I should know better than to broach this huge subject in my limited blogging time this morning. But perhaps it will help me to decide how to bring this issue to some resolution before Friday's lecture.
We are coming to the end of our biology text. The next-to-last chapter is on Animal Behavior. Its authors have a point of view, but I want these students to consider other perspectives, especially when it comes to the issues of evolutionary psychology and genetic determinism to which the text gives considerable credence.
Reductionism--picking apart the whole into its component parts as a way of understanding--certainly has had its place in the successes of science. However, it has become a pervasive assumption in many scientific circles that organisms are nothing more than the sum of their parts, including man. Followed to the ultimate reduction, our behavior is nothing but an extrapolation of E O Wilson's ant colony. Followed, in my opinion, too far to molecular explanations, an organism--you, for instance--are only your genes' deliver package and a way for them to survive and propagate, as Richard Dawkins proselytizes. "A organism is nothing more than a gene's way of making more genes."
First, I do not believe we come closer to the truth by accepting this as the whole story of what life or man is "about." In our striving to free ourselves of ignorance and superstition, perhaps we've thrown the baby out with the bathwater. And secondly, it seems to me that we suffer a national schizophrenia as a result of delusions that have fallen upon us in the past generation, in part because of these reductionistic "presuppositions" that are so pervasive that few notice or question them. On the one hand, we are guilty of unmitigated arrogance in our belief that we are owners of the planet, entitled to live lives of individual self-satisfaction and material power. We are like gods. But we simultaneously believe that we are genetic robots, the products of selfish genes in a world where purpose and meaning and higher truth are merely subjective creations, illusions we project in our ignorance. We are star stuff, perhaps, as Carl Sagan often said. But we are not nothing but star stuff. Our dust once had a large soul.
We conclude from reducing human existence to its ultimate chemistry and physics that we are here merely to survive and reproduce. Tacitly, we are living out these assumptions, and our souls have become small. And yet we have the potential for magnanimous souls--magnum animus--large souls. To find this balance between what we are and who we might be, science and religion must talk, and not always from the point of view that religion has something to learn from science. Knowledge sorely needs the benefit of wisdom.
In my browsing for material to illustrate sociobiology and the selfish gene philosophy, I have found some good resources on the dialogue between science and religion that I look forward to exploring. I haven't decided if in class this week I'll delve very far into the science or dogma of these explanations for human behavior. But the search has rekindled concerns and interests in an area where I was once far more current and conversant. Could be I may talk more about the science-faith dicussion in the future. Could be I'll have to start a separate blog apart from Fragments for such stuff, if I could find the time. If I could only get that Ronco Day Stretcher...