Unlike the media and those Christians determined to wage a perpetual culture war, I try to expend very little mental energy on the evolution/creationism (or ID) debate, which has always seemed like a false conflict to me. I have often thought that if both sides simply understood the respective roles and limitations of science and faith, then we could all live in relative harmony. Usually, it's Christians that cannot abide by this uneasy truce, but there are also plenty of examples of scientists who cross the line. A prime example of the latter is found in the December 2005 issue of the Atlantic Monthly.
The very title of the article, "Is God an Accident?" by Paul Bloom, alerts the reader that trouble lies ahead. Bloom is a psychology professor at Yale, specializing child development. The article begins by noting that just about all humans everywhere believe in God (or gods, or angels, or something else supernatural). This is the case not only in the developing world, but is also true in "advanced" countries like the U.S. Even in so-called secular Europe, most people pray and believe in an afterlife, although most have fallen away from organized religion. Moreover, recent studies of infants and young children seem to suggest that they are born with a crude belief in God, even if their parents are atheists. For instance, "four-year-olds insist that everything has a purpose... When asked about the origin of animals and people, children tend to prefer explanations that involve an intentional creator, even if the adults raising them do not. Creationism - and belief in God - is bred into the bone." (at this point, a theologically-minded person like myself wonders if this is the "point of contact" that Barth and Brunner debated in the 30's).
Up to this point, Bloom is on solid ground. In fact, a religious person could be quite pleased that their beliefs are so ubiquitous. However, Bloom now takes a startling leap. He says that "enthusiasm is building among scientists for the view that religion emerged not to serve a purpose - not as an opiate or a social glue - but by accident. It is a by-product of biological adaptations gone awry." There you have it! God is an "by-product" of natural selection, much like the useless appendix. Blooms explains that, early-on in life, we develop a mind-body dualism that makes it easy for us to believe in souls, an afterlife, and a creator, and we retain such notions even when they are no longer useful later in life. Thus, the idea of God is an accident, but we are not likely to shed this useless idea anytime soon because it's part of human nature.
What amazes me is that Bloom is entirely blind to his own presuppositions. As science cannot legitimately invoke God (a position I support), the origin of religion and of God Himself necessarily lies within the human being. The outcome is determined in advance. What makes Bloom's argument different than other atheistic explanations of religion (like those of Marx and Freud), is that he doesn't think religion serves any practical purpose, and thus it's purely an artifact. But here's the thing - where a scientist like Bloom sees only an accident, the eyes of faith see the work of God. The fact that belief in God is so widespread maybe means that there's something "real" about this God. Bloom never entertains this possibility.
While the arrogance of this article initially made me angry, it gradually occurred to me that Bloom's article actually works in favor of God and religion, although Blooms doesn't realize it. Science has apparently proved that, from the moment we're born, our hearts are restless for God, as Augustine would say. And this "restlessness for God" will never go away, no matter how technologically advanced we become or how much the culture changes, because "the universal themes of religion are not learned. They are part of human nature." This last sentence was written by Bloom but, properly understood, it's fully compatible with Christian teaching. For as Paul said, "what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made."