Dan,

It speaks well of your intellectual fortitude that you, without yet reading the book, seem to have struck on its major fault. On the face of things, it seems like the philosophical confluence of natural science and supernatural religion is, well, nonexistent. The two paradigms are parallel; they govern the same universe but never actually intersect. This is the gist of most conversations I’ve had on the topic of Dawkins’ book, and it seems to be a pretty common sentiment.

So let’s accept that the two paradigms are really mutually exclusive in terms of their ability to explain what we see and hear and feel. Dawkins’ book is still a valuable contribution to public knowledge in the way it targets aspest of human society where meddlesome religions have muddied the distinctions between the two. There are all sorts of questions that have rational, empirical and beautifully simple answers, but which have been co-opted by religions. Darwinian evolution is only the most visible example. Looking through Dawkins’ hyperskeptical lens, it’s hard not to see creation myths as power-grabs, and it’s hard not to laud Dawkins’ efforts to put the gods where they belong.

But Dawkins does take things a step further, positing a few tendentious pseudo-evolutionary theories to explain why religion seems, in many ways, to be hardwired into the human psyche. Much of this is conjecture, and he acknowledges it as such. But in the course of the book he does hit on what I think is a critical node for this discussion. I side with Dawkins on this, and so I’ll pose the problem to you:

Dawkins thinks (and I think) that it is not enough to declare by fiat that there are other “modes of knowing” that exist outside rationality. It is not enough to pronounce that science cannot explain everything in human experience. And it is intellectually dishonest to portray holes in empirical science as automatic evidence of the supernatural. A real-world example: gaps in the fossil record absolutely do not serve as evidence of divine creation; they serve as evidence that there are gaps in the fossil record. That’s all. God cannot fill science’s holes just because. To let God do so is to give him a pass.

We trust knowledge gained by science because the process by which it’s obtained is demonstrable, transparent and simple…even the most complex physical or chemical laws are really just compilations of smaller and smaller laws, all of which are testable. Theology ought to be put through the same kind of rigorous wringer as empirical science. Here’s where my nonexistent theological training hinders me: perhaps there is such a wringer, and I don’t know what to call it. But I will not accept a religion’s history or geneology as evidence of its “correctness.” Nor will I accept simple declarations of belief as prima facie evidence of the supernatural. I submit this as the understatement of the millenium: people have been wrong before. There must be something else.

So what do you think? Without straying too far into the labyrinthine world of metaphysics, what evidence can we marshal that there really exists some plane of inquiry beyond the rational?

–Morgan Hubbard 

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