Thursday, October 1, 2015

E.O. Wilson and Ants

Few subjects rivet and rile me as much as the intersection of science and religion. I devoted a good portion of last year’s blogposts to scientific materialism, which you can read by finding the topic in my Index (right) and clicking on posts. They contain scientific arguments against it.
Two recent programs, one on public radio, the other on public TV, captured me recently.

Krista Tippett, host of NPR’s ON BEING interviewed two Vatican astronomers, Father George Coyne and Brother Guy Consolmagno. Coyne said,
My understanding of the universe does not need God.
His point was that we should not drag in God to explain science we don’t understand—God as a god of explanation, a god of the gaps.
If we're religious believers we're constantly tempted to do that. And every time we do it, we're diminishing God and we're diminishing science.
Consolmagno agreed but deplored the tendency to feel that science will answer all questions—conversely a science of the gaps.

Coyne and Consolmagno address the claim that science is open to having every idea disproved and religion is not. They discuss human freedom, dark matter, and quantum mechanics with its finding of indeterminism or the uncertainty principle. In God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky I discuss this principle to help me understand Jesus’ miracles and those of other wonder workers.
At this site you can listen to their conversation or read the transcript.

The PBS documentary E.O.Wilson—Of Ants and Men just aired Wednesday on TPT. E.O. Wilson's 27 books effected revolutionary changes in the fields of entomology, biology, ecology, and studies of human nature. His thought has been so influential that we ordinary people changed our thinking without our being aware of it. We are much more likely to see similarities between our behavior and that of animals than when I was growing up.

Wilson traces a fascinating correspondence between ants and humans. Ants dominate over their environment as do humans, and our social organization resembles theirs, although our increased domains of intelligence give us the ability to achieve global domination. He shows "the payoffs of sustained cooperation" in ants and humans, calling it "Eusociality."

Our sociality expresses as tribalism—the tendency to join groups, to form teams, to prefer ours in rivalry to theirs. Tribalism induces us to compete with nature, destroying what we depend on for survival, states Wilson. So our "hypersocial" spirit is both blessing and curse.

I used to view sports mania with disdain and was a little shocked to see Wilson enjoying fans at an Alabama football game. Exemplifying tribalism, fans surrender their dignity during games, treat the players "like gladiators," and generally look silly as they cheer. It's not my cup of tea but Wilson's more-than-tolerant attitude will make me less judgmental.
Of religion, Wilson said it is the highest expression of tribalism as it seeks connection with a greater whole. It lifts us out of self into service of a greater whole and cause.

Wilson's theory of sociality ignited a dispute with Richard Dawkins, who wrote The Selfish Gene. Not selfishness, but cooperation, generosity, kindness, and altruism are included in Wilson's idea of tribalism. Oversimplifying, we can say that Wilson's opinion supports Christian sensibility and Dawkins offends it.

E.O. Wilson—Of Ants and Men will air again this coming Sunday, October 4 at 8:00 on Channel 17. It will entertain you whether or not you share my interest in science with spiritual implications. A related program on restoration of Gorongosa Park in Mozambique airs Tuesday at 7:00 on Channel 2.


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