Divine Action and Natural Selection

The major intellectual sin of science is that it can get boring. Let’s face it, most of us bang away at research that might be useful, even important for others in our subsubdiscipline, but it’s hardly a big deal. (Do you want me to talk about the effects of stratospheric relaxation in radiative forcing calculations? I didn’t think so.)

But our routine-but-boring usefulness can obscure the way us science-types can go off the deep end as easily as anyone else. And religion, as always, is the great basin of attraction for craziness.

Recently I contributed to an enormous volume, J. Seckbach and R. Gordon, eds., Divine Action and Natural Selection: Science, Faith and Evolution (New Jersey: World Scientific, 2009). It’s fairly unique in that it gives unrestricted voice to a very wide range of views on evolution, not just mainstream science and established opposition such as creationism and intelligent design, but some that I can only describe as crankish. In one chapter you can get someone espousing conventional but comfortable pabulum on how evolution is of course compatible with God, in the next you get someone who clearly inhabits a different universe.

Interestingly, most of the creationist and crankish material comes from scientists. Typically they’re not biologists but electrochemists or computer scientists or something, but they’re also productive workers in their field. I don’t want to dismiss all these as typical cases of scientists coming unglued outside of their area of expertise. They all know how to think through scientific questions, after all, and they seem to have devoted a lot of time, even a second career in effect, to thinking about evolution and creation. And yet as I read through the book, very often my reaction was that I couldn’t believe the loony stuff I was looking at, that I wanted to fling the book across the room. I found myself asking why the hell did I even contribute to such a volume in the first place.

But precisely because of all the weird shit, the book succeeds pretty well at its purpose. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants an interesting sample of legitimate scientists acting not as more typical boring people, but wild-eyed crazies. (Though in a dignified, boring scientific writing style.)

It gives me ideas about somethings to rant about, so I’ll post more connected to it.