Robert Wright is a journalist, scholar, and author of several best-selling books about science, evolutionary psychology, history, religion, and game theory, including "The Evolution of God," "Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny," "The Moral Animal," and "Three Scientists and Their Gods: Looking for Meaning in an Age of Information." He is a visiting scholar at The University of Pennsylvania and Schwartz Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation. He is also the co-founder and Editor in Chief of Bloggingheads.tv, a current events "diavlog" featured in The New York Times and elsewhere.
Question: Can a scientific worldview be reconciled with faith?
Robert Wright: Well I guess originally religion was doing what science does now, which is to say, it’s main function originally seems to have been to make sense of the world. And kind of the primordial religious hypothesis, the idea that all these forces of nature animated by beings that are psychologically very much like human beings, seems to be wrong. And science has rightly attained authority in this realm. And its success definitely undermines a number of specific religious beliefs. So, I’m not somebody that says science and religion are in these intrinsically separate realms and there is no conflict. There is a conflict between science and a lot of specific religious beliefs. But if the question is, is science compatible with religion in the most basic and generic sense of the term “religion?” I think it is. Certainly if you accept the definition like William James’ definition of religious beliefs is, which is, and I may not get this just exactly right, but the idea that there is an unseen order and our supreme interest lies on harmoniously adjusting ourselves to that order. I would say the idea that I personally hold, which is that there is a moral order built into – almost into the trajectory of organic life on this planet, but certainly kind of human history. I’d say even if you believe that much without even addressing the question of whether the order was set up by some sort of personal divine being or something. Without even going there, if you believe that there is a moral order, and perhaps even in that sense an overarching purpose, again leaving aside the question of where the purpose comes from. And if you think it warrants you orienting your life with respect to it and that that brings you closer to moral truth, I think by James’ definition that qualifies as religion. And I think that’s fully compatible with science. For that matter, the Deism, the idea that God kind of wound up the clock and let it go is fully compatible with science. That’s why it was popular in the Enlightenment and around the founding of America. And for that matter, people believing in an interventionist god, science doesn’t – you can never prove that there’s never been an intervention. Right? So, even that is not in the strictest sense incompatible with science, although it’s not kind of the way I think of it.
So, I do think lots of specific religious beliefs have to be let go if you’re going to reconcile religion with science; certainly including a literal reading of Genesis. And I personally don’t believe any of the revelations in the Abrahamic lineage were actual, literal revelations. But I think reconciliation is possible.
Recorded on February 12, 2010