It is one of America’s enduring paradoxes to be simultaneously the most religious of the postindustrialized nations and the most enthralled with science and technology. For theology, these seemingly contradictory attitudes create challenges. Despite the religiosity of many Americans, overwhelming evidence suggests that much of the cultural and moral authority once reserved for the pulpit now resides with experts in the natural and social sciences. How often do we pick up our daily paper to find an article announcing that science has now explained yet another enduring human characteristic-from homosexuality, to altruism, to our preferences for certain foods-in purely naturalistic terms? A typical example was last February’s National Geographic cover story, “Love: The Chemical Reaction.” A similar infatuation with reductionist thinking can be seen in rational-choice theory in economics and debates surrounding genetic engineering. For some in the scientific community, human life itself is seen as a meaningless accident-the product of random variation and natural selection, to use the language of today’s Darwinians-in a purposeless universe. Metaphysical naturalists like Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene) and Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell) use evolution’s undisputed explanatory powers to debunk all talk of anything like a nonmaterialist or spiritual reality that transcends our physiological existence. Even the...
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About the Author
Peter James Causton lives in Plymouth, Massachusetts. This article is the first-place winner in Commonweal’s 2006 Theological Essay Contest. Funding has been provided by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.