of the wonder of human evolution. In particular I explained how we each have in us innate predispositions to be able to learn rapidly from our environment in ways that help us survive. I reminded you that all that is driven by our exquisite sense of inquisitiveness – our desire constantly to investigate the unusual. Novelty drives our thinking. Learning helps us make sense.
We are shaped by much, much more than by our genes; this Darwin sensed but knew that he would not live long enough to fully understand.
John Barrow from the University of Sussex, writing in 1996 noted “Human beings, together with all their likes and dislikes, their senses and sensibilities, did not fall ready made from the sky; nor were they born with minds and bodies that bear no imprint of the history of their species. Many of our abilities and susceptibilities are specific adaptations to ancient environmental problems, rather than separate manifestations of a general intelligence for all seasons”.
He went on later in the book to make this interesting evolutionary psychologist’s comment on spirituality; “Mystical, symbolic and religious thinking – all those ways of thinking that the rationalist would condemn as ‘irrational’ – seemed to characterise human thinking everywhere and at every time. It is as if there were some adaptive advantage to such modes of thinking that offered benefits that rationality cannot provide. Perhaps the advantages of irrational, speculative and religious beliefs offer through their ability to spur us to actions with positive consequences, are significant enough to account for our propensity towards their adoption. Extra terrestrial robots who are completely rational might evolve very slowly indeed”.
Stephen Pinker has recently referred to religion as “One of the deepest mysteries of the human species”.
Slowly, ever so slowly, theology and biology are trying to discover their commonality. Recent publications have included “Religion Explained; the human instinct that fashioned gods, spirits and ancestors”; and Zohar & Marshall’s work on “Spiritual Intelligence”, together with that of Matt Ridley “The Origin of Virtue” and Robert Wright’s two books on “The Moral Animal” and “Non Zero; The logic of human destiny”. All are very important and insightful. Yet, we must be careful. If God could be “proved” we would have no need of faith. In a sense we would have no decisions to take. In that sense we would not be fully human. Further I suspect our minds would become so over-awed with the concept we would undoubtedly flounder. As Hamlet said “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. We have absolutely no reason to believe that we have come close as yet to understanding the Mind of God.
Yet I am convinced that “we” do have it within our collective intelligence to bring healing to a world troubled for far too long by the separation of science and theology. Some truths simply do not conform to mathematical equations. Einstein knew this. That’s why he said “Not everything that counts can be counted; and not everything that can be counted actually counts”.
Somehow, when I was young, I did not develop a concept of Heaven “up there” (even though I was told that church spires were visual aids pointing up to that reality). So therefore I was not too shocked when Yuri Gagarin, the first Russian astronaut, told us gleefully from space that “God isn’t up here”. Nor did I ever believe in Hell as a burning fiery furnace as something that could ever have been created by a loving and forgiving God. When I pray for guidance, or give thanks for the sheer wonders of existence, it is more like putting a message out on the Internet knowing that God will pick it up…wherever He is. The essential interconnectivity that is the essence of the natural world is a far better metaphor for the sons of the People of God than was ever the frightening, hierarchal model of Victorians, or, I must say, of John Charles MacAaid’s Dublin Episcopacy.
Kenan Malik in his fascinating book of two years ago, entitled “Man, Beast and Zombie; What Science can tell us about Human Nature”, warns us that “Our very success in understanding nature (Evolutionary Psychology and Cognitive Science) has generated deep problems for our understanding of human nature. Evolutionary Psychology views man as a sophisticated animal, governed as animal is by evolutionary past; Cognitive Science treats the human mind as a machine, or as a ‘Zombie’ as contemporary philosophy refers to entities that behave like humans but possess no consciousness. Man as beast, or man as Zombie? To many the triumph of Darwinism and Artificial Intelligence seems to have solved the age-old problem of how to understand human beings in a materialist universe. But this is an illusion, I suggest, fostered by the abandonment of any attachment to a humanistic vision. The triumph of mechanistic explanations of human nature is as much a consequence of our cultures loss of nerve as it is to scientific advance”.