Science, the cruel stranger

June 28, 2011

The research suggests that what we believe typically depends on who gets to us first and how the issue is framed, which is why Christians typically come from Christian households, Muslims from Muslim households, and so on. Once we commit to this or that belief, our myriad biases and the complexity of the world assure that we can always convince ourselves of our rectitude. Not only do we game ambiguities, cherry-pick evidence and make inferences where none exist, we even rewrite our memories to bolster our cherished convictions. Our feeling of certainty, that sense of lucid, "but-it-has-to-be!" clarity you get when you think about God or economic justice or what have you, typically has little or no connection to the cogency, let alone the truth of the claims that trigger it. […]

And this is what makes the present science-religion debates seem so old-fashioned: They are literally several [unnerving revelations] behind the times. Evolution? Please. Believe it or not, the burning question now isn't whether God exists, but whether we exist - at least in any way that conforms to our traditional and intuitive assumptions. Just as physics showed us that solids are primarily empty space, cognitive science seems to be showing us that selfhood is a kind of user illusion.

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