Since I've been on this religion and politics kick recently, I'll connect that back to music and talk about this really interesting project:
Evolution and religion may not be at war, but no agreement seems possible in their most basic tenets. Traditional religions are based on dualism, and evolution is strictly materialist. Dualism is founded on a belief in the supernatural. The materialist position forms the basis for belief in naturalism, which holds that "the empirical procedure of exploration and verification is the only known reliable method of discovering truth" (Smith, 1952). For the materialist, the supernatural has no basis in reality but instead is an unwarranted distraction brought about through mythology.
The idea that naturalism might be a kind of modernist religion has been advanced in recent years (Johnson, 2000). Evolutionary biology enjoys a privileged position at the core of this belief system because it offers explanations about why and how humankind originated. Any teacher of evolution is by default a teacher of a deeply philosophical world-view, one that differs dramatically from that of traditional theistic religion.
The proposition that one must "believe in evolution" as people blindly believe in God is easily discounted. Still, much of modern evolutionary biology today is sprinkled with tinges of dualism. Notions of progress, purpose, emergent properties, optimality, and increasing complexity in evolution all contain vague hints of dualism, and are debated in symposia and published in books and journals by today's most active evolutionists. These architects of modern naturalism have traditionally shunned the ideas of religions, but to what degree they discount the supernatural remains to be seen.
The most important feature of evolutionary biology is its integrated view of humankind's place in nature that easily lends itself to a deeply satisfying metaphysics based entirely on materialist principles. This provision, coupled with the observation that theology has lost so much of its appeal to the average citizen, leads to the controversial conclusion that, in the modern world, Naturalism is a substitute for, and provides all the benefits of, traditional religion. If the naturalists have their day, theism is effectively dead.
Now, I know I'm a geek and all that, but this sounds fascinating to me. Principal investigator? Greg Graffin. Yes, THAT Greg Graffin, who finally went back and finished his doctorate after allllllll these years. (Congrats to Greg, BTW. It's not easy, especially when one's life seems to have taken a different path.)
Essentially, what Graffin did for his research was not so much an evolutionary zoology project as a study of what the detailed study of evolution does to one's beliefs, that it, whether or not evolutionary scientists themselves have personal belief in God, or whether they believe such beliefs are necessary for moral behavior.
Overwhelmingly, they don't, on both counts. (PDF) The vast majority of Graffin's respondents were Western (85%) and for those who claimed a religious identity, the plurality were Christian (But still under 10%).
Some really interesting questions here. There's the expected "Do you believe in God?" sort of thing (almost 80% said no, unequivocally), but then he divides that into traditional religion and deism and a willingness to believe that there's an unnamed thing out there. Other questions deal with immortality, free will, materialism, and the role of evidence.
I was most interested in the question of morality. Graffin asks his respondents to reply yes or no to the question "I believe the findings of evolutionary biology can influence and alter morality." A somewhat surprising 67% agreed. Now, we might be dealing here with differing definitions of "morality," as we clearly were with the term "values" in the 2004 election, where for some the term meant "please don't attach electrodes to the genitals of quite possibly innocent foreign nationals" and for others it meant "please don't interfere with my right to be hating on the gays." Here, I expect the two poles would be sexual continence, drinking and dancing vs. a long term view of the morality of our behavior as regards the environment, the planet, and the various species upon it. For example, I happen to believe that it's immoral that we're clearcutting the rainforests in Borneo and Sumatra to build palm oil plantations for biofuels. I have nothing against biofuels per se, but they seem at best a stopgap measure, a methadone for oil addiction. I'm just not convinced orangutans, who only live in Borneo and Sumatra and are possibly a brief decade or so from extinction, should be sponsoring our habit, you know? Anyway, for some of these evolutionary scientists, that might be the sort of morality they mean.
The only area where the scientists showed real division was in the question "What is your view of purpose and progress in evolution?" About half said there was progress in evolution, but not purpose, another 40% said there was neither progress nor purpose, just random changes (since I presume the term "adaptation" would imply progress or purpose). I take it that this is the great Darwin question (but I'm certainly willing to be corrected on that point).
Anyway, an interesting read and a thoughtful intervention in our intellectual discourse by someone who was already well known as a serious principled, and articulate guy. Oh, and a great rock lyricist.
Best of everything Dr. Graffin!